Author Archive for Gelo Santos

15
Apr
14

DESERT SAFARI : DEFINITELY DUBAI!

A visit to Dubai is never complete without experiencing desert adventures. Dune bashing, sand skiing, dune buggy, barbecue dinners, camel rides, and for the more financially equipped, hot air ballooning during sunrise. These activities may be so touristy but heck, they’re almost synonymous with this future-forward city. Desert Safari’s one of the must-do when you’re in this part of UAE!

It was a blessing that my former students and I met for a dinner where I was treated to a Korean-Japanese gastronomic feast, and a spontaneous and no-brainer decision on my part to join them in Desert Safari was done in a blink. They arranged the tour and next thing I knew, I was with Karen and Joel seated comfortably inside Toyota Land Cruiser one Friday afternoon; what a perfect way to spend my day off at work! The same badass vehicle brought us to the sand dunes of Dubai within a couple of hour-trip.

After a quick mandatory stop over at a souvenir shop where necessary bladder breaks, removal of air from the wheels to make it more sand-appropriate, and ghutra-panic-buying on my part, we found ourselves ready and thrilled for the dune bashing!

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Mr. Azeem Rafaqat, our careful yet daredevil driver who picked us up in front of a hotel in Al Ghurair in Deira, Dubai, did very well on his job! It was an incredible and one-of-a-kind experience! There’s nothing like a sensation of  falling down from a steep mound of sand, followed by zigzag driving that made me feel we’re about to roll, scream and breathe my last! It was intense yet so fun!

About forty minutes after, we arrived at the camp. I was told by Karen who experienced Desert Safari 4 times already, that there are various camp sites where different tours operate. Upon the sight of ours, my Sympathetic Nervous System automatically slowed down as I savored an almost sunset-all-desert-view! Ahhhh, this is Dubai! :D

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I took photos of the friendly Emiratis at the camp site.
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Meet my Dubai Desert Safari travel-adventure buddies, lovebirds -Joel and Karen (both wearing sunnies).
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Did I give justice to that ghutra?  Say,YES! Hahahaha!
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And because dune buggy driving costs 100 dirhams for 15 minutes only, we were content with just photo-ops!
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Although I skipped the 30-dirham-camel riding, I felt like the happiest kid on the planet with a falcon on my head!  Here, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, is my most recent brag-worthy portrait to date! *kidding*
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Barbecue dinner buffet, unlimited distilled water and soda, belly dancing watching, henna tattooing, wearing of  traditional Arabic attires, were all inclusive of the 100-dirham-package per pax we availed.
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Open-VIP rooms that are surprisingly installed with air-conditioning units and come with priority food service (you don’t need to queue on the buffet spread as food is served to your table), alcoholic beverages are all available on extra charges.

Moving on, do I look like an Arab here?
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Joel had his arm tattooed with a scorpion henna. The beautiful henna artist drew it in few strokes in less than 20 sec! Amazing!
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As the sun over Emirati desert finally sets to make way to the moon, the fun continued within the camp.

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Appetizer was nothing less than Chicken Shawarma, that has been my favorite!
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One of the highlights of Dubai Desert Safari is watching belly dancing! My eyes and camera were glued to two dancers who did fantastic shows!

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A faux sword on her belly. Belly Dancing, literally!

Audience participation made it more engaging!
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Then buffet dinner spread was served! Despite the queues were long as there were approximately more than a hundred guests that weekend, everything was kept systematic and in order. I got my food quickly on my plate and made sure I had everything I want to sample. Arabic food’s delicious!

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Grilled Chicken was well-marinated! It was simple yet so tasteful! Kebab was OK too, the same with Biryani, Potato and Veggie Salads. The Spaghetti was infused with real stewed tomatoes that appealed to my palates as somewhat authentic (as I’ve been to Italy! Hehehe!) as compared to my Filipino-Spaghetti-preference (that’s often sweet and rich). Over all, I liked everything on my plate! There’s no reason to complain.

While everyone was still feasting, a man in a traditional attire (of unknown Arabic origin) came out and went on stage. Karen was telling us, that this is the man she calls, the human BEYBLADE!

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And why not Beyblade? That man did nothing but turned and rotated and twisted non-stop!  I repeat, non-stop turning for more than 4 minutes! Not to forget he had props on his hands while dancing, err, turning, and his multi-layered skirt lit up like, uhm…beyblade!

I was worried he’d have nystagmus (oh, you know, the involuntary movement of the eyes after spinning like a ballerina, or worse, loss of equilibrium or ataxia) but No. He maintained his great stance and stood like he didn’t dance like a beyblade! Bravo!!!

 

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From 3PM-9PM that Friday (11/04/2014), I forgot all my worries, stress and problems.  Amazing what a few hours in Dubai Desert Safari could do to my being! I went home to our flat with satisfied wanderlust!

*This is NOT a sponsored post.

Azeem Rafaqat of Arabian Eagle Tourism | 055 2711018 | azeemrafaqat63@yahoo.com

>><<

05
Apr
14

BASTAKIYA, AL FAHIDI | MY FAVORITE PLACE IN DUBAI TO DATE

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In my first few weeks in Dubai, I was fortunate to discover what I reckon as my favorite place to date.  A totally different space from the sight of stunning skyscrapers along the Sheikh Zayed Road.  An incredibly pleasant respite from the busy, cosmopolitan and future-forward city. A very quaint heritage site that made me more interested in the region where I am now.

Al Bastakiya in Al Fahidi Street, Bur Dubai.

The Old Dubai district.

It took me only less than half an hour to reach Dubai Metro Al Fahidi Station from my current flat in Muraqqabat, in Deira. After alighting the train that runs along the Dubai Metro Green Line, I asked the Information Officer of the specific exit point that took me to the Al Musalla Road down to the Al Fahidi roundabout, and I engaged myself  in approximately 700 meters of leisurely stroll.

 

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The roundabout at the junction of Al Fahidi Street and Al Musalla Road.

Akin to a step back in time, this charming and enigmatic quarter in Bur Dubai fronting Dubai Creek, features classic Arabian architecture of traditional houses, with amazingly vast courtyards, narrow alleys  and tall wind catchers. Typical in arabesque abodes, wind catchers or more commonly called, wind towers, had been greatly used to make ventilation cooler and climate more bearable particularly during the early years of Dubai prior to the invention of air-conditioning units. At present, even the most modern dining places and notable souks have kept wind catchers as part of the structure of their establishments, giving their patrons an atmosphere of Dubai’s historic past.

 

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Bastakiya neighborhood is named after the place where migrants from Iranian region, Bastak, resided. Glad it was preserved, restored and maintained for every tourist, foreigner or otherwise.

Bastakiya is conveniently located just across the roundabout at the junction of Al Fahidi Street and Al Musalla Road in Bur Dubai. It’s a stone’s throw away from Dubai Museum, another must-visit-attraction in this side of UAE.

Before my first Do-It-Yourself-Dubai art and heritage appreciation, I was effortlessly seduced by Arabian Tea House Cafe. I never thought I’d fall in love with the place in an instant.
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The entrance is so modest yet very welcoming.
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Beautiful, isn’t it?

Tucked within a traditional Arabian house, an expansive courtyard was transformed into a relaxing and attractive tea house and restaurant that was previously called, Basta Art Cafe. Arabian Tea House Cafe offered me not only a taste of having Arabic afternoon tea but an entirely priceless sensory feast!

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This is where I sat with my old reliable black backpack and spent more than a couple of hours savoring time and absorbing everything in. All negativity that’s clouding my head evaporated in a blink. I must go here frequently.  

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And why not. Al Fahidi (despite I’d walk a couple of yards to Arabian Tea House from Dubai Metro Station), is only a station away from Oud Metha, where St. Mary’s Catholic Church, the place where I find peace, blessings, forgiveness, solace is. It has been a month and a week in Dubai and never a Wednesday evening that I missed going to church. I’m not that religious but if you don’t have anyone else, or at least you only have only a few people to depend on, in a place so foreign to you, it’s only faith, plus good food and great place that assure me. 

I was happy to see that most staff in Arabian Tea House Cafe are Kabayan. The friendliest and the most efficient workers in the Gulf and perhaps all over the globe are of course, Filipinos, bar none (I know, it’s a different topic! I digress). So when Kabayan staff, Vanessa handed me the menu with a smile, I asked of their house specialty drinks. She mentioned Mint and Lime and as for the tea, it’s 1001 Nights from Sri Lanka.

1001 Arabian Nights tea served with dates for only 18 dirhams per pot. I’m sold! Bring it on! :)
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One Thousand and One Nights Tea served with dates. Fruity, tasteful, an instant favorite!

They have Green Tea and Jasmine, White Tea Jasmine and Marigold, English Breakfast, Early Grey, Fairytale, Turkish Delight, Ceylon Sencha, Exotic Paradise, Milk Oolong, Raspberry and Mint, Mysterious Passion and a whole lot more teas!

Then from the menu, I opted to have freshest salad without knowing their servings are huge! I chose Exotic Chicken Salad.  Mixed lettuce, mango, avocado, tomato, cucumber and chicken marinated in lemon and BBQ dressing. YUMMY!

 

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Exotic Chicken Salad. Hallelujah!
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Served with complimentary Arabic bread, the salad is the most delicious and freshest I’ve had! The fusion of textures and flavors of ripe mango and avocado, cucumber and lettuce was simply sublime! The BBQ-flavored chicken also doesn’t disappoint. I can have this simple all-in-one-meal plus that 1001 Nights tea as my last meal when I die. I kid you not.
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Apparently, my worries and stress were melted by the entire dining experience!
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Arabian House Tea Cafe, I’ll see you more frequently, I promise!

Following my 2-hour-afternoon-tea-time, I stepped outside its walls and went to Bastakiya proper. Al Bastakiya houses Sikka, the annual art fair conducted by Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, supporting Emirati and Dubai-based artists. Who would not be drawn and enticed to stroll around Sikka at Bastakiya for FREE?
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Arabic Calligraphy House.

Art Galleries…

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Art galleries, Coin Museum, Arabic Calligraphy House, a mosque, and a lot more are all within Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood or Bastakiya where they highlight Sikka. The most lovely quarters in Dubai are parted by narrowest lanes and alleys.
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Describing it as narrow is no longer necessary.
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Handsome arabesque architecture.
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Camel ride, anyone?

On the other side of Bastakiya is Dubai Creek where abra, or traditional wooden water taxis that transport people for 2 dirhams each and big dhow cruise vessels lord the waters. The multiple Dhow Cruise vessels operate at night, providing local entertainment and sumptuous dinner buffets while cruising Dubai Creek, and are remarkably adorned with colorful lights.
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Abra or traditional wooden water taxi.

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Dubai Dhow Cruise.
Back within Bastakiya, another fascinating attraction are the local shops. Textures, colors, aroma, variety and everything magnetic to the senses pulled me to stay a little longer.
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As I write this, I only went to Bastakiya twice and I’m already thrilled to find a chance in between my new work to revisit Arabian Tea House and the entire Bastakiya. I cannot wait to sip another dose of 1001 Nights!

>><<

*This is NOT a sponsored post.

Arabian Tea House Restaurant & Cafe | Al Fahidi Street, Bur Dubai, Dubai, UAE | Tel # +971 43535071+971 43535071 | website : www.arabianteahouse.co

31
Mar
14

JUMEIRAH BEACH, DUBAI | CAMELS AND SANDCASTLES

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30 March 2014, Sunday, Dubai, UAE.  Upon knowing that the sandcastles are still installed in Jumeirah Beach, a public beach right in front of the upscale shopping and dining center, The Walk-at-JBR, and right across the Jumeirah Beach Residences, I decided to go for my second visit (I missed them when I went there a month ago). Excitement ran through my spine like a boy who first receives his first toy. I hurriedly left our flat in Deira at around 8:30AM, hopped on the Dubai Metro to Dubai Marina Station. The train ride took almost an hour along the stretch of Sheikh Zayed Road. And because I was eager to capture what I’d fancy, I walked my way instead of taking a 5-minute-10-dirham-taxi-cab-ride from the train station to the beach. I didn’t regret it.

As I reached the Jumeirah Beach, I made sure to stroll its almost 2 kilometer stretch (or is it longer?) just to make sure that I wouldn’t missed those sandcastles this time. Before I laid my eyes on them, I had my fortune of having my camera flirted with two camels! I took a few shots on a whim.
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Infectious smile, isn’t it?

Although I’m not a beach boy myself, we Filipinos who come from 7,107 islands have absolute high standards when it comes to beaches. The world knows the Philippine archipelago has tremendous beautiful beaches and pristine coastlines but Jumeirah Beach doesn’t disappoint. Fine and powdery sand, crystal clear waters; it reminds me of Boracay island less the towering skyline at this side of Dubai.
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I came prepared this time with my slippers in my bag; I changed my footwear into flip-flops at the beach itself.  After I soaked my feet in the water and walked barefooted at the shores, I came back to the two men in charge of the camels and asked of the rates. With no intention to ride it yet (I reserve camel riding when I try Dubai Safari in coming months), I was told it’s 50 dirhams per pax per camel ride and 25 dirhams per pax per photo with the camel. Ouch! Too steep for me! I simply enjoyed taking snapshots with permission. The best things in life are still free! :D
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Walking with the two camels brought me to this part of Jumeirah Beach. A water park for kiddos!
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Safety comes first. The water park for kids is properly built with enclosure. Very good!

A few more steps, I saw something the older ones would be interested in.

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Crazy ramps for anything with wheels? Hehehe! :)

Alas! The most architecturally impressive shower rooms I’ve ever seen…
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Then I continued following the camels…

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They led me to the reason of my visit to Jumeirah Beach.

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Incredibly stunning sandcastles! Like a kid, I was in awe! Nevermind the scorching heat of the noon-time sun.
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Correct me if I’m wrong, but I heard these sandcastles were installed at Jumeirah Beach as early as February this year. I came to Dubai last February 23rd and visited Jumeirah Beach on my first week. However, I didn’t wander as far as I did on my second visit; I didn’t go to the areas in between Hilton and Sofitel Jumeirah Hotels before, where these whimsical work of arts are!
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And to celebrate the Dubai’s triumph of winning the bid for Expo 2020, they created a sand sculpture that represents the iconic skyscrapers of Dubai, with the tallest man-made structure in the world, the Burj Khalifa at the center, including the most efficient railway system I’ve ever experienced, the Dubai Metro. Ahhhhmazing! Fantastic!!!
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These sandcastles are a work of genius! Brilliant works of art!
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I only wished I went there with my son, Gabby who’s in the Philippines. Gabby, this post is for you, anak! I love you!

>><<

 

30
Mar
14

GOZO GARDEN RESTAURANT AT MILLENIUM AIRPORT HOTEL, DUBAI

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When you’re in Dubai either for a brief stopover or a longer stay, you may want to drop by at one of the interesting and delicious hotel food and beverage outlets around – the Gozo Garden located at Millenium Airport Hotel.  I was lucky enough to be invited to experience their BBQ Themed Dinner Buffet followed by a Phil Collins Tribute Show that made one of my first few weekend nights in UAE less ordinary.

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Lobby of Millenium Airport Hotel, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Upon the thoughtful recommendation of a fellow Filipino UAE-based blogger, Carla of  My Yellow Bells @ www.myyellowbells.blogspot.ae, whose blog I follow long before I came to Dubai, and with the generous invitation of Mr. Ben Hipolito, the hotel’s  Food and Beverage Administrator,  Gozo Garden  Restaurant and Millenium Airport Hotel, I’m grateful to be there that Thursday night, savored the food and music, and finally got a chance to meet Carla and another Filipino blogger based in Dubai, Rosell of  Kero’s Celebration @ www.mrspinkihan.com. It was nothing but fun evening that ushered our weekend in UAE!

For someone like me who’s so new to Dubai, finding the location of  Millenium Airport Hotel and getting there were not an issue.  I left my flat in Deira at around half an hour past 6 in the evening ; walked my way to take the ever reliable, Dubai Metro from Abu Bakar Al Siddique Station. After swiftly transferring to Red Line at Union Station, I alighted at GGICO Station and strolled to the venue. It only took me less than 20 minutes to reach the Millenium Airport Hotel from Deira via the Dubai Metro. Of course, getting there through private cars, taxi cabs and buses are also an option. It’s that accessible.

Thankfully, the sky and the stars were cooperative that evening; the seemingly odd downpour in Dubai for two consecutive days prior to that night halted on our favor.
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The view from where we sat.

The simple outdoor set up for that Thursday evening highlighted the impressive space of the hotel. The buffet spread was truly enticing!
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The delicious Gozo Garden BBQ themed dinner buffet outdoor.

Assorted slices of cheese, cold cuts and biscuits, a variety of salads, sushi, seafood, baked goodies and soups, plus a few more hors d’ oeuvres, main entrees that include Salmon wrapped in Banana Leaves, Stir Fried Seafoods, Pan Roasted Vegetables in Pesto, Roasted Rack of Lamb with Moroccan Spices, Grilled Hamour with Citrus Sauce and Basil, Roasted Beef and a lot more!  Desserts spread wasn’t overwhelming but a satisfying selection of sweets and fresh fruit slices.  A choice of beverages from wines and beers to fruit juices, coffee and tea were available too to complement everything that evening.

Let my few captures give you a glimpse of how modest but tasteful the spread was.
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Desserts…

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My plates…

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There were a couple of cover artists who were playing good music during the dinner. Their songs from late 80s to early 90s while we’re indulging were so apt to introduce the main show that night.  A Phil Collins Tribute by Andrew James.

His voice did justice to Phil Collins’ hits and I must state, I caught myself clapping frequently. However, it could’ve been better if his repertoire included the classics,  “Against All Odds” and “Separate Lives.” You know how Filipinos can get so sentimental at any given place and time! ;)
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Upcoming shows at Gozo Garden include, Tom Jones Tribute Show on May 1st, and another Tribute Show featuring hits of Lionel Richie on May 29th. You better mark those dates and troop to Gozo Garden if you’re in Dubai!

As for the gastronomic feasts nightly, Gozo Garden offers Latino Samba on Sundays, Mediterranean on Mondays, Oriental on Tuesdays, Out of Africa-themed night on Wednesdays, BBQ every Thursdays, Seafood Galore on Fridays and Arabian Night on Saturdays.  At AED 195 per person with selected house beverages, and AED 250 every Thursday with Tribute Shows, you’re definitely in for something fun and a delightful night!

It was a pleasure finally meeting my fellow bloggers at UAE, Carla and Rosell! Here’s hoping for more meet ups soon! Until next time!

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Happy to meet fellow Filipino UAE-based bloggers, Carla (middle) and Rosell (seated).

Many thanks to Gozo Garden Restaurant and Millenium Airport Hotel for inviting us!

Gozo Garden | Millenium Airport Road Dubai, Airport Road, Casablanca Street, Al Garhoud, PO Box 13018
Dubai, 13018, United Arab Emirates | Telephone : +971 4 702 8888+971 4 702 8888 Fax : +971 4 282 0627 |
website : www.millenniumhotels.ae/millenniumdubai/dining/gozo-garden

>><<

24
Mar
14

AL RAS, DUBAI | SPICE, HERB & GOLD SOUKS, & HERITAGE HOUSE

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Going to public markets is one of the best ways to know and learn about a place. It’s always an engaging experience to look and stroll around, see what shopkeepers offer in their stalls that more often than not, reflects their culture, lifestyle, history apart from daily necessities. The experience usually gets better when travelers and tourists begin to interact with locals tending to their goods.

12 March 2014, Wednesday. Around mid-morning, I left my current flat in Deira with no aim but to wander and learn more about Dubai through its souks. Under the sunshiny weather with its oddly cool breeze in March according to some, I walked my way towards the Dubai Metro Station and took the Green Line from Abu Baker Al Siddique Station in Deira. After brief stops at  Salah Aldin, Union, Baniyas Square, and Palm Deira, I alighted at Al Ras Metro Station.

Without googling the web prior to my day in Al Ras, I only asked about the sites of Gold Souk, Spice and Herb Souk from the Information Counter  Officer at the train station. The passenger-friendly staff of RTA-Dubai told me to hop off the train when it arrives in Al Ras station. From there, I relied on asking local people for direction and trusted my sense of adventure, haha! :D

It was only after I went there that I learned the alternative routes. One could also take RTA-Dubai bus or ride an abra (a water taxi at 2 dirhams per pax.) when crossing Dubai Creek to Herb and Spice Souks.

After exiting the Dubai Metro Al Ras Station, I crossed the street and walked towards left, passed by an alley and inquired the location of Gold Souk. I was told I must continue heading left and turn right at the street’s end.; et voila! I saw people swarming around the facade of one of Dubai’s must-visit-places, the Gold Souk!

GOLD SOUK

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Tourists flocking and taking turns in taking photos of the biggest gold ring I’ve ever laid my eyes on!

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The Najmat Taiba (Star of Taiba), created by Taiba for Gold and Jewelry Co. Ltd. of Saudi Arabia is Guiness Book of World Records certified as the world’s heaviest gold ring! The certificate states, “The ring is mounted with 5.17 kg of precious  stones from Signity Middle East and set on 58.686 kg in 21 carat gold ring, supported by the World Gold Council, UAE6, with total weight of 63. 856 kg.”

Following my turn in taking a shot at that humongous golden ring, I continued walking and exploring Gold Souk.
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Cue Beyonce Knowles’ “All The Single Ladies” :)

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Bejeweled!

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Gold neck pieces, anyone?
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How about some arm candies?

With all the gold around me, I didn’t wait long to ask a local shop attendant about the rate of gold per gram.  In an instant, I was referred with a pointing index finger to those several ATM-like-machines that show the present selling rate of gold per gram and per carat.
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You may do the Math. One Emirati Dirham is equivalent to 0.27 US Dollars.

My eyes popped out at the sight of gold, gold and gold! :D

Then there were other stalls, particularly at the narrow laterals that sell assorted commodities from souvenir shirts, shawls, shoes and a lot more. Some would even approach you with bottled water and drinks that they’re selling.
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Alibaba shoes.  Carrie Bradshaw & Madame Imelda Marcos will be pleased.   :)

My stomach’s borborygmi (growling sounds) physiologically called for lunch meal! I walked my way out and exited Gold Souk at its other end and spotted a Shawarma eatery right at the sidewalk.
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Shawarma for 5 dirhams per wrap, plus canned soda at 2 dirhams by the sidewalk stall, FTW!

After a hearty Shawarma lunch and people watching, I went back inside Gold Souk and exited near the shop with the biggest gold ring. I asked another local about the location of Spice and Herb Souks, and was directed towards left.

HERB  &  SPICE SOUKS

It’s not that difficult to find Herb Souk that’s so adjacent with Spice Souk. The distinctively aromatic scents and colorful sights of herbs and spices guided my nose and eyes going there.

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The abundant sight of herbs and spices, tea leaves, frankincense, myrrh and dried whatever was overwhelming! The colors, the scents, the textures. The only sense that I wasn’t able to use was gustatory, other than that, everything’s a sensory feast!

Here are my photos of frankincense used in incense and perfumes, lavander and rose hips for tea.
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“Chinese or Malaysian?” asked by one of the shop attendants.

“Filipino, from Manila the Philippines!” I replied quickly.

I wonder why few people consider me as Chinese with my dark skin.

Then in a blink, he followed, “Pare, Kamusta ka? Tuloy ka dito. Ano hanap mo?” trying his best to speak in Tagalog.

“Impressive! Where did you learn your Tagalog?” I asked; as if I didn’t know Filipinos occupy the largest part of the expat-pie graph in Dubai.

I took the opportunity to ask the names of his goods.

“Most of our herbs and spices come from Sri Lanka, India, China and many more. That one is sunflower, then ginger, garlic, chilies, frankincense, myrrh, lavander, rose hips, cinnamon, lemon or lemonito, tea leaves…”

It was fun talking to him, informative too.

Guided tourists trooped into the shops too. I started walking away. The Spice Souk is located behind the Herb Souk, almost the same trading goods, and just across the Creek where one can take an abra or water taxi to Bur Dubai, the Old Dubai district (another must-visit place!).

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Alum (white), Sulfur (yellow) and Blue balls used to dye denims.

On my way back to Al Ras Metro Station, I opted to check out the Al-Ahmadiya School and Heritage House.

Al-Ahmadiya School and Heritage House

“Sir, Is the Heritage House, Free? Without admission rates?” I asked the security guard at the reception.

“Yes, it’s free. Come inside!”
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Built in 1890, the Heritage House would give any guests an atmosphere and ambiance of how a traditional Emirati house looks like. With Al-Majlis or where guests, particularly travelers are received, that is still considered the most essential room in an Arabic house as Islam encourages generosity and hospitality, and a large courtyard or locally called, Al-Haush, that also features wind tower or wind catcher that used to catch colder breeze above the ground and direct it to the inner parts of the house of cooler ventilation, as wet textiles hanging on the the criss-cross wooden bars aid in the cooling effect. These windcatchers were very traditional in Persian houses and architectural structures in the Gulf region.
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With permission from the local staff, I took her photo as she was spinning the thread wheel at the courtyard.  I went inside accessible rooms, saw one with mannequins depicting traditional games at one of the Upper Rooms, a “Zariba” or a cattle pen at the lower ground within the vast courtyard; there’s also a room showing Arabic kitchen wares and whatnot.

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I was overwhelmed within a couple of hours of strolling around Al Ras district in Dubai. I wouldn’t mind going back.

>><<

18
Mar
14

ABU DHABI | THE MAJESTIC, EMIRATES PALACE

With its magnificent dome furnished in gold, set at a height higher than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, expansive and immensely stunning marble floor of various colors from sunrise yellow to sunset red, the Grand Atrium alone of Emirates Palace in United Arab Emirates’ capital city, Abu Dhabi is a sight to behold!

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The gold and gorgeous dome ceiling of Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi.

“Welcome to the lifestyle of the rich and famous, Kuya!”  casually uttered by my youngest brother, JC, who’s been based in Abu Dhabi for some years now, while he’s driving and entering the impressive Emirates Palace. He drove me & Marky around the most remarkably beautiful and truly unforgettable places in Abu Dhabi. Before we trooped to the awe-inspiring, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque at sunset, the two accompanied me and shared at least the lobby of the distinctively known, second seven-star hotel in the world, next to Burj Al Arab in Dubai!

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Beneath that  golden arabesque dome is an expansive marble floor.

Together with my cousins and her family who are also living and working in Abu Dhabi, Marky treated my brother on his birthday last year in one of the Emirates Palace suites and was upgraded for FREE with cake and butlers to the high-level-suites at whopping rate fit for Emirati royalty and dignitaries.

As JC  was parking his car, my eyes were delighted at the sight of Ferrari, Rolls Royce, Benz, Audi and other vehicles that spell luxury at the hotel’s car park.

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Definitely not our ride, hahaha!

The facade of Emirates Palace and its entire exteriors highlight the majestic Arabic architecture that perfectly blends with its manicured garden and fantastic fountain. Elegant interiors features interesting traditional decors from colossal chandeliers, gold domes and lavish fixtures.

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The reception.

Run out of gold? Don’t worry! Seriously, one of the most fascinating corners of the incredibly luxurious, Emirates Palace is its Gold-To-Go-Gold-ATM machine that dispenses gold for cash.

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Gold ATM, anyone?

We went down to its basement to take a peek at the breathtaking view of the marina.
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When visiting the Emirates Palace, forget about wearing Bermuda shorts and flip-flops, reserve that ensemble for the beach.  A once-in-a-lifetime visit dictates proper attire, not necessarily formal, but casual and something appropriate to the place.

Even the washrooms (toilets in other countries or in the country where I came from, CR! Hehehe!)  in Emirates Palace were not overlooked. Sophistication and luxury at its best!

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Right across Emirates Palace, one can appreciate the wonderfully-built, Etihad Towers.

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The slick and gorgeous, Etihad Towers.

I never thought I’d set foot in UAE, much more in Emirates Palace; I’m very grateful to my relatives who invited me to Abu Dhabi. Despite the fact that at present, I’m so financially limited to afford such luxurious accomodation and probably would not consider checking in as it’s not included in my priority list (not unless Emirates Palace invites me! *wishful thinking*), witnessing the glory and grandeur of this 7-star-hotel in Abu Dhabi is certainly one of the memories I’ll cherish for as long as I live.

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Doc Gelo in the palace! :)

*This is NOT a sponsored post.

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15
Mar
14

DUBAI MIRACLE GARDEN

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Twenty-eight degrees. 9th of March 2014. Sunny Sunday. While most people in UAE began their new work week (Yes, work days here starts Sunday-Thursday and UAE weekends are celebrated every Fridays & Saturdays), I made an effort to be in the middle of the desert where they grow and maintain millions of flowers in vibrant colors, before summer officially kicks in.

From my current flat in Deira, Dubai, I took the Green Line of Dubai Metro train at Abu Baker Al Siddique station. Alighted at Union to transfer to Red Line and hopped off at Mall of Emirates (MOE) station. At around 9AM, I took a roughly 10-minute-taxi ride from MOE to Dubai Miracle Garden that costs me around 23 dirhams (US $6.26).

To be in a very picturesque place with more than 45 million blooming flowers, in an amazing landscaped and manicured gardens, with longest flower wall recorded in Guiness Book of Records, amidsts the desert was something refreshing! It’s a great breather from seeing skyscrapers and impressive shopping complex and so apt to silently celebrate my fourteenth day in Dubai.
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At 30 dirhams (US $ 8.16) entrance rates per adult, inclusive of admission to Phase 1 & the newly opened, Phase 2 gardens, one can enjoy Dubai’s newest tourist attraction.

Although there were not much variety of flowers, the stunning arrangements of millions of pots of Petunias were enough for my Sunday’s visual feast!

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One of my favorites at Dubai Miracle Garden are the 3-giant-floral-peacock installations. They’re located just near one of the gates of DMG.
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It’s a very appropriate venue for prenuptial photoshoots as the place is absolutely romantic.

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Stargazers steal the show from millions of colorful Petunias.
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While most countries during winter have thick snow in flowerless and almost lifeless gardens, Petunias are grown in abundance during winter in UAE! Cultivated in pots, hanging and sprawling on the ground, Petunias of various colors proved that it can resists extreme conditions. Not only seen basically in Dubai Miracle Garden but most major roads and streets in Dubai and Abu Dhabi (two of the emirates that I have toured to date) are made colorful with Petunias. They must have installed effective and efficient water system to maintain them. It’s gorgeous to see vivid nature at the foot of the vibrant Emirati skylines.

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Apart from the umbrella-roofed pathway and peacock areas, I liked the part in DMG where they artistically installed junk BMW, Benz, Ferrari and other luxurious cars with decors in full blooms, just before a floral Valentine mansion.
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Never fret when hungry and thirsty, there are multiple food and beverage shops within DMG. Imagine savoring ice cream, or sandwiches, or nachos with soda or your favorite blend of coffee under a floral roof. It doesn’t happen on a daily basis unless you have a million-Petunia-garden too at home!
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This is where I nibbled and munched some Nachos, dunked them in cheese and salsa, washed down with orange-flavored canned soda while I enjoyed killing time.
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It’s near the 18-meter-floral replica of Burj Khalifa, world’s current tallest man-made structure.
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First time to eat under such impressive roof.
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Instead of troubled water running under the wooden bridge, they had it flowers of course!
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And like most gardens around, DMG also has a huge floral clock.
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The vast Phase 1 of Dubai Miracle Garden has so much more features and the photos above were just my favorite spots. (Click here to know more : http://www.dubaimiraclegarden.com/phase-i/)

Phase 2 that;’s located a few meters away from Phase 1 looks even bigger area to highlight winter blooms. It has souvenir shops, aromatic and edible plant gardens, and a soon-to-open-Butterfly Garden.

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The entrance to the Flower Valleys is incredibly gorgeous!
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The Flower Valley. Vast. Impressive. Beautiful!

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It’s indeed a miracle to grow such oasis in the middle of the desert!

Have you been to Dubai Miracle Garden? If not, make sure to include it on your itinerary when visiting Dubai and the rest of UAE!

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My mom would’ve love this blog post, I’m sure as she loves flowers so much! Mamy, this one’s for you! :)

*This is NOT a sponsored post.

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05
Mar
14

DUBAI | TRAVELING INSIDE IBN BATTUTA MALL

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Coolest Starbucks Coffee Ever! At Persia Court, Ibn Battuta Mall, Dubai, UAE.

March 3, 2014, Monday. On my 8th day in UAE, I was invited by my fellow Pinoy Travel Blogger, Edcel of www.soloflighted.com who’s been working in Dubai for a year now and currently enjoying his month-long break, to a casual and friendly meet up. He came with the love of his life, Jana whom I found very stunning, smart and fascinating.  From the time I met them at Burjuman Metro Station at 4PM until we parted ways at almost midnight, I felt I found two long lost best friends! They’re fun, sincere and sensible to be with. Where did we go?  Ed texted me two options – Dubai Mall (World’s biggest mall, which I’ve been to for a couple of hours a week ago) and Ibn Battuta Mall. I chose the latter.

Inspired by the most salient places among the extensive travels of the famous 14th century Arabian explorer, Ibn Battuta, the uniquely designed mall that’s located adjacent to Sheikh Zayed Road with its very own Dubai Metro train Station is by far, the most gorgeous mall I’ve ever been to! It screams, “Go outside and travel the world!”   in a very grand and sublime ways. Ibn Battuta Mall has 6 themed courts depicting Persia, Egypt, Tunisia, Andalusia, India  and China.

PERSIA  COURT

History states that Ibn Battuta arrived in Persia in 1326 from Mecca after he joined a caravan of pilgrims. He visited the places of al-Najaf, Basra, Isfahan, Barsian, Shiraz, Baghdad and Tabriz.

After several minutes that Ed, Jana and I were walking around just to find Starbucks Coffee in Persia Court that I personally suggested for us to sit and chat, my eyes and my camera were literally fixed on the incredibly breathtaking dome that reflects arabesque design of Persian carpets and domes of mosques. My worries and stress ruling my mind evaporated at the very sight of that colossal brass chandelier that perfectly blends with the glazed geometric patterns creating a spectacular visual stimuli. That dome in Persia Court perhaps can beat any anti-depressants! It’s a visual feast that made me discreetly euphoric! Inside, my inner child was stimulated as I was silently jumping for bliss!

