Dark Shadows

OMG! Johnny Depp as a vampire? Are you seriously kidding me? 

(Faints)
Just read a press release from Warner Bros that he’ll be playing the lead in the theatrical film adaptation of the late 60’s soap, Dark Shadows, together with Micheille Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter and Eva Green. Director, no surprise, is Tim Burton. 

Michelle and Eva are the two most talented and gorgeous actresses for me – in fact, I think I’ve watched all of Michelle’s movies and I am watching Camelot (the TV series) solely because of Eva. To have them in the same movie with Johnny is practically insane.


I don’t know the release date for this movie but just the news is enough to make me giddy. Read the full statement here.

Vietnam On My Mind

My feet are itching to go travelling, the destination doesn’t really matter so long as I go somewhere. Too bad I still don’t have leave credits and had to say no when my friends and former office mates invited me to join them on their business trip/vacation in Vietnam. So, the next best thing is to reminisce about my last travel there. 🙂
The first and only time I went to Vietnam was also a business trip, which looking back, was probably the most stressful I had – I was juggling meetings during the day, testings over breaks, and day-to-day operations when I get back to our hotel room so I didn’t really get to do much sight-seeing. But I enjoyed my stay there for the simple reason that the food was just marvelous and the company was great – I went there with our then new hire, Wena, and I was worried at first that we wouldn’t get along, until I realized she was game to try on all the food there is and she was willing to walk for miles every day to explore the city. 
Vietnam used to be a French colony so the architecture and the layout of Ho Chi Minh (or Saigon, if you prefer) is sort of a cross between our own Intramuros and Binondo’s Chinatown. In fact, the side streets through which our taxi would take us on our way from the hotel to the office looks, feels, and smells like Binondo. Except that there are rickshaws on the streets. We didn’t ride on any though, as I kinda think it’s inhumane to do so. 
TOURIST ATTRACTIONS
Given that we only had a week (we arrived on a Sunday afternoon and left on a Saturday morning) which was jampacked with meetings, we didn’t really have time to go around much. But we were able to visit the Ben Tanh market, the Notre Dame Cathedral, Saigon River and the famous Trung Nguyen coffee chain. 
Notre Dame Basilica was constructed in the late 1800’s after the French successfully colonized Saigon, in the former location of a pagoda. All materials for this church was sourced from France and a huge statue of the Virgin Mary stands in front of the main entrance of the cathedral. A little bit of trivia: in 2005, the status was reported to have shed tears down its right cheek. This was denied by the Catholic Church in Vietnam although of course, the crowds still flocked to see this “miracle.”

View from our office roof top
Ben Thanh Market, on the other hand, resembles our own Divisoria, albeit smaller and confined to one huge building. It’s actually the largest in Saigon with its origins traceable back to the 17th century. Obviously, this is a tourist hub as you can buy all sorts of textiles, accessories, souvenirs, and handicrafts. It’s funny though coz Vietnamese, Filipinos and Thai look very much alike and a number of the vendors thought I was Thai! There were so many beautiful, not to mention cheap, stuff there but I had a baggage limit to watch so I limited myself to a couple of bags and kikay kits for my in laws. On a side note, I also spied a lacquered wood and capiz lamp back at the hotel selling for around Php5,000 which I would have bought if only it wasn’t so big. Too bad.
We also spent many mornings eating breakfast at the Trung Nguyen Coffeeshop near the office – it’s the largest coffee maker/distributor/chain in Vietnam and is also expanding globally. I didn’t get to sample their other offerings other than the basic black coffee and their instant coffee mixed so I can’t really judge if it’s good but I must say, I love the pastries and breakfast sets in their shop and I really like the taste of their Irish Creme coffee mix. So on our last day, I hoarded boxes and boxes of coffee – I think my entire luggage was full of coffee boxes. 😛
Post office:
The HSBC building – can you believe this is the tallest building in Saigon?
WHAT’S WITH THE MOTORCYCLES?
One vivid memory I have of Vietnam (aside from the mouth-watering cuisine) is the tons of motorcycles cruising the streets – in fact, I would always hesitate to cross the street not because I might get run over by a car, but because there are motorcycles coming from all directions. In fact, from our hotel room, we could watch a big boat ferrying motorcycles across the river.  

I am scared for the woman walking ahead of the motorcycles – what if the lights suddenly turn green and she gets crushed?
FOOD!
The best part about my trip to Vietnam? The food! Really, of all the countries I’ve been to (not that many – I think about seven), Vietnam takes the cake for best cuisine – and I am a bit of a picky eater (although my innate politeness forbids me from saying out loud when I don’t like something).
Normally, I skip room service because the price makes me want to rather starve but here, our entire meal for the week was just a day’s meal in Korea (and only at local eateries in Seoul at that):

Hotel food: pizza, eggs benedict, cereals and cheescake!



