Baby # 2: Jorge Emmanuel

When I first found out I was pregnant, I was kind of caught unaware. I was actually almost done with my first trimester and had it not been for a trip to the emergency room, I wouldn’t have found out (probably at least until my tummy started showing). I mean, I was busy at work, and my health was (and still is) a big work in progress (thyroid, heart and back problems, among others – hubby even has a running joke that I have a lot of factory defects that he should probably return me to my parents and have me repaired)…
Looked like his older brother’s ultrasound photo.
Better late than never was our motto – did our last minute baby shopping on my 37th week… and didn’t finish until after I gave birth.

…and I wasn’t really planning on having a baby this year. I even planned in January for two out of country trips in 2013 which ended up being right smack in my second trimester and made a really long list of to do’s for the year.

Meet our latest bundle of joy: Jorge Emmanuel.
Yet God had other plans for me and so baby # 2 arrived just in time for the holidays. It was a bit of a bumpy road considering that my migraine attacks this time around were worse than when I was pregnant with Joey, and there were days when I just literally couldn’t get up from the bed. Not to mention there’s this mountain of work I have waiting for me when I get back. 

But you know what? 

Every worry, every pain, every sleepless night, every dent in my poor anaemic wallet, were nothing compared to the joy of seeing our precious little baby boy. Every thing just became worth it.

Georgie’s first ever photo.
My three boys.
On a partially unrelated side note, I honestly can’t comprehend people who say women should be given a choice (regarding abortion), and those who say that only someone with ovaries get to voice an opinion over this matter. They call themselves feminists but who are they kidding? Isn’t that kind of thinking kind of marginalizing the other sex?

Anyway, I am pretty sure I have functioning ovaries somewhere and even if I don’t, here’s my opinion nonetheless.  
And I say, what choice are they talking about? There is NO choice. Because it will always be my children over me. Any other decision to the contrary is just selfishness masked under the (misguided) concept of female empowerment and  (twisted understanding) gender equality, and (false) concerns over women’s health. And let’s not talk population control, shall we? Because arguing down that line is just plain b—s—. And it annoys me no end that the most of the people who are loud proponents of giving women these so-called choices, have not even experienced having a child. So no. Only women, and men, who have had the privilege of not just bringing life, but also raising children, into this world have the right to an opinion. 

The World According to Joey: Christmas Party 2013

I have been focused on the new baby for quite some time now that I feel Joey resents it sometimes – staying up late for the baby,feeding him, bathing him, and just overall fussing about him. I still do stuff with Joey but we couldn’t go out anymore on our regular weekend bonding, at least until we get a new yaya for his baby brother.
Joey is also slowly becoming independent; I almost cried when he told me one day that maybe when he’s nine years old, he won’t sleep with us in our room anymore coz he won’t be needing me. I could only reply back to him that I hope he’ll always need his mom and wipe away small tears (okay, so maybe I am a little bit of a crybaby). 

Anyway, today was his school Christmas party and I was debating yesterday whether to join him or just let him go on his own.

Me: Joey, do you want mommy with you on your Christmas party?
Joey: What do you think, mom? (Trust me, he’s getting good at this kind of manipulating conversations)
Me: Well, I don’t know. You tell me.
Joey: Mom, what were the parents of my classmates doing in the Christmas party last year?
Me: Uhm, they went to the party with their kids?
Joey: Yes!
Me: So I guess I should go with you?
Joey: Mom! Of course! I would be the only kid with no parent.

Singing 12 days of Christmas. Oh, and those green pants? He was the one who picked them. The other time I let him pick a pair of jeans at the Gap, he picked a skinny pair. Guess I have a budding little fashionista? 😛
I unfortunately woke up late this morning (which is becoming a habit now, since I sleep around 4am when the baby finally gets exhausted enough to go back to sleep) and I was thinking of just sleeping in and letting his yaya go with him to the party. But I couldn’t bear to think of breaking Joey’s little heart so I told him to go ahead and I’ll catch up with him at school. 
And snob that he is, getting pissed off that his classmate holding the mic was singing off-key
When Joey came on stage to perform with his class, his eyes were busy scanning the audience – his reaction when he saw me was priceless. His face lit up and he started shouting “my mommy’s here!” It was quite amazing and humbling to realize that this little kid still needs me and that my presence means all the world to him. 
Joey made sure to have his turn at the face painting booth – he still hasn’t gotten over his Angry Birds obsession, as you can see above.
Sigh. Kids. They grow up too fast. I just hope that ten years from now, Joey would still need me.