Arched wooden windows, brass lanterns, mosaic tiles in turquoise and other shades of blue and gold mesmerized me before I sip my White Mocha Chip Frappuccino and dunk my fork at the very decadent, Strawberry Cheesecake.
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EGYPT  COURT

Before savoring caffeine dose and sugar load, we passed by Egypt Court initially. That portion of the mall is reminiscent of Ibn Battuta’s travel to Nile Delta and Cairo before he went to Mecca.

Huge and handsome brass lanterns light up the Egypt Court hanging from intricately designed metalworks. Ceiling’s made of wood while Hieroglyphics adorns the sandstone walls reflective of ancient Egyptian ruins.

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The Observational Armillary Sphere, Egypt Court.

An eye-catching tableaux serves as a majestic centerpiece that shows astronomers setting an Observational Armillary Sphere, plotting coordinates of celestial bodies and documenting their observations.

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TUNISIA  COURT

Walking under Tunisia Court’s ceiling that’s artistically painted to appear as blue skies with white fluffy clouds reminded me of Venetian and Paris Hotels in Las Vegas. However, this part of the mall is an architectural expression of Ibn Battuta’s visit to North-African cities of Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli, Alexandria before heading to Mecca from his hometown in Morocco. Picturesque narrow and cobblestone streets and souks represented by modern shops, magically lighted by Moroccan brass lamps are featured in Tunisia Court.

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ANDALUSIA  COURT

“More than a thousand years ago, on a hill in Cordoba, Abbas bin Firnas boldly set out to do what no man had done before. He was ready to test the first flying machine in recorded history.”

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Construction of the Flying Machine.

Apart from the “Flying Machine” on the hills of Cordoba, Andalusia Court‘s impressive Lion Fountain, inspired by Fountain of Lions in Alhambra draws interest from mall shoppers as well.

Ibn Battuta traveled to the cities of Malaga, Alhama and Granada.

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INDIA  COURT

Ibn Battuta traveled to Delhi too where he was employed as a judge by the then Sultan Muhammad Tughluq. 

India Court showcases a ginormous dome, inspired by the one in Taj Mahal Mosque, supported by seamless columns.

Another focus of interest in India Court is the Al-Jazari Elephant Clock. Named after one of the greatest Muslim inventors, Al-Jazari, the amusing and giant mechanical clock on a mighty elephant contains wooden carved figures, dragons and phoenixes that come alive and move together in synchronized fashion every hour, recreated from the drawings of Al-Jazari in his book 800 years after!

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CHINA COURT

After working in India, Ibn Battuta was designated to become ambassador to China. He encountered difficulties traveling to China as he was attacked by Hindu rebels and nearly died.

Inspired by temples and palaces in China, the China Court at Ibn Battuta Mall is vividly decorated with red and gold trimmings, patterns of flowers, dragons and phoenixes.

And because Ibn Battuta sailed to China, a large Chinese Junk is featured inside China Court.

China Court houses basically the IMAX theatre and 21 other cinemas. It’s also home for casual dining where I was treated to a Pizza dinner by Ed & Jana!

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Meet Edcel & Jana. Two new friends who seem like my long-time best buddies. It’s great meeting them personally unlike communicating only with Ed through his travel blog and via facebook; and best, they made me feel that I am not alone in Dubai.
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Edcel of http://www.soloflighted.com and the lovely, Jana.

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Maraming salamat sa lahat, Ed & Jana! See you around UAE  soon! :)

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Thanks for snapping this, Edcel!

An extraordinary mall that obviously inspires everyone to experience the world.

Two new friends whom I share the same passion with.

One big modern city.

UAE,  You are amazing!

I’m ready for infinite blessings and  possibilities!

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Ibn Battuta Mall | Adjacent to Sheikh Zayed Road, between Interchanges 5 & 6, Dubai, UAE.

*All relevant and historic facts mentioned on this blog post were all sourced from Ibn Battuta’s website : www.ibnbattutamall.com

HOW TO GET THERE?  Take Dubai Metro Train and hop off Ibn Battuta Station.

*This is NOT a sponsored post.

Read and follow my UAE Adventure Blog Series :

>><<

02
Mar
14

ABU DHABI | SHEIKH ZAYED GRAND MOSQUE

Eighty two domes. World’s largest chandelier in a mosque weighing 12 tons. World’s largest hand-knotted carpet at 5,700 square meters. A majestic architectural treasure of United Arab Emirates. “An expression of a visionary leader who conceived that the most gracious achievements start from the heart.”

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Few minutes past 8AM last 27 February, 2014, Thursday, I left my flat in Deira, Dubai, where I am currently staying on a 90-day-Visit-Visa;  hopped on the RTA bus C19 at one of the bus stops in Al Muraqqabat to Al Ghubaiba bus station. The trip went conveniently for about 45 minutes and a few dirhams deducted from my Nol RTA bus card. Prior heading to Abu Dhabi, I ate breakfast at a Pakistani-Arab-Indian eatery at the bus station. After 25 dirhams deducted again from my Nol bus card, a quick cat nap and exactly 2 hour bus ride, I arrived in Abu Dhabi bus Terminal in front of Al Wahda Mall just before lunch time.

Met up with my former student, France who’s working as a Pediatric Nurse and was treated to a sumptuous lunch. After long but memorable catching up and cups of latte and a pastry, I was fetched by my youngest brother, JC after his office hours. Finally, I was reunited with my brother, cousin and her family in their flat in Abu Dhabi! I spent my very first memorable weekend in Abu Dhabi! Happy times!

The following day, JC drove me and Marky around to a few of the grandest places in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates’ capital city. And one of those awe-inspiring must-visit-places that I thankfully set foot on was the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

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Almost an hour before twilight, with tail end of the winter in the emirates, I laid eyes on what I read as the pearl of the Arabian sea.

Red smoke, followed by somewhat greenish were infused generously into open air as we walked towards the entrance of the mosque. Marky said it might be the colors of the UAE flag, probably but we didn’t confirm.

I never counted the times I uttered, “Wow!” upon the sight of this magnificent place of worship. I’m not even a Muslim to be biased with such, but I was literally in awe from the time we got off the parking lot until the time we had to leave. Perhaps, my spontaneous child-like appreciation was not purely based on its grandiosity but the mere fact that I was there at that moment. I was breathing air at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Unbelievable!

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I lived and worked in Malaysia for 3 years where Islamic mosques are also predominant structures but apparently, I’ve yet to see mosque with 82 domes! Purest white marble, onion shaped crowns and crescent shaped finials with gold-glass mosaic made everything stunningly beautiful!

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I was mesmerized the whole time we were there but was halted by the fact that I’ve seen some foreign visitors and tourists at the mosque grounds who were posing for souvenir photos with both hands happily stretched and thrown widely in the air. Inappropriate acts much more, intimate behaviors like holding hands and kissing are unacceptable in any mosque for that matter. Remember that the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is not just a place of Tourism but primarily of worship and must be considered sacred at all times. Dress codes must be observed. Long, loose fitting, ankle length trousers or skirts for women and men. Women must wear a headscarf. Footwear must be removed prior entering the main prayer hall. Shoe racks are installed few steps before the facade of the mosque.
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No corner inside the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was overlooked. Pure white huge pieces of marble with multicolored floral patterns clad the walls and the floor of the facade to just before the main prayer hall.

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The largest of the seven (7) chandeliers weighing (inhale, ready?) 12 tons is majestically installed in the main prayer hall. Two similar but smaller version at 8 tons each are hanging inside the same hall. While the foyer entrances have small blue chandelier weighing maximum of 2 tons.

Grand in weight and mighty in structure, these chandeliers are made spectacularly wonderful with gilded stainless steel and brass, glass panels studded with Swarovski crystals.

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Stunning, isn’t it?

Pulpit or Menbar is where the imam sits and addresses the volume of faithfuls. SZGM’s pulpit is located in front of the main prayer hall made of delicately carved cedar wood, featuring shell and floral design with inlaid mother of pearl, glass mosaic and  white gold. While virtues and principles that guide Islam are inscribed in Arabic words on the wall of the main prayer hall.

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Had I known earlier that the world’s largest carpet inside Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque costs a whopping, AED 30 Million, I would’ve requested JC & Marky for us to stay longer in order for me to plant my soles on that hand-knotted carpet that stretches 5,700 square meters made of 70% wool & 30% cotton, designed by third generation carpet maker and artists, Dr. Ali Khaliqui, and hand-crafted by more than a thousands artisans.
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On usual circumstances, I rarely take a second look at chandeliers until I saw those in SZGM. They’re beyond beautiful!

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As respect, visitors aren’t allowed to touch Islam’s Holy Book, the Quran.
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“The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque represents great sentimental and moral value for the people of the UAE, and their leadership. It also constitutes one of the most prominent and beautiful architectural monuments in the world. Perhaps what is reflected in the Mosque, in terms of the unique beauty of its architecture, is an embodiment of such sentimental value. The Mosque also represents a fertile spiritual space, enriched throughout the ages by the shining inheritance of Islam. It seeks to truly reflect the open spirit of renaissance which has long inspired humanity with its great purity.”  ~H.H. Sheikh Mansoor Bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs (Sourced HERE).

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Thank you, JC & Marky!
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My youngest brother, JC & me. Thanks for driving me there, dude! Until next time!

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The Grand Mosque was named after its Founding Father, the first President of UAE and the ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan who died in 02 November 2004; his mausoleum is situated at the north side of the mosque.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque isn’t only an incredibly iconic architectural masterpiece in UAE but a very symbolic and inspiring religious place that’s open for everyone to appreciate.

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Admission Fee : None except for special exhibitions and events.
General visiting hours are from Sat – Thurs 9am and 10pm and you may walk through on your own. Last entry is 9.30pm. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is closed for tourism activities (and open for worship) on Friday morning and opens again after 5pm.
Complimentary Guided Tours of 60 minutes duration available from Saturday to Thursday at 10 AM and 11 AM in the morning and 4.30 pm in the evening.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is accessible by buses, cars and taxi. Ample parking spaces are provided to visitors.
For more details on HOW TO GET THERE and other pertinent info, visit its website : http://www.szgmc.ae/en/getting-to-the-mosque
*All significant facts mentioned on this blog post were sourced from http://www.szgmc.ae/en/
*This is NOT a sponsored post.
>><<
26
Feb
14

FINALISTS IN TUNE HOTELS x NIKON PHOTO CONTEST

MALAYSIAN INNOCENCE by DR. ANGELO NINO M. SANTOS
Finalist, Portrait Category. VOTE HERE!

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Peek-A-Boo, Tropical Spice Garden, Penang
Finalist, Nature Category, VOTE HERE!

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Finalist, Architecture Category. VOTE HERE!

Dear everyone,

Mabuhay from Dubai, UAE! Currently blogging from Dubai, I’d like to campaign to you my 3 humble amateur photos taken from my years in Penang, Malaysia. These 3 photos were all shortlisted as finalists in the Tune Hotels  x Nikon Photo Contest. Part of the judging criteria will be coming from public VOTES -40% and from an esteemed PANEL of JUDGES, -60%.

With YOUR DAILY VOTES until 28th FEBRUARY 2014, YOU could make my photos win any of these fantastic prizes :

4x CATEGORY PRIZE WINNER: Contestant with the best image in each Category will be selected as Category Prize Winner. Winners will each receive the following items:
– 1 x Nikon D3200 with 18-55 kit lens
– 1 x 3 Days/2 Nights Return Trip for 2 to Bali

1X GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Contestant with the most number of shortlisted images across the 4 Categories will win the Grand Prize of the following items:
– 1 x Nikon D5200 with 18-105 kit lens
– 1 x 4 Days/3 Nights Return Trip for 2 to Melbourne

All winning photographs will be featured in Digital Camera Magazine, Digital SLR Photography Magazine, Dunia Kamera Magazine & Aperture Magazine (Sourced : Tune Hotels x Nikon Photo Contest).

So if you believe my entries are deserving, kindly CAST YOUR VOTES DAILY until 28th February 2014 by clicking the link below the photo-finalists above. The link will bring you to the voting page and you need to log on via facebook, and click the YELLOW STAR-VOTE below my photos. Maraming salamat po! Thank you very much for your unconditional support!

-Gelo.

>><<

15
Feb
14

MONTALBAN, RIZAL | SUNNY AFTERNOON IN WAWA DAM

While a medley of boy band songs from Backstreet Boys, 98 Degrees and ‘NSync were blasting my ears from the public utility jeepney’s high-decibel stereo system, I remained half conscious by listening with eyes both shut under my sunnies. I held tightly on the steel bar to secure myself on my seat just in case the driver presses down his accelerator forcefully.  My destination? Wawa Dam located in Montalban, Rizal.

Although it’s my first time to visit Wawa, I had a word from my dad and brother who used to go there on mountain bikes with my cousins, that the jeepney trip from Sta. Lucia Mall and Robinson’s Metro East to Montalban, Rizal via the towns of Marikina City takes 2 hours roughly with current fare of 26 Philippine pesos. Thankfully, I was on the road before lunch time and arrived safely in one piece.

“Looking back on the things I’ve done, I was trying to be someone
Played my part, kept you in the dark
Now let me show you the shape of my heart.”

I was still stomping my right foot with that lyrics from one of the famous Backstreet Boys’ songs when the jeepney halted to park as it reached its terminal in Montalban (now called, Rodriguez, Rizal) at around 1:30PM. I alighted quickly and this  road greeted me.

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I waited for another ride opposite that parked jeepney on the photo above. There’s two options actually – either to take a tricycle or another jeepney ride to Wawa. I chose the latter and paid 8 pesos.  Few minutes after, I finally had a glimpse of those legendary Sierra Madre mountains. Where the jeepney ride ends, the hiking begins.

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According to Philippine mythology, Montalban gorge was created by the giant, Bernardo Carpio, when he tried to separate 2 great rocks in the mountains where he was trapped. The folklore with various versions also associated Bernardo Carpio to the cause of earthquakes.

With a quick glance at Wiki, I learned that the Wawa Dam was built during the American colonial era in 1909 to provide source of water to Metro Manila. It was only abandoned when Angat Dam became operational.

I intently went to Wawa Dam to commune and make love with Mother Nature on a Valentine’s day. How fitting, right? Armed with my Malaysian android phone inside my cropped pants’ pocket, my DSLR camera and a bottle of mineral water in my backpack, I hiked my way to the gorge.
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A few sari-sari stores selling assorted items from fresh produce to snacks, soda and even beers line the path to Wawa Dam. My slow-paced hike was frequently interrupted as I look, admire and immortalize with my camera the sights that I don’t usually wake up to.

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This place is definitely picturesque at all angles!

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The vicinity of  Wawa Dam is not only home for a few local residents but was already transformed into a bamboo rafting, swimming, hiking and picnic areas that’s not too commercialized compared to other resorts and recreational spots. What do I mean?  There’s no admission rates at the moment so people could freely come and go. However, if you plan to use the bamboo cottages for picnic and resting purposes, a PhP 150 per cottage fee will be collected.

I was surprised and impressed to see the place as relatively clean and well maintained. I’d like to believe that visitors, tourists and local folks still keep responsibility and discipline within.
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Lush green, ginormous boulders, almost clean flowing water. It’s not difficult to appreciate such place definitely. I’m like a kid who’s so happy to see a natural and man-made waterfalls! The last time I saw waterfalls was at Yosemite National Park in California back in April of 2000; that was ages ago, I know! While the sight of flowing water from a dam was a reminiscent of my family’s trips to Villa Escudero in Quezon where a similar man-made falls from a gravity dam is also enjoyed by tourists.
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It was love at first sight. Serenity and peace defined.
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Clouds on water.  You don’t see this gorgeous day on a daily basis, do you?

Mother Nature at her best. How could you not be grateful?

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I salute those few couples who opted to spend Valentine’s day with nature . The abandoned viewing deck in Wawa Dam seems imperfect and modest but indubitably, it offers a venue for extraordinary moments.

As I continued the hike, I was even more impressed with the gorgeous views!

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Paradise! I only wish I arrived earlier and stayed longer.  Sigh.

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If you’re anywhere in the Philippines, a videoke machine is always available! Pass the mic, please!

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A pop of color and a slice of local life at Wawa dam. Wonderful, just wonderful!

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Beautiful, isn’t it?

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Young students who cross the bridge and the gorge to and from their schools are an inspiring sight!

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That single thin bamboo pole guides your step from one stone to the other. Watch your steps!

As I went down amidst those boulders, I became more insightful. Seeing big things reminded me of how small I am. Indeed, humility and not pride, makes us more human.

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Descending requires careful steps from one boulder to the next, and crossing a few bamboo pole bridges to reach the picnic cottages and the waterfalls need precise body mechanics.

I sat in one vacant cottage to catch my breath.  Few cycles of deep inhalations and exhalations after, I smiled widely as I directed my gaze at the natural and man-made-waterfalls.

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Prior going down to the river, I encountered a boy selling local rice cakes. I refused to buy initially. Then I saw him again stepping from stone to stone, on his way towards the few tourists soaking themselves under the falls. I called him and asked his name.

I met Jordan, a 12 year-old vendor at Wawa Dam. He goes to school in the morning and sells local rice cakes for a living in the afternoon. His simple story struck me and reminded me to be more grateful. Amazing how ordinary people can be so inspiring and motivating  despite indirectly.
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Native afternoon delights.
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A few of Filipino favorites : Palitaw, Carioca and Bico. Simple indulgence all for PhP 35 only. Solb!

I also bought ice buco  (coconut flavored ice cream on stick) for PhP 13 from an older vendor. Enjoyed it like a kid, rested and stayed in the cottage until a man was charging me PhP 150 for the usage. I told him, I didn’t swim and only stayed for few minutes. I paid him PhP 20 after telling me to pay him any amount.

I left Wawa Dam at around 3:30PM and arrived home past 5.  Funny that I came to Wawa Dam without major expectations, but went home with relevant life’s lessons beyond love and nature’s appreciation.

Have you been to Wawa Dam in Montalban, Rizal? How’s your experience?

If you haven’t and if you’re planning to go, I suggest make your trip on a week day if possible, for obvious reason of having less tourists at Wawa (remember, it’s one of mountaineers and bikers’ favorites because of its proximity to Metro Manila) and you can have the place all to yourself. You may try exploring the historic caves too but may necessitate an official tourist guide from the local office.

HOW TO GET THERE?  If you’re commuting from Cubao, take jeepney bound to Montalban along Aurora Boulevard or you may take MRT line 2 in Araneta-Cubao Station and alight at its terminal in Santolan, then take a jeep outside the station to Montalban. Alternatively, you can ride FX vans from their terminals in Farmers Cubao to Montalban, Rizal. Then as mentioned on this blog post, you need to take another jeepney (or tricycle) ride from Montalban to Wawa Dam.

If you’re from PHILCOA in Quezon City, take jeepney bound for Maly, San Mateo, Rizal, then take another jeep to Montalban, and another ride to Wawa Dam.

*This blog’s first post about Wawa Dam on May 2010 here : http://docgelo.com/2010/05/26/wawa/

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15
Feb
14

MAKATI CITY | CHIHUAHUA MEXICAN GRILL & MARGARITA BAR

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In a city like Makati in Metro Manila where restaurants spring like mushrooms, deciding where to eat is always a happy problem. Most diners obviously go to their favorites, while some usually eat where cravings are satisfied. Others based their choices with the people behind the food.  It goes without saying that if a restaurant offers staples and favorites, food that diners crave, and dishes prepared and cooked by people who know best, it’s definitely a winner!

When I heard from Elian Habayeb, one of the founders of Chihuahua Mexican Grill and Margarita Bar, that Chihuahua isn’t exclusively traditional Mexican but Tex-Mex joint existing since 2011, I became more interested to try the fusion of authentic Mexican flavors with American Southwestern. As he continued his casual introduction, he became more compelling by briefly narrating that he based their menu from dishes he grew up eating in his hometown, Houston, Texas.  Chihuahua’s authentic; I’m sold!

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Aguas Frescas : Pear & Watermelon. Light and refreshingly good

Elian shares ownership of Chihuahua with Ines Cabarrus who equallyappears so warm and friendly. I was impressed when Ines did a quick rundown of their dishes and their ingredients, plus a few new addition to their menu. They know their food so well!

Chihuahua’s friendly and quick service, unpretentious but festive ambiance, and authentic flavors. Definitely a winning combination!
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We sampled the excellent Nachos Grande, Chihuahua’s nachos on bowl served generously with various dips. From rich cheesy dip with a kick of a bit spice, to dips with beans and tomatoes, everything goes perfectly well.  Big serving and appetizingly good!

I with a bunch of fellow foodies were lucky to be the first few people to try their Strawberry Margarita. Chihuahua made a classic cocktail even more refreshingly great! Other than strawberry, they also have Red Berry and Passion Fruit Margaritas!

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Strawberry Margarita.  Subtle kick and gentle love at every sip!

Have you ever heard of Hot Sauce Library? There’s one in Chihuahua!
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Chihuahua’s Hot Sauce Library takes Tex-Mex dining in Makati to a spicier level! Dare to make their nachos and burritos spicier with any of those rare and imported hot sauces. Try Dave’s Temporary Insanity, Crazy Mother Pucker’s, the Bayou Butt Burner, Katrina Storm, Global Warming, El Yucateco, and the Death Sauce if you dare!

Our appetites and taste buds were more challenged with their Steak Nachos! Chihuahua’s Beef Steak Nachos and Chicken Steak Nachos are served on handsome bowls with tender and chargrilled meat strips. Delicioso!
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The star of Chihuahua’s menu are their famous Burrito! Refried beans, guacamole, Mexican rice, black beans, queso, pico de gallo, salsa, sour cream, lettuce and your choice of meat or veggies wrapped in a large soft flour tortilla. They came up with a Mini-Me version of the same tasteful Chihuahua Burrito on a smaller fraction. Chihuahua’s burrito’s love at first bite!

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Next that was sent in to our table was Chihuahua’s constant bestseller, the Quesadilla! Made of two toasted flour tortillas held together by three kinds of cheese with a ton of varieties to choose from; you must be in Quesadailla Heaven!

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Chihuahua’s Quesadilla are all served with pico de gallo, chipotle salsa, sour cream and guacamole. They’ve got Quesadilla for everyone! Chicken Spinach Quesadilla prepared with grilled marinated chicken breast and butter-sauteed spinach with garlic, onion and cilantro. Mushroom Quesadilla, Steak Quesadilla made of grilled USDA beef, onions and peppers, Carnitas Quesadilla with slow-cooked pork, red onions and cilantro, the Picadillo Quesadilla made of spicy ground beef and red onions, the Veggie Quesadilla with grilled peppers, onions, zucchini and corn. Haven’t I told you, Chihuahua’s Quesadilla Heaven?

While Texan and Mexican dishes boast of strong and pretty flavors that burst into mouth beautifully, everything is balanced easily with a decadent dessert.

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Banana Nutella Quesadilla made with fresh bananas, Nutella, Jiffy’s Peanut Butter and then topped with vanilla ice cream, cinnamon, shaved almonds, and cajeta (a Mexican caramel similar to dulce de leche). Sounds great combination, right? I so regret I failed to grab a bite. Oh well! :(

As for fun and entertainment, Chihuahua’s a champion too! They’ve got Saturday Salsa Nights, Limon Fridays (Reggae), Accoustic Wednesdays (the one we attended),  and few more exciting surprises at Chihuahua.
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Fellow bloggers and food writers that evening with the founders of Chihuahua Mexican Grill.

Chihuahua Mexican Grill & Margarita Bar. A Tex-Mex foodie destination in Manila. A winner at every bite!

*Special thanks to Chihuahua Mexican Grill & Margarita Bar for the invitation via Aldous (leftmost of photo) of www.aldousatetheworld.blogspot.com and fellow Pinoy Travel Blogger, Jherson (second guy from left of the photo with spectacles) of www.lonelytravelogue.com.
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With Ines, one of the founders of Chihuahua Mexican Grill & Margarita Bar. Thank you! Ariba!

*Chihuahua Mexican Grill & Margarita Bar | 7838 Makati Avenue (across A-Venue Mall, between Kalayaan & JP Rizal) | phone # (63-2) 890-3192. | Opening hours : 11AM-3PM weekdays, 11AM-5AM Fridays & Saturday, 11AM-12AM Sundays.

*Chihuahua Mexican Grill & Margarita Bar | G/F Greenbelt 2, Esperanza Street, side across from The Residences, Makati | phone # (63-2) 625-0106 | Opening hours : 11AM-11PM daily.

Delivery Hotline : (63-2) 212-1212 | Facebook page : https://www.facebook.com/chihuahuamexicangrill

 >><<

10
Feb
14

MANILA | NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE PHILIPPINES REVISITED

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I don’t know when did the National Museum of the Philippines start offering FREE ADMISSION EVERY SUNDAY that seduced me effortlessly to revisit. What’s definite is the fact that Philippine art, history, culture and heritage are now made more accessible to everyone regardless of economic status. Apparently, Filipinos, particularly those living within the vicinity of the museum in Manila, have no more excuse or logical reason not to pay the National Museum a visit, at least on a Sunday when entrance fees are waived. During weekdays, current rates are PhP 150 for adults, PhP 120 for senior citizens and even discounted price for students. Goodness, if you can avail of a venti cup of Frappuccino from Starbucks with a steeper cost, why not spend it to appreciate timeless paintings and handsome sculptures? Unless you don’t value what needs to be treasured.

Pardon me, but it’s such a shame for Filipinos who have seen the Modern Monument exhibit in Museum of Modern Art in New York City, or perhaps, those Pinoys who have been to Paris to visit La Jaconde or the Mona Lisa in Louvre Museum but have never set foot in National Museum to appreciate Una Bulaqueña by Juan Luna or his larger than life, Spoliarium.

Last Sunday, 09 February 2014 was my third visit to the National Museum. Frankly, I don’t have vivid recall of how our educational field trip during my Elementary school years went at that place, but I documented my second time in Pambansang Museo ng Pilipinas on this same blog in 2009 (blog post : http://docgelo.com/2009/05/18/manila-explored-part-2/). Although I cringed a bit after going through that blog entry once more, as blurred photos uploaded were taken only using my Nokia phone with 2 megapixels back then, I’m proud now that I visited the museum again and surprisingly, the staff at the counter instructed me to bring all my gadgets, wallet and other valuables, plus camera with me and leave only my backpack to claim prior exit.

With refurbished galleries and new acquisitions, I was impressed with all the positive changes. Unlike my past visits, taking photos is allowed now except for commercial purposes, but the use of flash photography is still prohibited (no problem with me).  Looking back, I could say that through the years, my blogging and my amateur photography have improved incidentally, in parallel with the National Museum.

The Old House of Representatives Session Hall, also known as, “The Hall of Masters” at the ground floor immediately after the counter where visitors must sign (and pay during weekdays) upon entry, a new art installation-in-progress greets everyone. It’s a lovely masterpiece called, Angel, from the Philippine National Artist for Sculpture, Guillermo Tolentino.

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Details of  “Angel” (reinforced concrete, 2.9 meters in height) by Guillermo Tolentino.

Inside the hall are two most significant works of Filipino artists in our history – Spoliarium of Juan Luna and El Asesinator Del Gobernador Bustamante by Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo.

If there’s one reason to visit the National Museum, it’s to see and admire Juan Luna’s Spoliarium. This incredible Filipino treasure won the first gold medal (out of three) in the Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes in 1884 in Madrid.
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Details of  “Spoliarium” by Juan Luna, Oil on poplar, 400 cm × 700 cm (160 in × 280 in), 1884.

Spoliarium is more than a painting of dying gladiators being dragged off the arena; it’s the symbol of Filipino social, moral and political life according to no less than Dr. Jose P. Rizal, Philippines’ National Hero.

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Details of  “El Asesinator Del Gobernador Bustamante” by Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo (1853-1913).

“…the fact remains that when Luna and Felix Resurrection Hidalgo won the top awards in the Madrid Exposition of 1884, they proved to the world that indios could, despite their supposed barbarian race, paint better than the Spaniards who colonized them.”  ~Ambeth R. Ocampo, “Rizal Without the Overcoat” 2000″

Almost all galleries’ doors have noteworthy knobs…

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Little details matter. I liked those door knobs. NM of course stands for National Museum.

As I arrived after 3:30PM and upon learning that the museum closes at 5, I regret the fact that I didn’t have much time to go through and absorb everything. Bear in mind that I only visited the National Art Gallery of the National Museum and passed up going to the other building (yes, your admission includes the entry to the other building) that houses Museum of the Filipino People (San Diego exhibit, Five Centuries of Maritime Trade Before the Arrival of the West, The Origin, Archaeological Treasures, and The Filipinos and Their Rich Cultural Heritage).  I became selective with the art galleries and only photographed what I fancy.

“Gallery I : Luis I. Ablaza Hall. Colonial Philippine religious art of the 17th to the 19th centuries, prominent among which is a retablo from the Church of San Nicolas de Tolentino in Dimiao, Bohol – a National Cultural Treasure – together with a selection of carved religious images (santos), reliefs and paintings.”

Don’t you just love the retro-feel of those black and white tiles against those red-orange walls? I do! They make the wooden displays stand out.

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Saint Francis and Santo Domingo by unknown artists, on wood, undated.

“Gallery III : Philippine art of the academic and romantic period, specifically of the last three decades of the 19th century, featuring specially Juan Luna and other key contemporaries….”

I call the Gallery III that houses Luna’s masterpieces, the green room.

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Next to Spoliarium, here are a few of Juan Luna’s works that I adore.
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Details of “Portrait of a Lady” by Juan Luna, Oil on wood, undated.

“Una Bulaqueña” of Juan Luna was the inspiration behind one of the Filipino musical plays that I’ve watched, “Alikabok” staged in mid-90s at Music Museum, where local singer-actress, Rachel Alejandro dubbed the role of Bising.

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Details of “Una Bulaqueña, by Juan Luna, Oil on canvass, 1895.

I see brilliant minds with every stroke per painting. Filipino blood lines are geniuses!

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“Normandie” by Juan Luna, Oil on canvass, undated.

“Gallery IV : Fundacion Santiago Hall. The works of 19th century Filipino sculptors, notably, Isabelo Tampico y Lacandola, Guillermo Tolentino and others…”

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“Gallery V : Works by the National Hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal, including four original sculptures and one fine drawing, View of Gendarmenmarkt, from his 1886 sojourn in Berlin….”

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“Rizal the Reformist” by Martino A. Abellana, Oil on painting, 1960.
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“El Idillio de un Azotea” by Roman Faustino, Oil on canvass, 1945.

“Gallery VI : The late contemporaries and artistic successors of the generation of Luna and Hidalgo who were active in the late Spanish colonial period and on into the American occupation and before the Second World War, including Fabian  de la Rosa, Jorge Pineda, Irineo Miranda, Fernando Amorsolo, Pablo Amorsolo and numerous artists…..”

Despite its being incomplete, this Amorsolo painting won my heart…

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“Portrait of a Lady (Unfinished)” by Fernando Amorsolo, Oil on canvass, undated.

Other masterpieces that I loved inside Gallery VI…

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“Tausug Princess” by Ireneo Miranda, Oil on canvass, 1951.

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“Portrait of a Lady” by Ireneo Miranda, Oil on canvass, 1952.

Philippine History drawn on canvasses are featured in Gallery IX…

“Gallery IX : The works of the great Philippine modernists and later masters featuring important works by Victorio Edades, Diosdado Lorenzo, Vicente Manansala, Carlos V. Francisco, Hernando R. Ocampo, Cesar Legaspi, Ang Kiukok, Nena Saguil, Jose Joya, Adbulmari Imao, Ben Cabrera and various artists who were instrumental in setting bold directions for Philippine art from the 1930s into the later decades of the twentieth century.”

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Planting of the First Cross by Vicente S. Manansala, Oil on canvass, 1965.

And suddenly, college days spent attending our Philippine History class resurfaced.
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First Mass at Limasawa by Carlos V. Francisco, Oil on canvass, 1965.

The next textured painting spoke to me.  I fell in love at first sight.

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Naiad by Jose Joya, Oil on wood, 1964.

“Gallery XII SPPC Hall : New acquisitions and new loans are displayed here.”

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Portrait of Cheng Ban Lee and Madame So Boan Ty by Frederico Aguilar Alcuaz, Oil on canvass, 1959.

“Gallery XII Security Bank Hall : Guillermo Tolentino, National Artist for Sculpture, whose prolific career spanned the 1920s to the 1970s, dominated the Filipino sculpture during his lifetime and in the decades  beyond, particularly in the field of portraiture and human forms. His work here is presented in collaboration with the Tolentino family and various private patrons and institutional partners of the National Museum.”

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The Sculptor (Portrait of Guillermo E. Tolentino) by Crispin V. Lopez, Oil on canvass, 1948.

Those were just a few that I really liked inside National Art Gallery in National Museum of the Philippines. If you’re in Manila, particularly those Filipinos who have not been to National Museum yet, pay it a visit and I guarantee you, you’ll be extra-grateful that you’re born Filipino and you’ll absolutely grow more appreciation within.
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*this is NOT a sponsored post.

National Museum of the Philippines | Padre Burgos Drive, City of Manila, the Philippines | website & contact details : www.nationalmuseum.gov.ph

31
Jan
14

INTRAMUROS, MANILA | SAN AGUSTIN MUSEUM

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I’ve been going to San Agustin Church within the historic and cobblestone streets of Intramuros, Manila since my wonder years. My parents used to take me and my siblings to 30 churches every Holy Week back then, and their list included San Agustin Church. But it took more than 30 years before I set foot in its museum.

