En Route: Eastern Europe

Context: I spent long bus rides drawing or writing…and there’s a few paragraphs I managed to save on my phone (the rest are on my analog journals). Last Christmas our family went to Eastern Europe for the last days of 2017. Initially I thought it would be another trip in passing that I’d probably not look back on in the months to come…but I was wrong. Maybe it was because I found it the best way to end the year, and surprisingly it was the trip that I needed in order to welcome the new year.

(en route to Hungary)

5:31PM | December 29 2017

I spent the past half hour here in the bus with my reading light on; drawing an opera house from yesterday’s sighting in Slovakia on my travel journal. Oftentimes when I draw, I start with loose pencil lines of the structure before lining it with pen, and eventually painting over it. It’s always been this way, after numerous attempts at refining my travel journaling process.

Sometimes I think that this process is probably why I’ve learned to be systematic when it comes to drawing. It’s also why I love illustrating architecture—it’s mostly adapting my vision based on an image taken of a place visited. The resemblance isn’t 100% but I like how detailed I do my drawings. In fact, the more intricate the architectural site is, the more I like drawing it more. #challengeaccepted

For some odd reason, there is an episode of existential crisis at least at the beginning of my sketching, up until the middle part. “What do you think you’re trying to do?” “You suck at perspectives, to be honest.” I look at a half-filled page full of pencil marks and as much as I try to panic, I don’t. I just let my hands make its magic. It’s like my brain and right hand have connived into making the drawings look decent, tbh. Towards the end, I get to see the final artwork unfold, so it gets easier. And then I tell myself, “you did good”.

I really don’t know what I get out of documenting these things. Is it for show? No, not really. I just love doing it, you know? It’s something I deliberately do to take notice of the little things I often neglect to see when I travel. Here’s the ironic part too—I only do these types of illustrations at specific trips, like this one.

Two years ago, our family went to Scandinavia for the holidays up until new year. I hated it. I went home with a dysfunctional body clock and basically spent half of the trip worrying about work (context: that was also my first year of freelancing). That’s why I convinced my mom that we stay in Manila for the 2016 holidays (which ended up being a bad decision—I still like being away at this time of year). Last year, I immediately said yes to a Euro trip. And because I knew this would (again) involve cold weather, long hours in transit, and visiting beautiful places, I finished work right before packing my bags and flying out from Manila.

My knowledge of Eastern Europe is basically close to nothing. I just know that Budapest is quite famous (cue Wes Anderson’s film and that famous “Budapest” song by George Ezra). I also did no research and had zero idea what to expect from this trip. Did I want to enjoy it? I wasn’t sure. But I came out of it feeling extra recharged to welcome 2018, and a reassurance that the world is quite amazing as I slowly discovered it with my own eyes.

Here are a few of my favorites from my Eastern Europe trip. It’s a photo diary of sorts, because I’m not good at talking about historical sites. (If you want a more informative guide, you can check out this article I wrote for Preview.PH about exploring Eastern Europe.) I’m going to be honest and say I don’t like writing about personal trips because most of them have been archived in my personal records (wow personal records? LOL Abbey?!?!) but yeah, thought I’d share about this surprisingly memorable trip (of my life so far). 🙂

Watched Genius: Einstein on the plane

I’m such a history fan; and most people who know me do know my fascination for biopics and peeking into remarkable people’s lives interest me the most. So imagine my delight seeing Genius: Einstein on the plane! (It’s produced by National Geographic…aka IT IS GOOD.) I’ve waited since April last year to see this (lol I’m not even done though) and basically spent the whole flight watching this up until we landed in our first destination, Warsaw. And once I got an internet connection, I read almost every article about Albert Einstein, his work, and his life. #invested

I also watched The Great Gatsby and couldn’t stop reading about New York in the 1920s and the interpretation of different symbols in the film to reality. I’ve seen the film x years ago but rewatching it now made me reflect on more things. I spent two days thinking about these things. Who am I??? 

Christmas in Warsaw

…involved singing Ariana Grande’s Santa Tell Me in the hotel room with my sister. She was napping while I spent my pre-dinner time painting the Old Town (photo above) after walking around the vicinity that same afternoon. It was freezing (as expected). My saving grace was a cup of hot wine which was pretty strong that I turned into my usual Asian flushed self after (not cool). Afterwards, we had a nice Christmas dinner at the hotel but I just ended up going straight to sleep right after our meal. (Jet lag is real, you guys.)

Also: I was the weird girl picking up pine tree branches on every corner. And yes, I took home a branch; it’s now pressed in one of my books. LOL

Holocaust reflection at Auschwitz

The day after Christmas involved a 3-hour long trip to Auschwitz Museum, one of the biggest Nazi concentration camps in the world. I had no prior knowledge about the Holocaust (except I know Anne Frank and that she had a diary; that was it) so the exhibition was very overwhelming and depressing. You know how I tried to feel very apathetic on the outside but I’m actually devastated on the inside? That was me the whole time we were walking past the rooms where the Jews stayed, the gas chambers, seeing the actual letters (tangible notes are my weakness) and a bunch of their things still intact (suitcases, their hair, kitchenware, shoes, etc)…I went out of the museum wanting to do further research, so I did. And I realized how terrible people became because of power, wealth, and wanting to prove something. It was disheartening.

Side note: This sparked my interest to visit Berlin (which I immediately wrote down my travel bucket list before turning 30). Soon.

Long hours in transit

MY FAVORITE FOREVER. Tours like this mean long hours in transit by bus…aka my time to think about life (lol) and get a good rest. But knowing me, I never rest. So I just spent it planning out some life things in the coming year (aka this year) and listening to music and basically just spending a good few hours without internet. The best detox ever.

Fangirling at Brno

Brno was a side trip I actually enjoyed. Apart from my brother’s puns (omygod, the L’aphrodite joke is still in my memory) and the quick 3-hour walking spree, I got to see one of the concert halls where Mozart performed called the Reduta Theater. Just getting to be in the same place where Mozart was x years ago was a pretty cool thing (sorry, I fangirl like this). Also, in connection to Genius: Einstein, Einstein played the violin and practiced Mozart’s music. So there, justifying it. Haha!

On another note, this city in Czech Republic was quite remarkable. The art nouveau architecture reminded me of Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel. The Freedom Square looked so cinematic as the sky turned to dusk by 4PM; it felt straight out of a film.

Freezing in Bratislava

Bratislava wasn’t a favorite (sorry). Mostly because the hotel we stayed in wasn’t in the city center. My tourmates and I went out to walk on the first night we were there and we couldn’t see anything. It was so empty, and quiet, and creepy. Luckily we had a navigator with us and he led us back to the hotel using a different route. But still, it wasn’t memorable. Lol.

It was freezing though. It rained before lunchtime on our sightseeing day; I still managed to take photos though. I mean, how could you not with a view this pretty?

That afternoon was spent in Old Town and it was around 5 hours of idle time walking (or shopping in a mall, your call) and tambay-ing in McDonald’s (heeey, their coffee was good and there was wi-fi!) as I finished up my sketches. I was surprised to find a little newsstand in the area too; so I got a copy of Flow, like I always do when I travel.

Nightly walks in every city

Every night (or most nights) a bunch of us “kids” would go out and walk around the vicinity of where we stayed in. I’m not someone who likes to talk in general (anti-social is my middle name) but I actually enjoyed it??? My siblings would join in on some nights too.

One of my favorites (and hatest, lol) was on the 30th of December, our second night in Budapest. It was zero degrees and half of the group was drunk (I was tipsy I mean come on, Black Label?!?!) and let’s just say it was a preeeetttyyyyy long walk (we crossed the famed Chain Bridge up until Sofitel…a total of 5KM in the cold). Lol, it was tiring and I almost froze; I’d rather not talk about it. 😛

It was nice though! Meeting new people is always nice. 🙂 Who you calling an introvert???

(These tunnel photos are STILL my favorite. Hahahahaha)

Architecture appreciation at Budapest

We arrived Budapest at seven in the evening and the lit up Hungarian Parliament opposite the Fisherman’s Bastion greeted us as we made our way to the hotel. The architecture fan in me squealed internally. It was beautiful! Not to mention that our hotel’s window view is the Matthias church…needless to say, that hotel was the best we’ve stayed in for the trip (it’s Hilton, btw, if you’re wondering).

