A three-hour drive from Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital city, will bring you to the calm and charming Ha Long Bay. Located in the Gulf of Tonkin in northeast Vietnam, Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has withstood the test of time, and yes, naval battles and legends. Literally translated as “Bay of the Descending Dragon”, Ha Long Bay offers visitors a majestic view of naturally-formed limestone pillars and, if you have much time to spare, over 1,600 islands and islets. A popular way to enjoy the scenery is by taking one of the numerous Ha Long Bay cruises through glass-like waters (although it was a bit too green for me!) aboard these ships that looked like the ones used back in the 1900s era (my first thought was the Huckleberry Finn cartoons!), giving it an old world feel. We spent two days and a night aboard one (and I was happy to see two very able Filipina crew managers) and although we were actually working (yep, no kidding!), in that short time, I really got to appreciate the calmness (so unlike the 2Go weather fiasco!), majesty and beauty that Ha Long Bay offers to its visitors.
A week or so just before I left for India in 2012, I visited this paradise called El Nido in the northeastern tip of Palawan. There, I met Stepanka (in picture), a Czech woman, and Pedro, her Portuguese boyfriend (they now have a baby!). I did a one-day tour of the islands off the El Nido coast and got my seat in a boat where I am the only Filipino. I still remember the Russian guy (who claimed to be an astronaut but chose to be a trucker as it’s a more financially-rewarding job), and this guy who joined the tour but stayed on the boat (as he already saw most “visible” creatures under the sea in past travels), and this Canadian couple (who didn’t really say much but seemed happy and content). The tour was really worth it, to experience what a day in El Nido can offer. I vowed to return to El Nido one day and finally, tickets are booked! Though it’s not for a few more months, I am already looking forward to once again marvel in the natural beauty and diversity of El Nido and Palawan, above or under the sea.
I was thinking of a different way to describe it but there’s no other way around it — we actually were stranded in Odiongan, Tablas Island, Romblon. So, instead of beach bumming and bar-hopping in Boracay and dancing and drinking our way in Kalibo, Aklan’s Ati-Atihan, we counted the hours in rainy and windy Odiongan while 2Go’s vessel was hidden safely away in a cove/bay in Tablas Island. We all believed that if only 2Go left Batangas Port by 9pm as scheduled, we would’ve reached Caticlan before the Coast Guard warning was up and had an awesome weekend. But then, we all also agreed that had we not been stranded, we then would’ve not thought of stepping into Romblon and experiencing its quiet, laid back and rugged charm — not to mention sampling the delicious Kesh’s Special Bibingka!
Yep, both Niklas and I stepped into the cold, cold city of Berlin for the first time on our first week in Europe, after the butt-numbing 7.5-hour bus and ferry ride from Copenhagen.
Following the instructions from our half-Pinay, half-German CouchSurfing host Analie, we took the “Messe/ICC” Ringbahn (loop train) to Gesundbrunnen (one of the main stations for the Ringbahn, S-bahn (railway train like MRT), U-bahn (metro/subway) and regional/international trains) and took the S-Bahn to where she lives. (So much “bahn” right? And we’re not talking about the buses and trams yet. While the transport system is quite efficient, one of the first few lessons in Berlin is that Bahn = train and going to one station using the right S-Bahn or U-Bahn requires tourists (and locals) to never underestimate the travel time necessary. haha)
Finally, after five days of getting pampered and sheltered in Copenhagen with breakfasts, dinners, afternoon walks, cups of tea, [failed] snowball fight, a Royal Opera performance, and the warmth of Merete’s candlelit sitting room, we are now on the road (and currently almost by the sea) to Berlin, Germany and after a few days, to Prague, Czech Republic.
At about 630am this morning, Niklas and I boarded the quite comfortable (nice reclining seats, wide legroom, heater) Eurolines Bus leaving Copenhagen and arriving at Berlin by 230pm. Yep, this bus travel is about 730 hours, more or less the same time (not sure about distance) on the bus from Manila to Ilocos Sur, maybe even until Vigan. The difference: we are crossing countries and not provinces or regions. Also, we are boarding a ferry for an almost 2-hour crossing of the Baltic Sea from Denmark to Germany. Continue reading Copenhagen to Berlin: notes from the road and the sea