Since it was a business trip, we would usually have our lunch at the nearby restos (well, more of carinderia type) but the food is better than all the Vietnamese restos here in the Philippines.

Carinderia Favorite – the best. Our table was usually overflowing with so much food because it was so cheap!

And finally upgraded to a bit of fine dining.  Well, not quite, but the two restos our colleague took us to were among the best and most popular in the city:

Resto # 1 – took a lot of careful street crossing and maneuvering to NOT get hit by motorcycles

Resto # 2 – thankfully, this was a bit far and we had to take a cab to get there; but the food was just pure heaven! That pink jelly thing in the mid photo – it’s not edible. It’s actually the “gasoline” that will be used to heat up our food.
Most of the restos we went to are by reservation only – and it was only after I learned that bit of info that I realized why our office mate kept asking for our agenda – so she can book our dinner dates!  I can’t remember anymore the restos we went to, but if I do, I’d let you know here. I did scribble it in my notes but you know me, I misplaced it as soon as I put it down.
Well, I may not have made it back to Vietnam this year but this country is definitely on my MUST VISIT again. 🙂

* Most of the photos here are grabbed from my friend, since I was too lousy to take shots of my own (was harassed at the time) – except for all the food shots.


The Little Big Man

I had a very bad headache since yesterday afternoon which continued until night time (heck, even now that I’ve gotten eight hours of sleep). This, combined with heart pains (the literal kind) and I was down for the day.

I was close to throwing up and my head feels like holes are being drilled into it but at the same time, I felt so much better and prouder – Joey sensed immediately that something was wrong with me and kissed me. And every five minutes, he would come into the room and say. “Mom, I’m going to kiss you so you’ll feel much better.”

After playing his favorite Disney game on my laptop, he went to the bed, hugged me and kissed me, telling me, “Mom, I’m going to take care of you.”
He got hungry a few minutes later and was crying because he couldn’t get the yogurt to open and I was out cold on the bed and couldn’t help him and his daddy refused to help him – in the end, I ended up dragging myself to get him the yogurt.

Such a far cry from the daddy who just shouted from the living room that he is not to be disturbed because he’s watching the RH debate. Not proud of that, but I’m proud of the little guy who’s turning out to be the best man I’ve ever met. 🙂

FoodTrip

I am an emotional eater – I eat when I’m on the extreme ends of the emotional spectrum or when I’m busy/stressed out. Last week was a terribly busy one and so I spent almost the entire week eating out.

Movie night feasting on chicken tandoori and dal (so good! I know a lot of people hate Indian food, but I love it):


Tuesday chilling with Mango Bravo and Chicken Pastel at Conti’s (again, another yum):

Hang out with different group of friends from my former employer.
With Lisetty at Funny Funny, the new resto that took over Chicken BBQ over at Jupiter Street. I don’t recall what this one is called but I didn’t really enjoy it much, other than it’s very spicy:

Ice cream cake at Caramia with my NEA friends:




Friday night hang-out with Leah and Tita Mitch at John and Yoko’s, splitting the chicken, mango chicken teriyaki pizza and spicy tuna salad:



My bingeing of course, continued to the weekend, meeting up with the usual suspects and heading off to the Midnight Mercato:

I loved the lasagna and potatoes!

Yes, they have lechon! We would have wanted to eat this, but hubby’s on a diet

Isaw! I don’t really eat these – it’s not healthy. 🙂

lots of sausages from all over

bite sized tacos!

Hungarian sausage with the works


I’m such a party pooper that I just got the sausage sandwich to be on the safe side, but I did took bites from hubby and my friends. 😛

Anyway, I enjoyed looking at the food but I didn’t really find anything of great interest. But it’s a good alternative to your usual dine out experience. We all agreed that Mercato is the “turo-turo” of the rich, without the fancy price tag. 


* The Mercato is open on Fridays and Saturdays from 10pm to 3am.