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One sunny afternoon, I had an urge to revisit  Quiapo and headed to Intramuros with the intent to experience San Agustin Museum. It was my first time to see the church with its old peach paint removed. I wasted no time and asked one of the bystanders of the museum’s location, and to my surprise, the entrance was just a few steps from the right side of the main church door. I know no reason why my parents didn’t bring us inside San Agustin Museum; I haven’t inquired but it’s no longer important for the time already came for me to discover and explore the museum myself.

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With only PhP 100 current admission rate for adult (PhP 80 for senior citizens, and almost half the cost for students with IDs),  every centavo was worth it!

I don’t know about you but I know some people don’t entertain the idea of going to museum. Perhaps, they’re not fascinated with history, heritage, arts and things of the past, or totally not interested with some places without life. Unlike them, I am easily drawn to anything significant; or anything of my interest. Probably, it’s really to each his own.

Immediately after the admission counter and the turnstile, a huge lifeless bell greeted me. It was simply labeled with a laminated paper that states, “A 3,400 kilogram bell, taken down in 1927 from the belfry of the San Agustin Church damaged by the earthquake of 1863.”

I was warned that photography without flash is only permitted at the hallways and not inside exhibit rooms. Good enough! I obliged of course.

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Every step I took seemed a stroll back in time. Isn’t that amazing? (surprising? exciting? hehehe!)

Most of the items in the hallway at the ground floor are for sale; from paintings to wooden sculptures, most have tags with fixed prices for those collectors and patrons of the arts.
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The concrete staircase and its ceiling, en route to the second level almost took my breath away! I literally uttered, “Wow!” several times and left me in awe for few minutes. It was like setting foot inside a century-old dungeon or a castle, or felt like I was ascending the steps of Hogwarts with Professor Dumbledore, Hagrid and Snape about to greet me with magical spells! Very theatrical and cinematic!
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Surreal!

Then I found the displays and stained glass windows at the second level even more amazing!
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From the scale model of San Agustin Church, to small brass replica of galleon ships, paintings, priest vestments and whatnot, to the restricted noise of young students who were having an educational field trip with their teacher, I took everything in as a visual feast! Every corner appeared picturesque to me!
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But the highlight of my visit to San Agustin Museum was admiring the choir chamber and the church’s ceiling to my heart’s delight! I found logical reason for my one hundred Philippine pesos entrance fee for I have not seen the ceiling’s painting this up close! Wow! Wow! Wow!

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The intricate carvings on the solid choir seats was beyond wonderful! Imagine, these were done creatively decades ago!

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Behold. The ceiling of San Agustin Church done in trompe l’oeil.

A quick glance at Wiki, trompe l’oeil (French for deceive the eye) defined as “an art technique that uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that depicted objects exist in three dimensions.”
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Beautiful, isn’t it?

I just hope and pray that proper restoration shall be done to those dilapidated areas.

Other than my appreciation for the ceiling, the pipe organ also a caught my eyes and my lens.

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From the choir loft, I completely understand why San Agustin Church remains to be a favorite venue of Sacrament of Matrimony.

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Of all the paintings inside the exhibit halls and corridors, I figured out my favorite. It’s called, The Family of the Virgin Mary, 234.3 cm x 173.3cm (92″ x 68″), Oil on Canvass, tagged as 19th century, Araneta collection.
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More must-see-display on the ground floor…

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There’s a door from the museum that leads to the church itself besides the church’s main facade.
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My two hours inside the San Agustin Museum may not be as entertaining as watching a blockbuster comedy, love story, action or fantasy films, but my appreciation of my heritage, religion, timeless treasures of my country was heightened tremendously.

“In 1993, San Agustin Church was one of four Philippine churches constructed during the Spanish colonial period to be designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, under the collective title Baroque Churches of the Philippines. It was named a National Historical Landmark by the Philippine government in 1976.” ~wiki.

San Agustin Church & San Agustin Museum | General Luna Street, Intramuros, Manila | website : http://www.sanagustinchurch.org/

>><<

31
Jan
14

SAN JUAN CITY | PUNLAAN SCHOOL’S FUNDRAISING DINNER

I considered it as a special blessing to be invited to a humble place filled with inspiring and encouraging people. Few days before 25th January 2014, I received the invitation via phone call and email, and despite the short notice, I’m glad I never hesitated and gave it an instant green light. The event was called, Heart For A Cause, A Fundraising Dinner for Punlaan School in San Juan, Metro Manila and its young scholars. The Five-Thousand-Pesos-per-plate invitation to the fine dining dinner spearheaded by Chef Babes Austria, a former Executive chef of Malacanan Palace and Taal Vista Hotel, for the Punlaan School was already enticing, and the fact that my only contribution to the event was not financial but rather small deed by capturing the moments on my amateur photos; the event itself was surprisingly meaningful as it moved me, as well as the rest of the esteemed guests to tears.

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Herb Garden of Punlaan School.

The area of Punlaan School, M. Paterno Street in San Juan, isn’t new to me. I passed that street a countless times but I am not aware that there’s a productive school until I attended their Fundraising Dinner. Established in 1975, Punlaan School is offering a Two-Year-Dual Training Scholarship Program in Food and Beverage Services, that provides valuable training exclusively for young women who come from lower-income-sector. It’s very uplifting to note that a former school for helpers has evolved into a vocational-technical institution and tourism training center accredited by Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), and the Department of Tourism (DOT).  While it’s not difficult to appreciate that Punlaan School grows not only their very own herb garden that produces important ingredients to every meal they prepare, it is more significant to know that they breed students whose poor lives are transformed gradually as they undergo life-changing studies.

What made the event extraordinary, the scholars of Punlaan School prepared everything from cocktails, main entrees and desserts. The students were all involved from ushering of guests, to serving of meals respectively. And from every inch, they looked and moved professionally!

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Tempura Scallop Mesclun on Sweet Spicy Fresh Mango Sauce.

I was warmly welcomed to the cocktails by Ms. Anne Marie Jacinto, Punlaan School’s Director.

Hors de’oevre with Beringer (yes, my favorite California wines distributed by Happy Living was there to support too!) Sparkling White Zinfandel were served at the cocktails held at the school’s Multi-Purpose Hall. Everything was tasteful.

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Crisp Pawpaw Smoked Fish Cheesy Triangle with Pineapple Moringa Honey Sauce.

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Oven Roasted California Herb Mixed Nuts and Fresh Root Crop Chips with Punlaan Homemade Dip.
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Beringer Sparkling White Zifandel and my plate of bite-sized goodies.

As everyone were ushered in to the dining area at the second floor of the school, I got a chance to sneak inside the school’s chapel to utter some prayers.

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The lobby and the narrow wooden staircase gave me a Malacanan Palace-like vibe enough to heighten my curiosity and fascination with the school, its cause and of course, the dinner itself. The mood was casual, yet I had some hints that there’s a deeper purpose for my attendance.
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Here’s the hallway en route to the classrooms that were transformed to the evening’s dining area.
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Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, here are the faces of students who need your support and unconditional assistance, for them to pursue their studies in Punlaan School and fulfill their dreams of helping their own families eventually.

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One of the highlights of my experience was getting a chance to witness how our feast is prepared. I was ushered into the kitchen, et voila! It was so nice to see everyone was working in the chef’s Operating Room efficiently.

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Here’s Chef Babes Austria in her best element! I bet it’s a privilege and so motivating to be under her tutelage.
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It’s beautiful to see young chef-in-the-making, painstakingly setting our salad plates…
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Everyone seemed enjoying their work, and there was no trace of fatigue in spite of the fact that their call time to be in school for the event was 12 hours earlier.
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The dinner started officially as they opened the accordion divider to intentionally expose & introduce the kitchen and the people behind it.

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Introductory speeches from the school authorities were delivered and love songs were rendered by Ms. Roxy Abueg from UP Conservatory of Music. Her voice and renditions of popular and classic hits brought everyone in a more positive mood.

Dinner was served by the scholars themselves. My palates and taste buds sensed nothing but delicious!

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Flowers and Greens on a Bed of Home-made Curved Slivered Atlantic Wild Salmon-Gravlax lightly drizzled with Limoncello Vinaigrette.
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Asian Symphony of Flavors. Clear Broth served with puff twisted bread stick.
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Not on the menu but Soft Shell Crab was served too!  Yummy!

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Poached Baked Fresh Bacalao in spiced milk served with asparagus and foamy Dayap French Vanilla white wine sauce.

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Slow-cooked Roast US Pork Belly stuffed with California Walnuts, with Guava Java Mint Sauce.

I guess everyone, including myself, was not prepared to shed tears on a lovely dinner like this. One by one, while all of us were savoring the meal plate by plate, three remarkable alumni of Punlaan School took the podium and microphone and spoke from their hearts. Michelle Pacheco, who’s  a pioneer and still working with Resorts World Manila, Hazel Berbano, who’s working with Intercontinental Hotel Makati, and Rossel Dequito, who’s working with UCC Coffee, proudly shared their heartwarming and humble beginnings with Punlaan School. All their testimonials proved that despite they all came from poorest of the poor families in Metro Manila, their commitment to rise from their marginalized state by going through their studies successfully, to their hardworking efforts employed at their current work now, are all worth-sharing.

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From left to right : Punlaan School’s Alumni – Michelle Pacheco, Hazel Berbano, and Rossel Dequito.

Rossel, the last of the three speaker-alumni from Punlaan School moved everyone to tears. Her words about how she and her family survived and thrived on their house built on stilts by the sea, swaying with the waves and breeze, made us all realize our blessings – big and small.  She and the other girls from Punlaan School are truly inspiring!

Moving on with the dinner… A uniquely tasting sorbet called, California Raisin Lime (not in photo) was served as palate cleanser in between two courses.

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Grilled US Angus Steak.

Second course was a handsome fillet of prime beef with duet of sauce, au jus and quenelle pistachio cream pomerry mustard, served with baked potato, glazed baby carrot and French beans. The incredibly tasteful slab was paired with Beringer Founders’ Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010. Tasted like a match truly made in Heaven! :)
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The steak was so gorgeous and delicious, I’m glad I immortalized it on this shot… hehehe! 
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Finally but not the least, decadent dessert!
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Sweet Punlaan Harmony Banana-Carrot Pudding with warm Ganache, Lavander infused Creme Anglaise and fresh fruit.

From cocktails, to entrees and dessert, to the morally-uplifting words of the almuni, I came home not only satiated but was reminded to be more grateful for everything and to everyone, to always count my blessings and to share whatever I can to those in need.
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“Heart for a Cause was sponsored by Beringer Wines courtesy of Happy Living, and Schott Zwiesel Stemware courtesy of Garden Barn,Down To Earth, Villa Ignacio Farms Inc., Mida Food Distributor Inc., Dane International Commodities Inc. and PTC.

Punlaan School is funded by voluntary government donations as well as private institutions and individuals. You can help by donating, accommodating women for training, or recruiting school graduates. For more information, log on to www.punlaan.com or call (63-2) 727-0581/82.”

*Special thanks goes out to Ms. Nana Nadal for the invitation.

>><<

27
Jan
14

KETTLE AT SHANGRI-LA PLAZA EAST WING : INSPIRING COMFORT FOOD

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My recent (food) trip to East Wing of Shangri-la Plaza proved that it has become one of the best dining districts not only in Mandaluyong City, but in entire Metro Manila. It’s fertile with upscale and creative restaurants that mostly offer gastronomic treats and joy particularly to those with discriminating taste. I’m glad that I finally got the chance to understand the reason behind why Kettle, a fresh comfort food place, located at its 5th level, continues to draw attention from foodies and casual diners.

While it is easy to appreciate Kettle’s friendly ambiance, relaxed interiors and attentive and efficient service, for they are a perfect combination and an attractive stimuli to the eyes and the palates, it is Chef Chiloy’s culinary expertise that turned Kettle in one corner of East Wing into a sensational restaurant. Every muted ingredient from the plates that we sampled was apparently transformed into an impressive dish!
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Water, Lemon Iced Tea, Green Iced Tea, Peach Iced Tea. Thirst-quenchers!

In a tropical and at times humid Manila atmosphere, Kettle’s beverage menu is absolutely refreshing! My vote goes with Green Iced Tea and Peach Iced Tea (PhP 149+/carafe). Young and kiddie diners, as well as the health conscious ones, will surely be biased with Kettle’s Fresh Fruit Shake; while those with matured preference will certainly be interested with the restaurant’s wine and beer list.

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Pork and Potato Strips.

Pork and Potato Strips (PhP 339+) from the appetizer choices won me in a heart beat. I lost for superlatives to describe those bite-sized and  crunchy pork belly tossed with fresh potato strips, fried without grease miraculously and flavored with fried herbs and red pepper aioli, but it’s actually addictive! It kept us nibbling almost incessantly. I repeat, ADDICTIVE! Go figure.

Here’s a macroscopic shot of that genius potato fries. Believe me, it tastes far better than it looks!

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Another appetizer we had was Baked Brie (PhP 389+).

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Baked Brie.

Served with side salad and balsamic syrup, this puff pastry with forest berries jam appeared really light and interesting but not at par with Pork and Potato Strips as being Kettle’s best appetizer on my book.

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Buttermilk Fried Chicken.

Kettle’s brilliant expression of the usual comfort food, fried chicken left all of us in awe and wonder. From its crispy and lightly battered skin (Sinful. Spells HYPERLIPIDEMIA, I know!), the tender chicken fillets in huge fractions were gloriously seasoned to perfection! They’re beautiful and ultimately delicious sans condiments! However, for complete Kettle experience, you need to dip a chunk of that happiness to its country gravy and drizzle it with cajun honey, toy it in your mouth, swallow smoothly then dunk your fork to those equally tasteful honey glazed cornbread muffins. Bliss! :) For that moment, Kettle’s Buttermilk Fried Chicken (PhP 519+)  melted my worries and stress away and made me forget all the fried chicken versions (including my favorites!) that I’ve tasted from other restaurants and fast food joints here and abroad. It was that sublime!

Hallelujah!

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If Buttermilk Fried Chicken victoriously convinced my heart and soul that there’s logic behind its being famous from Kettle’s menu, Miso Glazed Salmon (PhP 559+) from the menu of entrees placed second on my list.

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Miso Glazed Salmon.

This warm and cold dish of Pan fried Norwegian salmon, marinated cold soba noodles, mango cilantro salsa reminded me silently of my weeks in Tokyo; it must be because of the soba and my undying love for salmon.

I love how Kettle incorporates sandwiches on their menu. Although I understand that it’s neither an economic nor a social priority, it gives the Filipino taste buds that live and thrive on rice meals, a chance to sample Western favorites like Reuben, Angus Beef Burger and more. Indirectly, eating such foreign sandwiches once in a while, may inspire and stimulate the wanderlust in us to dream and travel more and explore the other parts of the globe!

Talking about sandwiches, if you’re into grilled cheese, this one’s for you…

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Kettle Grilled Four Cheese.

It may not look much but this Grilled Four Cheese (PhP 329+) sandwich made of English loaf, Gruyere, Fontina, Cheddar, Parmesan, Sweet Totato Jam, Basil Crunch may seem delightful for those who favor grilled cheese. Best part of it, they served it with Sweet Potato Fries that’s not oily too.

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Shrimp Po’Boy.

It was my first time to take a bite at a Louisiana classic, Shrimp Po’Boy (PhP 419+). This sandwich made of soft Ciabatta roll, Cajun breaded shrimps with remoulade, served with simple but heavenly sweet potato fries was satisfyingly good if you like your food textured with a kick of spice and a subtle play of flavors.

If Miso Glazed Soba from Kettle magically reminded me of my 2 weeks in Tokyo, and Shrimp Po’Boy made me want to explore the ports and restaurants in New Orleans someday, Corned Beef Hash (PhP 519+) is a reminiscence of our days in Las Vegas where we indulged in fantastic breakfast buffets.

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Corned Beef Hash.

What made Kettle’s version of Corned Beef Hash different from those I had in USA ages ago was the fact that it’s loaded with chunky and house-made corned beef and not merely the usual shredded beef strips. One may find it a bit salty, but to people like me who prefer saltiness on food (oops!), this meal served with fried potatoes, fried egg and gravy, with a choice of rice or toasted bread, is another comfort-food-hit!

On the sweets department, Kettle offers a short but effective dessert menu, just enough to satisfy some toothsome craving and end a unforgettable dining experience.

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Banana Cream Pie (PhP 149+).

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Pineapple Upside Down Cake (PhP 189+).

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Caramel Cake (PhP 189+).

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Checkered Cake (PhP 209+).

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Peach Trifle (PhP 269+).

Of the five desserts that we tasted, Checkered Cake and Peach Trifle stood out for me. I found that clever marriage of Red Velvet and Chocolate united in one cake in a checkered fashion a sure winner! It’s very light and far from being irritatingly sweet. Excellent! And I am partial too with Peach Trifle simply because of my preference with peaches. It is noteworthy that Chef Chiloy’s beloved mom, Ms. Vilma Santos (not the famous local actress), employs her very own creative culinary prowess on each dessert-masterpieces at Kettle. Inspiring, isn’t it?

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More than an indulgent meal, I enjoyed common comfort foods made extra-remarkable from Kettle (read : Buttermilk Fried Chicken!); dishes reminiscent of my few travels and those favorites that appeal sensibly to the palates as well as the heart.

When you have a chance, go pamper your taste buds at Kettle!

Have you tried dining at Kettle? How’s your experience? What are your favorites from Kettle?

*Special thanks goes to Chef Chiloy Santos of Kettle and Richard of Tales From The Tummy  for the invitation.

Kettle | 5th Level, Shangri-la Plaza Mall -East Wing | Monday to Sunday, 11:30AM to 9:30PM | Phone No. : (+632) 6547077 | website : http://kettleph.com/

>><<

17
Jan
14

QUIAPO, MANILA | POSTCARDS FROM PLAZA MIRANDA

Most people equate Quiapo as the heart of Manila, and that includes me. Although I am not a Manileño,  my love affair with Quiapo in the Philippines’ big city dates back long before I started studying my Pre-Med course in one of the oldest institutions, Far Eastern University in 1993, that’s located a stone’s throw away from Quiapo.  I have been familiar with Quiapo and the streets of Manila, some of its alleys and main roads since my early childhood years when my parents began bringing me and my siblings to 30 churches every Holy Week.  No, I’m not telling you that I grew up religious, but I am implying that I have been keeping an itchy feet to go to Manila every now and then.  And if I will narrow down my favorite places there, it surely includes Intramuros, Chinatown and Divisoria, and of course, Quiapo!

In my humble attempt to share with you my fascination with Quiapo, I tried my best to capture its colors on my amateur-photos. Let me know if you think any of these are, ehem *clears throat*,  postcard-worthy.

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Wishing Candles.

Red for love and offering for family. White for purity. Blue for peace of mind. Green for money. Violet for material wealth. Yellow for good spirit. Pink for love and health. Orange for brightness. Brown for good fortune. Peach for studies. Black for conscience. Rainbow-colored candles (except black), or one of each colors per bundle are sold for PhP 20 and it comes with a prayer written in Tagalog, with instruction to utter your wish 3x. Again, these are Wishing Candles. And apparently, prayers are different from wishes; but aren’t they eye-candy?

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Tarot Cards, Fortune Telling and Pyschic Powers.

Located in front of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene, famously known as Quiapo Church is the town square called, Plaza Miranda. Thriving within Plaza Miranda are various peddlers, vendors and stall owners that sell variety of things from religious articles and images, flowers, vegetables and fruits. One of the most interesting groups of people who occupy  prominent corners in Plaza Miranda are the Psychics and Fortune Tellers. Even more noteworthy to me are those devotees and faithfuls who, after praying and hearing Holy Masses, go and sit under the huge and colorful umbrellas of these fortune tellers, to listen to their so called prophecies, predictions and warnings, *no pun intended*.  At a current rate of PhP 100 per tarot card reading for about 20-30 minutes, clients could hear fortune teller’s readings about their luck, money, love life, work and whatnot.

I think most of them who studied tarot card reading and interpretation would mention possibilities that may or may not happen in the client’s life. I certainly don’t believe in fortune telling. Do you? Whether you believe it or not, truth remains that business is good for those fortune tellers. And did I have my fun share of listening to tarot card reading in Quiapo? Go ahead and guess. Read my mind!
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Rosaries.

I bought a rosary, the wooden brown one at the far left of the photo above at PhP 20.
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Amulets, Talismans, Charms?

According to Powerfortunes.com, “the word talisman comes from the Arabic word, tilsam which itself comes from the Greek word telos which means to consecrate or to initiate into the mysteries.  A talisman is defined as an object that has apparently magical or miraculous effects and that can avert misfortune and bring good fortune when acquired. An amulet, originated from the Latin word, amuletum, is essentially another term for talisman. Amulets are lucky charms that have magical inscriptions and which has been consecrated through incantation.”

When I asked the male vendor of the stall where I took the photo of those pendant-looking amulets, of its use and function and where they source it, I received a candid yet seemingly truthful response. “Ang suppliers po namin ay taga-Batangas at Cavite. Ang gamit po nyan ay naayon at alam ng bumibili” (“Our suppliers come from the provinces of Batangas and Cavite. People who buy those things certainly know how to use them”).

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Roasted Peanuts. Yum!

There’s always something to munch at Plaza Miranda. I bought a small pack of roasted and garlicky peanuts for PhP 10.

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Ginger and Chilies.

I told you, Plaza Miranda in Quiapo is so colorful, isn’t it?
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Smoked Fish, or locally called Tinapa.

My mom asked me to buy Tinapa or smoked fish. I bought two piles of smoked fish! Delicious!
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Bouquets.

I think flowers are appropriate within the vicinity of a church.
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Dried Shrimps or locally called, Hibe.  Dried and Salted Fish or locally called, Tuyo.  Yum!

From Plaza Miranda all the way to Quinta Market, the side streets are loaded with stalls of fruits, vegetables, fish, meats, dried, fresh, cured, marinated. Name it.

I also bought a PhP 50-pack of  Tuyo, or salted dried fish and a kilogram of tomatoes.
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A stall of vegetables and fruits.

My love and fascination for Quiapo Church, Plaza Miranda and all their colors will remain the same, perhaps even after my legs and knees become weak to drag my feet to go to Manila.
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Wishing candles. Again. You love the colors, don’t you? I do!

>><<

12
Jan
14

ANGONO | HIGANTES FESTIVAL & BALAW BALAW RESTAURANT

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It only took me 20 minutes and twenty-two Philippine pesos on a single public-utility-jeepney ride from our place in Pasig City to reach Angono, Rizal.  Although it sounded quite near and convenient, I did not have any idea where to alight! I only remembered from what I googled, that the Higantes Festival parade would start at 7AM, Sunday, 17 November 2013,  in front of Angono Elementary School. Good thing, luck was on my side because a young family with grandparents were also on their way to the same town fiesta, sat beside me. I got off the jeepney when they did.

Just before 7AM, I found myself standing in front of World War II monument at the junction in Angono. The driver dropped off almost half of his passengers there, as the road going to Angono Elementary School was closed for the event. After few meters of walking, I smiled when I finally saw numerous Higantes, or giant paper mache on queue for the parade. It certainly brought back simple and happy memories of celebrating fiestas during my childhood years.

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Towering at ten to twelve feet, with diameter of about four to five feet, Higantes are made of paper mache for their heads, and bamboos and colorful textiles for their trunks. They usually add fun to almost all fiestas around the Philippines, but it is in Angono where the tradition started. History states that these Higantes originated as a creative means of protest of Filipino farmers and land tillers against their Spanish landlords during the colonial era. That explains why these Higantes have hands placed high up on their waists, they used to be the effigies of arrogant hacienderos before.

An awesome surprise treat for me was to see and photograph little pretty kids that were dressed in costumes of mermaids, fishermen and parehadoras (group of young girls holding paddles and wearing bakya or traditional wooden slippers); they were all in the parade at Higantes Festival as reminders that Angono was once a fishing village and that its town people were blessed with abundance of Laguna Lake.

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And so my Sunday morning was made with infectious kiddie smiles and a lot variations of Higantes from computer-game-inspired, Plants versus Zombies…

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Philippines’ National Hero, Dr. Jose Rizal…

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More animated characters…

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Local town’s cosplayers…

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Even the famous Filipino comedian-host, Vice Ganda was made into a Higantes!

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Like almost all fiestas in the country, the parade started with a lively marching bands…

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Fiestas are commonly celebrated in honor of Catholic saints, and in Angono, it’s the feast day of Saint Pope Clement I or locally known as San Clemente. Higantes Festival is held a week before the feast day of San Clemente, that’s usually celebrated every November 22-23.

After I stationed myself to a spot where I watched the parade pass by, I walked my way down to the town’s municipal building.

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The relief-structures of “Si Malakas at Si Maganda” fronting the municipal building of Angono, Rizal.

Since I am not familiar with the place, I asked bystanders and a few policemen of the directions to the San Clemente Church. It’s easy as I was told to stroll down where the parade was going.
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The narrow street en route to the San Clemente Church was lined by concrete walls in parallel, with sculptures and murals depicting local lives and other artistic creations of homegrown artists of Angono. This urban municipality would never been dubbed as Arts Capital of the Philippines for nothing. Angono is home to two National Artists, namely Lucio San Pedro for music and Carlos “Botong” Francisco for the arts. It is also in this humble town where Angono Petroglyphs, the oldest art work identified in the Philippines, can be found (not in photo).
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Finally, I uttered prayers of thanksgiving, asked for forgiveness and blessings inside San Clemente Church.
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Outside, under the heat of the mid-morning sun, the Higantes Festival parade was still on-going. I caught myself with mouth-wide-open, at the sight of local men and women in their geriatric years, taking photos of the parade using modern tablets and smart phones.

I was in awe at the efforts employed by all participants, specially the boys and men who were carrying those Higantes, and of course, all the children and the old ones who were wearing traditional attires and costumes for the parade. Hats off to them who continue to pass this traditional celebration to the next generations.
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Most people who visit Angono, Rizal also drop by the famous Balaw-Balaw Specialty Restaurant and Art Gallery.  Of course, I did not let the chance to pass without sampling something from their menu. It only took me 5-minute-tricycle ride to get there.

Apparently, 3 Higantes from the parade were from the restaurant owners. I saw them how they disassemble the Higantes before keeping them inside the gallery. Amazing!

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The facade’s inviting with lush greens…
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Inside, I found the restaurant quaint and fascinating…
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The view where I sat…
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Paper Mache : Local women with children, cooking local rice cakes, bibingka and puto-bumbong.

Balaw-Balaw Restaurant is known for local and exotic dishes from Angono. I forgot to bring my daredevil and adventurous attitude when it comes to food (as if I have one!), thus I only settled to personal favorites – Halo-halo to beat the heat, Balaw-balaw Seafood fried rice -that appealed to me as a meal-in-one, and a fresh mango juice to wash everything down.
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By its huge serving, I had more than half of the Balaw-Balaw Seafood fried rice as my take-away, and shared it immediately for lunch at home. Everything’s OK but certainly not the best compared to what I’ve tasted. To be fair, there’s a lot of Filipino dishes on the menu to choose from and perhaps, a single visit to this restaurant with minimal orders would not be enough to have a fair food review.

The restaurant houses an art gallery too.

Behold.

The craftmanship of Angono…
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A visit to their toilet with a 45 degree turn to the right will give you this view…

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More beautiful sculptures and art works installed at the other room of the art gallery…

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Half day wasn’t enough to understand, enjoy and savor an entire town’s culture, tradition, food and celebration. But I reckon that I had fun nonetheless.

Have you been to Angono, Rizal? How was your experience attending Higantes Festival? Have you tried dining at Balaw-Balaw Restaurant?

>><<

San Clement Church | Baranggay Poblacion Ibaba, Angono, Rizal.

Angono Elementary School | M.L. Quezon Avenue, Barangay San Isidro, Angono, Rizal.

Balaw Balaw Specialty Restaurant and Art Gallery| #16 Doña Justa St., Doña Subd., PH1, Angono, Rizal. (this is not a sponsored post).

>><<

22
Dec
13

WHERE MY FEET BROUGHT ME IN 2013

It takes a formidable spirit to endure 2013.  From the devastating effects of Typhoon Haiyan, earthquake and armed conflict in our country, The Philippines, to my personal adversities, we could either dwell on tragedy and misery or choose to rise, become better, and move on. The results will always depend on our decisions.

Yet in so many ways, I consider 2013 as one of my most blessed years. There are so much reasons to celebrate and be grateful for! I was privileged to set foot in few countries that brought me priceless memories and worthwhile experiences. I was fortunate to be invited to some of the luxurious hotels and restaurants in Malaysia, Singapore and Manila. The year was also kind in providing this blog, recognition, online features and citations.

With this photo-essay, allow me to relive and share once more, where my feet took me in 2013. Everything in 2013 reminded me that every moment counts, every step matters. I’m counting blessings.

JANUARY 2013 : CHIANG MAI,  THAILAND

Ringed Beauty, published on July/August 2012 Lonely Planet Magazine Asia
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kids in chiang mai
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FEBRUARY 2013 : LANGKAWI, KEDAH  &  PENANG, MALAYSIA 

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LANGKAWI, KEDAH, MALAYSIA : Our Days in Cenang & Tengah Beaches, Langkawi

Also in February 2013, I was able to blog a Mini-Travel-Guide to George Town, Penang…

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FEBRUARY 2013 : Mini Guide to George Town, Penang : A UNESCO World Heritage Site

MARCH  2013 : KUALA LUMPUR  &  PENANG, MALAYSIA

gabby donating his clothes and toys
MARCH 2013 : Charity Work with Gabby & Malaysian Bloggers in 3 Orphanages in Penang

BEST EXPAT BLOG AWARD MITBCA 2013
MARCH 2013 : 2013 Ministry of Tourism Malaysia’s Best Expat Blog Award Winner

APRIL 2013  :  MALACCA, MALAYSIA  &  SINGAPORE

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APRIL 2013 : Random Memories, Happy Thoughts from Melaka

MAY 2013 : SINGAPORE  &  PENANG, MALAYSIA

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MAY 2013 : Singapore River Safari

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MAY 2013 : River Safari, Night Safari & Singapore Flyer :  Courtesy of iVenture Card, Singapore
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MAY 2013 :  Chowrasta Road & Market

JUNE 2013 : MALACCA, MALAYSIA  &  SINGAPORE

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JUNE 2013 :  Mods Cafe Melaka
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JUNE 2013 : Singapore Night Safari

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JUNE 2013 : Singapore Flyer & More

AUGUST 2013 :  KATHMANDU,  BHAKTAPUR,  PATAN, NAGARKOT,  NEPAL

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*Nepal Blog Series includes :

SEPTEMBER 2013 :  MANILA,  PHILIPPINES

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SEPTEMBER 2013  : Back in Manila

OCTOBER 2013 :  PENANG, MALAYSIA

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george town, penang, malaysia
may 9 2013 743pm thursday
OCTOBER 2013 : How Do You Say Goodbye To Malaysia

NOVEMBER 2013 : SINGAPORE

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NOVEMBER 2013 :  Gardens By The Bay Revisited Singapore

DECEMBER 2013 : MANILA, THE PHILIPPINES

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DECEMBER : 2013 Grand Marian Procession, Intramuros, Manila

SPONSORED STAYCATIONS  2013 : PENANG, SINGAPORE, MALACCA, KUALA LUMPUR

I am also thankful to all people who invited me and my family to complimentary hotel accomodation in Malaysia and Singapore this year. I cannot  be grateful enough! Many thanks to :

  • Eastin Hotel Penang, Malaysia
  • Ibis Hotel on Bencoolen, Singapore
  • Eastern & Oriental Hotel Penang, Malaysia
  • Quayside Hotel & Halia Inc. Restaurant, Malacca, Malaysia
  • The Elizabeth Hotel, Singapore
  • Orchard Parade Hotel, Singapore
  • Somerset Serviced Residences, Ampang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

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MARCH 2013 : Eastin Hotel Penang
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MAY 2013 : Singapore : Ibis Hotel on Bencoolen
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MAY 2013 : Heritage Wing of E&O Hotel Penang

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MAY 2013 : Corner Suite, Victory Annexe Wing, E&O Hotel Penang

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JUNE 2013 : Quayside Hotel & Halia Restaurant Coffee Bar, Malacca

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OCTOBER 2013 : Elizabeth Hotel, Singapore

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OCTOBER 2013 : Orchard Parade Hotel Singapore
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OCTOBER 2013 : Somerset Serviced Residence, Ampang, Kuala Lumpur

COMPLIMENTARY FOOD INDULGENCE : PENANG, SINGAPORE, MANILA

I’m also grateful to the people who sent invitations from restaurants and a few good friends in Penang, Singapore and Manila. Thank you very much to :

  • Macalister Mansion, Penang
  • Sarkies, Eastern & Oriental Hotel Penang
  • 1885, Eastern & Oriental Hotel Penang
  • Dinner Treat by Dennis in Hakumai & Omakase, Antoinette, Singapore.
  • Swez Brasserie, Eastin Hotel Penang
  • Beringer Wines and Cirkulo Restaurant, Makati City
  • Silk Thai Road, BGC, Taguig City
  • Burger Company, Quezon City
  • Dinner Treats from my Malaysian families in Penang – Mr. Michael & Jasmine, and Mr. Loh & family
  • Lunch & Dinner Treat by great friends, Rob & LG
  • Harina Artisan Bakery & Cafe, Quezon City
  • Sentro 1771, Serendra, BGC, Taguig City

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Torchon of Foie Gras, Crumble, Gastrique Pearls
MARCH 2013 : Macalister Mansion : Tobreck Vertical Wine Dinner
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MARCH 2013 : Sarkies’ Seafood Buffet Dinner Extravaganza, E&O Hotel Penang
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MAY 2013 : 1885 : Eastern & Oriental Hotel Penang’s Fine Dining Restaurant

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MAY 2013 :  Singapore : Hakumai Sushi & Omakase | Antoinette French Desserts

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JULY 2013 : Wine & Dine Buffet Dinner at Sarkies, E&O Hotel, Penang
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JULY 2013 : Ramadan Buffet at Eastin Hotel Penang

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OCTOBER 2013 : Farewell Dinner at Sarkies,E&O Hotel Penang
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NOVEMBER 2013 : Two Dinners Hosted by My Malaysian Families

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NOVEMBER 2013 : Lunch & Dinner Treats from Great Friends of 20 Years & Counting
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NOVEMBER 2013 : Beringer Wines at Cirkulo Restaurant, Makati City

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NOVEMBER 2013 : Finest Thai Food at Silk Road, BGC
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NOVEMBER 2013 : Burger Company, Quezon City

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DECEMBER 2013 : Harina Artisan Bakery Cafe, Quezon City

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DECEMBER 2013 : Sentro 1771 Serendra, BGC

  • Special thanks goes out to Malaysia Airlines for sponsoring our family’s PEN-KUL-KTM roundtrip tickets!

Apart from the Best Expat Blog Award from Ministry of Tourism Malaysia for two consecutive years, 2013 also brought me a few more citations and priceless things that boost my self-esteem. Again, many thanks to those few people who believe in this blog.

PINOY TRAVEL BLOGGERS
And fortunately, for the second time, one of the photos I took in Chiang Mai, Thailand was published in 4 pages of the esteemed travel magazine, Lonely Planet Asia last  July 2013.

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JULY 2013 : My Travel Photo Published on 4 Pages of Lonely Planet Asia Magazine

Looking back, no superlatives will be appropriate to describe the places I’ve been to and the people I’ve met. No volume of photos will ever be enough to express the good and bad memories of the journeys I took. Everything and everyone provided me life lessons generously.

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Twenty thirteen has been like no other, yet through it all, one thing remains the same. I opt not to dwell in negative things and be more hopeful for tomorrow. It’s incredibly ecstatic to wonder where my feet will take me in the coming years.

  May we all have a Blessed Christmas and a Prosperous New Year!

>><<

PTB Blog Carnival

*This is my entry to Pinoy Travel Bloggers’ Blog Carnival

for the month of December 2013 entitled,

“The Pinoy Travel Bloggers Closing the Curtains on 2013: Love, Learn and Living”

hosted by Brenna Bustamante of

The Philippine Travelogue.

>><<

18
Dec
13

SENTRO 1771 | SERENDRA, BGC

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For a Balikbayan (Filipino who returns home from abroad), or an Overseas Filipino Worker like me, who certainly missed dining in restaurants that take pride in serving Filipino cuisine with a modern twist and play on classic and well-loved flavors, Sentro 1771 is such a welcome treat! I’m thankful that I was invited to join a small group of bloggers to sample some dishes in its branch in Serendra, Bonifacio Global City at 3PM, last 15th December 2013, Sunday. The timing was quite late for lunch, yet so heavy for merienda or an afternoon snack.

I didn’t set any expectation as it was my first time to dine there. I was impressed at almost everything about Sentro 1771 and the dishes that I tasted except for one. Ambiance of the restaurant’s relaxed and elegant, perfect for families and friends with discriminating taste.  Service is highly commendable too! Not only quick and efficient, but most unique to what I’ve been to. I extremely liked the way waiters bring over the Sinigang or sour broth in a tea cup for tasting before they serve it. They can adjust its sourness and spiciness depending on the diners’ preference. Best of all, they refill the soup generously!

First of two appetizers that was served to us was Macau Chorizo and Cheese Tidbits.

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Macau Chorizo and Cheese Tidbits, PhP 240++. Mini Spring Rolls filled with Macau chorizo, shallots, quezo de bola.

If you like something crispy, textured and a bit salty, this one’s for you. I found the flavors of chorizo and quezo de bola in these fried spring rolls too perfect for words! They’re delicious sans the dip; but the more interesting tug-of-war of saltiness and sourness begins when you dunk each roll onto the vinegar dip.

Next appetizer:  Duck Pancakes.
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Duck Pancakes. PhP 170++. Peking pancakes filled with strips of native duck slow-cooked in beer, rhum vinegar, soy sauce, and muscovado sugar.

I admired how those Duck Pancakes were served and the way the staff explained how it was supposed to be eaten. Of course, the filling must be tucked inside the light and crunchy pancakes to your palates’ delight. Yummy!
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Let the food tasting begin! :)

Sentro 1771‘s Specialty of the House as noted on the first page of their menu, is their version of Sinigang na Corned Beef.  But did it live up to its name and reviews from other diners?

Unlike my fellow bloggers who have already dined in Sentro 1771 Greenbelt branch, my standards for Corned Beef in Sour Broth was from other upscale Filipino restaurant. And unfortunately, this one from Sentro 1771 in Serendra simply fell flat on my taste buds.  Although the sourness and spiciness were adjusted to our taste as mentioned earlier, the corned beef chunks failed to do its part. Too bad as it’s labeled as Specialty of the House but there was nothing to rave about other than its ordinary Sinigang taste. I was telling my table mates who were comparing it to what they’ve loved in Greenbelt branch that probably, the one in Serendra had a different supplier of corned beef meat making the quality and taste varied; then again I was only speculating.

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Restaurant staff, Gelo refilling the tamarind broth in our Sinigang na Corned Beef bowl.
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Sinigang na Corned Beef. PhP 595++. Corned beef short plate and boneless beef shanks in tamarind broth with native vegetables.

If the Sinigang na Corned Beef failed to satisfy me, the Stuffed & Grilled Fish of the Day tied in Pandan was otherwise.
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Fish of the day Pandan, grilled.  PhP 220 per gram. Whole fish stuffed with sauteed onions, tomatoes, miso and malunggay, tied with pandan leaves.

Unless it’s buttered or eaten raw as sashimi or sushi, I don’t usually fancy fish dishes in restaurants until I sampled this F.O.D Pandan. It appeared so simple but surprisingly, it pleased my appetite that afternoon! It tasted fresh and was even made more flavorful with its filling and the soy-plus-lemon-sauce. Highly Recommended!

The next entree served to us was the Chicken Adobo sa Gata.

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Chicken Adobo sa Gata, PhP 250++. Still retains the vinegar-garlic-peppercorn balance but thickened with coconut milk.

Most Filipinos, if not all, love Adobo (seasoned meat cooked in soy sauce and vinegar). With or without coconut milk, one can never go wrong with any Adobo dish. I liked it but coming home from Malaysia where most of my days were spent eating chicken dishes, I had my little reservation.

More fascinating than the Adobo in coconut milk was the next plate on our table : Camote Cups!

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Camote Cups. PhP 240++ Carved sweet potato filled with stir-fried cabbage, Baguio beans and carrots.

I like stir-fried-vegetable dishes like the very Pinoy, Lumpia (wrapped or not); this one’s a modern version served on sweet potato cups. Definitely a must-try for those who favor fibers! Delicious and healthy!

Another dish that earned my two-thumbs-up was the Lamb Caldereta.

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Lamb Caldererta. PhP 480++ Boneless lamb shoulder stewed with carrots, bell peppers, tomato sauce, and spices. It can be mild or spicy.

If you’re following this blog, my palates were exposed to 2 glorious lamb dishes from 2 great restaurants since I went home last October 20th, and luckily, I liked them both. This Lamb Caldereta was not an exception. I liked its tender meat and tasteful sauce.

Sentro 1771 also served us cups of plain rice to complement everything, however, I passed up and opted to try the Seafood Bagoong Rice which to me, is already a whole-meal-in-one!

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Seafood Bagoong Rice. PhP 530++.Topped with grilled squid, garlic shrimps and hito flakes.
Brown or red rice – add PhP 45.

Given a chance to choose only one dish from everything we sampled, I’ll have that Seafood Bagoong Rice, bar none.

What’s a Filipino meal without sweet endings? For desserts, we had enjoyed common favorites, a few served with a twist.

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Fried Suman and Mangoes. PhP 180++ Rolled-out suman fried to a light crisp and topped with ripe mangoes, served with coco jam.

Eating Fried Suman (Glutinous rice cake) and Mangoes with Coco Jam is never new to me;  even Thai people can relate so much to this favorite. I loved it but its small servings made me crave for more!

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Banana Tart. PhP 150++ Puff pastry with a light custard, topped with caramelized saba banana slices.

As I toy a tentative mouthful of Banana Tart in my mouth, it brought back memories of eating Banana Cue as afternoon snack.

The last dessert they served to us deceived me actually. I initially thought it as Creme Caramel (Caramel Flan) or more locally known as Leche Flan but it’s cheesecake served with slices of salted egg and quezo de bola. It’s called Keso Flan!

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Keso Flan. PhP 220++Baked but light, no crust cheesecake served with quezo de bola and salted egg. Tastes like bibingka!

I almost forgot to mention, we washed down everything with Dalandan juice. Refreshing and thirst-quenching!

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Dalandan Juice.

With beautiful and contemporary take on Filipino cuisine, huge and tasty servings of dishes, casual and relaxed atmosphere, minimalist and classy interiors, attentive and friendly staff, Sentro 1771 is definitely one of the excellent choices when one wants to satisfy a Filipino craving!

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SENTRO 1771 | Ground Floor, Serendra Piazza, Taguig City | website : http://sentro1771.net/

*Special thanks to Sentro 1771 and Anton of http://www.pusangkalye.net for the invite.

>><<

08
Dec
13

GASTRONOMIC WEEKEND WITH FRIENDS OF 20 YEARS & COUNTING

paella, corazon restaurant, east wing, shangri la plaza
Paella Moriscos, Corazon Filipino-Hispano Cuisine.

corazon restaurant
Kangkong dish with Lechon Kawali toppings (requested to be a side dish), Corazon.

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Corazon Iced Tea & Sago’t Gulaman.

corazon restaurant
Corazon’s patio with artificial plants : nothing beats freshness! (read my review of the dishes below).
east wing shangri la plaza mall
Artistic display inside East Wing, Shangri-La Plaza, November 2013.
wicked, east wing shangri la
Strawberry Shortcake and a shot of Macchiato, Wicked, East Wing, Shangri-La Plaza.

wicked, east wing shangri la
White Russian Fondue, Brownie, Macchiato, Wicked by Cravings.

green mango sorbet with bagoong, sebastian
Pistachio on Butter Pecan and Green Mango Sorbet with Bagoong (shrimp paste), Sebastian’s.

garlic bread, balsamic vinegar & olive oil
Garlic Bread, Virgin Oil and Balsamic Vinegar Dip, Chelsea Market & Cafe.

seafood pizza, chelsea
Seafood Pasta, Chelsea Market & Cafe.

vongole pasta, chelsea
Pasta Vongole, Chelsea Market & Cafe.

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Best friends since 1993, LG & Rob, at Chelsea Market & Cafe, The Podium, 09 November 2013.

Those were all consumed in just half day dining! We were overwhelmed too of what we ate that Saturday! It was the weekend when LG and I met again our best friend, Rob of SensoryReplays.com as he came home for his break from his medical work abroad. It’s somewhat customary for Rob to treat his friends over sumptuous meals and coffee during his days off.  The universe and the stars were once again, in favor of good times as Rob treated us for lunch, desserts and coffee, LG paid the dinner for us while I was the lucky man who spent nothing on food for the nth time! Hallelujah! Hehehe!  Seriously, these two people are just more than being supportive and understanding of my situation; they know my story and my family more than anyone else. And they sure know to please my palates with delightful goodies! My only role that day was to suggest the food places.

I was literally laughing at our meeting place in Shangri-La Plaza mall, after Rob handed me a brown bag. Inside was the biggest cup of Big Chill fruit shake and a straw. It was like I arrived at a resort with a welcome drink! :D

So how did I find the food? Lunch at Corazon Filipino-Hispanic Cuisine was less satisfying. Perhaps, I need another chance to dine there for my taste buds to sense the dishes better. I wished their Seafood Paella (one of my favorites!) or Paella Moriscos had more seafoods, more than just its toppings. My friends  noted that the beans on the paella appeared like frozen (wrinkled) before it was used, and not as fresh as it should be. They also found Torres, the Fried Tilapia dish topped with ripe Mango Salsa (not in photo) less fresh-tasting; the same with the Kangkong dish topped with Lechon Kawali. What saved the day, in my opinion, were the Seafood Tinola (not in photo) and the thirst-quenching beverages we ordered.

After much needed bladder break from indulging on bottomless Corazon Iced Tea that tasted a bit like fruit punch, we moved to another restaurant, still at the East Wing of Shangri-La Plaza, to have desserts and coffee. I suggested for us to try, Wicked by Cravings. Personally, I liked the desserts we sampled but I fell short with just a shot of Macchiato.

Around 3 or 4PM, we walked our way to The Podium. Rob and I had ice cream from Sebastian’s while LG passed up. Knowing he’s eclectic and adventurous, I wasn’t surprised when Rob opted for Green Mango Sorbet with Bagoong (shrimp paste) while I was content with my safe choice of Sebastian’s Pistachio on Butter Pecan. Delicious! I didn’t miss to taste Rob’s chosen flavor and it really tasted like very Pinoy! Something nice, creative and new for a sorbet but I honestly, would not make it a favorite.

Our dinner treat from LG was at Chelsea Market & Cafe, also at The Podium. Since Rob is a religious pescetarian, we remained in favor of seafood dishes; we enjoyed Pasta Vongole, Seafood Pizza, garlic breads and washed everything down with iced tea. Everything was tasteful; such a perfect ending to a day of friendship and good times.

I am grateful.

*This is NOT a sponsored post. 

*Corazon Filipino-Hispanic Cuisine | 4F, East Wing, Shangri-La Plaza, Shaw Blvd, cor EDSA, Mandaluyong
*Wicked by Cravings | 5F, East Wing, Shangri-La Plaza, Shaw Blvd, cor EDSA, Mandaluyong
*Sebastian’s | The Podium, Mandaluyong
*Chelsea Market & Cafe | GF The Podium, Mandaluyong.

>><<

05
Dec
13

INTRAMUROS, MANILA | 2013 GRAND MARIAN PROCESSION

“I love you when you bow in your mosque,

kneel in your temple,

pray in your church.

For you and I are sons of religion,

and it is the spirit.”

~ Khalil Gibran

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Around 3PM, I rode the MRT train from Santolan Station all the way to its last stop in Recto, Manila. Strolled my way to Quiapo, then took a jeepney ride to Pier and alighted near the Department of Immigration building. The road was completely blocked to private and public vehicles and only people were allowed to walk through the historic walled city. Few steps further, I found myself standing in front of the restored Ayuntamiento, among the thick volume of crowd, waiting for the 100 carrozas to float by.  Although I spent countless evenings of Holy Wednesdays, Good Fridays and dawns of Easter Sundays watching Catholic saint-processions with my family in Marikina City and considering I used to be a part of an all-boys-choir in Marikina Catholic School, who used to sing in First Friday Masses, Living Rosary and other religious activities in school during my growing up years,  attending the longest procession devoted to the Blessed Virgin entirely, was something new to me.  It was my first time to attend and witness the Grand Marian Procession in Intramuros, Manila that, correct me if I’m wrong, is an annual event held every first Sunday of December.

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Ayuntamiento

01 December 2013, Sunday, Intramuros, Manila. It was drizzling when I arrived within the vicinity of Manila Cathedral but the mild downpour miraculously stopped around 5PM, so timely for the start of the Grand Marian Procession for this year. Armed with my long black umbrella, I took a few shots of the first few carrozas on queue. Most of them came from nearby parishes in Metro Manila, to as far as Northern, Central and Southern Luzon, with few that came from provinces in the South.
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La Familia De La Virgen Maria.

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The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her cousin, Elizabeth.

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Angel Gabriel on the Annunciation tableu.

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Annunciation

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Nuestra Senora De La O from Our Lady’s Nativity Parish, Pangil, Laguna.

I saw groups of people with gadgets that could take photos swarming around one of the carrozas that was literally filled with colorful and attractive flowers; mostly Ecuadorean roses in various hues. Not long after, I joined the bystanders and faithfuls who were in awe at San Jose and his float. It was the grandest I’ve seen!
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Roses in various colors & other blooms, mirrors, faux trees & crystals adorned San Jose’s carroza.

Within 4 hours of watching the procession, at times I whispered prayers to the Lord and to His Blessed Mother, whose many images passed me by, I was totally amazed and proud of the Filipino faith. Each Marian icon was accompanied and ushered by parish priest/s, sacristans, some with nuns, marching bands, a few came with Boy scouts, folk dancers and young and old ones who were dressed in their Sunday’s best and traditional Filipino attires, volume of parishioners and Marian devotees from the town or city the image came from.

Every expression of Filipino devotion to the Virgin Mary was unique. Some paraded in solemnity, complete with recitation of the Holy Rosary; some were barefooted, others attended in uniform shirts; while some devotees were amazingly cheerful, vocal and loud in professing their love to the Virgin Mary, with singing, waving of handkerchiefs, dancing, particularly the people from Pakil, Laguna who ushered Nuestra Senora de los Dolores de Turumba, people from Candaba, Pampanga who brought Nuestra Senora de la Merced and the people from San Mateo, Rizal who accompanied Nuestra Senora de Aranzazu.

Of all the Marian images I saw, I was moved and grounded as a Filipino when the carroza of Ina Poon Bato from Zambales passed by and I saw it was accompanied by Aetas, our indigenous brothers and sisters.

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San Roque.

Image of St. Andrew or locally known as San Andres was brought in from Catanduanes, Bicol.

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St. Andrew.

Then that incredibly beautiful carroza of St. Joseph or San Jose passed by.
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St. Joseph.

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La Familia De La Virgen Maria.

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Annunciation.

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Mary and Joseph.

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Nuestra Senora De Navidad.

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From Cainta, Rizal, Mahal Na Ina Ng Kaliwanagan or the Our Lady of Light.

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Other than flowers, the parishioners from Cainta used suman, or rice cakes in the carroza.Wow!

People from all ages and walks of life participated. We were all prayerful under one sky.
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Mary, Help of Christians.

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Our Lady of Penafrancia, Naga, Bicol.

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La Angustia De Maria La Santisima Nazarena.

Something new to me was the image of Mother Mary as Our Lady of Providence/Our Lady of China for the Chinese Catholic community. It was my first time to see such gracious image.

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Our Lady of Providence/Our Lady of China.
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Nuestra Senora La Desatadora De Nundos. Our Lady Untier of Knots.

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Roses and annato/achiote or locally called in the Philippines as atsuete adorned the carroza.

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Rosa Mistica. One of the few images that was carried via wooden poles on shoulders.

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Women who ushered their image in traditional Filipino attire.

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La Pieta…

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La Pieta.

As mentioned, one of the images of the Blessed Mother that paraded with numerous devotees and parishioners was the Nuestra Senora De Aranzazu from San Mateo, Rizal. The energy of the people clapping, singing, waving their flags and hankerchiefs, cheering for the Blessed Mother was beyond inspiring!

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Nuestra Senora De Aranzazu from San Mateo, Rizal.

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Nuestra Senora De La Santisima Trinidad.

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Nuestra Senora de los Dolores de Turumba from Saint Peter of Alcantara Parish, Pakil, Laguna.

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Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

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Our Lady of Montserrat.
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Our Lady of Czestochowa, The Black Madonna.
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Mary, The Lady of All Nations.
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Our Lady of Banneux.

Hail to Ina Poon Bato from Zambales! Accompanied by our indigenous brothers and sisters, the Aetas.
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Ina Poon Bato from Zambales. 

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Mary, Mirror of Justice from Comembo, Makati City.
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Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.

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Birhen ng Lujan.

*There were 100 carrozas in this Grand Marian Procession and please forgive me if this blog post only features less than half of them, a few without names of Our Lady.  I’m so sorry as I tried my best to capture the signages from each carroza, however, I only did as much for 4 hours (5PM-9PM) of standing and taking amateur photos for me to share on this site.  I’ll appreciate if readers could identify those Marian images on this post without labels.  Also, some of the photos turned out to be blurred that I chose not to post. The other Marian images were :

  • Our Lady of Caysasay, Taal, Batangas,
  • Nuestra Senora de la Merced, Candaba, Pampanga,
  • Our Lady of Fatima, Valenzuela City,
  • Nuestra Senora de Barangay,
  • Nuestra Senora del Santisimo Rosario de Malabon,
  • Our Lady of Piat,
  • La Naval de Manila,
  • Our Lady of Orani,
  • Nuestra Senora de la Soledad de Nueva Ecija,
  • Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe de Cebu,
  • and many more that I failed to list down and capture. Again, my apologies.

For four hours, my focus from challenges of daily living was deviated to something more meaningful; something peaceful. This religious activity truly defined what Filipino Marian devotion is to me.

On December 8, Happy Feast Day of the Our Lady of Immaculate Conception!

Please pray for us.

>><<

01
Dec
13

HARINA ARTISAN BAKERY CAFE : NEW DELICIOUS ON THE BLOCK

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Admittedly, I’m an adult who still feeds myself like a child. Sigh. :)  I like sampling a volume of foods in considerable minute amounts to satisfy my taste buds and my always-hungry-appetite.  I never lose that wonder and usually smile my widest when delightful dishes pass my palates. Anything delicious makes my tummy happier, calms my mind and eventually, melts my worries away!

Last Saturday, 30 November 2013, I consider myself lucky blessed to be invited to Harina Artisan Bakery Cafe to sample and review their offerings while they are still on their soft opening. Initially, I thought, this new food establishment simply bakes and sells breads and pastries that’s no different with other commercial bakeries and coffee shops around. I believe I underestimated them! My apologies. :) It’s amazing to learn that people behind it still opt to make their breads hand rolled, bake everything the traditional way, and avoid the use of any chemical additives! That’s absolutely good reason for the many homeowners living within White Plains and nearby areas, and people who usually pass by Katipunan Avenue Extension in Quezon City, to be happier!  That’s a reason to drop by Harisan Artisan Bakery Cafe!

Like a child who craves for something cheesy and chocolatey, I loved how Harina Artisan Bakery Cafe enticed all of us with its first appetizer. Bread sticks with cheese and chocolate dips!
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Bread Sticks with Cream Cheese and Chocolate Dips.

Their bread sticks aren’t perfectly molded and shaped like those commonly bought from the groceries because it’s not machine-made but as mentioned, hand rolled. They’re available in Parmesan (PhP 120), Onion & Sour Cream (PhP 100), Plain Cheese (PhP 100) and Milk & Butter (PhP 100) flavors. Take your pick. Believe me, these bread sticks are to-die-for! They’re fine sans dips actually; but even made fancy with cream cheese and yes, chocolate dips! Yummy!

If the bread sticks tickled my taste buds, the second appetizer was more impressive!  It’s called Bloomin’ Bread and it appears like a flowery humongous cheesy loaf! The incredible size cetainly fits the appetite of an entire family of 5 or a group of friends! Definitely to share!

Bloomin’ Bread. Crusty pull-apart Italian loaf filled with basil puree and an assortment of melted cheese. Served with a dip of balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil.

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Bloomin’ Bread.

To wash everything down, they served Signature Iced Tea (and coffee after meal).  Thirst-quencher! I think I had 3 refills! Harina Artisan Bakery Cafe also has on their menu, Red Iced Tea, Frozen Hot Chocolate (hmmm!) and Apple Pie Smoothie.
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Signature Iced Tea.

Then, the brunch became heavier gradually.  Here we go!

Chicken Caesar Sandwich. Grilled Cajun chicken & lettuce in Caesar dressing topped with poached egg, bacon and parmesan cheese on baguette.

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Chicken Caesar Sandwich.

Before anyone could make any query or imagine crazy things, I’d like to make a disclaimer that all plates that appear on photos on this blog post were shared and mostly, bread dishes were sliced for sharing. You don’t think I consumed everything, do you? Remember, I emphasized, I’m a grown up with a childish appetite! :)

And what do I think of  that Chicken Caesar Sandwich? Excellent! The bread is crusty but soft inside, chicken for me, was well-seasoned, balanced with lettuce with Caesar’s dressing, poached egg was nice, bacon was crispy and salty – the way I like it -oops! And it’s served with greens and fries. A whole meal in one!

Moving on, one of the most sinful french toasts landed on our table! Oh-em-gee! :P

Strawberry-Cheesecake Stuffed French Toast. Cheesecake-filled brioche topped with whipped cream and strawberry preserves.

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Strawberry-Cheesecake Stuffed French Toast.

Thankfully, before reaching the age of 37, I learned to make French toasts during my years abroad with my family, but I only dipped them in milk, sugar and eggs before frying. This Strawberry-Cheesecake Stuffed French Toast from Harina’s definitely a must-try! I enjoyed a fraction of it. If you’re a kid or a kid-at-heart who loves strawberry and cheesecake and french toasts, this sweet creation is for you!

Honestly, at this point, I was discreetly struggling with my satiety center in my hypothalamus that was trying to tell me that I’m already full.  So I tried my very best to convince my neurons in my brain that I needed to taste and eat some more. However, it must have been begging me to stop eating. *insert virtual laughs here*  For whatever it’s worth, I savored more! And I liked it! :D

Yet another bacon-bread was brought to our table. I repeat, BACON (Read my lips : Praise Him!) !!!  People from Harina called it Breakfast Tart.

Breakfast Tart. Puff pastry shell with cream cheese, spinach, baked tomatoes, bacon and eggs.


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Breakfast Tart.

I loved everything on that Breakfast Tart. Sue me! Guilty as charged! :D

Then one variety of french toast wasn’t enough. So ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, *drum roll, please*, presenting…

Peanut Butter, Banana and Chocolate Stuffed French Toast. Wheat honey walnut French toast stuffed with creamy peanut butter, sliced banana and chocolate spread.

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Peanut Butter, Banana & Chocolate Stuffed French Toast.

I didn’t dunk my fork into that Peanut Butter, Banana & Chocolate Stuffed French Toast, not because I don’t like its flavor; Heaven knows I love peanut butter, banana and chocolates and French toasts, hehehe! but I needed to rest for a while, took some photos, walked around a bit, went for a bladder break (not bowel break, you naughty you!), did little things to aid my digestion. Surely, I can bet my last cent on it, that French toast is also decadent!

An apple-salad-sandwich was served next.


Waldorf Sandwich.  Flaky pastry with filling of chicken, red and green apples, celery and chopped walnuts in mayonnaise.

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Waldorf Sandwich.

While my 4 table mates were sharing a piece of that Waldorf Sandwich, I refused with a smile. Again, not because I didn’t think it would satisfy me but I’m already satiated. Hashtag : Grateful! :)

Like other meals that call for sweet ending, dessert plates were served. Miraculously, I gained my appetite. Ding, ding, ding!

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Strawberry Cream Brownies.

My verdict about Strawberry Cream Brownies? Mouthwatering. Luscious. Heavenly!

Just when I thought the menu for the day was all served, and while I was sipping my cup of coffee, the friendly and attentive staffs of Harina Artisan Bakery Cafe came out like Santa’s elves, bearing plates with that overhyped offspring of croissants and doughnuts. Cronuts! They call it Laminated Donuts in slightly smaller pieces compared to its actual retail size. I asked one of the crew if it’s baked or fried (as I just tasted baked cronut recently from another famous store), the staff replied to me in a blink that their cronuts are fried! Hooray! Not as healthy as baked, but in my own opinion, more flaky and divine!

Guess what flavor I dunked my fork into?
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Cronuts! Chocolate, Peanut Butter and Blueberry Cheesecake Laminated Donuts!

I only tried the Peanut Butter Cronuts and I fell in love! Need I say more?

Other than those that were served to us to sample, Harina Cafe has All-Day-Breakfast menu that includes classic favorites like :

  • Eggs Benedict, Biscuit and Gravy, Vegetable and Cheese Omelet, Pork ADOBO & Kesong Puti Omelet (Love to try that!),
  • Adobo Pulled Pork, Pancakes, Muesli with Fruits, Biscuits, Muffin Sampler (3 flavors),
  • Sides of eggs, bacon, breakfast sausages, Canadian ham, plain rice, garlic rice, French fries.
  • Big Breakfast (PhP 290) – Vegetable and Cheese Omelet, A choice of Canadian ham, BACON (I love ‘em!), or Breakfast sausage and roasted pineapple, served with toast.
  • They also serve STEAK and EGGS reasonably priced at PhP 450.
  • Hot beverages like Cafe Americano, Cafe Latte, Cafe Mocha, Cappuccino, Hot Chocolate and Hot Tea.
  • Cold beverages mentioned above,
  • Rice Meals like Homemade Corned Beef (I love Corned Beef too!), Lukban LONGANISA (FTW!!!), Bangus Belly,
  • And an assortment of breads (from Pandesal, Spanish breads, muffins and more) and cakes!

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Cinnamon Rolls.

The child in me would like to thank God for making my Saturday, the last day of November this year, a very pleasant one. Amen!

And to Harina Artisan Bakery Cafe, Maraming salamat po!

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Harina Artisan Bakery Cafe | 118 Katipunan Avenue Extension, White Plains, Quezon City 1110 | Store Hours : Monday to Sunday, 6AM to 9PM | Phone No. (+63-2) 3526721 | facebook : https://www.facebook.com/harinacafe | Follow them on Instagram : @harinacafe

Thank you, Harina Artisan Bakery Cafe! Special thanks goes out to Ms. Nana for the invite! :)

>><<

27
Nov
13

FINEST THAI FOOD AT SILK ROAD THAI BISTRO

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I always appreciate it when familiar dishes are transformed into something extraordinary; taking the entire dining experience to a higher notch.

When I brought my feet inside Silk Road Thai Bistro at BGC, Taguig City last Tuesday, 26 November, 2013 for dinner, upon the invitation of Chef Cecille Chang, via my fellow blogger, Sumi of www.thepurpledoll.net, my palates were discreetly excited to sample their  versions of Thai dishes and compare it with authentic ones I’ve tasted from a few trips to Thailand.

For a few seconds, my memories of personal and family travels to Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Hat Yai flashed in a blink. Devouring Pad Thai and Pork Satay at a hawker stall in Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok, savoring sticky rice and ripe mango and more Pad Thai in the middle of a night bazaar in Chiang Mai, indulging Thai salad and more in Klonghae Floating Market in Hat Yai, Southern Thailand, and the list goes on.

It took no time for my senses to recognize that Silk Road makes Thai dining experience more interesting and extra-special. From its minimalist yet elegant interiors, simple but impressive bar, a wide variety of dishes on the menu, to its casual to romantic ambiance, I set my expectations a little higher.

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When the restaurant manager, Ruben handed me the beverage menu, I asked him of his recommendation. I trusted his suggestion and settled with a rum-based cocktail called, Noni Kiss.

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Noni Kiss. 

I understood why Noni Kiss is one of the favorites from Silk Road’s menu.  Rich and creamy with hints of almond flavor and subtle sweetness on top, then a light rum’s kick at the finish!

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Noni Kiss. White Rum, Amaretto, Half Cream, Noni Syrup, garnished with Red Candy Shavings.

Sumi tried Silk Road’s Thai Milk Tea. What’s a Thai meal without it?

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Thai Milk Tea.

It was a privilege to dine with Silk Road’s owner, Chef Cecille Chang who made my fellow bloggers, Sumi, Jonel and Marjorie  and I satiated with her food, and more so, with her fascinating travel and dining stories. I personally learned a lot from our casual conversation as she started introducing her dishes plate by plate. Never I expected we’d talk about her days in Penang, while she’s learning authentic Peranakan cooking from no less than the authority in the island whom I personally met, Ms. Pearly Kee, to Chef’s Cecille’s frequent trips to Thailand to further study and master Thai cuisine, to random issues involving relationships! Her creative, passionate, adventurous and lovely personality, not to forget – she’s one of the most gorgeous chefs I’ve met to date, are a reflective of every dishes and drinks they offer at Silk Road!

We started lightly with a traditional Thai appetizer, Mieng Kham.

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Mieng Kham.

I may have gone to Bangkok thrice, Hat Yai thrice and Chiang Mai once, but those few trips weren’t enough for me to try all traditional Thai snacks and meals. Funny that my first time to eat this food wrapped in chaphlu leaves was in Silk Road!  And did my taste buds like it?  Yes, but thankfully, they served glass of ice-cold water as the flavors of shallots, shrimps, garlic, and chilies exploded intensely! What a way to start an engaging feast!

Next on our table was Silk Road’s Soft Shell Crab Roll.

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Soft Shell Crab Roll with mustard leaf, rice noodles and herbs in thin rice paper.

I may be biased in saying that I loved this appetizer because soft shell crab is a favorite. But apparently, it’s textured, delicious and well plated!

Third to land on our table was another personal favorite, Pad Thai. To be fair with it, I tasted their version before adding sugar, crushed peanuts, soy sauce, vinegar and chilies. I was vocal to Chef Cecille that her Pad Thai was not oily unlike the usual ones we tried in Thailand before, and it’s tasteful enough even sans condiments.

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Pad Thai. Rice noodles, pork, shrimps, egg and bean sprouts.

Another entree we tried was Siam Chicken Wrap.  We were told that this dish is a hit to many Thai and Chinese patrons of Silk Road. It’s a bit spicy but becomes balanced as its eaten wrapped with lettuce.

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Siam Chicken Wrap. Crispy noodles, lettuce, and chili.

Chef Cecille was also sincere and generous in sharing her personal favorite among the many Thai dishes on her menu. According to her, she can have Chicken Basil from a simple store, any time by the beach in Thailand to anywhere as this dish is not difficult to love.  Her version’s just right; there’s no overwhelming taste.

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Chicken Basil.

Tables were turned figuratively when the gorgeous chef asked us of our favorite entree. My fellow bloggers voted for Lamb Shank Massaman while I favored it as the next best thing to Silk Road’s Siamese Pork Belly.
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Lamb Shank Massaman. Served with crispy noodles, sweet potatoes and shallots.

Slowly cooked to perfection for 8 hours, this has to be one of the best lamb dishes I’ve tasted! Very tender as it actually falls off the bone; no-aftertaste! Highly Recommended!

As I liked Lamb Shank Massaman from Silk Road, I found their Siamese Pork Belly more sublime! Think of the usual Filipino favorite Grilled Liempo but this one’s deliciously different! Served piping hot (try to slightly contract your eye muscles and look at the next photo, you might appreciate its smoke) on a somewhat-pedestal filled with charcoal, adorned with banana leaves, abaca rope and an orchid. Visually dramatic, enticingly good!
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Siamese Pork Belly.

This Siamese Pork Belly’s a champion for me! And why? It’s a serving of the most tender pork ribs and belly strips, marinated with Mekhong Whiskey, cinnamon and caramel then grilled. I repeat, grilled with cinnamon and caramel! That heavenly!

Our intimate Tuesday Thai dinner perfectly ended with coffee (some had tea) and toothsome desserts.
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Chocolate Pudding with Mango Ice Cream and Mango Sauce.
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Takhoo Thai. Tapioca pearl pudding topped with coconut custard.

So next time you find yourself around Bonifacio Global City, craving for some fantastic Thai dishes  for lunch or dinner, that will not cost you an arm and leg, or perhaps when you’re in the mood for some drinks, head on to Silk Road Thai Bistro and let me know of what you think. ;)
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Silk Road Thai Bistro | Net Quad Corporate Center, Shop H, 4th Avenue corner 31st Street, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City | Operating hours : 11AM-3PM (lunch); 6PM-2AM (dinner) | facebook : https://www.facebook.com/silkroadthaibistro

*Special thanks to Chef Cecille Chang for the invitation and of course, to my fellow bloggers, Sumi, Jonel and Marjorie.

>><<

23
Nov
13

SENSORY FEAST x BERINGER WINES

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Meeting a Winemaster Emeritus doesn’t happen on a daily basis. More so, to sit beside him and to know a thing or two, over a sumptuous meal, where everything was almost paired with elegant, balanced and rich wines.

Last Friday, 22 November 2013, my lunch was an extraordinary one at Cirkulo Restaurant in Makati. I was fortunate to catch things up with two women that I’ve known for few years. I was even more blessed to have an opportunity to dine with them again, and meet few people, together with Beringer Winemaster Emeritus, Mr. Ed Sbragia from California, who was brought to Manila by Happy Living Philippines, the exclusive importer and distributor of Beringer wines. So glad to rekindle my limited wine-and-food-pairing-appreciation skills!

The engaging meal started with a very subtle Beringer Chardonnay 2012, bread and herbed butter. Our casual talk with Ed Sbragia became more interesting as he spoke a bit of how Beringer’s vineyard in Napa Valley was put up 137 years ago, and how he worked his way, mastering every factor that could contribute to the making of a great wine, to his inspiring tales of being the Beringer’s winemaker who fulfilled his lifelong dream of establishing his very own small winery. He shared a lot of fascinating stories on how grapes are put into bottles.

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Beringer Chardonnay 2012 Napa Valley.

“Beringer Chardonnay 2012 Napa Valley. Refreshing, crisp citrus notes accentuates this lively Chardonnay. A medium, rounded mouthfeel is highlighted with flavors of lemon, meringue and a pleasing acidity.”

Then everyone in our intimate group became even more privileged when the chef behind the delightful dishes at Cirkulo (also of Azuthai, MilkyWay Cafe and Tsukiji restaurants) found time to briefly introduce his masterpieces. Apparently, Chef J. Gamboa‘s culinary expertise worked seamlessly with all Beringer wines. The wines we sampled didn’t overpower his dishes, making an enticing and harmonious gustatory experience!

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Left to Right : Beringer Winemaster Emeritus, Ed Sbragia, Chef J Gamboa and media person, Paula.

Chef J. Gamboa explained his first offering – 65 Degree Egg with Cabeza de Cerdo. It’s a clever presentation of the local favorite pulutan, Sisig, basically from pig’s head. However, its taste and serving would make anyone crave for more!

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65 Degree Egg with Cabeza de Cerdo. Paired with Beringer Founders’ Estate Pinot Noir 2011.

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Beringer Founders’ Estate Pinot Noir 2011.

Beringer Founders’ Estate Pinot Noir 2011. Bright ruby in color and displays ripe currant flavors rounded out by aromas of cedar and spice. This wine has immediate fruit-forward flavors that balances well with the toasty smokiness of the oak.”

That flavorful Beringer Founders’ Estate Pinot Noir 2011 was also paired with Chef J. Gamboa’s platter of Jamon Iberico, Salchichon, Chorizo Iberico, Quezo Manchego. Wine and cheese and meat platter tasted like match made in heaven! :)

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Jamon Iberico, Salchichon, Chorizo Iberico, Queso Manchego.

Next up was something fibrous!

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Insalata Gorgonzola with Apples, Walnuts, Pickled Carrots, Gorgonzola Cheese.

Right after the salad, we were served with Patatas Riojanas or Braised Potatoes with Chorizo Sausages, paired with Ed’s very own vineyard’s pride – the Sbragia La Promessa Zinfandel 2010.
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Sbragia La Promessa Zinfandel 2010.

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Sbragia Family Vineyards La Promessa Zinfandel 2010 Dry Creek Valley. With aromas of wild blackberry, raspberry and pomegranate that carry through the flavors, accompanied by notes of brown sugar, molasses, vanilla bean and cocoa. This is a rich, juicy wine  with mouth-filling, forward fruit, a streak of acid that keeps the wine structured, and moderate tannins that make for a nice smooth finish.”

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Patatas Riojanas. Braised Potatoes with Chorizo Sausages.

The main entree was the most glorious of  ‘em all! For the record, it’s the most delicious lamb dish that landed on my taste buds. It’s so tender and flavorful yet, no after-taste unlike the usual of its kind.

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Cordero Lechal Al Horno. Roast Suckling Lamb with Garlic and Rosemary and Chimichurri Sauce.

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Paella Montana. Rice with Portabella Mushrooms, Asparagus, Garlic and Truffle Oil.

I was honestly controlling my appetite to eat more of that Cordero Lechal Al Horno. It’s satiatingly good particularly when served with Cirkulo’s Paella Montana, plus paired with Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2009!

Hallelujah! :)

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Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2009.

Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 Napa Valley. This presents aromas of ripe blackberry, sweet pastry and espresso, accented by hints of lavender, cedar and graphite. The palate is concentrated and dense with flavors of dark fruit and spice notes. A rich texture and mouth-coating tannins linger in the elegant finish.”

Desserts were served hot and divine!

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Warm Chocolate Truffle Cake with Liquid Center.

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Warm White Chocolate Bread Pudding.

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Baked Brie with Dried Fruits, Nuts and Caramel.

I took the effort to discreetly find any fault at what was served to us but I failed. Every dish paired with wine was great! Every minute spent was intelligent and delicious! It was indeed a sensory feast!

The few guests from the media including yours truly, were given a bottle of Beringer Founders’ Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2011 each, that came with a free corkscrew. We didn’t miss the chance of having THE Beringer Wine God, Ed Sbragia sign our wines!

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Beringer Winemaster Emeritus Wine God, Ed Sbragia signing my bottle!

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My loot was autographed! I was a fan after the lunch!

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Thanks, Mr. Ed Sbragia! It’s a pleasure meeting you! Thanks to Ms. Nana Nadal for taking this photo.

Beringer Wines are served in major hotels and restaurants here in the Philippines. Among the retail outlets that carry the brand are Cav Wine Bar, Gourdo’s, S&R Membership Shopping, Unimart, RustansSupermart, SM Supermarket, Landmark Supermarket, Metro Gaisano Supermarket, The Tinder Box in Cebu, Culinary Connection/La Vetta Restaurant in Cagayan de Oro, Iloilo Supermarket and Altura’s in Bohol. Email info@happylivingwines.com or log on to http://happylivingwines.biz/  for more information.

*Special thanks goes out to Ms. Kathy Yao-Santos, the Marketing Director and COO of Happy Living Philippines and Ms. Nana Nadal for the invitation.

Cirkulo Restaurant | 900 Arnaiz Avenue (Pasay Road) corner Paseo de Roxas, Makati City 1200 Philippines| website : http://www.elcirkulo.com/

>><<

20
Nov
13

HOME IS WHERE THE MOST DELICIOUS FOOD IS!

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Dessert Sampler.  Believe me, it’s more toothsome than it looks!

That enticing sampler platter came with sweet portions of :

  • Ube Creme Decadence (smooth, light and creamy eggless custard filled with purple yam or ube jam and topped by ube cake crumbs),
  • Buco Pandan (Coconut and pandan strips, green jelly cubes or gulaman and tapioca).
  • Leche Flan (Creme caramel),
  • Cream Brownie Ala Mode topped with vanilla ice cream.

max's chopsuey
Chopsuey.

max's chicken sisig
Chicken Sisig.

max's kare kare
Kare-kare (Beef or Ox tail Stew in Peanut Sauce).

max's fried chicken
Spring Fried Chicken.

max's adobo fried rice
Adobo Fried Rice.

my family
Daddy, my brother, Mac, Mommy and me.

When the Overseas Filipino Worker in me came home last month, the happiest parts of my body were my tongue and my stomach! Although we cooked and ate Filipino dishes at our apartment in Penang, nothing beats eating everything you want in the Philippines!

As you may know, Filipino restaurants almost don’t exist in Penang, so you cannot blame me if I had so much craving for authentic Pinoy favorites.  That craving was satisfied a few days after I got home from Malaysia when I had weekend lunch with my parents, and one of my brothers in a Filipino restaurant that’s not only considered a family favorite but also default choice on rare occasions that we go out.

We simply indulged over Chopsuey, Sizzling Chicken Sisig, Kare-kare which is on top of my list of favorites, a signature Spring Fried Chicken, and my brother, Mac suggested we have to sample Adobo Fried Rice (fried rice with soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, tomatoes and salted egg slices) that I found delicious too, although I thought it’s a bit heavy when paired with those viands, thus we also ordered cups of plain rice. Carbo-loading, I know! It was a hearty lunch just before we glue our eyes watching the movie, Thor, The Dark World.

If you’re from the Philippines too, I bet you’re so familiar with my family’s default choice of food place! Can you name it? Do we have the same favorite? What are your favorite Pinoy dishes?

>><<

18
Nov
13

BURGER COMPANY GOODNESS!

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Although I was privileged to live and work for 3 years in the so-called, gastronomic state of Malaysia that’s the island paradise of Penang, where dishes from multi-cultural races of Malays, Chinese and Indians directly exposed my palates and satisfied my curiosity for flavors that were previously so foreign to me, I honestly have been craving for some good Western staples! It isn’t because the usual fast food joints, restaurants and local eateries there don’t serve quality burgers but after 2010, I can count the times I had a bite on really tasteful beefy burgers.

So when a fellow Filipino blogger, Richard of http://www.talesfromthetummy.com invited me to sample Burger Company in Quezon City, along with other foodie blogger friends, I had no hesitation to go. I noted the date of the invite as early as a couple of weeks before I came home to Manila.

16 November 2013, Saturday. I arrived the earliest at Burger Company at 11:30AM, that gave me extra time to appreciate the newest burger food place in Quezon City. I captured a few shots of their little corner with colored post-its left by diners who already enjoyed what’s-on-their-menu. I liked the place in an instant as it’s very casual, modest and non-intimidating. Staff was also courteous and customer-friendly.

Then not long after, Richard arrived and the gang came, one after another, in full force and I’m guessing, with huge appetites for burgers. It was such a relaxing afternoon-meet over delicious burgers and some starters. :)

We checked out the menu and surprisingly to me, Burger Company doesn’t only serve Angus Beef Burgers and Chicken Burgers but also Rib Eye Steak for a very affordable cost. However, my brain’s satiety center didn’t entertain the steak but my craving for beef burgers!

Here’s what we sampled.

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Parmesan Fries. American Fries tossed in parmesan cheese.

Don’t be fooled by my photo above. That serving of Parmesan Fries was already almost half as we ate it first prior taking a shot, hehehe!  It’s that good!

Then second to land on our table was one of a personal favorites. Nachos! Burger Company’s version made it even more enticing! Corn nachos were served in a big basket for sharing, and apparently, it’s not the usual yellow but red and dark brown! Topped with cheese sauce, ground beef and sour cream, served with tomato salsa; I simply couldn’t get off my fingers off it. I liked it a lot!
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Nachos Overload. Yummy!

If it’s a toss between Fries and Onion Rings, I’ll always choose the latter. Call me weird or something but I frequently dip it in mayonnaise (Do you do that too?). What made Burger Company’s 8oz Onion Rings different from what I usually eat, it’s crispier and nice sans my favorite mayo-dip.

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80z Crispy Onion Rings.

I thought I had enough of spicy and hot dishes in Penang that made me develop an aversion to chili-flavored foods. Wrong! I was weak to resist and tried at least one of those bacon-wrapped jalapeno fritters, served with tomato salsa. It has cheese filling too!

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Bacon-Jalapeno Fritters.

Those may be artery-clogging, or in our vocabulary – atherosclerosis and hyperlipidemia-inducing, but only when ingested religiously. It won’t harm if you just sample it for craving’s sake! Tee-hee!

Served next was obviously, the king of fries at Burger Company.

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Fries Overload. American Fries topped with cheese sauce, ground beef and bacon.

The happy problem at Burger Company was choosing what to order from their impressive menu. I passed up on the Chicken Burger and tried one of the Angus Beef Burger varieties. I’m happy to sample, Double Striker’s Burger! It tasted as great as it looks on photo!

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The Striker’s Burger (double). 

With lettuce, tomato, double Angus beef patties, cheese, double bacon, crisscut fries, champignon mushroom and cheese sauce, the Burger Company’s Double Striker’s Burger made a home run victory on my taste buds! Sarap!

Now, here’s a shameless rundown of what my foodie blogger friends enjoyed. Just a WARNING though – Get yourself a cold glass of water before scrolling down further; and you might want to control salivating too. Indulge on the photos! :)

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Hawaii Five-O. Lettuce, tomato, Angus patty, grilled and seasoned pineapple, cheese, chipotle aioli, red onions.

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Mexican Chipotle. Lettuce, tomato, Angus patty, cheese, braised chipotle, sour cream.

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Cajun Chicken & Blues. Lettuce, tomato, cajun chicken fillet, cheese, bacon, gorgonzola dressing.

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Green Chile and Sour Cream. Lettuce, tomato, Angus patty, cheese, pickled green chile, sour cream.

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Cheese Classic. Lettuce, tomato, Angus patty, cheese.

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Bacon & Cheese. Lettuce, tomato, Angus patty, cheese, bacon.

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The Volcano. Lettuce, tomato, Angus patty, cheese, bacon, chipotle aioli, battered onion rings.

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PB&J. Lettuce, tomato, Angus patty, cheese, homemade peanut butter, bacon jam, bacon, Louisiana BBQ sauce.

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Gorgonzola & Mushroom. Lettuce, tomato, Angus patty, cheese, sauteed oyster mushroom, gorgonzola.

And there’s more variety to choose from on the menu! What looks delicious to you?

Just when you still have appetite and stomach-room for more, as mentioned, Burger Company also offers Buffalo Wings. They served 3 flavors to us but I only tasted the mildest one. Not bad actually!

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NY Classic Buffalo Wings.

I usually notice and like little and nice details even on a restaurant’s menu. The Burger Company may have a simple menu, but the names and flavors of their dishes, sauces and whatnot are all well-thought-of.

Quirky Names on the Menu. The 6-piece-Buffalo Wings is named Bantam Weight (PhP 135), 10-piece is called Medium Weigh (PhP 195), 14-piece tagged as Heavy Weight (PhP 260).

Burn, baby, burn! The choices of flavors for the Buffalo Wings that will surely challenge your spice tolerance include :

  • Classic Series (New York Classic, Firefighter’s Pride, El Nino, Global Warming),
  • Signature Series (Carribean Surf, Chili & Lime, Smoked Chili, Cocoa & Chili, Asian Samurai, Salt & Vinegar),
  • BBQ Series (Louisiana, A&W, Mexican).

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Strawberry Milkshake.

To help you wash down those burgers and chicken wings, beverage menu includes local sodas, Imported sodas (A&W, Dr. Pepper, Cherry Coke), Sola Iced Tea, Home-brewed Iced Tea, Lime-Aid (lemon soda with fresh lime juice & syrup), Soda Float, Milkshake. Drinks cost from PhP 35 – 125.

Desserts include Fire & Ice Cake (Chocolate decadent cake with a hint of chili at the end), Chocolate Chocnut Mousse, NY Cheesecake, Apple pie at affordable prices of PhP 100 – PhP 130 per serving.

On Going Promo :

JR. Burger Boss – Just add PhP 80 to your favorite burger, and choose from a solo order of American, Crisscut or Parmesan Fries, or Buffalo Trax- their spicy crisscut fries, and a glass of Home-brewed Iced Tea (upgrade to bottomless for PhP 40, Soda Float for PhP 80, or Milkshake for PhP 80).

Burger Boss – Just add PhP 165 to your favorite burger, and choose from a solo order of Fries (American, Crisscut, or Parmesan or Buffalo Trax- their spicy crisscut fries), 4 pieces of NY Buffalo Wings with your choice of signature dips, and a glass of Home-brewed Iced Tea (upgrade to bottomless for PhP 40, Soda Float for PhP 80, or Milkshake for PhP 80).

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Spot where I left this blog’s mark. :)

So next time you find yourself somewhere at the heart of Quezon City, craving for delightful and affordable burger goodness, bring your taste buds to Burger Company!

Burger Company | 72B Scout Reyes corner Mother Ignacia Avenue, Brgy. Paligsahan, Quezon City, Metro Manila | Operating hours 11AM to 11PM | follow them on facebook : /BurgerCompanyPh | on twitter @BurgerCompanyPh | on Instagram @burgercompanyph | Visit them, indulge and please do let them know that you read about Burger Company here on docgelo.com :)

GOOGLE MAPS BURGER COMPANY
via Google map.

Special thanks to our fellow blogger, Richard of http://www.talesfromthetummy.com for the invitation, Alvin Ong of Burger Company for accomodating us, and of course to the foodie gang that I met, thank you very much for such satisfying and fun afternoon!

>><<

17
Nov
13

PENANG | THANK YOU TO MY MALAYSIAN FAMILIES!

Sometimes, random moments happen that you wish you could freeze and savor them longer, before they become a beautiful memory. :)

On my last hours in Penang (prior heading to Kuala Lumpur for 3 days, then finally off to Manila after living and working in Malaysia as a Medical Lecturer for 3 years), I am very grateful to be with not one, but two Malaysian families, who unbelievably did so much for us. Call me sentimental fool or anything, but I was literally moved to tears with their gestures until the very last minute I spent in Butterworth.

Despite I humbly denied and simply thanked them for their offer to help us haul more than 100 kilos of luggages and whatnot, they even personally volunteered to drive us (my mom, maternal aunt and I) to the bus station that night.

My apartment-owner, Mr. Loh with his wife and mother-in-law arrived after 9PM of October 16th. He came not only to collect the keys to his apartment that served as my second home for 2 years (I lived in another on my first year in Malaysia), but he generously helped me carry loads to the other block, where one of the few of my closest friends and Filipino colleague, Dr. Jane stays.

I requested Dr. Jane to kindly facilitate the pick-up of some of our things, as we underestimated what needs to be sent home via LBC courier (Weeks before that, we already sent 2 biggest LBC boxes home, and the 32″ LCD TV, but we needed to unload further, hence, we left our things for another LBC box to my colleague that night for pick up from Penang, and we had to pay and send another huge LBC box to Manila via LBC-Kuala Lumpur branch).

Mr. Loh was there to help.

He left his family at his apartment and helped us carry our loads to the two taxi cabs we rented.

As the lift went down from 10th floor to the ground, it dramatically opened to the sight of Ms. Jasmine and Sir Michael who were already standing there, waiting to go up to meet us.

Ms. Jasmine and Sir Michael were Gabby’s former school Principal and teachers in Butterworth. Words could not express my personal gratitude to them, as they did so much beyond anyone’s expectations. They were there with me all throughout my difficulties in Penang.

I told Mr. Loh that although we really appreciate his offer for him to drive us to the bus station (which Ms. Jasmine and Mr. Michael also offered), we found it better to take 2 taxi cabs instead, so they can go home early. I bid him goodbye and thanked him well. Vividly, I recall his last words were about welcoming me again in his home, if and when chance allows me to revisit Penang.

While Ms. Jasmine and Sir Michael followed our taxi cabs to the Penang Sentral bus station and stayed with us until past 12 midnight.

Yes, they stayed with us until few minutes past midnight.

When it started to rain, we told them they may want to go home, as our bus was already late to our 12:15AM Penang-KL-trip.

They brought us Coke, and even asked if we wanted some sandwiches to bring to our night trip.

More than what they provided me and my family, the couple also gave me ang pao, chocolates and tea bags to take home.

These were the things  that happened as we departed Penang. But for 2 years that I’ve known them, Ms. Jasmine and Sir Michael extended support and concern, at most of the time without me asking, despite and in spite of everything. God bless them more so they can continue to be a blessing to others! 

I shall never forget these people for as long as I live. They were neither hypocrites nor judgmental people. They’re my family in Malaysia.

Picture this – When our bus arrived at the station before 1AM, the rain became more intense.

I carried our bags and luggages one by one and arranged them inside the compartment. It was raining hard. In spite of the fact that my aunt held an umbrella and tried her best to assist me, I became fully soaked. I quickly found my seat inside the airconditioned bus, with my entire self dripping. Chilling.

I waited for two hours until the bus reached its stopover for passengers’ bladder break in Ipoh. It took me two hours before I get to change to dry and clean clothes. It was the longest two hours of my life.

Two days before that unforgettable night, Mr. Loh and his family fetched us from our apartment, brought us to a a local Chinese restaurant and treated us to a very modest and heartwarming dinner.

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The very first frog dish I ate! Not bad. Actually, tasteful!

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Delicious tofu dish, Crispy lemon chicken, Grouper fish dish, and a fish soup. Everything satisfying!
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Mr. Loh (in black shirt), his daughter (in pink shirt), Mrs. Loh and her parents. THANK YOU SO MUCH!

A week before the dinner treat from Mr. Loh and his family, my other Malaysian family, Ms. Jasmine and Sir Michael brought us to a similar feast in one of their favorite local Chinese eatery. It was overwhelming!

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Ms. Jasmine, Sir Michael and me.

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From left to right:  My maternal aunt, my one & only mom, and Ms. Jasmine.

There are more stories between me and my Malaysian families in Penang, that made me a better person now.

So if there’s one special reason to go back to Penang in the near future, it’s to see them again and thank them once more.

>><<

15
Nov
13

A WEEK AFTER THE STORM

After being home for 3 weeks from Penang, one of my former Malaysian students sent me a private message on facebook, and asked of our condition in the Philippines. He mentioned, they learned from CNN that our country was ravaged by the recent typhoon. Another Malaysian student expressed her concern about me and our family regarding the same matter. I felt blessed and thankful.

A week after Typhoon Haiyan (locally known in The Philippines as Typhoon Yolanda) struck our country and left most Filipinos in devastated state, I felt the urge to bring my feet back to the heart of Manila. I found myself with knees bent, inside the Catholic church dedicated to the patron saint of the hopeless and despaired.

Novena was uttered by the faithfuls; gospel was read and a brief homily was delivered by the priest. It almost moved me to tears, as I am grateful that my family and I, despite having difficulties, are still alive, safe, and healthy. I fervently asked for forgiveness, blessings and mercy, neither for my own sake, nor for my family alone, but more so, for those Filipinos who have been suffering from losses, physical and emotional traumas caused by the terrifying storm.

I lit 3 candles, said my prayers again and strolled my way out of the Malacanang vicinity. Barely an hour with surprisingly less traffic, I reached Malate Church via 2 jeepney rides. I went inside and talked to my Creator once more. Imagine a prodigal sinner coming home to His father.  Seriously, like a battery-with-full-bars, I felt extremely recharged! So with my spirit up and hopes high, I went out of the church. And everything became lighter.

manila bay sunset november 14, 2013 docgelo 529pm
Manila Bay, Philippines. 11/14/2013, Thursday, 5:29PM.

While I am one with the many who so appreciate the incredible financial contributions and generous humanitarian assistance being rendered by other nations to the Filipino people, I’m also grateful for the efforts exerted and donations given by our own countrymen.

Positive things must not end.  There must be no room for negative words at this time and beyond, as it would not offer any solution but add further insult to the injuries.

Life’s challenges taught me so well to be more faithful rather than lose hope. Better to put two palms together in prayer rather than to point fingers and blame others.

“The Lord is a refuge of the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.” – Psalm 9:9

>><<

06
Nov
13

SINGAPORE | GARDENS BY THE BAY, REVISITED

It matters not to me to visit the same place again because obviously, memories and experiences will be different.  On my 5th trip to Singapore last October 12-14, 2013, I visited Gardens by the Bay again and thankfully, I was privileged to play tour guide to my mom and aunt.  Despite our limited travel budget, and the fact that the three of us endured a 9-hour-bus-trip over night from Penang to Johor Bahru and a more-or-less-an-hour-Immigration-proceedings and bus transfers at the borders of Malaysia and Singapore the following day, plus another 45 minutes MRT and taxi rides to our hotel, we’re grateful as we’re blessed with a fine weather that afternoon and we’re able to bring our feet to appreciate those man-made Supertrees and Mother Nature’s flower power!

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Flower power!

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The Supertrees of Gardens by the bay, Singapore. They looked lovelier the second time around!

During my first visit to Gardens by the bay last year, I was toured by Gina, a Filipino good friend who’s more like the sister-I-never-had,  based in Singapore. She’s generous to voluntarily treat me to Flower Dome & Cloud Forest; then we had late lunch at Marina Bay Sands after. So when I got the chance, I didn’t hesitate to pay it forward to my relatives.  After all, they’re the ones who were there in Penang who helped me for a month with their own hands, to pack 3 years of my life. Touring them to one of Lion City’s must-visit places was nothing compared to the love, concern and understanding they showed, in spite and despite of.

It’s nice to visit a place the second time around, you’ll be able to see improvements and changes. Immediately after crossing the pedestrian bridge from Marina Bay Sands, we rode the shuttle for Sg$2 (US$ 1.60) per pax, roundtrip (although we only rode it once as service was only until 5PM and we stayed longer), to save the feet of my geriatric guests from walking. The shuttle ride took us to the ticketing booth of Gardens by the bay.

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Women in the mirror: My mom wearing purple and her only sibling, my aunt on floral.

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Tickets for foreigners for both Flower Dome & Cloud Forest still cost the same as last year’s;  Sg$ 28 (US$22.50) per pax. I first brought them to Flower Dome.

In 2012, I mentioned in my blog post on this site and in my review at Tripadvisor that it’s practical and sufficient enough to pay entrance fee to just one of the airconditioned domes and it’s better to choose Flower Dome over Cloud Forest.  I’m taking that all back.  Having seen Gardens by the bay for the second time proved to me that they have themes every season, or perhaps every month that could instantly make a returning tourist marvel once more. It’s all worth it, I think.

FLOWER DOME

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On our recent visit, the theme was all about Indian’s Festival of Light,  Deepavali or Diwali.

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And my travel companions enjoyed posing all the way! They indulged actually! :)
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The Flower Dome was filled with Malaysian mums, pompoms and other blooms appropriate for Diwali.

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I cannot express into words how my family wonder in awe, particularly my mom who’s always in love with flowers of any size and color.  They found every corner, every petal, every spot a photo-opportunity! Really, the display was amazing!

Aside from the Deepavali-inspired flowers, there were the staples, like the roses and among them, this variegated species of white & red rose really caught my eye!

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Flowers, flowers, and more flowers…

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Amidst all those manicured flora inside Flower Dome, I fall in love with these vividly colored foliage.
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These leaves do look unusually gorgeous, don’t they?

Smiles and more smiles…
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After enjoying our time from 3PM-5PM at Flower Dome, we felt the need to load our tummies. So prior going to the next-door-dome, the Cloud Forest, we went out to look for something to eat. We found comfort at Texas Chicken fast food inside the Supertree Grove Restaurants.
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CLOUD FOREST

Grabbing bites from huge servings of crispy fried chicken from Texas Chicken brought back memories from my lunch breaks of my college years. I wondered whatever happened to Texas Chicken (and A&W) that they had to terminate business in Manila; good thing that neighboring Southeast Asian countries still keep them.  I digress.  Anyway, after we became satiated with delicious fastfood meals, we went back and admired the other garden dome that I usually describe as Avatar-ish, Cloud Forest.

Stepping inside the cool-moist-conservatory, visitors will be delighted to the world’s tallest indoor waterfall, misty atmosphere and lush biodiversity that showcase pitcher plants, orchids, begonias, bromeliads, ferns, even crystals and many more. There are lifts to take tourists to various levels of that man-made-mountain forest.

The child in me instantly noticed the addition of a wonderful forest village with railway stations and mobile choo choo train! I only wished my son, Gabby had enjoyed it with me. Perhaps, in the near future visits, who knows.

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Of all people, I was a fool to deny the fact that my mom and aunt have lesser stamina and horsepower to tolerate miles of walking that afternoon. I indirectly and unintentionally tortured their calf muscles and feet and deliberately tested their temper in walking several miles back to Marina Bay Sands via its basement walkway. My goal : for all of us to eat dinner at Rasapura Food court that’s located at the terminal end of MBS’ ground floor and walk back to MRT to our hotel in Orchard Road. Fatigue, muscle aches, haywire moods and a perception that ‘Singapore is all about walking’ dawned upon them.  Everything was charged to their first-time-experience in the Lion City. I bet they enjoyed nonetheless!

RASAPURA FOODCOURT, MARINA BAY SANDS

We traveled far via bus from Penang and we’re about to go home to Manila in a couple of weeks, and considering I had an option to let them sample Hainanese Chicken Rice and Singapore Laksa, we all gave in to our Filipino stomachs’ cravings. Kare-kare, Pork Barbecue, Pakbet, Pancit Bihon, Sour Broth Soup from Gerry’s Grill and ice cold Coke were definitely satisfying!

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Filipino all-time-favorite dishes!

From the Rasapura Food court of Marina Bays Sands, we dragged our very tired feet to the MRT and alighted at what I perceived as outer space, hahaha!
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Ion Orchard Mall, Orchard Road.

The entire afternoon of seeing the Lord’s most colorful creations, inside the world’s most beautiful man-made garden domes with my mom and aunt was truly an experience of a lifetime for the three of us!  I never imagined that I could bring them to Singapore, but opportunity presented itself and we could only be grateful for everything!

I already experienced traveling and touring alone and admittedly, it offered self-discoveries and a lot other opportunities. However, bringing other feet to other places, particularly new to them;  knowing that you could share the good times and bad times with them as well, is a must do for everyone whenever possible.
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Their smiles say it all!

*This NOT a sponsored blog post.

My visit to Gardens by the bay in 2012 blogged here : http://docgelo.com/2012/08/08/infinite-dose-of-spring-gardens-by-the-bay/

Gardens by the bay | 18 Marina Gardens Drive, Singapore 018953 | website : www.gardensbythebay.com.sg

How to get to Gardens by the bay (sourced from their website).

MRT & Bus

Via the Circle Line:

  • Alight at Bayfront MRT Station (CE1)
  • Take Exit B and follow the underground linkway
  • Exit and cross the Dragonfly Bridge or Meadow Bridge into Gardens by the Bay

Via the North South / Circle Line:

  • Alight at Marina Bay MRT Station (NS27/CE2)
  • Take Exit A and hop onto bus service 400
  • Alight 4 stops later at the bus stop along Marina Gardens Drive

>><<

30
Oct
13

PENANG | FAREWELL DINNER AT SARKIES, E&O HOTEL

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The elegant yet welcoming lobby of Victory Annexe Wing, Eastern & Oriental Hotel, Penang, Malaysia

16 October 2013. Wednesday.  Sarkies at Eastern & Oriental Hotel Penang. My second to the last day in Penang after living and working there for more that 3 years was made extraordinarily memorable!  Why?  Simply because the BEST and the most luxurious heritage hotel in Penang, and dare I say the entire Malaysia perhaps, invited me to a farewell dinner with people who helped me with everything in Penang.  Admittedly, I was overwhelmed!  The feeling was surreal!

If you’re following this blog, you must have read that my family and I were fortunately invited by E&O Hotel Penang several times this year and surprisingly, I felt so valued and so at home not only with their suite, restaurants but more so with their warmest and friendliest staff.  I really appreciate everything!

I remember, it’s March of this year when we first experienced Sarkies’ Seafood Buffet Dinner Extravaganza that’s offered every Wednesday at E&O.  It remains one of our most remarkable and delicious indulgent moments to date!  And from then on, we spent more fondest memories at E&O.  Consequently, I cannot put into words how grateful I am for being invited again to savor a delightful feast at Sarkies!

Having dined at some of the premier hotel buffets in the island, I can justly say that Sarkies at E&O provides its diners the freshest and the most flavorful seafood dishes at a very affordable rates that can absolutely challenge any 5-star-hotel-buffets in Manila!

Doors open at 7PM for buffet dinner but we managed to be there a bit earlier so I got photos of the spread before they were refilled.  Enjoy the photos and control yourself not to drool! Hehehe! :D

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It’s always nice to go back and find improvements to appreciate!

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Why, hello there, roast duckies! :)

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Ice sculptures at the freshest seafood station were an absolute visual delight!

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Something NEW at Sarkies Seafood Extravaganza Buffet : Chinese!

And then there were more choices to grill. Care for some salmon on the teppan or some sausages on the grill?

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Chicken Satay is a must-eat when in Malaysia! Dip in in peanut sauce & you’ll be in cloud-9 !

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Oysters Rockefeller. Yummy!

What makes Sarkies at E&O Penang Eat-All-You-Want-Dinner so worth it?
The freshest imported and local SEAFOODS of course!

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Alaskan Crab Legs : Always a feast!

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I had the privilege of meeting Chef Petr and Ms. Eileen of Eastern & Oriental again, and they proudly showed me another impressive addition to the Sarkies spread. Try to look at its claws and go figure!

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SPANNER CRAB, imported from Australia no less!

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Hey, Duo of Gravlax, we meet again! Call me a bit weird but I liked its saltiness!

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That’s a huge fish, isn’t it? My mom tried it and said it’s tasteful!

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I’m not a fan of crayfish but salmon? I love salmon served in any way!

I’d like to thank E&O Hotel for allowing me to enjoy the savory eat-all-you-want dinner at Sarkies once more with my family and the people I considered my family in Penang. They know me more than you can imagine and had expressed priceless concern and unconditional generosity to me and my family until our last minutes in Penang.  They’re my Malaysian family! I cannot be thankful enough!

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From left-to-right : My maternal aunt, my one & only mom, & Ms. Jasmine (Gabby’s school principal in Penang).

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My Malaysian family (from Right to Left) : Sir Michael, Ms. Jasmine, their son, Ethan & relative, Jacinta.

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Glad to bring my mom to Sarkies at Eastern & Oriental Hotel! Thank you so much, E&O!

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With Ethan (Gabby’s friend and former schoolmate), my aunt & mom.

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We’re all happy diners at Sarkies!

Other than seafood dishes, there were a lot more to sample from local and continental options that I failed to capture.

Now, let’s continue the indulgence.  Desserts, anyone?

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So many cakes, so little time! Hehehe! These bite-sized carrot-pistachio cakes were really good!

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Everything’s delicious!  They’re more toothsome than they look on my photos!

I intentionally skipped lunch and afternoon snack (or what they call in Malaysia, High Tea) to empty my stomach for this feast. *Kidding!* Seriously, here’s a shameless display of what I ate.

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First went to the Noodle Station, chose my ingredients & asked the chef to whip everything up.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, meet my first plate that sumptuous evening…

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My version of Penang’s Hokkien Mee with seafood galore! I loved it!

And then there were more plates to savor!  Thank you, Lord! :)

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Salmon Sashimi and Duo of Gravlax. Does this reveal I’m a salmon-monster? Hahaha!

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And my love affair with Japanese lives on…

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Twinings’ Jasmine Tea made everything so perfect! Can’t deny it aids in digestion too!

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Spanner crab from Australia, Alaskan crab legs, and everything nice!

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Jacinta and Ethan! Happy to share the dining table with them!

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Roasted Beef with Mushroom Sauce. Beautiful! I missed Gabby as this is one of his favorites at Sarkies!

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When in Penang, must eat Oyster Omelet. I paired it with Roasted Duck & its sauce. I’m lost for superlatives!

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Char Koay Teow. It’s my ultimate favorite Malaysian dish and I tasted Sarkies’ version a few times but this one’s a letdown that evening. The rice noodle didn’t taste fresh; we reported it to the staff and the head waiter immediately apologized. Customer-service at its best!

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Chef Petr of Sarkies’ Seafood Extravaganza Buffet. Always a pleasure to meet him! Thanks, Chef!

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Another group pic! :)

From the dessert spread, I chose these tiny bites…

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Heavenly! Thank you, Lord!

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Fiber loading! I always love fresh fruits on buffet! It’s a must for digestion obviously!

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I think this was Ms. Jasmine’s ice cream platter. I can’t imagine a world without ice cream, can you? :)

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My mom and aunt. All smiles at the lobby! Happy to see them happy!

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Thank you, E&O Hotel Penang for that memorable indulgence!

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Had a relaxing stroll at the E&O promenade. It’s the only hotel in Penang by the Malacca Strait!

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A child’s happiness is always a blessing! Nice pose you got there, Ethan! We miss you! :)

So when you find yourself in George Town, Penang, do drop by at E&O Hotel and treat yourself with a dose of history and the finest Malaysian hospitality. You might consider dining at Sarkies too or at other E&O’s food & beverage outlets!  Of course, hotel accomodation packages are currently inclusive of breakfast buffet at Sarkies. Have fun in Penang and enjoy E&O!

This blog’s other special features about Eastern & Oriental Hotel Penang include :

EASTERN & ORIENTAL HOTEL, PENANG | George Town, Penang, Malaysia | for more details and hotel reservation, kindly visit their website :  http://e-o-hotel.com/  

SARKIES at E&O | for more details and dining reservations, kindly visit their website : http://e-o-hotel.com/sarkies/

Thank you so much, E&O Hotel! Thank you so much, Sarkies!  Special thanks goes out to Ms. Eileen of E&O! Thank you and see you again in the near future!

>><<

26
Oct
13

KUALA LUMPUR | OUR 3D2N SOMERSET AMPANG KL EXPERIENCE

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Glorious morning view of Malaysia’s capital from the kiddie’s wading pool at 22nd floor of Somerset.

“Uncle, can you take us to Somerset, Ampang KL?”  I asked the Chinese-Malaysian taxi cab driver from where I stand in front of Pudu Sentral Bus Station. When I received a nod, I immediately hailed another taxi cab for my mom and my aunt and for our luggages in tow. And before I think of any possibilities, we’re on our way to our very first-serviced-residence-experience!

Located along the prestigious Embassy row and just 5-minute-walk-away from Ampang Park LRT station, Somerset Ampang Kuala Lumpur is conveniently accessible.

We hopped on the taxi cabs under the brightest Malaysian sun, then out of nowhere, came a heavy downpour just before we alighted to the lobby of Somerset Ampang KL.  Weather’s Bipolar but I couldn’t be grateful enough!

Staff at the facade were ready with helping hands to carry our luggages to the reception area; it’s not uncommon but I always consider it as a sign of an early impressive hospitality.  Checked in was done in a breeze and remarkably, we were welcomed warmly by Ms. Siti Artha, the Guest Service Assistant Manager.  We appreciated the gestures, it made us feel at home right away!
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Fraction of the laid back lobby.

We were led to 16th floor et voila!  My worries and uncertainties about things that matter to me instantly melted away! The sight was that welcoming! Despite I feel so fatigued from our overnight-bus-trip from Penang to Kuala Lumpur, not to mention our packing of 3 weeks in Penang prior my homecoming, it was somewhat rejuvenating to see such beautiful black inlaid marble floors, handsome wooden doors and a hallway that will make you wish you could stay longer.

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Rich wooden doors, luxurious marble floors. Minimalist. Classic!

Welcome to Room 1612, our 90sqm-Two-Bedroom-Premier that served as our home for few days.

Tuloy po kayo!
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Our home for three days and two nights. Knock, knock!

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Always loved fresh fruits! Welcome note’s an icing on the cake!

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It’s my pleasure, Mr. Gary Loke! Thank you very much, Somerset Ampang KL by Ascott!

Inside our 2-bedroom-Premier unit, I realized the huge difference of a hotel accomodation from that of a serviced residence.  Somerset Ampang, KL Serviced Residence provides the comfort and convenience of a home and the quality service of a hotel. This attractively furnished unit offered a very relaxed ambiance perfect for families, friends, more so for business and leisure travelers and tourists.

Our home for few days has separate living and dining areas, master’s bedroom with en-suite toilet and bath, a twin-bedroom with en-suite toilet and shower, well-equipped kitchen and a laundry tub with dryer that are certainly absent in any hotel suite, home entertainment system, telephone, and most important to me, a fast and free wireless internet access.
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Might appear ordinary wooden dining table but my mom kept on praising its quality.

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Where my mom and aunt slept for two nights.

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The twin-bedroom’s en-suite toilet and shower. Spacious and spotless!

And this makes the difference…

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Well equipped kitchen, laundry & dryer tub. Admittedly, hotels don’t have these!

A cooker hub & hood, coffee and tea making facilities, an electric oven, electric kettle, glassware including wine glasses, crockery, utensils, microwave oven, a fridge, toaster, a laundry and dryer tub in one.  Amazing, isn’t it? Almost complete!  It’s really home away from home!  But if it’s not too much to ask and if there’s one thing that I’d wish they would add to complete everything in the kitchen : a fruit blender.

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My photo doesn’t do it justice. The simplicity & elegance fused in the interiors are just wonderful!

At the spacious and gorgeous living room with high ceiling, the home entertainment system includes CD/DVD player with iPod docking, LCD TV at the living room and master’s bedroom complete with satellite and cable channels.
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Homey and relaxed atmosphere is echoed at the living room.

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Happy to see my mom happy with her teddy bear! hehehe!  :)

Another guest-friendly feature of our unit in Somerset is the central air-conditioning with individually controlled thermostats.  For a family like us who came with relatives in their senior years, who prefer a warmer temperature unlike me, setting the AC to our selected temperature was never a problem. Furthermore, the living room has a ceiling fan that absolutely cost-saving for Somerset and gives its guest an Earth-friendly option.

My mom and my aunt were generous enough to allow me to enjoy the master’s bedroom.

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Where I had uninterrupted sleeps for 2 nights. Loved this bed to bits!

The room has high ceiling which I really liked, not too small, nor too big; just enough space for me to roam around. It has the best view by the window, and by the bath tub at its en-suite bathroom.

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Wardrobe complete with essentials, nice!

Just what my weary mind needs : a tub with a view! Thank you so much, Somerset Ampang KL! I had one of my most relaxing soak in years!  Fantastic!

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The tub with a view!

At 4PM, I had the pleasure of meeting Somerset Ampang Kuala Lumpur’s Assistant Residence Manager, Mr. Gary Loke.  The introduction was set by Ms. Jacqueline Shu who happens to be the Marketing Executive, but was unable to join us that afternoon due to another function at other Ascott property.

I met Gary at the lobby, and the moment he mentioned he was assigned to Ascott Makati in my country, The Philippines for 6 months, some years back, we had a more engaging and casual conversations.  People of Somerset were really amazing!

Gary first brought me to the 22nd level of Somerset Ampang KL where the Residents’ Lounge, rooftop infinity pool & jacuzzi, fully-equipped gymnasium, and a children’s wading pool.  Apparently, everyone has something to look forward to whenever they come home to their residence at Somerset after a long day at work, school, shopping or traveling around the metropolis!  That said, it spells work-life balance to me!

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Relaxing mood at the infinity pool with a great vista of Petronas Twin Towers & the rest of KL skyline.
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Crunches and stationary walk and jog overlooking the pool and beautiful view of KL skyline.

For families with kids, young adults, yuppies and even the senior ones, the Residents’ Lounge’s too perfect to spend a lazy weekend morning or a late afternoon bonding, or just a quality time with oneself and a good paperback.

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Gary and I went down to the lobby and strolled our way to the next-door’s restaurant, Souled Out. He casually explained that breakfast buffet from 6:30AM to 10AM is served there daily for residents of Somerset.  We continued our interesting talk about Malaysia, The Philippines, particularly his previous stint in Makati and the things he learned from my country, as well as his recommendations within Kuala Lumpur, things about Ascott, Somerset and Citadines, over glasses of freshly blended Dragon Fruit Juice and a plate of crunchy Calamares at Souled Out.

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Dragon Fruit Juice and Calamares (not in photo) : Surprisingly, winner combo! :)

Gary’s so nice to even walk me to the adjacent lobby of HSC Medical Centre (a medical institution that caters to heart surgeries, stroke and cancer with few Alternative Medicine too). I told him, I consider it another plus factor for choosing Somerset Ampang KL particularly when staying longer, as the proximity of such medical services could make one feel so secured and safe.

Service and friendliness of staff indeed tops everything in hospitality industry.

With only two nights of stay and still recovering from our muscle aches and fatigue of packing my life literally of 3 years in Penang, I decided to just buy a takeway dinner and lunch for the three of us from Ampang Shopping Center which is about a 10-minute-walk away from Somerset.

Here’s what I bought as one of our take-away-meals that we enjoyed in Somerset.  Take note of the modest yet quality plates and utensils.  My mom was even happier that there’s a sponge and a liquid soap provided for washing dishes.  We really enjoyed the comforts of home while in Somerset!
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Veggies galore! My takeaway dinner from the nearby Ampang Shopping Center.

The next morning, we claimed our breakfast coupons from the front desk and walked our way to Souled Out.  Bear in mind that Souled Out is an outsourced restaurant so the quality of service with Somerset is a bit different.

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Fresh juices, milk, tea & coffee. Take your pick!

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Of salads, fruits, yoghurt and cold cuts.

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Breads and spreads.

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The view from where we dined. I liked the alfresco theme with those lush green at the backdrop.

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Chicken sausages, spicy sardines, egg omelet, baked beans, and nasi goreng (fried rice).

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Tropical fruits, green apple salad, yoghurt, orange juice & coffee to cap the meal.

Honestly, there was nothing to rave about the outsourced restaurant, Souled Out’s breakfast buffet; it was nothing extraordinary. Surprisingly, there was minimal volume of tropical fruits and dishes from the spread. I hope they could enhance their offering in the near future.  I need to visit back to compare this!  *paging Mr. Garly Loke! Kidding!*

Because my mom and aunt opted to sleep and rest and watch TV at our room the whole day (they really got tired from hauling and packing my stuffs in Penang and for that I’ll be forever thankful to them), I was alone in going to KLCC-Shopping Center.

Somerset Ampang KL provides free shuttle van service on various schedule for those residents who would like to go to selected shopping areas within the city and a separate schedule for those residents going to their respective offices at work.  I reserved a 10:30AM slot to go to KLCC-Suria Shopping Complex.

At exactly on the dot, I hopped on this free shuttle van with another resident and a family.  They dropped me after a 5 minute-straight-drive to KLCC.  It’s so convenient!

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Shuttle van service to the prime shopping centers in Kuala Lumpur.

I needed to see Malaysia’s magnificence again prior going home to my country.  All memories flashed back, good and bad ones. Saying farewell to the country that served as my second home for 3 years was not that easy than I thought. It felt a part of me was surgically removed. I wrote in my facebook that phantom limb pain remains in a few days, weeks, perhaps months until I find another refuge. That moment’s indeed dramatic and nostalgic. Cest la vie!

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At the foot of those iconic Petronas Twin Towers.

Imagine, I managed to bring my mom and aunt to a wonderful and memorable stay at a 2-bedroom-Premier unit in Somerset Ampang Kuala Lumpur after a month-long stay in Penang and a weekend in Singapore, God is really soooo good despite and in spite of everything.  I’ll constantly remind myself to count blessings rather than give importance to the challenges and negative elements.

I believe in what Ascott properties stand for, that “LIFE is all about living.”  I salute them for being guided with “LIFE” :

  • L -Local touch and local culture
  • I – Individuality, varied lifestyles
  • F -Feeling at home, those little touches in the room makes us feel homey
  • E -Exceeding expectations. I personally experienced it!  :)

Somerset Ampang Kuala Lumpur exceeded my great expectations! We had a incredibly wonderful stay!

>><<

SOMERSET AMPANG KUALA LUMPUR | 187 Jalan Ampang, 50450 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia | For more details and reservations, kindly visit their website at : http://www.somerset.com/en/malaysia/kuala_lumpur/somerset_ampang.html

To the people of Somerset Ampang Kuala Lumpur, Mr. Gary Loke, Ms. Jacqueline Shu, Ms. Siti Artha and the staff, thank you so much! Special thanks goes out to Ms. Min of Ascott Singapore for the invitation! We had an amazing time! I could only wish the stay could be longer but who knows? There might be a next time somewhere. Again, many thanks!

23
Oct
13

SINGAPORE | OUR STAY AT ORCHARD PARADE HOTEL

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Relaxed ambiance at Orchard Parade Hotel

I considered myself blessed for having a chance to visit the Lion City for the 5th time.  And how was it different from my earlier trips to Singapore?  Staying in two premier hotels on two consecutive nights made it uniquely special this time.  I was fortunate to be invited to do such.  Simply thinking about it may already be tiring for others, but for someone who has an itchy feet and a passion for exploring new things during traveling, it’s something to be excited about!

After our impressive but short overnight stay at The Elizabeth Hotel, my mom, my aunt and I checked in at Orchard Parade Hotel.

Located where Sinagpore’s most famous shopping district begins, Orchard Road, Orchard Parade Hotel is approximately 10-minute walk to ION Orchard Mall, Wisma Atria, Tang Plaza, Lucky Plaza (where most Filipinos and Filipino shops are!), Paragon Mall, Ngee Ann City and Takashimaya Shopping Center. The location is just prime and so accessible to everything – food, shopping, MRT stations!

Because we arrived early morning of Sunday without prior request for an early-check in, our game plan was to leave our luggages at the concierge and then hear Catholic Mass and proceed to our touristy destination after.

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As soon as we alighted from our taxi cab, helpful & courteous staff at the facade greeted us with friendly smiles and carried our luggages to the lobby;  it’s not extraordinary, I know, but these little things made us feel so welcomed upon arrival.
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The Lobby & Reception areas.

A fellow Filipino, by the name of Chona was one of the reception staff that day.  She asked me to fill out the check in card and advised me to return around 2:30PM.  She gave out luggage card and our things were kept safely at the back of the concierge.  Everything was done smoothly. Thumbs up for that!  :)

We returned on the dot and checked in at 2:30PM. Here’s how our Deluxe Room at Orchard Parade looks like…

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Our Deluxe Room

Honestly, I found the room very basic.  It looked a bit old compared to other hotels in Singapore that I experienced the past years.  However, the strong points of the Deluxe Room we stayed in include fast and free wifi connection, and ultimately, cleanliness!

I appreciated the presence of a 2-seater-couch but wished the coffee table was wider. Nevertheless, it was functional as we used it when we eat our takeaway-dinner.

If you’ve been to Singapore, then you know that most hotels there could cost you an arm and leg.  Surprisingly, even those classified as budget hotels can be expensive than you think, despite their rooms have no windows that could make anyone claustrophobic in an instant. The Deluxe Room of Orchard Parade Hotel on the other hand, has the best view you that can stimulate and perk you up!  Lush green, inviting swimming pool, the works! Imagine you’ll wake up to a morning view such as this. Nice, isn’t it?

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The view’s fantastic! Lush green, inviting swimming pool, a visual treat!

The wardrobe keeps all the essentials – a safe, a flat iron & ironing board, a few hangers and bathrobes, 2 pairs of hotel slippers,  a shoe cleaning materials, and a hair dryer, I think. I just forgot to check if they keep a long umbrella there too.

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Wardrobe and Accomodation Essentials

I also found the toilet and shower simple and small.  But more importantly, like the room, it appeared almost sterile.

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Toilet and Shower Room

Just few steps outside the lobby, there are fine choices of restaurants, coffee shops, and a wine store that can entice someone with discriminating taste. Then again, there’s something for the budget-conscious too. From convenience store that’s open for 24 hours, coffee and pastry shops and a lot more affordable restaurants and food stalls that are located a stone’s-throw-away.

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We rested all night and our first priority the next day was : BREAKFAST BUFFET!

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We had breakfast buffet at Tunglok Signatures located at the second level of Orchard Parade Hotel.  Elegant, spacious, Oriental-themed yet laid back ambiance.  Just wonderful!

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And the food?  The buffet spread was modest in volume but nonetheless could fill your tummy.  I liked the free flowing coffee, tea and fresh juices. But it would be better if they could offer more kinds of dim sums and add a few more dishes next time.

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Here are my plates, some are my relatives’.

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Bacon and my morning is complete!  Tuna salad’s a delight! 

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Salad Pasta, Chicken Sausages, Potato Pops, Banana & Chocolate Cake Slices.

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Must Go Local!  Dim Sums and Nasi Lemak…

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Tropical Fruit Slices smothered with Mango-flavored Yoghurt. Yummy!

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Happy diners! My mom and aunt after that breakfast buffet. All smiles! :)

One last look prior checking out…

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Overall, I can personally recommend Orchard Parade Hotel for its prime location, decent and clean Deluxe Room and toilet despite small and a little old, fast and free wifi connection, satisfying eat-all-you-want-breakfast and more importantly, good service from hotel staff.

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Orchard Parade Hotel |  #1 Tanglin Road S247905 Singapore |  For more details and reservation, kindly visit their website of the Orchard Parade Hotel by Far East Hospitality here : http://www.stayfareast.com/en/hotels/orchard-parade-hotel.aspx

Check out this blog’s features and reviews on other hotels by Far East Hospitality :

Thank you to Far East Hospitality & particularly to Orchard Parade Hotel and The Elizabeth Hotel for sponsoring our 3D2N stay at respective hotels this October 2013. We really appreciate it! Special thanks goes out to Ms. Ericia Li, Ms. Christina Tan  & Mr. Mike Cheong for generously responding to my emails and request.

>><<

19
Oct
13

SINGAPORE | THE ELIZABETH HOTEL EXPERIENCE

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Allow me to begin this post by commending the Reception staff of The Elizabeth Hotel in Singapore by the name of Bernard.  That guy needs an applause, a promotion, a salary raise or perhaps, even an award for Best Hotel Service or whatever appropriate title, in my own opinion.

Why?

Picture this – We had more than 9 hours of travel via bus from Penang to Johor Bahru to Singapore, crossing borders and Immigration proceedings on foot, barely slept comfortably, took the 45 minute-MRT-ride from Kranji Station to Newton and finally, a short taxi cab ride from Newton to Mount Elizabeth Road where The Elizabeth Hotel is secluded.  And did I already mention that we brought a heavy luggage and several bags with loads whose weights were illogical for a 3D2N trip? To make the scenario more dramatic and worse, it rained heavily just right after we boarded the taxi cab en route to the facade of The Elizabeth Hotel.

And then we got the warmest and friendliest reception service from Bernard.  Because my request of early-check in was granted, everything else seemed icing on a cake.  Bernard attended to us professionally with smile and concern with our luggages; he immediately offered to keep them safely behind the concierge as he informed us that our room’s still being prepared. Bernard upgraded our Family Room to a Suite free of charge, which we found the sweetest! And until after we checked out the next morning, he carried our luggage to the taxi cab despite there were other staff that could do that for us.  In case he gets to read this, thank you for everything, Bernard! You made our stay memorable!

Over and beyond the elegant and well-thought-of-interiors, accessibility and outstanding and quality service are what I like the most about hotels of Far East Hospitality.

Just so you know, it was not my first time to check in at one of their hotels in Singapore. Together with my family a few years back, we spent a lovely accomodation in Quincy Hotel (blog post HERE!) and when I came back to Singapore exactly a year after, I enjoyed a 3D2N stay in Oasia Hotel (blog post HERE!).

And so on my 5th visit to the Lion City,

you cannot blame me if I set my expectations high with

The Elizabeth Hotel.

Now, meet my travel buddies.  They’re first-time-tourists in Singapore and it was their very first time to travel abroad together. They’re sisters to each other, with no other siblings in between.
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My travel companions for this Singapore trip : my maternal aunty and my one and only mom. :)

After waiting comfortably for about half an hour in the lobby (while the staff were preparing the room), we were finally led to our suite.

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The name of the suite says it all!  I cannot be grateful enough!

The size of the suite was just fine, never intimidating.
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Its white and a blush of pastel color-interiors was very soothing to vision.

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The complimentary Mini Bar

I immediately checked out the wifi connection with my mobile, then laptop and found out that it’s fast & free!

The Master’s bedroom was simply inviting.
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Handsome lines, classy & minimalist interiors. Wonderful, isn’t it?

The only little thing I didn’t like was the airconditioning that was pre-set to a colder temperature than expected and we couldn’t modify it ourselves.  You know my relatives are in their senior years, so almost everything must be regulated and in moderation.

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The gorgeous bed where restful sleeps and dreams were made!

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Details that deserve a second look. 

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Almost all you need are in the wardrobe!

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A peek at the Living Room and Mini Bar from the Master’s Bedroom…

I’m very particular with hotel toiletries. They must be hypoallergenic and olfactory nerve-friendly.

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Similar to Oasia Hotel Singapore, The Elizabeth Hotel also provides one of my favorite lines of bathroom essentials with citrus-masculine scent, Thann made in Thailand!

The toilet, shower and bath were all built in fine marble, almost spotless with only little hints of age.

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Too bad, I failed to sample the tub! :(

Our accomodation was inclusive of breakfast buffet at Modesto’s, the Italian Restaurant at the lobby of The Elizabeth Hotel.

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Where first meal of the day is served; an all-day-Italian restaurant too!

This is where we had breakfast.

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The view from where we sat. There’s a flowing water on the glass windows by the greens.

I honestly like those large framed paintings; something unusual from buffet spreads, or at least, it lives up to being Italian themed restaurant. However, breakfast menu also includes a few local dishes, some continental ones and staples.

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Can you spot where we dined?

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Like an Art Gallery! A visual & gastronomic treats. Nice!

Here are what my mom and aunty had on their morning plates…

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And mine…

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And man created BACON! I was a happy boy with bacon! Oops, with healthy salad too! hehehe!

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My plate : Fried Noodles, Roti Prata and some Blueberry & Chocolate MUFFINS to die for! Believe me, those bite-sized ones are a big reason for you to dine at Modesto’s!

We didn’t pass the chance to visit the swimming pool area just a few steps from Modesto’s.  For a tropical country such as Singapore, a dip in the pool is always a pleasure.
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But we only settled for photo-ops by the pool side.
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Thank you, The Elizabeth Hotel Singapore! My aunty, my mom and I were all delighted with our stay!

With its walking-distance-location to Orchard Road and its proximity to Mouth Elizabeth Medical Center and Paragon Mall (and other upscale shopping complexes along Orchard Road), excellent hotel service, accomodating and friendly staff, minimalist yet classic interiors and homey ambiance, do you think The Elizabeth Hotel met my great expectations?

It even exceeded.  :)

>><<

Check out this blog’s features and reviews on other hotels by Far East Hospitality :

The Elizabeth Hotel | 24 Mount Elizabeth, S228518 Singapore | For more details and reservation, kindly visit the website of The Elizabeth Hotel by Far East Hospitality : http://www.stayfareast.com.sg/en/hotels/the-elizabeth-hotel.aspx

Thank you to Far East Hospitality & particularly to The Elizabeth Hotel for sponsoring our overnight stay at the suite. We really appreciate it! Special thanks goes out to Ms. Ericia Li, Ms. Christina Tan  & Mr. Mike Cheong for generously responding to my emails and request. 

06
Oct
13

HOW DO YOU SAY GOODBYE TO MALAYSIA?

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Prayer Pavilion, Khoo kongsi, George Town, Penang

After three years, two months and a few more weeks,  how do you say goodbye to the most unforgettable days of your life? How do you say goodbye to the country who welcomed you with open arms, despite you’re initially clueless about her, except for the image of the iconic Petronas Twin Towers? How do you say goodbye to the state who embraced you and gave you so much opportunities to work, travel, eat, learn and experience her culture? How do you say goodbye to the few people who expressed selfless and priceless concern, love and generosity particularly in your lowest moments and trying times?

I don’t know.

As my son’s already in the Philippines now, continuing his studies with his mom, I try my best not to dwell in sadness, while I bid farewell to a lot of things that matter to me, including the three years of my life in Malaysia.  In spite and despite of my family problems that I opted not to disclose publicly (Don’t ask unless you’re one of those pathetic gossipers and hypocrites I know, who thrive in divulging private issues of others, that made them to me, much like receptacles of feces. Rectum personified. Are you?), I chose to celebrate my last days in Penang, the humble state that I considered my second home, by touring my mom (she’s back in Penang!) and her only sister, my aunty who’s currently enjoying her very first vacation abroad.  After all, it’s so much better to be positive and happy on my last weeks in Malaysia, rather than to just abandon everything and everyone who made our stay in Butterworth worthwhile.

After I officially tendered my resignation from work, I’m savoring my last days in Penang at work with my current students during weekdays and revisiting the places I loved with my mom and aunt every weekends.

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Kek Lok Si Temple in Air Itam

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Burmese Buddhist Temple that enshrines The Standing Buddha in Pulau Tikus

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Kek Lok Si Temple in Air Itam

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Thai Buddhist Temple that enshrines The Reclining Buddha in Pulau Tikus

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Kek Lok Si Temple in Air Itam

My Mom and Aunt in Malaysia

We arrived in Kuala Lumpur via LCCT.  And if you’ve been following this blog, you probably remember that my mom has been to Malaysia last year, but as for her one and only sister, who happens to be my godparent as well, we needed to introduce to her the country that has been so good to us by only the best ways we know how.  So first priority after arrival at the terminal : EAT MALAYSIAN FOOD!

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Noodles from Old Town Restaurant in Low Cost Carrier Terminal. Delicious! Sedap! Sarap!

Then came the unexpected travel-blooper of my aunt’s luggage that she only borrowed from one of her daughters. Just before we boarded our KUL-PEN flight, my mom noticed that its stitching collapsed that pushed me to buy packing tape from the airport’s bookstore.  The next photo exhibits the result of our effort to bind her luggage back! Hehehe!

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Boarding time! Picture muna!
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We arrived in Penang on a Saturday late afternoon, almost dead tired of the whole day flight-and-waiting-at-the-airports, so having dinner at the cafe in front of our apartment was really called for! We’re tired but never fatigued to smile! :)
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Sunday morning, my aunt went with me to the pasar (public market) via hopping in the Rapid Penang Bus few minutes after 6AM. If you must know, I am one of those rare breed of family-men who take efforts to go to public market to shop for the week’s food supplies, wash dishes, (I also know how to cook!), do laundry, iron clothes, carry gallons of water from the water dispenser from the mini-mart to the apartment on top of working for a living.  All that I experience in being an Overseas Filipino Worker that gave me deeper meaning to the song’s lyrics, “I did my best, but my best wasn’t good enough!”

From the public market, we bought a few Malay breakfast goodies : some local delicacies and Nasi lemak!
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We wasted no time after breakfast and rode the bus and ferry and trooped to George Town…

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Ferry Ride from Butterworth to George Town

We had lunch at one of my favorites, Restoran Kapitan, Pitt Street, Little India, Lebuh Chulia…

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La Coppera : Chicken Briyani

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Buttered Chicken Masala, Garlic and Cheese Naan, Dahl, Chicken Tikka, and Mango Lassi! Yummy!

Must remember Penang forever with her absolutely amazing street arts!
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Must have photo-ops with Penang’s remarkable symbols and touristy spots. From trishaws, clan houses, temples and mosques, I believed my mom and aunt were happy strolling and touring the heritage trail of George Town.
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Inside Prangin Mall near Komtar Building, we had Ais Kacang!
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Ais Kacang! One of Malaysia’s refreshing desserts!

The next weekend, I brought them to Kek Lok Si Temple.

KEK LOK SI TEMPLE in Air Itam

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We ended the day by having dinner at one of the most affordable eat-all-you-want restaurants in the globe! At only RM 52 (more or less PhP 700) for the total charge for the 3 of us (the two got discounts as senior citizens!), we enjoyed food, food and more food complete with bottomless ice cream and other desserts!


DINNER AT TOWN STEAMBOAT BUFFET RESTAURANT in Macalister Road

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The next day, Sunday – my aunt & mom prepared and cooked lunch. We stayed home the whole Sunday eating & relaxing!

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The following weekend, I brought them to the Burmese & Thai Buddhist Temples in Pulau Tikus, then to Gurney Paragon Mall, G Hotel and Plaza Gurney Mall. Photos need not to be captioned. Their smiles say it all!

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God is so good! When life gives you trials, the Lord makes His presence felt by sending people who care so much about you and in my case, these people aren’t only my immediate relatives but a few Malaysians who really made me experience Divine Intervention in truest sense of the word.

There are no words to sufficiently express my gratitude to those Malaysians who have been so nice to me.  That includes my students! I shall never forget my days conducting lectures, tutorials and laboratory classes in Anatomy and Physiology, Basic Pathology, General Medical Microbiology, Applied Medical Microbiology, Immunology, Basic Molecular and Cellular Biology, Group Project-Case Study, Medical Parasitology, to future doctors of Malaysia!

Special thanks goes out to my students in FMS April 2013 Intake Group D who gave me a ceramic fountain as a gift (not in photo) and to my students in DMS April 2011 Intake who gave me Baju Melayu, the traditional attire of Malaysian men, complete with a very nice hand-woven songket that they bought in Perak as their gift to me.  Thank you very much! With or without gifts, I really appreciate everything!
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Baju Melayu, given as farewell surprise gift from my students of DMS April 2011 Intake. Terima Kasih!

To all Malaysian colleagues, friends, fellow bloggers, students, sponsors,

Thank you very much!

In Shakespeare’s words, “Parting is such a sweet sorrow!” 

There will be no goodbyes, but see you again in the future!

Terima Kasih, Malaysia!

Thank you for both GOOD and BAD TIMES!

I LOVE PENANG!

I LOVE MALAYSIA!

>><<

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

~ Melody Beattie

PS : The remaining weeks prior exiting Malaysia, I still have to attend to generous invites to sponsored accomodation from two premier hotels in Singapore and a luxury 2 bedroom serviced apartment in Kuala Lumpur!  It’s so nice that the good Lord gave me an opportunity to tour my mom and aunt not only in Penang and KL but it will be their first time too in the Lion City soon!  God is so good!
 
05
Oct
13

HAPPY 9TH BIRTHDAY, SON!

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To my ever dearest son,

Today is YOUR DAY!

Happy 9th Birthday, Gabby!

Always remember that Daddy here LOVES you so much!

I miss you so.

You are my life!

My greatest blessing!

——-

This photo serves as my entry to WordPress’ Weekly Photo Challenge : Good Morning

18
Sep
13

MANILA | MY 37TH BIRTHDAY

tokwa, kape, lugaw
puto, dinuguan, chicharon
pancit malabon at pichi-pichi

My parents prepared a simple feast to celebrate my youngest brother’s 28th birthday (who’s presently based in UAE) last September 17th, and my 37th birthday today, September 18th.  I thank the good and forgiving Lord for blessing me with a loving and understanding immediate family.  God knows we’ve been through a lot but at the end of the day, I remain their eldest son and brother, and that relationship rules over our individual flaws.  That alone, is more than enough reason to celebrate life.

PS : I love you, Gabby! Always remember that I love you so much, son!

>><<

17
Sep
13

MANILA | SEPTEMBER 2013

“A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.”
~ George A. Moore

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A fruit stand in Jenny’s Rosario, Pasig City.

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Street scenes I saw when I secured Overseas Employment Certificate/Exit Clearance from POEA in EDSA.

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Chowking, Robinson’s Metroeast. I shared the table with my parents prior watching the movie, OTJ.

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Shots from LRT in Recto, Manila.

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My mom and aunt walking with their long umbrellas. They accompanied me to Quiapo & Divisoria.

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Despite its busy surrounding, Quiapo Church never fails to remind me that God is merciful and forgiving.
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At Php 16 per piece, this lumpia from Globe Lumpia House in Raon, Quiapo, Manila is one of the best I’ve tasted!
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My mom, together with my maternal aunt bought me half a kilo of Excelente ham. Perfect with pandesal!
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Then they brought me to Kim Chong Tin Hopia Factory, the oldest in Manila. Hopia munggo is to die for!

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Escolta, Manila.

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The fountain in front of Sta Cruz Church, Manila.

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At Lucky Chinatown Mall. Also new to me were 999 Mall, Puregold and a few others. Divisoria, we meet again!

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Lunch at 168 Mall foodcourt.

In my darkest moments, I found my way home.

I thank the merciful Lord for few people who have been helping me to move on, despite and in spite of.

I shall return to my present work in Penang, Malaysia soon.

>><<

06
Sep
13

OUR LAST MOMENTS IN NEPAL

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“Journeys are made by the people you travel with.” ~ Malaysia Airlines. Terima Kasih!

August 10, 2013. Saturday. Our fifth and last day in Nepal. My eyes were shut for almost 6 hours of restful sleep, it felt a luxury.  Then, I woke up and I saw my family – Tina & Gabby who were still asleep.  I tried to hyperextend my lower extremities and forced my senses to rise from the bed.  Like a child who wishes to see the sunrise beaming from snow-capped mountains, I gradually moved my feet off the bed  and  walked towards the window. Negative. I never had a glimpse of sunshine but all mist and blue.  

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Namaste. Good morning, from Nagarkot, Nepal!

It was only 5:10AM, no sight of stupendous Nepalese sunrise. No regrets, I told myself.  It’s monsoon season and the Himalayas were thickly covered with fluffy clouds. After I clicked a photo, I went back to bed and tucked myself under the sheets again. That was sweet! I savored that moment for it doesn’t happen on a daily basis particularly on a work week. I didn’t bother to stimulate Tina and Gabby to wake up, but rather I rejoined them in Dreamland.

About two hours after, the three of  us went down for breakfast at Cafe du Mont, the restaurant of Peaceful Cottage in Nagarkot.  After we appreciated our first sip of Nepalese coffee for the day, we decided to transfer our plates and cups to the dining area at the expansive and overwhelming balcony.  We were lured by the last-moment-experience in Nepal.
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Our last breakfast in Nepal was savored at 7000 feet above sea level. :)

It was zero-visibility by the balcony.  We didn’t see even the shadow of the mountains or the sight of lush green fields in Kathmandu Valley.  It was a very cold morning in Nagarkot. The last time I felt fresh cold air that entered my nasal cavities down to my lungs was in Tokyo during the tail end of Winter 2010 and in Auckland, New Zealand in 2005 with Tina and our 4-month-old-Gabby then.  Breathing and feeling cool and fresh mountain air together with my family was nothing but priceless!
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True to the lyrics of the song, “Some Good Things Never Last,” our brief but memorable 5-day-break in this incredibly amazing country was about to end. After breakfast and some last-minute-photos and videos, we went back to our room to freshen up again and off we went to thank and bid goodbye to the friendly staff of Peaceful Cottage & Cafe du Mont.

Although it’s not a sponsored accomodation, I’d like to thank Caron, who replied to all my queries and concern via email when I did the reservation for the said mountain resort hotel.  He also facilitated our transfer from Nagarkot to Tribhuvan International Airport with utmost efficiency.  While Laxma and the rest of the staff of the said hotel displayed modest but warm Nepalese hospitality.

The next thing I recall vividly was Tina’s resounding comment; something like, “Mabuti kasama noong driver iyong anak niyang babae, at least I feel safe.” (Good that the driver brought along his daughter, I feel safe).

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While Tina was preoccupied praying her rosary that was only interrupted by her excitement  a couple of times when she saw (holy) cows on the road, and Gabby was quietly sitting between us, I continued to capture some last scenes on the road en route to the airport.

So here are the photos I took while we were on the zigzag road from 7,000 feet up in Nagarkot down to Kathmandu Valley where the terminal is.  Enjoy!

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Abundance of pine trees, rice paddies, those handsomely sculptured rice terraces and the few Nepalese people walking uphill and downhill were all a sight to behold.
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Off the ravine and the down the mountain, we safely reached the highway to the airport.
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Few minutes after an hour trip, we thanked and said goodbye to our Nepali driver, Krishna.

That’s it.  We’re about to leave Nepal, however, we know we’re bringing not only our passports and luggage back to our present home in Penang, Malaysia but a thousand and one beautiful experiences we gained from Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Patan and Nagarkot and the simple memories with people we met, the Nepalis who smiled and greeted us, Namaste.

No travel guide book or glossy magazine will ever get you close enough to the real learning experience.

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Checking in at Malaysia Airlines counter was a breeze.  The three of us were entitled to free 30 kg-luggage allowance but of course, we didn’t buy huge brass and wooden souvenirs to meet such limit!  And despite we have to transit at Kuala Lumpur Interantional Airport and board another MAS flight to Penang, our 27 kg-luggage plus 3kg-duffle bag were sent directly to our last destination from Kathmandu and we didn’t need to claim and drop them again at the counter.

The semi-OC-in-me rechecked and verified all our documents prior boarding. And with random flick over our passports, I saw again our Visas to Nepal stamped upon arrival.  With Gabby’s FREE Multiple-Entry-Visa valid for 30 days, and Tina’s and mine that were valid for 15 days, I can’t help but take a shot of what I consider one of the best things that a US$ 50 (for Tina & me) could buy!

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As we took turns in going for bladder breaks, my attention was drawn to a group of 15, if not around 20 Nepalese Boy Scouts who also went to queue at MAS counter. They’re going to Kuala Lumpur too, boarding the same flight with us to attend Jamboree in Malaysia.

“Gabby anak,, look at them! They’re like your age and they’ll be traveling without parents but only a couple of guides. Come, let’s talk to them and I’ll take a photo with you.”
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These kids are doing right. They’re blessed to see and experience the world at an early age!

Few minutes prior boarding time. Here we go.

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Widest smile, so infectious! How could you not be so happy?

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Nothing’s more inspiring than to see youth traveling with pride of where they came from.

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A short ride to the plane.

Because Tina was in the ladies’ queue at the Boarding Area, she went to the plane ahead of us.

We love Gabby. He’s too adorable particularly when he flashes his ever-ready-smile to my cam!
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Thank you, Malaysia Airlines! We had a safe flight!

To bid adieu to Nepal was a lot harder than I thought.

The feeling was uniquely different from previous departures I had.

Perhaps, because in five short days, we encountered not only Nepalis but ourselves.

Upon ascent of the aircraft and the last view of Kathmandu from my window, I promised to revisit. We shall return in the future. Who knows? We never expected to experience Nepal too soon but it happened. And apparently, it left us in awe!

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A deep sigh and a smile.

Happier moments followed. What else but meal time at 36,000 feet!

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No leftovers. A proof that Malaysia Airlines’ Chicken Buttered Masala and Curry were a delight even to our kiddo!

Never underestimate an inflight meal experience in Economy section. I redefined bliss perceived immediately after separation anxiety with Nepal with white wine and orange juice to wash down all those savory Malaysian goodies amidst gorgeous sunset views by my window.

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Viewing glorious Malaysian sunset before touchdown in Kuala Lumpur!

No matter how many words I write, regardless of the volume of photos I share, I cannot completely express what my family and I experienced in our journey from Malaysia to Nepal and back.

I could not thank Tina and Gabby enough for joining me in this journey.  The trip was made worthwhile because I traveled to Nepal with my family.

To be continued with a blog post containing BTS-videos taken by my wife in Nepal…

*A life journey of mine, an epiphany of travel for you, made possible by Malaysia Airlines.

This Nepal Blog Series includes :

>><<

31
Aug
13

SLEEPING IN NEPAL’S 7000 FEET

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Tranquility defined at 7,000 feet above sea level in Nagarkot, Nepal.

Known to everyone as the nation where the roof of the world is,  I personally came to Nepal with my family, Tina and Gabby, last August 6 to 10, 2013, with great hope and expectation that we would have a glimpse of the peak of Mt. Everest or at least, any of the snow-capped mountains of the great Himalayan range.  Despite the dates of our visit coincided with the monsoon season in this South Asian country, I kept my hopes high and was not disappointed with what I saw by my window aboard Malaysia Airlines en route to Kathmandu from Kuala Lumpur. I was silently ecstatic to see her peaks. The vision that lasted less than few seconds only further my wish to see more.

Because of the juvenile dream to wake up to a snowy mountain scenery, I made sure to reserve a room, even for a night at one of the mountain resorts in Nagarkot, Nepal.  So when Tina provided me full liberty to do our Nepal itineraries, I booked an affordable suite accomodation in Thorong Peak Guest House in Thamel, Kathmandu for 3 nights, and reserved a room for our last night in Nepal for this trip at Peaceful Cottage & Cafe du Mont, in Nagarkot.


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Felt blessed to dine under those prayer flags tied from our suite’s private balcony in our hotel in Thamel.

August 09, 2013. Friday. Our fourth day in Nepal.  We woke up early for breakfast prior to our 9AM pick up by our prearranged transport from Thamel in Kathmandu to Nagarkot.  It was Sameer, the staff of Thorong Peak Guest House in Kathmandu who efficiently facilitated everything for us.
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Woke up to 3 mornings from this king-sized-bed with Tina & Gabby at Thorong Peak Guest House.
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At the simple lobby of Thorong Peak Guest House, Thamel, Kathmandu.

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That first meal of the day was our last in Thamel . ‘Twas memorable with Buddha, the Enlightened One. :)
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Breakfast of Champions. In other news, that’s the heaviest hotel key chain we ever had!

We headed back to our room at the third floor following breakfast.  After the necessary dental hygiene and last-minute-bladder-breaks, we breezed through our final packing of luggage and backpacks.  Two friendly hotel staffs came and brought down our stuffs to the lobby.

As I already prepaid everything, I thought we would just wait for our taxi cab driver at the lobby to pick us up. Surprisingly,  Sameer had something else in mind.  The three of us were very pleased and honored to receive katha, or Tibetan Buddhist scarves that are traditionally given to religious statues of Buddha, to lamas and people who will go on a journey.

With my half-awake-half-sleepy-state, I was extremely delighted to receive a katha and immediately asked Tina to take photos of us.  Those white scarves that Sameer gave us, have auspicious prints in white silk, that according to what I read, symbolize the very best intentions of happiness and good fortune of the giver. What a very nice display of Tibetan/Nepalese tradition!

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With my sleepy eyes and Gabby’s charming smile, we received Katha, Tibetan/Nepalese traditional scarves.

Few minutes after 9AM, Tina, Gabby and I were on the dusty  roads again aboard the taxi cab.  It took us more than an hour to view a complete change of scenery from a relatively urban Kathmandu, to almost-everything-green Nagarkot!
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Field of greens!

One of the highlights of our trip was going through tapered and dusty roads en route to the heart of Nagarkot Hill Station.  Despite the enticing views of rice paddies, rice terraces and rolling hills abundant with pine trees, I heard Tina asking me something like,  “Why are we going here? Why do we need to go through zigzag roads?”  I’m just thankful that she didn’t have an episode of vertigo (severe dizziness), otherwise, I’m dead! *kidding!*
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Top-loading, Nepalese style!

Looking back, I remember my lovely wife kept her silence in prayers while we were traversing the crazy narrow and zigzag roads in Nagarkot.  I think she brought out her rosary from her bag and held Gabby’s hand tightly, while I was carefree and on the look out to capture some scenery on my cam.

If you’ve been to, or at least familiar with Baguio and Antipolo Cities in my country, The Philippines, then you could easily imagine those sharp turns  and crooked and narrow roads in Nagarkot, that in my approximation, appeared like less than 2 meters wide, with dangerous ravine on its side.

After an hour and a half of a prayerful trip to the hills of Nagarkot, we arrived safely at our chosen hotel.

NAMASTE 

from

PEACEFUL COTTAGE & CAFE DU MONT,

NAGARKOT, NEPAL

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First order of priority for Tina and I at 2,000 meters above sea level :  A dose of hot caffeine!

With fresh mountain air, expansive and impressive balcony, a rooftop with a commanding 360-degree-vista of the mountains and the valley, more importantly, warm hospitality and friendly service, Peaceful Cottage & Cafe du Mont is a decent and affordable mountain resort perched at 7000 feet up in the Himalayas.

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Tina capturing the scenery with her smartphone  while Gabby enjoys the expansive balcony.
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Hello, clouds! Himalayas, where art thou?

We didn’t go immediately to our room but opted to take lunch first.  While the dishes we ordered were being prepared, the three of us began exploring what this hotel is all about.

Behold, the priceless view that made Tina, Gabby and I uttered, oohs, aaaahhhs, wow!

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Gabby in pink shirt relaxes at the impressive balcony.

While Tina was left inside the restaurant, Gabby and I went up to the rooftop.
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Solar Water Heater. Security in shower at 7,000 feet!

C’mmon, sue me for allowing Gabby to go up that steep steel ladder alone.  While I’m proud that our little-big-boy made his way to the rooftop by himself, I was admittedly worried too, seeing his face with fear and anxiety.  But then again, it was a pure and simple accomplishment for him to try and do things on his own.  The father in me believes that although it was certainly not Mt. Everest and only the rooftop of the hotel, Gabby did conquer something big!
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Spot our boy trying to stay calm en route to the roof top.
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Don’t be afraid. You can do it, Gabby!

Et voila! Success! :)

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Bliss in conquering fear and anxiety.

The uninterrupted 360-degree-view from the rooftop. Breathtaking! Stunning, isn’t it?

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Who would’ve thought that my family and I will see God’s creations in Nepal?  Who would’ve thought that we would experience such splendid sights?
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It’s like documenting every Gabby’s step. ;)

After our eyes feasted on Nagarkot’s visual treat, we satisfied our palates with our choices from Cafe du Mont’s menu.

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Carbo-loading in Nagarkot : Pizza, Mixed Fried Rice, Chapatti and Nepalese platter of dahl and curry.  Yum!
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Dessert we shared : Warm & creamy Custard Pudding with Mushroom. Something new to our taste buds.

Just before going to our room, I asked Laxma, the main man managing the reception and restaurant, if they get fully booked despite the monsoon season.  I was glad to know that all the 15 rooms were all occupied that day. A strong proof that we made a good choice in opting to stay there overnight. It was also the hotel recommended by Ace-Filipino-Travel-Blogger, Gay of PinayTravelJunkie.com who also went to Nepal with her family ahead of us.
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That door on the upper right of the photo, just below the roof top was our room for the night.

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Apparently, it’s not your usual hotel room. Octagon in shape, super spacious that could fit 30 people or perhaps more, windows all over offering 360-degree-view of the mountains and the birds that fly over it.  The room was OK particularly for its price of less than RM100 for a night (less than PhP 1300)  however, I told Laxma the next morning that I didn’t like the old rags and carpets and the dusty table runner under those screaming-for-cleaning wood carvings. He took my comment well and mentally noted everything. He handed a hotel evaluation form to us prior check out the next day.  With its affordable rate, plus free wifi, I felt it’s too much to complain. Their very friendly and warm service amidst the thin, cold Nagarkot air covered up for everything.

It’s only in this hotel room that we did bird-watching by the windows.

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Hawks or eagles?

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Hey, birdie!

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This one looks supreme.

Laxma suggested we could go trekking for 3 hours down to what they call the View Tower and visit nearby villages. We decided to simply stay in the hotel and restaurant the entire day to relax and unwind and absorb everything in.

Tina and I had another cups of coffee and hot chocolate again for Gabby in the afternoon,  then we shared our early dinner together.
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Laxma confirmed what I read online and saw on photos, that it’s during the month of October and onwards, that the clouds clear up and the Himalayan ranges show her magnificence. The view from Peaceful Cottage & Cafe du Mont’s balcony could be as spectacular as what’s in their website gallery (see photos below).
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Photo sourced from www.peaceful-cottage.com

The glorious Himalayan ranges made a disappearing act behind those clouds and made our visit to Nagarkot seemed incomplete. But I reckon the fact that I was there with Tina and Gabby and to experience everything with them on this brief but sweet journey, makes me believe I never failed in seeing the Himalayas but I won so many memories to cherish!

“A lot of us first aspired to far-ranging travel and exotic adventure early in our teens; these ambitions are, in fact, adolescent in nature, which I find an inspiring idea. Adolescence is the time in our lives when we are the most open to new ideas, the most idealistic. Thus, when we allow ourselves to imagine as we once did, we are not at all in our right minds. We are somewhere in a world of dream, and we know, with a sudden jarring clarity, that if we don’t go right now, we’re never going to do it. And we’ll be haunted by our unrealized dreams and know that we have sinned against ourselves gravely.” 

~ Tim Cahill

To be continued.

*A life journey of mine, an epiphany of travel for you, made possible by Malaysia Airlines.

This Nepal Blog Series includes :

>><<

24
Aug
13

BENEATH BUDDHA’S WATCHFUL EYES

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Kathmandu Valley viewed from Swayambhunath, one of Nepal’s most sacred Buddhist shrines.

Spirituality defines the Nepalis. Regardless of faith, we observed they have inspiring respect for others.  During our 5-day-visit to their country, my family and I were drawn to a harmonious blend of Tibetan Buddhism and Indian Hinduism.  We’re in awe of how Buddhists and Hindus in Nepal continuously make religion their way of life.  Our brief but meaningful experiences with them made our journey the most memorable one to date.

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Buddha’s eyes looking at four cardinal directions, a reminder to everyone that God is watching us, and that nose-like squiggle is the Nepalese number ek, or one signifying unity.

August 08, 2013. Thursday. Our third day in Nepal.  As soon as we exited Patan Durbar Square, the main plaza within Nepal’s City of Fine Arts, a curly-haired-taxi cab driver approached me and asked where we’re heading next.  I told him I plan to bring my family to Boudhanath and back to our hotel in Thamel.  At that moment, I disregarded my other plans of going to Swayambhunath and Pashupatinath, depite all are inscripted as UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites in Kathmandu Valley.

The soft-spoken taxi cab driver, whose name we learned later as Buddha Lama (sounds so religious to be true!), said he charges 600 Nepalese Rupees from Patan to Boudhanath (or Boudha).  Reluctantly, I told him I only paid 400 Rupees from Thamel to Patan that morning but he explained without a hint of arrogance that the route going to Boudha is different and quite far from Patan. Logical to me, I agreed.

Inside his Suzuki hatchback taxi cab, he asked again our itineraries for the remaining hours of the day.  I repeated, we’d like to see Boudhanath only and will return to Thamel for dinner and retire to our hotel.

“Aren’t you going to Monkey Temple after Boudha?”  he inquired.

“Swayambunath? No more. We just want Boudhanath.”  I replied.

“What about Pashupatinath?”  he asked again.

“There are cremations there daily, right?  No, thanks.” 

In my mind, I didn’t want Tina, particularly Gabby, to inhale air infused with smoke from cremations done in public at Pashupatinath. That decision made us miss to visit the holiest Hindu shrine in Nepal and see sadhus, or wandering Hindu holy men, often with painted faces and dreadlocks.

Then Mr. Buddha made a clever suggestion. “What if I take you to Boudha, then to Swayambhu, and back to Thamel before evening so you will not have a problem taking another taxi after?”

“For how much?”

“1,300 Rupees.”

“Will you wait for us? What about your lunch? Have you taken your lunch?”

“Yes, I will wait for you. You may take 1-2 hours in Boudha, then I will wait near the gate while I eat my lunch.  I’ll take you to Monkey Temple and to Thamel after.”

“Deal!”

As I sealed the deal, we arrived at Boudha.  We paid NPR 150 each for admission tickets; Gabby’s entrance was waived as usual.

BOUDHANATH STUPA :  A World Heritage Site in Kathmandu Valley

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Prayers ascending the Boudhanath Stupa. Heavenwards!

One of the largest and regarded as most significant place of pilgrimage for the Buddhists, Boudhanath’s a sacred place of worship where traders, travelers and pilgrims sought  blessing at the stupa as they pass Kathmandu Valley.  We’re definitely not Buddhists, but my family and I were honored to set foot on this holy ground.  Such a humbling experience!
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“The Bodhnath Stupa. Highly symbolic serving as three-dimensional reminder of the Buddha’s path towards enlightenment. The plinth represents earth, the kumbha (dome) is water, the harmika (square tower) is fire, the spire represent the stages that a human being must pass through to achieve nirvana.” ~Sourced from Lonely Planet Nepal, 2012 edition, page 120. 

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More than reaching a destination, we had an unforgettable journey! We’re eternally grateful!

Pilgrims from Tibet, mostly monks in maroon robes observe ritualistic circumnavigation clockwise around the dome called, Kora. Done during dawn and dusk, Buddhist faithfuls walk clockwise around the stupa while rotating the prayer wheels and uttering the Tibetan Buddhist mantra,

Om Mani Padme Hum,

the words written in Sanskrit on those prayer wheels that mean,

Praise to the Jewel in the lotus”

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Skies weren’t glorious blue and some clouds were grey.  Such absolute signs of impending downpour during monsoon season that coincided with our visit.  Nonetheless, we had a chance to walk clockwise, a quarter throughout the stupa before the heavens drizzled.  Gabby also had another opportunity to chase some pigeons; a habit he did to all three World Heritage Sites we visited in Nepal.
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Then the holy ground was soaked in rain.

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We found refuge under the highest floor of a rooftop restaurant called, Cafe Himalayan.  We needed to order and eat something, not only because we were waiting for the mild downpour to cease but we needed wifi access.

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All-Cheese-Pizza, Mixed Fried Rice and Hot Banana (or what we call back home as, Banana Cue).
We took some photos of the majestic Boudhanath stupa from the rooftop restaurant, bought few pieces of postcards at 10 Nepalese Rupees each from a souvenir shop, then strolled clockwise around the stupa after the rain stopped.  We left Boudha at past 4PM, I think.
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The colorful gates of Boudhanath led to a vivid experience to the three of us.

Before we crossed the road and exited the gates of Boudhanath, we already saw our trusty Nepali taxi driver, whose name was amazingly followed after the enlightened one. Mr. Buddha took us to Monkey Temple or Swayambhunath; called us such because of proliferation of monkeys around the lofty hilltop.

SWAYAMBHUNATH STUPA :  Another World Heritage Site in Kathmandu Valley

As I read in the Lonely Planet travel guide book, there are two entry points to Swayambhu. One via 365  steps and another via vehicular zigzag ascent around the hill, leaving only fewer steps to climb. Of course, I obviously chose the one that required less efforts. With limited time and fatigue from our whole day’s D-I-Y-tour, I didn’t want my family and me to go breathless and diaphoretic.

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The long stairway of 365 steps to Swayambunath stupa that we skipped via taxi ride all the way up.

Immediately after Mr. Buddha dropped us off near the ticket booth at the other admission point, we purchased tickets at NPR 200 each, while Gabby enjoyed free entrance again.
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The sight after the ticket booth at the entry of Swayambunath for those who opted not to climb the  365 steps.

As I was almost-enchanted with the stunning view of Kathmandu Valley framed handsomely by the twigs and leaves, Tina and Gabby were busy admiring other God’s creations (hahaha!).
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Stunning!  Something we don’t see on a daily basis. :)

So what preoccupied Tina and Gabby for several minutes prior ascending the Swayambhunath stupa?
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Gabby perched  upon a bench, busy looking at what fascinated him and his mom.

These.

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Monkey temple, as mentioned isn’t called as such without those tailed primates. Like those macaques in the huge Hindu temple, Batu Caves in Selangor, Malaysia that we once visited too, these in Swayambhu are also capable of snatching whatever things they fancy.  From ice cream on sticks to chips to whatnot, we saw how few little kids were robbed instantly by those naughty monkeys.

On our way up to the stupa, we saw fascinating souvenir shops.

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To regret is futile but I am truly sorry for not buying, or at least asking the price of those fish padlocks.

Forgive the tourists in us, as prior giving reverence to the Swayambhunath stupa, we prioritized taking tons of once-in-a-lifetime-photos with the the visually pleasing backdrops.
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Finally, we had our moment circumnavigating the Swayambhunath stupa. It might be irrelevant to some as we’re non-Buddhists but like what we felt in Boudhanath, the experience was very spiritual.
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Those Buddha’s eyes gaze over Kathmandu Valley and beyond…

The breathtaking views of Kathmandu Valley from Swayambunath Stupa…

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Every corner and every spot, picturesque!  A ton of photo opportunities!

Om Mani Padme Hum ,

the words written in Sanskrit on those prayer wheels mean,

Praise to the Jewel in the lotus”

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More souvenirs…
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We cannot buy and bring home all those lovely souvenirs so a photo’s always the next best thing.
Looking back, it’s not only the fish padlocks that I regret not buying but at least a Buddhist brass singing bowl that produces healing sound used in meditation, and a roll of prayer flags.  Perhaps, we have reasons to revisit Nepal in the future. Who knows?

We spent several minutes admiring the view of Kathmandu Valley at the deck surrounding the stupa.  We returned back to the taxi cab of Mr. Buddha with happier moods despite the long day.
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Someone was envious of the little man’s Nepalese ice cream! :)

Not long after, we found ourselves back in Thamel, Kathmandu. We didn’t miss the chance to thank Mr. Buddha Lama for driving for us safely that afternoon. He truly displayed a friendly Nepalese hospitality.

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Meet Mr. Buddha Lama, our very nice Nepalese taxi driver.

Before we found a place for dinner, Tina spotted a man who stood out from the touristy crowd in Thamel.  He physically appeared to me as a sadhu, a wandering Hindu holy man, as mentioned earlier, but I was honestly skeptic if he truly was. I read there are a lot of fake sadhus around Kathmandu, nevertheless, I didn’t pass up a photo-op with the guy and offered 300 Rupees to him after.
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It was an honor standing beside someone whose life I cannot live. And you?

Back in the laterals of Thamel to hunt for dinner…

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Rickshaws in Nepal look like a mutant child of Manila’s kalesa and George Town’s trishaws.

I suggested to Tina we have to try the restaurant we saw the other night, tucked in Mandala Street. We’re glad we dined at Cafe New Orleans. Service was quick and friendly. Ambiance was Nepalese chic. Choices from the menu were a wide variety from local to international cuisine. Food was heavenly! And prices? Affordable than you can imagine! I wish most restaurants in Penang and Manila would be like Cafe New Orleans. The money we paid for our dinner and the entire experience were all worth it!

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Deciding on what to feast for our last dinner in Kathmandu was the toughest part.

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I had a mango iced blended drink, Tina had a fusion of tropical fruits while Gabby was predicatable with his chocolate choice of drinks. Everything was refreshingly good!

I’m proud of Gabby and his preference of food!
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Gabby’s choice :  Tender and chunky beef steak.  The boy only finished a slice as Daddy came to rescue. :)

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Tina opted to eat  Spicy Mongolian Beef and Noodles. It was too spicy for me but really good too!

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Meet my dinner plate.  One of the tastiest pork steaks I ever had!

From walking to Patan Durbar Square to circumnavigating Boudhanath and Swayambhunath that day, the experience was truly overwhelming!  And our dinner at New Orleans was a perfect ending!

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All tired but happy!

On our first 3 days of stay in Kathmandu, my family and I witnessed the unparalleled devotion of Nepalese people to their gods and their selfless dedication of their creativity and tradition to their faith.  Everything was an eye-opener, not only for Tina and me, but more so for Gabby. At such a young age, we’re very grateful that he has been exposed to a volume of diversities which he will certainly not learn in any books he reads in school.

To be continued.

*A life journey of mine, an epiphany of travel for you, made possible by Malaysia Airlines.

This Nepal Blog Series includes :

>><<

19
Aug
13

PATAN : THE CITY OF FINE ARTS IN NEPAL

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Chyasim Deval Krishna Hindu Temple, Patan Durbar Square, Nepal.

Comparable to those in Kathmandu and Bhaktapur, Patan Durbar Square is poetic, almost lyrical.  Its unique medieval charm emanating from ornately carved and beautifully built 16th and 17th century-old temples, impressive palace, museum with lovely and expansive courtyards, could seduce any first-time-visitor effortlessly. Most picturesque corners offer an alluring venue where one can sit all day, while away the time and never get bored or hungry (the last word is a joke, obviously!). :D The exquisite beauty of Patan Durbar Square and its quaint community complements the friendly smiles of its people.

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Gabby with a friendly Nepalese woman who sells bird feeds for 20 rupees (US$ 0.20 or PhP 9) per plate.

August 08, 2013. Thursday. Our third day in Nepal.  With my wife, Tina and our 8-year-old son, Gabby in tow, I left our accomodation in Thamel, Kathmandu at around 9AM. Despite the monsoon season in Nepal would last for 30-45 days more, as per word of one of the staff of Thorong Peak Guest House, the weather was glorious as the sun was up on the day we left for Patan.

“Namaste. Good morning! How much would you charge going to Patan?”  I asked the taxi driver standing in the tapered alley, a few steps from the hotel.

“Four hundred Nepalese Rupees, Sir.”  he replied.  With my poor Mathematics ability, I did mental computation and agreed without hesitation.  I silently reminded myself to be sensitive and considerate, so I didn’t bother to haggle, with the thought that I might deprive the man of his day’s earnings.  Four Hundred Nepalese Rupees at present, is only US$ 4; reasonable, I think for a 7km ride to south of Thamel.

After 2 days in Nepal, the three of us became used to riding small Suzuki hatchback taxi cabs, rolling along narrow muddy, if not dusty alleys and bumpy terracotta brick roads. Minibuses, as mentioned in the previous posts, may be a cheaper option to some but we regarded a little more convenience and comfort.

The taxi driver dropped us off right in front of the ticket booth. Initially, I was relieved, thinking that similar to Kathmandu and Bhaktapur, what comes after the ticket booth is the entrance to the square itself.  I forgot that Patan is another world within the Kathmandu Valley.

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Admission tickets and tourists’ IDs  for Tina & me; Gabby’s free as usual.

Tina asked me if I know the way to Patan Durbar Square, I responded by inquiring directions from a local man who just finished paying respect to his god by the Buddhist temple along the road.

“You walk straight and then turn right at the end.”  said the Nepali.

I missed reading the fact that there are 2 ticket booths and entry sites to Patan Durbar Square. We were brought by the taxi driver from Thamel to the ticket booth located south of the main plaza, thus it required us to walk around several meters to reach Patan Durbar Square.

I thought of Tina and Gabby, of course. More than my worry that they might complain, I became a bit paranoid that they may experience fatigue and hypoglycemia after walking long with empty stomachs. Thankfully, nothing eventful happened. The three of us didn’t feel exhausted from the seemingly endless constricted streets and no one complained.  As always, they’re my most understanding travel mates! :)

Vividly painted doors in blue and green hues, intricate carvings, gorgeous wooden windows, peddlers, vendors, pedestrians, Thangka painting school and shops, vehicles that tried to squeeze itself within the thin to thinner roads, all those became our morning sensory stimuli. Walking towards Patan Durbar Square was a blessing in disguise!

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We don’t see this everyday. Thangka paintings seen on display in shops;  geriatric peddlers still busy earning a living.

What seemed to be a common weekday in Patan for the many, became an extraordinary and memorable day for Tina, Gabby and me.  I personally felt stepping into another old world again.

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These streets are made for walking.

The moment we set foot in Patan Durbar Square, we were drawn in by another diversity of culture that allowed Buddhism and Hinduism to flourish harmoniously.
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Gladly, Tina and Gabby trusted my choices of itineraries so I NEVER heard any of them saying, “What?!  Another durbar square?!”

I smiled seeing the two wonder in awe with the sight before us. Tina began taking her photos and videos via her smartphone while I saw Gabby standing in one corner, visually inspecting the place.

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Manga Hiti. The water tank that made Tina and I curious about.

The next thing I saw was the scene involving Tina asking a few Nepalese about the the sunken cruciform-shaped water tank.

I was  surprised when she suggested that we should go down.  I refused. She saw people drinking the water too. With due respect to the faithfuls and their belief, I didn’t want to entertain the thoughts in my mind and be haunted by the colony counts of microorganisms and vectors that were possibly proliferating in Manga Hiti.  Although the three amazingly carved dhara or water spouts in the form of makara or mythical crocodile-elephants were truly inviting.

We saw Patan Durbar Square as busy as Kathmandu Durbar Square.  It was flocked not only by its resident pigeons but local people and tourists of all ages as well.  Vendors selling bird feeds, old Nepali men watching the world and time go by,  young cyclists roaming to and fro, students enjoying their break time from school, who made me think if they have idea, or at least a hint, that they’re very fortunate and blessed that their playground is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Patan was so busy but rich and colorful and a true sight to behold!

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Engaging  sights. Fascinating place. Interesting people.

Namaste. Welcome to Patan Durbar Square!

It’s never too much to see another UNESCO World Heritage Site in Kathmandu Valley!

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King Yoganarendra Malla’s statue in brass atop a tall concrete column, installed around 1700.  King Malla is depicted with his queens, and a cobra with a small brass bird. According to the legend, as long as that tiny bird remains in place, the king may still return to the palace.

Behold, the Krishna Mandir Hindu Temple in Patan Durbar Square.  According to the Lonely Planet Guide to Nepal that I read, this three-tiered temple was built by King Siddhinarsingh Malla in 1637.  The man-bird, Garuda, the god’s vehicle is seen kneeling with hands on prayerful position on top of a column erected in front of the temple. Non-Hindus are not allowed to set foot inside to view the image of Vishnu as Krishna, the god’s incarnation. Nonetheless, admiring its architectural magnificence puts anyone to a breathtaking once-in-a-lifetime-moment!

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Krishna Mandir Hindu Temple. One of my favorite corners in Patan Durbar Square.

