Europe 2014: Barcelona

 

A view of the city from Park Guell

A view of the city from Park Guell (c/o Mar Corazo)

The second stop of our multi-city European adventure was Barcelona. Barcelona is definitely my favorite European city so far. It’s unassuming and charming. My male companions likened it to the “girl next door” versus the  sophisticated, more high maintenance girl that is Paris. We arrived the morning of Easter Sunday so our first stop was Barcelona Cathedral for Easter Mass. It was quite the challenge indeed to concentrate during the Mass having attended the Castellano service and being surrounded by the resplendence of the Barcelona Cathedral.

You can't blame me for straying once in a while during the Mass if this is what surrounded me.

You can’t blame me for straying once in a while during the Mass if this is what surrounded me.

It was a good thing we arrived on a Sunday: free entrance to the Picasso Museum! We lined up as early as 1 pm and ended up entering by 3:30 pm. One thing I learned – find travel companions who can find entertainment in the smallest of things. I’m not known to be  a very patient person and had I fallen in line by myself, I would not have lasted the 2 and a half hours! Time passed by really quickly as we talked and even played taboo while waiting in line and before we knew it, we were inside the museum. The rest of the day was spent exploring the streets looking for the best place to have tapas and churros – which is almost every corner of the city!

Barcelona's very own Arc de Triomf

Barcelona’s very own Arc de Triomf

The next day, we traversed to the home of FC Barcelona, Camp Nuo, where we were able to learn more about the roots of the popular football team that prides itself as being “more than a club”. Though we were not as big a fan as Mar is, we appreciated why the team based in the quaint city of Barcelona was able to capture the hearts of more than a million fans worldwide.

Mes Que Un Club (More Than A Club)

Mes Que Un Club (More Than A Club)

It was also more than a stadium, Camp Nuo featured a Museum where the entire history of the club – both in and out of the sports world, was detailed and all the awards they received were displayed. They even had corners dedicated to their most famous players such as Ronaldinho and Messi.

Pretending to watch a game (c/o Mar Corazo)

Pretending to watch a game (c/o Mar Corazo)

One of the things I loved about Barcelona is how it strikes the balance between it’s old-world charm and the eccentric architectural style of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi. We were only able to explore three of his major works, but his designs could be seen scattered all around the city. We ventured up to Park Guell, which was literally an uphill battle. The park is located atop El Carmel which required us to take several escalators and walk up a curved path. I’m not a fan of upward climbs but I must say that it was worth it. Park Guell is filled with architectural marvels and a breathtaking view of the city (as shown on the first picture of this post).

Park Guell

Park Guell

We were also able to explore Casa Mila, also known as the La Pedrera. Perhaps it was the construction being done on its facade at that time but it felt well camouflaged for a building with such distinctive features. It did not feel out of place in the middle of the city. As you enter, you are welcomed by the atrium that provides the view of the clouds above.

Clouds~

Clouds~

The best feature of the building is most definitely the roof which is just full of indescribable designs – differing depths and unusual figures that are simply a feast to the eyes especially when viewed together with the beautiful blue sky.

The Roof of La Pedrera

The Roof of La Pedrera

Seated outside the La Pedrera, behind us the roads look ordinary while the extraordinary Casa Mila sits in front of us.

Seated outside the La Pedrera, behind us the roads look ordinary while the extraordinary Casa Mila sits in front of us.

The following day, we decided to delve deeper into Catalan history by visiting the Mercat del Born. A seemingly regular (by regular, I mean it by Barcelona standards – still an aesthetic marvel) building from the outside, the Mercat del Born actually houses the ruins of the destroyed Market in the el Born district during the capture of Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War. Despite now being considered as part of modern day Spain, Barcelona still shows some deep attachment to their Catalan roots. In fact, in the surrounding area of el Born, there are still banners that call for the independence of the Catalan people.

Ruins of Mercat el Born

Ruins of Mercat del Born

After having lunch in the popular food market, Las Ramblas, we finally went to our third Gaudi for the trip – his magnum opus – La Sagrada Familia. From afar one can already see the majesty of this unfinished Church. Up close, it is truly an overwhelming sight – the size of the Church together with the intricate, yet meaningful designs both on the facade and of the interiors can be too much to take in at first glance.

