A Train Ride to the Alps

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.

Tirano, Italy

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 natural lake 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.

St. Moritz, Switzerland

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:

From the top of the Swiss Alps,

Pinoy Transplant

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(*photos and video taken with an iPhone)

Tulip Time

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.

Dutch Letters

Here are some more photos that does not necessarily feature tulips, nonetheless, they caught my fancy.

From Pella, Iowa,

Pinoytransplant.

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Tracing Vicki Belo’s Wedding Trail

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.

(above photo taken from the web)

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.

The Phantom?

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,

Pinoytransplant.

(*photos taken with an iPhone at Palais Garnier, Paris)

10 Years of Blogging: Making A Landmark

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.

Petra, Jordan

There are landmarks that are flawed, but that only make them more endearing.

Pisa, Italy

There are landmarks that symbolizes what a nation and its people stands for.

Washington DC

And then there are landmarks that are very popular and have become cultural icons.

Paris, France

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.

Rendezvous With A Famed Lady

I’ve got to see her.

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)

Milestones

(Below is what’s I wrote in our holiday greetings/newsletter that we gave out for this year.)

When we go on road trips, we often take notice of those numbered markers at the side of the road. These are mile markers or milestones telling us how far we’ve come. In our life’s journey there are also milestone events.

Some milestones are simple, yet joyous. Like when your kids graduated from diapers and are fully toilet trained. We are way, way past that milestone, yet we cherish those moments for children are small only for a short time.

Some milestones are bittersweet. Like when your firstborn leave home for college. We are past that too, as our daughter has been in college for a few years now. In fact she will be graduating next year, which will be another milestone.

Some milestones are just sad. Like when you become empty nesters. We’re not there yet, as our son still lives with us, but not for long. He will be a senior in high school this coming school year, and will be off to college in another blink.

There are some milestones you don’t want to broadcast. Like when you hit 50, and realize that you’re old. Both my wife and I are past that too but we did not have much fanfare about it.

But there are some milestones you’re simply proud of. And that’s the kind of milestone we are having this year. My wife and I are celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary. I know further adventure awaits us and we are looking to more milestones on this journey.

There are events though that are more than just milestones. They are earth shattering and have altered the course of history. Like when Jesus came to this earth to save us from our sins. It changed the destiny of us all. We celebrate His birth on this Holiday season.

May we all experience a Blessed Christmas and a Prosperous New Year.

(*pictures from our photo file)

Pasko Sa Talyer: Isang Pag-Aala-ala

Pasko na naman, miss ko na naman ang Pilipinas. Pitong taon na pala nang huli kaming mag-Pasko sa atin. Pero kakaiba ang aking karanasan noong huli akong mag-Pasko sa Pilipinas. Gusto ko lang itong alalahanin.

(Ang orihinal an akda ay nalathala Disyembre 2014)

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Disyembre 25, araw ng Pasko. Ako ay nakaupo sa isang kahoy na bangko. Sa paligid ko ay grasa, mga lumang gulong, kalas-kalas na makina ng kotse, at kalat-kalat na kasangkapang pang-mekaniko.

Ako ay nasa loob ng talyer.

Ano kamo ang ginagawa ko sa talyer sa mismong araw ng Pasko? Naghihintay! Hindi kay Santa Claus, kundi sa aming sasakyan na nasira. Ito ang aking kwento…..

Matapos ang maraming taon na lumagi sa Amerika, at matapos maranasan ang maraming “White Christmas,” kami ng aming pamilya ay umuwi upang mag-Pasko sa Pilipinas. Mula sa Maynila ay umarkila kami ng van upang dumalaw sa aming mga kamag-anak sa Ilocos Norte at Ilocos Sur.

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Pagkatapos naming mag-celebrate ng bisperas ng Pasko at makipag-Noche Buena sa Vigan, kami ay dapat magbibyaheng pabalik sa Maynila upang doon naman magdiwang ng araw ng Pasko kasama ng mga kamag-anak at kaibigan sa Metro Manila.

