Castello Sforzesco

Cities in Europe don’t run out of castles and palaces, and Milan is no exception. Just a few minutes away from the bustling Duomo, you will find the Castello Sforzesco, or Sforza Castle. Built in the 15th century by Francesco Sforzesco, the Duke of Milan, it was later rebuilt and enlarged, and at one point, was one of the largest forts in all of Europe. Today, however, the castle houses several museums and art collections.

The castle has undergone many renovations throughout its existence but the layout and features largely remained the same, thanks to the plans left behind. What really fascinates me about this castle is that it actually has circular towers in its corners, and I can imagine it having drawbridges in each of its entrances during its heyday.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe castle is big, but not impossible to navigate in a day (unlike Versailles or Schonbrunn), at least if you’re goal is just to circle it and maybe look into a couple of the museums housed there. There are several buildings inside, and pocket gardens with reflecting pools in the middle. Too bad though that the pool (or pond?) was very dirty during our visit. Perhaps because it was summer and everything was dry and dusty.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am a museum freak so of course, I had to drag my friends with me and our first stop was the Museum of Ancient Art, found on the ground floor of the Ducal Courtyard. This is right behind the museum ticket counter and souvenir shop, so there is no missing it, and why it serves as the logical first stop on the tour. The museum is very tourist friendly as well, since there are reading materials which you can get in each room, free of charge!

Perhaps the most imposing structure in the first and second rooms would be the Sepulchral Monument of Bernabo Visconti, former lord of Milan, which stands proud in the middle of the room. Made in 1363, the marble monument was supposed to be used for the apse of the San Giovanni church in Conca, but later used as a sepulchral monument for Bernabo Visconti after his arrest and subsequent murder (by his nephew, Gian Galazzo, who had seized power). The sarcophagus, made between 1380 and 1385, was added to the marble statue of the figure riding a horse.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are also two slabs from tombs on the floor and not to play favorites, but I liked the one of Bianca di Savoia, mother of Gian Galazzo Visconti:
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARoom VII or the Room of the Gonfalone is dedicated to sculpture from the 16th to the 18th century and various tapestries. But what immediately caught my eye (and my nose to be honest, owing to the dust and mites that must be living in colonies within) was this huge tapestry of the standard of the city of Milan, dating from the mid-16th century. It first appeared in public in 1566, during the feast of the Duomo of Milan.

The standard depicts Saint Ambrose with two soldiers at his feet, with four significant events from the life of the saint depicted along the sides of the tapestry signifying his holiness.
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In the Sala del Ducali, or Room IX, a sculpture of the Madonna and Child greets visitors upon entry. This wort of art from Jacopino da Tradate is notable for the lifelike draping of the garment – indeed, I actualy found it so meticulously carved to mimic the flow of garments as they would in real life. However, one aspect which I found severely lacking is that the face is rather unattractive. I am quite used to seeing similar scuplture where the effort is more concentrated on the facial features rather than other details. 
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One of the highlights of our tour to the Sforza Castle is being able to see up close a huge sculpture by Michaelangelo – the Rondanini Pieta. I have seen a Madonna and Child scuplture of his in Bruges, but that was from about five meters away and with velvet ropes barring me so this was actually my first close encounter with an artwork of his.

As legend would have it, the artist was working on this up to a few days before his death and that he intended for it to be given to his servant, Antonio del Francese.

The sculpture in the castle appears to have undergone several versions, with Michaelangelo superimposing another version on top of the original, and this can be seen in the different texture of various parts of the sculpture, and sometimes, it seems even different techniques employed. In any case, this pieta was not finished owing to the death of Michaelangelo.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne part of the castle was dedicated to antique furniture and cutlery and all sorts of household stuff. One word actually comes to mind whenever I see such rich/ostentatious display of wealth: nouveau riche. Each furniture was so intricately carved with gold or silver trimmings that one cannot mistake that they were deliberately put there to remind the spectator of the cost or value such a piece would have commanded.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFruit platter in solid silver, anyone? I even spied a silver cutlery set with gods and goddesses on the handles. I am forever a fan of mythology and I would love to have a similar set in my future home, but probably only in stainless steel as that’s only what I can afford. Hahaha!