Photo with La Sagrada Familia. It was so high, Justin had to kneel down just to get this shot. (c/o Cheston)

Photo with La Sagrada Familia. It was so high, Justin had to kneel down just to get this shot. (c/o Cheston Cornelio)

La Sagrada Familia (The Holy Family) is a complex Church. Every detail was there for a reason – there was no randomness in its design. One of the outer spires have the word Sanctus in plated lettering, while the names Mary Joseph and Jesus, the Sagrada Familia, can be found above the main entrance of the Church.

 

A wall in Sagrada Familia containing the Catalan version of The Lord's Prayer, "Parenostre"

A wall in Sagrada Familia containing the Catalan version of The Lord’s Prayer, “Parenostre”

At the basement of the Church, there is a museum that contains several information on Gaudi’s life as well as blueprints and prototypes of the Sagrada Familia and other Gaudi works. The burial place of Gaudi can also be viewed from a small glass window.

The boys resting outside the Sagrada Familia

Resting outside the Sagrada Familia

We were fortunate enough to witness the Sant Jordi Day in Barcelona on our last day. The entire city was filled with stalls selling roses and books. As part of the tradition, ladies would give men books and men would give the ladies roses – like the Catalan equivalent of Valentine’s Day except even the boys get to receive gifts as well. We had our Barcelona City Walking Gothic Tour on that day as well, where we were able to walk around the city and learn about the history of the different buildings, Churches, and locations that were on our path. This entire trip has really helped me appreciate structured guided tours. Initially, I wasn’t fond of going in tour groups, but the lessons and stories that only locals can teach you are definitely part of the experience of visiting the city.

BARCINO located in Placa Nova to represent that origin of the city's current name

BARCINO located in Placa Nova to represent that origin of the city’s name

Despite having stayed in Barcelona the longest, it still feels like we were not there for long enough. As we all ranked our favorite cities at the end of our trip, this charming, picturesque city found its way on the top of most of our lists. I’m surely going to go back. The question now is when – perhaps when the La Sagrada Familia is finally completed. As it stands today, it already is quite grand. I can’t wait to see how it looks when it’s done!

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Europe 2014: Paris and Versailles

Crew EU! Mar, me, Cheston and Justin.

It all happened so fast. Late last year, my friends and I were sitting in a living room discussing our desire to travel to Europe in the near future. Who would have thought that the near future would be as near as a few months after that? At the sight of relatively cheap travel fare ($861 or around 39,000 Php for Manila-Paris/London-Manila! What a deal!), we bought our tickets. In hindsight, it was a really huge risk – we had tickets but no visas – but definitely a risk worth taking! One of the biggest takeaways from the experience is to apply for the visas early and we had to apply for two: Schengen and UK. One of my favorite travel buddies, Mar (who was also with me in Cambodia), nearly missed the flight as he applied for the UK Visa late and received his visa just hours before our flight.

Being the young adventurous twentysomethings that we are, we opted out of getting a tour and decided to go DIY with a very loose and flexible itinerary. There was a long list of places we wanted to go to, but we decided that we wanted to give ourselves time to take it all in as well.

There could have been no better place to kick off our three week European adventure than in Paris. Everything was just simply beautiful – the art, the buildings, the city, the people. It’s no wonder so many people have fallen in love with this city.

We spent our first day roaming around the city and taking it slow as this was just day one of twenty and because we can be such cliches, the first thing we had in Paris was a crepe that was being sold in front of the Sacre Coeur.

Ah, the Sacre Coeur! Definitely something that should not be missed! It’s one of the most beautiful Churches I’ve seen during the trip. The church is located atop a hill, which is the highest point of Paris, so as you go up the steps, you’ll be treated to a view of the city.

Sacre Coeur

Sacre Coeur

We arrived in Paris on Holy Thursday, so we decided to drop by another Church, the famed home of Quasimodo – Notre Dame Cathedral. The lines were crazy going up to the top of the tower, so we weren’t able to go, but the interiors of the Cathedral were enough for us to appreciate the majesty of this Church. Don’t forget to drop by at dark as it illuminates like a brilliant star in the night.

