Exploring the beautiful Soča Valley

A few months ago I somehow came across a short blog post about a hiking trail along the Soča river in Slovenia. It’s my home country, so I was surprised I never heard about the Soča Trail (Soška pot), which is actually part of a longer trailed called Alpe-Adria trail, that starts in The Alps in Austria and finishes at the Adriatic Sea. So I made a bit of a research and realized the Soča Trail is about 20km long (actually it’s more about 30km long) and goes along the river all the time, from the spring of the river to Bovec.

My mind was set on this trail the moment I heard about it and I decided this summer I’ll walk this path. So, to finish this summer the way I wanted, two of my friends and me decided to do it, to hike this path. Saturday, early morning, we started to drive towards Bovec, where we left our car. We took a bus from Bovec to the starting point. Around 10:20 am we were at the spring of Soča river and started to walk the trail – a bit later than we thought we will, but oh well, at least we started.

Obviously, at that time we were all still all full of energy, optimistic, positive and determined we will finish the trail. It’s a shame, but none of us were familiar with this area, we drove through it or been to parts of it before, but never really took time to explore this beautiful part of our country. The path mostly goes through the forest, sometimes through more open fields, but it’s easy to walk and absolutely lovely. There are few short hikes uphill now and then, but nothing dramatic, everybody can do it. Along the way, all the sweat is rewarded with stunning views of the mountains, Julian Alps, and views on the clear emerald water of the river. I’ve seen a lot of places around the world, but I must say, this was one of the best views ever.

We were making short stops about every hour, none of us is particularly fit, so we needed a break now and then. Around 3:30 pm we decided to stop for a bit longer, especially because Maja’s shoes were not as comfortable as she expected, so her feet hurt like hell. Nina had some troubles with her shoes too. I guess I was the lucky one, with comfortable shoes and still loads of energy left. So we just sat down on some rocks by the river, ate some snacks and enjoyed the view. The two of them decided this was the end of the trail for them and they would catch a bus back to the town. However, I was still full of energy and excited about the whole trail, so I decided to continue the path on my own.

Honestly, I loved this part of the trail the most. I love my friends and it was so much fun to walk, talk and laugh together – I’m a very extroverted person – but as soon as I started walking on my own a whole new experience opened up for me. Peace, quiet, nature, it was all so relaxing, gave me time to clear my mind and just be. It’s probably a bit weird, but instead of getting tired I just got even more energized. From time to time I was even running few hundred meters, and I usually never run! Definitely a whole new experience for me. I kept going for about four more hours, but then the sun was going down a bit too fast for me and I had to give up. My soul was saying to keep going, but common sense said it’s probably a good idea to stop where I am and call my friends to come pick me up. I believe I still had about 7km to walk to reach Bovec. I still walked about 23km, so I’m proud of myself, it was an absolutely amazing experience. But now I’m determined that I’ll walk this path again and next time, I’ll be prepared and start earlier. 🙂

Surprisingly, after a whole day of walking, I was all bubbly and full of energy even in the evening and I didn’t feel like going to sleep yet. In the morning I was up at 7 am and couldn’t wait for more adventures. 😀 I’m definitely one of those people that get all powered up by adventures… 😀

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Wörthersee – Austria

It’s been few months since I decided it’s time for me to leave “the ship life” and stay on land again. So far, I must say, I’m extremely happy with my decision and I’m enjoying summer as much as I can. Since I came back home I fell in love with SUP-ing (stand up paddling), so I’m still trying to stay as close to the water as possible.

My friend and I decided to visit a neighboring country for few days, Austria. Since I love adventures so much, we decided to go camping by the lake. It’s been a long time since the last time I slept in a tent and I really missed it, so I was super excited about it. We found a camp right next to Wörthersee Lake. Honestly, to me it was somehow new to actually be on vacation, to have all this free time, no schedule, no rush, I forgot how that is.

We used our first day there to explore Klagenfurt a little bit and to set up our camp spot. Towards the evening we went to the beach to relax and swim in the lake. And this night we were told there will be a party in the sky – one of the biggest meteor showers. So we grabbed few beers (and some rum), sat on a beach and watched the sky. Well, the sky show didn’t really reach our expectations, but there were still quite a lot of shooting stars, more than I’ve ever seen in one night. Wish upon a star they say… I had a chance to wish a lot of things that night.

