Iloilo

A couple of weeks ago found me on a rather spontaneous trip to Iloilo. The hubby invited me prior to the trip but my work schedule has been unpredictable as of late that it was quite impossible for me to say yes until about two days before the flight. But, you can’t really keep the wanderlust at bay, right?

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Me and my trusty Yosi Samra gold ballet flats. They’re super comfortable and convenient (you can stash them anywhere), although the material doesn’t let the air breath unlike the more expensive ones. Sometimes, the old saying that you get what you pay for is true.

I didn’t have an agenda prepared for this (so unlike me), other than to visit the Miagao Church, the last Unesco-listed baroque church in the country that I haven’t been to, and to sleep, so when our hotel arranged for a city-tour, I was more than happy to go.

We originally planned on hearing mass at Miag-ao but most of our group woke up late (guilty as charged), we decided to just tour around and hear mass at the next town.

What can I say? The Sto. Tomas de Villanueva Parish Church in Miagao is indeed very beautiful. Completed towards the end of the 18th century and situated at the highest point of the town, the church is also called the Miagao Fortress Church, as it served another purpose as a defensive tower against Muslim raids. Four-meter thick flying buttresses further fortify its 1.5 meter inch walls. A mixture of adobe, limestone and coral used for its walls provides it with its pale pink/orange hue.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe facade of the church has a bas relief, of which the most noticeable feature is a carving of a coconut tree, the tree of life, to which St. Christopher hangs on to. Beneath him is a carving of the town’s patron saint, Saint Thomas de Villanueva.

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What I love about going to the provinces is that they have many well-preserved old churches. Iloilo is one such place. The next church on our list is the San Joaquin Church, found along the borders of Iloilo and Antique. Built in the latter part of the 19th century, what sets this church apart is the large bas relief depicting the Battle of Tetuan between the Spanish and Moroccan Moors. It is the only church in the country to have a militaristic theme.

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Flanking the entrance to the church are statues of Saint Francis of Assissi and Saint Peter Regalado, the latter being the patron saint of bullfighters – quite apt at the time as San Joaquin was famous for bullfights during feasts.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur third and last for the day, and where we heard mass, was the Jaro Cathedral, or the  Santuario Nacional de Nuestra Señora de la Calendaria, which was completed in 1874. It is quite unique in that there is a grand staircase in front with a shrine of Our Lady of the Candles. This Marian image holds the distinction of being canonically crowned by Pope John Paul II during his 1981 visit.

The belfry of the church stands right across the street from it. Curiously, this wasn’t originally its bell tower. An old church used to stand beside the tower but it has since been destroyed, leaving just its bell tower.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe statue is said to be miraculous and devotees flock to it on its feast day, Feruary 2.

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Our city tour wasn’t just confined to Iloilo – a three-hour van ride (one-way) found us on the other end of Panay island, in Antique. I honestly thought I was mistaken when I saw sign boards saying Boracay. 😅 Apparently, our guide wanted us to swim in the Siraan hot springs. Except that we only had fifteen minutes at the place so I wasn’t exactly sure how she thought we could do that. So we just stood there, snapped some pics, and settled back for the three-hour ride back to Iloilo.

Pardon the sarcasm. Up to now, I still could not figure out why we had to go there in the first place. Plus, not that I am a snob or anything, the place kind of looked unsanitary.

IMG_6081We did see some marvelous views of the ocean and a distant island, and you know me – a dose of vitamin sea can make me happy.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABack in Iloilo, our last stop found us lining up at the “I Am Iloilo” signage for picture-taking. I thought it was some big structure you can climb, like the one in Amsterdam (which I think is the progenitor of this fad). So we hauled ourselves to the Iloilo River Esplanade for this:

IMG_6089Well, I would have climbed on top of it if I thought it could support me – but the letters were actually just about two or so feet each and I am not sure if it was even made of thick steel so the picture above would have to do. The esplanade reminded me of Manila Bay, where you can walk and have fish balls while listening to the waves crashing; except that this one is beside a river so no chance really of crashing waves. They do have restaurants and some kiosks selling food.

After a 10-hour day, of which six were spent riding a cramped and hot van, we ended our tour with a visit to Ted’s for a taste of the famed La Paz Batchoy. I heard so many raves about this hand-made noodle dish that I had to have a bowl to myself (yeah, and that huge block of chocolate you could spy in the background was mine as well). Verdict? The soup was rich – oily, as you would expect noodles and anything with beef in it – and the noodle was tasty, an intriguing mix of sweet/salty with a very light but distinct bitter aftertaste. However, it’s not for me. I still prefer the lowly lomi and those Japanese ramen.

