I know many parts of the world still have travel restrictions currently and some areas are just coming out of lockdown from this COVID-19 pandemic. We don’t know if world travel would ever be the same again, however I just wanted to feature a long overdue post about a trip that we made some time ago. In fact, we made this trip exactly a year past already, in May of 2019.
We rode the Bernina Express. This is touted as one of the most scenic train rides in the world and it runs on the highest railway accross the Alps. We boarded the train at Tirano, Italy and traveled to St. Moritz, Switzerland.
By the way, in this time of pandemic and limited travel, I saw that there are virtual train rides around the world that you can experience (see this link) right now. Bernina Express is one of them.
The Bernina Express travels through the UNESCO World Heritage site via the Rhaetian Railway. When we say World Heritage Site, it is a landmark or area, that is selected by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for having cultural, historical, scientific or other form of significance, and that it is legally protected by international treaties.
And off we go….
The train has comfortable seats and is roomy inside. The glass windows are huge and are up to the ceiling, offering uninterrupted views of the breath-taking landscapes.
We passed through bridges and tunnels, mountains and valleys, towns and even lakes. No underwater tunnel though.
Photo below is the Lago di Poschiavo, a naturallake in the Poschiavo valley near Miralago, Switzerland.
The landscape gradually changed as we went higher and higher in altitude. Not too long from then we were coursing through the Alps. We were on top of the world!
After a little more than 2 hours, we finally arrived at St. Moritz, Switzerland where we boarded off the train. We spent only a shortwhile there, perhaps only to take some photos, and then we headed back to Italy.
This is an instance that the journey is as good, maybe even better, than the destination. A wonderful ride indeed.
Here’s a short video clip of the train ride as we were navigating through the snow and glaziers that it was like the Polar Express:
Every month of May there is a place in Iowa that turns into a tulip town. And even though there’s still a scare of the pandemic, we went to visit the place. Of course we practiced precautionary measures and social distancing while we were out.
As their landmark says, it is “Tulip Time.” There is supposed to be a parade also during this festival that showcase the town’s Dutch heritage, however due to COVID-19, it was cancelled for this year. But we can still admire the tulips.
Also popular in this town is the famed Dutch bakery where the baked goods are as colorful as the tulips. The most sought after item though is the Dutch Letter, an S-shaped pastry that taste so delicious. S stands for Sinterklass, the Dutch Santa Claus.
Here are some more photos that does not necessarily feature tulips, nonetheless, they caught my fancy.
We have been to Chicago several times before, perhaps ten times or more, yet we were there again last Valentine’s weekend. It’s not that Chicago is a particularly romantic place, but we were there for a different reason.
The 2020 NBA All-Star weekend was in Chicago during that time, but we were not there for that reason as well. Though I wish I could have watched the NBA All-Star games. (This post has nothing to do with the NBA team Chicago Bulls.)
We went to Chicago to see a concert. Whose concert? It’s a group that our daughter introduced us to, and she’s a big fan of them. She is a music major and a classical pianist if you have not known that already, and I would say that she has a good taste for music. But we did not watch an opera, for I don’t think I could really appreciate that kind of music genre. The concert that we watched was of a group of three young tenors that are classic-pop crossover who fondly call their music “popera.”
Many of the songs they sang were in Italian, like “O Sole Mio” and “Grande Amore,” though they have some cover of old polular songs like Frank Senatra’s “My Way” and Barbara Streisand’s “People.” I told my daughter that at least I could understand 1 out of 2 songs that they sang.
We also have relatives from the Philippines that are visiting us here in Iowa so we brought them along for the drive to see Chicago. Even though it was too cold to roam around yet we were still able to show them some of the famous spots of the city. Is the Jollibee restaurant a part of that famous location for a Filipino tour? Of course!
We also took our guests up the viewing deck at the 103rd floor of Willis Tower (previously known as Sears Tower). It took us almost 3 hours to get to the top, not that we have to climb the stairs, for that would be much faster. It was the line of people waiting to go up that was really long. Definitely a painfully long time to wait for an elevator ride.
We booked rooms in a hotel in downtown Chicago at the heart of the city’s bustling traffic. Nearby our hotel was a fire station. So you could imagine the street noise that we could hear even if we were already on the 12th floor of the building. Sure enough it was hard to sleep at night due to the sounds of wailing sirens and cars honking. No wonder they provided ear plugs as part of their amenities.
I am not used to hearing car horns already let alone hearing them almost continuously through the night. I thought the beeping would only last during rush hours, but no it did not stop. People were honking their car horns even at the unholy time of 3 o’clock in the morning. Unless they consider that rush hour still, or perhaps these people were drunk or just plain rude. Well, it’s Chicago’s bullhorns!