The boys and the west facade of the Notre Dame

The boys and the west facade of the Notre Dame

The advantage of knowing people in the places we travel to is that we discover places that are not that touristy, yet add to the amazing cultural experience. Mar’s former boss was coincidentally also in Paris that evening and invited us to join them at the La Caveau des Oubliettes, an underground Jazz bar in the Latin Quarter. It was literally underground, hidden under the basement of a different bar which name escapes me. I was so mesmerized by the showcase of talent that I only realized how crowded the place has become when we got up to leave!

Jazz Band at La Caveau des Oubliettes

We decided that our second day would be our museum day. We had dropped by the Pompidou on our first day and had planned to take on the Louvre and d’Orsay in the morning before meeting up with my aunt, who had been studying French in Paris, for lunch. It was a good thing that we got to Louvre early, before the crowds had started to build up. I believe that it also helped that we took the train that was connected to the Louvre so we were able to get in through the underground entrance and avoid the hoards of Mona Lisa’s visitors being dropped off by tour bus companies.

As we walked around the Louvre, we felt the advantage of going through the Liberal Arts program: appreciation of the pieces of art that were displayed, many of which were discussed to us, so we were no strangers to the different artists and the stories behind their work.

Aside from the massive collection of art within the Louvre, the exterior design of the museum is a work of art itself. We spent so much time taking pictures of and posing in front of the museum that we ended being so behind schedule (one of the downsides, but not really, of a flexible itinerary). My aunt had booked an after-lunch two hour city bus tour for us to be able to see more of Paris so we had to save Orsay for another day.

panoramic shot of the exterior of the Louvre + the huge volume of people waiting to enter the museum

 

Going on the bus tour felt like reading the table of contents of a good book. It helps in choosing the best chapters to read because you’re too close to the due date to read it all. Since we only had a limited number of days in Paris, we were able to see and have a short historical introduction of most of the tourist sites of the city and from there decide on which places we wanted to see in greater detail later on.

On the bus, approaching the Arc de Triomphe

On the bus, approaching the Arc de Triomphe

After the bus tour, we decided to explore Paris on foot, exploring the Opera and the surrounding area. We tried to go to d’Orsay but it was closed for admission for the day so we decided to head over to the most awaited Paris tourist destinations: the Eiffel Tower. Being one of the most visited, talked about, and featured monuments in the world, I was excited to finally see it in person. There was that fear in me that it would not match up to my expectations (I had a similar experience when I visited the Stonehenge in 2012), but the Eiffel Tower did NOT disappoint. In fact, it was an overwhelming sight.

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower from the park

We spent hours just marveling at its grandeur from two different vantage points. One was from the park across the tower and another from the Trocadero. We decided to have dinner at the Trocadero where we were treated to the nighttime hourly lights show while having our meal. The night was beautiful – but coming from a tropical country, we were not used to the cold midnight air. So right after we got to witness the blinking lights show, we made our way home to rest and warm up for our trip to Versailles.

 

Palace of Versailles

Palace of Versailles

My friends make fun of me for my obsession in UNESCO World Heritage Sites, but  I know that they know the reason for my interest. They’re not singled out as heritage sites for nothing. The trip to Versailles on our last day in France was well-worth the time. In fact, the half day that we spent there was not enough to explore the vastness of the palace and the gardens which serves as a reminder of the opulence of French royalty. I would definitely want to go back and spend the entire day there.

The grandiose Palace of Versailles was definitely a feast for the eyes. Everything was covered in gold! Every room of the palace was so intricately designed with each room having a specific theme based on its perceived purpose. The some of the rooms were named after Roman gods and goddesses and would feature respective representative elaborate ceiling murals.

 

walls decorated with their own portraits, and they call our generation vain?

walls with their own portraits and we’re the selfie generation?

our own selfie with the elaborately painted ceiling

If I had more time in Versailles, I would have wanted to explore the gardens. It goes farther than what your eyes could see and we were only able to explore a small part of it due to the limited time we had left after spending most of our time in the palace. We weren’t even able to explore the maze so this is definitely a place we’d be coming back to.