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There are a lot more churches and natural wonders to visit not just in Iloilo but in the entire island. Iloilo also serves as the perfect jump off point to Guimaras, which is a short boat ride away so I just might visit in the near future.

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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. 


Travel Make-Up Kit

When I was younger (teens and my early 20s), I didn’t care much about make-up and skincare. In fact, I never owned anything remotely related to beauty. It was only in my late-20s that I discovered and cultivated an obsession with cosmetics and since then, I’ve become some sort of hoarder, although I have yet to get to the part where I actually learn to use them. 
 
But even though I am practically clueless when it comes to putting these products on me, I have a tendency to pack every single one I could into my luggage whenever I travel. You know, for that unforeseen event when you would have to do your own make-up and everything. And because I have this weird notion that I know and have the time to put them on before I step out my hotel room for the day, so that I would at least look decent in my travel photos. 
 
Ahh, such trivial pursuits. Hehe. 
 
But, packing five bottles of foundation and a dozen lipsticks can be quite problematic for those of us with limited baggage allowance (not to mention my overpacked kikay kit is bursting) so I figured, why not edit a bit, right? So I stared long and hard at my dresser drawer and figured out which products I use on a daily basis (in an ideal world).
 
  • Primer. I’ve recently discovered this primer, That Gal, from Benefit which I absolutely love. It’s pink and it brightens my usually dull and pale skin, plus it smells like strawberries! I’m usually allergic to fruity scents but for some reason, this one agrees with my nose. 
  • Lip/Cheek tint and blush. Also from Benefit , this nifty little box of tricks is a lifesaver. I mean, it has a small bottle of bestsellers Benetint (lip/cheek tint) and High Beam (a highlighter), a powder blush, a creamy gloss, a brush, and a pocket mirror. With matching instructions to boot! I normally just use the tint and highlighter though, since I’m too lazy to use powder blush and I tend to “eat” the gloss. 
  • Cream blush. On days when I really want to look a little made-up or more presentable, I put on this Nars Orgasm blush. This has been voted the best blush-on many times and what can I say? It lives up to the hype.
 
From left: Kikay kit from Benefit contaiing tint, highlighter, powder blush and lipgloss; Nars Orgasm cream blush; Benefit’s That Gal primer

Oh, and one other thing I love? This little wand from Benefit which has the tint on one end and a clear gloss on the other end. See? You only need this in your bag and you’re good to go! And did I mention that the tint smells oh so rosy? As a finishing touch and when my face feels a little too oily, I pat down this minty face balm, also from Benefit. It works as an oil absorbent and also to set your make-up and it smells citrusy. But again, for some reason, my nose loves it!

 

Clockwise from tip: Benefit’s Pocket Pal with tint and gloss; L’Occitane’s Rose hand cream; Benefit’s Dr. Feel Good face balm; Clinique spot correcting cream; Benefit’s high-beam. These are the minimum carry-ons in my kikay kit.

And I just have to add this little power-packed moisturizer. During my last foreign trip, my skin got so dry (I think it got confused with the weather – 31 C during the day and 11 C during the night) it started cracking. None of the moisturizers I packed (the Tea Tree line from The Body Shop) helped so I asked the kind girl at Sephora to give me her strongest moisturizer and she gave me this FAB Ultra Repair Cream. FAB actually stands for First Aid Beauty. And it truly lives up to its name. 
 
FAB repair cream; Benetint lip balm with SPF – smells like roses!

On a side note, I’m stuck in bed right now and since I don’t want to be totally unproductive, thought I’d write about some of my latest make-up purchases. These babies aren’t exactly new – just a very late post. Hope you get to try and like them as much as I do!

Cebu in One Day

Since summer is almost done and I have yet to do any major trips (my Bohol trip last February doesn’t count – I still consider it part of the Christmass-y season though it was very hot), I decided to tag along one of hubby’s trips for a weekend in Cebu. 

(But to more precise, I think it’s hubby’s way of making sure I don’t nag him for being away for most of the summer. I can’t nag him for always going on trips if I’m with him, right???)

Anyway, this was the view from the hallway outside our room:


I’m a crab (born under the Cancer sign) and while I don’t believe all those zodiac things, I do love the water. I can spend hours or days just looking at it.
We stayed at the Costa Bella resort. I was a little hesitant at first since I read not so good reviews about the place. It was isolated and the beach front wasn’t really much; plus the pool closes at 7 and 10 (for pools 1 and 2, respectively). But, the people were very nice and I really liked the room. Too bad though that the hubby lost his Tissot watch there – sad because since we got married, we’ve been buying his/hers watches and now one of mine doesn’t have its “partner.”
Sorry for the lopsided shot – I had only two hours of sleep since I got home really late, had to work some more and slept at 1AM only to get up at 3AM for our early morning flight.
Enough about that. There aren’t really a lot of touristy places in Cebu (and the beaches are subpar compared to nearby Bohol and Boracay) so you can easily just get a car rental and breeze through the city.