Don’t get me wrong, I like the city of Chicago and I have been exposed to noisy environment in my life as I grew up in Manila and I also lived for a few years in New York City. But I have been in Iowa now for 16 years and have adapted to peaceful rural living.
But we’re back in Iowa now. I’m back to the quiet nights where the only noise I could hear when it gets dark is the rare hooting of the illusive owl and the deafening sounds of my thoughts.
January and February are usually the coldest months here in Iowa. It is too cold to run outside, at least for most people. The last time I went out to run was back in December, and it was actually Christmas Day as we had a spring time weather that time.
But today is different. By the way, it is 02 02 2020, how neat is that? Even though it is February, our temperature is above freezing (40º F), which is unusual for this time of year for us.
So I decided to go out for a run.
It is a sunny day and our big pile of snow is starting to melt. It may take several days of “warm” days like this to melt them all down though.
Then I met some flocks of wild geese. They usually fly south for the winter, but I am seeing more and more of them staying here in our place even for the winter months.
These geese are equipt for the cold anyway, as they have down feathers which we even use to insulate our jackets. In fact goose down jackets are one of the warmest jackets you can get and has the advantage of being lightweight. But I know they can be expensive.
Here’s more geese coming for a landing.
There is more cold weather forecasted for this coming week, and we will be back to subfreezing temperature, and more snow as well. But for a day, I enjoyed going outside with the wild geese.
We Filipinos are fond of fairy tales. The wedding of celebrity doctors Vicki Belo and Hayden Kho in 2017 was nothing short of a fairy tale. At least in the place and setting where it happened.
I was waiting for my invitation to that great event but I think the mailman misplaced it. On second thought, maybe I was not really invited.
So I did the next best thing, I visited the place where the wedding reception was held. It was in the Opera House in Paris, or also known as Palais Garnier.
This 19th century architectual masterpiece was built by Charles Garnier and opened in 1875. Today, it is home to Paris Ballet, and besides being a venue for great art performances, it is also open for visitors to tour. Well, I guess it can be rented for a wedding reception too.
It was almost closing time when we got to the Opera House, and so we did not have much time to roam, but just enough to get a feel of this grandiose place.
Here’s the majestic staircase where Belo and Hayden did their magical wedding dance.
Of course I had to climb up those steps as if I’m in a fairy tale story too. My wife and I did not dance though on those stairs for we might stumble and fall, and end up in a tragic tale instead.
Here’s the grand foyer (photo below) where the wedding banquet and tables were set up. The newly wed couple and their guests dined under these intricate painted ceilings and opulent lights.
As I said, this is an Opera House, so here’s the auditorium that can sit 2000 people and where the real magical performances are happening.
Below is an interesting Christmas tree made up of ballet shoes which was displayed during our visit. I have no idea what the golden tractor tires are for.
There is also a mystery surrounding the construction of this palatial edifice that facts and fictions are blurred. The famous tale of the “Phantom of the Opera,” a classic novel by a Frenchman, Gaston Leroux, a story that was retold in so many ways was inspired from the history of Palais Garnier.
We roamed around the halls perhaps looking for traces of Belo or perhaps searching for the phantom, until a lady with a bell called everyone still inside the opera house announcing that it was time to close. We were among the last ones who exited the place that night.
I know this place was already enchanting even before Belo rented this place. Maybe someday I’ll have my birthday bash or a wedding anniversary here. Alright, I’ll dream on.
From Belo’s wedding reception place, albeit two years too late,
(*photos taken with an iPhone at Palais Garnier, Paris)
Over the history of mankind, people have built structures that have become landmarks. They are a testament of the people who constructed them. Here’s a few that I have visited.
There are landmarks that are enduring and have lasted the passing of time.
There are landmarks that are flawed, but that only make them more endearing.
There are landmarks that symbolizes what a nation and its people stands for.
And then there are landmarks that are very popular and have become cultural icons.
I am not saying that I have created a monument of such significance as of the structures above, for that will be delusional. However I am proud to say that this blog is now 10 years old which I consider an achievement, for that is way more than the average life span of a blog site. My writing has flaws and is far from perfect, but I am still a work in progress.
This blog represents my personal ideas and nobody else. Moreover, I stayed true to my original purpose to keep this blog for the mere joy of writing – no ads, no commercials. If you should know, I still haven’t made a single cent from blogging.
I have posted more than 900 posts and this site has garnered more than half a million views. I know that is really not considered a very popular or a viral site that can have million of views a day. Yet I hope that like a landmark, I am leaving an impression in this blogging world in my own little way. I owe this though to you my dear readers.
And as long as I am enjoying this journey, I will keep on blogging. Thank you for your continued visit.