Martin’s Patershof

Whenever I travel, I make it a point to choose a nice hotel. It doesn’t have to be five-star, although I do require a queen-sized bed, an en-suite hot shower and clean restroom, and enough space for my luggage. But one other thing I look for is that the hotel itself should be worth the trip.

Hubby was all for booking the cheapest hotel but as soon as I saw Martin’s Patershof from the list of hotels in Mechelen, I was sold (and there goes hubby again, accusing me of splurging on hotel stays).

Martin’s Patershof used to a be a church, built by the Friar Minors (a Franciscan order) in the latter part of the 18th century. However, in the late 1990s, the order decided to sell the building and it was finally deconsecrated in 1999 and converted into a residential area. How can I not stay in this hotel?

The nice thing about the conversion is that the old church was not torn down to make way for a new structure. Instead, the church was retained and almost all of the church’s elements were incorporated into the new hotel: the altar now serves as the focal point of the main dining hall, the patio is the reception, the stained glass windows and wooden beams make for interesting interior design in most of the suites.   

The church doors turned hotel entrance
I also liked the fact that the reception area had a subdued atmosphere, not unlike the feeling you get when inside a church. It was very quiet and the lighting was dim which rendered the place all the more classy. And I must say the staff were very accommodating, allowing us early check-in (we were six hours too early for check-in since we came from Paris that day and had taken the 5am train to Brussels), and even drawing a map for me so I can decide if I wanted to walk from the hotel to the train station (which I happily did) the following day.

Lounge area near the reception.

I didn’t get to enjoy the breakfast very much though, since I woke up too late on our first day, and we left too early on our third and last day. But I did get to try it on our second day. It wasn’t as grand as the buffet spreads I’ve grown accustomed to (offering different cuisines which I don’t eat anyway) but the food was very good and all the must haves in a breakfast buffet were there – a wide selection of fresh fruit juice, cold cuts and cheese, and various types of bread, cereals, and fruits – so who am I to complain? I was more than happy and satisfied.
And the ambience was just unbeatable. How often do you get to have your breakfast inside a church? It was sooo quiet inside the dining hall and everyone looked so serious I almost felt guilty snapping these photos – I had to do some serious ninja moves to take them without being seen, hahaha!

The dining hall.

I miss having freshly baked croissants for breakfast.
The spread may look spartan but they refill them whenever each plate is almost half-empty.
Stuffed myself with smoked salmon.
Since we were staying at the hotel for the duration of the conference, I think we didn’t have any options on the room type that we were allowed to book and use our discount codes on. But I honestly didn’t bother asking as I was only too happy to stay at this hotel.
It was love at first sight when I opened our door and saw the inviting bed – comfy mattress, comfy (and many!) pillows, a nice desk, and a big bathroom (I had been dreading miniscule bathrooms since our hotel mishap in Paris – which made me swear I will never ever let hubby book our hotels again).
In fact, I loved staying in our room so much I stayed there the entire day and didn’t go out until dinner time! Fortunately, it was summer and the sun sets much later at around 11PM so I still had plenty of time to roam around.

I’ve stayed in about 15 hotels across three continents for both work and pleasure in the last 10 months before this trip but I must say, this hotel is one I would willingly choose again. I guess I’ll see you again then! 😀 

Dazzling Versailles

Since it was my first time in France, I made sure to cross off my list the touristy stuff – and of course, Versailles ranks high up on that list. I mean, come on, right? 😀
Again, we got our tickets from this trusty travel agency we discovered along Saint Michel, and got the one including entrance to the fountain show. The fountain shows are not done every day but since it was a Saturday, we were required to get it if we wanted to enter the palace gardens (which is a must!).
Versailles is about 20 kilometers from Paris. Fortunately, traffic in Europe isn’t as horrendous as in Asia (and Manila in particular) so it took our bus less than an hour to get there. Oh, and bonus points because the bus passed the Eiffel Tower.
Entrance to the palace. Look at all that gold.

