Yes, you’ve read that right! GREECE, RUSSIA, and TURKEY are this month’s featured travel destinations! 😀
As for the featured traveler, well, I can assure you that he’s 100% Filipino (just in case you misread the title and thought of the last word’s homophone “roots” instead of what it actually is! But then again, maybe that’s just me! Hahaha!)
So I’ll cut to the chase and finally present to you August’s Traveler of The Month, who also happens to be my childhood friend — Gian.
Gian at Giza, Egypt
But first thing’s first! What does my featured traveler think of TRAVELING itself? 😛 Well, he said, “I think of it as education outside the classroom. Traveling is a learning process.
“First, I get to know myself more especially when I’m confronted with different situations. It brings out the street-smart in me.
“Second, it provides me the opportunity to see what I’ve read in history books. As a matter of fact, I just travel to see historical sites. Every time I see a site or landmark, I just can’t help but be amazed with it.
“Third, it enhances my social skills as I interact with people from all walks of life. I enjoy talking to locals because it shatters my stereotypes and impressions. It allows me to have a deeper understanding of who they are — their culture, opinions, disappointments, dreams, and aspirations.”
Very well said for this soon-to-be attorney! Traveling, indeed, is a big part of Gian‘s life (aside from law school, of course!). Proof? So far, he’s been privileged to visit the following countries: Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Russia, France, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Spain, China (Hong Kong and Macau), Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, and Thailand. But he’s not just any traveler! Last May, he and some of his friends participated in the International Labour Organization’s Youth Employment Forum, wherein they were awarded by the Director-General of ILO himself, and was of course held at — you guessed it right — Switzerland! In fact, that didn’t even have anything to do with law school. They simply did it because they are passionate advocates of youth empowerment!
So yeah, you can say that he’s a traveler with a cause! 😉
awarded by Juan Somavia, the current Director-General of ILO
And just like anything, there’s always a beginning — even when it comes to traveling! So when exactly did the travel bug “bite” Gian? He admitted, “I started traveling just recently. It was three years ago when my family decided to go to Hong Kong and see Disneyland. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond our control, that trip didn’t push through and that made me quite disappointed. So when we went back to Qatar, I thought of a wonderful idea: to visit the neighboring countries in the Middle East. And eureka! I found out that Egypt’s only a three-hour flight away from Doha, and I thought that visiting that place was a perfect time to revive my childhood curiosity about history — and that’s pretty much the beginning of my travel escapades.”
at a marketplace in Athens
Gian traveled to Greece with his whole family (a.k.a. his mom, dad, and younger sister). He shared, “It seemed like they hired me as their tour guide. I explained the history of almost everything we saw.
“Traveling with them was very comforting especially during nighttime when we got the chance to have long conversations. But the downside with this is it’s also difficult to travel as a group because I have to think of my mom and little sister since they can’t walk as much as I do — which makes it difficult to visit everything we plan.
“We went to Athens and visited the Acropolis, the Parthenon, the Agora (where Socrates used to hang out!), Temple of Dionysius, Roman Agora, and the Greek Parliament (where we saw the changing of the guards in their funny uniforms).”
Top- Parthenon; Bottom left- Agora (Socrates’ hangout); Bottom right- Temple of Dionysius
Left- Greek Parliament; Top right- changing of the guards; Bottom right- authentic Greek sculptures displayed in the subway
Unforgettable moment in Greece: “When I saw the Acropolis in Greece, my reaction was unexplainable and I almost cried when I first set my foot on it. The word ‘fascinated’ is an understatement. I felt like I was back to the era of Greek civilization!”
at St. Basil’s Cathedral with his dad
In Russia (and Turkey), Gian was with his dad. “We’ve been partners and backpacking buddies since our Cairo trip. My dad has been an OFW for almost 20 years and we seldom had quality time with each other. So this trip was also to catch up for the lost years of my childhood.
“We went to Moscow and went to these places: the Kremlin, the Red Square, the tomb of Lenin, St. Basil‘s Cathedral, and some other Russian Orthodox cathedrals and parks.”
Top left- Alexander Garden; Bottom left- Cathedral of Christ the Savior; Right- at Kremlin with his dad
Left- GUM Department Store (where billionaires shop); Right- “M:I 4” lang ang peg!
But it might surprise you to know that he almost didn’t go to Russia! Gian remembered, “At first, I was hesitant to go to Moscow because of my impression of Russians — as depicted by Hollywood movies. But alas, Russians were very helpful to us even though most of them couldn’t even utter an English word. My trip to Moscow was very challenging as a backpacker. If it hadn’t been for the Russian words and phrases that I brought with me, we wouldn’t have survived. Everything was written in Cyrillic, so I was decoding almost every letter of the street signs just to look for our accommodation.
“Also, the food in Russia was very expensive. One memorable experience I had in Moscow was when I asked for ketchup (in sachet) at McDonald’s and the lady charged me 24 rubles (or about 32 pesos!).”
the Blue Mosque in the background
“Turkey is a melting pot of cultures — this is where the EAST meets the WEST. And the food was to die for! A gastronomic experience at a very cheap price! My fine dining experience in Manila is just as good as what I ate while walking in Istanbul. The Turks are absolutely known for their prowess in their cuisine!
at Topkapi Palace
“In Turkey, we visited the Hagia Sophia (one of the 7 wonders of the Medieval World), the Blue Mosque (part of the 7 wonders of the Muslim World according to Nat Geo), Topkapi Palace (where the Sultan kept his concubines), Dolmabahce Palace (the former seat of the Ottoman Empire), and then we had a cruise at the Bosphorous strait — the body of water connecting Asia and Europe.
at Dolmabahce Palace
“Moreover, Turkish people are very nice, friendly, and GOOD-LOOKING! They have a tourist police who managed to help us with everything we needed to roam around the city. Istanbul is a fantastic place to visit. I can say that it’s on the top of my list. I was overly fascinated with the beauty of all the mosques and the ruins of the Ottoman Empire.”
Left and Bottom right- inside the Hagia Sophia; Top right- the Blue Mosque at night
Now that you’ve seen Greece, Russia, and Turkey through the personal experience of my friend Gian, what kinds of travel tips does he have in store for all of you? Well, here goes…
Prepare by at least learning the language. “When you are knowledgeable about their language, locals appreciate the effort and they become extra kind to you.”
Read about the city you’re planning to visit. “It adds flavor to the experience when you know something about the country. It can be about food, history, culture, or even politics — but try to be sensitive at all times.”
Know the routes. “The best way to visit a city is through public transportation. Get an online copy of the metro station maps. Know where the bus stops are and how much money you have to allocate for transportation.”
Don’t keep your money in one wallet. “You should put some of your money in hidden pockets. Traveling won’t always be a perfect experience. Beware of pickpockets and don’t be an easy prey by acting like a local. Also, always bring photocopies of your passport and visa/s in case the originals get lost. Don’t forget the contact number of your embassy for emergency purposes.”
Be adventurous. “Stay out of your comfort zones. If there’s something you can try in a particular country, try it as long as it’s legal. Enjoy the food. Visit the sites that they are known for.”
Maximize your time. “Plan your trip very well. Research where you can stay and eat at very cheap prices. You can always have fun by not spending too much.”
Be an ambassador of goodwill. “I’m always mistaken as Thai, Malaysian, Japanese, or Chinese but I always tell them that I’m Filipino. Always be proud to be one. Tell them good things about our country. Be genuinely nice and friendly to everyone because foreigners will remember you not just as an Asian, but as a Filipino.”
Love, love, love that last tip! And I’m sure Gian will always put that tip to use as he pursues his other travel plans. “I plan to visit Madrid (for another competition), Paris, and Vienna within the year. This December, I might also avail of the visa exemption granted to permanent residents of Qatar to Georgia (a former member of the USSR).
“But overall, my dream is to go to the Hague, Netherlands (legal capital of the word) and eventually take my masters of law degree there through a scholarship. The thought of becoming a scholar someday thrills me! I just can’t wait to live there and go to other European cities that I still haven’t visited yet.”
Whew, right? Well, best of luck to you, Gian! And we also wish you more HAPPY TRAVELS to come!!! 🙂
P.S: You can help send Gian and his partner to Madrid and support their advocacy by voting for them! You can do so by clicking this link.
Their entry is this: THE 1K PROJECT: Entry from the Philippines
This post is brought to you by The Lady’s 2012 Blog Project.
You can also check out my other featured travelers HERE.