On How I Started on Social Media and The Reasons Behind My Posts

Saturday, 21 December 2019

My blogging history goes back way before Facebook and Instagram took over the social media world. In 2006, I started blogging through the now-defunct Multiply blogger site for only one reason: to share my fundraising events for Bantay Bata 163. But then I started dreaming of becoming a fashion blogger, so I thought I'd utilise the platform to give fashion tips and ideas to other people. Unfortunately, it didn't take long before I realised that I wasn't really fashionable enough to do this. I love dressing up yes, but there is definitely a difference between being plain stylish and being a fashionista, so I gave up on this dream straight away. Besides, I wasn't prepared to spend so much time and money in buying clothes, shoes and bags just so I can tell what other people should buy or wear. I didn't think I was credible enough at that time, and I still don't think I am. When I joined blogger in 2011, I thought I'd give fashion blogging another chance but I terribly failed. I could not possibly tag every single item of clothing that I was wearing, hence I gave up for good.

Eventually, the success of my fundraising events apparently became a source of envy to some Filipinos in the community. They started what it seemed like a movement against me at that time. I had to endure attempts of character assassination but I didn't confront any of them. Instead, I used my blog to express my anger and frustration. It was then I started to openly share my thoughts and feelings on social media. It was liberating and until now, I still enjoy this freedom of expression - very much so that I already got into trouble at least a couple of times for being reflective and honest.

And then I started travelling and found new passion in sharing my surreal travel experiences with my friends, initially on Multiply. Then I was introduced to Facebook in 2008. I liked the layout immediately and how it was easy to navigate, so I eventually slowly moved away from Multiply and found myself posting more on Facebook. 

So, why do I post what I post on social media? I would be a hypocrite if I don't say that at one point, I used social media to get back at those who talked behind my back- to fuel their envy. I posted my travel photos to give them more reasons to dislike me perhaps, because the best revenge I believed (and still do) is to show your "haters" that you are happy. Don't get me wrong, when I was travelling a lot (between 2009 and 2012), I was at my happiest so there was sincerity in those happy photos.

Then I started writing captions on my photos on Facebook and writing about my travels on Blogger. At this point, I have matured enough to let my haters hate all they like, and focused on sharing my story with those who cared. I started receiving comments and private messages from friends and some strangers, telling me how they enjoyed looking at my travel photos. I guess what inspired me the most was when people told me that they also felt like they have been to the places that I have been to, by just reading my story. Some people also asked for itineraries and referred to my blog when planning their own trip. This encouraged me to write more, even if to be honest, I am not a good writer.

You see, I came from a poor family and growing up, travelling was very far from my mind. Besides, society made me believe that travelling was only for the rich people. So all I ever wanted was to get a degree and work abroad to give my family a better life. Travelling came late to be honest and it came as a blessing. 

When I started travelling, I started to see the world differently. I was no longer the ignorant girl who was scared of so many things, including talking to strangers and trying new food. I became more confident and most importantly, less judgemental. I became more understanding of people in general, more appreciative of different cultures and more interested in experimenting with food. Travelling taught me a lot about life outside my comfort zone and greatly about myself.

And for people, especially the younger generation, to tell me that they are inspired by my travels and that they also would like to visit those places one day, gives true joy to my heart. I am a true testament that even the things that you never dreamed of come true if you believe you can, and if you listen to your heart. Perhaps the message I want to get out there is the fact that although everyone is not entitled to travel, everyone is entitled to dream. My dreams gave me the inspiration to work hard, learn more and do more, hence I am where I am today. I'm sure anyone can dream and do this, too. I am confident that one day, all the dreamers will be where they have always wanted to be. 

Food is another thing that I post regularly on social media. I have no reason for it apart from the fact that I love eating. Perhaps, sometimes I go over overboard and try expensive food, but I guess I deserve it, too? To be fair, I started taking photos of my food as part of my travel stories,  even before everyone started doing it on instagram and facebook. Besides, I have friends who love food too, and my posts actually give them ideas on restaurants or cafes that they may want to try when they visit the places that I have visited. Posting food on social media actually inspired me to do better in the kitchen, too. Whilst I was not very keen on cooking before, I now make extra effort for my food to look and taste good for the gram. Haha. Seriously speaking though, I gained a new skill in cooking and my food is now more appreciated by my loved ones. In fact, it has become my language of love. 

