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Corsica

It’s been a year since my last entry. A lot has happened. But I just want to talk about our last summer’s trip. Especially now that I need warm memories to keep a sunny disposition in the bleaker months of autumn.

So here are some pics from Corsica. Sorry, if there are too many pictures of myself here. It’s mostly just to give scale to the landscape features, and to keep the gorgeous backdrop more interesting. I’m trying my best to be less vain in my forties. But I don’t always succeed.

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Behind me is the view right in front of our room in our resort at Rondinara Bay

We were in Corsica to attend a wedding. I have always dreamed of a romantic wedding by the sea, or attending one, at least. This was one off the proverbial, hackneyed, bucket-list.

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My Seat

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Colorful Appetizers

The wedding was nice and fun. The beach-side was not so nice. I was surprised to hear it’s supposed to be one of the nicest in Corsica. Ho-hum… next…

Since we were spending a week in Corsica, we had some time to do some hiking and explore other more interesting bodies of water, far from the overcrowded sea-side areas.

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Far from the madding crowd — a secluded area at Les Trois Piscines

We also went for a hike following a river trail, crossing it and walking along rocky cliff sides to see a waterfall, which turned out to be a disappointment. Found out in the end that, although you can get very close to it, you couldn’t really see much of it at the end of the trail since it was obstructed by thick foliage. The trail was nevertheless, breath-taking, and at times, reminded me so much of New Zealand.

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Cascade de la Piscia di Gjaddu

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Love them huge rocks

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Steep!

There was also one day where we enjoyed the archaeological site of Cucuruzzu all to ourselves. It was a bit damp and drizzly trail, but worth it.

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Le Casteddu de Cucuruzzu

Our last stop on our last day was the fortified city of Bonifacio. We took the challenge of descending the steep steps that lead to a gorgeous view below.

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Climbing back up knee-breaking, 188 steep steps of l’escalier du Roi d’Aragon

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View at the bottom of the steps

So many of my friends were asking me whether Corsica is in Italy or in France. Although, you can’t help but feel as if you are in Italy when you are there, it is still very much in France and very, very French, especially when it comes food…

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Seafood by the sea

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Saint Jacques, my fave!

Corsica is known as Corse by the french, by the way!

Cheers, and thanks for dropping by! 🙂

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Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar

When in Bataan, my beloved home province, you cannot possibly miss Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar. This is the only resort in the Philippines which is a member of the Historic Hotels Worldwide. The province of Bataan itself is already a historic place. It is famous for the Death March during World War II, when the Japanese invaders transported the Filipino and American soldiers on a train (and some left to march to their death) from Mariveles, Bataan to Capas, Tarlac. This is actually commemorated every year on the 9th of April as a public holiday in the Philippines… but I digress…

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Lovely reflections of the Hotel de Oriente (we completely forgot to visit this area) at sunset

Las Casas is owned and created by an architect who is a local of Bataan, Jerry Acuzar. According to the tour guide who conducts the tour of the houses, Mang Jerry started collecting old houses from all over Luzon (the biggest of the three main island groups in the Philippines, where Bataan is also located) and relocating them piece by piece to be rebuilt on his property in Bagac, Bataan as a hobby. Eventually he decided to be practical, and opened the place to the public as a resort when he realized how expensive the maintenance of old houses are.

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One calm morning on the bridge leading to the resort’s very own church

Some people are questioning the negative impact of uprooting old houses in their original settlement. But I like to think that in the Philippines, we have been doing this in the olden days as “bayanihan”, where houses are moved from one area to another area with the help of the neighbors and friends carrying the house on their shoulders… so this is something that is neither unnatural nor alien to Filipino culture. Also, some of the houses have been moved around already, or have ended up in the junk shops before being resurrected and finding their way into Las Casas. The important thing is that Mang Jerry researches about the houses’ origin and history and spreads it to the people doing the tours, something that could help cure modern-day Filipinos suffering from historical amnesia.

Anyways, on to the review…

We arrived early for check-in. Thankfully, our rooms were already prepared. The check-in process was quite fast and efficient. We were given a map of the place, offered refreshments (refreshing gulaman, we really loved it!) and ushered into a raft to be taken to the other side of the river, closer to our rented house. It was a pleasant, short ride. Thankfully it was short because it was a very hot mid-afternoon when we arrived. The raft had no shade. They offered instead some huge umbrellas and hats, which are a bit cumbersome, and did not prevent us from burning our bums on the hot seats.

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The wide-angle lens made me look a lot taller than usual, standing here in front of our rented two-storey, three-bedroom house, Casa Binondo II

We stayed in a two-storey, three-bedroom house called, “Casa Binondo II”. It was a very quiet and convenient location, just a few meters’ walk to the church, the swimming pool, the souvenir shops, and the two restaurants — CafĂ© del Rio, which only opens on weekend evenings and Casa Unisan, where they serve the buffet breakfast. We were also right next to the house where Mang Jerry and his family stay whenever they visit the resort. He is usually there on Sundays to attend the mass in the resort’s church.

