Featured Traveler: Em in the “Land of (Fire and) Ice”

I started my (travel) blog project all the way back in 2012, wherein I feature different travelers who have been to unique destinations OR have unique experiences in familiar places. Even though there were “hiatus” years in between (check it out here! haha), this blog project has been an on-going one — and will be so in the years to come! 😉

Sooo, to kick-start this again and inspire you to reach for your travel goals this coming 2018, I’m sharing with you a wanderer — her name’s Mzarriz, but we’ll call her Em for short in the entire post — who has recently been to one of my dream destinations: ICELAND!

Em in Vatnajokull, Iceland

But first, just a quick background. How did all this traveling start for Em? She shared, “In 2005, I was a flight attendant without previous experience of traveling internationally. When I finally earned my free tickets as part of my company benefits, I immediately used it and traveled to Bangkok, Thailand — my first international travel, and I was with my fellow flight attendants. We were so excited, quite unassuming and super tipid! Our last meal there was even nilagang mais that we bought in the streets because we no longer had money. I overly enjoyed the sightseeing, shopping, and bonding with my friends. We tried the food, got lost a number of times, watched a live adult show in Phat Pong, and roamed around numerous temples and thrift markets. It was definitely fun!” Em sure did have a lot of fun during that trip and since then, she told herself that she’ll continue to explore and see the world. She said, “Traveling, for me, is really addictive and exhilarating. The feeling of stepping onto an unknown place for the first time with a promise of discovery and appreciation has inspired me to go to a place I’ve never traveled to before at least once a year.”

After almost 13 years since that first international flight, Em has been to more than 33 countries already. This includes countries from the six continents: Africa (Egypt), Asia (China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kuwait, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates), Oceania (Australia and New Zealand), North America (Canada and the United States), South America (Brazil), and Europe (Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland [of course!], Italy, Monaco, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the Vatican).

All of Em‘s travels are a combination of both work and play. For Iceland, though, it was definitely all “play” because it was a personal trip. She mentioned, “My friends and I went to Iceland last October 2017 as part of our annual vacation leave. We flew to Reykjavik [Iceland] from Los Angeles (LA) [USA]. The fare was much cheaper than the ones coming from the Middle East or Europe, that’s why we decided to go via LA. We had free tickets from Manila to LA, anyway. Then we went around Iceland via a rented car. After exploring Reykjavik, we went to Vik, then Hofn, and back to Reykjavik again. We spent two days and nights in Reykjavik, and one day and night each for Vik and Hofn. We stayed in rented houses we found via Airbnb. Fortunately, Iceland is one of the safest countries to visit, and all of our hosts were very accommodating and gracious.”
So what were the places Em and her friends explored in the “Land of Fire and Ice” that you can visit, too?
While in Reykjavik, go to:
Thingvellir National Park

Em in Thingvellir National Park

Gulfoss Waterfall

Gulfoss Waterfall

Geysir National Park

Em in Geysir National Park

Blue Lagoon

Em in the Blue Lagoon

Travel tip on the Blue Lagoon: “Book early — as in weeks early! Based from our experience, we booked three days before and, the only slot available to us was at 8PM. Kaya ayan, madilim na tuloy sa Blue Lagoon, parang nasa pool lang sa Pansol, Laguna. LOL.”
While on route from Reykjavik to Vik, stop by:
Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Em in front of the Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Skogafoss Waterfall

Em in Skogafoss Waterfall

Solheimajokull Glacier

Em basking in the Solheimajokull Glacier

Solheimasundur Plane Wreck

Em and her friend on top of the Solheimasundur Plane Wreck


While on route from Vik to Hofn, visit:
Reynisfjara Beach

Reynisfjara Beach is part of one of the settings for Game of Thrones (GOT)’s Dragonstone

Halsanefshellir Cave (also in Reynisfjara, where the dragon glass in GOT is mined)

Jokulsarlon and Vatnajokull Glacier Lagoons

Em in the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

Diamond Beach

Diamond Beach is just on the opposite side of the Glaciers

Em in Diamond Beach

While on route from Hofn (then back to Reykjavik), don’t miss out on:
Kerid Volcano Crater in Selfoss

Em standing on the Kerid Volcano Crater in Selfoss

Eldhraun Lava Field

Em sitting pretty on the Eldhraun Lava Field (moss-covered lava rocks)