I remember my grandmother had this antique set of a small flask and shot glasses made of silver in her house and thinking, it must be so expensive now. Too bad they promptly disappeared and I couldn’t find them during my next visit.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe gilded furniture kind of reminds me of the ones being sold at Muebles Italiano. Then again, it is an Italian-themed furniture store.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe last part we visited before our feet forced us to head home was the underground level containing the Egyptian section. Of course, I was ecstatic. I have been dreaming of going to Egypt since I was a kid that I think I must have been Egyptian in my past life, if I am to believe in reincarnation.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI didn’t think I’d see another Egyptian mummy just a few days after paying a visit to the one at the Louvre but what do you know. This one though is not as complete as the one in Paris, and the funeral jars are missing.

There are many other rooms at the castle containing paintings and musical instruments that we weren’t able to visit; it was simply too big, but more manageable than the Louvre and certainly easier to navigate. Our feet just couldn’t go much further after our stop at the Egyptian section. I am quite glad that we decided to explore this castle based only on our trusty Trip Advisor app as otherwise, I might have missed it completely (I didn’t really plan much for our Milan leg since I knew I was heading to Switzerland as well). Definitely one of the highlights of our Milan trip.

The Louvre (Part II) and the Tuileries

Our itinerary in Paris pretty much revolved around shopping but I made sure I at least get to revisit the Louvre and sneak in a church or two. There is so much to see at the Louvre and I’m sure you’ve all heard the quote that even if you spend just a few minutes looking at each artifact, it would take you at least three months to finish the Louvre. And you have to agree with me that a minute is definitely not enough when you are looking at something as massive and as intricate as Ramesses III’s sarcophagus!

Grey skies greeted us but nothing can dull the beauty of the Louvre.

Grey skies greeted us but nothing can dull the beauty of the Louvre.

The Louvre, which was built in the 12th century for use as a fortress, used to be the royal residence of the French monarchy until 1682 when Louis XIV moved to Versailles. It housed various offices and academies, until in 1793, it opened the doors of its museum, with mostly paintings from the royal collection on display.

We only had half a day to tour the museum before we had to rush to the stores again, and as it was my friends’ first time, I gamely took on the role of tour guide, making sure to take them to the classics such as Venus de Milo, the whole Egyptian antiquities, and of course, the Mona Lisa.

Navigating the Louvre can be tricky since there are many wings, levels, and sublevels – sometimes, you think you are on the second floor and when you go out a door, you’re in a level between two floors. Confusing! Make sure you have a map with you; if all else fails, the museum personnel are very friendly and helpful. Just pray you get an English-speaking one. My love of all things Egyptian notwithstanding, we still got lost in that particular wing more than once and spent a good thirty minutes walking around in circles around Ramsesses’ red granite sarcophagus (which looks more pink in pictures). I think the “gods” and the mummy might have been playing with us that day. Hahaha (okay, I’ll stop now before I scare myself).

Don't forget to look up; even the ceiling of the Louvre was not spared. It is gorgeous!

Don’t forget to look up; even the ceiling of the Louvre was not spared. It is gorgeous!

There are so many limestone, clay, and alabaster sculpture in the Egyptian wing. Apart from the ancient accessories and the mummy which I wrote about here, I also love the lapiz lazuli and gold statues and statuettes of gods and goddesses that the ancients were so fond of. Ahh, makes me wish I can go to Egypt right now. It has been my #1 destination since I was a young girl; people say Egypt is a place in love with death but I am in love with Egypt so maybe I have a morbid fascination.

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Gold and lapiz lazuli. I never really paid attention to the blue material until it gained extensive usage in the Vampire DIaries book (and later on, the TV series). Now, I am also obsessed with it.

After tiring ourselves getting lost, we went next to the Mona Lisa. It’s the one attraction you couldn’t possibly not see – just follow everyone and you’ll find it. And be ready to brave a sea of angry tourists, elbowing their way to get the best shot of the Mona Lisa. I would have wanted to see it up close but I get nauseous in a crowd, so I just stayed a safe distance away.

Nothing can beat the mystery that is Mona Lisa's smile.

Nothing can beat the mystery that is Mona Lisa’s smile. I didn’t think it possible, but there were even more tourists during my 2nd visit than my 1st.

After that, we went on a hunt of the famous sculptures scattered all over the museum, such as the Winged Victory of Samothrace and Venus de Milo, and headed off to find two other famous sculptures I missed during my first visit.

The Dying Slave by Michaelangelo.

The Dying Slave by Michaelangelo.

Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss by Antonio Canova.

Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss by Antonio Canova.

Psyche and Cupid’s love story is one of the first great love stories I am to learn. Psyche’s beauty and how men offered prayer and worship to her instead of Venus, made the goddess of love and beauty so jealous that she sent her son Cupid to make Psyche fall in love with the worst of men. However, as fate would have it, Cupid himself fell in love with Psyche. The story doesn’t end there and I wouldn’t spoil it all for you; trust though that after several trials, Psyche and Cupid got their happily ever after.

Just a few steps across from the Louvre is the Jardin de Tuileries, separated from each other by the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel (located in the Place du Carrousel). This arc commemorates the victories of Napoleon’s army. This is different from the more popular Arc de Triomphe de l’etoile at the Champs Elysees.

Portion of the palace as seen from the Tuileries.

Portion of the palace as seen from the Tuileries.

Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel

Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, which separates the Louvre from the Tuileries Garden.

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The garden was commissioned by Catherine de Medici in the 16th century when she decided to move to the Louvre with her son, the new king Francois II. She had a palace and a garden built near the Louvre, modeled after her native Florence, and the garden was said to be the largest and most beautiful garden in Paris at the time. It was later redesigned by Andre Le Notre, a grandson of one of Catherine’s own gardeners, and the man who also designed the gardens at Versailles.

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Various marble and bronze sculptures are strewn about the garden; walking in it is almost akin to walking in a museum. Even though the palace has been destroyed, what remains of the garden is still beautiful and I can only imagine what it must have looked like during Catherine’s time.

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There is a cafe and gelato stall in the garden, near the Orangerie, where visitors can relax after a stroll – a not so easy feat considering the park is half a kilometer long and almost as wide. If only I could teleport myself to France. Sigh.

Pinto Art Museum

Learning of the Pinto Art Museum is nothing short of serendipitous – I was actually googling for Meteora, a Greek-themed house in Tagaytay which you can rent for overnight stays in the city when I discovered that the owner of Meteora also owned a house/gallery/museum in Antipolo. 
Dragging hubby to Antipolo than to Tagaytay was easier, given that it’s just about an hour’s drive from our house. 
Getting there was a breeze and soon, we saw ourselves in front of this white-washed arched entrance:
“Pinto”, literally means door in Tagalog. The museum sits on a one hectare property which also houses the Silangan Gardens (the private sanctuary of the owner, neurologist and St.Luke’s Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Dr. Joven Cuanang).
A huge garden to the right immediately greets guests upon entry, with its own private chapel (left structure) and gift shop/office (right).  I was going to take a photo of the nearby building and pool but then I realized that it was the house of the owner already so, I didn’t out of courtesy. 🙂

Chapel

The museum was built back in 2001 as a storage space, and eventually evolved into a gallery/exhibit hall for contemporary and modern art. Majority of the artists whose works are on display in its halls are from the province of Rizal (of which Antipolo is a part of). 

In the main gallery, you will find the sprawling Karnabal occupying prime space, a very vibrant 144 x 480 inch painting by the Saling Pusa art group – undoubtedly the centerpiece of the museum.

The Karnabal. It dwarfs anyone standing beside it. I love the unified chaos – which is actually what you get when you go inside a carnival (or probably more appropriate, a perya, the local version).

I was informed by one of the staff that the entire place was designed by Antonio Leaňo. Building such a place is obviously a mean feat but I was even more amazed when he told me that Leaňo was not an architect. I guess he just went with what felt and looked good to him and the results were marvelous. 
The place is Mediterranean-inspired, full of white walls, high ceilings, arched porticos and wide windows that allow the fresh mountain air to circulate around the entire property. I just wonder how they are able to keep the rains out.
Each structure in the complex can also be considered an artwork, with its strategic and symmetrical use of picture windows flanked by wooden beams and frosted glass. Stones discovered during the building of each “house” were left as a natural decoration. To me, it gives the place an even more appealing charm (yes, I am getting redundant with each sentence).
That’s hubby standing under one of the paintings in the main hall.

One of my favorite paintings, Uyayi kay Paraluman by Karen Flores, perhaps due to the overall feeling of serenity I got just looking at it.

Karaniwang Araw by Emmanuel Garibay. Quite accurate in its portrayal of what a normal day is like for a vast majority of Pinoys – playing/watching basketball, spying in neighbors (which is what I assume the couple is doing), the husband enjoying his pastime and the wife looking after the kids. Add in a backdrop of religious tones and yeah, it’s a typical day.
There were just too many art pieces I liked that I sometimes ended up staring at some of them for a long time before moving onto the next.

This artwork caught my eye because the artist used a very interesting medium, especially given that her subject was an altar, and the product is an eerie compilation of images that seemed lit from within.
Hallow by Nona Garcia, using x-ray and light box.
Himala by Juanito Torres
The next gallery we went to had several wire sculptures by Stephanie Torres which I really found interesting. The man sitting on a wooden swing in the middle of the room set against a huge picture window with fluffy white pillows inviting the guests – the word that comes to mind is relaxing. 
 

Oblivious wire scuplture, with Twilight by Jim Orencio in the background.
A separate loft is dedicated to works of balikbayan visual artist Mark Justiniani, whose oil on canvas work, Sessions with the Messiah serves to greet visitors who enter his loft.

I am partial to blue and yellow, and set amidst a room full of interesting yet muted paintings, the Sessions with the Messiah just pops and catches the eye.

My favorite among Justiniani’s works on display, Kubling Sayaw, an oil painting on board.
Moving from one building to another is also a visual feast, as each are separated by lush gardens; I liked it that while the plants are obviously maintained, you still get the feeling that they are growing as they would in the wild and the garden doesn’t feel too contrived.
Overlooking the Siraulo Cafe, a Bizu-run cafe inside the sprawling complex. We didn’t get to eat here since we wanted to beat the traffic back to Manila but if you’ve eaten at Bizu, then select offerings from their menu are served here.
I would love to have something similar to this in our future house, with a hammock thrown in.
The next building we went to contained the more thought-provoking/controversial art pieces in the entire museum.

Sanay hindi na inalay sa manlilinlang ang unang tagay by Guerrero Habulan. I immediately thought of a woman who gave her virginity to a man who later left her. You?
The sunken church, We are here together forever until the world will be on the verge of sorrow, by Constantino Zicarelli
Perhaps one of the more, if not the most, controversial art works in the entire museum is this depiction of the University of Santo Tomas’ Main Building swarmed with rats. The fact that it was made by a UST alumnus made it all the more so. 
Tauntingly titled Like rats it returns to its true form by Constantino Zicarelli.

Future Violence by Constantino Zicarelli. Perfect timing of these three kids, sitting underneath that very graffiti-inspired piece just as I was taking a photo.
Beautiful picture windows such as this are artworks in themselves. This one overlooks the new wing of the museum.
Our last stop was the newest addition to the museum, which looked perfectly set against the clear sky. I felt like I was somewhere in the Greek islands.

This place would probably look just as good, if not better, at night time, illuminated by incandescent light.
Spacious and airy. Both ends of the building have a loft. One, I assume, is used as a bedroom.
That wooden door under the stairs holds another set of works portraying women.

I forgot to take the name of this set of works but it portrays women in various conversations.
Hubby, as usual, would not take my picture and I didn’t have my trusty tripod with me so I did this:
I shoot you, you shoot me? Nah, he wasn’t taking my photo but of the view. I thought it hilarious that we were both taking pictures at the same time.

There’s one hidden room near the side entrance of the new building which should not be missed. The staff mentioned that the good doctor gave Leaňo this room and allowed him a free hand in what to do with it. 
Simply titled Forest, the room mimics a bamboo forest, with large basins serving as ponds with boulders seemingly floating in the air. The floor is littered with fresh leaves – I had to ask the guy if they change the leaves regularly coz the entire room smelled of freshly cut grass.
Our last stop was the Gallery Shoppe found at the entrance of the museum where art pieces, souvenir items, and other curio are for sale.
Lutang by Mark Justiniani, is another one of my favorites.
I know practically nothing about art (styles, movements, etc) and I never attended classes on art appreciation but I love looking at them (getting envious in the process – dear parents, how come I was not gifted?), so I cannot give you any useful critique or interpretation other than describe them to you and share my favorites. But I would definitely recommend making the trip to Antipolo to visit this gem of a place.
Stairway to Heaven?

