Of sun,sea,sand and finding a hero.

Under the Tuscan Sun

Enjoy Tuscany with a glass of wine

Finding Felicity in El Nido

Pink painted skies in El Nido,Philippines

Quaint Girona

Off the beaten path in Girona

Good Morning,Vietnam

Cruise the emerald water of Hanoi

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Thoughts: 2012, the Travel Year that was

2012 is one for the books, from the nearby Southeast Asian neighbors to the far reaches of beautiful Europe. Despite the odds of project schedules and work load issues, I was still blessed to satisfy the wanderlust for this year. For the cubicle dwellers, there will always be means and ways to fulfill our dream destinations.

My personal letters to the 2012 places.

April 2012 - Siem Reap, Cambodia

Dear Siem Reap, 

That was a literal "Temple Run" adventure.Thank you for sharing the ancient wonder of your land - the intricacies of the details, the fine mark of craftmanship in your temples and the rich history that comes along with it. 
But beyond that I admire your resiliency from the tragedy of the Khmer Rogue. 
Thank you for sharing a part of your dark history and how it has transformed you as a nation. I adore your simple life - I have seen how you have dreams but contented with what you have. Beyond Angkor Wat, I will cherish your hospitality, goodness, simplicity and above all your spirit of moving on and pressing forward.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Barcelona: Giddy for Gaudi

Unconventional and interestingly peculiar Barcelona is about 4 hours (fast) train ride from Madrid. As you explore the streets of the Catalan capital you will be treated to a visual feast of architectural marvels.From buildings with wave like facades giving an illusion of having no straight lines, adornments of wrought iron in different shapes and sizes, mosaics carefully assembled to create a colorful image and a church with intricate details that it is still under construction for about a hundred years now.

Barcelona, is a living and breathing tribute to its famous son - Antoni Gaudi. Leaf through any Barcelona guidebook and the name Antoni Gaudi will be mentioned being the architect that is responsible in designing several places of interest in Barcelona.Uncover Barcelona through the Modernisme architecture of Antoni Gaudi.

Parc Guell
A park on the hill of El Carmel commissioned by Eusebi Guell .The entrance is flanked by two whimsical houses painted in brown, with odd-shaped roofs and colorful mosaic adornments that it can almost pass as the witch's gingerbread house in the story of Hansel and Gretel.The focal area of the park is the grand staircase right smack in front of the entrance with the lizard/dragon made in colorful mosaic tiles in the middle dividing the staircase into two lanes. The staircase leads to a covered area with grooved columns that resembles a tree trunk. The roof of which serves as a huge terrace surrounded by a serpent like bench that is decorated with a kaleidescope of tiles.
Parc Guell - Grand Staircase

Admission Price: Free (no admission price as of Oct 2012 but there is a rumor that they might be charging an entrance fee in the future)
How to get here: Take the metro to Lesseps. Once you alight in the metro stop (Lesseps) follow the direction signs leading to Parc Guell or follow the tourists. It will be around 10-15 minute walk with an uphill climb to the road leading to the park. 
Souvenirs: There are a lot of souvenir shops on the street leading to the park. Recommended buys are the mosaic tile decorations, reproductions or prints, colorful wind chimes.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Segovia: Half an Hour

In half an hour...
...you can burn 90 calories by walking
...Rachael Ray can make a meal
...the glass of water you drank is processed through the kidneys
...you can temporarily leave the bustle of Madrid and experience the old world charm of Segovia

In half an hour the high speed train can travel 58 miles from Madrid to reach the small town of Segovia. Leave behind the modernity of Madrid and experience a day getting lost in the maze of cobblestone streets in Segovia. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Vacation Guide: Madrid, Spain

Madrid may lack famous landmarks but it does make up with its richness in history, beautiful arts and delicious food.Surprisingly among the European capitals, a visit to this city is actually friendly on the pocket.

Plaza Mayor, Madrid

From the airport to the city centre

Cheapest way is to use the metro which is connected to the airport but this means that there is a high possibility of transferring lines and lugging your luggages up and down the stairs

Another option is the airport shuttle which can take you from the airport right into the doorstep of where you are staying in the city centre. The shuttle is usually shared with other passengers unless you opted for the private service. For more information: http://www.aerocity.com/en/

The most convenient but most expensive option will be to take a taxi. Make sure that you take the taxi from the taxi stand in the airport and the driver will be using the taxi meter.