Ngunit napurnada ang aming plano. Nasira ang aming arkiladong sasakyan. May tumutulo sa ilalim ng makina. May butas daw sa karburador ng aming van.

Ginalugad namin ang buong Vigan upang humanap ng bukas na talyer, ngunit lahat ng aming puntahan ay sarado. Sino nga bang kumag ang gustong magtrabaho ng Pasko?

Naalala ko tuloy si Jose at si Maria na malapit nang manganak, noong kauna-unahang Pasko, sila ay naghahanap ng silid na matutuluyan doon sa bayan ng Bethlehem, ngunit wala silang nakita kundi isang kuwadra. Mapalad nga kami mayroon kaming tinulugan at talyer lang ang aming kailangan.

Matapos naming puntahan ang apat o limang service station at talyer, ay nakatagpo rin kami ng isang lugar na pumayag na kami ay pagsilbihan.

Sumalubong sa amin sa pinto ng talyer ay isang babaeng may kargang bata. Sabi niya ay may binili lang sa palengke ang kanyang mister, na siyang mekaniko doon sa naturang talyer.

Hindi nagtagal ay dumating na ang isang mamang nakamotorsiklo. Siya ay may bitbit na kalahating isda na lapu-lapu at iba pang rekado. Siya ang aming hinihintay na mekaniko. Pagkatapos niyang iabot ang mga pinamili sa kanyang maybahay, kami ay kanyang malugod na hinarap at inasikaso.

Hindi rin nagtagal ay sinumulan na niyang buting-tingin ang aming sirang sasakyan. Walang makikitang bahid ng pagkabugnot si manong. Sa katunayan ganado at pasipol-sipol pa ito sa paggawa, kahit amin siyang binulabog sa araw ng Pasko.

Lumipas ang isa…..dalawa…..tatlo……apat na oras……patuloy pa rin sa mano-manong pagkukumpuni ang aming mekaniko. Hindi pa rin tapos ang aming sasakyan. Hindi “White Christmas” kundi “Wait Christmas” ang nangyari sa amin.

Aaminin ko, ako ay nayamot sa kakahintay. Hindi lang siguro yamot kundi galit pa ang sumagi sa aking isip. Bakit ba nabutas ang hinayupak na karburador? Hindi ko kailangan ito! Hindi ako naglakabay ng malayo, lumipad ng eroplano, tumawid ng dagat upang mag-Pasko lamang sa talyer!

Ngunit may leksiyon yatang nais ipahatid sa akin ang Diyos sa Paskong ito.

Sa aking paghihintay, ay wala akong ibang libangan kundi magmasid sa loob ng talyer. Sa isang sulok ng talyer ay isang maliit na silid na mahigit lamang sa isang dipa ang luwag. Dito marahil nakatira ang pamilya ng aming mekaniko. Sila ay may dalawang anak. Tunay na masikip at halos kasya lang silang apat matulog doon.

Ang nakatatandang batang babae, ay marahil apat o limang taong gulang. Madusing ang kanyang kasuotan, ngunit masaya itong naglalaro sa loob ng talyer, sa gitna ng lupa at grasa. Matahimik itong gumigiling-giling sa sariling niyang tugtog at himig. Siya ay kontento sa maliit niyang mundo. Alam kaya niyang Pasko ngayon? Meron kaya siyang pamaskong natanggap?

Ang bunso naman ay halos sanggol pa lang, ay natutulog sa nakalatag na banig sa munting silid. Si Santa Claus at mga lumilipad na reindeers kaya ang kanyang panaginip? O baka naman lumilipad na ipis? Ano naman rin kaya ang napamaskuhan nito?

Habang nagtratrabaho si mister sa aming van, ay nagluluto naman si misis sa kabilang sulok ng talyer. Marahil ang kalahating lapu-lapung binili sa palengke ang kanilang pagsasalu-saluhan sa Paskong ito. Meron din naman silang konting buko salad na nasa maliit na tupperware at may isang pitchel na iced-tea rin silang handa.