In the morning we didn’t bother with an alarm clock. We woke up when we felt like. After late breakfast, we went for a short hike to a nearby hill. Luckily we had some random map of the area with us, but somehow we still managed to miss some path and made it all the way to the other side of the hill. Our plan was to hike for about two hours, it turned out to be four hours. But it didn’t matter, it was a nice walk through beautiful nature. After we had pasta for lunch, again, we finally put my SUP board in the water and paddled around for a while. We had to prepare for our big day…

So… the third day. Well, this is the highlight of the whole trip – we paddled on my SUP all the way to the other side of the lake and back again. Locals said we’re crazy and we won’t be able to do it. Watch us… Just watch us… Haha! Our plan was to rent another board, but the rent center opened too late, so we just shared one board. That turned out to actually be a better option in the end – yes, we were heavier, our board was much lower in the water, we were slower, but we had an option to switch positions, so each person had a chance to rest. We started our trip 8:15 in the morning. During the day we made quite a few stops along the coast, took time for a drink, for a snack, even for a pre-cooked pasta at lunchtime. Luckily we were very well prepared for a whole day trip. The other side of the lake was much harder to paddle. There were more boats, so the waves got bigger and from all sides and I still have no idea how the hell we managed to stand on board after all that. It was crazy and absolutely hilarious. I wish I could see us from some other perspective, I think I’d die laughing (well, my eyes were full of tears of laughter anyway). 🙂 Anyway, we had a bit longer stop at Velden, the town on the other side of the lake. After we got some energy back and got a cold beer at a nearby store, we were able to start our journey back. This was the hardest part of the whole trip – the waves were still high and now even the wind was our enemy, blowing towards us. Most of our way back I was just laughing. Maybe I was going a bit extra crazy because I was already tired, or maybe it was actually funny. My fight with a bee probably made it even funnier, since I was just saying that if I’ll ever fall in the water, it’s going to be because of these stupid bees flying around my head. It wasn’t even 5 minutes later when I flipped the board over and we fell in the water. When I looked around me my friend was still under water, but hey, he saved the beer can! Priorities… 😀

Despite nobody believing we’ll be able to cross the lake and come back to the starting point in one day, we did it. The whole lake is 18km long, so that made 36km of paddling. I think I paddled around 16km and my friend around 20km. We were tired, but we felt proud that we did it. I mean come on, it’s my first season SUP-ing and my friend actually stood on a SUP for the third time in his life… 😀

We were absolutely exhausted at the end of the day. We made it back to our camping spot around 7 pm, tired, hungry… The next day we had to pack up and we were still too tired to do anything special. We made a short stop in a nice canyon in Slovenia, but only to sit down in a shade for a bit and have a beer. We just needed to get home and get some sleep. Well, this was definitely one of the best adventures this summer. I think I’m getting used to this life on land quite well and I hope it will continue like this. 😀

Italy – Traveling back in time around Naples

Hello again! This is another pretty late post, but oh well, better late than never I guess. So I had a short vacation at home and before joining my new ship I decided to go on a small adventure to my neighboring country for few days, Italy. I’ve seen some of the more northern parts already, but the area around Naples was always high up on my bucket list. Since I had a friend there, even better! You can find photos on the bottom of the post.

Caserta Palace

One of the spots I visited was Caserta Palace, a bit north of Naples. It’s a magnificent palace, beautiful, full of amazing artworks, covered with so much marble that you can’t believe it. Seriously, I can’t imagine how much all that marble cost at one point. I’m always somehow shocked and disappointed how aristocrats often didn’t (still don’t) care how much money is spent on ridiculous things. But yes, I admit, the end result is impressive. In the rooms, you get the glimpse of a life of kings and queens, since you can see their bedrooms, study rooms, throne room with an actual throne and even the toilet. And it’s not just the rooms and regular objects that are interesting. In this palace, you need to pay attention to small details. The chandeliers, the paintings, the statues and all the tiny things that we sometimes don’t even notice – they’re all amazing artworks.

The thing is, the palace is so massive that it’s not fully renovated. Part of it is open to public (and it’s still massive), a big part is still under renovation. Hopefully one day everything will be restored to its former glory and we’ll be able to see every secret corner of this gorgeous building. I wasn’t allowed to take photos of the inside (and honestly, I just wanted to enjoy the place without taking photos), so I don’t have much there… Since we arrived a bit late we didn’t have a chance to visit the gardens too, but I’d say if you ever pass the area, this is a spot worth visiting.

Naples

Let me say few things about Naples as well. Honestly, I expected much more of this city. We heard on the news this city has trouble with garbage, but I’m an optimistic person and I always think things can’t be that bad. Trust me in this case – it’s bad. I get there are nasty areas around the world, but I always considered Europe to be quite clean since my country is super clean… Well, that’s not the case in this part of Italy. I’ve seen people actually stopping the car on the SOS stop on a highway to put out on the side of the street a plastic bag full of trash. What the hell is wrong with people and this place?! So yes, for my standards, this place was quite dirty. Also, I thought it would be more interesting for a tourist, more to see, more to do… Well honestly, I was disappointed.