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Enjoying the balcony on our last day

Casa Binondo II has three beautiful bedrooms — one on the ground floor and two on the second floor. This house has a maximum capacity of 6 people plus 2 kids max. Hubby and I decided to take the one with the balcony facing the rice fields. My daughter and my older niece stayed with a friend in the opposite bedroom, where an extra bed is possible (at an additional cost, of course). It was the biggest bedroom in the house, with a huge bathroom! My brother, his wife and his little toddler stayed in the room on the ground floor so that the little one did not have to keep climbing up and down the stairs. Also, all the rooms have huge bathrooms with shower, bath tub and bidet.

Here is my amateur video of a house tour of Casa Binondo II, if you’re interested to see it.

 

I totally fell in-love with this house! It reminded me so much of my Lola’s parents’ house by the river when I was a kid — the characteristic stone bricks on the ground floor and the wooden walls of the second storey; the huge, airy rooms; the large capiz windows with the view of the river and the surrounding trees of caimito, avocado, cacao, balimbing, atis, macopa, guava, mangoes, coconuts, etc; the creaky narra (or acacia?) floor boards, and the antique furniture (especially the tomba-tomba), which all looked haunted and scary to me as a kid… and they still do, a bit, up to now.

The only thing that could use improvement is the heating in the shower, which is not the easiest thing to control. Also, the balcony in our room could use a table and some chairs, etc., instead of leaving it threadbare and filled with dust and bird poop.

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Filipino breakfast al fresco at Casa Unisan

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Some “Cuchinta” for my sweet tooth

Our booking came with breakfast at Casa Unisan where there was delicious pan de sal and other kakanin (Filipino sweets made from sticky rice), coffee, and surprisingly, some fake juice and canned fruits… really? How hard is it to get some fresh fruits in the province?! I was a bit disappointed by this, but everything else was delicious!

Aside from the buffet, we were also offered a choice of rice meal with Daing na Bangus (dried milk fish) and a choice of Adobo or some meat dish whose name I forgot. On our first morning there, we enjoyed having breakfast al fresco behind the restaurant so we could enjoy the lovely weather and the view of the river. On our last day, though, they only had buffet inside the dark, cold second level of the restaurant. But they had Tinapa (smoked fish) and a lot more kakanin that morning. I was wondering if they hadn’t set up the tables outside the restaurant and on the ground floor because it was too early when we got there.

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This Bibingka was exactly like the ones I had in childhood… brings back so many wonderful memories

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Halu-Halo at the super-crowded and busy Café Marivent

We actually tried all the restaurants and cafĂ©s in the resort. We even tried the Street Food stalls for Bibingka and Puto Bumbong with Salabat which were all very good, and the bar to have some drinks before dinner on our first night, which was average but had good service, maybe because we were the only ones there at the time. I do not think there is anything else around the area anyway, so we didn’t really have a choice. I would say that the breakfast at Casa Unisan was better than average. Lunch there on our first day was also good. We also tried CafĂ© Marivent for lunch, and CafĂ© del Rio, which was the most expensive of them all, for dinner on our last day. CafĂ© Marivent got overcrowded on a Saturday and it was definitely understaffed. We had to wait for so long for everything. When my Halu-Halo arrived, the ice was almost completely melted. Hubby complained about it for me (how sweet!) and they had it replaced… hopefully with no additional impromptu ingredients that would not usually belong in a Halu-Halo.

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My daughter and my niece enjoying the beach

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Enjoying the big waves, feeling like a kid again

One of the things I loved about the resort is that they have their own private beach area — a long stretch of volcanic black sand I was accustomed to when I was a kid. I thought I could never again appreciate black sand after seeing Boracay and Camiguin’s beautiful white sand for the first time. But I thought wrong. Black sand will always be a reminder of the happy summer days of my childhood.

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Hubby gives Palo Sebo a try

They had some special activities lined up at the beach on the Saturday we were there. There was Palosebo, which hubby gamely tried, and the Carabao Race, which I didn’t really enjoy very much because I do not like seeing animals harmed or bothered for any reason for human entertainment.

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Photo-ops by the pool

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Honest-to-goodness, unfiltered, unedited, authentic Bataan sunset

I also liked the batis-like swimming pool, which showcases the beautiful sunset. But they have got to level up the services provided to guests. They keep running out of towels. And for some bizarre reason, you’re not allowed to take a towel from the beach area to the pool area, etc.

