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We're frequent travelers, but we're not big fans of planning so we like going to places that are familiar, totally hassle-free, and do not require much planning from our end. In fact, majority of our overseas travels during the past five years have been booked at the last minute. That's why to be very honest, the Schengen visa application procedure sounded a bit too daunting for us before that we tried to avoid it as much as possible.

But after exploring Asia for years and after an amazingly surreal visit to Morocco back in 2016, we were suddenly left to wonder what else is there for us to discover beyond our comfort zone. For some strange reason, it really felt like a European vacation was a natural progression for us at that point. So last year we decided to finally give it a try. We applied for a Schengen visa for the very first time and after a grueling wait, we fortunately got it. God knows how much research and googling I did before getting that coveted visa, so I would like to share with you how our experience went. Maybe in some ways this post could help someone who's also in the process of applying for a Schengen visa in Dubai.

Just a disclaimer: I am merely sharing my own personal experience and while I do hope that this helps your application, please take everything with a grain of salt as every experience is different and rules could change depending on where you're from and what date you are reading this. It's still best to get in touch with the Embassy directly or contact the authorized application center for proper advice and updated information. This in no way should serve as your sole basis or guide when applying for a Schengen visa. Good luck!

***

For our first Schengen visa application, we decided to get it through The Netherlands since our first point of entry is Amsterdam and it's where we will also stay the longest. Two other friends were travelling with us so we lodged a group appointment with VFS Dubai. Just for clarity, we are both Philippine-passport holders who currently hold a Dubai residence visa because of our jobs here in the UAE. 

These were the documents we submitted at that time: 
  • Filled-out application form
  • ID photo with white background
  • Valid passport with UAE residence visa
  • Copy of our Emirates ID
  • Return flight tickets (we found a seat sale in KLM so our tickets cannot be cancelled or re-booked)
  • Hotel accommodation (from a travel agency which offered free cancellation)
  • Schengen travel insurance (from a travel agency)
  • Detailed trip itinerary (which listed what we plan to do in both Amsterdam and Paris)
  • Employment letter (signed and stamped non-objection letter from our company which also mentions our salary)
  • Three months bank statement (stamped by the bank)
  • Copy of our apartment's tenancy contract
  • Copy of our marriage certificate
  • Copy of my husband's car registration and driver's license

This was the timeline of our first ever Schengen Visa Application in Dubai: 
  • August 3, 2017 - Visa application was submitted to VFS Dubai and forwarded to the Kingdom of Netherlands. They also captured our biometrics on site (fingerprints). 
  • August 16, 2017 - Visa application was received by VFS from The Kingdom of Netherlands
  • August 16, 2017 - We're such eager beavers, so we collected our passports from VFS on the same day we received the SMS. Fortunately, our passports were stamped with a multiple-entry visa valid for three months 

The procedure including the waiting period took roughly 13 days (including the weekend). It was exciting and very nerve racking and to be honest, I got so worried that I could barely sleep after we submitted our documents because we had non-refundable tickets. They say that for a first timer, our experience wasn't so bad at all and I couldn't agree more. I was so relieved everything fell into place. :)

UPDATE (November 20018): We recently applied for a Schengen visa again, but this time from the country Czech Republic through VFS Dubai. The documents we submitted were basically similar to what we submitted to The Netherlands last year.

Here's the timeline of our second Schengen Visa Application experience in Dubai:
  • November 7, 2018 - Visa application was submitted to VFS Dubai and forwarded to Czech Republic Embassy. They also captured our biometrics on site (fingerprints). However, the machine was unable to capture clear prints from both of my pinky fingers even after countless attempts. After 45 minutes and four VFS staff struggling to get my fingerprints, they gave up and eventually just wrote a note on my application that fingerprints are impossible to capture. Of course this freaked me out, but they assured me that these cases sometimes happen and it shouldn't be a ground for visa rejection. All I can do at that time was pray and hope for the best.
  • November 8, 2018 - We received a text message that Visa application is under process at the Embassy of Czech Republic in Abu Dhabi.
  • November 19, 2018 - We received a SMS notification that Visa application is ready for collection at VFS Dubai.
  • November 19, 2018 - since I couldn't wait any longer and my anxiety was already getting the best of me, I decided to immediately visit VFS the same day I received the SMS and managed to collect our passports stamped with a multiple-entry visa valid for six months. Hallelujah!

This time around the entire procedure and waiting period lasted for around 12 days. I'm so glad that they've granted us a visa with a longer validity so we can go back without any hassle in case we decide to revisit. We've already been to Amsterdam, Antwerp, and Paris so far and I surely enjoyed and learned a lot during these trips.