Bohol: Beaches

Balicasag Island, which lies 60 kms off Panglao and can be reached via a 45-minute boat ride, is a marine sanctuary. Quite amazing though, is despite its proximity to the modern luxuries in Tagbilaran and Panglao, this island has remained unspoiled, even wild, and presents a vivid picture of true island living: its residents, composed of about 100 families are quite isolated from the rest of the province, having their own chapel, school, lighthouse, and I suppose their main diet consists of seafood and home-grown vegetables. And at just 25 hectares, the island also boast of not one, but two light houses – the old one, and the more modern version standing a few meters away

 


One local told me that the island doesn’t even have full electricity, only having them after dark, when they would need to light up; and note, this service was only recently available to them. I don’t know if this is accurate but judging from their simplistic way of living, I guess it must be true. Locals make their living selling souvenirs to tourists, cooking food, and renting out snorkeling gear. 
It isn’t great though – the food is too expensive, considering that they just get it from the ocean, and the cooking leaves much to be desired (it hardly even looks appetizing; a group of French tourists had to approach us and ask what it was we were eating). 

Looks more like charred pork but this is supposed to be grilled pork. It’s okay once you drench it in soy sauce with lots of chilli.

This is supposed to be pinakbet. A tad too salty for me.

Plus, the snorkeling gear have all seen better days; some are moderately used, most are full of holes and ripped apart. I would even think that these stuff were bought second hand or picked up from discarded trash of other tourists. In any case, rental of the snorkeling gear is Php150 for the foot gear and Php 150 for the snorkels. You shell out an additional Php150 for the guide, bringing your total per head of Php450. But for what it’s worth, the Php150 for the guide is reasonable and just considering that manong has to paddle your boat and make sure you don’t drown. And the experience is just worth so much more than that.

Hubby and me underwater

Now, for those who are more sensitive, I suggest you bring your own gear. I wouldn’t have wanted to use the ones the locals were renting out but my want to see the underwater paradise won over my initial hesitation. There is also a PTA-accredited resort on the island, the Balicasag Island Dive Resort and I would suppose they have more decent gears available for rent. But the boatmen would usually take their passengers to the locals – must be some sort of agreement; or horror of horrors, maybe that was the resort??? In any case, hubby and I made the resolve to bring our own stuff next time we go snorkeling. 
After that, we headed off to Virgin Island, so-called because it is uninhabited and there are no permanent structures on the island. I can’t really say much about this place except that it is pure heaven to be here, I didn’t even mind the heat.
lots of starfishes!
The water here is soooo clear and courtesy of the many sandbars in the area, you can walk perhaps a hundred meters or so from the shore and the water only reaches up to your legs.  

Ok, I finally got the courage to hold the biggest starfish we could find AFTER everyone has held it. Hey, had to make sure it wont bite me.


this tree was more than fifty meters from the shore!

There were lots of tourists though, this being summer, but we still got some parts of the island to ourselves.

.

This is not  an islet in the middle of the ocean, but the edge of virgin island.

 I had a bit of a freak “accident” while swimming near the island. As I was getting up to walk, I slipped a bit and landed hard on my right hand. I wasn’t hurt a bit, but I can’t say the same for a poor starfish I fell on – I picked and up and it was squirting gooey white liquid off its arms. It’s kind of icky so I just dropped it back into the ocean. 
The heat was terrible but thank goodness for my trusty sunblocks and enterprising locals, we got fresh coconuts and some banana cue to fight it with.

yeah, that’s a banana you spy right there on the sand beside me. I dropped it in my eagerness to eat it. 😦

There are also lots of vendors selling wonderful pearls – I got me a set courtesy of the hubby.

Loved this bracelet. Too bad the clasp was broken and I must have dropped it somewhere between our room and the reception on our way out of the resort. 😦



Back at our hotel, another stretch of paradise awaited us. I never really felt like I missed on anything in my last trip until I stayed here. Imagine waking up and the beach, hundreds of meters of very fine white sand, just a few steps away from your door. I am a water person and I love, love, love the ocean.  And while I like Boracay, I love Bohol because you get to enjoy nature without tons of people bustling about.

Heaven!

Hubby and I didn’t waste time – as soon as we arrived at the resort from our island hopping adventure, we headed off to the beach. 

This is the life

Bohol Beach Club, where we stayed, is an old resort, part of the Tambuli group. We’ve stayed in their Cebu Beach Club/Tambuli Resorts in Cebu a couple of years back. The beach is perfect and I love their open restos and the sutukil; the rooms though, are another matter. Bed is okay, but the showers are broken and the room is not too clean- I didn’t even want to walk around in my bare feet. So it was a very far cry from the room I stayed in at Linaw Beach Resort (I recommend Linaw if you want really big rooms, good food and all around pampering). So I must say the only draw here is the beach. 
Now, if you’re not a beach fan, you can still choose from one of three pools. Our room is fortunately close to the biggest pool in the resort- we actually only need to walk ten meters or so and jump right into the pool. However, my gripe is that it’s not heated. I get cold very easily and I would have appreciated swimming at night if the water was warm. 
Pool #1 – this is the smallest,located near the Habagat restaurant
Pool # 2 – 2nd biggest, located near the Habagat rooms
And pool # 3 – in front of the Amihan cluster of rooms
Aside from three pools, BBC also has two restaurants in each wing, a bar, a sutukil area right at the beach with bottomless fruit juices, a massage area, and lots of conference rooms. 



