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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

Qunci Villas, Lombok, Indonesia

First off, I want to greet everyone a very Merry Christmas! I had some wonderful time with family last night. Speaking of family, isn’t that what Christmas is all about? This year, my whole family will be spending time all together at our place during the holidays. They will be coming from abroad, so I wouldn’t be doing some traveling during Christmas like I usually do. But that does not keep me from reminiscing about some of my wonderful Christmas Holiday trips.

Here is one from 2013 in Qunci Villas, Lombok. And if you’re ever looking for a place to spend your Christmas Holiday next year, I would highly recommend it. Here are some of my photos taken during our trip:

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The beautiful open-air bathroom — it’s always nice to take a shower under the canopy of the trees or the stars at night.

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One of the two swimming pools at the resort

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View from the balcony of one of the guestrooms

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That’s Bali in the horizon

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Lovely decors and accents

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Off to some island-hopping

The year 2013 was the first year of our return to the tropics, having lived in France for two years before that, so I had been thirsting to see the gorgeous tropical beaches that I have grown to be even more fond of during my stay in the temperate zone of Southern France. Lombok was the perfect place. It’s a quick plane ride from Singapore and it had this gorgeous French-owned resort called Qunci Villas.

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Dinner in our verandah

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Lunch!

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Some Christmas goodies that greeted us first thing in the morning on Christmas Day

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Cocktails with a view

It was my first time I spent Christmas outside of my country of residence. I found it very refreshing and very relaxing. Qunci Villas is a very relaxing place — a beautifully-designed resort with interesting art works scattered all over the villas and inside the guest rooms. It has two big swimming pools, both salt-chlorinated, which I prefer. There are two restaurants and a bar that we liked to frequent during sunset. The resort conveniently faces the beach and the sunset, with a view of the island of Bali in the not-so-distant horizon.

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Refreshment before the spa

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Organic facial ingredients

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After the facial

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Frangipani

To complete your plans of rest and relaxation, they also have a spa. I tried the full body massage and the facial. I totally enjoyed both and highly recommend going to their spa.

Thanks for reading and again, have a very Merry Christmas! 🙂

Salvador Dali’s CadaquĂ©s and Figueres, Spain

Some of the very first places I’ve visited while I was living in France were CadaquĂ©s and Figueres (Catalan word for “fig trees”). These places piqued my interest because of my fascination with Salvador Dali.

In the beautiful Spanish region of Catalonia sits Salvador Dali’s home province of Girona where you will find these towns that have kept treasured memorabilia and masterpieces of the artist. Luckily, it was only three hours’ drive from Toulouse.

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Crossing the Pyrenées on the way to Girona, Spain from Toulouse, France

Our first stop was CadaquĂ©s. On the way there, we had to go around this hilly area covered with endless rows of olive tree plantations with the backdrop of the gorgeous Mediterranean sea. It was so beautiful! I had never seen anything quite like it. I have so much respect for olive trees, being difficult to cultivate and how they can withstand the test of time. It’s one of the many things in the Mediterannean countries that I love so much.

Along the stretch of Cadaques‘ coast, you will find Salvador Dali‘s house at Portlligat, which has actually been turned into a museum. It looked very bright and beautiful from the outside. But we’ve read some information that it is not really very interesting on the inside. We thought we’d just save our money for the Figueres Museum so we just walked around the area instead of going in.

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Salvador Dali’s house in Portlligat, CadaquĂ©s, Spain

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The grounds of Salvador Dali’s house, facing the sea

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Souvenir shop

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Ancient wall clock

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One of the beautiful stone houses in the area

Before heading straight to the Dali Theater and Museum (Teatre-Museu Dali) in Figueres, we first stopped by a beach area lined with seafood restaurants. The houses facing the beach give a bright and summery feel despite the cloudy autumn weather. We had a good seafood lunch in one of the restaurants and then wandered a bit into the beach where we found a statue of Salvador Dali himself.

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Salvador Dali’s statue

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Beautiful house amid the restaurants

From the outside, the Teatre-Museu Dali looks very imposing. The museum was once a theater where Dali’s first art works were exhibited. It was burned during the Spanish Civil War and was later on rebuilt as the Dali Museum that it is now.