Inalok pa nga ako ng buko salad at iced tea ni misis, ngunit nahiya naman ako’t akin itong tinanggihan.

Kahit kakaunti, sila ay maligaya at handa pa nilang ibahagi ang kaunting meron sila. Ako kaya? Maligaya ba ako ngayong Pasko? Hindi! Naiimbiyerna at nagmumukmok ako dahil sa nadiskaril ang aming mga plano. Sino kaya sa amin ang may tunay na ispirito ng Pasko?

Hindi kalaunan ay nagising na ang bunsong bata. Maya-maya pa ay malikot na itong pagapang-gapang sa sulok ng talyer. Nang aking tanungin kung ilang buwan o taon na ang kanilang bunsong babae, ay napapahiyang sinabi ng aming mekaniko, na lalaki at hindi babae ang kanilang bunsong anak. Nakadamit babae lamang daw ito, dahil wala silang mapasuot na damit kundi mga pinaglakihan ng kanyang ate.

Parang biglang winalis ang aking pagkayamot. Wala akong dapat ireklamo.

Hindi na nagtagal at natapos na ring kumpunihin ang aming sasakyan. Sa wakas makakabiyahe na rin kaming pabalik sa Maynila. Sa wakas matutuloy na rin ang aming selebrasyon ng Pasko!

Ngunit mas mahalaga sa lahat, ay mayroong kakaibang damdamin ang umusbong sa aking puso. May kakaibang pananaw ang nabuo sa aking isipan. Matapos sumahin ng mekaniko kung magkano ang aming babayaran, ay may bago nang ispirito ng Pasko ang naghahari sa aking katauhan.

Pinasobrahan ko ang bayad na aking inabot, sabay sambit ng “Salamat at Maligayang Pasko sa inyong pamilya.”

Abot-tenga ang ngiti ni manong, sabay bati rin ng “Merry Christmas sir! May pambili na nang bagong damit si bunso.”

Mula sa sabsaban, isinilang ang ating Manunubos. Mula sa talyer, ako’y pina-alalahanan ng tamang diwa ng Pasko.

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(*photos taken in Vigan, Christmas 2012)

Sights and Sounds of Nashville

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.

From Nashville y’all,

Pinoytransplant

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Old Stomping Ground

In my last post, I already alluded that I went back to New York last weekend. Besides attending a program in honor of a retiring beloved Pastor, this trip also gave me the opportunity to visit my old stomping ground.

When we were in New York about two decades ago, we lived in “the Hamptons.” But before you think of that exclusive and ritzy place in Long Island for the rich and famous, I don’t mean that.

This is the Hampton I meant – Hampton Street in Queens, New York.

We lived in one of these apartment complexes.

My wife and I also visited “Ihawan,” one of the several Filipino restaurants in the neighborhood where we used to frequent before. We had a hearty (as in heart-attack risk?) breakfast here.

After breakfast, we walked to the hospital where I did part of my medical training. I even went inside and check out the place. There was much changes here since the time I left.

Then we hopped on the number 7 train of the New York City Metro. This line of train is on the top of the street instead of being underground, at least in this part of town.

We rode the train and boarded off here, the Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan.

People here are always rushing, and time seems to be incessantly fleeting in this place. Except for us now, as we had time to kill and just relax.

We then walked through New York City midtown and end up in Bryant Park. We were also in this place last December where our kids went ice skating. This place looks very different in the summer as instead of an ice skating rink, there is lawn grass.

We just sat down here and did some people watching. There were even some ballet dancers practicing at the park.

Then we headed down to Time Square area as we wanted to see a “new” establishment there. We heard it opened in October of last year. Was it an earth-shaking institution or such an epic landmark that it forever altered the face of Time Square? I don’t know, you tell me.

Perhaps we were just hankering for that certain taste of home. We were greeted inside by this happy guy.

That sums up our short visit to the city. Until next time…….

From New York City,

Pinoytransplant

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(*all photos taken with an iPhone)