The food at the restaurants is okay but I find it kind of expensive considering that it doesn’t really look or taste special. On our second night, we wandered to the next resort and found several restaurants offering cheaper food that taste even better!
First 6 photos from top left are what we had at BBC; the bottom three are from a restaurant along Dumaluan Beach – the chocolate cake was soooo delicious!


SOME TIPS IN PLANNING YOUR TOUR
The resort where we stayed offers tours and island hopping packages, but the prices are a bit extreme, so before we left for Bohol, I looked for independent providers who charge cheaper rates and came across Bohol Tours and Packages. We took their Chocolate Hills Tour for only Php 2,500. Manong picked us right off at the airport at 6am and we were able to finish the itinerary even before we checked in at the resort at 2PM! How’s that for speedy?
Our itinerary for day 1 covered the ff. Spots:
Chocolate Hills (entrance is Php50 per head)
Man made forest
Hanging Bridge (Php20 per head)
Tarsier
Loboc Church
Loboc River Cruise (Php400 per head)
Baclayon Church
Blood Compact Shrine
Here are their other packages:
Tour Package
Van Rate
Chocolate Hills Tour
2,500.00
Panglao Island Tour
2,000.00
Loboc Tour
2,000.00
Transfer to Panglao Hotels
800.00
Ubay Agri-Park Tour
4,000.00
Sagbayan Peak Tour
3,000.00
Tagbilaran City Tour
1,500.00
Dolphin Watching
2,000.00
Since we had a very smooth transaction with the day tour, we opted to use the same provider for our island hopping adventure. At only Php2,000, we had dolphin watching, snorkelling at Balicasag, and swimming at Virgin Islands. Too bad though the dolphins didn’t show up.
We also got their car transfer services for only Php700 on our last day and manong was kind enough to let us have a few minutes wandering around the Tagbilaran Church and visit the Apropriana Souvenur shop. J
  
You can contact them at boholtoursandpackages@yahoo.com them at +63 919 584 2137 or +63 927 618 0959.
That’s our flight home. See you next time Bohol!

Bohol: Old Churches

Now, the last time I was in Bohol, we weren’t able to visit the Loboc Church since we parked already at the other side of the river but this time around, I had to make sure I at least get to touch it – you all know I’m a sucker for old architecture. J The Church of San Pedro, or more commonly referred to as Loboc Church, is the 2nd oldest in Bohol, renovated in the 1700s, although the original structure was put up in 1602. It sits right across the street from the main dock of the scenic Loboc River, where the river cruise starts.
From this angle, it looks like it’s just a free standing wall. 🙂
It is predominantly Baroque in design although the portico, which was added during the renovation in 1720, covered up the façade. A bell tower was also added, located some 100-meters from the church and now sits across the street from the church. At the back is a three-story structure which houses a convent on its first two floors, and a museum on its top-most floor, where old vestments and religious statues are kept.
From top left: view across Loboc river,  bell tower and various side views of the church
An unfinished concrete bridge can be found across the street from the right wing of the church, on the same side as the bell tower – according to a bit of research on the internet, this bridge has remained unfinished because in order to complete it, the church will have to be demolished. I can’t help but seethe with anger over this – there are many other spots along the riverbank from where they construct a bridge and they had to pick this one?
In any case, we were kind of unfortunate that the church was closed when we visited – we can only admire it from the outside. I would have loved to see the interiors as I’ve seen lots of pictures on the net showing its Neo-classical features and Baroque side chapels. Maybe a third time in Bohol will do the trick?
Now, If we paid a visit to the 2nd oldest church in Bohol, of course we also paid a visit to the oldest- the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, or simply, Baclayon Church, which was first built in 1595, though the current building was completed in 1727. 
It is undeniably old, judging from looks alone
The church is made of coral stones taken by native labourers from the nearby sea using bamboo shafts and cut into blocks and piled one on top of the other. It is said that millions of eggs were used as cement in building the present structure. Eggs! I wonder how long it took them to finish it. According to some, construction of the building started in 1717 and finished in 1727, so that means ten whole years!
Similar to the Loboc, the Baclayon also has a portico, a style which was predominant in churches in the region. But perhaps what I find unique in this church is the glass compartments in its front walls, housing religious statues.
See those status inside the glass compartments?
While some may find the interiors a bit too gloomy, I find that it adds to the old charm of the church. 
One of the side altars
There are several retablos along its walls and the painted ceiling of the altar area from hundreds of years ago has survived to this day, and features the Jesuits’ motto: Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam. 