They were offering discounted entrance fees to students at the time. Luckily, I was a student at Alliance Française de Toulouse at the time. I showed them my student ID and it worked!

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Dali’s signature

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The steps leading to the main entrance of The Dali Museum… this statue called “Homage to Newton” is the same one that is displayed at UOB Plaza in Singapore, minus the pendulum.

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An air well inside the museum, his remains are buried beneath the grounds here… if I remember correctly

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One of the huge surrealist art works inside the museum… I was actually very much feeling this painting during my visit because I was pregnant at the time.

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I love the bricked walls, the high ceileing and of course the weird art works… especially the ones dedicated to his wife, Gala

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Children on a field trip

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You can view the kids from this mirror, and they look like they are part of the art installation

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Ceiling mural

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Now this is what I call a “shitty opening”… literally!

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Entrance to the Jewelry Museum

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My favorite piece inside the Jewelry Museum — a golden heart with a crown and a beating heart in the middle

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The Teatre-Museu Dali from the outside with the funny-looking gigantic eggs

The museum does not only house Dali’s quirky art works, it also serves as his final resting place. There is also a small Jewelry Museum containing jewelry art pieces from the artist himself. There was this unforgettable heart sculpture covered with gold. On top of it sits a crown and on in the inside is a small bejewelled beating heart.

We could’ve continued to the PĂșbol Castle, Dali’s famous gift to his wife Gala, which has also been turned into a museum, but we only had one day and we had to drive back to Toulouse.

Thanks for revisting Dali’s home town with me. Have a good weekend! 🙂

New Zealand

Last year for Christmas, our family, together with my in-laws decided to spend the holidays in New Zealand. We originally wanted to go to Sri Lanka but were disappointed to find that as early as July, all the good hotels were already fully booked. While searching for  a new destination, the thought of New Zealand came to mind because I had never been there and it always seemed like an interesting place full of adventures. Luckily enough, we found out that there were still a lot of availability on flights and hotels at the time of our search and so we decided to immediately go for it. And we were not disappointed. It was one of the best trips and one of the best places I have visited.

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Auckland from the ferry boat on the way to Waiheke Island

Our first stop was Auckland. We arrived mid-day from our very long and tiring flight. Auckland was bright and summery in December but it gets quite chilly at night. We got a hotel close to Victoria Street and the harbour. It was Boxing Day when we arrived and all the shops were on sale. It’s a very pleasant city for walking. There were very nice restaurants along the harbour where we sat for apĂ©ro and had dinner. We also had our New Year’s Eve dinner at a very nice and modern restaurant called Matterhorn.

The next day we took a boat trip to Waiheke, the closest island from the city. We originally wanted to go farther out but we considered how it would be too tiring for my small daughter. Waiheke is a lovely island with beautiful beaches and huge vineyards. We took a half-day bus trip with a tour guide that told us about the history of the island and also gave us tips about which vineyard restaurant to go for lunch.

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The view of Palm Beach in Waiheke

After the bus tour, we stopped by a couple of beaches. It’s too bad the waters were not warm enough for me to swim. We found a nice vineyard restaurant where we had a semi-lunch. Most of the vineyard restaurants were fully booked but we found one that served apĂ©ro at their cozy wine-tasting garden area, filled with sweet-smelling herbs.

The next day, we went on a road trip to Rotorua. Before going straight to the hotel, we took a side-trip to Hobbiton in Mata-Mata. The place was really nice, huge and interesting especially for the kids. But I find that there were too many people and that it was very hot to walk around early in the afternoon. Good thing they offer free refreshments at the end of the trip.

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This is the very first hobbit house that greets you upon entering Hobbiton

The director of the movie, Peter Jackson is actually a native of New Zealand. The driver of the bus fom the i-Site and the tour guide at Hobbiton offered lots of interesting trivia about the movie. As we neared the place, there were parts of the area where it looked a bit like Tuscany. I thought at first I would have difficulty understanding the locals because of their accent, but surprisingly, I didn’t.