Garden of Versailles

One of the many fountains found in the Garden of Versailles photo c/o Mar Corazo

Upon our return from Versailles, we finally visited Musee d’Orsay which we missed the previous day. We had to buy tickets as the two days of our museum pass had already lapsed. One of the advantages of visiting Europe before I turned 25 was that ticket prices are usually discounted! So, kids, visit Europe while you’re young ;). I personally enjoyed the collection at the Orsay more than at the Louvre, so I’m glad we decided to still go despite the expiration of our museum pass.

Three days (two and a half, since we went to Versailles) are definitely not enough to explore Paris! Sadly, this is all we had as we had planned to visit a total of five cities for the three weeks that we were there. No regrets though, as Paris was only the beginning of what I will forever remember as one of the best trips in my life. 🙂

Posing outside the Louvre with the best travel buddies a girl could ask for

Posing outside the Louvre with the best travel buddies a girl could ask for

 

 

Bangkok 2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI had been looking forward to our Bangkok trip for months. First of all, it is our group’s first ever out of the country trip together! We had been on the planning to plan a trip stage for years now and it was an amazing moment when everyone decided book a flight when they found out that our friend Mar would be working there for a few months. Secondly, I hadn’t seen my friends since August 2012 and it would have been the perfect time to catch up with people’s lives! Finally, Bangkok was the first stop of my three-part, two-week vacation. 

Initially, this blog post was meant to be a chronological recap of the activities we did in Bangkok, which is usually what I do for my other travel posts, but as I was writing I felt that this trip was more about the companions than the destination. Bangkok is a wonderful place and I really appreciated the beauty and majesty of the temples of the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and Ayutthaya. I was amazed by the culture, by how nice the people were, by how patient the drivers on the road were. But if anyone would ask me what my favorite moments were in my Bangkok trip, the memories that pop in my head were memories that could easily be emulated in any other part of the world: playing with dry ice, doing the harlem shake in a moving vehicle, dancing on an overpass, etc.

With that being said, it was really so nice to see all my friends again. Most of them are based in the Philippines so I do tend to feel a tinge of jealousy whenever they’re hanging out together and I’m sitting in front of my computer and having virtual conversations with people with whom I used to physically interact. I do have friends here with me now but the feeling is entirely different when you are with friends who have known you and have been through all your craziness for more than five years.

There were twelve of us running around Bangkok doing crazy and embarrassing stuff which you can only do with people you are extremely comfortable with. There are videos of us dancing in the BTS, the Grand Palace, on an overpass, in a van, among other places. It was hilarious and we didn’t care if anyone saw us because no one really knew us. This Bangkok trip was a real eye opener for me and I’m really glad I decided to take the jump and join in the trip despite it being a bit more challenging for me to do so.

Friends ❤
Photo Credit: Kris Pura

On Blogging

I was having a discussion over Facebook Chat with my good friend and favorite food buddy Jared about how deep and thought provoking discussions with friends could play a big role in shaping what we decide to blog about. That’s when I realized the great impact that blogging has had in my life. Sure, I’m not a popular blogger with a hoard of followers who eagerly await my every update, it would be so cool if I were. I’m just a regular 23 year old girl with a lot of things going on in her head in need of a medium to verbalize it. I’m in a specific situation wherein I don’t get that opportunity often in my everyday interactions with people, so blogging has definitely been a life saving experience for me. It has saved my sanity more than once. I mean, even if nobody reads what I have to say, it’s just very therapeutic to have an avenue wherein I can express my thoughts. It’s also doubly rewarding when you find out there are actually people who read what you want to say and are actually inspired by it.

Of course nothing beats the long, passionate, or even random, conversations about life and the universe but I will take what I can get. Blogging has definitely kept my mind on a continuous cycle of thought and no matter how many days, weeks, or months life keeps me busy, I find myself always running back to a blog.

It’s kinda funny- in the same conversation, I had mentioned to Jared how I found it difficult to find an inspiration to write because I rarely get to talk to people about my deepest thoughts and therefore I’m unable to process them properly to form a coherent idea on what to write about. Apparently, talking to him about my lack of ideas on what to blog about has given me the idea to blog about what we blog about.