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Aside from the jeepneys that give guests a free ride around the resort, they have also recently installed this train

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Lovely wall mosaic in one of the major houses close to the souvenir shops

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Doing the tour of the houses

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Casa Meycauayan

They offer a free guided tour of the houses. I did this tour when I went there in 2011 with my hubby. They have more houses now, and they’ve also added an amateurish play from university students, I think. The tour guide was really engaging, and tries to be funny with a few hits and misses. The violent and scary history of some of the houses gave me the spooks. And I was so glad he didn’t say anything about the house we were staying in. Phew!

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Last dinner at Café del Rio

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The place looks nicer than in the photos

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Thin crust, wood-fire oven baked pizza

And now for the things that could really use some improvement…

I could not emphasize this hard enough: For the money that we paid, I would have expected more from the service. It was definitely lacking, especially in the restaurants… or it could also be that they are overworked, understaffed and underpaid? And I don’t know if those people who man the souvenir shops are employees of the resort but their butts seemed to be glued on their seats. They can’t even open the door for customers trying to figure out how to open a weird shop door. No smile, no thank you, no welcome greeting, no nothing… I was starting to feel like I was in France, if not for the tell-tale heat and humidity. 😀

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Rows of souvenir shops

It’s not that the people are rude or impolite. It’s just lacking in cheerfulness and warmth and hospitality and a willingness to be of service and to go the extra mile, like the ones you see in other parts of the Philippines like in the good resorts in Boracay or in Cebu, or in other Asian countries like Thailand, Indonesia and even Japan. They cannot claim to be a member of a famous group of hotels, and get so much money from the customers without levelling up the quality of the service.

They could also use more play areas for kids. At the moment, they only have the playground by the entrance. On the other side of the resort, where our house is located, there is none. There is a Game Center close to our place, but this is mostly for older kids.

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The prices of the food in the restaurants, especially in CafĂ© del Rio is a bit of an overkill.  There aren’t really any other restaurants outside the resort, so I guess they can charge as much as they want however unreasonable and unjustifiable it is.

Lastly, they could use more plants and trees. The place, though surrounded by so much greenery — the rice fields, the mountains, and the blue of the sea — looks barren and is definitely lacking a few points on aesthetics when it comes to landscaping. But I can see that they are still building a lot of new houses and sites, so this is quite forgivable.

All in all, it was still a very good experience. I really loved the surroundings! It was so beautiful, clean and calm. It made me feel like I was not in the Philippines. And made me proud to be a Bataaeño. Hubby and I wish the whole Philippines would look beautiful like this someday. I would definitely love to go back a third time and see how much the place improves.

Thanks for reading and have a great week ahead! 🙂

 

 

New York 2017

One of the highlights of our Summer Holiday Trip this year, was revisiting New York. Last time I visited the place was in 2013, just before moving back to Singapore. It’s been four years since then, and my feelings toward the place hadn’t changed a bit! I still super loved it! I fell in-love with New York in the fake spring of March 2013, and I loved it even more in the unbelievably hot and humid summer of July 2017!

Coming from a one-hour plane trip from MontrĂ©al, we headed straight to have a late lunch at Katz’s Deli. For those who are 80’s fanatic freaks like myself, you would know about this place as the setting for the famous movie, “When Harry Met Sally”, where Meg Ryan had that famous fake orgasm scene. I got seated at the exact same spot (or it looked like it) where she was seated, I think. But it was not on purpose. I only realized it after the trip, upon watching again the scene on Youtube.

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The iconic Katz’s Deli… New York always makes me feel like I’m in one of my favorite movies

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A delightful mess of oversized pastrami sandwich, some fries and cold beer for a late lunch at Katz’s Deli

On our very first day, we headed out for some shopping around SoHo. Luckily for us, a lot of our favorite brands were on sale. At one point while crossing the street, there was this double-decker, open-top tourist bus with people dancing and screaming and waving at everybody. New York feels a lot more festive and lively in the summer. I have also never seen so many pretty women in very pretty clothes. And so many, many interesting places, and shops and restaurants to visit.

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Our hotel, called Sixty LES, is situated close to all the trendy hipster bars and restaurants. The hotel itself has two restaurants, which seemed quite nice, but we never really visited. We only went to the bar once, which has a lovely terasse with a nice view of the city. Speaking of the view of the city, we took a room with a very nice panoramic view of the Manhattan skyline — we could see the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building and One World Observatory, which was still being built, I think, during the first time we were in New York.

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Hubby resting on one of the comfiest seats ever. I wanted to bring it home. Sitting here on our hotel balcony where you can see the One World Observatory in the background.

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This is the view of the street, the bar and the restaurant of our hotel, from our room’s balcony

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Hubby had been dying to dine at Ivan Ramen eversince he saw it on Chef’s Table on Netflix

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Eating a Non-Ramen (Tsukemen)

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At a cozy brunch place called, Devocion in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

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Instagram-worthy breakky

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The view of the city from Williamsburg Park

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Chanced upon an Italian-American Fiesta

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Queensboro Bridge at Sutton Place Park — that bridge from Woody Allen‘s movie, Manhattan

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Lying in the shade, resting my tired feet while waiting for lunch

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The face of hunger… Shake Shack for lunch!