Walking around Naples is a bit tricky. Some parts of the city are really boring, gray, ugly and you get the feeling somebody will come around the corner to rob you. I felt a bit uncomfortable even if I wasn’t walking around alone. If you stick to the touristy streets and roads it feels better, but it’s easy to get off the beaten path. The main streets are actually really interesting, full of cute shops, souvenirs, and small restaurants. There is one main touristy route through the city that takes to all main locations, like the main square Plazza del Plebiscito with the Royal Palace and a church, then through the old town and all the way to the old city gate. Even though these are the main tourist areas I was quite surprised they were still very dirty. Trash was lying around the streets and there was a sad view of a lot of beggars and immigrants trying to illegally sell some souvenirs. I don’t mind the beggars and immigrants, don’t get me wrong, I just think it’s sad to see that and it makes you think what we all can do to help the world. I won’t get into politics here, let’s leave that maybe for some other post…

Castello del Ovo

I went to see the Ovo Castle, which is at the edge of the city, guarding the bay. It’s a nice castle, it’s quite well preserved and renovated and I love how it looks like a really strong medieval fortress that you wouldn’t want to mess around with. I always like to imagine going back in time, how it looked like in all its glory… I liked it. But I must say, I was a bit disappointed once I reached the inside of the castle. The exterior is nice, the walls, the walk up, the canons… But that’s about it. There is not much more to see there. Maybe I’ve seen too many castles and fortresses and I’m not that easy to impress anymore, but I really expected to see a bit more than just some cannons and blank walls.

National Archeological Museum

The place that impressed me was National Archeological Museum in Naples. Since I’m a huge history and art buff this was definitely one of the most exciting things for me. The building is home to so many statues and objects from different parts of the world, even some Egyptian art, mummies and scripts. Really cool. But the main thing that I came to see was ancient Roman art and objects from the city of Pompeii. There are so many massive statues from the Roman times that you can’t count them. Some of them used to decorate private homes, others were part of public buildings, but all of them are absolutely beautiful. The size of some of them is gigantic – I didn’t expect that!

Then there is one area of the museum that is dedicated only to the objects from Pompeii, and that’s more or less what I really came to see. They have an original bed, mosaics, tables, pottery and so many tiny objects that got “frozen” in time because of the eruption of Vesuvius. What I thought was absolutely hilarious was “the dicks of Pompeii”. I’ve heard of them before, my awesome professor of Art History even mentioned them to us once, but I never found much information about this. So that was also the reason I wanted to see it “with my own eyes”. So let me explain just a bit of history here. Ancient Roman times were very open minded and a lot of things that are a taboo these days were quite acceptable back then. They had a lot of brothels and obviously, sex was a big business (well, in a way that is still the case in modern times). So around the cities, there were a lot of “dick” signs to use as direction sign to the nearby brothel. Some signs were just as drawings on the wall, others were big (and hard) statues built in the wall. Walls of brothels were decorated with frescoes that usually had sexual scenes. There were all kinds of sexual positions, orgies and even some weird things they did with animals. Yes, those ancient times were quite crazy! So this kind of stuff is all represented in this museum and when you look at it, you’re not sure if you should laugh or not since it wasn’t really meant to be funny, but it somehow is… I don’t know, it seemed like I was the only one really enjoying this part of the exhibition, I couldn’t stop smiling, while others looked a little disapproving. =D

Well, let’s leave this sex topic now because I don’t want to get you all too excited. =)

Pompeii

Now let’s finally come to the highlight and the thing I was waiting to see almost all my life – Pompeii. Since I was a kid I used to read about this city that literally died in few hours. When I saw the walls I was probably the happiest person that day, it was like a dream come true for me. If I could travel in time, that’s the era I’d go to. The city is so well preserved, so many walls still high up, you can tell where were the doors, where the windows, you can see some frescoes, statues, and mosaics… There are some amazing remains of insulas (Roman houses) where you can see the floorplan and how on the lower level there was some sort of a shop or a craft and upper levels were used as an apartment. It’s so interesting to see massive built-in amphoras (huge vases or bowls) that were used to serve street food. I loved that most of the buildings had some sort of signs explaining their function. Then the villas on the outskirts of Pompeii, near the city walls. You can visit their amazing gardens with flowers and fountains and with a little bit of imagination you can see yourself there in some toga sitting on a bench enjoying Roman wine… Absolutely amazing.

Visiting the old theater was one of the best things because in a way I was hoping actors would come on stage and play some amazing act. It’s beautiful. And if you’re on the top of the main theater you have a really good view of the city as well. Underneath you can also see a smaller theater and a large sports court that was beside competitions also used for training purposes. Apparently smaller rooms next to the training court were used as rooms for gladiators.

And that leads us to the amphitheater on the outside of the city walls. It’s pretty large and it’s quite well preserved. When you walk inside you can imagine the crowd screaming, shouting… You walk around wondering how much blood was spilled on the spot you’re standing. Brutal, I know, but it is part of the history… Then next to the arena there is another massive sports court where there is part of the exhibition of interesting findings from the city. There is a lot of food that is still preserved from the day of the eruption. It is somehow trapped in time and just got black because of the heat, but that’s why it’s still preserved. So you can actually see some ancient bread, fruits and other things that would otherwise be long gone. As sad as the story of this city is, in a way we can be thankful that the disaster allowed us to be part of it all two millenniums later.