Photographic memories

 

Last week, I finally downloaded all my pictures from multiply. There were several “What was I thinking” moments in there, but generally it was a very nostalgic experience. I don’t know how many times I’ve lost my pictures because my hard drive crashed or I accidentally deleted a file or I just lost the CD that it was in so I decided to select some of the pictures of really good memories and print them out to include them in an album or maybe even a scrapbook if I’m not lazy. When I was younger I loved flipping through the pages of old photo albums so why can’t I do that with my recent pictures? At least now I don’t need to access facebook or go through my documents just so I can go through my old pictures. 🙂 Yesterday, I went to the mall with my brother and printed out a few pictures that I chose from multiply just to check out how I feel about it and then I realized that it makes me feel good to have a physical photograph that I could hold in my hand while I reminisce the fun days I had in college.

Ilocos 2012

I love the fact that I have amazing friends who are willing to brave the rainy days of July and go on an out of town trip of me when they can very well just travel around without me on months with better weather. Last year, we went to Puerto Princesa. This year, we decided to explore Ilocos!

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Laoag Airport with Cheston, Camille, Raisa, Benise, me, Kath, Tam and Mar!

We stayed in the Palacio de Laoag Hotel for our entire trip. The hotel was very comfortable. The people were very friendly and hospitable. I wish we could say the same about their in house restaurant! They were just bad news for the entire trip! Tsk. But I’d rather not go into that… Look at how pretty the lobby is!

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Lobby of Palacio de Laoag: Cheston, Camille, me, Kath, Tam, Benise, Raisa, Mar

Day 1: Vigan

Our first destination in our Ilocos adventure was Vigan, where one of the country’s few UNESCO Heritage sites, Calle Crisologo, is located. Before we reached Vigan, we stopped by the Juan Luna Shrine where we were treated to beautiful paintings and a very interesting history lesson!

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The story behind Juan Luna’s The Parisian Life was one of our favorite take-aways from the tour!

The first place we went to in Vigan was the Bantay Lighthouse. One thing that I am proud of myself for during the entire trip was that I actually survived all the climbing and walking! I’m not fond of going up stairs because of my asthma but fortunately, it didn’t act up the entire trip 🙂 Anyway, the steps leading up to the bell tower and the stairs going to the top of the bell tower were very much worth the climb! The view was beautiful and the interior was as well!

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Next was lunch! We ate in Cafe Leona where we tried the Longganiza Pizza. It was surprisingly good and the taste of Longganiza was not at all overwhelming. Definitely worth the try 🙂

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After lunch, we visited the Syquia Mansion, where we were greeted by an interesting caretaker who briefed us on the history (and gossip!) that surrounded the mansion and its family. The mansion was beautiful and huge! We then went to the Pagburnayan Jar Factory where the amazing god of pottery mesmerized us with his pottery skills. He made it look so easy! Finally we visited Calle Crisologo. It was definitely my most anticipated location to go to and it did not disappoint at all! It was beautiful. I felt like I was transported back to the Spanish era. Mar and I went ahead and walked along the road just observing the calesas that were passing by. I swear I could just walk back and forth all day.

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We stayed in Calle Crisologo until dark. We attended Mass in the nearby Church then had dinner in a pretty restaurant in the Mestizo district called Leila’s Cafe.

Day 2: Pagudpud

I think one of the most fun moments in our Pagudpud trip was when we were in the van and using “Pagudpud” in a sentence. “Mag-pagudpud ka naman dyan!”. According to some stories, the name “Pagudpud” comes from the tagalog phrase “Ako’y pagud na pagud at ang sapatos ko’y pudpud” uttered by a Batangenyo peddler back in the day. This day was really a treat for the eyes! We visited beautiful sites with beautiful sights: Cape Bojeador Lighthouse, Bangui Windmills, Kapurpurawan Rock Formation, Blue Lagoon, Bantay Abot Cave, Patapat Viaduct and the Ilocos sunset in Saud Beach.

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Of course no vacation is complete without me being a complete clutz. In our Kapurpurawan Rock Formation tour, I managed to survive the horseback ride and not break my neck while riding or getting on or off the horse but I did manage to trip over a rock which led me to plummet to the ground and giving me scars to add to the collection that I already have. Good thing our tour guide had betadine and I was prepared with band aids. So with Mar’s help, the wounds were quickly attended to. If there’s one goal for me next vacation, it’s to survive the entire trip unscathed.