She probably has the most recognizable face. I am not her secret lover nor am I looking for an affair. I’m not even a devoted fan, but I just got to meet her to discover for myself what is this madness about her.
It was a cold and cloudy morning with intermittent drizzle, but that did not deter me from meeting her on our appointed date. The subway transit, known as the Metro was not running due to the labor force strike, but that did not stop me either. I could walk, or I could use Uber.
So I went to the palace where she resides. They even have these aesthetic glass pyramids in the inner court (photo above).
When I entered her royal residence, I passed through some naked guard statues. I thought to myself, if our medical mission is here, some of these guards could avail of our “operation tuli.” But I get it, circumcision was not in vogue in that era.
Some of the sculptures were really huge.
And so were the paintings.
The palace was enormous with more than 60,600 square meters to roam around. You could get lost here. I climbed up some majestic stairways and passed through several long hallways in search of my lady.
Finally, I entered the room where she was (photo above). For some reason, there was not much crowd around her that day. I think I was fortunate, I don’t have to navigate through a long line. Or perhaps I was favored, and she set aside a time for me to meet her.
In the end, I was face to face with her, my lady, Mona Lisa.
I was a little disappointed though. Maybe I was expecting more. Maybe I was thinking that it was something more grand, and not a tiny 30 x 21 inches affair. Or maybe I was just hoping that she would break into a full smile when I meet her. Maybe.
Now I cannot forget her enigmatic smile. And just like the sentiments in the song “Mona Lisa” by Nat King Cole, I felt the same:
Do you smile to tempt a lover, Mona Lisa? Or is this your way to hide a broken heart? Many dreams have been brought to your doorstep. They just lie there and they die there.
Are you warm, are you real, Mona Lisa? Or just a cold and lonely lovely work of art?
(*My wife took these pictures, and this rendezvous had no intention of being disloyal to my real lady. Photos taken at Louvre Museum)
Malamig ang simoy ng hangin at magpapasko noon, mahigit dalampu’t limang taon na ang nakalipas. Namamayagpag ang mga kanta ni Jose Marie Chan mula sa kanyang album na “Christmas In Our Hearts.” Bago at hindi pa gasgas ang mga kantang ito noon. Pero alam kong kahit na hanggang ngayon, hindi pa rin kumukupas ang mga awit na ito dahil pinapatugtog pa rin sila kapag buwan na ng “Ber.”
Kakatapos ko pa lang ng medical internship at wala pa akong matinong pinagkakakitaan. Ang matalik ko namang kaibigan noo’y may maganda at matatag nang trabaho sa PAL (Philippine Air Lines). Maaring sabihin na ako ay sa PAL din noon – PALamunin. Isang gabi, niyaya niya ako at ang aking nobya (ngayo’y asawa na) na samahan siya sa kanyang pakay.
Kami ba’y mamamasko? O baka magka-karoling? Magkakaraoke kaya? Pupunta sa Boom na Boom sa CCP Complex (meron pa kaya nito ngayon)? O kaya’y hahaluglugin ang Metro Manila para hanapin ang kanyang nawawalang ninong?
Hindi po, ang sagot sa lahat ng ito. May kakaibang trip sa Pasko ang aking kaibigan. Kami raw ay magpapamudmud ng munting “aginaldo” sa mga taong nangangailangan.
Aking sinilip ang loob ng kanyang kotse at sa likod na upuan nito ay naroon ang maraming supot (plastic bag ang ibig kong sabihin at hindi ibang ‘supot’ na nasa isip mo). Laman ng mga supot ay ilang gatang bigas at mga de lata. Dahil daw nakatanggap siya ng Christmas bonus kaya ipinambili raw niya ito ng bigas at mga de latang pagkain para ipamahagi sa iba. Feeling Santa Claus lang. Napabilib ako sa kanya.
Kami ay nag-drive sa kahabaan ng Quezon Avenue at doon kami naghanap ng mga kaluluwang mabibiyayaan.
Nag-park kami sa isang tahimik na parte ng kalye. Naghintay kami ng mga dadaan. Hindi nagtagal ay may isang batang paslit na dumaan. May bitbit pa yata itong cell – hindi cellphone kundi cellophane. Ano kaya ang nasa cellophane? Rugby kaya? Singhot boy pa yata siya. Subalit wala naman kaming pinipiling pamaskuhan.
Tinawag namin ang bata. Lumapit naman ito, dahil hindi naman kami mga mukhang pulis. Tinanong namin kung saan siya nakatira. Tumuro siya sa isang dako, pero baka sa ilalim lang ng tulay ito natutulog. Inabutan namin siya ng aming pamasko. Natuwa at nagpasalamat naman siya at dali-dali nang umalis.