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Taking the train at Grand Central

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One World Observatory

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I will never get tired of this view!

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Never!!!

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Ever!!!

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Seafood dinner with a friend… I forgot the name of the restaurant but it was really good

A visit to New York is not complete without a visit to one of its famous museums. Last time we were there, we visited The Guggenheim and the Museum of Natural History. This time around, hubby and I went to the MOMA. I’m not really so much into modern and contemporary art. But I am quite fond of the earlier ones like Picasso, Seurat, Dali, et al. I do not really care so much about Rothko (which hubby loves) and Pollock (which I absolutely detest). And I most especially abhor those weird (verging on the absurd) installations whose artistic values are always very subjective.

I was so happy and so lucky to have come to the MOMA on one of its less busy days and least busy times, the exact details of which, I will not share here to preserve this quiet time that I could hopefully be able to return to someday. For this, I seek your forgiveness and kind understanding to bestow upon a lover-of-the-quiet-and-peaceful introvert like myself.

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Broadway Boogie Woogie and Lady in Red

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Matisse

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One of my favorite Picasso paintings, the first time I have ever known too, back in the  Encyclopaedia days of my romantic, Google-free childhood!

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That rare moment at the MOMA when I had this famous painting all to myself for a few heart beats! For those who live in another planet, this painting is called, “Starry Night” by Vincent van Gogh

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Seurat!

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Funny!

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I’m not much of a Warhol fan but this one kinda speaks to me… the cans just look so cheerful!.. or not…

One of the things that I was so happy about to be back in New York was the fact that Miss Saigon is back again on Broadway. I missed seeing it a decade or so ago back when they were showing it in Manila with Lea Salonga in the cast! But this time, I didn’t let this opportunity pass. You can read the full experience here, if you wish to know more about it.

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Very much a Miss Saigon fan!.. New York City, always the setting of any “movie in my mind”

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So happy to be back at Times Square and not be wrapped in thick, heavy coat this time around!

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One last look at this view!

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Bagels and eggs at a vegetarian place called, The Butcher’s Daughter on our last day in New York

The last time I was in New York, it was bleak and cold and snowy. This time around, it was all bright and sunny and smiley and even more photogenic! One of the very few regrets I have in life is not having lived in this vivacious city while I was still single. Sadly, it’s not really a very practical place for married people with kids. But still, it’s one of the places I’d always look forward to seeing again and again in my life.

I ♄ NYC. 🙂

Thanks for reading and have a good weekend!

Montréal, Canada

Hubby wanted to visit his long-time friends in MontrĂ©al during the summer. We scheduled our trip right in the middle of our yearly summer trip in France, so we’d be closer. It was still quite a tiring 8-hour trip, though. Especially just when I was starting to get over the jet-lag from Singapore to France. Luckily, there was a direct flight from Toulouse to MontrĂ©al via Air Transat. The plane was really old, but had seats with bigger legroom than usual, and the free snacks were quite good.

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Just landed at Trudeau International Airport

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Cloudspotting… few minutes before landing

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We headed straight into a nice rooftop bar upon arrival… not this one, though!

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Champagne and strawberries on our first night at festive bar somewhere in Vieux Montréal

We stayed at our friends’ beautiful house in the suburbs. It was not really that far away from the city but crossing the bridge to the city center gets you in the middle of a jam during peak hours due to some road works. Apparently, this is the norm in MontrĂ©al. Well, I’m kinda used to road works and construction everywhere by now, having lived in Singapore for almost a decade.

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Canal Lachine at Marché Atwater

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Huge variety of summer blossoms at Marché Atwater

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Fruits — those are groseilles (gooseberries) at the bottom

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Sucette au sirop d’Ă©rable (Maple syrup lolly)

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The view of the city from Mount Royal

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The not-so-grandiose looking facade of Basilica de Notre Dame de Montréal

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Inside the basilica, totally different story!

It was pleasantly sunny during our four-day stay. We strolled along Canal Lachine close to Marché Atwater on a perfectly sunny morning. Apparently, this area has historical significance in Montréal. It was a famous industrial area back in the day, but now it was turned into a museum and a park. We mainly stayed around Vieux Montréal (Old Montréal) and did the rounds on all the tourist sites.

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One of the colorful shops along Plateau Montroyal

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Coffee break at a cafĂ© (Crew Collective) that once used to be a grand post office… amazing details on the ceiling

I loved the beautiful apartments around Plateau Montroyal, the beautiful shops (Lululemon!), and the trendy hipster cafés, bars, and restaurants. The Basilica de Notre Dame de Montréal looked like a boring version of the one in Paris. But inside, it was surprisingly gorgeous!