Day 3: Laoag City Tour

This day was definitely the most exciting day of the tour! We started the day with Sandboarding and a 4×4 ride in the lone desert of the Philippines. We didn’t expect the 4×4 ride to be CRAZY. We all ended up covered in bruises but it was completely worth it! It wasn’t an ordinary 4×4 ride. We were told to stand at the back and the driver sped through all the sand dunes freaking us out by going faster at steeper slopes. It was a bit scary because we get worried that we might lose grip and fall off the vehicle. O_o Despite that, it was so FUN! Probably one of the most extreme things I have done! Initially, I was worried about going sand boarding. I felt like I might not be able to maintain my balance and fall off the board, but after having gone through the intense 4×4 sand dune ride I felt that I could surely be successful in sand boarding, and I was! Although not as exciting as the sand dune ride, it was worth the experience!

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Survivors!

We went back to the hotel to get cleaned up and have breakfast then we went around Laoag and Paoay to visit the tourist destinations there. We managed to go to the Sinking Bell Tower, the Marcos Museum and Mausoleum, the Paoay Church (which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site under the Five Baroque Churches of the Philippines), and Paoay Lake. Raisa, Tam and I also got to make our own Batac empanadas! Yum!!

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With that we ended our Ilocos trip. It was such an awesome trip in that it wasn’t a usual barkada get away where we would go to a beach and chill. It was a trip where we learned so much new information not only about Ilocos, but about our own history as Filipinos. We experienced so much culture in this trip, from the stories from the caretakers of the heritage homes that we visited to the well-preserved landmarks that have lasted the centuries. I hope that our next trip will be as satisfying and as stimulating as this trip was!

MoMo and Cupcakes!

The night before I left for Saudi, we had what Mar tagged as “SSSS: Sarah’s Second Saudi Send-off”. I picked Cheston, Camille, Benise, and Raisa up from their respective homes (except for Camille who was at Escriva Drive with Nikko) and we set off to the venue of our dinner: MoMo Cafe in the Ayala Triangle Gardens.

After going around the area for several minutes looking for a parking spot, we finally found parking at the Makati Stock Exchange building since we refused to walk from Greenbelt. We were the first ones to arrive so we looked through the menu and took some pictures to pass time. A few minutes later, Justin, Jude and Jonathan arrived and we proceeded to order our food since we were already hungry.

While we were eating, Tam dropped by! So glad to have seen here for one more time before I left. I gave her my very much delayed pasalubong from Saudi (I know right) and she stayed with us for a while since she had to catch a movie. After a few minutes, Mar and Kath joined us as well.

Top View

The food was sooooo good. The winner of the night would have to be Benise’s Creamy Crabby Seafood Casserole. Everybody loved it! The Beer Battered Fish and Chips that I ordered was not bad either! We attempted to surprise Justin with some dessert which ended up being a fail when the waiter asked Justin who the birthday celebrator was. Still, we got to get Justin his cake!

Justin, our resident Chinito cutie pie and his "surprise" cake

We decided to go get cupcakes at the Fort so we left the restaurant early, but not without having more group pictures taken!

Some of my favorite people! Boys (L-R) Cheston, Jonathan, Justin, Jude, and Mar; Girls (L-R) Kath, Me, Raisa, Camille, Tam, and Benise

Almost 100% successful Wacky Shot

Since I couldn’t fit everyone into my car, we divided into two groups and set off to the Fort. While waiting for the others to get there, we passed by Fully Booked and I bought two books that I wanted to bring with me to Saudi. We went to Sonja’s and waited for them there. They got cupcakes while Jude, Raisa, Jonathan, and I went to the neighboring gelato store and bought gelato.

Since it was very very humid, we decided to go into Coffee Bean where I got a bit annoyed because everyone started ignoring me. After a while I decided to just go out of the coffee store to get some air because I didn’t want to spoil my last night with my friends by being so grumpy. When I got back, everyone was up and ready to leave (and that didn’t really help my mood at all). So I got my stuff and walked ahead.

