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A Step Into the Magical World of Harry Potter

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I’ve always been a Harry Potter movie fan (yes, movies only, I’m not really into books). Ever since I’ve watched the first film, I was always looking forward for the next installment. That’s why, when we went to UK last August, a visit to the Harry Potter Studio is a must. Continue reading “A Step Into the Magical World of Harry Potter”

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Discover the Beauty of Scotland – Highlands and The Jacobite Steam Train (Part 1)

Scotland has always been part of my travel bucket list, that’s why when we planned our UK trip last August, I made it a point to allot at least 5 days to explore this wonderful place. We spent the first 2 days in Edinburgh city, and the next 3 days at Isle of Skye and the Highlands, which is what I am going to write on this post. After our thorough research, we ended up booking a 3 day tour with Discover Scotland Tours, since the places that we wanted to visit were far from each other, public transportation is a bit difficult when getting to places and we didn’t want to rent a car. Continue reading “Discover the Beauty of Scotland – Highlands and The Jacobite Steam Train (Part 1)”

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Game of Thrones Experience in Belfast

One of the reasons why I was very interested in taking a trip to Belfast in Northern Ireland, was because some scenes in Game of Thrones has been shot there. So, we reserved a one day tour, Belfast Iron Islands and Stormlands Adventure, from Game of Thrones Tours Ltd. The mode of transportation in Northern Ireland is quite limited, so if you are not going to rent a car nor plan to pay a lot for taxi, then it is advisable to get a tour. Continue reading “Game of Thrones Experience in Belfast”

What to Expect on your Titanic Belfast Experience?

I always keep on saying that Titanic has been one of my favorite movies. Well it is true, that is why I really got so excited when we went to the Titanic Museum last year during our visit to Belfast, Northern Ireland. Not sure if I’m just dumb, but I only learned that Titanic was built in this city when I was researching on the activities to do there. Anyway, here are some of the pictures of what we have seen and explored inside.  Continue reading “What to Expect on your Titanic Belfast Experience?”

That Distinct Bento Box | Spice Market, W Hotel Doha

It was the last Wednesday of 2016, when my friend invited me to meet her over lunch at the Spice Market in W Hotel Doha. We’ve been planning to do this catch up like months ago, but usually ended up being cancelled due to our busy schedules. Reservation is usually a must if you are going to dine in some restaurants here, but we didn’t make any since the time that we chose is not that busy. I arrived a little earlier than her, so after giving my name and the number of guest to the receptionist, I was escorted right away to the table where we will be seated. This was my second time dining at this resto, the first was during a Friday Brunch, which I totally enjoyed. Continue reading “That Distinct Bento Box | Spice Market, W Hotel Doha”

Checking Out Mall of Qatar

Last December 24, 2016, we went to the newly opened mall here in Qatar, which is called the Mall of Qatar. It is located in Al Rayyan, which is near the City of Doha. We used google maps to reach the place, but we still ended up getting rerouted because most of the roads leading there are still under construction. There are signs to follow though, but your eyes should be quick in spotting those. Continue reading “Checking Out Mall of Qatar”

Welcome 2017: Start the New Year Right

2017 is just around the corner, are you excited? Before we bid goodbye to 2016, let us first go back and reminisce the laughters, joys, tears, sadness and all the rollercoaster of emotions that this year gave us. Cherish all our new discoveries, accomplishments and life improvements. Remind ourselves of the lessons learned and let go of all the negativities, in order to start fresh. Some of you may already have drafted their resolutions for next year. Like you, I also created a list which I don’t want to call a resolution, instead I would like to call it the way of life I wanted to adopt this coming year. In order to easily remember it, I used the word NEW YEAR.  Continue reading “Welcome 2017: Start the New Year Right”

Christmas Away from Home

Do you know which country celebrates the longest Christmas? Well, it happens to be on the country where I came from and consider home, the Philippines. As early as September, people are already preparing and Christmas songs can be heard playing in most houses and establishments. By the time December arrives, houses are already decorated with beautiful, colorful and brightly lighted Christmas trees, Belens and Parols. Cheerful and wonderful voices of kids (even if they they are out of tunes or inventing the lyrics of songs.. hahaha! guilty of this) singing Christmas carols can be heard from every side of the streets. Vendors selling puto bumbong and bibingka (both are steamed rice cake) can be found everywhere. Filipinos are busy with Christmas parties, family reunions, exchange gifts, charity works and the list goes on. Catholics attend to their traditional 9 days of simbang gabi (night mass) in preparation for the birth of Jesus. On the eve of Christmas, the festive Noche Buena is being served after attending the midnight mass. And then on the most awaited day, Christmas, everyone are just so jolly and merry, sharing and giving their beautiful smiles and warm love. Children are visiting their ninongs and ninangs (godparents) asking for gifts and aguinaldos (money inside a red envelope). The aura and spirit of Christmas can be felt until the 1st week of January which is the Feast of the 3 Kings.