Lastly, I post my thoughts, feelings and emotions on social media because I find it very therapeutic. As a frustrated writer and a TED Talks speaker- lol , writing somehow gives me that opportunity to realise my dream to empower and motivate other people. I may not have that strong "influence" as many other people have, but the fact that some people actually appreciate my honesty and the authenticity of my posts is enough inspiration for me to continue writing. There have been a few followers, friends and readers who have expressed their gratitude to me, for sharing my life experiences because my experiences apparently resonated with them. Some of them were empowered to open up to me because they were scared of being judged by other people, including their own family and friends. It also humbles me when someone reposts my personal quotes or share my blog because - who am I at the end of the day? It is very inspiring to know that somehow in my own little way, I can touch other people's lives, too.

I guess it is fair to say that in using the social media platform, I found one of my purposes in life- to openly share my life, dreams, experiences and my heart in order to help (some) people to 1) realise their own dreams, empower them and inspire them to believe that one day, they will be able to get even farther than where I am today 2) understand that authenticity is the key to get to where you want to be in life 3) believe that it is okay to be human- admit your mistakes, be honest and apologise, and 4) believe that life is not perfect, and it takes a lot of courage and bravery to admit life's imperfections on social media.

And with this, I want to share a message sent to me by one of my followers on instagram whom I don't know personally. Messages like this empower me to be brave and honest about everything in life:

"You are such an amazing brave woman and I am so moved by your ability to take charge of your life and speak the truths about life! So often social media is just a platform to share what we most "desire" to be or "aspire" to have- very rarely does the surface meet the realities of what lies beneath...your struggles and basically life to date have made you a woman I can look up to...I know that no matter what happens we can still be the best version of ourselves. Thank you for sharing Cristine."


Bullying Is Not Cool

Thursday, 28 November 2019

The news that my niece was being bullied in school compelled me to write about my own experience with bullying.

I only fully understood the seriousness and effects of bullying when I came to the UK. It was also then I only realised that in fact, I was bullied too- as a child and perhaps as an adult.

You see, I grew up in a country were teasing other children in school was and still is a norm. What a lot of people didn't and still don't realise is that teasing can actually be a form of bullying. Children often take advantage of other children's weaknesses. They laugh at other children's disabilities. They find joy in calling other children nasty names. They physically hurt other children to show them they have power over them. All of these seemed to have been accepted by the society that I grew up in. It is very shameful to admit that even grown ups did and said things that they didn't necessarily knew was bullying. In short, there was not enough (or none at all) awareness on bullying where I came from. Nowadays though, with the amount of people claiming to be social media "influencers" and some celebrities, at least more and more people are raising awareness on bullying by sharing their own experiences and/or of people they personally know. 

Bullying as defined by gov.uk is repeated behaviour intended to hurt someone either physically or emotionally. There are a few forms of bullying which include verbal (teasing, name calling), physical, relational and cyber-bullying.

My own experience on bullying started when I was in kindergarten. My classmates would call me, almost on a daily basis, "Farinas Banyas". Baniyas is a type of lizard in the Philippines. I remember getting annoyed with it and I would answer back but of course, I thought that was normal. The same group of children would call my other classmates names, too.

Then in second grade, one of my classmates leered at me constantly. I never found out why. Then one day, perhaps she could no longer contain her anger. She grabbed my hair from the back and pulled it so hard until she managed to get a handful of hair, then she stopped. I didn't fight back. I went home crying and told my mother about it. My mother comforted me but didn't do anything. However, she advised me to tell her if it happened again. She reassured me that kids who acted that way were jealous of me. I took her word and went back to school the next day like nothing has happened.

A group of classmates repeatedly emotionally "tortured" me in grade school. They would invite me to climb over a high fence and jump into a vacant bushy lot, then would hide from me. At times, they ran away too fast that I wasn't able catch up. I always felt like a loser and went home with a heavy heart, at times crying.

One of the boys was constantly name-calling me. I had a curly hair at one point and he would chant "kulot baboy" (curly pig) everytime he saw me. He scared me one time and my eyes went big because of fear. Since then, he called me "bungaok" (owl) because my eyes were so big. 

But I guess the worst act of bullying I experienced (if I may call it that), was when somebody deliberately pushed me while walking on a fence of an empty pond. I was in second grade and was lured into playing in an area where I wouldn't normally play. I was a coward as a child and wouldn't really do anything that I knew would hurt me, unless someone forced me to it. So, I fell down and my chin landed on a steel bar. I didn't feel any pain but I saw blood gushing through my pearly white dress. Until now, I still can't remember anyone helping me. Instead, I hysterically ran to my brother (who was in 6th grade at that time). My brother went into a panic, he brought me home straight away. The next thing I remember, I was having a few stitches under my chin. This experience sometimes crosses my mind so vividly that I still become emotional about it. I can still feel the scar under my chin, which to me now is a reminder that I was brave and strong as a child.

