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
At 530am local time (1230pm PST), Niklas and I arrived at Copenhagen Airport, 30 minutes earlier than our Singapore Airlines ETD of 6am. After completing our immigration check (two minutes!) and being warned of the cold by the lady immigration officer, we set out to pick our luggage and brace ourselves for the freezing cold. It’s 3 degrees, says Merete, Niklas’ mom, as she and Claes, Niklas’ dad, met us. As I prepared myself to cross the revolving door between the airport’s comfortable 22-degree temp and the ear-numbing 3 degree temp outside, I still can’t believe that we finally are here in Copenhagen, in Denmark, in Europe!
I first ‘experienced’ Diwali in 2011, at Little India in Singapore.
I was walking around with two friends when I saw these massive makeshift arcs lining the streets of Little India. Clueless that we were, we thought these were just day-to-day decorations to the community, reflecting the Indians’ colorful way of life.
Little did we know that we were right smack in the middle of a full on Festival of Lights and a season of prosperity for Indians, particularly the Hindus.
I celebrated Diwali properly while a VSO volunteer with Yuva Rural in India, assigned in Nagpur, east of the state of Maharashtra where I was based. When I say “properly”, that means we lit up some diyas (oil lamps) and firecrackers (although I don’t really light one these days), made (well, watched how they make it for me) rangoli (colorful and beautiful designs people put by their doors or house surroundings), participated in the community events, performed the puja, and ate Diwali food!
Lights and Firecrackers
Diwali, or the Festival of Lights, is being celebrated in India for several reasons, mostly religious. Most commonly (or at least that I was made aware of), Diwali celebrates the return of Lord Rama to his kingdom in Ayodhya after saving his wife Sita from the Demon god and his exile in Sri Lanka. According to the Ramayana, Lord Rama’s return to Ayodhya was welcomed by his loyal subjects and celebrated through the lighting of diyas or oil lamps, hence the “bursting” of fire crackers and lighting of fireworks.
My colleague Ratna was the chief instigator, err, organizer for the simple Diwali celebration at our office. She got this oil lamps. They’re really small!
She also played as my fairy godmother and draped me into my first saree ever!
Prayers, songs and dances
The community temple also played songs (and I guess prayers) all the time (and I mean all the time) during Diwali!
They also set-up a pandal (like a stage/platform) wherein prayers were sung and performance were, errr, performed.
I especially liked it when they had the cultural performances of several dances! Every song has meaning of course but I was enjoying too much to ask my translators — the Meshram kids and their friends!
Colors and more colors
With Diwali comes not only lights and firecrackers but of course, colorful-than-usual idols, rangoli powders and other decorations!
My friend Rahul, who happens to be from Nagpur, invited me to their home which is on another side of town. The trip was worth the wait meeting his family and seeing all the Diwali action!
I liked taking pictures of rangoli so much that I took a picture of almost every rangoli I passed by — on the street, by the gates, in a supermarket! Literally, every rangoli, everywhere!
The Puja and the Food
Diwali is also the time to perform Lakshmi puja, a prayer ritual to goddess Lakshmi (and other gods too!) for wealth and prosperity.
So, as part of the celebration, I had my fair share of firecracker bursting and fireworks lighting! And, I observed and participated in a family’s Lakshmi puja and aarti!
Of course, an Indian festival, or any other Indian occasion for that matter, is incomplete without food! I got to taste Auntie’s cooking (and Ratna’s too I think!) and that of their neighbor too!
Being a foreigner who, even after eight months of living in India by that time, remain unknowing of the many facets of Indian and Hindu culture, I consider myself lucky to have experienced Diwali in a truly Indian fashion! I even got Rs. 100 note from Ratna’s neighbor, since I was the youngest of the visiting people! I felt like it’s Christmas and all my aunts and uncles are giving me money! Hehe 🙂
For this, my heartfelt thanks to my adoptive family the Meshrams, to Datta Sir’s family, my colleagues at Yuva Rural, and Ratna’s family. I probably wouldn’t have experienced Diwali the way I did if not for y’all!