They found some nice place to take pictures so they forced me to be part of a group picture. I hesitantly sat down and they crowded around me while I forced a smile. 1 – 2 – 3 SURPRISE and Jonathan dropped a giant box of cupcakes on my lap. Apparently they’ve been so aloof because they wanted to surprise me at the end of the day. Thanks guys. 😛


There was even a card with the sweetest messages from them all 🙂
God, I love my friends.

Palawan 2011

My friends and I went on a trip to Puerto Princesa, Palawan last month and I must say it was an amazing amazing amazing experience! Great company, great activities, great food, and great place to stay in! The flight had been booked since March so we’d been excited about the trip for a while, and I’m glad the trip reached a greater peak than the anticipation ever did!

Day 1

We met up at the airport at around 2pm. Kath, Enzo, Nikko, Camille and I fell in line at the Cebu Pacific counter. Camille and I jumped up and down from the excitement! It was the first time we would go beyond Batangas together.

Enzo and Kath in line

Camille Nikko and me, with excited looks on our faces!

But wait! Who took these paparazzi pictures? There was a surprise in the works. As far as Kath, Nikko, and Enzo knew, there were only 5 of us going on the trip together. I wasn’t supposed to know, but Camille was worried I wouldn’t be comfortable with the surprise so she told me the very day it was planned.

While we were waiting for boarding time, Camille excused herself to go to the bathroom. As she returned, I noticed two people walking on the other side of the aisle. Ah the surprise! I had to pretend I was surprised since the ‘surprisers” did not know of my awareness of the surprise. Alas, epic fail. I just stared at them. But I guess they got their expected reactions from Kath, Enzo, and Nikko! So who were these picture taking paparazzi surprise planning additional members to our now seven person Puerto Princesa tour group? Mar and Kris!

Funny thing, Mar would, on occasion, chat me up on Facebook and tell me how bad he felt for not joining us and promised he’d join us next time, and I just sat there fighting the urge to tell him I knew of the secret surprise plan.

Anyway, after all the added excitement from the expansion of our group, we got on the plane ready for the adventure of Palawan!

We got to Palo Alto Bed and Breakfast, and WOW. It was such a beautiful place!

Palo Alto

Palo Alto at night

our room

at the viewing deck!

It was already 6PM when we were done settling in in the two-floor room we reserved for the group so we decided to go out, explore the city, and find a nice place to eat.

After walking around, entering restaurants only to leave them after seeing the menu and avoiding sketchy looking establishments, we decided to eat in Nokinoks, a small restaurant in the middle of the city that made some of the best halo-halo and mais con hiejo that I have ever tasted.

Nokinoks!

From Kris' Camera

We went home and had some drinks. While the others decided to sleep a bit early since our van would pick us up at 7am, Mar, Camille, and I decided to stay up to watch the Azkals game. We didn’t stay up for long though, Mar went up to the guys’ sleeping area and Camille and I decided to turn the TV off to let Kath sleep in peace.

Day 2

Since I’m not good at sleeping on beds that aren’t mine, despite being the last to go to sleep, I was the first to wake up. After waking the girls up (Kris was in charge of waking the boys up), having some really good breakfast c/o Palo Alto and getting in the van, we headed to the port for our Honda Bay Island Hopping tour!

at the port

boat to pandan island

Pandan Island!

Hut

Our first stop was Pandan Island, named for the prevalence of pandan trees on the island, which had a beautiful underwater view! It was my, as well as Camille’s and Kath’s, first time to go snorkeling so Enzo and Kris had to give us some tips.

a view underwater!

Kath!

Me!

After snorkeling, it started to rain but that didn’t stop me, Kath and Enzo from running around like crazy in the rain and playing in the water. Mar,  Nikko, Camille, and Kris decided to stay at the hut and wait for lunch to be served. During lunch, I experienced one of my firsts again! It was how to remove the shell from shrimp. (I’m used to them served to me in pastas and in other forms where the shell is already removed). Nikko and Enzo tried to teach me and I eventually got it after a couple of tries. Enzo was nice enough to offer to peel the rest of my shrimp, but I did not want to give up!

Our next stop was Snake Island, which, thankfully, was not named such due to the prevalence of snakes. It was an S-shaped island that we were unfortunately unable to explore due to the sudden downpour of HEAVY rain. We remained in our hut the whole time telling stories, which wasn’t really a bad way to spend time but we would have preferred there to be sun.