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This is where we got our Poutine fix

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Just by looking at it, you can already tell it’s not going to be a very pleasant dining experience

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We skipped going to this famous meat shop (Schwartz) coz of the long queue, and we were headed to Katz’s Deli in New York in a few days anyway.

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The famous bagels for breakfast at a place called Fabergé

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Fresh seafood and cool midweek vibe at Lucille’s Oyster Dive

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Poké bowls, patate douce (sweet potato fries), etc for brunch at Venice Restaurant

Food in MontrĂ©al is not bad at all. Although, I could not really say the same for the Poutine. It’s just not my kind of dish. There was a very nice and friendly Lola at the marchĂ©, selling all kinds of maple syrup — the light ones to medium to dark. She made me try all of them. I took a very good liking on the darkest one. It has a very dark caramel and coffee taste. I’ve been using it a lot on the pancakes and it’s almost finished now. Wish I bought more. Oh, and I also loved the seafood, especially the giant crabs and lobsters! Miam!

What’s nice about MontrĂ©al is that you can find a lot of different dishes from all over the world. Once at MarchĂ© Atwater, we even saw a Singaporean food stall! I was pleasantly surprised. But what we had at the marchĂ© was some Vietnamese noodles and banh mi, which we really loved. If you’re ever in MontrĂ©al, don’t miss out on our friend’s Vietnamese food stall at MarchĂ© Atwater. It’s called, Le Petit Sao.

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Special mention to our friend’s food stall at MarchĂ© AtwaterLe Petit Sao

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Best banh mi I’ve ever tried!

I find the people in MontrĂ©al quite friendly and nice. Although, I find the general atmosphere, a little too quiet… and maybe also, a bit boring? But I liked so much that I got to practice my french. For some reason, it makes me feel less stressed talking in french to non-French people. I also get a hoot every time somebody says “bienvenue” to me when I say “merci“… 😀

Voila! C’est tout pour aujourd’hui! I hope you’re enjoying your summer as much as I am. Thanks for reading and have good weekend! 🙂

My Roman Holiday

The first time I have truly seen, and enjoyed seeing Rome was through the eyes of Audrey Hepburn in the aptly titled movie. So, forgive me for choosing to use the same overused and abused movie title for this blog entry. More often than not, pure sentiment and nostalgia transcend the will to strive for originality.

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Trying to recreate that famous scene from the movie, Roman Holiday at Piazza di Spagna… I thought I pulled it off quite well despite the post-natal plumpness. I have just given birth six months before this trip. 🙂

Meanwhile, as seen through my eyes, in October of 2012, Rome was absolutely unforgettable. You find beauty in just about everywhere and anywhere you cast your eyes on. The usual touristy sites are well worth the visit but you will have to be patient. I remember walking a long way, and queuing all morning to get inside The Colosseum. But the grumpiness just evaporated upon entering the ancient structure, and was easily replaced by a feeling of awe and child-like wonder.

In Rome, there are no dull corners. I fell in-love with the big, bold and beautiful baroque sculptures that litter the tiniest piazzas and unassuming corners. They all look like they’re going to come into life any moment. There is so much history, poetry and humility in the simplicity of Roman architecture. I love how you can just keep walking and walking and get lost in the tiny streets, and find yourself in a quiet, picturesque corner that so effortlessly transports you back into ancient times.

It is not just the architecture in Italy that is well-appreciated for its simplicity, you will also find this true in their food. One of my fondest memories about Rome, is sitting at a surprisingly quiet Trattoria, not so far away from The Colosseum, and having the best Pasta Alle Vongole that I have ever tasted in my life. The ingredients were all very simple, but fresh, and prepared at short notice. Most of the food around the Mediterranean region rely on the freshness of the ingredients. For them, they do not like to put too many ingredients in a dish, so as not to overpower the main ingredient. I mean, if it’s beef, it has to taste like beef; if it’s seafood, it has to taste like seafood, etc.

Whatever you choose to do, eat, or see in Rome, do it with somebody you love, and be sure to take it all in at leisure, so you will really appreciate every inch of wonder the place has to offer.

I can’t wait to be back in Europe… which is next time I write a blog entry! Ciao for now, and have a good day!

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Hanami, Mt Fuji, Sumo Practice Viewing, and More (Japan 2017)

It has always been my long-time frustration to visit Japan during the Cherry Blossom Season, otherwise known as “Hanami“. Sakura is one of the prettiest flowers I have ever known. It is especially beautiful because its blossoming marks the start of Spring. There is nothing quite like seeing all the plants blossoming back to life after the dead of winter.

Here are some of my favorite snaps from our trip…

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Drinking Sakura flavored MoĂ«t et Chandon Champagne along festive Meguro River… I added that flower myself before finding out I was not supposed to pick them from the trees!

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At the Yayoi Kusama Exhibit at National Arts Center… not bad for abstract art, which is not usually my kind of thing.