None of the experiences I shared above were taken seriously as far as I am concerned. It is because that's what children did during my time. They played, pushed each other, called each other nasty names and all was normal. "They're just kids", grown-ups would say.

Lucky for me, the bullying didn't affect me in any dangerous way nor did it hinder me from achieving success. During those times that I was being bullied, I was consistent in the honour roll (2nd honours) and I was academically inclined. I managed to make and keep a lot of friends from all grade levels and even from other schools- some of them I am proud to still call my friends.

Reflecting on the impact of bullying on my emotional well-being, perhaps it is fair to say that all those emotional battles at a very young age prepared me for what was to come. I grew up emotionally equipped to take on many challenges in my life- some of them were fairly painful experiences that required strength and resilience. From the death of my closest cousin, to family issues, to Keith's passing, to battle with infidelity that led to divorce, to being treated badly by my own community and at work,  and all the other emotional challenges in between.

I suppose one of the most important things I learned from being bullied at a young age is not letting it change the person that I was. I never sought revenge. I didn't use this experience to bully other children. The more that I actually treated other people with kindness and respect. At a young age, I learned how to put my feet in other people's shoes, hence  I reflect on my life and my actions far more than a lot of people I know. 

Bullying has to stop because of its negative effects on most people. People who have been bullied at a young age (or as adults) tend to develop anxiety and depression. It affects their confidence and self-esteem. They develop social anxiety which makes it difficult for them to relate to other people.

If you're a parent, a brother, a sister or a friend of someone being bullied, please be vigilant and don't judge your loved one. They need your support. If you see them quiet and not talking much, please don't assume that they are just having a "drama". If they don't like to go school or making excuses not to go to school, please don't call them lazy. If they are wetting their bed (which I did when I was being bullied because I was having nightmares), don't scold them or tease them because they might have had a bad dream. If they are being angry, suplada or suplado at home, talk to them instead of telling them off because they need your reassurance. Remember, communication is the key. Check up on them as often as you can. Make them feel that you are there for them. Be generous with your time and listen patiently. Make them feel that they are not alone.

To the bullies out there, bullying is not cool. Please remember that karma is real. What goes around comes around. 

To anyone reading this, please always be kind. Kindness is the only thing that the world needs from you right now. Don't judge. Every person you come in contact with is going through something. Be generous with your smile especially to strangers. Compliment them when you can. Your kindness may just save a life.

Be kind. That is all.


Every Photo Taken By A Stranger Has A Story

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Do you love having your travel photos taken by complete strangers? I absolutely didn't until I traveled to Alsace, France earlier this year. Just as when I thought I have mastered the art of taking selfies in Madrid last year, I terribly failed in Strasbourg. Hence, I didn't have a choice but to ask strangers to take my photos. You may ask, how about a selfie stick? Er, I still haven't managed to convince myself to use it (unless I am with someone who is up for it). I'm sorry but I just can't make myself to use it, mainly because I am not good at finding the right angles which means that I will waste more time. But don't get me wrong, I tried it before (at home), only I gave up immediately. :)

Anyway, I have always been hesitant in asking strangers to take my photos because I fear that they may steal my camera or my phone. Don't trust strangers, remember? And let's be honest, strangers really do not care about my photos (nor me), so they just click whenever and whatever. After all, they're just doing me a favour. Also, they have no time because just like me, they want to maximise their time in that place and see as much as they can.  

But, not all strangers are the same. There are really some nice ones who would even offer to take your photos. We are all strangers to others so I know how it's like. And to be honest, I am very good at offering to take other people's photos especially when I see them struggling. Or when they are in a group and they have to take a few shots so they can have everyone in the photo. Saying this though, my kind gesture has also been rejected a lot of times, mostly by my own "kababayans"(truth).

In Strasbourg and Colmar, majority of my photos were taken by complete strangers. They are not my favourite photos, but I love the stories behind them. So, here goes.

1. Two local young ladies
- It was early morning on our first full day in Strasbourg. I decided to visit the Strasbourg Cathedral first thing in the morning because I read that as soon as 9am strikes, it becomes ridiculously busy. There were only a few people passing by that morning and they all seemed to be in a rush. So, when I saw two young ladies who seemed like they had time to spare, I took the courage to ask a favour and luckily, they happily obliged. The lady who volunteered even asked me how I wanted my photo to be taken. It was a bit windy that morning, but she said to wait until the wind stops and even went down on her knee so she could take a good photo of the church behind me. She must have taken five shots and asked if they were fine by me. As she has taken much effort already, I said yes and thank you, although I could have asked for another shot. 