I know a lot of visitors come to see Pompeii because of the dead bodies. I know, totally creepy, but it’s true, there were people in the city that turned “to stone” because of the ash and heat. Those bodies are preserved to this day and they were found in few different areas of the city. There are still some visible on their original spots, but they are actually replicas. Originals are now stored in a museum (which I sadly didn’t get a chance to visit), so they won’t get damaged. But even if you know it’s a replica it’s still quite an emotional encounter, to see them lying there, probably praying for their lives, hoping God’s will have mercy…

Herculaneum

Now, this leads me to another city with a similar story as Pompeii. A bit less known, but also very impressive, Herculaneum. This place was closer to the sea at that time and a bit more west from Mount Vesuvius, so it got more ashes and less lava and massive stones falling down. That’s the reason why it’s more preserved than Pompeii. There are so many buildings with more than just the ground floor, you can see second floor, rooms, decorations on the walls and floors. It’s absolutely amazing. Some buildings even have wooden parts preserved, like wooden ceilings, floors and even doors and window shutters. The bottom level of the city is really impressive since that was actually the water level of the sea in those days. Down there you can see what used to be boat houses and a pier, which was one of the routes people of Herculaneum decided to use as their option to escape the tragedy. So there they lie, their skeletons, still holding on to each other and trying to protect the kids. It’s so sad to see that. And there they are now, a tourist attraction…

Mount Vesuvius

So to make the whole visit of this part of Italy complete, I had to visit the king of the disaster, the Mount Vesuvius, the volcano that killed thousands, destroyed cities and at the same time preserved all this for us to see so many years later. You can go quite high up the mountain with a car, then it’s up to you if you want to take a shuttle bus even higher up to the crater or you want to walk. We decided to walk, even though the path isn’t really meant for pedestrians at that part. But I wanted to enjoy the view, I wanted to take in as much as possible. So we walked… Once you get closer to the top you can see the different soil, smell the different air and eventually see the crater. In some areas, there is still smoke coming out, just enough of it to make you think that one day this thing will erupt again. It’s just sitting there, waiting, looking down at large and very populated area of Naples… I really hope it doesn’t create the same “Pompeii tragedy” again. But yes, when you think about it and that you’re standing on all this majestic power, you feel helpless. We came so far as human race, but on the other hand, when nature decides it’s time, we can’t really do much about it, except evacuate. The power of nature…

 

Visiting the Naples area truly was an interesting adventure for me, touristy and emotionally. This was probably emotionally the most fascinating place I ever visited, just because of the Pompeii, Herculaneum and the sad history written by the volcano. When I was leaving Naples with an airplane it was towards evening and for the goodbye, I got a magnificent view out of the plane window, down on a majestic volcano with sunset. That was the best ending of this trip, I couldn’t ask for a better view.

So if you ever go on a similar road trip, travel or adventure, try to take it all in. Try to think about history here, about the events that happened and try to imagine it all, put yourself in those times… It’s so much better. =)

Experiencing Philippines 2015

Ah yes, another late blog post. But better late than never! So, long story short… Fell in love with Filipino while I was working on a cruise ship, so I decided to visit him when we were both off ships. I was thinking I might stay there at first, by my plans soon changed, so I just decided to have a time of my life, enjoy the country, travel and have fun!

This was my first visit of Asia and my first really long flight, but I wasn’t too nervous. I just took it as another adventure. My flight was from Venice (Italy) to Istanbul and then to Manila. It was really funny because I bumped into another Slovenian on my first flight and then in Istanbul two Slovenian couples were standing next to me, so we talked a bit which places are they planning to visit in Philippines and so on. Seriously, there is 2.000.000 of us Slovenians, but we seem to be everywhere… =D

 

Anyway, at the airport Joe was waiting for me and his dad picked us up. He took us to Joe’s brother’s house, where we were staying for most of the time. It’s just a bit south of Manila in a smaller town. For me this was my first “Asia experience”, first time being in such traffic, seeing all these weird vehicles, so many people, such different buildings, smell, noise and heath… Then followed the experience of living “as locals” in Philippines… Using the tricycles and jeepneys to get anywhere, buying stuff at some random stands in the middle of the street, watching local tv shows (there is one around noon that everybody is watching but I failed to see why it was so interesting), eating like locals (which means going to fast food restaurants too – they love it)…

The biggest shockers for me happened first and second night. I went downstairs to the bathroom in the middle of the night and there was small roach waiting for me in front of the door. I hate bugs, I seriously hate them and I’m scared of them and they are disgusting! Second night I nearly died because there was not one small one, but two large cockroaches running around the ground floor so I couldn’t even get to the toilet! Then one night I went to the kitchen (that’s where they originated) and I wanted to take a plate and another one crawled out and ran across kitchen counter. Holy sh*t! By the end I learned not to be on the ground floor after about 10 p.m., that’s when they come out… But sadly I learned later that they are everywhere around Philippines and that they get into any house, and they can get much higher than ground floor… Yay, great news… NOT!

 

Ok, let’s leave these disgusting menaces now… =) So, we did some sightseeing around Manila. We had to take few jeepney rides and a bus to get to city center. I managed to experience proper traffic, but actually I learned later that it can get even worse… Around 6 a.m. traffic already starts, by 8 all vehicles basically stop, or at least I have no idea how anything there moves for more than 1m. We went to the fortress and old city, which is kinda nice, but to be honest, I’ve seen so many more beautiful historic places that this one didn’t really feel special to me.

We even went to Tondo, area where most tourists don’t go because it’s more of a ghetto place and it’s considered dangerous for white people, but being with a local makes it a bit safer and easier. I was actually really happy to see this place, because you can see how so many people live in such small poor apartments. Eye opening experience, honestly. But funny, most still find a way to own a tv, smart phones and stuff that we actually consider as a bit of a luxury. We also visited Divisoria – shopping area with cheap stuff, fake brands and you can buy everything you can imagine! And it’s soooooooooo crowded!

Then we went to another extreme – to Mall of Asia, one of the biggest shopping malls in the world. It’s huge, at least for me… It’s posh, full of expensive brands, restaurants, cinemas and even ice skating ring, but every weekend they have fireworks in the evening… That day I went from one world to another in few hours, it couldn’t be more black and white. You can’t see this kind of extremes in Slovenia, not even by far!

Then one day we went to Enchanted Kingdom, small amusement park (that is actually the largest in Philippines), which had one or two really awesome roller coasters and some cool water rides. And I love extreme thrill rides… =)

 

Tagaytay was also on our list of places we wanted to see. It’s a bit south of Manila and it’s a town by a lake and there is the world’s smallest volcano in the middle of the lake. It was a bit cloudy, foggy and rainy day, but that didn’t really ruin the day. On one of the viewpoints they have zip-line, so we had to do that. That was fun (and cheap and you also get free photo)! But to be honest, I don’t know, it was ok, but I’m not sure if it’s worth all the drive… Maybe on a sunny day.

 

Our first “proper getaway” was when we visited “Joe’s island” Marinduque, an island not so far from Manila. We had to travel in night time, so we left house in the evening, got to ferry terminal around 2 a.m., had ferry around 4 a.m., got to the island around 6 a.m., got to Joe’s house around 7 a.m.. This was totally different extreme from what I saw around Manila. Peace, quiet, no traffic, just nature and palm trees everywhere! His house is kinda on top of a hill in the middle of the forest and rice fields. Beautiful getaway, which is cool, but also a bit too disconnected from civilization for me. But it was nice for few days. We got some fresh coconuts, pineapples, bananas and mangoes. I was also a huge attraction in the area, because apparently I was the first white person that came to that hill. All distant family members came to see me and we even got invited to a funeral. What the hell?! So ok, I went. But it wasn’t really a funeral, it was that thing where they all gather around deceased person. But Filipinos manage to make a party out of it, everybody is laughing, eating and getting drunk. And this time it was an opportunity for all the local kids to take photos with me… I felt so strange, I’ve never felt such an outsider before! They were all really nice to me, but still, when I walked into that area it felt like in movies where music stops and everybody turns around and looks at you. Creepy!

One day we went to the beach, but that took us one hour with tricycle (these things are so slow…). Well, it was a nice beach and it had some nice huts for shade. But I hated the water, because there were coral and stone areas in the water and soooooo many large black sea urchins! I love seaside and I love to be in the water, but I couldn’t really enjoy it this time. Another thing – most Filipinos wear t-shirts and shorts on a beach, especially girls. I was told a bit because they don’t want to get tanned, a bit because they’re not really confident apparently. This isn’t a touristic destination, so I was the only white person at the beach and I was in my bikini, so I felt uncomfortable that everybody was staring at me. Later on a white couple came by, so apparently I some tourists do come there…

Well going to that island took us about 6 hours, while going back took us about 12 hours… Seriously, don’t be surprised if your ride stays still for an hour because there is still one free seat that they need to fill. Yay… =) Almost nothing and almost nobody is on time there…

 

Then we had another great trip when we visited our friend from the ship that lives just a bit north of Manila. Funny, but his grandpa just had his birthday party when we arrived. Once again, everybody was so happy to meet me and they took me in as part of the family. We drank, sung videoke and had fun. It’s amazing how Filipinos make you feel welcome, even though you’re a total outsider.

 

My favorite part of the whole month I spent in Philippines was when we went to Palawan, which is considered the most beautiful island in the world. Well, first our flight was delayed and instead of arriving there 7 p.m. we got there 7 a.m.. Jaka, a Slovenian that lives there arranged everything during our stay there, so he got us some cheap but nice hotels and recommended which tours were the best to take.

As soon as we arrived we had our first tour to the Underground River. Another typical Filipino “organization” – whole group gets to the location, but then there is a line of tourists and your tour guide gets a number and then you wait for hours for your turn. You have to schedule a tour in advance anyway, so they could just tell you what time to come… Oh well, luckily our tour guide suggested we go on a canoe ride through mangrove forest while we were waiting. I always liked mangroves. Maybe because we don’t have them in my country. I felt a bit like Pocahontas. It was peaceful, you could feel and hear the nature, not just see it. Beautiful!

After that we had on a typical bamboo boat, fought with high waves and arrived to our destination – the Underground River. Oh, what a beautiful place! First you walk through meters through jungle, then you arrive at some hidden bay and you can see water going inside the cave. They put few of us in these canoes again and our tour guide paddled us inside. It’s beautiful because there are no lights, only a tour guide turns his flashlight in direction he wants. Quiet, peace, different stalactite above your head, you can hear water dripping and there is dark water everywhere around you… Truly one of the most mysterious and beautiful places I’ve ever visited. I loved it!