So beautiful it doesn’t even look real, no? Tip: there are lots of tourists taking the trains from other cities and they usually get to Versailles in the afternoon around 1-2pm. So if you want to avoid the long lines (trust me, they might say you have skip the line tix, but just about everyone does so that means you still have to line up!), go there in the morning 

There’s a restoration project going on which is why some of the windows and cornices are bright gold while the others so-so. 
A marble (?) sculpture guarding the gates to the palace.
Versailles is probably famous for being a symbol of the excesses of the French monarchy in the 17th century. Just think about it – they already had a huge little palace called the Louvre in the heart of the city but they just had to have another somewhere in the suburbs. It was initially a hunting lodge which was refurbished and expanded into a marvelous chateau to which the royal family formally moved into around 1682. They ultimately abandoned the palace and returned to the capital during the French revolution.
A statue of Louis XIV in one of the parlors in the ground floor
The palace is H-U-G-E and I think only portions of it is open to the public, judging from the size of the structure outside and the actual tour we had and rooms we visited.
On the second level are several apartments, most striking of which, of course, are the Grand Appartement du Roi (King’s Apartment) and the Grand Appartement de la Reine (Queen’s Apartment).Personally, I liked the Queen’s and the Prince’s apartments more than the King’s, although the latter had several function rooms.
Opulent. I can’t even imagine what sleeping on a bed like that feels like.

I told you, I have a thing for chandeliers and lampposts.

Where the King conducts business and receives visitors.

Fit for a queen. Of course, they change the beddings to suit the season but I have a feeling the likes of Marie Antoinette had a thing for pastel and spring themed ones like this. 😛
A little trivia: During the revolution, Marie Antoinette escaped the mob through a “secret” door on her bedrom wall that connects to the King’s chamber.
Silver. I used to dream of having real silver at home but of course, that would probably cost me an arm and a leg. My grandmother has a partial set at her home though (but last I heard, some of them had gotten lost or stolen – I probably should have just asked for them hahaha!)

One of the highlights of Versailles is the Hall of Mirrors or Galerie des Glaces, which I’m sure most of you have heard of. And yes, it is as breathtaking as all those who’ve seen it before me have said. Perhaps even more in person. The seventeen arched windows overlook the famed gardens (which I’ll show later) and are reflected in the seventeen arched mirrors opposite them. The partitions of each window are covered in marble depictions of French symbols such as the fleur de lys. Any space left on the walls are covered in gilded sculptures and paintings and from the ceiling hang crystal chandeliers. 
Oh, and yeah, I believe the main purpose of this hall was to connect the King’s and Queen’s apartments and for the King (and members of the royal family) to reach the chapel chapel? And while on that daily walk, members of the court can gather on the sides to watch them and probably try to catch their attention? (Sorry, images from The Tudors are playing on my mind as I type this). Those walks were probably very distracting, to say the least.

This probably isn’t the best angle for taking a photo of the Hall of Mirrors – I wanted to go down on my knees but there were too many people and my protruding belly quite prevented me, so this will have to do.
The Hall of Mirrors reminds me of an ice palace, not that I’ve been to any; maybe because of the way the light streaming from the huge windows are reflected on the mirrors and chandeliers. I still have a soft spot for the Galerie d’ Apollon at the Louvre, though (nothing beats the original).

There is a restaurant inside Versailles although we didn’t go there because it was a) too expensive, b) full and c) we didn’t want to waste our half day eating there and d) I probably wasn’t too hungry then coz had I been, I would have dragged my two male companions with me. Teehee. Oh, and there is a huge souvenir shop on the ground floor and a Laduree shop – the first one I was to find in Paris (I spotted another one near the Champs Elysee but it was already around 1am and closed for the day) so of course, I had to have my fill of THE macarons.
Enjoying Laduree while walking around the gardens of Versailles. They are so good, even hubby (who doesn’t share my love of macarons) had to agree.
After having our fill of the opulent indoors, we headed outside to the sprawling gardens of the palace. And I do mean 800 hectares kind of sprawling! There are hundreds of thousands of trees and more than four dozen water fountains which are in full display during weekends of spring and autumn. These fountains still use the same water network from the reign of the kings! I tell you, the oldies know more about these stuff than we do in modern times.

Steps leading from the garden to the palace.
Cherubs in one of the fountains.
View of one side of the palace from the garden.

Okay, I just had to include this sculpture. They really have a thing for nudity.  😀
We didn’t get to roam around too much in the garden as it was simply too huge and I was too pregnant to walk which is too bad (the three inch wedges I was wearing didn’t help either) – we did find a sort of hidden garden within the garden which has a cafe (for those willing to shell out around 40 euros for a meal) and a food stall (for those who are on a tighter budget). We didn’t eat since our tour bus would be coming in about 15 minutes so we just took photos.

View from the “hidden” garden within the garden.

I would love to have a little garden like this – just trees and flowering shrubs and green tables and chairs. Someday.
Unfortunately, the Bassin du Latone (below) was being repaired at the time of our visit so it was all boarded up. The fountains were nice but I was expecting some light show or musical fountain (demanding much?) so I was kind of disappointed that it was just that. Still, the garden is worth a visit on its own.

One other item crossed off my to do/visit list!