Maya-maya pa ay dinumog na ang aming sasakyan ng mga batang palaboy. Siguro nagtawag ng kanyang katropa ang unang batang aming binigyan. Mga madudungis na mga palad ang nakalahad at naghihintay sa aming bintana. Buti na lamang at marami kaming nakasupot na ipamimigay. Matapos naming abutan silang lahat, mabilis na kaming tumakas at baka isang baranggay pa ang dumating.
Nag-drive na muli kami at sa ibang lugar naman kami nag-parking. May mga paisa-isang bata o matanda kaming nakita, ilan ay naghahalungkat ng basura. Inabutan din namin sila ng aming aginaldo.
Sa isang bahagi ng Quezon Avenue kung saan kami nag-park, ay dalawang dalagita ang lumapit sa aming sasakyan. Mukha lang silang mga teenager. Kusa silang lumapit sa aming kotse kahit hindi namin sila tinawag.
Hindi ko alam kung anong gusto nila. Siguro nakita nilang dalawa kaming lalaki na nakaupo sa harapan ng kotse. Mga kalapati kaya sila? Siguro napansin din nila ang aking girlfriend na nakaupo sa likuran ng kotse. Pinagkamalan ba nilang siya’y kalapati na aming na-pick-up? Kawawang girlfriend.
Paglapit nila sa aming sasakyan ay nagpakilala naman sila. Sila raw ay si Salbe at si Lable. Siguro Salve at Lovely ang pangalan nila, pero ang pagkakabigkas nila ay Salbe at Lable.
Hindi namin alam kung anong kwento ng buhay nila ngunit hindi na namin masyadong inusisa pa. Ano kaya ang dahilan kung bakit sila gumagala-gala sa kalsada kahit gabi na? Ano kaya ang nagtulak sa kanila para pasukin ang buhay na iyon?
Kung anumang ligaya ang inaakala nilang aming hinahanap ng gabing iyon ay hindi po ganoon ang aming balak. Sabi lang namin sa kanila na kami ay nagbibigay ng mga pamasko at ito ang nagdudulot sa amin ng ligaya. Inabutan na lang namin sila ng aming naka plastic bag na aginaldo at binati sila ng Maligayang Pasko. Tinanggap naman nila ito, at kami’y umalis na.
Iba-iba ang ating estado sa buhay. Iba-iba ang ating kalagayan sa Paskong ito. Habang ang iba sa atin ay maginhawang pahiwa-hiwa lang ng keso de bola, ang ilan nama’y nahihiwa sa mahigpit nilang pagkapit sa mga patalim. Maaring ang ilan sa atin ay palunok-lunok lang ng cherry at ubas, habang ang iba nama’y pilit na linulunok ang mapait na katotohanang sa kanila’y gumagapos.
Lumibot-libot pa kami hanggang sa maubos nang tuluyan ang aming mga pamasko. Kahit naubos na ang aming mga munting aginaldo, hindi naman naubos ang galak sa aming mga puso. At kahit mahabang panahon na ang lumipas, ito’y nagdudulot pa rin ng saya kapag aking naaalala.
Napihit ba namin ang gulong ng palad ng aming mga napamaskuhan upang ito’y magbago? Marahil hindi. Kung mayroon mang nagbago ito ay ang aming pakay at pananaw sa buhay.
Ilang mga tao pa kaya ang nag-uukay-ukay sa mga basura ngayon? Ilang mga bata pa kaya ang namamaluktot habang natutulog sa ilalim ng tulay. Ilang mga Salve and Lovely pa kaya ang gumagala-gala sa gabi?
I had a short visit and spent two nights in Nashville, Tennessee. I went there for training. No, I am not changing career to be a country singer. My training was about navigational bronchoscopy.
Even though my visit was brief, I still was able to see parts of Nashville.
Here’s Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center.
This iconic hotel offers guests all the excitement and energy of a music city like Nashville under one roof.
It has climate-controlled glass atriums with bending river, falls, fountains, rain forest and an extraordinary selection of dining, shopping and recreation options for a perfect getaway.
I also visited downtown Nashville and explored Lower Broadway, a major entertainment district well renowned for honky tonks and live country music.
Here’s Johnny Cash’s joint.
Below is Kid Rock’s Honky Tonk place.
The one with the tower is the popular Bridgestone Arena, home to famous country music concerts.
What is a Nashville visit without hearing a live country music band? So I did. I skipped the line dancing though.
However, the best part of my visit to Nashville is not even displayed in these above photos. For the best part of my trip was that I was able to see my best friend in college and medical school. He is now practicing near Nashville as a Pediatrician, and we have not seen each other for more than 20 years. We had a lot of catching up to do and two days was merely not enough.