After our cave adventure we went to El Nido in northern part of Palawan. It’s probably the most visited tourist spot in the whole Philippines. It took us about 6 hours with a van from Puerto Princessa to get there, but it’s totally worth it. Our hotel was in the center of the small town, just second line from the beach. I felt so much more comfortable there, because that area is full of white people and a lot of them actually live there. We had a tour next day and it was supposed to start at 9, but it started 10 a.m.. As soon as the boat got out of the bay there was a gorgeous view on all the small islands and islets scattered around the area. We stopped at one beach for a swim in a tropical paradise. Then we went to another island and stopped in a bay where they offered kayaks to get to Small Lagoon, because rocks in the area are sharp and there are some poisonous creatures on the sea floor. So we rented a kayak and we had to go through a small tunnel to reach this hidden lagoon and once you get out on the other side it’s like a new world. It’s beautiful and mysterious, there are high grey cliffs around you and you really feel small. Then we were supposed to have lunch on another island, but our boat broke down, so we had to have lunch on a small “Robinson” beach in the bay. Oh, what a “torture”! Food, sea, sandy beach and palm trees… I really didn’t mind being stuck there for about two hours! =D

So after our tummies were full we got another boat. This one was named Fast and Furious, so we were confident it will work! =D We went to a Hidden Lagoon this time. I thought the last one was hidden, but at this one you actually had to climb through a hole in a rock to get into a small lagoon, again surrounded by majestic high cliffs. And our last stop was the Big Lagoon, where we had an option to walk into the lagoon or to do some snorkeling. Because I simply love snorkeling I decided for that and I’ll never be sorry I took this option. There is a coral reef full of corals and colorful fish! I had my underwater camera with me, but I never imagined fish would swim towards me and stop in front to “pose” for my camera. Seriously, I started laughing because some of them just stared at me! Hilarious and magnificent experience! I loved every second of it! =D

Sadly we didn’t have much time, so next day we spent a morning at the beach and then we had to go back to Puerto Princessa. In the evening we went to an Italian restaurant that I heard about and the owner is Slovenian. We bumped into our tourist agency guy, Jaka as well! But the funniest thing was when those four Slovenians I met at the airport in Istanbul came in the restaurant and suddenly we were a majority! =D

Ah, Palawan, totally worth visiting and I’d love to revisit it one day. Truly magnificent island and I can understand now why they say it’s the most beautiful in the world. Well, roads and houses could be better, as they could be everywhere in Philippines, but this is not why you travel and visit beautiful nature. =)

 

Before I left we still had few days and we couldn’t book a tour to Segada and rice fields in the north, so we decided just to go to Subic and have some time at the beach there. Well, not really what I expected, but still better than to stay in Manila. What I didn’t know and nobody told me beforehand, that this area is mostly famous for prostitution and not really for sandy beaches… =D Oops! Well, we still spent some nice time at the beach and they offer great deals for scuba diving, but we decided just for snorkeling again. Ah, bad idea! There is a port on the other side of the bay, so you don’t get that feeling of paradise and water is far from clear. Boat took us to a small island in the middle of the bay, but the whole area is surrounded with large sea urchins! Really, not much to see beside sea urchins. But the worst thing was when my whole body felt itchy and I couldn’t even swim anymore, I just had to scratch myself! Joe told me it was because sea urchins put some toxins into the water to drive away potential predators. So yeah, not really the best snorkeling site…

But the funniest thing at the Subic beach are the “floating bars”, that are built on a raft and they have some other raft that takes you there. What I didn’t know and believe until I saw it, was that around noon some girls in short skirts and high heels get on the raft to the bar. A bit later a group of American guys goes over and then it you can hear the laughter… Raft is just enough far away from the beach that you can but can’t see what’s going on there, but when you kinda figure out you know that it’s all kinds of “dirty stuff”. Kinda awkward if you don’t know and you might be at the beach with a kid or something. =) So if you ever go to Subic, expect that… But honestly, I wouldn’t recommend visiting that place, there are so many much more beautiful locations!

 

That’s how a month passed by really quickly and I had to go back home. Yes, I had planned to stay there, but once I got there I realized I’d need to have some more savings. And after being there for a while I realized there is just no way could I live in metro Manila area. It’s too different, to polluted, too dirty, too smelly, too much traffic, too crowded and really not what I want. And to be honest, when you’re a tourist there you don’t’ really care about make-up, you wear sporty clothes, you don’t care about sweat too much, but when I realized if I’d live there and go to work, meetings and have to dress up a bit better, I think I’d hate it! To dress nicely and then drive around with public transportation it’s easy to get clothes dirty or torn, but also you sweat like a pig, so if you just washed your hair, before you reach your destination you already look like you didn’t shower for a week. So yeah, I guess it’s true, moisture and high temperatures start to annoy you, because it’s always like that. Probably if your job is not an office job and you don’t have meetings or you don’t have to drive far away it’s ok, but otherwise I’d really get annoyed.