My pick: The best option will be to take the airport shuttle, the quote we got is around 30 Euros for 4 pax but since we were not able to prebook the shuttle before we leave we don't have any option but to take the taxi. Since we are a group of 4 the taxi fare wasn't that bad at all because we paid a total of 44.50 Euros which will come out at 11+ Euros per person

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Madrid:Will the real Madrid please stand up

Madrid, the 'almost' forgotten Spanish capital when most people equate Spain with Barcelona. The capital with no claim to fame of a well known landmark that is why it is usually shoved down the list of places to visit. So why choose Madrid? basically because of this "plainess" where you don't have any well known monuments or landmarks to split your attention with the city. Know Madrid for who she is and not to tick off all those must see sights and take 101 customary poses with landmarks and monuments

Spending a few days in Madrid is short to really unmask this senorita but through this limited period you will already be treated to her different moods and faces.

Conquistador Madrid 

Inside the cheery the apartment in a residential neigborhood in Madrid, I attentively listen to a Madrilena on how we are supposed to operate the washing machine in our rental apartment. She was busy pressing, pulling and switching knobs on the rectangular contraption when a friend suddenly blurted out "Umm, where's the ironing board?".Well of course the most logical question right after someone taught you how you are supposed to run your laundry . The girl looked back puzzled and asked "What's that?".The horror that you will not be able to iron your clothes after the laundry prompted my friend to try another  way to explain by immitating a game of charades as she rolled her fist loosely and moved it back and forth in front of her but still to no avail.Then out of desperation she tried one more trick from her sleeve, she looked at the girl and said "Plancha?".Then suddenly the sky just parted and the little birds sang as the girl's face brightened and she replied "Ahh, plancha" and she pointed to a small closet.Then a slew of spanish-influence Tagalog words question and answer ensued..
"How about the spoon, what do you call it?" , "oohh, cuchara"
"What about the bed?", "It's the same, cama"
And so on and so forth that it almost resembled a new segment in Sesame street called "Guess the spanish word in the Filipino vocabulary"

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Thoughts: Sche..what? a simple guide to applying for a Schengen Visa

It probably started with a dream of visiting medieval fortresses, admiring the grandeur of castles, looking at frescoes in old churches and walking on cobblestone streets. You act on the dream by saving up and cutting down on all those movie nightouts with friends and you tirelessly pored on guidebooks and online articles on what to see and do and must eats. Then you realized.....your passport is from a so-called "developing" country that requires a travel visa to most countries outside of the ASEAN region. You started to falter and the thought of taking Plan B which is to instead visit this up and coming South American country that famously gave birth to "Havaianas" crossed your mind but the charm and excitement of getting lost in the maze of cobblestone streets still holds your heart.

Any third world country citizen would have probably faced this dilemma before they embark on a European trip. Just the thought of filling up the forms, gathering all the documentations and going to the embassy is enough for someone to throw in the towel and gave up the dream of travelling the European continent. But they say that you cannot achieve the dream without taking the first step, if it is in your bucket list to visit the beautiful European countries - I challenge you to make the first step by applying for the travel visa. 

Most European countries are under the European union and the travel visa that you need to visit these countries is called a Schengen Visa (Note: Make sure to check if the countries you are visiting are under the Schengen agreement). If you are travelling to several countries, you will only apply for the Schengen Visa on the country where you will be staying the most number of days. In the case that you will be spending equal number of days in the different countries in your itinerary, you will have to apply in the country which is your point of entry. The Schengen visa will be valid for all countries in the European union, for example - you will be travelling to France and Italy and you will be staying 7 days in France and 3 days in Italy. You have to apply for a Schengen Visa in France embassy and this visa is already valid for your onwards travel to Italy. 
Source: http://www.1800flyeurope.com/go/visa-information/

Friday, September 28, 2012

Halong Bay: So you want to visit Halong Bay

Being tagged as a UNESCO Heritage site and a claim to fame by Vietnam by being included in the new 7 wonders of nature, don't be surprised that it is being flocked by tourist from every corner of the world. Most tavelers find their way to Hanoi just to be able to cruise in the emerald waters aboard a traditional boat commonly called 'junk'. When I started to research on Halong Bay and Hanoi, I was under the impression that Halong Bay is in Hanoi which is actually incorrect. Halong Bay is actually in Quang Ninh which is about 3-4 hrs bus ride from Hanoi. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Thoughts: Halong Bay, a Reality Check

Blogger's note: Thoughts blogpost will bare my personal reflection on the place. It is my own opinion and not in anyway providing a fact or generalization of the subject matter.