2. The lady at the Cafe
- Later that morning, I went back to the square to have coffee. It was already busy and with a specific photo in my mind (as suggested by Farrah), I sat on a table so that the cathedral was in my background. When the lady brought my coffee and my croissant, I asked her kindly to take my photo. I gave her instructions and man, did she struggle. Bless her. She really tried to take the photo I wanted, but the amount of people passing by made it impossible. She even tried every angle just to avoid them. We both started laughing because the people from the other tables were already watching us. When the background finally cleared, she asked me to smile (quick, she said) and voila! :)

3. The smoking guy
-  I definitely challenged myself that day because I wanted to overcome my shyness in bothering other people so I can have my photos taken. So, I didn't spare the smoking guy around the corner. He was on his mobile phone, but immediately hid it in his pocket when I approached him. I told him I wanted the two buildings in the background. He even pointed at the buildings and said, "Ah, oui, oui!" with a smile. But...

4. The lady with a family
- It was the middle of the day and the sun was out. I walked to St Paul's church- one of the prettiest churches I have seen in my travels. I was not really planning to have my photos taken, but a lady offered. Her kids were running around and were behind me when the lady was taking my photo. She ordered her kids to stay on the side because she wanted to take my photos. At one point, the boy tried to annoy his mother and stayed behind me so he could be in the photo. But the mother saw him and angrily asked him to move. I thought that was a sweet gesture. 

5. The nice French lady 
- Then on my way back from the church, I asked a random lady if she could take my photo with the church in the background. I deliberately set my phone camera on portrait as I wanted the church as a blurry background. I told the lady I will look towards the river. "Wait!", she said. "I can't see you in the photo". She wasn't focusing on me it turned out. In the end, I had to set the phone camera to a standard photo, and she managed to take my photo with a huge smile on her face. 

6. The obliging gentleman
- Colmar is such a beautiful place and this was where I wanted to have my signature walking shot taken. It took me a while to get the courage to ask someone though. And then I saw this man waiting to cross the street. I ran towards him and I asked if he could take a walking shot. "Of course", he said. So, I ran to the other side of the road, entrusting him with my mobile phone. Talk about not trusting strangers- all for the sake of that walking shot. I was laughing to myself as he didn't seem to know when to take the shot. I shouted at him, "Just click it, and I'll walk". And so he did. 

7. The Chinese young lady
- I learned that day in Colmar that no one really could understand me better when it comes to having my photos taken than my fellow Asians. This is the reason why when I saw a Chinese young lady, I didn't hesitate to ask her. She took numerous photos, in every angle I asked her to. All of them were dark unfortunately. Of course I returned the favour. And because she loved the camera, I pretended to be a real photographer and instructed her to do some poses that I thought would look good. Her phone camera took really good photos to be honest, but it was a phone that I've never seen or heard of before. We also had a brief chitchat which was the best part of the experience. She told me she was from Hongkong and was studying in University of Strasbourg.

8. The young man with his group of friends
- So, I showed the young man how I wanted my photo to be taken. His friends laughed at him when I handed him my camera. When he showed me the first shot, I asked if he could take another one. By this time, his friends have left him. He took two more shots and quickly handed me back my camera. He turned his back quicker than I was able to say thank you. He probably thought I would ask him to take another photo but I settled with the photo with the bin.

9. The Spanish lady
- The lady was quite excited when I asked her to take my photo that she slightly panicked when my camera screen went black ( I used my normal camera). I could only understand her body language as she spoke in Spanish. I was in a bit of a rush because the street was finally empty, but I had to go back and fix my camera. When I returned to my spot and she was ready to take the shot, it was too late.

10.  The restaurant staff
-  It was my birthday lunch and of course I had to have my other signature pose (with a cup). Shameless and oblivious of the fact that there were other people in the room, I asked the waiter if he could take a photo of me looking at my cup. He smiled at me (perhaps thinking wth) and willingly took my phone. As I was already sat in the restaurant for almost 3 hours, I would have been happy with whatever photos he has taken. He told me he took a few and he actually did. But this one was the best:

11. Another Asian young lady
- On that same day, I felt that I really had to have a photo on at least one of the famous bridges in Strasbourg. It was just a matter of who could take a good shot. Yes, prior to this day, a few shots have been taken including those that were taken by J. But none of them were decent enough for me. I thought I'd give it a final shot. So, when I spotted a pretty young Asian lady, I asked if she could take just one photo of me on the bridge. She sat down and immediately counted 1,2,3. It was fine but I don't really like looking down at cameras. I was grateful for the effort though, and the photo was not too bad either.