If I’d stay in Philippines I’d pick Palawan, but it would have to be a house on a beach or very close to the beach, otherwise that just wouldn’t be it. And I think I’d have to say goodbye to my photography career, because if you’re not a wedding or family photographer there is not really a chance to earn any money there. Or maybe I just didn’t see it…

 

So that’s it for now, but before I let you all go, I just made a bit of a sum-up of things that I found unusual, weird or “not expected” in Philippines.

  • Toilet paper is not really a common thing, most people just use water – I have no idea how that works, well, I can imagine, but I don’t really want to… =D So I rather just had tissues with me everywhere I went.
  • There is a security check every time you go in a larger grocery store or a shopping mall.
  • You can get normal shower, but a lot of locals just have a bucket of water… It’s not so unusual if you only have one pipe with running water inside or outside the house and you just use buckets.
  • In some remote places there is running water only few times per day for few minutes!
  • Around larger cities – traffic, traffic everywhere, all the time, but especially around rush hours!
  • Their weird roosters shout all the time! Seriously, every half hour or so, even in the middle of the night. And yes, they have chicken and roosters in the middle of the city as well.
  • A lot of stray cats and dogs everywhere.
  • If you’re white most locals assume you’re rich and famous, so most likely they’ll want to have photos with you, or they’ll ask for some money. And yes, everybody stares at you, especially at not so touristic places.
  • In Manila prepare for smog, bad smell and loud noise!
  • There is “Filipino time” for a lot of things – which means people will be late for few hours…
  • If you shop where most locals do (like Divisoria in Manila) you can get seriously cheap stuff!
  • Prepare to see cockroaches in the evening, sometimes even on the streets…
  • Watch your step EVERYWHERE and ALL THE TIME, because there are often some open shafts, holes, cables and trash lying on the ground, but also look above, because sometimes old electric cables are hanging really low and you can hit your head (almost happened to me).

My opinion overall – amazing country for adventurers, totally awesome to spend your vacation there, awesome islands and beaches and I would totally do it again and again, but I can’t see myself living there. After being at home for a month after the visit, I feel this even more, but I’m grateful I was able to experience it a bit different than most tourists. I could say I saw less, but experienced more. Next time I need to visit some more islands! =D

My “ship life” adventure of year 2015

It’s been a long time since my last blog post, more than one year. I guess this confirms that year 2015 was totally crazy and busy year for me – luckily in a good way!

This blog post is more or less a sum up of most of the year, or at least the part that includes the whole “ship life” experience. Soon after I joined I started making selfies on every location I visited. It started just as photos to send to my family to show them I’m fine, but then I came up with an idea to make a “selfie album”. So that’s why this post is not about great photography but about my crazy adventure.

As I already mentioned in posts before, I got a job as a videographer on a cruise ship. It all happened really fast. I had a Skype interview on Friday, in the end of the interview I was given a weekend to think about it, Friday after that I already had to fly and join the ship. It was my first time to travel totally by myself, so it was one of a kind experience full of emotions and second thoughts. I always wanted to travel, I always wanted to work abroad, but when it all started happening I just couldn’t believe it I was so lucky.

 

I joined a ship Fred Olsen Braemar on one of the Canary Islands named La Palma. We cruised to Cape Verde, then back to Canary Islands. Last day of year 2014 we were in Tenerife, we waited to see the fireworks and soon after that we set sail across the Atlantic Ocean. It’s such a magnificent feeling crossing the ocean. I felt a bit like explorers once and when you look around and all you can see is ocean, you feel the wind in your hair… I went on top deck in the middle of a night when we were really somewhere half way across the ocean and it was full moon, clear sky and nobody else outside on the deck. I just lied down on one of the recliners and enjoyed the peace and I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. I said to myself that the only thing missing now is a shooting star and boom, there it was! Truly one of the most amazing things I’ve ever experienced.

Then I had the best time ever when we had two months cruising around Caribbean islands! I never imagined I’ll see these exotic tropical islands, but now I had two months of sunshine, palm trees, warm ocean, sandy beaches and amazing company all the time. One day we were in Antigua, then Aruba, Curacao, Saint Marteen, British Virgin Islands, we even visited Colombia and Panama. I couldn’t believe I was able to see the Panama Canal, then Panama City and I actually went on a historic train ride from Atlantic to Pacific coast! We also visited Havana and Santiago de Cuba where I visited so many historic places and I experienced my own version of the movie Dirty Dancing! I got a chance to swim with the dolphins at St. Kitts, let air planes fly really just few meters above my head at Maho Beach on St. Maarten (you gotta check my video!), drank crazy style at Boatyard on Barbados… (Check my other “Caribbean fun” video!)