A funny thing keeps happening to me in this church (one of the few churches that implement dress code strictly). In my past visit, I was wearing a short, sleeveless dress and this time around, I was wearing shorts and sleeveless top. I know it’s not church-outfit but figuring I’m a tourist, I ought to be exempt, but as usual, I was wrong. 
The sea is right across the street from Baclayon and there are boat restos docked there and a picnic area:
I would have loved a picnic there but the heat was unforgiving! I was seriously having black spots in my vision and would have collapsed. Thank goodness our car was parked right in the church’s courtyard.
Another old church worth visiting is the St. Joseph’s Cathedral, or Tagbilaran Church, which was built in the late 18th century. The convent and bell tower were later additions in the 19th century and the chandeliers were put in place in 1894. 
a bit of a crappy shot; I was running while taking this since we were supposed to be on our way to the airport and only asked manong for a five-minute stopover

Very bright!
Across the Rizal Plaza from Tagbilaran Church is the old provincial capitol, a typical Spanish building with arcs and columns. I’m not sure if this is still being used to house the local government offices; I sign at the side of the building indicates it has been converted into a museum. Again, I must include this in my next trip.
Taking this shot while wondering “Oh no, the van is gone!”
Monument at Plaza Rizal (which was also know for a time as Plaza Principe):
our national hero

Up next is the highlight of our trip: beaches galore!

Bohol: Man-Made Wonders

On our way back to Tagbilaran, our next stop was the man-made forest in Bilar (you won’t miss this as it is along the way to Carmen), the first and only of its kind in the country. It is a two-kilometer stretch of mahogany trees, covering at least 860 hectares of land, planted during the 60s as part of a nationwide reforestation program. Most especially for city-dwellers, this offers a very interesting respite where the road is protected from the heat of the sun by interlocking leaves of the greenest shade and the temperature is noticeably cooler. I must say It’s quite commendable how the Boholanos were able to keep this place clean despite the number of tourists that must pass this on a daily basis – or perhaps, the simplistic grandeur of the forest somehow compels a person not to go about trashing the place.
I still don’t have a decent “diwata” pic in this place
Another tourist spot we went to is the Sipatan Hanging Bridge – or simply Hanging Bridge – which connects two barangays separated by the Loboc River, and is made up of bamboo and steel ropes suspended some 20 meters from the river. There used to be only one bridge, for the use of the locals who previously had to climb down the steep cliff and use bancas to get to the other side, but after an influx of tourists compromised the safety of the bridge, a second one was built, made up of the same material. There is a souvenir shop at the other side of the bridge and in my last visit, a hut was also there where a native would showcase his talent in ripping of the skin of a coconut using only his teeth. But this time around, only the souvenir shop stands and the hut is nothing but a pile of rubble.
worried that crossing the bridge with hubby will send us plummeting to the river 😛
Take note though that the bridge can only support ten people at a time and a fee of Php 10 is collected at the entrance. I don’t really find anything fascinating about this bridge but mainly that’s because there was a time when to reach my grandparents’ house in Bulacan, we had to cross a wide stream using a bridge made of bamboo slats – it was more terrifying than the one in Bohol since it was only four bamboos tied together by rope and one slip means you fall down into the stream. It has since dried down though and there is no more need for the bridge. But I cannot deny that the view of the river from the bridge is quite breath-taking and worth many a shot. And the water is so clean that if you look down, you will see lots of fish swimming. 
The photo does not do the river any justice. You just have to see it!
We also made a quick stop at a historical monument – the Blood Compact site of Sikatuna and Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. There isn’t much to see here, but the bronze monument is very gorgeous and the view of the sea is not t be missed. 
We skipped the Clarin Ancestral House, an old, colonial-style house with artifacts from a bygone era. We normally would have visited it, but this house isn’t as well preserved as the ones in Vigan. But you can read all about it from my last visit.

Kids and Noise

The scowling little bridesmaid at Prince William and Princess Catherine’s wedding is so cute. 
Grace van Cutsem, from the Waldorf Astor family
She reminds me of Joey, who also hates noise. Last Good Friday, Joey wanted to walk out as soon as we got to Laguna because of the loud musico playing: