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Lunch on the Top of Berlin’s Reichstag


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It is not an everyday occurrence in my life to have lunch at famous restaurants and to top it all, on the top of the German Bundestag (the Parliament), the Reichstag.

The lunch was exceptional and truly unforgettable. They serve traditional German cuisine with a modern twist to perhaps cater to an ever evolving multi-cultural palate. Reservation is  a must and recommended. There were a lot of walk-in guests but ended up with sad faces.

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As the Reichstag requires advance reservation for all visitors, the Kaefer Dachgartenrestaurant Berlin does the same thing.  The lunch was a bit pricey when it comes to German standards but the experience is truly worth every penny.

The moment I sat and looked at the sumptuous meal served in front of me, I just can’t help but look outside, as my thoughts came rushing from the nearby Brandenburg Gate, where so many people were taking pictures of one another. Then the beautiful dome of the Reichstag, designed by the genius architect Sir Norman Foster also came into my reverie. The walk to the top of the building while taking in the beauty of Berlin was truly an unforgettable sight. And like what I have said, to top it all was this mouth-watering lunch at the Dome.

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It is truly a must for anyone visiting Berlin to see and visit the German Bundestag. Not only that the building was so historical but also a very important tool in understanding the German culture- in particular how the city of Berlin came into such a weird and mind-boggling separation, brought about by wars and conflict that marred the nation.

The lunch was truly spectacular. You may skip having lunch here and just do it somewhere else but it was all worth it. I guess, I have overemphasized this too much. But perhaps because the whole ordeal of listening to Berlin’s reunification after such turbulent years was enough to put the appetite back into my system and only look at the past as a way of understanding the future.

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Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow


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just sharing some pics which were taken at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, Scotland. Entrance to the museum is free (which I love the most) and it’s one of the most visited places in Glasgow, a premier museum which houses the most number of Impressionist paintings in the UK, third outside of France (next to the famed Hermitage in St Petersburg) and the biggest collection of arms and armour in the country.

But since I am a Salvador Dali fan, I am posting a rather controversial painting of the master and one of the top 3 reasons why Kelvingrove is famous in the country. Controversial because at that time, a group of artists in the city of Glasgow totally opposed to the idea of purchasing an expensive painting where the region was beset with financial difficulties. Besides, they were not really impressed with this this Gaudi’s painting. But to date. the Gaudi’s Christ of St John of the Cross is the prime reason why so many visitors are coming to visit the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.

This is the Christ of Saint John of the Cross. A confusing title, the first time I’ve heard of it, but simply an inspired idea of an old sketch/drawing by St John of the Cross, a 16th century priest, who along with Sta Teresa of Avila, founded the Carmelites…Salvador Dali was inspired to have his own version of the crucifixion, following a series of dreams that propelled him to paint this masterpiece

Christ of St John of the Cross

Another crowd-drawing painting is a rather modern one (with a hint of a Renaissance into it), a painting by an imprisoned soldier in area called Lafaruk in Somalia. The painting was made out of mud and whatever materials he could gather and created this jaw dropping masterpiece. It is now called as the Lady of Lafaruk. On either side are angels and one should notice the prison camp incorporated in the painting.

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Laif Lafaruk

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Am Back….(Feast of St James, the Apostle)


This is a rather short entry. After several months of not updating my blog for so many mundane reasons, I have now decided to come back and simply update it as much as I could.

There were times that I wanted to delete this site and not blog anymore. But I feel guilty and sad. After all, I am truly blessed with so many amazing travels and it would be a disgrace not share it to the world. Who knows, one or two people out there would be inspired by this blog?

Yesterday. July 25th was the Feast Day of St James. It was on my plan to do the Camino this year but things changed. Trust me, if I could use God as my witness, he could certainly affirm of my desire to do the Camino or the Walk to St James. Again, and I promise by next year before the Feast Day of doing my Camino.

Lastly, I would like to convey my condolences to families of those who perished in the tragic train crash in Santiago de Compostela.

Pictures taken approx. 3 1/2 years ago at Santiago de Compostela.

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Naples, Italy; A Christmas Capital of Italy?


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Naples is not only famous for its gastronomic treats but also for its undying art of making nativity scenes or as they call it here a Neapolitan presepi. Legend has it that St Francis of Assisi had requested to have a presepe made in this old neighborhood called San Gregorio Armeno. That was as early as the 13th century. Since then, this art of making nativity scenes had flourished in Naples, making the city as the undisputed queen of nativity scenes and the place to be during this holiday season.

 

One particular street in this old historical center of Naples became a worldwide phenomenon because of this nativity scenes. This long narrow street called Via San Gregorio Armeno had been the center of this art and not only during Christmas but during the whole year round. It is such a delight walking and browsing at different stores portraying either a trattoria kind of nativity scenes or anything an artist could think of.

 

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Via San Gregorio Armeno has been ranked as one of the 10 places you should see here in Naples. Not only during the Holiday season but anytime of the year. It does not only offer you a unique look at this century-old art of nativity making but also offers a glimpse of what Naples was like and perhaps what everybody thinks of the city-  that authenticity beyond the control of modern technology. You will understand once you see visit this old neighborhood. It’s just simply a step back in time. And with all these Nativity Scenes all around you, some say that Naples is the Christmas capital of Italy.

 

With only a couple of days left before Christmas,  I remember this particular street Via San Gregorio Armeno. Not so many places are into this kind of art. It may not be as grand or fabulous as other nativity scenes in the world but its uniqueness comes with unwavering zeal that survives the test of time. That I guess is the simple outlook on how we should view this Yuletide season. It’s always the simplicity of things that gives the most joy.

 

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Wishing you love, peace and tons of beautiful moments this Yuletide season!

 

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Dublin, Ireland; 10 Rules of Merry Ploughboy Irish Pub (Must Read)


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When in Dublin, one must pay a visit to any pubs out there. It is but a mortal sin if you come here just to sleep at night as the city comes alive as soon as the sun sets. The place offers a one-of-a-kind nightlife that so often becomes an envy of other European cities. That’s why an invasion of Irish pubs in many European key cities is one single proof that Dubliners or Irish in general know how to have some fun.

Before we tackle the historical sights, let me just write a few words about the Merry Ploughboy Pub. This is one awesome place that you should not miss out on whenever you are on a business trip or vacation in Dublin. It is perfectly located outside the city that somehow gives you an impression of what an Irish countryside is all about.

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As I was reading the history of the place I couldn’t help but laugh at its subtle Irish wit and humor. It has been said that before America won its independence, before the Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland and even before the French Revolution in 1789, this Public House has served as a gathering place among travelers or farmers who simply would love an after work drink. Today as the name suggests, this public house is a home to the Merry Ploughboys- Dublin’s renowned  traditional ballad group.

 

The 3 -hour song and dance show and over dinner extravaganza was something memorable to a non-Irish like me. It was a night full of revelry, dancing and singing. The House was packed of people from different walks of life and indeed reserve your place before you come here. It is no wonder why this place was awarded as Ireland’s Best Traditional Event!  It was just insanely hilarious and even after the show you feel somehow the night was just starting. This is what Dublin is all about! A tease, a place where you know that so-called F-U-N is just lurking behind the corner. So before we go to Dublin’s downtown in search of another action-packed pub, let me tell you first the 10 rules of this Public House. These rules will serve as your introduction to this whole Irish Pub culture and perhaps to your beerful and bellyful life…

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The 10 Rules of the Merry Ploughboy Pub

  1. Buying some-one a drink is five times better than a handshake.
  2. If some-one offers to buy you a drink, do not upgrade.
  3.  Persons drinking a pint of Guiness before it has fully settled will be inmmediately barred.
  4. Anyone on stage or behind the bar is 50% better looking.
  5.  Telling lies is unacceptable, you may however grossy exaggerate.
  6. If there is ever any confusion, the fuller beer is yours.
  7. If you hesitate more than 3 seconds after getting the barman’s attention, you do not deserve a drink.
  8. If you buy a woman a drink and she refuses, she does not like you.
  9. If you buy a woman a drink and she accepts, she still may not like you.

10. Girls hang out, apply make-up, and have long talks in the bathroom. Men do not!

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And before I proceed to my next (favorite) topic which is beer, let me tell you first that Dublin has just been named by Lonely Planet as the top 5 places in the world to celebrate New Year’s Eve.  This is a just a proof that this city has so much to offer and what more if you could only stay up through the wee hours of the morning.

 

Cheers mate!

 

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Bali, Indonesia: Introduction to Kehen Temple


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Prelude to Next Post —    All About Bali, Indonesia :-)  Some say Bali is one of the best places to welcome the New Year. Perhaps I could cite some reasons why…..Let me have my siesta first and will soon tell you why :-)

 

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Grimsey, Iceland- Stepping into the Arctic Circle


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There is a sense of spiritual awakening while watching birds wander freely in their natural habitat. This is not something I love doing but later on discovered the magic of bird watching. And while spending some time in Akureyri, the second largest city of  Iceland, we’ve decided to take a day off and fly to Grimsey island.  Maybe it would be fun since part of the idea was to set foot on the arctic circle.

Since the idea came up, I couldn’t be more restless as I was at that time. I started flipping some magazines and preparing myself for any eventuality. Like what apparel to wear and whether I should do three or four layers of clothes. Nearly but not quite blindfolded, I immersed myself on reading about Grimsey on the web. Some were saying how many birds the island has and how human beings are treated as the silent minority. If there were 100 fishermen, over a million birds are present on the island. That alone is something out of this world or rather, out of my world! Grimsey could be like the size of my native town in Eastern Samar and the arctic circle keeps on cutting across the island and moving away every year.

 

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I’m no expert to explain this movement but as of press time, the Arctic Circle, 66 degrees,33”17’ runs across the island near the airstrip. And a greater part of the island lies at the south of the Arctic Circle. Too much information sometimes could ruin a trip so I decided to stop all these readings. All I remember is that it’s an island and almost 40 kilometers away from the main island of Iceland and I don’t think sleeping on the plane will be an option on a 30minute ride. Did I say ride? Forgive me, I meant flight and no ferry boat as I’ve heard how rough the waters were at that time. I love flights anyway. That would be fine.

The first thing one will notice upon stepping into the island of Grimsey is how unbelievably quiet the place is. We just landed on what I could deduce as the shortest runway I’ve seen in my life. It was surrounded with a typical metal fence just like a simple garage at the back of one’s house. I hugged myself so tight and mentally prepared my body for what could be a struggle for the next 4 hours hours or so. My lips already started breaking off and my body couldn’t even move as cold air kept on hammering us.

 

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We were greeted by our guide who comes to the island once a week to teach some young girls and boys. I looked around and counted roughly 15 houses along the cliff. A beautiful colored lighthouse was visible on the other end and a small church too. It was a small community built along the sides of the island. Grimsey seemed to have been elevated from a ground thus forming a perfectly carved cliffs along its jagged borders. These cliffs made it possible for arctic terns and puffins to cultivate and thrive. As the island stretches further down south, the more flatter it becomes making it possible to harbor boats and small fishing vessels.

I was given a metal stick by my guide to protect myself from sudden onslaughts of arctic terns. They hated the idea that humans looked so tall from the ground and keep on testing whether it’s something they can bully around. Thus, humans need to dock every so often and this became a habit of every islanders. And just like any territory; the puffins and terns control the major part of the island and indeed birds in general control the air, land and water of Grimsey.

 

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While standing on the cliff and taking countless of pictures of puffins, I paused for a while and looked at the distant horizon. The clouds were moving so fast and the cold mass was added to a rather uninviting horizon. I felt alone and sad. And no matter how colorful the puffins were, I wasn’t sure if I could live here even for a month. Maybe because I was alone and part of my personality is to share and am not sure if the puffins could reciprocate that tender emotion. And out of nowhere, a sudden admiration grew from my heart for all the locals here in Grimsey. For the tenacity to endure the cold weather and making a living from fishing out there on the wild, cold sea- that to me was a feat or even a life not for the faint of heart.

The island of Grimsey has taught me that life in its simplest form is indeed a touch of paradise.  It’s not surprising indeed that some people go out and travel to far flung areas to find themselves. For our soul need to be aligned again with nature to find its inner voice. With all the seemingly unwelcoming traits the island has, one should really find a way to find true happiness in the most desolate of places and only then it will feel invigorated  and reborn.

 

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I can only surmise that bird watching is an activity for the soul. The human mind will not understand this placid hobby but the soul does. And bird watching couldn’t be more fitting in an island like Grimsey. For not only it’s  birds’ piece of heaven but for humans too. Welcome to Grimsey! Welcome to Iceland!

 

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Sirince, Turkey: Safe Haven according to Mayan Believers


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Tourists have been flocking to a small village in Turkey called Sirince as the rest of world welcomes the “21st of December” – the day as foretold by the ancient Mayan Hieroglyps would be the end of the world. Sirince is a small agricultural village famous for its wines, olive oil, soaps and other beauty products. Indeed, anyone who visits Sirince will fall in-love with this former Greek village. It is different from the urban and fast-paced lifestyle of Kusadasi and Izmir but also has this so-called therapeutic silence; a place of relaxation and rejuvenation. It is also said to be the ascension place of the Blessed Mother when she had stayed in the Bulbul mountains close to Ephesus.  With all these positive auras, qualities and stories; it is no wonder that believers and spiritualists associate Sirince as a safe haven against the impending end of the world.

 

Happy New Aztec era!!! :-)

 

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My Christmas Tree; 5 days Before Christmas (Unless the Mayans were correct!)


‘Random Thoughts while Looking at our Christmas Tree’

Seriously, this Mayan prophecy is somewhat destroying the holiday cheer. But I am thankful that I am surrounded by my nephews and nieces reminding me of this great occasion. I have spent so many Christmases alone and away from the family because of work. This time its different. And I am so looking forward to it. :-)

“Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree. In the eyes of children, they are all 30 feet tall”  — Larry Wilde

“CALVIN:
This whole Santa Claus thing just doesn’t make sense. Why all the secrecy? Why all the mystery?
If the guy exists why doesn’t he ever show himself and prove it?
And if he doesn’t exist what’s the meaning of all this?
HOBBES:
I dunno. Isn’t this a religious holiday?
CALVIN:
Yeah, but actually, I’ve got the same questions about God.”      —- Bill Watterson

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Cinque Terre, Italy: “The Love You Take is Equal to the Love You Make”


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The Beatles have said it correctly. Indeed, “the love you take is in the end equal to the love you make“. This is what I felt while walking along the whole stretch of Via dell’ Amore in Cinque Terre. This is the famous path that links Riomaggiore to Manarola, two of the beautiful 5 villages that comprised the Unesco World Heritage Site of Cinque Terre. The other three are Vernazza (my favorite), Monterroso al Mare and Corniglia. These five villages are also connected through series of hike trails and some of them are pretty tough, like the path between Corniglia and Manarola.

Corniglia is the only town though that is located on top of a mountain and not along the sea coast, and offers dramatic views over the whole Cinque Terre. I could probably say that that best pesto pizza or pasta that I have had tasted was in Corniglia. Maybe because I was lured by the friendly, enchanting smile of a young lady who offered me to try the famous pesto pizza in town. Of course, I tried to impress her with my Italian prowess and maybe it worked but I had to taste the pizza still. And no regrets because that probably sent tons of neurons into my subconscious making that one slice the most unforgettable pizza of my life!

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On the occasion of my second visit to Cinque Terre, I have decided to take things slow. Admittedly, the first one was accomplished in a rush. I still remember how it rained heavily  in Vernazza but it didn’t dampen my spirits and in the end, endeared me more to this small, quaint town. And also because at that time, I was in a tight schedule and one day was all I had. So this time, even under the scorching 40 degree heat, I found time to walk slowly and savored the thousands of messages written by so many lovers that have walked along this famous Via dell’ Amore or aptly called the “Lover’s Lane”.

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The Lover’s Lane was part of the train path that was blasted out from the cliff and became the path that linked between Riomaggiore and Manarola. That was also at the height of the industrial revolution in the area and somehow connected these two distinct, not-so-friendly-with-each-other villages. Indeed, the people of one village wouldn’t dare marry someone from the other village. Not until this path was created and people started mingling with one another which ultimately led to the first marriage from these two villages.

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The path was reopened again and became famous throughout the region. Visitors started writing notes on the wall and bringing padlocks with them and started their love pilgrimage. One writer, upon seeing these love notes coined the word “Via dell’ Amore”. It was even popularized by a hit Italian novel that told the story of a young couple, walking along the path and locking their love and fidelity with one another along the famous Lover’s Lane. Indeed, one of the attractions of this rugged path are the numerous writings and padlocks that have been locked along the barb wires and anywhere along this path. Reading all the love notes and taking pictures of these padlocks was one of the things that took my time away.

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A Korean Love Note at Cinque Terre

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The Via dell’ Amore is an easy path and perfect even for people with walking difficulties. The views along the cliff over the blue coast are to die for. It may not be as fantastic as compared to other trails but nonetheless exciting and this is where everything started from. I sometimes believe that love between two people is just one unnecessary object in life and just complicates things. But I am all for giving love, in general. It made me smile to hear a couple who had just come here after 20 years and still found their padlock along the Lover’s Lane. They were from Australia. And on this fine day, I couldn’t help but smile seeing all these rusty padlocks, and reading all these promises. If we could gather all these love, perhaps there is still hope after all. In the end, we hold all the keys to it- to all of these padlocks!

That was probably the most cheesy thing I have ever said and I am banging my head on the wall to remove this madness. But for all intents and purposes, I do hope that one day, you could all walk and feel the love along this beautiful coast of the Ligurian region, the famous Unesco Heritage Site of Cinque Terre. And please don’t forget to bring a lock with you and maybe if possible, take your better half, too. Ciao, ciao.:)

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Se vuoi sapere quanto ti amo…..

Guarda il mare e conta le onde!

(love note, Cinque Terre)

(If you would like to know how much I love you, look into the sea and count the waves..that’s how much I love you!)

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Geiranger Fjord: Kayaking in the World’s Most Beautiful Fjord


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After a hundred ten times of saying “NO” to my friend, I finally said yes on the 111th. They assured me how safe it was and all my fears should definitely be inside the bucket as they were not to going to be happening- at all. The kayaks were safe and will never capsize. In addition, my friend from Mexico was very eager to do it and the only remaining kayak was a two-person one. After some orientation, we were set to go fully loaded with thermal suits.

The first ten minutes were  nerve-wracking and I was trying to find the momentum. The first touch of the water sent shivers to my spine. “Whoa, that was really, really cold…I could die in 10 minutes!“.  Again, my kayak was safe and would never capsize. I was looking at other kayaks as they seemed to be on a good start. I was envious and the competitive side began to take hold of me.  From then on, we devised our own plan deviating from those rules of kayaking. Since Mexico and the Philippines shared a common ancestry, we paddled our own way, the Phil-Mexico way. I concentrated on the right and he was on the left side. We paddled like how we would do it in rivers and lakes; going to nearby towns and barrios. The kayak master was laughing at the two of us and gently told us to wait for the others. We were surely in our right element.

As we reached the Seven Sisters Falls, we couldn’t help but admire the immense beauty in front of us. Six major waterfalls and one small one gave the name to Seven Sisters and one suitor. Different legends will surely be heard in your stay here how these seven sisters were trying to impress this gentleman. And the only way to captivate the man’s heart was by flaunting its beauty, how magnificent fall could you be and how strong the free fall you could ever come up with.  This was the famous seven sisters falls that seemed to be rockets of water coming from heaven. They say that the best time to come here was right after a heavy rain. Surely, water from mountains will find its way out and this waterfall will be a sight to behold. On this late afternoon, the Geiranger Fjord seemed to have unleashed its full magic. The sound of the gushing water soothed your soul and the only sound you would hear was yourself- the beating of your heart.

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The Geiranger Fjord is truly the most beautiful, dramatic, jaw-dropping Fjord in the world. Seemed like I used all the adjectives there. But nothing could compare to this one-of-a-kind natural beauty that only God could create. The perfect setting; the snow-capped mountains that formed a deep valley, the serene blue-green, cold water and the tumult of waterfalls along those tall mountains. They all seemed to be pre- arranged that never failed to impress even to the most discerning traveler.

The Fjords of Norway is by far one of the most beautiful places in this world. When people asked me of my list of must-see destinations, I always mentioned the Fjords of Norway either my number 1 or 2 depending on my mood.

I can’t wait to go back to Norway again and relive my adventures. Not only it was a promise we’ve made to come back again with so many strangers turned friends, it was a belief that in this life, we always meet people, at least twice in our lifetime. And the next time my friends and I meet again in Geiranger, we’ll be doing kayaking again and probably more as this paradise has just so much to offer!

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Bethlehem: Of Infancy Narratives and What Christmas Means To Me


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My guide once told me when we were in Tzippori (Zepphori) that Jesus couldn’t have been born in Bethlehem. He believed that Mary and Joseph were from Nazareth and to travel to Bethlehem just to give birth was not only illogical but impossible. He further postulated that Jesus’ birthplace could be just anywhere  in Nazareth.

I was shattered upon hearing his words. I am no longer a child but to hear this from someone I already trusted was a big blow to my childhood. What about Bethlehem?  I silently hissed.

In the end, he argued based on Luke’s words (2:4) that Mary and Joseph were residents of Nazareth.  And Matthew explained that due to the Roman Census  (2:4-5), Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem. And since no room in the inn, Jesus was born in a manger (2:6-7).  The sequence of events had made my guide very skeptical.  And this prompted him to make such bold statements.

In contrast to Luke’s letters,  Joseph and Mary had lived in Bethlehem and not Nazareth according to the evangelist Matthew. The differences between two evangelists continued with the presence of shepherds according to Luke and the three wise men according to Matthew.

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All these differences and similarities were further discussed in Joseph Ratzinger’s latest book, Infancy Narratives. In his book, Pope Benedict was just like any Christian out there, seeking for answers and truth. He believed that neither Evangelist was too concerned with the chronological events but more on spiritual meaning at which Jesus Christ’s birth had on us – new beginning, birth, renewal of faith. The only conclusive thought he shared was his doubts about the exact period as everything couldn’t have happened at Herod’s time. Whether it was really December 25th, that according to him is still word in waiting.

As Christmas is fast approaching, I wrote this as a transient memory of my wonderful time in Bethlehem. Located on the West Bank, approx 8 miles from Jerusalem, Bethlehem is currently under the jurisdiction of the Palestine government. Pilgrims wanting to visit Bethlehem need to cross the border, as indicated by a long and tall wall. My Israel guide left us just we as we were nearing the border and we were welcomed by a Palestinian guide asoon as we entered the gate. This has been one of the so many guiding rules for years.

Bethlehem as mentioned earlier has been the birthplace of Jesus Christ for almost two millennia. It was first mentioned in the Bible where Rachel died (Gen 35:19).  Interestingly, Bethlehem was also the presumed birthplace of Kind David. Queen Helena, mother of the first Christian Roman Emperor Constantine came to Jerusalem to secure all these holy places and built a church over the site. The manger was “a cave close to the village” as described by St Justin Martyr. A silver star marked the very site where Jesus was born. At present, the Church of Nativity is under control by the Greek Orthodox Church, The Roman Catholic and the Armenian Orthodox.

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As a whole, I liked what Pope Benedict wrote in his book and I would like to quote him. This paragraph below is, I believed, the cornerstone of what faith is and should be.

“Again and again, Jesus’ words exceed our rational powers. Again and again, they surpass our capacity to understand. The temptation to reduce them, to bend them to our own criteria, is understandable. Yet good exegesis requires of us the humility to leave intact this loftiness that so often overtaxes us, not to reduce Jesus’ sayings by asking to what extent we can take him at his word. He takes us completely at our word. Believing means submitting to this loftiness and slowly growing into it.”

I am a sinner and doesn’t even come close to being a person capable of reviewing Pope Benedict’s book.  But am a believer of Christmas. Whether I was fooled or not on the true nature of Christ’s birth, it doesn’t  really matter. What matters most is this gift from above to have seen and traveled the world, to be able to see so many pilgrimage sites of different religious organizations for free. Call it faith, luck or what have you but so many things are happening in our lives beyond our understanding.

“He takes us completely at our word” It would take time before we could fully comprehend God’s word and that is just normal. We only have to submit ourselves and slowly grow into it.  This is the magic of Christmas for me.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/57/Jesus_birthplace_in_Bethlehem.jpg

Happy Holidays!

References:

Infancy Narratives: Similarities and Differences    http://kspark.kaist.ac.kr/Jesus/Birth%20Narratives.files/sim-dif.htm

Infancy Narratives: Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict)

Bethlehem: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/63429/Bethlehem

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/happycatholicbookshelf/2012/11/jesus-of-nazareth-the-infancy-narratives/

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Grasse, France: The World of Scents, Eau de Toilette and the Man Behind them ALL!


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I must admit that my recent visit to Grasse was filled with anticipation and excitement. The last time I was there, maybe around 3 years ago, I had the chance to meet an actual ‘Nose’ and no matter how brief that encounter was, it remained in my subconscious and made a promise to myself to visit the place one more time.

For a start, let me tell you what a ‘Nose’ does. The Nose is a magician in a different way, or we could also describe him as the scientist of scents or maybe a creator of thousand scents. The Nose is behind all the famous perfumes we have in the market. Maybe some of us think that creating the Chanel No. 5 or Dior, Versace or Kenzo were all easy tasks but nothing is so simple. The Nose created them all.

The Nose is chosen, born and nurtured differently. A “Nose” is a person capable of differentiating up to 100 scents. Not all of us have this talent.

When an emerging Nose has been identified, that person should avoid drinking any alcoholic drinks, eating spicy foods including dishes with garlic and onions. He should have a clean lifestyle and most often than not avoid shampoos or shower gels with chemicals on them. A Nose doesn’t even use perfumes or colognes. And aside from that, a Nose will undergo a rigid training that could take up to 7 years. And when A Nose works, it should only for 4 hours a day and no more than that.

The Nose works in a secret lab with an organ-like workplace filled with hundreds of scents from different flowers and starts mixing concentrations during the intense 4-hour period. And needless to say, a Nose is paid handsomely. And as of press time, there are less than a hundred Noses in the world and majority of them are from Grasse.

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Grasse became the perfume capital world since the time of the Medici in Florence. It started by manufacturing scented gloves and soon flowers were grown and cultivated in the area, giving more resources to the scented gloves market. From then, it became the center of perfumery and even Pauline, the famous sister of Napoleon enjoyed staying in Grasse. She loves perfumes and this was already a growing market since then.

During the last decades or more, Grasse became the undisputed capital of fragrances and perfumes. Famous brands are coming to Grasse and asking the Noses to create a perfume suited to their demands and tastes. Celebrities are also coming to Grasse just so a Nose can create an exclusive scent for them. Truly, the perfume business has found a niche in this small village of Grasse.

There are quite a number of shops here that concentrate on the perfumery. I had a chance to visit the Galimard company before and this time, I visited the Fragonard. They don’t sell in bulk and out of the open market. Their marketing strategy is only concentrated on their place and one has to travel to such distance to avail their products. Thus, coming to Grasse was an added bonus not only appreciating the place but learning more about creating that one powerful scent that your body could fall in love with.

So the next time you buy a Eau de Toilette or a perfume, take a moment and spray in on your body. Walk a little and see if it blends well with your skin. We should always take our time to assess whether our body responds well to it or not. And maybe we could also check whether a bit of bergamot, rosemary, or nutmeg are good for us or maybe something with jasmine, sandalwood, ylang-ylang or cedar wood perhaps?

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In any case, scents are not just created overnight. It takes that right amount of different flowers and other plants just to create that perfect perfume. Then the chemists will come into play and put everything in to writing.  And of course, growing and importation of flowers that are needed will be the next agenda. In the end, it is a cycle and a wonderful work of art.

Truly, my visit to Grasse has been a rewarding experience. I keep learning new things and also learning more about my body and soul. In the end, I purchase a wonderful work of art made of bergamot, marine, note, nutmeg, cardamon and musk. They call it Beau Gosse. It’s perfect for summer and really smells good on me.

It’s one thing to smell good and a different thing to learn more about perfumes and scents too. And yes, a different experience knowing the person behind all these heavenly scents around us!

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A Must Read: The Angkor Complex, Killing Fields through the Eyes of my Guide Sopal


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Diary Entry: February 2012

How I wish I have recorded all my conversations with Sopal on a tape. This way I can just write and post everything verbatim. The problem also is whether I would like to publish his name. Not that it’s a dangerous thing to do but just to protect his identity. There are certain episodes of our conversations when he became a little bit emotional. Understandable, but I was under the impression that his whole life made him a little bit stoic, yet open to reforms, unfazed but consistent with his ideals of what a society should be.

Sopal was my guide during my recent visit to the famous Angkor complex in Cambodia. He just turned 30, and because of the nearness of our ages, we really bonded so well. He was so passionate in telling the history of Angkor and being a history buff myself, the whole trip was just a big classroom,  where we just talked and discussed things in the air, talking about life in Cambodia, the people, beliefs and most of all, the recent past that marred the nation.

There are guides who can be quite reserved, knowledgeable but lack the inner voice. But with Sopal, I felt his sincerity, his honesty and maybe a dose of bravery as he discusses history, as it happens, in his very eyes.

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Sopal was born a year after that infamous Khmer Rouge genocide, where nearly 300, 000 citizens were killed, naming it “Killing Fields” And even after that, it took a great deal of time for the Cambodians to regain themselves, to get back to their lives and start again. He was born in a small village close to Siem Reap but later moved to Phnom Peng for his University degree. He finished Business Administration and Tourism and later worked in an advertising company. Then, he joined a Buddhist Monastery and became a monk for a year and this he attributed the reason why he became a guide.

Call it destiny but he passed the licensure exam for guides with flying colors. Being a guide, a freelance in fact, he can control his time and even concentrate on some projects he is so actively involved with. This he told me his charity work, where he gathers and invites the finest and intelligent girls in villages and sends them to school. This way, they could be a productive member of the society. He was very honest that most girls don’t go to school and just being groomed in becoming housewives. Being married to a schoolteacher himself, he particularly believes that education will surely change lives.

Sopal lived with his aunt while growing up. From the age of nine till he turned 18, he didn’t see his parents. It was the arrangement and strictly imposed by his father. They had to leave the village and get an education. He had to live far from his sister and neither one of them will communicate with each other, lest be detected by some traitors in their village. There was even a time when the Khmer Rouge invited his father for a small talk, to bring back his son from Phnom Peng, to prevent further capitalist intrusions and be a productive member of the Khmer Rouge regime. His father gently replied, “I don’t know where my son is and whether he was still alive”.

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Sopal’s family suffered a lot during the Khmer Rouge regime. Two of his uncles from his father side died in the killing fields. One uncle from his mother side suffered the same fate. He even described how bullets were so precious and long bamboo sticks were used instead. His little brother accidentally steeped into a landmine and only both legs were brought back home.

To date, there are still thousands of landmines scattered all over Cambodia. The sad part is we don’t know where these landmines are. There was never a blue print of the exact location. Sopal made a joke that it only took a dollar to make a landmine but thousands of dollars maybe of finding each one of them. There are always incidents where farmers were killed because of these landmines. And because the wife never got an education, it was really hard for a woman to learn a skill or anything at all, just so she can feed the family that got affected with these horrible landmines.

As I listen to him the whole day, I realized how brave he was in telling his story. It maybe a bit distorted, maybe some opinions may hurt other people, but he was at least honest. He was beyond honest to a point of telling me things that a normal guide wouldn’t tell his clients. He was not angry, in fact, he embraces the sad reality of a Cambodian society. To borrow his words, this is the face of Cambodia.

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And to end our conversations, he brought me to a place where all the skulls of those who died in different killing fields were placed in a temple stupa. I just couldn’t look at it. It made me teary-eyed, it made me cry and just simply uttered a small prayer. I remember his words, “There are only few intellectuals left in this country and slowly recovering. There are only few of us, with my age, who are educated. The Killing Fields did not only kill professionals but also killed hopes and dreams. I want as many kids in different villages to get an education, even until high school. This will change their lives”

I left Cambodia with a heavy heart. It was truly a magical place with so much history. Soon I’ll write about the Angkor complex. I just felt like writing a story about my guide first who revived a seemingly forgotten fragment of my past. We have things in common. So many, in fact.

He said a lot of things that maybe some history books wouldn’t agree on. But that’s the problem with history. It always depends on who is writing it. But at the end of the day, you always follow what your heart says. The sad part is sometimes, we fought for what we believe in, even to the bitter end. Or is it really sad after all?

——   from one of the pages of my Diary.

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Marian Pilgrimage: The House of Virgin Mary (Meryemana), Ephesus


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On top of the Bulbul mountains, almost 8kms away from the center of one of the most highly preserved civilizations of Turkey (Ephesus), lies a nondescript century-old house built of red stones with a spring of water running beside it. While on your way to the sacred site, you can’t help but notice the serene country side and the once powerful city of Ephesus with views of the Library and the Great Theater where St John had preached.

My focus this time was to visit the House reputed to be the place where Mary, the mother of Jesus had lived during the last years of Her life. While so many things have to be considered at this time and age regarding the veracity of this claim, almost everyone who had gone to this place can attest to such unexplainable peace that only the Mother could give. In one of the gospels of St John, Jesus before His death on the cross entrusted him the care of His mother.

“Here is your Mother” and from then on St John took Her. It was during that time that the need to flee from Jerusalem was of utmost importance. St John’s brother St James was beheaded and St Peter was imprisoned while St Stephen was stoned to death. These series of events was also mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles where the world was divided among them to preach and spread the Gospel. St John took Mary with him and together they came to Asia Minor and lived in the mountains close to Ephesus.

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These Bible stories were in fact confirmed historically by so many glaring evidences. The presence of the tomb of St John in Ephesus and the first ever Basilica of the World dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and even the first Ecumenical Council in 431 AD for the definition of Dogma of the Divine Motherhood of Mary. Furthermore, the Villagers of Kirkindje, who were the direct descendants of the Christians of Ephesus had passed on for generations and generations the belief of the Death of the Virgin Mary, which they called Panaghia Kapulu. They  have kept this tradition alive through the annual pilgrimage on the 15th of August.

It is no surprise at all that thousands of pilgrims from all over the world have visited this place. There are numerous stories of healing and miracles attributed to the water coming from the spring at the back of Mary’s house. The House was already in ruin when it was first discovered in 1891. The search was commissioned after a book was published in Germany entitled “ The Life of the Blessed Virgin”. It was written by an invalid lady and stigmatized Nun, Anna Katherina Emmerich.  Invalid as she was and never had left Germany all her life, she narrated her visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary enjoying the last years of her life on the hills of Ephesus. Her visions were told with such amazing accuracy about the house built in red stones and the spring of water running beside it.

The House of the Virgin Mary was built upon the original foundation which dates back to 1st and 4th centuries.  The last restoration took place in 1951. The decorations were simple and only a statue of the Blessed Virgin at the end dominated the place. There is also a small section for the Islam faith as they venerate Mary as well being their Mother and of the Prophet Jesus. As you turn right before the exit door, you’ll see images of Pope John Paul celebrating the Holy Eucharist outside the House of Virgin Mary. Not only him but also the Pope before him and even Pope Benedict XVI. One of the locals said in jest, that Vatican knows how important this place is as every Pope needs to pay his respect and has to come to Turkey for a pilgrimage.

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The Virgin Mary opted to stay on this side of the world where the only thing of importance was the running water needed for everyday life. She was so happy and had enjoyed the fresh air and some of the little chores around the house. It was even far from the cosmopolitan city at that time which was Ephesus and going up on the hills was no laughing matter. She is the Queen of all Queens and a true-blooded royalty. But in this house where she had lived for the last years of her life just proved to us that we don’t really need so much in this world to be happy. Just be appreciative of the so many simple things around us which I believe; is the secret to a very fun and fulfilling life.

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Getting There & What To Do:

1. Take a cab either from Kusadasi or Selcuk (or wherever you are). Drive to/from Kusadasi is approximately 27minutes. Spend at least 30 mins to an hour depending on your need. Bring some plastic bottles with you or refill an empty one with the running water at the House of Virgin Mary.

2. Write your petitions on a white cloth (see picture above) and tie it along with hundreds of petitions.

3. There is an interdenominational mass every Sunday or sometimes early in the morning. Sometimes you’ll see some priests roaming around the area.

4. Good time to visit would be early morning and before it closes in the afternoon; after 4pm.

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Kamikaze Warriors: Letters before Dying


Let me start this post with a letter from the mother of Cpt. Saburou Ishikura. A short letter and probably written in tears.

“Don’t forget to say “Namuamidabutsu”

When you are going to attack with the bomb

This is the last letter from your mother

I wont say anything else

Don’t forget to say it. “Namuamidabutsu”

I will see you in heaven in front of Amida Buddha

This is the deepest desire from your mother.

Don’t forget to say it.

Yours, Mother

The Kamikaze Peace Museum in Chiran was built to commemorate the short lives of 1036 bright young Japanese warriors called Kamikaze pilots between the ages of 17-32, who valiantly fought during the final stage of the second world war.

The word Kamikaze was aptly used to describe these young and bright pilots which literally translates to “Divine Wind”. The word Kamikaze was the name of the great typhoon that saved Japan in 1281 when the great warrior Kublai Khan of Mongolia sailed with a huge armada from China to invade and conquer the country.

Japan at that time was very poor and didn’t have the machinery and warriors to fight the enemy. But as the armada was so close to the shores, the typhoon struck, destroying almost all the ships and soldiers. The Japanese people revered the typhoon and came to believe that another typhoon will come and save Japan if ever the country will have a crisis again.

When the Allied Forces landed on the Kerama archipelago, southwest of Okinawa, the Japanese military leaders believed that they will lose the war. It is with this thought that they have to defend Okinawa at all cost as the island was really important to the country’s defense. Then the government decided to attack the Allied Forces warships using airplanes loaded with 550 pound bomb crashing into ships and aircraft carrier. It was a battle between the material strength of the Allied Forces and the spiritual strength of Japan.

As soon as we enter the museum, we were greeted by the loving portraits of these warriors, taken one by one before they took off. Everything was written in Japanese and my initial reaction was how unfriendly the museum was for a non-Japanese speaking visitor like me. We couldn’t be more luckier as the Director of Museum invited us to the Conference Hall and there he gave us the lecture about the Mind of a Kamikaze . His name was Takeshi Kawatoko. By the way, they provide headsets too, just in case you come and visit this museum one day and I fervently hope so.

With the help of of Mr. Kawatoko, we were able to relate to the overflowing emotions of the Kamikaze pilots. With his powerpoint presentation, we were able to understand the meaning behind the strokes, the love behind the words, the fear beyond death, and the courage beyond life. It takes a lot of self control before one actually says, I cried, I wept, I loved.

Below are some of the letters written the night before they took off…. And by the way, “Namuamidabutsu” is believed to be uttered before dying so one would be assured of dying peacefully in heaven. His mother would have wanted to write more. But Death is such a tricky friend, a lonesome companion and someone you should never be acquainted to. At least in this scenario.

In the letter of 2nd LT Hujio Wakamatsu, 19 years old, his love to his mother was overflowing. We could feel his heart pounding, crying as if he wanted to get out…

“Dearest Mother,

I am satisfied with my life

I will smile when I get to the ship

This is my last and first piety for you, mother

Please do not cry for me. Please encourage me with praise

I enclose a doll. You can keep him as me”

How could one write a letter before dying? I could only surmise the gamut of emotions, the loneliness and fear and most importantly, the need for such tender loving care, be it brief, short and utterly fleeting……it was never too easy to be a Kamikaze.

In the short letter of Cpt Hokkaido Maeda “ Who will cry for me when I die?” shows that death could just be a number, easily forgotten.

And in the letter of 2nd LT Torao Kato, he mentioned in his brief letter, probably the shortest one to his mother.

“ Dearest Mother,

Please live a long life with full of vigor

I will destroy a big one”

I hope we’ll never use humans as shields again. And yes, Namuamidabutsu!

Long live the spirit of the Kamikaze!

————Special thanks to Takeshi Kawawotoko (some of his words were used here…)