12. The professional photographer looking lady
- I always assumed that people with huge camera lenses are professional photographers. So when I saw a lady with a huge camera lens, I did not think twice. I was expecting her to take at least two shots, but she only took one. Luckily, I was camera-ready. I didn't even check the photo anymore. I just said thank you and left as I was embarrassed to ask for another photo.

13.  The student
- She wasn't particularly keen to take my photo but her friend pushed her towards me so she was forced I think. She took a portrait photo at first, but I asked her if she could take a landscape because I wanted the buildings in the background. She obliged but I could feel the hesitation. I was also nearing my camera threshold by that time, so it was all good. 

During this trip, I was quite not sure how to approach strangers because it meant that I had to ask in every place I went to. I was supposed to follow my instinct, however at times I became impatient and just asked whoever. If I saw someone who didn't seem to be in a rush and/or with a companion and I felt that they could be trusted, then I did not hesitate to approach them. But I guess right timing and right approach were the key. I found it difficult to interrupt strangers just to have my photos taken to be honest . I waited until there was a short "pause" before I asked. Besides that, I made sure that I asked first if it was okay for them because after all, I was asking them a favour and they of course had the right to say no. I also made sure that I said thank you even if I didn't like the photos because at least they made an effort.

I used to be so shy in asking strangers to take my photos, but now I am quite demanding and even tell the person exactly how I wanted my photo to be taken. If I want to walk or run, I'll tell them. If I want to look up or down or sideways, I tell them. I also tell them what I want to see in the photo. Of course, 90% of the time, it's not going to be the photo I had in mind but at least I asked.

I am also no longer shy to ask for another photo especially if the person is nice. At the end of the day, these people don't know me and chances are, we will never see each other again.

So there, I keep even the ugliest photos taken by strangers because there is a story behind each of them. 


Our Exhilarating One-Week Drive From San Francisco To LA To The Sierras

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Our driving adventures started back in 2016 when most weekends, we drove outside Wellington, our then home city in New Zealand. We  (most especially J) became more interested in long distance driving when we did an unforgettable drive in the South Island. Since then, we made plans to take a driving trip every year, and so far, we have adhered to that plan- from Cornwall in 2017, Puglia in 2018 and this year, from San Francisco to Los Angeles to the Western area of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

In fact, this year's driving trip was unintentional. We've had this part of California on our driving list, however, we were planning to do this "one day". But thanks to Alex Honnold for inspiring us to push this trip sooner than we planned. Our "one day" became this year after watching his epic documentary "Free Solo". 

Planning commenced at least one month before our trip. We decided to fly to San Francisco so we can take the Pacific Coast Highway 1 and be on the coastal side of the road- one thing that I was very nervous about because I heard that there is a "tall" bridge that we need to cross along the way. I don't know but there is something about tall bridges that I am so scared about. But anyway, it was J's driving trip, so I had no choice. :) We hired a car from Hertz at SFO then took the very scenic drive through Pacific Coast Highway 1 to Pismo Beach. And that's how our California road trip started.

Day 1: San Francisco Airport to Pismo Beach - almost 7 hours drive
- Friends from California previously warned me that the drive through H1 is long and winding, but I was convinced that it's just the same as the Crown Range in Queenstown. I thought it wasn't that bad. Well, it wasn't really until we reached the Big Sur coast at sunset - then it became my biggest nightmare. Soon after we crossed the Bixby Creek Bridge, darkness unfolded. More than 200 miles of driving in pitch dark followed. That was when I started panicking and complaining about everything. I became the most annoying travel companion ever. Fear got the better of me basically. I was looking forward to seeing the Big Sur coast as I heard it is very scenic, but instead I saw total darkness. The only light on the road was from our car. There were no other cars on immediate sight. Nothing at all. I could feel that we were up high in the mountains so that made it worse. Lucky for me, J was very calm as ever. If it were some other man, it would have been a screaming match because of how I was behaving that night. I only let go of the "oh $h*t bar" when I felt that we were finally going down the hill and saw some lights from the distance.

And because of that "driving in the dark" experience, we thought of going back again sometime to experience the coast in daytime. So help me God.