A world away from theme parks, carnivals and fastfood joints and just like what he did on our first day in Nepal, our little boy wonder found delight once more in chasing and running after pigeons.  This time, he asked Tina and I if he could buy bird feeds, we replied positively.

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One of the few women at the square who sells bird feeds.

It was a parent’s joy to see his child savoring  a moment!
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Gabby’s framed by the flock as he tried to chase and tease them. I love this photo!

Didn’t I mention, we went to Patan without having breakfast? We walked our way to the nearby Cafe du Temple and had our light brunch.

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My favorite travel buddies, who else but my family – Tina & Gabby at the rooftop of Cafe du Temple, Patan. :)

One remarkable thing that I read before coming to Nepal was eating in rooftop restaurants is a must-experience!  We religiously obliged. My family and I ate our first meal in Nepal at Cosmo de Cafe in Kathmandu Durbar Square, and in Patan, we hit the stairs up to the rooftop of Cafe du Temple.

The reason is obvious and self-explanatory.

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Patan Durbar Square as viewed from the rooftop restaurant, Cafe du Temple.  Breathtaking, isn’t it?

However, most tables, seats and the floor itself, despite under huge umbrellas, were wet because of the drizzle, so we just took a few pictures and went down to the roofed dining area of Cafe du Temple. Here we met another Filipino. Not a person, by the way, but San Miguel Beer, one of Philippines’ famous exports (perhaps, next to Manny Pacquiao? *kidding*).  I only took a blurry photo of that SMB bottle using my phone so I didn’t bother to post. Besides, we didn’t ordered it, enough for us to smile that it stands side by side with Everest beer bottles inside the fridge of that eatery.

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Funny how Gabby’s used already to taking photos first prior devouring any meal.

After a quick bites by the window, we went back to the square. We attempted to go inside Patan Museum but immediately found simple contentment in just taking photos a few steps after its facade.

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All smiles in Patan!  :)

Instead of going through artifacts par excellance all housed in Patan Museum, we chose to be with the people outside the museum. There were a volume of old Nepali men, proudly wearing their Nepalese traditional hat called, Dhaka topi while watching a random show of live singing and local music in the middle of the durbar square fronting the Royal Palace. Women talking with fellow women. Mothers carrying children close to their bosoms.  More peddlers walked by with muddy feet, trying their best to earn a living.
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All those grandiose Newari cultural and religious heritage, those friendly Nepalese smiles, those simple meals and drinks we savored, that life in Patan that we witnessed will all linger in our memories forever.  I only spent less than 6 hours in Patan, but spending it with my family made it worthwhile.  

“Journeys are gifts we give ourselves. Even if you are very lucky and have someone else footing the bill for your journey, you are still giving yourself a gift just by going. Too many people have opportunities to travel, but choose to stay home, fearful of the unknown, shackled by their everyday rut, tied down to commitments that don’t have to tie them down if they would seek creative solutions.

We can’t always travel right away, but we can always be planning, scheming, chiseling away at the things that keep us home so that someday in the hopefully not too distant future, we can go explore places we dream of visiting.”  

~ Dave Fox

To be continued.

*A life journey of mine, an epiphany of travel for you, made possible by Malaysia Airlines.

This Nepal Blog Series includes :

>><<

14
Aug
13

INCREDIBLY BEAUTIFUL BHAKTAPUR

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“Man never made any material as resilient as the human spirit.”   ~ Bern Williams

August 07, 2013. Wednesday. Our second day in Nepal.  Despite half lethargic, I fought a good battle with the alarm in my phone that morning. I had to hear it snooze thrice before my senses finally came into full conscious state.  It’s 7AM on the phone but a quick glance on my wristwatch on the desk showed it’s 9:15AM already.  The discrepancy was obviously due to the fact that the time in Malaysia, where my family and I are currently based, is 2 hours and 15 minutes ahead of Nepal.  I took the effort of interrupting my family’s restful sleep.  Not long after, Tina, Gabby and I rose from the king-sized-bed of our cheap but spacious suite and made ourselves ready for a day’s visit to the City of Devotees or what the Newars called, Khwopa or Bahdgaon. We planned a Do-It-Yourself-day trip to Bhaktapur!

We could’ve taken a minibus from our accomodation in Kathmandu to Bhaktapur at around 20 rupees per pax for 40-minute-ride but we prioritized speed and convenience this time.  Not that we’re in a hurry to get to our destination but we wanted a more comfortable trip.  With dusty and bumpy road, inside a minute taxi cab without airconditioning unit, I never meant luxurious but just comfortable than taking a minibus.

A few meters outside Thorong Peak Guest House, Suzuki hatchbak taxi cabs were parked at the narrow and busy alley of Thamel. Drivers were actively waiting for passengers like eagles in hunt for prey.  I walked towards one of them and asked him how much rate would he charge for him to take us to Bhaktapur.  “One Thousand Rupees.”  the driver replied in a blink. I never tried to haggle as the cost was exactly half than I expected and it’s quite a steal for a 12-kilometer-ride from Kathmandu.  I looked at Tina and Gabby and we all hopped in. Bhaktapur, here we come! :)
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Thickly populated streets of Thamel, the touristy area in Kathmandu, Nepal.

After almost an hour bumpy taxi ride along those muddy and narrow brick alleys and dusty public roads, with all windows up and no airconditioning, we safely arrived in Bhaktapur; just in front of the ticket booth to Bhaktapur Durbar Square.  Similar to Kathmandu Durbar Square, there was a volume of local touts waiting at the gates, who offered us a guided tour inside for US $5 per hour, complete with flawless English annotation. With mutual courtesy, we declined, smiled and walked our way the entrance of the plaza.

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At 8 years old, Gabby’s  admission fees to all places we’ve been to in Nepal were waived, even his Tourist Visa

One of the many things my family and I admire about Bhaktapur was it’s a less crowded place. We saw less tourists compared to the volume who flocked to Kathmandu Durbar Square the day before.  Perhaps because of its distance from Kathmandu. Or probably because it’s still monsoon season in South Asia until mid-September and by October onwards, the many tourists who long to experience Nepal will begin to flock like migratory birds.

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Namaste. It means I salute the god in you.

Good morning, Bhaktapur!  It’s our pleasure to be here!

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Sleepy Bhaktapur at mid-morning. 

It was already half hour past 9 in the morning and notably, tourists were out of sight yet. Good!  We owned Bhaktapur Durbar Square for a moment!  We started taking touristy shots.

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Behind those all-choreographed-photos were more natural and candid moments…

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Tina : “Picture! …One, two…”
Me : (Ready!)
Gabby : “Hay naku, whatevs!”

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Tina : “Picture! …One, two…”
Me : “Wait, I’ll check for wifi signal; I have to Instagram this!”
Gabby : *walk-out*

Of course, those captions were just for laughs! :) For the record, Gabby’s not grumpy the whole time in Nepal, and those facial reactions were unintentional and were just caught on cam by her mom while she’s taking test-shots.

Going back to Bhaktapur Durbar Square, the plaza gradually became alive before our eyes!

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Each day is a journey.  Local people walk by the square en route to their destinations. 

Then we found love in Bhaktapur.

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A lady puts red tika to her man as a blessing in front of the Hindu deity, Hanuman. 

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Lovely atmosphere, is it not?

Bhaktapur is utterly picturesque! Everything built during the Malla Kingdom around 16th and 17th centuries and beyond, with their ancient Newari architectures that combined intricate woodcarvings in the pillars and windows of temples and palace to the various exquisite stone and metal sculptures of deities and guardians in a plaza so historic that anyone could imagine, looks nothing short of magnificent! Bhaktapur is a spectacular visual feast!

Indubitably, my amateurish photos don’t do it justice.

While we were in awe at the beauty and serenity of our surrounding, I kept telling my family that we’re neither lucky nor fortunate but very blessed to be given an opportunity to experience what seemingly like another world’s grandeur. At that point, my silent wish and prayers went out to heaven for more people to be inspired to travel and travel with their love ones and create a journey of their own. Experiences are always priceless!
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Of course, we didn’t let the opportunity pass us by.  So with our love for each other and our love for photographing each other (uhmm, doesn’t that sound like narcissim? Not! …But a celebration of this trip to Nepal and posing for posterity!), we took a ton of photos at Bhaktapur Durbar Square.  Fine! Only a few, in our standards at least, as our stomachs were already growling for a much-needed breakfast.

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We savored breakfast within the Bhaktapur Durbar Square, just in front of a Hindu temple with Kama Sutra carvings. Yes, you read it right. The insanely artistic carvings in wooden struts, supporting the temple’s roofs and ceilings, of mostly missionary positions and menage a trois of humans and yes, with animals, were stratigically installed for protection against the virgin God of Thunder. Need I say more?

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Colorful souvenirs being sold near the facade of Shiva’s Cafe Corner.

Breakfast was at Shiva’s Cafe Corner (Authentic Kitchen). We wanted to taste more authentic Nepalese dishes so we ordered their breakfast specialties – Dragon’s meat and dinosaur’s eggs. Of course, the last part was a big joke! We had these plates of continental breakfast plus hot coffee with milk and chocolate for Gabby. Everyning’s fine except for the bacon strips. It has a little taste that our tastebuds disagreed. It must be buffalo’s; we regret that we didn’t ask.

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Look what technology gave us!  We’re together but less time spent with each other. Oh, well. Thanks to travel! :)

After breakfast, we met an old Newar woman who barely speaks English. Her being handicapped to communicate verbally with us was nothing compared to her Swan Neck Deformity and Ulnar Deviation on her hands.  In simple English, she’s suffering from the signs of Rheumatoid Arthritis. She tried to communicate softly in Nepalese but we’re mutually lost in translation.  What Tina and I understood was her gestures when she showed her hand deformities.  Ugh, the downside of aging!

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On a lighter note, youngsters were spending their break time from a nearby Secondary School within the square and we came across a few of them.  Tina asked their names and tried to jot it down on her smartphone.  She never expected that these teenagers would be delighted.

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Class Picture. Guess who learned new lessons?  (From left to right) Meet Rukedesh, Umesh , of course Gabby and Danr.

Meet Kareeshma, the 14-year-old local resident of Bhaktapur who posseses one of the most gorgeous faces in Nepal that we’ve seen (Read: Ordinary Nepalese men and women, from being security guards at the airport to souvenir shop vendor in the streets can give any good looking celebrity a run for their money). We’re not sure if Kareeshma’s aware of her potentials to become a movie star or at least, an amazing model in prints and whatnot.  Honestly, she never asked a cent from Tina and me after we took multiple photos of her. She was content by mere looking at her pictures.

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After our brief interaction with Kareeshma, Gabby became successful in asking me and his mom to take his jump shots at one of our favorites spots in Bhaktapur, a countless times.  He reached a point of almost exhaustion in joy, so he finally stopped and he requested if we could go inside the Art Museum. We did and paid a very minimal admission and camera fees, but frankly I didn’t enjoy it. Not because the century-old pieces of stones with Newari inscriptions, Thangka paintings and Hindu god images aren’t interesting but in my own opinion, everything outside that building is literally an open museum to behold!

Then we strolled our way to Nyatapola Temple.  We passed by stunning terracotta road and alleys lined by souvenir shops that were equally enticing.

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Lateral of Bhaktapur, en route to Nyatapola Temple.  Happy to be here!  :)

We never walk this beautiful alley everyday. Never.

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Erected in 1702 during the reign of King Bhupatindra Malla, the 5-tiered tallest temple in Kathmandu Valley, Nytapola Temple still stands with all its might at 30 meters above Taumadhi Tole.  From Rajput wrestlers Jayamel and Phattu, elephants, lions, beaked griffons with horns of a ram and two goddesses, the stairway to reach the Nyatapola Temple is lined by these guardians in stone figures.  Within the Taumadhi Tole are souvenir shops that sell exotic items from Hinduism and Buddhism that best complement the temple.  This area in Bhaktapur is something that will linger in our memories forever.

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The drizzle came too perfect for us to seek refuge at Cafe Nyatapola in time for lunch. We had Mixed Chow Mein, Macaroni and Cheese for Gabby and Clubhouse Sandwich that had buffalo instead of chicken. This time, it’s for real that we had buffalo on sandwich. I prefer it rather than chicken because there’s outbreak of bird flu virus in Kathmandu during our visit. For dessert, we had the famous yoghurt of Bhaktapur. Creamy, tangy and cheesy. Delicious! Huge servings and affordable too!

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We finished our lunch and the raindrops were gone. Time to go out of Cafe Nyatapola and head straight to Potter’s Square.

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“Ma, which way? Is it right or left?”

One of the most fascinating areas in Bhaktapur is the Potter’s Square. In all modesty, it exposes tourists and visitors to the ceramic industry that serves as a means of living.  It was an eye-opener not only for Gabby but for Tina and myself to see and experienced a slice of lifestyle of some people in Bhaktapur.

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Unknowingly, we already passed by the so called, Potter’s Square.  Because of the recent drizzle, the small plaza was emptied of pots that were supposed to be drying under the heat of the sun; we missed the square and continued our walk to a few meters more.  After asking local people for directions, the next thing I knew was my hands were filled with mud, trying my best to come up with a small masterpiece.

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Gabby followed and tried making his own pot. Apparently, the mechanical potter’s wheel was too big and too low for Gabby, so he had his efforts.  Nonetheless, it was so nice to see him smile and happy with what he did.
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I wrote down the names of the two Nepalese potters we met but I regret I lost the paper somewhere.

We paid the first friendly potter at total small amount of 250 Nepalese Rupees (US $ 2.54) for allowing me and Gabby to experience their work. It was the price he humbly asked. Too cheap I know; not even enough to buy a decent 3 meals at least. I wish I could’ve given him more.

Then we were invited by the second potter at the next shop. He offrered FREE trial of his electrical potter’s machine.  He and Gabby made cute little pieces together easily. While Tina and I were gladly documenting the scenes.

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That wonder and smile on Gabby’s face. On that moment, Tina and I were the happiest parents in the world!

Then, it was time for the trainee to become the champion. :)

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The second potter informed me that it takes 3 days minimum to dry a piece, because after making it for few minutes, it must be dried for at least 24 hours and then set in inside a huge brick oven for 3 days or more. Then and only then, they can earn money.

We bought two pieces from the second potter’s shop and brought them home as souvenirs.

We left Potter’s Square in Bhaktapur and walked our way to but a few more souvenirs en route to the gate where we took the taxi cab back to Thamel in Kathmandu.

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Bhaktapur’s beauty goes beyond its woodworks and woodcarvings, stone sculptures and temples; more than being considered Nepal’s cultural gem. Bhaktapur is incredibly beautiful because of the strength and resilience of its people. Obviously, their strength doesn’t come in force but from their bravery and willingness to live.  The local people of Bhaktapur consciously continue to preserve their heritage and lifestyle with almost no modern technology and mostly dependent on their skills, creativity, culture and craftmanship. Their devotion and dedication to their gods, their arts, their tradition make them one of the most beautiful and wealthiest people! They’re beautiful and strong because they’re able to thrive and smile their happiest despite and inspite of.

After bidding goodbye to the potters we’ve met, I asked Gabby of what he learned. Our very own wonder boy replied that he noticed they’re doing a difficult job simply to earn money.  I thought living in Bhaktapur is for the brave and the willing.

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Namaste. Dhanyabad (Thank you), Bhaktapur!

It was only our second day in Nepal.  It’s still surreal. Everything’s beautiful.

I cannot express how happy I am that I experienced Bhaktapur with Tina and Gabby.

To be continued.

*A life journey of mine, an epiphany of travel for you, made possible by Malaysia Airlines.

This Nepal Blog Series includes :

>><<

11
Aug
13

OUR UNFORGETTABLE JOURNEY FROM MALAYSIA TO NEPAL

Nothing is more amazing than making decisions that unexpectedly leads to memorable and meaningful experiences.  Our journey from Malaysia to Nepal officially began when my wife, Tina gave her elusive green light to travel with me and our 8-year-old-son, Gabby to Kathmandu, Nepal from our current home base in Penang.  It came dramatically after I already considered choosing from a handful of fellow Filipino bloggers to join me.  When my persuasive skills won over Tina’s anxiety about Nepal’s safety and security, particularly to tourists with kids,  I was silently jumping for bliss!  I couldn’t explain the excitement I felt down my spine when my lovely and very understanding wife finally agreed to explore and discover one of the places in South Asia inscripted not only in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites but more so in my bucket list.  I couldn’t thank her enough. God knows, I was even more thankful to Gabby who had no hesitation with the trip and didn’t even bother to ask me or his mom, if there’s a theme park or at least a branch of his favorite fastfood joint in Kathmandu.  :)

I intentionally planned to stay in Kathmandu for 5 days that coincided with our forced-holiday from work in celebration of this year’s end of fasting season, the Eid. Prior to our August 5 to 10, 2013 Nepal trip, I somehow prepared by reading a travel guide book and online sources; I also inquired some helpful tips and suggestions from a few Filipino travel bloggers who already set foot at our chosen itineraries. Days went by so quickly and before I do another countdown-post on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter about the trip,  Tina already packed everything for the three of us. Nice and sweet.
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Packed and ready to go!

THE LONG ROAD TO KATHMANDU

Travel lesson number 1 : Never underestimate the traffic jam anywhere.  In our case, I did.  :(

If you must know, my family’s middle name is punctuality, so needless to say, we’re rarely late at anything.

Our flight from Penang to Kathmandu via Kuala Lumpur was set on an evening of Monday, August 5, 2013.   I told my family that there’s no need to hire a cab from our place in Butterworth to Bayan Lepas in the island where the Penang International Airport (PIA) is, because we could leave the apartment early at 4 or 5PM via bus and ferry rides.  Too early in my approximation for our 9:45PM local flight.  I was wrong!  The moment we rolled our Barney-colored luggages to the bus stop in front of our place, I regret the fact of not leaving earlier.  It took us a while to reach George Town via taxi cab and a ferry ride, even worse when I asked my family to hop on the Rapid Penang Bus from Weld Quay in George Town to PIA instead of taking another taxi.

Traffic jam around George Town that day was terribly horrendous. I began uttering prayers silently; asked to ease the road congestion with divine intervention. My entire Sympathetic Nervous System went haywire! Heart beat became tachycardic, pulse rate was bounding and rapid, tension made my breathing fast and deep. While I was seated at the back of Tina and Gabby inside the bus, I was blaming myself the whole time for deciding not taking a cab from George Town to the airport, or better, from our place in the mainland directly to the terminal. Thankfully, my family was there to somehow calm me down.
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Aboard Rapid Penang Bus from George Town to Penang International Airport.

It felt forever when we arrived at the airport at 8AM exactly. It seemed like we traveled by bus from Kuala Lumpur to Penang! Can you imagine that? Nonetheless, I was the most relieved upon being at the Departure Area.  My worries were eased immediately after the staff at the counter of Malaysia Airlines confirmed our online reserved seats and checked in our luggage directly to Kathmandu.

A LOT OF FIRST TIME MOMENTS FOR US

First time to fly with MAS and we’re impressed.  Our 50-minute-flight from Penang to Kuala Lumpur International Airport went uneventful.
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Smiles of excitement, love, gratitude, wonder!

First time in KLIA too.  Our excitement for the trip ruled over the fact that we have a 10-hour-layover prior to our KUL-KTM flight the next day, August 6, 2013, Tuesday at 8:55AM. Say, what?!  Ten hours inside the terminal?  Yes, baby! First time to have that longest transit time in our not-that-frequent-travel history. And for the record, none of us complained.
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Hello, Kuala Lumpur International Airport! Selamat Malam! (Good evening!)

I could’ve paid for a brief but more comfortable accomodation in a hotel within KLIA but my suggestion was vetoed by Tina for practical reasons. Ten hour-layover was spent having dinner and coffee in one of Gabby’s favorite fastfood joints, checking out our social networks and necessary bladder breaks.

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Someone already reached Dreamland while the other was killing time on Instagram.  :)

Not long after…

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Total knockout!  Zzz  zZZz Z  z z zz z…

Fast forward to the morning after, my family was all-smiles again aboard Malaysia Airlines. The flight took a little more than 5 hours from KLIA to Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu.

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Feels great to board Malaysia Airlines again! Kathmandu, here we come!

Travel lesson number 2 :  Never compromise eating and drinking on time (despite lack of sleep).  We had some bites at the same fastfood for breakfast prior boarding but we welcomed the brunch served 36,000 feet.  Who needs enough sleep with such gastronomic feast?

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Tina and Gabby’s choice of brunch at 36,000 feet!  Omelet and Chicken Sausage and everything else. Yum!

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While I went local with Boneless Chicken Curry and Chapatti.  What a way to satisfy a discriminating palates!

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We chased Wau Bulan or Moon Kite (that serves as logo of MAS proudly inked at the tip of its wings) making in Kota Bharu, Kelantan via bus from Penang back in 2011;  unbelievably, we’ve flown by the “Wau Bulan of Malaysia” to Nepal!  We can’t be grateful enough!

IS THIS MOUNT EVEREST?

A few turbulent episodes,  a Tagalog-mushy-movie,  and a bladder break after, I gazed out my window and saw the most incredible apparition I had during my flights.

Try to contract your eye muscles and look closely at the center of the photo below, you’ll see a triangular peak that’s too bizaare to be a cloud. Of course, you can accuse me of being overly imaginative anytime. I am guilty. :)  Et voila!

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It’s magical to see you!

To anyone reading this who plans to go to Kathmandu via Malaysia, and would love to see the peaks of the roof of the world, you need to remember a few things. Firstly, make sure, by all means you book your seat on the right side (seats F in Malaysia Airlines); better if you could reserve seat 5F in Economy class, or if you’re in Business class, any seat on the right window side. In our case, my family was generous to let me sit in 20F.  That’s located after the wing of the aircraft, nonetheless, didn’t disappoint.  Secondly, you may opt to travel to Nepal by the months of October as it’s no longer cloudy and the Himalayan range can be seen to her full glory. In our case, we took the risk of going to Nepal in the middle of its monsoon season; thankfully, we only experienced a few minutes of drizzle. God is so good! All the time!

TOUCHDOWN, NEPAL!

NAMASTE.

Located in South Asia, bordered by China up north and India in south, east and west, Nepal is 2 hours and 15 minutes late than the clocks in Malaysia and our country, the Philippines. After we left Kuala Lumpur at 8:55AM, we safely arrived Tribhuvan International Airport in KTM before 11:30AM (Nepal time).

Nepal, obviously doesn’t belong to ASEAN countries but to SAARC or South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, along with Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.  So being a Philippine-passport holder, my family and I needed to fill out a Visa Application forms upon arrival, attach a passport photo with white background and pay US $ 25 as Visa fee for 15 days each, and free for Gabby with multiple entry valid for 30 days.

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Ultimately well-spent US $25 to date! Our experiences and moments together are priceless!

Trips to FOREX counter to have our limited US dollars change to Nepalese Rupees, Immigration and Visa proceedings, plus collecting our luggages at the conveyor belt inside the Arival Aea uniquely built of terracotta bricks, were all done in a breeze. The next thing we saw was our names printed on an A4 paper held by the staff of our chosen hotel in Thamel.  I did the hotel reservation online weeks ago.

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Namaste. Welcome to Nepal!

OUR ACCOMODATION IN THAMEL, KATHMANDU

Staying in Kathmandu at this time was inexpensive and so affordable. Case in point, I could’ve opted to reserve as cheap as 15-ringgit-room per night (US$ 5) but considered comfort, convenience and security of my family.  With so many accomodation within Thamel, the touristy area in Kathmandu where most eateries, mini-supermarkets and hotels are located, I decided to reserve a suite room with a king-size bed, an airconditioning unit (Warning : power and internet connection are intermittent in Kathmandu. Choose a hotel with a generator that could support electric supply during brownouts), an ensuite toilet with hot & cold shower, cable TV (a must for Gabby!).  The suite I reserved at Thorong Peak Guesthouse, tucked strategically within the laterals of Thamel, away from the noise of the streets only cost a little over RM100 per night with taxes included (US $ 31+).  It’s a steal for the rate of a suite that also comes with a balcony, if you ask me.
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Restful sleeps in Kathmandu were made on this.

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Our private balcony at our suite at Thorong Peak Guesthouse, Thamel, Kathmandu. See those prayer flags? We must be in Nepal.

Travel lesson number 3 : Set priorities and know your limits. In our case, we gave importance to our itineraries, considered budget, security, safety, eating and drinking enough fluids (and sleep for Tina & Gabby).  So the next important thing to do upon arrival at the hotel is to freshen up! We took quick showers and dressed up and immediately hit the roads to Kathmandu Durbar Square.

Travel lesson number 4 : Be familiar with the place you’re traveling and its transport system.  From my religious readings for a few weeks about Nepal, I missed out the data about the taxi cabs and the dusty, terracotta brick roads that could be too muddy after a drizzle. We were a bit surprised when we hailed similar taxi cab that picked us up from the airport to hotel, a small suzuki hatchback that usually run without aircondition on.

COSMO DE’ CAFE, A ROOFTOP RESTAURANT IN KATHMANDU

Travel lesson number 5 :  Know where to eat best and eat local. I read that one pleasing experience in Kathmandu is to savor delightful local (and continental) dishes in any rooftop restaurants of your choice. We found one in Cosmo De’ Cafe, just before the ticket booth where visitors pay reasonable fee to Kathmandu Durbar Square.

It’s enough for me to see my family comfortable, satiated and happy.

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My very own goddess relaxing at Cosmo De’ Cafe before we saw Nepal’s Living Goddess, literally.

Tina was looking at this unbelievable heritage site…

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Behold. The absolute creativity and brilliance of Newari architecture.

LEARNING ABOUT CASTE SYSTEM IN NEPAL

The moment our Nepalese waiter, Dil, welcomed us to Cosmo De’ Cafe, we felt at home in Kathmandu. I, myself, didn’t expect to learn a little thing about Nepal as early as our first lunch.  While looking at the windows that intricately framed the sights at Kathmandu Durbar Square with handsome wood carvings and browsing the menu for choices, I asked Dil his complete name.

“My complete name is, Dil Pachabhaiya Magar. I’m 20 years old,” he replied verbally and voluntarily wrote it on a sheet of tissue paper.  Dil smartly explained that Dil is his name, Pachabhaiya his surname, and Magar his caste.

Something hit my cerebral arteries that instantly brought me back inside our classroom when we were discussing caste system in India, Nepal etc. way back in my High School days. My goodness. How clock ticks so fast, that it was only upon casual conversion with a Nepalese waiter, that made me remember about the social stratification system observed in Nepal. In this age when almost everything is digital and controlled by a flicker of a finger, people around the globe must be reminded that in certain areas of the world, some human beings are still socially classified by caste system. Admittedly, I had mixed emotions ordering my food from someone living a certain social status.

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Dil, our Nepalese friendly waiter made us remember about caste system in Nepal.

“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people,

you might better stay at home.” 

- James A. Michener

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Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, here’s our very first family happy meal in Kathmandu!
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Mo:mo, a Nepalese (Newar) dumplings.

We had vegetable momo instead of chicken momo (others offer buffalo momo) simply because there’s bird flu in Nepal during the time of our visit. How exciting, isn’t it? Going back to momo; We had it two ways – fried and steamed and found it just okay, nothing to rave about. What made it unusual or special perhaps, was its dip compared to the soy and chilies of Chinese.

Tina and I ordered Cosmo Special Noodles that was served with ham and vegetables. Delicious actually! Gabby asked for a Mexican Burrito that came with red beans and cheese stuffings. We washed down everything with Mango Lassi and small bottles of Coke.  What made Nepalese cuisine by the way, is also affordable than you can imagine.  Big servings at a cheap prices.  Burp! :D
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Cosmo Special Noodles. Reminded us of Pancit Bihon back home in the Philippines and Malaysia’s Beehon. :)

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Majestic, isn’t it?
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Pleased to have a family photo taken by a Nepalese.

And then the electricity supplying the TV and electric fans died down but not the wifi as it’s connected with the solar energy source.  Establishments were seen to have been using solar panels against the intermittent electrical power supply in the city. The brownout signaled we have to be done eating and leave.

KATHMANDU DURBAR SQUARE

We finished our lunch before 3PM and trooped down the road and paid the admission rates (Gabby’s free!) at the very first UNESCO World Heritage Site in Nepal that we visited. The Kathmandu Durbar Square.

With all the 16th century-Hindu temples built in grandeur that we’ve never seen elsewhere, I told Tina it felt like we stepped into another world, a time machine or a Hollywood movie set. It was surreal!

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The intricately carved wooden pillars of Maju Deval Hindu Temple framed another temple across.

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Who would’ve thought we’ll be standing at Shiva-Parvati Hindu Temple that was built in the late 1700s?

Time, space and life as a whole, within the vicinity of Kathmandu Durbar Square, away from the busy streets of Thamel, seemed like frozen for centuries.

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Strolling around the durbar square (or plaza), Gabby found pigeons that delighted him for a while.

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Glad to see our own kid enjoying the moment. Surprisingly, he never complained of fatigue, dusty and muddy roads, small taxi cabs, and lack of theme parks.  It must be signs of maturity at a young age of 8.

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A lot of touts that offered tour guiding within the complex approached us but to be fair with them, they were so courteous and never pushy. They speak fluent English too, however remarkably, the three of us were often greeted with, “Ni Hao!” mistaken as Chinese, or Thai and Malaysian but never Filipinos. One also wrongly asked if I’m Nepalese; because somehow, we look alike.

Basically, Nepalese people are friendly and hospitable. They smiled at us despite a few elders couldn’t express themselves in English. They were warm enough to grant us a greeting of Namaste! And a touristy photo-op.

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At one point, I found a chance to do lectures, would you believe? LOL! :P

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Two friendly Newar elders listened attentively as I do an impromptu lectures in Microbiology and Parasitology.  Now that’s a joke!

Of course, we didn’t let the chance to pass without a class picture with them. Seriously, we’re honored and privileged to have sat and talked with them; we felt so welcomed in Kathmandu!

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We gave tribute to their warm welcome by wearing traditional Nepalese hat or Dhaka topi. We shall never forget the Nepalese. They’re one of the most beautiful and kindest people we’ve met!

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Kala (Black) Bhairab.  Bhairab is Shiva’s 6-armed destructive form; crowned and with garland of human skulls, crushing a corpse, symbolic of human ignorance. It was used ages ago for trial by ordeal, as telling lies while standing in front of this statue will bring instant death.

KUMARI, THE LIVING GODDESS

Yes, I read about Kumari, the Living Goddess in Kathmandu. She’s chosen from a group of girls age 4 to 6 who successfully passed an ordeal and regarded as the Living Goddess until she reaches her puberty. Her menstruation is the sign for her to go back to normal life and leave the Kumari Ghar. It’s also a signal for the authorities to select another Kumari. What we learned from the touts in the square was the time when Kumari will show herself at the window inside the Kumari Ghar. We were told it was 4PM; and so we didn’t miss and had an extraordinary opportunity to have a glimpse of a living goddess!

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On most souvenir shops : Hand-crafted puppets depicting gods and deities of Hinduism. The right-most on the photo represents Kumari, the Living Goddess.

We had a glimpse for Kumari, the Living Goddess here at Kumari Ghar…

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Kumari showed herself at the middle window, uttering somewhat a mantra, while all travelers, tourists and local guides, including the three of us who were there, held hands in prayerful position.  Silence lorded for few minutes, then before we knew it, Kumari left the window.  A local guide mentioned to his tourists, it’s a good Karma to be blessed by Kumari. We felt blessed even before her blessings.

There was a signage inside the courtyard that photographing Kumari is prohibited, so we were content in showing respect. I just bought some postcards at 10 Nepalese Rupees each (US $0.10) with her image taken probably one of those few festivals when Kumari is carried onto procession outside Kumari Ghar.

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Kumari, the Living Goddess.

BASANTAPUR

Gabby, Tina and I felt thirsty so we bought a liter of bottled distiled water. Then we set foot at Basantapur just outside Kumari Ghar. Nothing was different except for more vendors of exotic souvenirs.  At Basantapur, there were also intricately built Newar structures with beautiful woodcarvings. Everything and everyone were still at a slow pace.

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This scene affirmed that priceless little moments make the best happiness!  :)

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Tina told me her heart melts for poverty in front of us at that moment.  I told her, we can only be emphatic and it’s not easy to render sympathy.  She mentioned that we are still blessed despite we, believe it or not, are still struggling Overseas Filipino Workers. We’re grateful for the chance that showed Gabby the value of appreciating what he has, no matter how little it is.

On a lighter note, we’re also thankful to taste what others considered as Starbucks Coffee in Kathmandu – the Himalayan Java Coffee that has branches all over the town. We had a few blends at Basantapur, before leaving Kathmandu Durbar Square.

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At around 5 to 6PM, we rode a taxi back to Thamel, strolled our way down the dusty and narrow alleys of one of the busiest touristy areas in Kathmandu. We found plates that satisfied our cravings for dinner at a restaurant secluded inside Mandala Street.

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With placid smiles, sleepy eyes and growling stomachs, we wolf down our first dinner in Nepal! :)

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Served with red wine, this plate of Fish and Chips could’ve been better if not overcooked.  We liked the Pineapple juice though (it’s rather rare in Penang!).  In spite we’re not that impressed with food we had,  we understand It’s not much of the food but our dining experience that matters.

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It’s amazing how time spent less than a day, from our trip that commenced in Penang to Kathmandu, had already taught and reminded us so many life’s lessons. Emphaty and sympathy. Beauty in simplicity. History and heritage. Culture and beliefs. Kindness in strangers. Poverty amidst genius minds and artistic and skillful creativity. Respect for diversity. Happiness in little things.

Apparently, there is always something to learn beyond books, particularly from the people we meet and the people we travel with. What we become out of these learnings and experiences is all that is significant.

“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”

- Jon Krakauer , Into the Wild.

To be continued.

*A life journey of mine, an epiphany of travel for you, made possible by Malaysia Airlines.

This Nepal Blog Series includes :

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02
Aug
13

SELAMAT HARI RAYA AIDILFITRI