Our first stop was Magellan’s Shrine in Mactan. Not much here but place was really well-kept and not crowded. Too bad it was so hot that we forgot all about Lapu-Lapu nearby.


After that, we went to Fort San Pedro. I read somewhere that it’s the smallest fort in the country – quite obvious as you can circle (err… the place is actually triangular in shape) the place in 10-15 minutes.

The fort used to have fourteen cannons, and judging from the number I saw, I guess most of them are still there.

The place is kind romantic – it had a garden inside which I think would make for a lovely wedding reception. But again, I’m showing my personal bias here – hubby and I were married in Intramuros and had our reception inside one of the gardens there.



We also went to mass at the Pedro Calungsod Chapel – built by the Sy family inside the sprawling SM Compound. I kind of got lost hearing mass because parts were in Mandarin, even the songs!


We were quite famished after the mass so we headed out to CRT…but they ran out of lechon. 😦 So… we settled for the 2nd best lechon in Cebu: Rico’s Lechon. 

Which was quite a disappointment. The meat wasn’t tender and flavorful and the skin wasn’t crispy. I was happier with the lechon sold at the Market Market grocery. And the staff weren’t very friendly – there were five of us in the group and they kept insisting that the 5th member of our group sit in a separate table – by himself!!! Of course, we wouldn’t have it so we politely told them that the best thing to do was to push the two tables to the wall, thereby creating enough space for five, leave the aisle open and the 3rd table free for other customers. I think they hated us for suggesting it. 

But if ever you end up eating at this place, get the spicy lechon. The original one was no good at all.




After lunch, our guide took us to the Cebu Heritage Monument, a sculpture by National Artist Edgardo Castrillo, depicting different eras in Cebu’s history – perhaps one of the nicest monuments I’ve seen in the country. I mean, we don’t have this in Manila!



Perhaps the highlight of our tour was the Yap – San Diego ancestral house which was just across the street from the monument. Hubby and I are suckers for old stuff and our dream is to have an old-style Filipino house so this was a real treat.
Dining room downstairs – I don’t really think the family used this space as a dining room back in the day. As far as I know, the ground floor of old Filipino houses are almost always used as stock rooms.
Playing master and mistress of the old house.
The formal dining room upstairs
The master’s bedroom which is still used today. They’ve put insulators so they can put air conditioning in the room, otherwise, the place would have been unbearably hot.

Breakfast nook. Do you spy those gold plates and pitchers? Now I want to go to my lola’s house and horde hers. They’re antique and I would hate to see them just broken to pieces.
This is perhaps the spookiest site in the house. I don’t know about you but I have a certain fear of images and statues.


Manong had to explain to my companions what this chair is for but I already knew! In fact, we had an even more indulgent version at home – a rocking chair version carved out of narra with long armrests for you to rest your legs on (not your arms, mind you). It was one of my favorite hangouts at my parent’s house ( inherited my love of wooden furniture from them so you’ll see lots of narra, mahogany and teakwood stuff at our family house). Hahaha!

Of course, we couldn’t miss Magellan’s Cross:

Just ignore the Ben10 balloon floating in the ceiling, will you?
Colorful candles for the devoted Catholics who want to pray at Magellan’s Cross
The Santo Nino Basilica, or what you can make of it anyway on a busy Sunday.
Okay, we’re not Taoists but this temple was part of our guide’s itinerary and I’ve never really been to one so there. It’s inside the gated Beverly Hills community up in the mountains overlooking the city (I almost laughed when our guide said we were going to Beverly Hills – I thought he was joking).


I have to say – while dragons are one of the symbols of the devil for Catholics like me, I respect the way the Chinese  revere their places of worship. The place was immaculate and obviously well-kept. If I were part of this religion, I would really be proud of this temple.
We didn’t dare climb the steps up to the temple itself. I was in no condition to hike for obvious reasons and we were all tired so we just gawked at how pretty the temple looked and went on our way.

Our last stop was Tops – quite a literal description of the place since it is the highest vantage point in Cebu. I don’t recall visiting this place during our honeymoon seven years ago (7 years!!!) but the hubby insisted we did so fine. It’s not that he has a better memory but since I couldn’t prove otherwise, I just let the argument swing to his favor.