Bixby Bridge

Day 2: Pismo Beach to Los Angeles- approximately 3.5 hours drive
- Our scenic drive continued the next day as we headed towards Los Angeles. We stopped by Brophy Bros in Santa Barbara for lunch. The view of the harbour was perfect for a refreshing lunch of prawn cocktail, a bowl of boiled prawns and some seafood chowder. The drive between Ventura and Oxnard on the coast was stunning. Still on the Pacific Coast Highway 1, we passed by the wealthy area of Malibu, where colourful houses are perched on the hill above the water. 

As J wanted to drive along Mulholland Drive first, we exited H1 towards Pacific Palisades. We then took the "Traffic" Boulevard aka Sunset Boulevard where we got stuck for over an hour. Don't ask me why we took this route, but it was a good detour in my opinion. I enjoyed looking at the beautiful houses in tree-lined streets. When we finally hit Mulholland Drive, we couldn't find the view that J was looking for. We ended up driving round and round until it was dark again. By this time, I've had enough of driving on winding roads uphill in the dark. We took Highway 101 on our way to our hotel in Downtown LA and oh boy, did we get stuck in traffic once again- in a five to six lanes motorway! How was it even possible? At this point, everything on our trip was too much and I have decided to call California, the land of "too much". It was as if I have not been to California before (eye roll). Well, it was already too much and we were not even halfway our road trip yet. :)

Santa Barbara Harbour

Day 3: Los Angeles
- It was a good thing that we decided to stay in Downtown LA because I didn't explore this part of LA when I visited a few years ago. My niece Farrah was kind enough to take us around on the only full day that we were in the city. Our first destination was Eggslut in Grand Central Market- where I had the queue-worthy (and my new favourite) egg and sausage sandwich (sorry Mc Donald's sausage and egg mcmuffin). We then headed to the futuristic Walt Disney Concert Hall. Its metallic exterior is impressive as well as its grounds at the back. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to go inside the concert hall. Maybe next time.

The Bradbury is another place that I am glad I visited this time. Famous for a scene in the original Blade Runner, this building's elaborate atrium is astonishing. I didn't expect the interior to be that grand. It's one of those buildings that one must see when in LA. 

Then we moved on to The Last Bookstore, where books smelt so fresh like my favourite perfume. It is a real heaven for genuine book lovers- like J who happily bought ten books. Ah, the joy of watching him examine the book shelves- it was priceless. The Last Bookstore is not your typical tourist spot, but it is definitely a good place to visit. 

Finally, we drove to Venice Beach to visit Muscle Beach Gym. J was a bit disappointed as there were no muscly men working out that day. But at least we saw Arnold Schwarzenegger's mural. :)

We were not intending to visit other tourist spots, however we wanted to have lunch in In & Out Burger. Unfortunately, the closest one meant that we had to walk through Hollywood Walk Of Fame. After allyou really haven't been to LA if you don't have a photo with the stars.

Eggslut - Grand Central Market, 317 S Broadway, Los Angeles

The Bradbury- 304 S Broadway, Los Angeles

The Last Bookstore- 453 S Spring St, Los Angeles

Day 4: Los Angeles to Sequioa National Forest- almost 5 hours drive
After spending a bit of time with my sister from another mother on Saturday morning, we left Los Angeles and drove towards Sequioa National Park through Bakersfield. The drive took us about 5 hours but the drive was entertaining. The view on the road outside the city started as a very dry desert terrain followed by rolling hills and then sleepy towns. We stopped by Bakersfield for lunch at ihop, where I finally had pancakes. 

From Bakersfield, we passed by acres of oil fields that eventually led us to endless lemon groves. At some point during this journey, a loud siren came on inside our car that caused me to panic a little bit. At first I thought something was wrong with the car, but I saw something flashing on my mobile phone saying "Emergency Amber Alert". With my hands still shaking, I managed to silence the alarm. I had to ask goggle what this alert meant. Apparently, there was a 2-year old boy who was abducted by his own father in Merced- more than 200 miles from where we were. I also learned that an Amber Alert is activated in child abduction cases. This is a way to alert the community to help search for a missing child. Sadly, the boy and his father were found dead the day after.

Still shaken, I needed to divert my attention to the landscape that eventually changed to greener rolling hills. As we approached a slight elevation, I could finally see a forest. Then the Sequioa Moro Rock appeared before us. As we drove towards an elevation of 6,000 feet, I could smell the fragrance of the trees and could feel the freshness in the air- kind of reminded me of that feeling every time I traveled to Baguio in my university days. As much as I was scared of the heights, the cool breeze somehow comforted me. Then I started seeing giant Sequioa trees. 