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Breakfast overlooking Shibuya Crossing at Excelsior Café

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Enjoying fresh Kobe Beef, etc for Dinner at Han no Daidokoro, in the Dogenzaka area of Shibuya, where our Airbnb apartment is located

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Tried out some Tsukiji Market giant crabs

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I almost forgot to mention that I booked a Sumo Practice Viewing via Viator. It would’ve been a really cool and great experience had it not been for the guy at the door who seemed very hesitant to let me in.

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Despite being made to feel awkward by the guy at the door of the sumo stable, it was still an interesting experience watching the Sumo practice, although, I would not recommend it to Asian women who would want to watch it by themselves.

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Sampling some Japanese Craft Beer at a bar/restaurant at Daikanyama

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It’s feels like walking into a forest of clouds at Ueno Park. Lying down like a bum in the park is the best way to enjoy the blossoms!

Tokyo was actually the last leg of our trip. We were so happy to get there just when the weather started to turn a lot sunnier and warmer. The most wonderful experience in Tokyo was the cherry blossoms in full bloom everywhere. It’s like walking into a forest of pink cloud heaven! It was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen in my life. I just couldn’t help but feel cheerful looking at all those delicate pink trees! My favorite area for the Cherry Blossoms is Meguro River. It looks more like a canal to me than a river actually. But it’s an infinite stretch of a canal, lined with gorgeous Sakura trees!

Our Airbnb apartment at Dogenzaka was an unbelievably perfect quiet corner, a few meters off Shibuya’s crowded crossing and metro stations. Our street itself was lined with a variety of cozy, friendly restaurants. We had lobster on the first night, Kobe beef barbecue on another, and some Japanese pizza on our last evening. All of them were superb!

I almost forgot to mention that I booked a Sumo Practice Viewing via Viator. I’m not linking the site because I do not recommend it. I was really looking forward to the experience, but it was dampened by the attitude of the guy who was letting the people at the door of the stable. When I was queuing to get in, he asked all the white people in the queue about their booking and was ignoring me. When I tried to get his attention and pointed my name in the guest list, he told me that there was a mistake in my booking and that I was supposed to be in another stable. I told the stable guy that this was the exact address in my booking and showed him the email. He finally let me in.

After that, I thought the awkwardness was over, but when we got inside and the guy distributing the pillows to sit on put my seat in front, the same weird guy who let me in put my seat at the back of everybody else. Of course, I moved to the front after he went away. There were so many empty seats when we were let in coz we were early!

I had the feeling that the Sumo people (or maybe just this guy) are not used to having a woman (and Asian at that, which could easily be mistaken for a native) watching Sumo by herself. I actually tried to Google “women and sumo wrestling”, and found this informative piece on Wikipedia:

Professional sumo is notable for its exclusion of women from competition and ceremonies. Women are not allowed to enter or touch the sumo wrestling ring (dohyƍ), as this is traditionally seen to be a violation of the purity of the dohyƍ. The female Governor of Osaka from 2000–2008, Fusae Ohta, when called upon to present the Governor’s Prize to the champion of the annual Osaka tournament, was required to do so on the walkway beside the ring or send a male representative in her place. She repeatedly challenged the Sumo Association’s policy by requesting to be allowed to fulfill her traditional role as Governor. Her requests were repeatedly rejected until she stepped down from office.

The view of those who criticize this continuing “men-only” policy is that it is discriminatory and oppressive. In general, women in the sumo world are only expected to be supportive wives of the wrestlers, and, in the case that their husband has become a stablemaster, a surrogate mother for all of his disciples. The view of the Sumo Association is that this is a tradition that has been firmly maintained through the centuries, so it would be a dishonor to all of their ancestors to change it.

This was not always the case. Starting as early as the 18th century a form of female sumo or onnazumo was performed in some areas of Japan. In the cities it was more of a spectacle often associated with brothels. However, in some areas of Japan female sumo had a serious role in certain Shinto rituals. In later years, there were limited tours of female sumo that lasted for a time. However, female sumo is not considered to be authentic by most Japanese and is now prohibited from taking place beyond amateur settings.

 

This somehow proves and explains that Japan is still a country that does not really think of women as having equal rights as men… I’m not really shocked! And just because I was “by myself and Asian”, I was singled out of the crowd of watchers where there were “white women”, although they came with a group, or with a male companion.

I didn’t really let this experience dampen my enthusiasm for the country and the rest of the trip. There were still a lot of really nice native people I have come across with during this trip and the previous one. 😉

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Walking along Lake Kawaguchi (Kawaguchiko) for spectacular view of Mt. Fuji… we were really lucky to have two days of clear, cloudless skies to have this view!