Our trip to Europe was definitely one of the most memorable adventures we've ever taken together and I couldn't wait to explore and discover more.

Have you been to Europe or are you planning to go to Europe? Which European city do you admire the most?


Another update:
"Is there a certain amount that I need to keep in my bank account to help in my Schengen visa application?" 

I've been getting this question a lot from all of you and my answer is NO, there's no certain amount required. But I do feel like having enough savings reflected on your bank statement should somehow work to your advantage. To be honest, the bank statements we submitted did not have an exorbitant amount of money since we keep a separate bank account for our savings. So I guess more than your account balance, I think what's important is that you can justify the trip and prove you have a steady stream of income to finance your vacation. One tip I can suggest is to request for a bank statement once your salary is credited so atleast there's good money reflected on your statement when you apply. :)
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It's been months since we spent autumn in Amsterdam, but until now I could still remember those sharp pangs of sadness hitting us hard the moment we realized it was time to go back home. Everything about this trip was totally bonkers and surely one of our most memorable vacations yet!

To say that I was feeling excited when we first landed in Schiphol Airport on that cold morning of September would be an understatement. I was also relieved, brimming with happiness, positive energy, and all sorts of nice rolled into one. It was our very first time to visit Europe, but perhaps the amount of stress and agonizing wait we had to endure prior to this big trip also made the experience even more momentous for us.

We spent four fun-filled days in Amsterdam trying our best to squeeze in as much activities as possible. So let me share with you the highlights of our trip and maybe this can somehow guide you too in case you're also planning to visit the land of superlatives anytime soon.

Where to stay
After quite a lengthy research, we finally decided to stay in Hotel Allure along Sarphatistraat. It's a pretty basic hotel, but the rooms are clean, have all the essentials, and it's in a quiet neighborhood that's also perfectly located across a tram, a train station, and a supermarket, which made everything so easy and accessible for us.

Hotel Allure is also walking distance from a small nice bakeshop called Bakhuys that became our morning go-to for a quick breakfast of freshly baked bread and other sweet deli. 

Day 1. Hello Amsterdam
Our first order of business after checking in the hotel was Dam Square, the main town square and undoubtedly the perfect introduction to the city. 

One tip: Try standing in the middle of Dam Square and get awed by Amsterdam’s architectural all-stars: the Royal Palace of Amsterdam, Gothic Nieuwe Kerk, Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, the World War II National Monument, Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky, and also the huge  De Bijenkorf store. It's hard not to get impressed by these landmarks which perfectly showcase the intricacy and vitality of some of the most historical gothic and neoclassical buildings of the Netherlands. 

This area is always bustling with people: mostly tourists, mimers and other street performers. Dam Square is also where you can see the most number of pigeons, which make for a great photo op! :)

After a bit of people-watching, we had dinner in 5&33 — a casual dining restaurant and bar located on the corner of Prins Hendrikkade and Martelaarsgrachtin Amsterdam Central. It's a little on the pricey side, but the stylish and upbeat vibe of the place and flavorful dishes (all meant for sharing by the way) more than made up for it. 

Marlo was also celebrating his 33rd birthday at that time, so the name of the restaurant couldn't be more spot on. Their staff also gave us free wine when we told them about the occasion. Win! :)


We then capped off our first night walking around Red Light District just to sate our curiosity. I know that some people can get scandalized by this part of the city, and although I do not recommend it to be honest, it was still fascinating to witness. 

One tip: It is absolutely forbidden to take photos around here, so if you don't want to get in trouble or pay an exorbitant amount of money, keep your cameras away while sightseeing around these parts, especially near the "display" windows.


Day 2. A Bit of Culture 
We woke up extra early the next day to beat the crowd and fortunately managed to get decent photos in front of the famous "Iamsterdam" letters in Museumplein, which I did not expect at all considering how much tourists flock to this side everyday to take an obligatory photo when in Amsterdam. But regardless, this area has got to be one of my favorite places in Amsterdam. Considered as the cultural hub of the country, Museumplein is home to three of the major museums in Amsterdam: the Rijksmuseum, Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art, and of course Van Gogh Museum.

During the winter months, this huge rink behind us actually transforms into one gigantic ice rink. With the Iamsterdam letters and Rijksmuseum as its backdrop, it’s definitely one of the most picturesque ice rinks in the city. Super gorgeous for sure!

One of the main reasons why I've always wanted to go to Amsterdam was to visit Van Gogh Museum, which is also located in Museumplein. We spent around two hours inside marvelling over his artworks. I've always loved Van Gogh's brighter and more colorful paintings, but the darker and more melancholic pieces he painted during his early years as an artist when he was still based in The Netherlands struck me the most.