It was late afternoon when we arrived at the Giant Forest. It was very busy. Somehow I wasn't as impressed as I thought I would be, but I was glad to see the General Sherman- known to be the largest tree in the world by volume. It was worth the drive, but it's probably one of those places that I would only visit once.


The Giant Forest

The General Sherman

Day 5: Exeter to Yosemite National Park - 2.5 hours drive
- Yosemite National Park was the highlight of our California road trip. It was sort of like a dream come true for me. I've always had Yosemite on my list to visit, however I didn't know how I would go about it. Then J came up with the road trip idea. We were planning to go sometime in the next few years, but when we watched "Free Solo" early this year, we thought, "why not push it this year?". And so we did.

We drove from Exeter that day as we stayed there the night before. The drive was simply breathtaking all throughout- even when I was trembling because of the winding roads at almost 7,000 feet. Oh, and I must mention that before we officially entered the Yosemite National Park, we dropped by Yosemite Treats in Mariposa. It is a cute little cafe that sells amazing ice creams and numerous treats. It's a worthy stop, believe me.

Anyway, I was giddy with excitement as we drove through the park. The views are incredibly stunning. The first time I laid my eyes on El Capitan, all I could say was "wow"! Since we knew what we were looking for that day, we drove straight to El Capitan Meadows. The view here is seriously amazing. Then there is also the Tunnel View which imposes the view of the majestic El Capitan and Half Dome all in one landscape. To get here, we went through the very long Wawona tunnel which added to the excitement of our trip to Yosemite. Our last destination was Glacier Point for the spectacular views of the Half Dome and the Yosemite Valley.

To sum it up, our trip to Yosemite is incomplete. We plan to go back again in the future to stay at least one night, go hiking and see the waterfalls. The grandeur of Yosemite Valley, El Capitan, the Half Dome and other landmarks are worth another visit- even if it means psychologically preparing myself again for a long and winding drive up to the mountains.

El Capitan and Half Dome

Day 6: Yosemite to South Lake Tahoe via Tioga Pass- over 4 hours drive
- I was hoping that J would not think of passing through Tioga Pass- the highest highway pass in California at almost 10,000 feet, but I was very wrong. The night before, he mentioned that he wanted to go back to Yosemite Park on the way to South Lake Tahoe because he wanted to drive via Tioga Pass. Trust me, I tried very hard to convince him that it is a longer route and that we should go the other way. I was already panicking and we haven't even left the hotel yet. I obviously lost the argument and therefore, we took the Tioga Pass route to South Lake Tahoe.

I was so nervous that I kept asking J not to drive too fast and constantly reminding him of the speed limit in every turn. Don't get me wrong, J is a very sensible driver and he is good. The only thing is that, he loves driving through long and winding roads uphill and downhill. To be honest, Tioga Pass is a very scenic route. There are a few vistas here that offer incredible views of Yosemite, including blue lakes, beautiful meadows and even the Half Dome. Olmsted Point is one of them, then there is the Tenaya Lake, Tuolumne Meadows and Ellery Lake. 

The drive from Lee Vining (past Tioga Pass) to South Lake Tahoe was equally picturesque. It took us through beautiful valleys, hills and mountains- both in Nevada and California. When we reached South Lake Tahoe, we drove straight up to Emerald Bay. I liked the city itself, but I was not that impressed with the lake. I mean no offence,  but I guess because I have seen more attractive lakes.  

We stayed in a beautiful village called Heavenly that night. And to be fair, this is the highlight of our stay in South Lake Tahoe. It was a perfect place to rest after a few days of long driving. 

Tioga Pass

Heavenly, South Lake Tahoe

Day 7:  South Lake Tahoe to San Francisco- almost 5 hours drive
- Then it was time to drive back to San Francisco as we were flying back to London from there. The drive from South Lake Tahoe was rather industrial as we took the route via Sacramento. There is nothing special to say if I can be honest. We didn't stop until we reached California because we thought that stopping elsewhere was not worth it. We basically couldn't think of any place worth stopping at.  

We chose to stay in Tiburon rather than in San Francisco because we wanted to enjoy the view of the city from this side, and it truly didn't disappoint. The view of San Francisco from our hotel was beautiful, and the city lights are truly magical. 