Then we crossed the Atlantic Ocean again, made a short stop on Azores, then in Dover in UK, then we were off to the north. From hot summer weather to cold winter days in Norway in about a week… Our first cruise in these parts was probably the most unique one, because we went all the way up to Tromso where we even managed to see the northern lights, then we watched the total solar eclipse, amazing fjords, waterfalls and beautiful mountains. We actually had quite few cruises around Scandinavia, so I managed to see truly magnificent nature and cities. I’ve done some cool tours like the very steep Flam railway, I’ve seen the oldest wooden church in the world, I’ve seen so many Viking stuff I can’t even remember them all, houses with grass roofs, waterfalls, flowers, glaciers and even a small snow avalanche!

So all together in Europe I think we visited Norway, Finland, Sweden, Faroe Islands, Denmark, Germany, Saint Petersburg in Russia (but I couldn’t get off because I didn’t have a proper Seaman’s book – but I went on a pier just to say I stood on Russian ground! Ha!), then Spain, Portugal, France, Belgium, Ireland and UK. I think these are all… I liked so many places but I think on top of my list I would put Spain. Maybe because I visited Alhambra and Alcazar palaces which were on my bucketlist and they are truly so impressive. I’m a big Game of Thrones fan, so I was so excited to realize that some scenes were shot in Alcazar palace and I’ve also seen one of the castles in Ireland that they used for Iron Islands.

 

Now I know all this travel sounds really good and that’s why so many people tell me I didn’t really worked, I just enjoyed… Well no. I actually worked a lot! I had to film passengers getting on board on their first day, some sail-away and sail-in scenes, all the locations we visited and tours I went on, different shows on board and special events. When necessary I had to be a photographer as well, shooting portraits on gala/formal nights, I’ve done all the video editing myself as well, then we had to sell our products at the photo gallery… So actually sometimes I worked more than 10 hours every day, sometimes I was lucky and maybe I worked only about 6 hours in one day… Rarely did it happen that I worked even less. But in general it really depended from cruise to cruise. It’s a stressful job because you need to film so many things, then you edit, then it all needs to be done by the last day of the cruise, so the passengers can collect the DVD’s of their cruise…

On Braemar we were only a team of three – Photo Manager, Photographer and me, Videographer. After Caribbean our team got new Photo Manager and there were quite a lot of changes. I don’t mind changes, but after a while I realized most of these changes were not good. Maybe the sales were better, but the team spirit went down and my energy and motivation got really low. So I managed to get the issue solved by requesting to be transferred and so I ended up joining Fred Olsen Balmoral. We were team of four there and my energy got restored, team spirit was great and I managed to meet more amazing people.

 

Let me tell you a little bit about life on board. We eat at the crew mess (or some of us had the privilege to eat in officers mess or in one of the passenger restaurants too), food is different than the one we eat at home so it takes a while to get used to it, we have crew areas where we can hang out, we had some movie nights, karaoke nights, bingo nights and of course we had crew parties. Well we didn’t have parties too often, but without them most of the crew would go crazy, because you can’t just work all the time. That’s probably also the reason why crew parties are the most awesome parties you can ever go to, because basically everybody is your friend and once you get to know enough people and you truly relax you have the best time, you get amazing friends and you easily fall in love…

We had our cabins (rooms) below sea level and there is not a lot of space. Most of us shared our cabin with another cabin mate, some guys had cabin for four, so it’s very important to get along with more or less everybody, because you’re more or less stuck with these people for few months. But I was always lucky to have the best cabin mates and we became good friends. Also there were the water-tight doors that have this annoying sound when they close or open (which is when we arrive or depart from port), then some of us had cabins above the engine room so the whole room is noisy and keeps shaking, then some had cabin above the water tank and you can hear it splashing… Also you shouldn’t think about the ocean just behind the wall… Oh and I forgot to mention that crew wi-fi is expensive and very slow, so it’s good if you’re not too home sick. But that’s why we usually search good wi-fi spots when we reach the ports…

And beside all this, there are also passenger and crew drills, where every crew member has an emergency station and everybody knows where they’re supposed to go in a case of emergency. Every person on board has designated life boat or life raft, everybody has their role. Crew drills were once a week, but if you went on a tour or you were working you were allowed to be excused sometimes. So no joking around – ship life is a serious thing!

People ask me which ship I preferred working on and I can’t really say, because both of them had good and bad moments, but mostly it all depends what kind of people surround you. Now that I look back I can only say that the whole experience was amazing and priceless.

 

I returned back home in August, so I’ve been on board the ships for a bit longer than 8 months. At first I enjoyed some rest, free time and doing absolutely nothing. I had to get used to sunlight waking me up, hearing birds outside, and seeing the same view every day… Funny, but all these normal things become unusual when you come back from the ship. I’ve been posting quite a lot on Facebook to keep my family and friends a bit up to date where I am and what’s going on with me, but when I got home I couldn’t believe how many people wanted me to describe my experience and show some photos. I still can’t really believe this adventure happened to me, but when I see reactions of others I truly start to appreciate that this is really not something everybody experiences. I guess I dreamt for so long about traveling and working abroad that sooner or later it had to happen. It might sound cheesy, but now I really believe dreams come true. =)

There is so much more I could tell, but I think this post is already really long, but you’re more than welcome to ask me if you’d like to know more. =) Thanks a lot for reading!