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Kawaguchi Bus and Train Station

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Our hotel room facing the lake and with the full view of Mt. Fuji

I have been to Japan before, both in Tokyo and Kyoto, but I had never seen Mt. Fuji before this trip. We took the Shinkansen bullet train from Kyoto bound for Tokyo. We took the Hikari one, which stops at Mishima. From Mishima, we took a bus going to Lake Kawaguchi. Our hotel is situated right in front of the lake, with the full, unobstructed view of the magnificent mountain from our bedroom! Although, you have to be lucky during this time of the year to see the mountain with clear, cloudless skies… and we definitely were!

I have seen Mt. Mayon (in the Philippines) eleven years ago. I could not help but compare it to Mt Fuji as they are both known for having that beautiful cone shape. I’m sorry to say this but Mt. Fuji bags the crown for aesthetics. Aside from that, Mt. Fuji towers over Mt Mayon by more than a thousand meters. In fact, it is the tallest mountain in Japan. The only thing where Mt. Mayon is better at is its volcanic activity. Mt. Mayon is always active while Mt. Fuji last erupted in the 18th century.

The first time I have seen the magnificent mountain from the bus, it was love-at-first sight! It was tall and imposing, majestic and awe-inspiring! No wonder, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is a favorite subject of old and modern art works.

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Our Ryokan in Kyoto provided us fresh Yukata to wear every day, and weird socks where the big toe is separated from the rest of the other toes. You need these socks to walk on the tatami flooring, and also to walk outside using their traditional slippers. 😀

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Beautiful Cherry Blossoms along the way to Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

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Sushi Dinner at our Ryokan — they serve us sumptuous dinner inside our room every night

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It was a bit of a challenge to find a ryokan room with private open air hot tub during peak season… but I have such good research and booking skills! 😉

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Point the camera upwards to avoid shooting the crazy crowd at Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

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Part of our Kaiseki Dinner, which was really too much food for my small stomach… love the attention to detail.

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Enjoying beautiful spring weather with tea in our Ryokan balcony… it would’ve been even nicer if the surrounding Sakura trees were in full bloom!

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Breakfast Feast at the Ryokan breakfast room… beautiful presentation and delicious as well!

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A bird perched on one of the Sakura trees in the Garden of Ryoanji

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Lunching at a fast food close to Togetsukyo Bridge

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Paper hotpot for dinner at the Ryokan

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Second time at the Rock and Sand Garden at Ryoanji — this is where the Japanese Garden in Toulouse, France was patterned after

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One of the cozy cafés along the streets close to Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

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We passed by Yazaka Shrine on the way to Gion

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I was so happy to be back at Yojiya Café along Philosophers Path. I was surprised to find how famous it has become. We had to queue for 45 minutes to get in, while there was practically nobody there the first time I visited the place in 2009. Or maybe it was not the peak season.

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Nazen-ji is my favorite temple in all of Kyoto

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Some strange, quirky art works along the walk to Kiyomizu-dera

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It was disappointing to realize that these people walking around in kimonos are not really Japanese but silly tourists in costume!

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Nishiki Market finds

Even though the Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto were not yet in full bloom when we arrived, I still prefer it over Tokyo. Tokyo is just too busy and crowded for me. But for those who enjoy shopping, the buzz of city life, and resting at cute cafés, then Tokyo it is for you.

What made staying in Kyoto even more special for me this time around is the fact that we spent a few days in a cozy Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn that originated in the Edo Period). It was a very special experience. Especially having to enjoy a private open air bath that looks out into the forest and the river, every afternoon just before having our special dinner in the room.

Staying in the Ryokan made me think how crazy the place is. How was it possible to survive winter back in the days when people didn’t have heating systems? Also, it is so much prone to fire, being made of wood and thin paper! How impractical… but beautiful! 🙂

In central Kyoto, we stayed at Sakura Terrace Hotel, close to the center but in a surprisingly quiet location. We did not like the service of this hotel very much but it was clean and reasonably priced. There were some small Yakitori restaurants/bars close to the hotel with no English signs and menu. We went to one of them and it was very nice and cozy. Cheap food and good service, despite not being able to speak English.

There was also this lovely cafĂ© of a hostel just across our hotel, where the staff were super nice, especially to my daughter. They even got us a cab to Ryoanji after having breakfast there. It’s a good thing we did not book the breakfast at our hotel.

Seeing again the beautiful sites in Kyoto, most especially the walk along Philosopher’s Path was just lovely.

The first time I went to Japan in 2009, it was a lot less tourist-friendly. The buses and trains, especially in Kyoto did not have English translations. I was very lucky to have travelled with my friend, who is a native of Japan. This time around, it seems to be more tourist-friendly. In fact, the buses even have Korean and Chinese translations. I was very much surprised.

We were blessed with warm weather in all the places we visited. Everyone I know seems to be going to Japan during this time of the year… now I know why.