This is the picture of Christmas that I am always looking forward when I was still living in the Philippines.  It was in 2012 when I first arrived here in Doha, Qatar to be with my husband and it has been five years since I’ve been celebrating this season away from home. Here in Doha, Christmas is not considered a festive and religious holiday. Well, I understand and respect that because they’ve got their own beliefs and traditions. But despite of that, Christmas can still be celebrated the way you want it. So, here’s a short video of how we celebrated our 5th Christmas away from home.

Click on this link to watch the video: Christmas in Doha 2016

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Thank you for watching. Wishing everyone Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Day Tour at the Korean DMZ

Ever wonder how North Korea looks like? Are you curious to know how people go on with their daily lives there? How about visiting the border that separates the North from the South Korea?

During our vacation to Seoul last month, we availed a tour service from Panmunjom Travel Center, which basically gave me a partial answer to the questions above. There were various tours to choose from that includes DMZ or Panmunjom / JSA. We initially chose the one with JSA, however there was an ongoing military training that time, thus we were left with the Special DMZ tour.

By the way, DMZ or Demilitarized Zone is a de facto border barrier that divides the Korean Peninsula into North and South, while JSA or Joint Security Area is the only portion of DMZ where North and South Korean forces stand face to face. It is often called as the Truce Village in both media and military accounts (credits to wikipedia).

On the day of our visit, we went straight to the meeting place which was at Koreana Hotel. The tour that we chose started around 9:am, and it took us close to one hour before we reached our first stop.

Odusan Unification Observatory. Our first destination. This site is outside the DMZ, but included in the tour since it gives visitors some insights about the life in North Korea. Unfortunately, it was foggy during our visit, so I was not able to take great pictures of the place.

Upon our arrival, our tour guide first discussed to us the sites around before entering the observatory.

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Entrance to the Observatory.
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An altar that was built as a place of prayer for Koreans who abandoned their homes in the North during the war for refuge in the South and wish to return to their homes. (Got this from the text on the side of the altar)
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Statue of Cho Man-Sik -He was a National Activist in Korea’s independent movement. (credits to Wikipedia)  

Then, we watched a short film which mainly informs us about the village in North Korea that we will about to see once we peeked through the binoculars. This village is a propaganda in order to show people how “lovely” life is in there.

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Didn’t got a great shot of the place because of the fog. Across the river is already North Korea.
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Peeking through the binoculars. I was able to see the propaganda village, and it really looks abandoned. 

We went on a short tour inside where various exhibitions are shown depicting the hopes of many for a unified Korea.

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These small frames contain the messages of North Korean defectors to the family that they left behind in North Korea, hoping that they will be reunited someday. 
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“Unification Train” – a train bound to Paris that will someday connect Seoul and Pyongyang

Afterwards, another video was shown to us in order to understand further the life of the people in North Korea. This was also the time when we met a North Korean defector (people who fled the North). She did a short slide show presentation and told us how she was able to escape from her country. The Q & A was done afterwards. It was devastating to know that the government controls the lives of the people there, they don’t get to experience the freedom and democracy that we enjoy.

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This is a traditional Korean game where you need to shoot the arrow on a wooden bucket. I was not able to shoot any. During our tour, whoever wins the game will receive a DVD of the short film that we watched.

Imjingak Park. The second stop for the tour, and we were given 15 minutes to roam around this place.

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This is an observation deck and a museum. There are binoculars available to see North Korea on the other side.
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Colorful ribbons tied by the locals or visitors bearing their messages and hopes for Korea’s unification.
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This train was used during the war. It once connected North and South Korea.
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Freedom Bridge – used by the North Koreans to flee to the South during the war.
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Korean style pond garden.

 

After visiting the Imjingak Park, we headed to a Korean restaurant where we had our Bulgogi Lunch (included in the tour price). We were given around 45 minutes to finish, and then we continued with the tour. Before going to our next destination, we switched to a different bus. This is the time that a military official board the bus and checked our passports one by one.

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Bulgogi Lunch

Dorasan Station. This is a railway station which once connected North and South Korea. It was recently restored with 2 trips everyday from Seoul to Dorasan, but no trips going to the North at the moment.

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Dora Observatory. Located at the top of Mount Dora, this is also a place where you can see North Korea through binoculars.

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You need to insert 500 won to use these binoculars for 2 or 5 minutes.

The Third Tunnel. One of the four tunnels found under the DMZ built by the North Koreans, which they believed will be used for invasion. It is considered the most dangerous among the four since it is the closest to Seoul. There were traces of coal on the walls of the tunnel because it was initially disguised as a coal mine.

Cameras and Smartphones are not allowed once inside the tunnel. There are lockers available to store your stuff. People with walking difficulties and those with claustrophobia are not advisable to enter as you need to trek a long steep incline and the place is confined.