I can distinctly remember a photograph of a small wooden fishing boat being rowed by a man in a conical straw hat floating in emerald green water flanked by huge limestone karsts.You may call it as love at first sight but that photo instilled something in me that one day I will visit that almost magical place of emerald green water dotted with giant limestone karsts.That is the day I fell in love with Halong Bay.

It took sometime before I was able to realize the dream when everything fell into its place. I was able to find some travel buddies who also have this UNESCO heritage site in their bucket list and the time, finances and good airline fare to push through with the trip. I found the perfect birthday gift for myself.

We scoured, organized, compared and emailed cruise tour operators to be able to land a "good deal". With much perseverance and poring over excel files - we found 'IT' (meaning nice boat but within our budget, backed by positive reviews from trip advisor). It is just a matter of processing the 50% deposit via Paypal and we got the slots for the cruise 2 weeks prior to our arrival in Hanoi

The night before the Halong bay cruise, I do remember the feeling of giddiness much like the little girl on Christmas eve waiting for morning to unwrap her Christmas present. Tomorrow, I shall unwrap my birthday gift and I will make sure that I will savor every bit of it.

The excitement of experiencing the highlight of this trip became palpable as we got nearer to the port, the outlines of the numerous and towering limestones karsts are now visible. A few more minutes and I will have that 'National Geographic' feeling as we cruise along this natural masterpiece of stones and water. 

When the engines of the junk boat started, I rushed out into the deck to immerse myself into the moment where the boat glides through the still waters of the bay as the limestone karsts looms in both side like giants looking down at us. I felt that small flutter in my heart of having the privilege to witness in person this natural wonder created over a span of billion years. It was like admiring the handiwork of God. Well it lasted for about 30 minutes, until people started to loiter around the deck snapping photos for 'profile pics'. And then I noticed that there are now several junk boats in the area that I can't even take a picture of the horizon without any boat in it. In 30 minutes, I had my fill of the green still waters and limestone karsts. It's like going into the buffet and after 1 plateful - I had enough. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

San Francisco:The (long) weekend I left my heart in San Francisco

Clear blue skies, bright sunshine, non-freezing temperature and a burger and fries combo from In-N-Out greeted me in San Francisco - It was love at first sight!

Just like any tourist, there is no time to spare once the suitcase hits the floor. It was a rush to make sure to catch the last ferry out of Pier 39 to Alcatraz. The Alcatraz Night tour is dubbed as the complete/comprehensive tour being offered for Alcatraz but priced slightly higher than the morning tours. The fee is inclusive of the ferry ride, guided tour, audio guide and special programs.As the ferry cruised along the waters of the bay we were treated with the wonderful view of the sunset over the Golden Gate Bridge. 
Alcatraz Cruises ferry

Thursday, June 21, 2012

My 7 Super Shots - Tagged!

Let me removed the cobwebs that have been collecting in my little space in the cyberworld, I have been caught up with work related items (work is dangerous to your other persona), personal projects and weekend birthday parties, despedida, and we just want to hang out and sing our hearts out in the free videoke get togethers

I'm reviving this little blog by taking part in HostelBookers 7 Super Shots that has been making its rounds in the travel blogging world . I got tagged by my El Nido guru, Bino of www.framelessworld.com.I know, this is waayy too late but as the old Pinoy adage goes "Huli man daw at magaling naihahabol din" 

A photo that takes my breath away...

Place: Mountain Province, Philippines
It is not everyday that one can have a view of "cloud-capped" mountains, this photo reminds me of the beauty of the Philippines from the pristine beaches to majestic mountains. It's like heaven and earth meeting in a crossroad.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Siem Reap: Temple Run...Game on!