Pretty! Once you step in, the labyrinth-like tunnels open up to tables on the right…
… and stores on the left.


viewing deck
Well, that’s it for my short but sweet Cebu escapade. We stayed only two days (and I spent the first day just catching up with our friends) but I really enjoyed it.

Baclayon Heritage Tour


Hubby and I being of the nerdy type, we got the not so usual Baclayon Heritage Tour. It’s not at all touristy so I must warn you that unless you’re a history nerd, don’t book this tour – we actually didn’t go to any tourist spot, except for the Baclayon Church and museum.

This photo was taken from the garden of Bohol Bee Farm, but I really love the brialliant color of the flower, which I think fits in more with this post than my earlier one. So random, I know. Hahaha. 😀


Now, the last two times I was here, I never got to go inside the museum. It was always either closed, or we were too late. Guess third time’s the charm. I don’t have any photos though since picture taking isn’t allowed but suffice to say that if you like seeing antique Church stuff, then a visit is a must. 

View from the back of the old convent, since converted into a museum, containing old church paraphernalia such as animal skin bound sheet music (wider than my body!)
Old tiles for the church’s floor, imported from Spain and other European countries when the church was built centuries ago. Looks familiar? They should. San Agustin also has those black and white tiles, same with almost all the Spanish-era churches we have.
View of the Baclayon Church from the viewing deck out in the sea.


Anyway, what I really loved about this tour was the lazy way we roamed about town, looking at the (very) old cemetery, going to ancestral houses, smelling ylang-ylang fresh from the tree… perfect for a vacation aimed to recover from the stress of city life and to celebrate hubby’s resignation from his first job (can you believe it? I’ve been with six companies in 11 years; he’s been with only one for 13 years). 

We had a chance to sit down and have proper hot cocoa and broas right in the church’s backyard, all set-up for us by our kind hosts for the tour. Think of it as the Pinoy equivalent of English tea, except that we didn’t have tea and scones. It was perfect – I could have sat there all afternoon, reading a book. This would have been the highlight of our trip (until dinner that is). 
 

You all know how I’m such a sucker for tsokolate – it’s so much better than all the Swiss Miss of the world combined. And now, we found the perfect broas!

The broas served to us were so good (melts-in-your-mouth good!) that we just had to ask where to get them. And wouldn’t you know? It was being made from a house right across the church – by the same family that’s been making it for three generations. 

Secret to the broas’ quality and taste? They’re prepared through a very manual process using “pugon” style oven, with charcoals and bamboo sticks. I know it’s sort of primitive and I kind of feel sorry that the makers don’t seem to be very well-off despite making such good broas, but I guess this process is what makes them perfect.


We went to a local herbologist and got oriented with a dozen or so of medicinal plants. Now, I have very poor memory so I took down notes (yes, nerdy me won over that I actually whipped out my phone to type what she had to say) although I haven’t had time to organize them.   


We visited more old houses after that; I even got to see old wedding dresses from the 60’s and we capped off the tour with a very simple but sumptuous dinner care of our host:
 


This. Is. The. Life. I wish I could live like this forever and 1) never get fat and 2) never have to return to the city jungle. Hahaha. 😀

Panglao Tour

The nice thing about Bohol is that it’s so big and so diverse that there’s always something new waiting for you. I always think of it as the perfect summer getaway – it has the beach requirement down pat, dive sites and fish sanctuaries, adventure trails, natural wonders, old architecture, and museums.
So this being my third time in Bohol and hubby’s second, we decided to skip the usual countryside tour and island hopping (I would have gone on the 2nd but hubby wasn’t too interested), and booked us for the not so common Panglao Tour. I mean, it’s still touristy but this particular tour takes a backseat to the ones I mentioned earlier – no chocolate hills, no river cruise, tarsier, etc.
Perfect.
Our day started early at 8am and our first stop was Dauis Church. I’ve been wanting to visit this church even before my first trip since it’s the 3rd oldest church in Bohol (Baclayon is first and Loboc is second; why skip the third when it’s practically a few minutes away?).
 

The present church was built in 1863 by the Augustinian Recollects after the Jesuits (the original missionaries) were expelled from the country in the 18th century. It is one of the most beautiful churches I’ve seen in the country. The frescoes are still very vivid despite, according to the guide at the church, not having been retouched at all and the black and white tiles used on the floor is similar to the those of San Agustin (and most old churches in the country for that matter).


A unique draw of this church is the well in front of the altar – said to have healing waters, the church was actually built around this well and a small wooden perimeter marks the well’s location. The guide said this well is opened only once a day, to draw water which is then put into plastic bottles and given out for free. Yes, free. But of course, donations are most welcome.  