Recommended places of interest:

Our beautiful Ryokan in Kyoto: Momijiya Bekkan Kawa No Iori

CafĂ©s in Kyoto: Lower East Nine Hostel’s CafĂ© and Bar, Yojiya CafĂ© at Ginkakuji

Restaurants/bars in Tokyo: Han no Daidokoro Dogenzaka, The Spring Valley Brewery at Daikanyama, Excelsior CafĂ© for a view of the Shibuya Crossing, a Lobster Place in Dogenzaka Hill right next to our AirBNB apartment with friendly staff and very good food but I don’t know what the name is actually. It just says “Rock Lobster” on their sign board.

Souvenir Shops in Tokyo: Tokyu Hands, Loft at Shibuya

 

Bewitching Siquijor

Blog update (13th August 2017): Regarding my featured image of the starfish (sea star) for this blog entry, I just very recently realized that starfish shouldn’t be taken out of the water even for a short period of time. I have always known that they would die if left out of the water for a long time. That’s why I always pick them up when I see them on the shore to put them back in the water. But I never knew before that even a few seconds could be harmful. So, please, DO NOT follow my ignorant and poor example of getting the starfish out of the water (even for just a few seconds) just to take a better picture of it. Please spread the word…

~~~ oOo ~~~

My original plan was to go to Siargao as a side trip on the way to Manila. But then, it was impossible to find a convenient connecting flight from Manila to Siargao, coming from Singapore. And so I ended up going to Siquijor instead… which is not a bad thing at all. In fact, it was a lucky coincidence because on the week of my trip, there was a big earthquake that hit the province of Surigao, where Siargao is located.

To some extent, I do believe in getting jinxed from time to time. Like the time I went to Boracay for my birthday… I got very bad, almost stormy weather in October. It is very unusual for me to encounter such gloomy weather in my travels coz I generally consider myself lucky weather-wise. It got me thinking that it might be due to the fact that I told everybody about my plans for this trip. And somehow, one (or more) of the people who knew about this travel plans jinxed it. Hence, the bad weather. Sadly, there is a bit more truth to that quote, “Don’t tell people your plans, show them.” than we care to admit. And true enough, Since I told practically NObody about my travel plans to Siquijor, I had nothing but beautiful weather despite rainy weather forecast the whole time I was in the island.

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I’ve also seen this in Quiapo a very long time ago… I never need to buy them coz I can make my own (insert evil witchy laugh here)… my ancestors aren’t from Pangasinan for nothing.

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I bought a smaller version of this voodoo doll in keychains… my husband and our helper are horrified by them. My daughter and I, on the other hand, find them adorable… why?

Speaking of jinxes and negative stuff… Siquijor has this reputation in the Philippines for witchcraft and aswang… I do not really know how to say aswang in English. But in Philippine folklore, aswang is a creature, sort of like a monster that devours people for magical powers (I think). I am quite surprised that this reputation manages to survive in this modern time and age. Although I believe in negative energies, or negative people having an effect on others, I do not believe that eating people will give you evil magical powers… you’ll just be a regular cannibal at best.

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This looks like fun… unfortunately, I didn’t know I would be visiting this site so I wasn’t wearing the proper clothes for this.

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Old churches are beautiful

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One of the most beautiful dilapidated old churches I’ve seen in the PI

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I love the feel of this church’s wooden floor boards under my feet… reminds me so much of my Lola’s ancestral house.

Anyway, I chose to go to Siquijor because I saw all these beautiful images all over the web — the beautiful white sand beaches, great snorkeling (and diving) sites, water falls, etc. And also, what made it especially attractive is that it is not that touristy yet. After seeing Boracay, I just don’t have the tolerance anymore for overcrowded beaches swarming with irresponsible tourists.

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Cool drinks, cool vibe… my friend and I had the most awesome cozy corner in the place!

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Local Reggae band at Baha Bar

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These people in portraits stare at you while you do your thing in the toilet (Baha Bar)

What surprised me about Siquijor and made me glad I visited is that it made me realize all over again how people in the Philippines, especially in remote provinces like this in the South are always so generous, kind, helpful and cheerful. Somehow, I have forgotten about that. It’s some of the things that you miss when you live outside the Philippines for a long time.

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Au revoir, Siquijor!

The truth is, I actually hesitated a lot to post about Siquijor because I somehow don’t really want it to get too famous and become just another Boracay. But then, there’s really no stopping people from discovering it. I can only hope that the local government in Siquijor will do less evil than the ones in Boracay.

It is interesting to note that Siquijor was once called “Fire Island” because it was teeming with fireflies back in the day. The old people in my province used to say that fireflies signal the presence of something enchanted… Siquijor must’ve been even more enchanting and bewitching in the olden days…

Thanks for dropping by and have a good weekend! 🙂

Hotel: Coco Grove Beach Resort (Rating: 4 out of 5… beautiful beach resort with friendly staff, good value for money!)

Bar/Restaurant: Baha Bar (Rating: 5 out of 5… excellent service, love  the drinks and food)

Sites of interest in the pictures: Lazi Church, Cambugahay Falls