With a puzzled look my friend asked "What are you going to do and see in Siem Reap?" minutes after I booked my flight. And with a cheeky grin, I replied "Angkor Wat"
I never had a firm grasp on what to expect in Siem Reap, all I know when I hit the Purchase button on the screen is that I wanted to see Angkor Wat.
Visiting Siem Reap is a literal Temple Run which is a far cry from the famous iPhone game. Days will be spent exploring the Angkor complex which houses numerous temples constructed during the Khmer empire and Angkor Wat is just one of the many temples. From start until the end of the tour, it will be all about the temples

First stop for our temple run is Angkor Thom, we started in one of the gates which is crowned with 4 faces. The carving of the faces are very intricate and defined, it looks quite life like as if they are stone guards that will wake up and crush you into bits when you dare to enter the gates. Moving inside the temple, there are numerous wall carvings of women in traditional garb and with fingers curled back with the fingertips almost touching the back of the palms. These women dancers were actually called Apsara which are supernatural females skilled in the art of dancing. Even if it has been subjected to the elements, the craftmanship that went into the wall carvings is still evident

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Siem Reap: Beyond Angkor Wat

When this year started, I was intent to strikeout one by one my travel bucket items faster than I can add up to it. With the blessing of a seat sale from Air Asia,I was able to book a flight for a little over 8,000 Php to the city of ancient temples. I really don't have high expectations for this trip, it was mostly to see and photograph Angkor Wat and the temple in Tomb Raider (Ta Prohm). We booked an All-In package from a family run guesthouse and everything was set for the trip.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Photowalk: Central Park, New York

Photowalk series aims to tell a travel story with the use of photos. Following the old adage 'A picture paints a thousand words' - the photos aim to bring a part of the place to you to serve as an inspiration to get out there and see the world.

To start my Photowalk series, I would like to take you on a short but sweet walk in the park....

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

New York : Going uptown,downtown,east or west - Mastering the concrete jungle of NYC

The key when trying to DIY a big city is to check how well connected is the city through its Metro/LRT/MRT or City train.
One of the secret for a budget take in touring the Big Apple is to know the Subway system - no need for expensive tour services because you can craft your own itinerary and reach any point within the 5
boroughs for just $2+

Now let's get to the nitty gritty of using one of the famous icon of New York - the Subway

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

New York: Another bite of the Big Apple

You are probably visiting the city a second time or perhaps you've checked all the items in your list of "Must see and do in NYC" and looking for alternative things to experience that are easy on the pocket. Here are my personal recommendations for another bite of the Big Apple:

1. Go beyond Manhattan and visit Queens 
You might have heard of the famous "7" train which goes from Times Sq. to the borough of Queens. New York is not just Manhattan, so if you got extra time why don't you go beyond Manhattan. Why Queens? because it's like home away from home. This is where you will see the Pinoy Bee in the American Shore (oh yes, I'm talking about Jollibee). If you are missing the home cooked Pinoy meals, you can drop by Krystal's for a steaming bowl of sinigang and a desert of Brazo de Mercedes.If you want to avoid the deluge of shoppers, try to go shopping in the Rego Center which has Marshall's and Costco or Queen's Place mall which has a Target store. How about walking along the streets of the residential area and try to catch a glimpse of the everyday life of a New Yorker.

2. You want to get to see the Manhattan skyline, head to New Jersey
New Jersey, New York's sister from another mother is just a mere PATH (NJ subway) ride away for a break from the frenzy of Manhattan.Go down in Newport or Hoboken station for a view across the Hudson River with the Manhattan skyline as your backdrop.You can also do your shopping at New Jersey since they have lower state sales tax.Hoboken boasts of quaint restaurants and if you are a fan of Cake Boss, you can drop by a visit in Carlos bakery in Hoboken. 

View from Newport,New Jersey

Monday, January 2, 2012

New York: Eat your way in NYC on a budget

'It is sweeter the second time around' - it may sound like a cliche but it is indeed really sweeter the second time around. 

I'm back in the concrete jungle and I made a promise during my first time here when I was contained in eating chinese food - foodtrip ala NYC . The Big Apple has a lot to offer when it comes to gustatory choices from Zagat rated restaurants to hole in the wall. The choices are limitless but funds are limited. New York is an expensive city but it is actually possible to enjoy eating your way in NYC though you are on a budget.

Shake Shack 

Don't be fooled by the name they don't just serve shakes but mean burgers & fries and the gooeeyy chocolate pudding. Most of the Shake Shack locations are outside seating which can be a problem during the cold months but they have seats with outdoor heating which can take care of it so make sure to come in early during the cold nights so you can get yourself a heated seat. Shackburger is $4.50 while a Cheeseburger is $4. 

Location: Madison Square Park near Flatiron building (other locations also available)
Budget (minimum): $4-7 per person; no tipping (self-service restaurant)