The backyard, almost as big as the church and surrounded by trees, offers a nearly unobstructed view of the sea across from it. Indeed, if not for the small houses/structures dotting the shoreline, the view would have been perfect. 

Oh, and I found this sign outside which is just too funny! I mean, I agree with what it says but no one would ever have dared put this up in Manila, where people are just too caught up with everything cosmopolitan that they forget their manners. See, that’s one thing I like about Bohol – they keep the traditions intact. Oh, and you can’t get away with sleeveless tops and short bottoms inside any church here. They have tops and skirts prepared for you to borrow should you dare (as I have learned all three times I’ve been to this province).

Our second stop was Hinagdanan Cave just a few minutes away. We were lucky we had the entire cave to ourselves and took as many pictures as we could. Or rather, Manong Razzi (as in paparazzi, he said) did as he seemed more knowledgeable about my camera’s manual settings than me (okay – insert sheepish grin right about here. I really should learn how to use that darn camera).

The cave is gorgeous. It has stalactites and stalagmites almost meeting halfway, and a wide greenish lagoon in the middle of the cavern. The water is said to be ten-feet deep and some tourists would swim there but it’s actually not advisable as the water is polluted. Besides, I don’t know about you but I have a fear of some loch-ness monster hiding out in the deep, waiting to pull me underwater.

We didn’t have to go down very far – just ten feet or so to see this beauty. Steps have been built into the cave opening and while these can be slippery, metal rails stand on both sides to help you.

Manong was also very good at pointing out the various rock formations – on one side is a look-alike of the Virgin Mary praying, with an angel kneeling to her side. Opposite it, across the lagoon is a set of Buddha-like stones. 

The original entrance to this cave, according to Manong Razzi, are two holes which have since been covered with metal screens. The owner of the land accidentally discovered the cave as he was removing overgrown plants and came across the hold. The cave got its name from the local word for ladder, “Hagdan”, since the owner used a ladder to get into the cave.

Cave drawings by local artists. I actually think they’re vandals since I don’t really see anything artistic with covering a beautiful cave with hideous drawings of a snake and what looked like Medusa, but to each his own.
Wearing my lucky yellow dress.


Next on our itinerary was the Nova Shell Museum, a place I’ve never even heard of, but is definitely worth the visit, especially for the nerds out there like me and hubby. It has an extensive display of molluscs, including the very small Rotauvula Hirohitoi, named after the Japanese emperor. So small you have to use a magnifying glass to see it.

There were too many shells so I just picked some of my favourites:

Look at the color, so vibrant!
One thing I learned from this particular visit? Cone-shaped shells are poisonous, like the ones above. Bet you didn’t know that, did you?
The shell museum also has a souvenir shop, with jewelry and other knick knacks. I seriously wanted to get the capiz lanterns but maybe some other time.

After that, we went for a short stroll along Alona beach. It’s not as wide as Dumaluan beach, which is ideal for those wanting a quiet vacation near the water and my personal preference, but this is where the parties are at night and a lot of canteens and shops line the shore.
 Our Panglao tour was only for five hours but three and a half hours into it and we were famished so our driver took us to the Bohol Bee Farm, where we had a very yummy lunch overlooking the sea.

The place reminded me of Sonya’s Garden, with its own green house and stuff, and all organic menu. It’s not as fragrant though but I think the sea more than makes up for it. I think I’m gonna want to stay at this place the next time I’m here.
The pool inside the Bohol Bee Farm (yes, they have rooms for you to stay in, even hexagon ones like beehives!).

This is the life!
 Our lunch was so good I don’t even know which of the dishes I liked the most. The salad was divine – all fresh leaves and very good dressing. It is definitely right up there with Sonya’s Garden’s salad. Too bad that Bohol is not exactly an hour-drive away from home. 
I have to say though that the chicken dumpling soup was a surprise hit. I mean, it tasted like tinola – it had ginger, chicken, and chilli, but it also had veggies, and coconut milk added for good measure and it was just perfect. I didn’t even mind that it was piping hot and we were seated outside with the sun shining down us. It was that good.

And they made ingenious use of lemongrass. I ordered lemongrass juice and I was quite amazed that the straw itself was a piece of grass. If you drink the juice straight from the glass, it doesn’t taste quite so sweet but if you sip using the “straw”, the juice tastes perfectly sweet.
Organic salad, dried cassava and bread with pesto and cheese pimiento spread, chicken dumpling soup, lemongrass juice, and seafood pasta.
Yes, they have a store! We didn’t buy much though, just a pack of lemongrass tea.
Hmm, it’s been ages since my last OOTD post: my lucky dress from Miss Selfridge (I swear, every time I wear this, I get approached/complimented by someone that it’s a very nice dress, or something really good happens. I even wore this in the States and got asked randomly at the mall and won cash vouchers and shirts from The Voice. Lucky, right?), necklace from Anthropology, bangle from Ever New, sunglasses from Michael Kors, bag from Prada.

Our tour was arranged by our hotel but prices should be the same as those offered by travel agents. Set us back around Php 2,000, exclusive of lunch.

Astoria Bohol

Given that the weeks prior to this trip were very hectic for me (talk about 14-20 working-hour days), I never got a chance to properly research our accommodation. Didn’t google, or even ask about it. Then again, it’s not like I had to choose – our stay at Astoria Bohol was free as members of Club Astoria. My aunt is also a member and she had nothing but praises for Astoria Boracay so I figured Bohol should be great as well, right?

Tada! Entrance to the resort is a bit secluded as you have to go down a rough road, but as soon as we saw the reception and had our fill of the buko pandan juice, I heaved a sigh of relief: things were looking up.

With native-inspired furniture and clean lines (no clutter!) contributing to the laid-back atmosphere…

which light up at night, instantly turning the place into a very romantic spot.

The reception area from below/behind.
The resort is still under construction, with plans to add more rooms and improve the 210-meter beachfront, but there is already an existing villa with eight rooms, four on each level. The ground level rooms have direct access to the pool while the upper rooms have wide balconies overlooking the sea. Now, I can’t really decide which of these two room types is better as I am a bit partial to anything that has a sweeping view of the water. But, a quick look at the infinity pool (made of black slate, which they say absorbs the sun’s heat during the day, and uses this to keep the water warm at night) and I have to say that the ground level rooms definitely have the edge. 

chaise lounge half-submerged in warm water
Bright blue skies!!! Our room at the ground level has the best of both worlds: a few steps away from the infinity pool and a couple more to the beach. What more can I ask for?

The place is even more magical at night, when soft incandescent light bathe the hallways and fiber optic lights flash from and all over the pool – turning into various shades of the rainbow. 

The room really blew me away. First, it was huge. As in 55-square meters huge. I’ve stayed in rooms quite this big but the layout – with the four poster king-sized bed smack in the middle, with nothing but night tables on the sides and a writing desk and a wooden cabinet (housing the personal ref, microwave and sink) tucked on the corners of the opposite side – made the room so much bigger and cleaner. 

Those two doors on the left and right sides lead to the bathroom…

The bathroom is also a sight to behold. I think this is the first and only hotel I’ve been to with a his and hers lavatory. The bathroom also has a glass-enclosed shower and toilet and a big tub facing the dresser and two cabinets. Talk about a walk-in closet/bathroom/comfort room/powder room all rolled into one. Too bad I don’t have a decent enough photo to share.

Astoria also has a cafe serving mostly Filipino food – hubby and I tried their fish sinanglay and guava maple glazed pork belly inasal. Loved the mix of broccoli, steamed fish and coconut milk with chili and white wine although the fish was a little bit half-cooked (or was it supposed to be that way?). In any case, it tasted good. Did’t get to taste the pork but judging that hubby wiped off his plate, guess it passed his taste buds. 😀

Fish sinanglay

Guava maple glazed pork belly nasal

For breakfast, they have the standard offering of Filipino, Continental and American so you can’t really go wrong.

Oh, and I love the view from the cafe:

a lone mangrove in the middle

But, I would have to say this is my favourite – sort of reminds me of the Hundred Acre Woods where Winnie the Pooh lives. Dunno why. 

* Astoria Bohol is located in the town of Baclayon (just after Tagbilaran), about fifteen minutes away from the airport. 

The Mind Museum

It’s probably a bit of a travesty that I only got to visit this museum almost a year since it first opened its doors – I live less than five kilometers from the place after all, and I pass by it every day on my way to work. 

But museum visits for me take at least an entire day – I prefer to savor my visits and study what the museum has to offer and it took a lot of planning before hubby and I found a window on both our schedules to take the little brat on his second museum trip ever. 
Entrance to the museum is timed – each visitor gets an appointed time to enter, probably as a way to manage the crowd. To pass the time, we went to the park outside, which you can enter for free if visiting the museum (if you want to go to the park only, you only pay Php100). 

There are a lot of nifty little attractions in the park but my favorite is this sound dome (fine,I like it a lot because of its bright burst of yellow) – each of you would stand close to the yellow circles and speak softly, and the person on the other end would hear it as if you were right beside each other! Proof that sound travels in a straight line, like light.


I don’t know if this slide is supposed to be anything scientific but the brat liked it. A lot.

Upon entrance to the museum, this greeted us:
a 1904 Richard Brasier roadster, the first car to ply the streets of the Philippines, brought to the country by trading firm Estrella del Norte. It has since been acquired by Shell and currently on loan to the Mind Museum.
Joey and I loved this interactive game – endangered species are listed and you need to identify their habitat.

One other thing that caught our eye was the exhibit on phases of the moon.

And Joey had quite a lot of fun pretending this dinosaur came to life and was chasing him. Cute!  

A replica of the largest dinosaur remains excavated (so far).
I don’t know what this place was supposed to do for us – I didn’t find it particularly interesting.
Kaleidoscope

Giant Brain
Guests can also watch several shows – one of which is the history of the earth, including the demise of the dinosaurs, and another history, this one of the universe, starting with the big bang and all that. They’re informative and short – just enough tidbits for you to remember when you step out. 


Each visitor is allowed a maximum of three hours to stay inside the museum. At first, I was dismayed with this because three hours is simply not enough if you want to look at everything and read all the texts on the exhibits. But after going through the two floors of the museum – I can’t help but think, that was it? 

Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate the fact that a museum is right now in the midst of Taguig but sadly, I have to say that it is very far from world-class. Most of the exhibits felt like grade-school projects, and excellent they may be, they are hardly something worth gushing over. I enjoyed the park outside more – and that’s not saying much. 

Still – who knows? Maybe with enough funds/patronage, this place can still get better. And with that, I would still recommend the Mind Museum, especially if you have kids.

One Very Long But Fun Road Trip

It’s been a crazy year for all of us girls so we decided that to celebrate our joys and sorrows, we’ll do something extra special this year – nothing drastic, but something that would actually require us to spend an entire day doing nothing. 
 
Which almost didn’t happen. Almost half had to cancel, and I was nursing a three-day old fever which surprisingly disappeared on the day itself (although I had to down three tabs of bioflu which left me groggy for most of the day and still stuck with super clogged nose and impaired hearing as I type this). 
 
Anyway, after a short drive on a traffic-free Saturday, we finally reached Chateau Hestia, a rustic little garden restaurant/deli serving European specialties. 
 
I swear, I’m a sucker for these places – I find the secluded beauty very romantic. 
 

 
 
 
We munched on these toasted bread with pate.
We had a pretty heavy breakfast on our way to Tagaytay but still, we ordered enough food to feed an army. 
 
We started off with Ragu Alla Bolognese – a rich tomato-based pasta with stewed ground beef and basil, and Say Cheese – a thin crust pizza with nothing but a rich mix of mozzarella, gorgonzolla, pecorino and lots of other cheeses.The pasta I’m not so fond of (but then, I was never a big pasta fan though I can cook a mean one), but the pizza was surprisingly good. I was expecting the mix of various cheeses to be too rich and overpowering but I really liked it. It melted perfectly in my mouth and for once, I didn‘t even need hot sauce with my pizza.
 
For our main course, we feasted on Osso Buco Milanesea traditional Italian dish made of beef shanks cooked in tomato sauce and served with mashed potato and buttered veggies, and Crusted Salmon – fillet salmon flavored with lemon, pepper and paprika. I didn‘t really like the salmon dish as it didn’t taste fresh and the fish had a leathery feel to it, and quite hard.
 
Clockwise from top: Crusted Salmon, Ragu Alla Bolognese, Osso Buco Milanese, and Say Cheese pizza
 Up next – our favorite part of any meal: dessert!!! 
 
What to order was really a no-brainer when we saw that they had gelato. Our dilemma was which flavors to get since we were too full to order one each. We finally settled on Turtle Pie and Pastillas de Ube. 
 
My verdict? Love. My friends were unanimous in choosing the pastillas de ube, with its creamy texture and rich ube flavour but I would have to go with the turtle pie, which, I was told is their best seller. I loved the play of milky goodness with the grainy feel of the nuts. I know ice cream is supposed to melt in your mouth but I just have to stress that this is melt-in-your-mouth goodness.  
 

So good was the gelato that I found Mauro’s Cioccolato Souffle kind of bland although I did love the chocolate filling.

And what better way to end our happy little meal than with tea?  I miss tea with honey. It reminds me of my childhood – when my mama and papa would make us all drink chocolate drink mixed with Aunt Sue’s honey. Back then, we didn’t use sugar a lot – instead using honey to sweeten our milk, juice, and practically whatever drink we had.