*Some tips: 
If you are driving, take the Ortigas Avenue all the way to Ortigas Extension, passing by the Cainta Junction and on to Tikling. Proceed uphill until you reach the Ynares center (should be on your left); take a right turn on the first street to your right and go straight until you reach the gate to Grand Heights Subdivision.
If via commute, take the jeepney (or FX) going to Antipolo and get off at the Ynares Center. From there, you can take a tricycle to Grand Heights.
The Pinto Art Museum is located on the first street from the gate. The address is 1 Sierra Madre, Grand Heights, Antipolo City. It’s open from 9AM to 6PM, Tuesdays to Sundays. Entrance fees are Php150 for adults and Php75 for students. Senior citizens get 20% discount.
They have a facebook page where they regularly announce upcoming events and exhibits, and for those interested in renting the venue or having pictorials there, the contact information is also listed. 


Theater: The Sound of Music

Who has not fallen in love with The Sound of Music when they were kids? Practically all of us have grown up listening to the songs from this musical and have watched the movie (or even the animated version shown over ABS CBN many years ago). Well, Ipe and I are huge fans; in fact, the hubby has even kept tabs on the stars well into adulthood. Needless to say, when we heard about the production being shown at the Newport Performing Arts Theater, we knew we had to watch.
Hubby was lucky enough to get three front row seats, right smack in the middle where you can see even the tiniest beads of sweat or the quiver of a lip of the performer.
The Story
For those unfamiliar with the Story of Music (I must ask you though, under what rock are you living under?), it’s actually the tale of how Maria Rainer, a postulant at the Nonnberg Abbey, was sent by the Mother Abbess to be a governess to the seven children of widowed baron, Captain Georg Von Trapp, during the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany.
A decorated naval officer, the Captain’s household is run with military precision, with all members of the household, his children include, responding to a whistle and their daily exercise consisting of coordinated marches. After the death of his wife, the Captain spent less and less time at their estate in Austria, and forbid music in their home. As a result, the children grew up not knowing him, and would always get rid of their governess since they knew that without one, their father would be forced to come home to hire a new one.
Maria, being the rule breaker that she is and with the best of intentions, brings out the children’s inborn love for music and teaches them how to sing in the Captain’s absence, and in the process forges a genuine caring relationship with the children.
By the time Captain Von Trapp returns home with his soon-to-be-fiancee, the Baroness Elsa Shraeder, the children have all undergone a great change in their demeanor, even learning to wear play clothes as opposed to the uniforms the Captain makes them wear. Needless to say, Maria and the Captain soon discover they are falling for the other, or rather, the people around them discover it.
Maria runs back to the convent, afraid that falling in love with the Captain is against her chosen vocation until the Mother Abbess convinces her that “just because you love the Captain, doesn’t mean you love God any less.” The two eventually get married and with the threat of the Captain being forced to lead a naval fleet as part of the German contingent (forcing him to choose whether to side with Germany for his family’s safety or keep true to his patriotic nature and refuse), must figure out how to survive while keeping their family intact.
There are subtle differences between the musical and the movie versions such as how the Captain and the Baroness broke up because of political differences (in the movie, the Baroness broke up with him because she realized he was in love with Maria), and how the Postman let them escape (again, in the movie, he wasn’t as nice; he actually alerted the Nazi of the Von Trapp’s plan and whereabouts); am not sure why, but either version works well with me.

Of course, there are also differences between the theatrical version and the real-life story of the von Trapp family but on the whole, remains true to the main story. 