Part of our bucketlist was to experience A'dam Lookout's Over the Edge swing — apparently the highest swing in Europe. It was totally exhilarating and to be honest, if not for my husband's loud countdown while we were swinging to distract me, I don't think I would have survived that without peeing in my pants. I still can't believe we did it!


The Netherlands is the birthplace of the Heineken beer so we had to do the Heineken Experience, which turned out to be unexpectedly interesting. Not a beer fan myself, but the attraction was a nice way to cool down after an exhilirating A'dam lookout experience. Keywords to motivate anyone: Free beer. Enough said.


For dinner we checked out Foodhallen in Bellamyplein. It used to be a historical tram depot, but was renovated into a swanky food market possibly meant for hipsters and millennials judging by the decor and aesthetics.

One tip: Don't expect an easy and quiet dining experience after six on a weekday because it gets super jampacked. The grandma in me almost had a nervous breakdown with all the pushing and the noise. But why still go? It's the best place to go people-watching and sample a variety of both local and global cuisine.


Day 3 : A Day of Adventure
No trip to Amsterdam would be complete without experiencing the Amsterdam canal cruise. We bought tickets for an open-boat tour and boarded on the spot just right across Museumplein. The trip took about an hour to finish and aside from being educational, we got to see some parts of the city that we won't be able to discover on our own.


The Anne Frank  House tour is my favorite out of this trip for a number of reasons. This touching and very emotional journey back in time is a real must-see when in Amsterdam.

One tip: Book your tickets months in advance because they get sold out pretty quickly. Also make sure that you arrive before your booked time slot in order to get in because the queue to get inside the house is really long.


While reading up reviews on the best places to eat in Amsterdam, we chanced upon Pancake Bakery and decided to have lunch there since it's only walking distance from the Anne Frank House. 

The place has a very homely feel and their pancakes are like out of this world huge. We ordered their savory and sweet pancakes so we can sample both and truth be told, it's hard to choose a favorite because both are equally scrumptious. But more than the food and the ambiance, what truly stood out  for me is their very friendly staff who went above and beyond to help us out.  When one of them overheard that our battery's completely empty after taking a million photos during the cruise, they volunteered to charge our phones and powerbank in their kitchen while we enjoyed our food. The waitress even recommended to us some places in Amsterdam to explore. :)


Admittedly, this trip was not without any hiccup (as expected). We ended up missing the bus going to the countryside to see windmills and tulips fields because we were such slow eaters and even slower walkers. I guess it's bound to happen. I still take comfort in the thought that when one is in a very beautiful place such as Amsterdam, one tends to slow down his pace to get to take in and enjoy the moment more. No room for regrets there.

So as an alternative, we decided to check out De Gooyer instead, which was recommended by our guide from the canal cruise earlier. It's the tallest wooden windmill in the Netherlands and listed as a national monument. There's also a local pub in here called Brouwerij t'Ij where we enjoyed a round of great beer and sampled some cheese and Dutch sausages on the side.


Day 4 : Finale
I'd like to refer to our fourth and last day in Amsterdam as a chilled-out finale. Aside from buying small souvenirs for our family back home, we purposely didn't schedule any other activity so we can sleep in, walk around, and just relax before we head out to Belgium.

We had a light breakfast from a small kiosk called Rembrandt Van Gogh in Museumplein, shopped for souvenirs along Leidsestraat, and walked around the city center aimlessly while sipping hot chocolate and planning a brandnew itinerary for when we visit Amsterdam again in the near future. What can I say? This city will definitely make you want for more.


One last tip: Get yourself a GVB multi-day ticket upon landing Schiphol Airport. We got a ticket that's valid for 3 days (or 72 hours) which costed around €17.50, a lot cheaper than buying single journey tickets and saved us so much time too. This ticket gives you unlimited travel on all GVB routes, regardless of distance, both day and night. It's very practical and only becomes valid the first time you check in. 

Amsterdam was a dream, and damn how my heart wept when it was all over. 

I have read somewhere that "it's better to see something once than hear about it a thousand times" but as much as I want to say that visiting Amsterdam once in your life is enough, I just can't, because I don't think one visit can ever give justice to this very beautiful city. Planning to come back here for sure!

What's your favorite city?
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We decided to squeeze in a sidetrip to Malaysia during our three-day layover in Singapore to experience Legoland Resort, a theme park just across the causeway from Singapore located in Johor Bahru. It rained so hard, but we still had such an amazing day with my husband's high school friends Tim, Alfred and Ivy. There's just so much to see and do inside. It turned out to be a super wet and wild, fun-filled day. Definitely one for the books! :)

We rode a shuttle bus from Singapore Flyer to get to Legoland. The theme park is actually just a quick journey (maybe an hour?) from Singapore, and passing through Immigration is a breeze if you have the required visa of course.