Chamomile and Green tea with lemon, mixed with a tiny jar of honey.
 All that food left us wanting to stretch a bit before we go to our next stop, so we browsed a little in their little deli – a sort of Santi’s tuck in the middle of a lush garden. It had all those cheeses and cold cuts, and imported snacks for sale, as well as various wines. They also carry Le Petit Paradis bath products – the cashier told us Derek Ramsay’s parents own this brand and are friends with the owners of the Chateau. Anyway, it was my first time to see banana shampoo and conditioner so I was really tempted to try it but I decided to get the rose variant because I am so predictable (in case you’ve forgotten, I have a long-standing love affair with roses).
 
 
 
 
 My girlfriends from two companies ago. Aren‘t they so fasyown? Hahaha!
 
Well, being the one wielding the camera has its downside so I only have few decent photos of myself but here’s one of our “family” pics:
 
 
Our next stop: one of my favorite places this side of the Philippines – Sonya’s Garden. I‘ve been away from this place too long. Have I really been that busy?
 

Little set-ups like this makes this place so special. There is nothing contrived and the place is both homey and ethereal to me.
 Products used at the Spa can be bought at the Country Store – and I was so in love with the smell of gugo used on my hair spa treatment that I had to get a bottle for myself. 
 
 
It was getting a little bit dark by the time we finished our pampering treatments so we decided to have snacks at Bag of Beans before heading back to the hustle and bustle of Manila. 
 
Leah and I agreed to split a serving of piping hot apple shepherd’s pie – hitting two birds with one stone actually, with one for our main course, and the other dessert. Hahaha! The apple pie was divine but I prefer Mom and Tina’s shepherd’s pie, which, hand’s down, is the best I’ve tasted so far, here or anywhere.

 

And I just had to have a cold glass of melon shake in the chilly weather. Heaven!

 Here’s to almost a decade of friendship! Merry Christmas!
 

Ciudad Fernandina Hotel -Vigan

I didn’t know what to expect from our hotel prior to getting there since it was new (it opened only a few weeks before our trip) and I couldn’t find any reviews online. But I knew we were in good hands the moment I laid eyes on our temporary home in Vigan: The Ciudad Fernandina Hotel.

I love the mix of wrought iron, wood, and capiz accents. This is my kind of hotel.

The hotel is perhaps the biggest one in the heritage village in terms of number of rooms, and certainly the most beautiful – no expense was spared in restoring an converting an old 18th century house into this sprawling four-storey hotel. Of course, being part of the heritage village, the hotel had to abide by restoration guidelines of the UNESCO, and I must say it was a good marriage of new and vintage.

The grand staircase – made of concrete but laden with kamagong and narra. I actually went down on my knees to knock on the wood and check if it was really kamagong and narra.
The hotel at night
Patio during the Seder Meal ceremony (I’ll write about this experience some other time)

My favourite spot in the hotel was the restaurant. Quite creative use, because this space used to be the garage of the old structure, hence, the circular doorway. The cement covering the red bricks were stripped off during the restoration and all that red brick really gave the place an old-world charm.I just can’t help associating red bricks to the Spanish era and I find dining here really romantic and cozy.
Entrance to the hotel restaurant.

Ok,maybe I spoke too soon. Probably my other favourite spot was the bedroom. It might be on the small side of things, but again, the key word here is comfort. Can you imagine how nice sleeping on 600-thread count linen could feel like? Well, I for one, don’t have to imagine anymore as this hotel offered me that. The bed was superb.

The superior room. The basics are all there: closet, study table, hot and cold water in the shower, fresh linens, LCD TV. But what won me over was THE BED.

Another thing I loved about this place was the use of wood – narra planks were used on the floor and as accents on the ceiling (alas, I couldn’t quite figure out what wood was used for the actual ceiling). And by planks, I refer to the long, wide pieces of wood, as opposed to the narra wood parquet so common in modern structures. 


View from the third floor terrace.

One other thing this hotel didn’t scrimp on? The artwork. I have to admit, I was really amazed at how many paintings hang on its walls! I didn’t even get a chance to see all of them as most of our stay were spent outdoors. The little time we spent in the hotel were either in our room or in the restaurant. 
Some of the paintings I was able to see were those that hang right outside our bedroom:

The hotel’s function room also has an impressive collection of old photos of Vigan taken from the late 19th century to the early 20th century.

Well, I can’t really think of anything more to say about this hotel since I would just end up gushing even more (isn’t it obvious that I loved this hotel?). I would definitely come back and I am recommending this to anyone thinking of going on a trip up north. For details on room rates and reservation, you can check their website.