And after all those breathtaking photos, wonder where’s the most sought-after Northern Lights? Well, Em saw the Aurora Borealis (or the Aurora for short) in Hofn, too! She explained, “The experience that left us the biggest impact when we traveled to Iceland was seeing the Northern Lights. I admit, it’s in my bucket list. A colleague of mine went to Iceland before and never had a glimpse of the Aurora. Another friend of mine who has been to Iceland three times saw the Aurora every time she went there. So seeing it is a combination of luck, timing, and persistence. We were actually nervous that we won’t be able to see it because it was cloudy most of the time in Iceland during our stay. Luckily, on our fourth night, we actually saw it when we drove just 10 minutes from the house that we were staying in at Hofn. And we saw it three times in a span of three hours.

a glimpse of the Northern Lights (a.k.a Aurora Borealis) in Hofn, Iceland

“The Aurora was simply breathtaking. It’s actually magic happening in front of my eyes. At first it was just a mere glimpse of moving laser lights hiding beneath the clouds. And then it mightily showed itself covering widely enough the sky above us, swirling, dancing, and sparkling for more or less than 20 seconds.

more sightings of the Aurora in Hofn, Iceland

“It might be short, but it was good enough for us to admire it endlessly. That experience somehow miraculously connected my soul to the universe and made me realize how small I am in a universe so vast, yet worthy enough to witness one of its manifestations of power. A beauty like that will never be equaled by anything made even by the highest technology of mortals because I felt that it was created not because of pride, but because of love. It’s just once again an evidence of how powerful our omniscient Creator is. But also, more importantly, of how loving He is.”

more sightings of the Aurora in Hofn, Iceland

Whew, right? Em, sure, was lucky enough to experience the Aurora during her first trip to Iceland! But before you even go to Iceland (or any other country for that matter), what are Em‘s travel tips in general? Let’s take a look at ’em (no pun intended! haha):

  • Plan ahead – “You can save a lot of money and you will have better choices.”
  • Use a credit card (if applicable) – “Based on my last trip, using a credit card is better than having your US dollars exchanged for a lower rate (with commission pa most of the time).”
  • Stay at hostels – “Try urban and hip hostels that are cheaper compared to most hotels, but are also safe, modern, and located on strategic locations (near train stations, public transportation, or must-see sights).”
  • Pack wisely – “No matter how tired you are or your checked in baggage is limited, always consider your OOTDs [ladies, listen! haha]. Your pictures will say it all, and they will last for a lifetime (hopefully).”
  • Respect. ‘Nuff said. – “Always respect the culture and religion of the people. Respect animals and nature.”
  • Stick to your budget – “Consider all the expenses, and stick to your budget. Some optional tours offered by travel agents/tour guides are very expensive. If you do it on your own, it may be a little inconvenient, but you get to experience the place, explore, and save.”
  • Try the road less traveled – “Try to visit some sites that are actually not popular to tourists but offer a more intimate experience with the place. Like when we visited a Nubian village settled along the banks of the Nile in Egypt, we were able to stay in one of the families and shared dinner with them. We were also taken to a local school where we were taught basic Arabic language.”
  • Always look after your safety – “Traveling is so enjoyable and sometimes we forget that as travelers, we also attract people who don’t always look after our best interests. Take the movie Taken as an example! LOL.”

After all that has been said and done, why will Em continue to travel? She answered, “Traveling opens your eyes, your mind, and your heart to the good and bad, beautiful and ugly, fact and fiction, and oddly, to answers and more questions.

“The places I’ve seen only in the movies and imagined through the books I read when I was young came alive when I saw them in my travels. They made me think that they weren’t just mere inventions of bored minds but actual and real places! And every place has a story! That’s the beauty of it. And as cliche as it may sound, yes, the world and our life are like a book and when we do not travel, we read only a few pages. Traveling is learning. And though we may not know all the answers, I guess it’s enough to know that there are answers. And maybe when I travel again, I might stumble into one.”

Well said, Em! And from one traveler to another, here’s to finding answers to some of life’s trivial questions, all thanks to wandering!! Carpe diem!!! ❤


For more of my other featured travelers on this blog, click HERE.

What Traveling Taught Me about Life and Love

Last week, I celebrated my 28th birthday. To be honest, I actually didn’t expect to be “surprised” on that day. But it happened, and I ended that day with a REALLY BIG SMILE ON MY FACE! Haha! 😀 And then just yesterday, I came across a meme on social media depicting two aisles: a church aisle (for a wedding) and an airplane aisle (for traveling). The former described people who transitioned from being single to getting married, while the latter talked about singles who, although haven’t walked on a church aisle yet, at least have walked on countless airplane aisles and embodied their wanderlust — and that’s where I belong to as of this writing! Hahaha! And you know what? Nothing wrong with that. After all, I’m so much better off this way, enjoying my single and waiting season, than rushing and being miserable because of marrying the wrong person out of societal pressure! Whew! And one of the best parts of being 28 and single? I realized that if there was one thing I love about this single season of my life, it would be my ability to reach my travel goals easier and faster.

That, and these other lessons I got along the way:

  • I am but a small speck of dust in this big, wide world.

I was literally small, as in five years old, when I first stepped foot on a plane and traveled outside the Philippines with my family. But even if that was more than 23 years ago, each boarding time makes me feel “small” — but in a good way. Traveling taught me that there are many places to go to aside from my beloved Manila, and even more cultures and people to discover and get to know outside the Philippines! Sometimes, it even makes me think that my “problems” aren’t even “problems” compared to what other people are going through in other parts of the planet. It’s a very big world out there, indeed. But what I like about it is that each “wander” is always accompanied by “wonder.” Even the earth itself is just a small speck of dust in the vast universe! *mind blown*

  • My past does not define my future.

I’ll be honest with you. Before, I didn’t dream of going to Japan and Germany at all. Why? For a very obvious, but also judgmental reason: their involvement in World War II! And being the history buff that I am (I even went to graduate school to study it! Haha!), I had prejudice against the two aforementioned countries for as long as I could remember! But God really has different ways of teaching us lessons — humility included — in this life. Guess what? This year alone, I went to both countries in two consecutive months: Japan in June and Germany in July. And guess what again? I LOVED THEM BOTH!!! In all my travels, I find the Japanese people as the kindest I’ve ever encountered, and the Germans as the most good-looking and sophisticated (but more on that later! Wahahahaha!). Seriously though, I felt ashamed for judging them before. Sure, their past may not have been peppered with sugar, spice, and everything nice, but that’s exactly it — it’s ALL IN THE PAST! Present Japan and Germany are two of the cleanest and most advanced places I’ve been blessed to go to, and I wouldn’t think twice about visiting them again!

And just like them, I know that my past does not define my future. This truth also applies to you!

  • There are “many fish” in the sea! Heehee!

As mentioned, I almost didn’t want to leave Munich, Germany because of all the good-looking, not to mention Roman Catholic, men at every corner! Haha! I don’t know about you, but after my last failed long-term relationship, I’ve seriously thought of my non-negotiables, and I won’t budge this time around. And my number one non-negotiable? MY FAITH. It’s not enough that he’s part of the Roman Catholic Church, he should be a practicing Catholic and someone who has a personal relationship with Jesus. In short, someone who can journey with me in my same walk of faith and help me reach sainthood in heaven at the end of it all (and vice versa). As a person living in a predominantly Catholic country, it’s sad that finding someone like that may not be impossible, but is definitely hard. I still prefer a fellow Filipino (and I think I already “met” him! Mwahahahahaha!). But traveling taught me to keep my “options” open — especially when in Europe! 😛

Seriously, though, traveling taught me that there are many people from different races and all walks of life I can be friends with and learn from. I’ll be marrying only one person, so my non-negotiable/s will apply to only him. But friendships? I can form as many as I want, with people from all over the globe!

  • God is present everywhere.

I once read this quote and instantly loved its message:

“Some people think it takes mindless faith to believe in God, but it actually takes blind and reckless faith to look at this beautiful world and amazing universe and believe there is no ‘God.'”

I loved it because it’s so self-explanatory with regards to what traveling taught me about God. Again, wandering opened my eyes to the many “wonders” of this world — which in return has made me more in awe of our Creator. ‘Nuff said. 🙂

  • Home, really, is still where my heart is.

I once shared on my social media accounts that whenever I’m asked about what my most favorite city is, my answer’s always Manila. Maybe I’m biased. Maybe I’m playing it safe. I’ve been a Manila girl all my life. But I’ve been to London, I’ve been to Sydney, I’ve been to other cities, but that song always rings true to me, “I keep coming back to Manila.” Why? Because it’s my city, it’s my home. I know its history and victories. It’s the first place where God entrusted me with to be a steward of His creation. As our national hero, Jose Rizalonce put it, “Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan.” And isn’t that what we’re called for? To learn to appreciate all the things God blessed and entrusted us with, and to always love and look back where we all came from. And hopefully, inspire others, especially my fellow Filipinos, to do the same.

Yes. Traveling made me appreciate my hometown more. That whenever I leave it, there’s always a sense of joy and peace in me when I think that there’s still this place called Manila, Philippines that I can always go back home to… back to my friends, back to my family. ❤

  • Life is finite, so make the most out of it!

Death and loss are two things that can either make or break us in this life. I already lost both of my parents to cancer when I was still in my teenage years, so I can say that I know how it feels to experience heartbreak from a very tragic loss such as death. But more than that, and because of that, I’ve become so much stronger. So strong, that other heartbreaks (especially romantic ones!), are like drops in a bucket when compared to my heartbreak of losing my parents at an early age. And what has traveling taught me about this, you think? Well, simple. I know my parents would’ve loved to see all the places I’ve been seeing now, but since they weren’t able to do so anymore, I guess I can do it on behalf of them. I know that traveling enables me to make the most out of my life, one country at a time! As of this writing, I’ve been to 19 countries already… there are so many more to visit and see! 🙂

  • At the end of it all, it’ll be all about how we all LOVED.

With all the wars going around the world, even in my own country, it makes me question, “WHAT HAPPENED TO LOVE?” 😦 And no, I’m not just talking about romantic love here. Something more like Mother Teresa‘s kind of love. They say, “all’s fair in love and war.” Perhaps that’s true. But traveling has made me more aware about world issues and because of it, has inspired me to focus and show more love to my fellow world citizens, regardless of nationality, race, and even religion. Why wage war if we can promote love instead?

Those are just some of the things I learned, thanks to wandering!

A few years ago, traveling — especially traveling to my dream continent (Europe) — was just a dream. Now, it’s as real as it can be! I’ll even go back next year — third year in a row! That alone has taught me that if I surrender my dreams to God, combined with obedience and prayer, truly, nothing is impossible with Him! So here I am, surrendering my other dreams to Him and enjoying the current season He has put me in. Who knows? A few years, maybe even months (months talaga?! HA HA HA), from now, I’ll be writing about a new season in my life! But until then, at least I’ll always have my life lessons with me — some of which I definitely learned while I was traveling.

And when I finally walk on that church aisle toward my future husband, I can also proudly say that I walked on countless airplane aisles before that… and of course, after! So why choose one if I can walk both on an airplane aisle AND a church aisle? #BestOfBothWorlds 🙂


How about you? What has traveling taught you?

How to Apply for a Schengen (Tourist) Visa at German Embassy Manila

Since there are 20 plus countries in the Schengen area you can choose from to make that dream Euro trip of yours come to life, you have to choose and plan wisely! Parang love life lang ‘yan! Wahahahaha!

So first thing’s first! When it comes to applying for a Schengen visa, you need to determine the country where you’re staying the longest, so you’ll know which embassy to go to for your tourist visa. If they’re all equal (for example, three days in France, three days in Italy, and three days in Spain), you need to apply for a visa at the embassy of your point of entry (as in the first Schengen country in your itinerary and where your flight would land first!). So no, you can’t apply for a Schengen visa at any European embassy just because you heard it’s easier, faster, etc. there. 😛

In my case, I went to Central/Eastern Europe which included Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, and Slovakia. 😉 Munich, Germany was both my point of entry (even exit) and also where I stayed the longest, so it was really obvious that I had to apply at German Embassy Manila! Hahaha!

And if you happen to also decide that it’s Germany for you, here are the steps I did to acquire my visa for Schengener Staaten:

FIRST, schedule an appointment.

This can be done here, and it’s required because you need personal appearance at the Embassy to get your biometrics, etc. Don’t worry, it’s not as frightening as applying for a US visa wherein an American consul would be the one to really interview you and tell you right then and there if your visa’s approved or not! Hehe! (But don’t get me wrong, I love US Embassy Manila!!!) Anyway, in the case of German Embassy Manila, their Filipino staff would pre-screen your application requirements, capture your fingerprints, collect your visa fee, ask some clarifications, etc. They don’t bite, so relax!

But yes, this should be the first step, especially if it’s the peak season! My trip was in July 2017, and when I checked for slots in April 2017, the next available ones were in June 2017 already! Just imagine my shock! I knew I really should’ve checked for slots as early as February! Anyway, that’s a lesson learned on my part, so I already know better next time.

But yes again, I had my visa appointment exactly one month before my trip. I got my visa just a week after I applied, which was great! BUT!!! Remember that each embassy of each Schengen country has different sets of policies/terms/regulations/rules (I heard that it takes at least a month for a visa to be released at the Italian Embassy, and also just a week at the French Embassy), so it’s better to plan your travels accordingly.

SECOND, complete your documents.

The required documents are the following:

  • valid passport (which must be valid for at least another 3 months upon the conclusion of travel to the Schengen area and must contain 2 empty pages)
  • one photocopy of the current passport, as in all passport pages (and further valid / invalid passports, if applicable)
  • one passport-sized photo with measurements meant for a Schengen visa — your local kodakan already knows this (taken within the last six months, with light gray background)
  • application form (you can fill it out and print it here; make sure to indicate “multiple” in the number of entries, so you can hop from one Schengen country to another — otherwise, you can stay only in Germany!)
  • signed Declaration form according to § 54 AufenthaltsG (which you can get here)
  • travel itinerary / schedule in the Schengen area
  • airline reservations
  • hotel reservations
  • original bank certificate / statements (for the previous six months)
  • travel health insurance valid for all Schengen states and the full duration of your trip, with a minimum coverage sum of 30,000 euros (for the list of accredited insurance companies by German Embassy Manila, go here; I got mine from FPG)
  • proof of employment (income tax return, certificate of employment, approved leave form signed by employer, etc.) — if you’re self-employed or still a student/minor, see the applicable requirements here

Just to be sure, I made photocopies of ALL of my documents. You can do this, too! Also, just a piece of advice. Even if you’re applying at the German Embassy, make sure that when it comes to your itinerary/hotel reservations, you include all the Schengen countries you’re traveling to. I made this mistake and just presented my hotel reservations for the ones in Germany, which required me to send my other hotel reservations for the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Austria via courier — it wasn’t really a big deal, except that it delayed my application a little bit due to “administrative processing,” not to mention it made me splurge a little more for courier fees! So learn from me, people, and DO IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME! Haha!

For the complete list of forms for a Schengen visa at German Embassy Manila, you can go here.

THIRD, go to the Embassy on the day of your appointment.

It’s recommended to arrive 30 minutes before your appointment. The Embassy is located at :

25/F Tower 2, RCBC Plaza
6819 Ayala Ave (cor Sen. Gil Puyat Ave)
Makati City
Metro Manila, Philippines

Upon arriving at the RCBC lobby, there are different receptionists for each embassy in the building (yes, there are other embassies in that location!). Just inform them that you’re going to the German Embassy. They’ll give you a pass and when you arrive at the 25th floor (where the Embassy is), you need to present your printed appointment confirmation letter (which would be sent to you via e-mail), and leave all your electronics with the guard on duty (there are available lockers for storage).

Once you’re through with the required security checks, you’ll be given a number until it’s your turn to be called at the window. When at the window, submit your requirements, and just follow the instructions of the person on the other side. Hehe! This was also the part where you’ll…

FOURTH, pay for the non-refundable visa fee.

The visa fee when I applied last June 2017 was 60 euros (for applicants older than 12 years). I paid it in cash (in Philippine pesos) at the window during my personal appearance/appointment.

FIFTH, wait for your visa to be processed.

As mentioned, I got my visa after a week! YAY!!!

SIXTH AND LAST (but definitely not the least), ENJOY YOUR DREAM EURO TRIP!

I went to Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Austria last July — and I’ve already posted my trip’s highlights HERE! I’ll write separate posts about each country SOON!! Until then!!! ❤


Have you tried applying for a Schengen visa in Manila or elsewhere? How was it?
Let me know what you think! 🙂