It was as if J was not exhausted from long distance driving for already 7 days that when we arrived in Tiburon, he wanted to drive some more. And so we headed to Golden Gate Bridge View in Sausalito to begin with. At this point, I was already quite tired to genuinely enjoy the view. Our adventure of the day didn't end here as we continued to drive towards Point Reyes. To cut the story short, we didn't get there as it was already dark and we still couldn't see a sign towards the lighthouse. In the end, we decided to go back to Tiburon.

City Lights View from our hotel in Tiburon

The drive through Golden Gate Bridge

Day 8: San Francisco
- On our last day in San Francisco, we decided to play it by ear. It would not have mattered so much if we didn't see any of the sights as we have been to San Francisco (although separately) before. However, since our flight was not until late evening, we decided to drive around to maximise our time in San Francisco. Our first destination was Fort Barry in the Marin County. It was a pleasant drive to say the least. The views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco was different from those that I have seen previously in person and in photographs. It was pretty.

Then we decided to get closer to the Golden Gate Bridge and drove to Battery Spencer. We were lucky to find an empty car park, otherwise we would have not stopped and got out of the car because of the scorching weather. 

Afterwards we drove through Lombard Street to Twin Peaks for a panoramic view of the city. We then had lunch with my friend at New England Lobster Market in Burlingame before heading to their house in San Bruno for a quick catch up. It was a good way to cap off our trip to California.

View of Golden Gate Bridge from Battery Spencer

Panoramic View of San Francisco from Twin Peaks

This road trip I must say was carefully planned. Although we underestimated some of the driving distances, we did not have much of a detour. And although we took the wrong turns in few occasions, it was not difficult for us to find our way back. 

I can honestly say that this is one of my favourite travel experiences, even if it meant enduring my fear of heights for miles and miles. I am lucky in a sense that I had a very calm and understanding travel companion. During those times when fear got the better of me, he didn't say or do anything that made matters worse. He basically just reassured me and listened patiently to my constant ramblings. And for that, I am very grateful.

So, here's to more road trips with my favourite travel buddy.


The Fairytale Village Of Colmar, France

Sunday, 8 September 2019

It was the day before my birthday when I decided to visit the nearby village of Colmar in Alsace, France. It's just over half an hour train ride from Strasbourg and it was a hassle-free journey. Because it was my birthday week, I decided to treat myself to a first class train ticket, which believe me, is neither that expensive nor special (of course, for a half an hour train ride). The only perk I suppose was the fact that I was on my own in the carriage on both journeys. Nevertheless, it was all worth it as Colmar is a village of my dreams.

I arrived mid-morning and the village was already flocked by holiday makers. I went straight to La Petite Venise (Little Venice) and was immediately transported to a fairytale setting. The village is very picturesque with its cobblestone streets lined with candy-coloured half-timbered houses along the canals of river Lauch. Walking around the village felt surreal. I have not been to a place where I felt dizzy just looking at those uniquely decorated colourful buildings. My eyes wandered aimlessly from one direction to another. Everywhere I looked seemed so overwhelmingly beautiful that I did not even think of taking photographs until I came out of my dreams and realised that this place truly existed. I was drowned in the beauty of the flower-filled canals and lovingly decorated buildings. 

I lingered in La Petite Venise until after lunch. The presence of far too many tourists didn't bother me, or should I say I didn't let it bother me because I was living in my own little world, building my own little colourful village in my head. I was oblivious of the fact that I was only there for a short time. It was difficult to gain focus because everything was picture-worthy. When I finally gained momentum, I started clicking my camera (alternating my mobile phone and my digital camera) to my heart's content.

I then made my way towards Rue des Tanneurs, passing by the covered market and some really cute shops and cafes.

Grand Rue, being the main street of Colmar was buzzing. Bright and beautiful colours are consistent everywhere in Colmar. Most of the buildings are tastefully decorated and you could see the pride of the owners, and perhaps a bit of their personalities as well by how their buildings are adorned.

On my way back to the train station, I took a different route and I was rewarded with more exhilarating sights. I must have taken hundreds of photos of Colmar that day. Every house I passed by had its own unique characteristic. Some decors were over the top yet fascinating to look at. Some were simple yet elegant. Some showed signs of wear and tear. But equally, they were all pretty and graceful.

It was only a few hours spent in Colmar, but it's enough to say that I absolutely enjoyed this very charming place. I consider this trip as my first official solo trip, although J was only a few miles away.:)

Somehow whilst writing about this trip to Colmar, the question of why I love to travel kept popping in my head. Perhaps because as I grow older and travel more, I find a better purpose in traveling. I am just grateful that I have the ability to write- that way I am able to share my experiences with those who take time to read my blog and dream of one day seeing amazing places like Colmar


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