We stayed for a few days in Rotorua at a motel close to the city center. There was an interesting park called Kuirau Hot Pools nearby, where you can soak your feet in some shallow baths and cross a wooden bridge across a giant pool of smouldering hot water. It was amazing!  For a cooler and more relaxing walk, we spent one afternoon visiting a forest filled with tall sequoia trees and giant ferns. You can either go for a short leisurely walk or camp for several days.

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The Champagne Pool at Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland

About an hour’s drive from the center you arrive at Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland. Make sure to get there early as the tiny road that deviates from the highway is really narrow and causes jams due to people going in and out to see the geyser. If you want my opinion, you can totally skip the geyser, just head directly to the park. It is advisable to carry a sunhat, put on some sunblock and carry some water with you as there is not much shade on the trails. The hot pools were a sight to behold, with such magnificent colors. Although, you will have to forget about the putrid smell of sulphur, if you want to enjoy the trip.

New Zealand for Christmas is not a bad idea at all, especially if you don’t mind having an out-of-the-usual, warm holiday season instead of the clichĂ©-ish cold. It is very suitable for adventure trips and surprisingly enough, it is also family-friendly. What’s even more special about the yuletide season in New Zealand is that you get to experience the new year way ahead of most everyone in the planet! What a treat! 🙂

Thanks for reading and have a good weekend! 🙂

London, Bath, Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral

The London Experience was definitely a first of many firsts in my traveling history. Among these firsts was the first time ever for me to step in Europe. Everything around me was such a visual treat! That’s why I decided the best way for me to show you around London and a bit of its countryside is by way of my humble pictures. Scroll down for the London of Summer 2008…

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On the way to the hotel, I passed by this small Filipino grocery.

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The hotel was situated close to a line of brown-bricked houses/apartments with lovely flowers outside the windows

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London underground directory — most of the stations were closed down and needed fixing almost every day I was there… most old European city underground trains are like this.

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I was fascinated about how old the London Underground is and at the same time dismayed about its dilapidated, decaying and neglected state.

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Hyde Park

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Peter Pan’s statue at Hyde Park

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Changing of the Guard

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Entertainment at Trafalgar Square

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I remember reading A Study in Scarlet right before visiting London

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Souvenir items

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The busy area close to the Big Ben and Westminster Abbey

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The Roman Baths

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Jane Austen’s apartment

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Salisbury Cathedral has the tallest spire among all cathedrals in the UK

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It also has one of the original copies of the Magna Carta

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I love these gothic arches

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Ceiling art

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The oldest working clock in the world from 1386 AD

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It was quite a long trip from London to go to the Stonehenge. And when I got there, I wasn’t all that fascinated. I didn’t bother to go inside the fence. I was more interested in the surrounding hills which had some mounds for ancient tombs.

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One of the ancient tombs surrounding Stone Henge

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England’s pretty white rose

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This is one of the oldest pubs in London which was frequented by some of the famous writers (including Charles Dickens) back in the day. I had some fish and chips and beer inside.

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Ancient looking clock at Fleet Street

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Tower Bridge

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The dungeons with the Gherkin in the background

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The modern bridge to Tate Modern

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At the British Museum

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Drinks at The Hung, Drawn and Quartered pub — drinks to keep you warm from the cold rain

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Curious shop

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Oldest book shop in town

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Watching Les Miz for the first time!

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At Kings Cross on the way back to the airport

Some of the special things that I’ve enjoyed and might not have been so apparent in the pics: the friendly Filipino strangers at the airport, the very nice cabbie who didn’t take the fare because he took the wrong route on the way to the hotel, the people in the streets mistaking me for a teenager (I was 29 years old) but nobody bothered to ask for my ID in the pubs, how it was raining a little bit every day, the fresh flowers everywhere, the lovely parks, the museum with the Seurat painting, all the ten pubs that I’ve visited to make me appreciate beer for the first time, etc.

I would someday love to go back to London, and maybe visit other areas in the UK as well. But for now, I’m quite content looking back at the memories of my travel through my blogs and pictures.

Thanks for dropping by!

Cheers, and have a good weekend!