The Production
Honestly, I have not watched many stage productions, and so my cannot compare it with much. Given this, I must say the production exceeded my expectations – from the set, to the costume, to the orchestra, to the actors.
Every scene is rendered vividly with the aid of a LED screen occupying the entire wall of the stage, reportedly one of the biggest in a theatre in Asia, further enhanced by backdrops that are so far one of the most elaborately prepared sets I have seen in the country. In fact, the props alone made me think that I was getting way more out of the deal than what I have paid for – it was quite obvious that no expense was spared for the production to be as faithful to the story’s setting as possible.
The transition from each act/scene was also seamless – each change of backdrop perfectly timed and coordinated and I didn’t feel or hear any scrambling going on onstage, even though I was seated just a few feet from the edge.
And for the ticket price (VIP tickets cost Php 2,000), I wasn’t really expecting a live orchestra to play but there they were! Being an accountant, I got quite preoccupied estimating the musical’s expenses, which I am expecting, is stratospheric compared to its revenues, even though they were performing for a full house (and I heard tickets are almost all sold out). Geeky ole me.
The Actors
Of course, the gems of any stage production are the actors. Really, you can get over an ugly set but will never get satisfied by a mediocre performance. I was looking forward to seeing Joanna Ampil who I have yet to see onstage but Cris Villonco was playing Maria last Saturday. I remember her from her days as an aspiring recording singer and while her voice was clear and  had depth, she never really reached full stardom, perhaps because of her too wholesome image, and the fact that her the songs she recorded were not really that memorable. So, I was initially less than thrilled that I would be watching her.
But to my pleasant surprise, she gave a powerful performance and really impressed me that night. I love, love, love her voice, how she effortlessly switched between notes and jumped octaves and conveyed her emotions through her voice. She brought me to tears several times (also, I was seated right in front of her that I could see her tears glistening onstage), especially when she realized she had fallen in love with the captain and that he was going to marry the Baroness, and in that scene when the Nazi’s were after them and she was telling the captain that his decision (whether to side with the Germans or escape) will also be her decision. I know some feminists will not like this part, arguing that she should have her own opinions, and while I agree with this view, there are some things wherein you will really have to respect your man’s decision.
The Captain was portrayed perfectly by Audie Gemora, no doubt my favourite Filipino stage actor. I was a fan of his even when I was younger and I must say the quality of his voice has not changed. He makes singing look so easy and I could feel the tension he was feeling as the Von Trapp family was performing at the Festival, with the Nazi waiting to take him away right after their performance. Really, I cannot say anything more other than he was damn good.
I must say though, I didn’t initially feel the attraction between the Captain and Maria, until well into the second act. And I found it quite amusing that Cris probably used to play his daughter in one musical or another but now plays his wife, though of course, we know that the love story of the captain and the novice was really a May-December affair.
And I must not forget to mention Pinky Amador’s performance as the Baroness and Sheila Francisco as the Mother Abbess, which were stellar. Marvin Ong as Rolf Gruber was also brilliant – I think he was my second favourite singer in the production, next of course to Audie.
Perhaps one of the best surprises of the night was seeing Debraliz as Frau Schmidt. It was a non-singing part but Debraliz was so hilarious and you could tell the audience was looking forward to her scenes as some of them give tiny whoops of delight whenever she was onstage. Indeed, she got one of the loudest claps at the curtain call.
There are some weak links in the line-up though, mostly on the actors playing the seven Von Trapp kids. Tanya Manalang as eldest daughter Liesl was okay but she should practice her breathing technique as I could hear every catch in her breath when she sings and there were instances when I was almost fearful that her voice would break. Paolo Ocampo, as eldest son Friedrich, was probably the wost singer in the bunch, and possibly the worst actor as well, given that, well, he couldn’t do either. But since the character doesn’t really have a solo number and just limited one-liners, this was not a big problem.
Oh, and a little bit of trivia: Aga Muhlach and Charlene Gonzales’ baby girl Atasha plays Brigitta, the third youngest kid. I must say this kid has a bright future – she’s pretty and from the looks of it, inherited Aga’s acting chops as well.
The Final Say
I couldn’t sum up how good the production was but to repeat what I said above, I felt like Newport charged too less, considering the caliber and quality of the musical. And what better affirmation can I give you that it was good, other than that and to mention that all throughout the three-hour long musical, Joey sat still on his seat, occassionally even swinging his legs to the beat?
Souvenir program “Sazburg Gazette” showing current events in 1938; inside are primers about the production
Production runs until December 11 so hurry and get your tickets at Resorts World or at TicketWorld.

National Museum

Ipe and I almost always find ourselves in the Intramuros area whenever we don’t have anything to do and this Sunday was no exception. But given that it was high noon and it would have been torture to roam around under the sun, we decided to go to the National Museum first, as it had been over a year since our last visit.
Luckily for us, several wings have been reopened to the public AND you can go in for free! Apparently, Sundays are free so better make the trip. 🙂
Hall of Masters
First on our stop was the Hall of Masters. You can’t really miss this as this is the main hall of the entire building and it’s directly in front of the museum entrance. Here, you will find the masterpieces of Juan Luna and Felix Hidalgo: the Spoliarium and the Assassination of Bustamante. 
The Assassination of Bustamante

Spoliarium
I love their work and while I can’t decide who the better painter is, I personally prefer Hidalgo. His paintings look so life-like, especially his portraits. Even the gradation of light to depict creases and wrinkles on the skin is rendered so masterfully. If you stand a few feet back from his paintings, you’d think they were photographs.
Unfortunately, most of Hidalgo’s paintings, indeed all my favourites of his, are located in a different museum – at the Bangko Sentral Museum to be specific so you might want to check it out (it’s just a few kilometres away).
One painting of Luna that I particularly like, is his Portrait of a Lady. I can’t determine what draws me to it, perhaps the colors or how the face reminds me of European paintings (we have the Louvre coffee table book full of paintings at home and I browse through it in my idle time – a sort of present/souvenir from hubby from his trip there).  
Portrait of a Lady
 
Amorsolo
The Museum has an entire gallery devoted to Fernando Amorsolo’s works – from his sketches to his paintings. Fitting enough, considering that he is our country’s first National Artist for Painting.

some of Amorsolo’s portraits

Walls full of sketches
Favorite Paintings
Several galleries are devoted to paintings and indeed, there is one devoted entirely to National Artists such as painters Joya, Edades and sculptors Abueva and Tolentino. Masters who belong to that distinct group of last men you address only by their last names. Funny though that I felt like I was rattling off the names of condominium towers at Rockwell. 😛
Modern Maria Clara by Victorio Edades, 1958
Kagampanan by Napoleon Abueva, 1970

Bust by Guillermo Tolentino

The Hills of Nikko by Jose Joya, 1964
There were also other paintings which I particularly like, spread out across various galleries.

Up Site Today, Dominador Castaneda, 1945
Fugitive from the Japanese, Dominador Castaneda, 1945
Bonifacio Brother by Carlos Valino, 1973

Death March, Dominador Castaneda, 1948

Hmm, I seem to favor a lot of paintings by Castaneda. I love the theme – mostly WWII. Nothing gory but it somehow evokes strong emotions from me.
Mother’s Revenge by no less than Jose Rizal

Some of my favorite halls, especially the “checkered” hall – reminds me of San Agustin Church in Intramuros and Baclayon Church in Bohol:

Senate Session Hall

One notable portion that Ipe and I were really excited to see is the old Senate Session Hall at the 3rd level of the building. It was based on the original design of Ralph Harrington Duane as revised by Juan Arellano.
The ornaments were done by Isabelo Tampinco and his sons Angel and Vidal. If I am not mistaken, this is one of very few structures, if not the only one, in the country with such intricate statues of Greek and Egyptian gods. The statues though were too far up for me to see and my trusty camera can’t get a good enough zoom photo of them; but while these lend grandeur to the hall, I was a bit confused as to what this myriad of characters was supposed to represent.
In any case, the hall is still under renovation; I honestly didn’t think hubby and I should be there but the workers kind of forgot to close the main doors so we just assumed it was open for viewing (and only as we were exiting the place did we see the “No Entry” sign).

The Progress of Medicine

A recent addition to the masterpieces housed in the museum is Carlos Francisco’s Progress of Medicine – a set of four panels depicting the evolution of medicine in the country from pre-colonial, colonial, American and the Modern Era (up until the time it was painted in any case, back in 1953). These paintings were commissioned by Dr. Eduardo Quisumbing, Dean Agerico Sison, Dr. Florentino Herrera Jr., and Dr. Constantino Manahan, and were originally installed in the entrance hall of the Philippine General Hospital.
The paintings should be viewed chronologically, clockwise, from top left
Obviously though, being exposed to the public in uncontrolled temperature and humidity had deteriorated the paintings so badly that several restoration works had to be done to salvage them, until finally, it was decided that they be transferred to the Museum where they can be better preserved for future generations. As a compromised, a detailed replica was installed in its original location.
Under Renovation
There are still lots more rooms under renovation; indeed, there are more closed rooms than open and I am almost giddy with anticipation for when they do finally open. I saw a note on one of the hallways that the renovation cost for the entire place is budgeted at Php10MM and I was, to be honest, dismayed. Even without much knowledge in construction, I knew that budget was too small to fully restore the museum to its old grandeur. That amount is barely enough to cover one floor, let alone a mammoth complex. I wish rich art patrons would donate to this cause because there’s a lot of potential for it to be really attractive and worth tourists’ money.

For those who haven’t visited yet, you can take the 360-degree tour here.

Tagaytay Weekend Get-away

What with all the stress lately, hubby decided to take me for a weekend off in Tagaytay (yeah, loser me works on weekends now) to de-stress. Given though that hubby isn’t good with the planning thing, it was my job to ensure all bookings and reservations are done as I don’t want my me-time ruined by mundane issues. 🙂
I usually dislike driving up to Tagaytay because of the weekend crowd but surprisingly, there was hardly any traffic, even in the city itself, and we were there in less than an hour. But I’d still avoid it on long weekends and holidays – as there is only one major road, all cars pile up. 
Number one on the agenda: Lunch! I’ve never been to Antonio’s, partly because a couple of people had warned me of the price and some have told me the food wasn’t worth it; but since they opened the smaller-scale and affordable Antonio’s Grill, I knew I had to go there  first before I decide whether to try Antonio’s itself and find out if all the hype is true.
Sinampalukang Manok (Php 415, good for 2-3)
We ordered the Sinampalukang Manok and Liempo. Now,I have been wanting to cook sinampalukang manok since forever but I can’t find fresh tamarind leaves so I was very eager to try this dish. But, while it was good, I can’t help feeling disappointed – I have a high standard for this dish as I’ve tasted heavenly sinampalukang manok cooked by my papa and it was nowhere near it.
Liempo (Php 255, good for 2-3)
The liempo though, could have tasted a lot better. For a place being run by the same guy who is famed for his grilled food, it was a big disappointment. I found the liempo too oily and fatty, although it was a visual treat. 
So what’s my verdict for Antonio’s Grill? Undecided. Since it was our first time here, I want to try it again in the future – they serve Filipino food and there are a lot more I want to try on their menu. Besides, it can’t have gotten its reputation in the first place if it was no good so I think it deserves a chance to redeem itself in my taste buds.
After lunch, we headed to my favorite retreat this side of town – Sonya’s Garden. I promise, I can live there just smelling the garden full of bright flowers in full bloom and herbs and vegetables growing freely everywhere. The place itself is the main draw – if a fairy tale could be bottled in a fragrance, it would have smelled like Sonya’s.  And I love that the garden doesn’t look contrived – it’s like Sonya just threw seeds around, not bothering to think what kind of flowers they are as long as they grow.  And the result is just picture perfect. The fact that the place serves a mean salad and adobo is just a bonus.
Little treats like this fountain are strewn along the walkways
Anyway, our agenda for this visit is not the food but to pamper ourselves.
Foot Spa area
my hideous feet soaked in warm water with dalandan
Hubby slept through the entire process while I spent the first half examining the bowl of flowers floating around in rosewater in front of me:
I slept halfway through the massage. 😛 It was very good, and I loved the oil they used (can you guys tell by now that I am enamored by this place?). After the massage, we were served delicious hot tea (I can’t recall the leaves right now though).
It’s only now that I discovered they also sell rosewater spray – I have always been a fan of roses, even as a child and if you’ve been to our house, you’d know it almost always smells like roses. So, naturally, I bought some to take home with me. 🙂
The biggest and prettiest yellow gumamela I have ever seen
pantomine duo outside Pancake and Starbucks
Oh, and on the way back to our room, we stopped to have comfort food for dinner – Pancake House. Now, this place has been by go-to shelter when under a barrage of issues back at my old company and it still brings back those moments. We almost missed it though, as the sign is blasted and could not be seen from the highway. Good thing we were set on eating here (well, this trip was to de-stress and Pancake House reminds me of just that so it was imperative that we eat here).
After that, it was time to snooze off. Or in my case, I ended up curled in bed, reading a good book. We stayed at Jessar Apartments. Now, we have been loyal customers of this apartelle – it’s cheap but doesn’t compromise on service and facilities. The rooms are very clean with a queen sized bed (you can have an additional mattress for extra charge since the room is quite big), have hot water and toiletries, cable TV, free wifi, and free breakfast for two – all for Php 1,600 a night.
A relaxing day which I can’t wait to do again. I’d say, mission accomplished!

Cats in Manila

I have to hand it to Lea Salonga – she is really a great singer. She doesn’t have the biggest voice or hits the highest notes but she gave me goosebumps and made me cry the entire time she was singing . 
Got to watch Cats last Friday (orchestra tickets part of hubby’s birthday gift to me). It runs till mid of August so I recommend that you guys try to catch it if tickets are still available.