Particularly enjoyed seeing the Fisherman’s Bastion by day, overlooking Budapest from the top. Breathtaking in many ways. Also loved seeing the Hungarian Parliament up close, and visiting the market because I was hunting down the prettiest postcards and magnets I could take home (souvenirs hoarder forever, ugh). I managed to take home beautiful ones, yay!

NYE at the Fisherman’s Bastion

The last day of 2017 was quite remarkable but also very tiring. I particularly loved the dinner discussion I had with my family—something we rarely do in Manila. Also realized how my siblings have grown so much! 😮 We went to a Christmas market before that and had our share of Hungarian fare, too. That was gewd.

After all the walking, I just really wanted to spend the night alone in peace (like a true tita). Everyone was asleep while I finished up my last spread for the trip. Around eleven-thirty in the evening, we went to the Fisherman’s Bastion to count down ’til twelve midnight. It was crowded; everyone was welcoming the new year and there I was, feeling all introverted but also, feeling quite comfortable in the presence of people I hardly knew, under a sky I’ve only seen for quite a few times in my life. It felt new, but nice. I almost never go out of the hotel during NYE and sleep it off (based from my previous holiday trips aka I was a shy and sheltered kid back then anyway) so it was relatively new to me to be able to welcome the year like this. Yay, achievement unlocked!

A few minutes after the clock struck midnight, we went back to the hotel to meet up with our other friends and did our last nightly walk along the area. As I mentioned, our hotel is beside the Fisherman’s Bastion, Matthias church, and a good chunk of Buda. (Yes, Buda, because Pest is on the other side!) We didn’t really have to go that far to have a good stroll at this hour.

We were starting to walk past the hotel and I had accidentally found my twin—from the beige coat down to the two-toned grey scarf and dark brown boots. LOL. CREEPY. Over time, I realized that the outfit twinning was just the first part of twinning (haha, if you’re reading this, hi!). Must be the “creative” Capricorn go-getter connection. 😛

Managing to walk in zero degree weather at night had become something I was used to, now that we explored the city for one last time. That was all sorts of fun; we walked past drunk foreigners (lol), singing Dora (the Explorer, yeah lol), speaking in German (I don’t even remember; I’m just consulting my travel journal at this point), vandalized car windows since they were covered in snow (HAHA), walked up and down a hill (and managed to quote Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken since there were two roads laid out in front of us, LOL) and made our way back to the hotel in one piece (yay!), in time for our flight the next day.

Side note: Silly me who spotted the “Posta” storefront (meaning post office) several times outside our hotel on my drunk nights in Budapest forgot to send postcards. I HATE MYSELF. But it’s okay, no regrets!

In transit to Manila

I’m not good with goodbyes. I’m only ever fixated with “see you soon”; so going back to reality was something I was actually looking forward to; given the flight was going to be a long one. It was a blur, actually; I only remember writing down new places on my travel bucket list: Berlin, Munich (rawr, thanks Genius: Einstein for the influence), Chicago, Spain, Portugal. Revisit Amsterdam, see Van Gogh’s museum, and so on. For someone like me who always wants to make things happen once they are written down, I may be closer to visiting these places sooner than expected (my visa doesn’t expire until 2020 so it’s a sign!). Now, if only I could tie in some work projects in the picture…

Side note: Arrived in Manila on the 2nd of January but I woke up at 3PM on the 3rd of January. HAHAHAHA. JET LAG!

I’m not one to look back on things a lot anymore; that was me last year. Now, I’m more focused on what’s in front of me and what’s to come. But this trip will definitely be up there in my all-time favorites, for many reasons I will try to remember.

(Used the #ABCTravelJournal for this trip! So surreal to be using my *own* journal)

Hope you enjoyed the photo diary! Where are your go-to places on your travel bucket list? 🙂

Always be creating,


// night photos + Chain Bridge photo (c) EQ & TJ Quidilla