In Miniland, they have built miniature versions of famous landmarks and tourist spots of different Asian countries out of lego bricks. My favorite would have to be the Taj Mahal in India and of course my country, Philippines.
They're so intricately done that it almost looked like the real thing. Creative guys, I know. They even did a lego version of the Singapore Flyer. Awesome!
We tried some of their roller coasters and just acted all out silly the entire day. We couldn't help it. :)

This theme park is not just for kids, any one of all ages will really enjoy. One can literally pick up the pieces and build a Legoland a la Ed Sheeran, watch Lego movies, scream your heart out riding the roller coasters, learn how to drive, create a Lego robot, and simply just go and have an adventure. There's something to do both indoor and outdoor, no matter the weather.

One of the attractions that stood out to me would have to be the Lego Star Wars. Not really a diehard Star Wars fan, but I'm telling you, those lego creations inside were just dope. They're incredible!
This is seriously one of the best quick road trips we've done in a long time. I highly recommend this place to families and friends. Lego and non-Lego fans will surely have a blast. You can read more about Legoland Malaysia Resort and what they have to offer from their website.

My feet are itching again to go and have another adventure. I can't wait to explore more. I would have wanted to explore the rest of Malaysia if only we had the time. Been wanting to go to Kuala Lumpur. Someday soon for sure! :)

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Did you know that it was International Lipstick Day two days ago? Yes, there is actually such a thing. I actually heard about it only when my lovely friend Jerin posted it on her Instagram. I got inspired by her pretty photo, so I thought of dedicating today's Friday Love post to this tiny beauty product that's been a constant favorite among women.

Here are five of my favorite lip products of all time. I said lip products since some of them are not actually lipstick. One's a lip gloss and the other's a lip balm. :)
Yves Saint Laurent Gloss Volupte #49 in Terriblement Fuchsia | Inglot Matte Lipstick #405 | Rimmel #103 Lasting Finish
Matte by Kate Moss Lipstick | MAC Snob Satin Lipstick | Burt's Bees Replenishing Lip Balm

I have been addicted to these Burt's Bees lip balms since 2008 ever since my friend Apple gifted me with one. These are literally little lip savers and I can't go anywhere without one of these. I even have one on top of my bedside table within reach since I feel weird whenever my lips become dry. It's the only one that seriously tames my perpetually-chapped lips.

I gotta say that Inglot super matte finish lipsticks are my absolute favorite (Inglot #405 is a top choice because of its neutral shade). They're amazingly creamy, moisturizing, and also has Vitamin E. It's one of the more nourishing lipstick lines out there. The scent is quite yummy,  color stays for a long time, and they're paraben-free too. Win!

These tiny tubes of instant color have actually been around for the past 91 years, but wearing lipstick has been the thing since 5,000 years ago. I know! It's been that long! What's your favorite lipstick?

How's the weekend treating you so far? Hope it's been fun and colorful!

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Our weekend vacation in Georgia holds such a special place inside my heart. It never fails to put a huge smile on my face. It's actually one of those "that time we went to this place" stories you would repeatedly tell your children and grandchildren for years to come. Everything about it is just pure happiness. :)

These photos were taken on the night before my birthday spent at the beautiful country of Georgia. We stayed at Courtyard by Marriott located right smack in the middle of Freedom Square in Tbilisi were all the happenings are. It was snowing all over and we discovered a Christmas-lit park during our stroll. It was magical.
It was fairly easy to walk around Tbilisi, all you need is a pair of trusty boots and warm layers of clothing. No need to take a cab really. There were lots of charming coffee shops, stores, and restaurants in the area. I was even crazy enough to eat an ice cream just because. I also appreciate that there were quite a handful of friendly people who volunteered to take some of our photos. Georgians are really nice and as beautiful as their country. I love them!
It's hard not to fall in love with the neoclassical and modern architecture of Tbilisi. Freedom Square, including the entire stretch of Rustaveli Avenue, is home to some of the most exquisitely endearing old buildings and monuments that speak volumes of their rich history and culture. Deciding to book a hotel at the very heart of it has got to be one of the best decisions we made for this trip. Imagine waking up to a view as gorgeous as this. What's not to love?

To say that it was a happy birthday for me would be an understatement. It's beyond amazing, and I'm really thankful for my family and loved ones for making this happen. It's truly a big world out there and as they say, the world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page. I can't wait to go on our next adventure! :)

More details of our Georgia vacation can be found on a previous post.

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