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Found this outside the Third Tunnel. Koreans pushing together for unity.
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Since we were not able to go to JSA, I just took a picture of this JSA model on one of the museums we visited.

Then we went for a short stop to a souvenir store, that also sells some authentic North Korean products. I guess it was already 6:00 pm when we arrived in Seoul.

We had a great time during the tour, but as expected, it was fast paced. I found out later on that there were some great places that we missed due to lack of time. Anyway, I still learned a lot. I also commend our tour guide, Gina, as she provided great information about the two countries. She also kept the communication open through out the tour, so we can ask questions anytime. This tour is recommended to those tourists who want to be enlightened and educated on what is really happening to this part of the world.

Like most Koreans, I am also praying and hoping that someday peace will reign and Korea will be united as one.

 

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

  1. You need to join a tour to visit DMZ and JSA premises. I would advise getting the combined DMZ and JSA tour as it will give you a more complete experience.
  2. You can go on your own only to Odusan Unification Observatory and Imjingak Park. I believe there are buses and trains available to reach the place. Visit this website for more information for Odusan and this website for Imjingak Park.
  3.  Advance booking for the tour is required as it easily gets fully booked and the slots for each day are usually limited. I suggest booking at least one month before your tour or earlier than that if you can.
  4. Your passport should be with you at all times during your visit. A military official will check it upon your entry and exit from the premises.
  5. Always listen to your tour guide and be always mindful of the restrictions during your visit. I felt safe when I was there, but keep in mind that these two countries are still at war, so anything can happen anytime.
  6. There’s a dress code to follow (see below). They said that North Koreans often take pictures of tourists who visit the DMZ, and they show it to their residents. We need to give them a good impression of what is life outside North Korea based on our neat and presentable appearance.
  7. There are a lot of Travel Centers that offer DMZ and JSA tours, available in different languages. But it is only with Panmunjom Travel Center that you get to meet and ask questions to a North Korean Defector.
  8. Our tour costs 77,000 won (Php 3,465) per person, the one with JSA was around 88,000 won (Php 3,960). The prices depend on the tour that you will choose.

For more information on Panmunjom Travel Center, you may click on this link.

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When will you need a Schengen visa for a Layover and why do I recommend Lufthansa Airlines?

Technically, it is a requirement for every Filipinos to secure a visa whenever they travel to a Schengen region, unless you’re one of those lucky exempted people because you might be using a different passport. But what I am going to discuss here is, if it’s just layover, do we still need to get one?

This scenario happened during our UK tour last August. Since we intended to visit UK only, then we just acquired a UK visa, which is different of course from a Schengen visa. We purchased a reasonably priced ticket from Lufthansa Airlines with this itinerary:

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We didn’t have any problem going there. The flight was smooth, our visa was fine and the layover time was sufficient for us to reach the boarding gate, despite the distance. Anyway, we arrived safely in UK and spent 15 wonderful days there.

On our last night, we tried to check-in online as our flight was around 7:25 am the following day. It didn’t work as it keeps on popping that a visa is needed. We initially thought that what they are requiring is our resident visa in Doha, which we provided, however the same message keeps on showing. We tried doing this many times, but nothing happened.

We arrived at the Heathrow Airport around 2:30 am. I was surprised to see that it does not operate as early as that time. In UK, self service check-in is widely used, that is why we tried using that. But still, we see the same message over and over.

When the check-in counters opened, which was around 3:30 already, that was the only time we knew what was happening. They cannot accept us because we need to have a Schengen visa. Why? Because based on our travel itinerary going to Doha, we have 2 layovers. And those two places happened to be in a same country and in a Schengen region, thus a visa is needed, even though we will be staying only at the airport.

One of the guys at the customer service area explained this to us. If you have 2 or more layovers within a Schengen area, regardless of whether it is on the same or different countries, then a Schengen visa is required. They treat it more like a domestic flight, since you only need one visa to move from one country to another.

We were already worried and nervous during that time, and my mind was already calculating how much we might spend to buy or rebook a ticket. I even tried to argue, that we were clueless that there’s such a requirement. Anyway, I don’t know if I got them through my charm (haha) or Lufthansa Airlines got a good heart (indeed, thank you), but they rebook our tickets for free, yes, FREE! Instead of going Munich – Frankfurt – Doha, they rebook it directly to Frankfurt – Doha, so only 1 layover in a Schengen region and lesser waiting time. We were very fortunate because the airline we chose didn’t took advantage of our situation. Anyway, we arrived safely in Doha and ready to get back to our daily normal lives.

I hope you read the whole blog, it’s kinda long, I know but it’s informative. So the next time that you will book your tickets or plan for your trip, make sure that you already got all the necessary visas and requirements, so you will have a worry free travel.