We got back to the hut, and the attendants were nice enough to open two more bathrooms for our use. See, we had to wake up really early that morning to be able to allow 7 people get showered before 7am and we only had one bathroom to do that. So we now had 3 bathrooms to use. After getting dressed, we attended Mass in the beautiful Immaculate Conception Cathedral.

Immaculate Conception Cathedral

Enzo lighting a candle

We decided not to ask the driver to pick us up so we could explore the city more. We divided ourselves into two groups (Nikko, Camille, Mar, Me / Kris, Kath, Enzo) and we took a tricycle to the city center. From there, we followed the advice of the second group’s tricycle driver. He told us that there was a good Chicken Inato place not far from where he dropped them off. We started to walk and walk and walk until we realized that it was not as near as the tricycle driver made it seem to be. So we then took a tricycle again to the place which was definitely not a distance we could walk to and not watch me faint in the middle of the road from exhaustion.

tricycle ride

Still, we were glad we followed the tricycle driver’s suggestion to try the place out because they served delicious chicken. Best.chicken.ever. Not bad, Mr. Tricycle Driver, not bad. I did some research and apparently the restaurant is called “Haim Chicken Inato”. The girls all ordered the regular, unspicy chicken inato, while the boys all ordered the spicy inato. Perhaps to show their manly ability to withstand the spicyness of the chicken, more likely because they just actually like spicy chicken.

Boys!

girls!

Chicken Inato

Seaweed in Soy Sauce

Grilled Tuna

We got back home and they played some sungka. I was sure I would lose so I didn’t join in. After that, everyone else went to sleep. I couldn’t sleep yet so I went on facebook (the B&B had really fast WiFi! I guess it’s because we were the only guests left) and chatted with some people until I felt ready to fall asleep.

Kath vs. Enzo

Camille vs. Mar

Day 3

On our third day, we went on the tour that i didn’t tell my mom about until after I got back: The Dos Palmas Day Tour. I knew my mom would flip because if the history of the place, but it did happen more than a decade ago so I wasn’t as worried.

Thank God the weather was cooperative that day! We took pictures on the boat. We were brave to stand at the end because the waves didn’t look like they were about to topple us off the edge.

we on a boat

🙂

When we got to the resort, Mar and I went ahead to secure a hut while the rest of the group took pictures. Apparently, the drummers were to not stop drumming until everyone has crossed the bridge and it took them a good 10 minutes before they decided to cross. Oops.

Since we wanted to maximize the sun’s presence, Mar and I signed up for kayaking while the others were fixing up the hut. It was my first time to kayak so I had no idea what I was doing. Yep, definitely a vacation full of firsts! As it was my first time to ride a kayak, it was also my first time to fall off it. (My mom thinks it’s because Mar was unable to handle my weight. Thanks mom, my self-esteem is gone.) My foot started bleeding and my legs are now scratched (the marks are what I now refer to as my battle scars) since we fell on rocks. On second thought, I fell on rocks and Mar fell on water since he apparently did not get any scratch on his body.

Nonetheless, I had so much fun kayaking! I did lose my sunglasses and my scrunchie when the kayak overturned but I still had fun learning how to do it! When we left shore, Mar already warned me that I shouldn’t panic in case the kayak decided to overturn. Maybe he, like my mom, questioned his ability to handle my weight. Haha.

After that, I decided to let my foot rest so I stayed at the hut while the rest made their rounds around the resort. Kath stayed with me and we talked about how much we were enjoying the trip. We then watched Nikko attempt to teach Camille how to ride a bike and you can guess what happened. Enzo, who claimed he didn’t know how to ride a bike, took his “first ride” and went around the whole resort on bike like a pro.

The buffet lunch was part of the tour so we happily went to the clubhouse to get  an early start on the food. Once everyone got there, we attacked the buffet table. I have never felt so full in my life. I felt so full I didn’t even want to move. I just wanted to throw up. So while the others went around to take pictures, I decided to go to the hut and rest for a while. A few minutes later, I see Mar walk back to the hut. Apparently he fell asleep on one of the hammocks and when he woke up they left him (Oh Mar!). He sat beside me, we talked a bit, then he proceeded to go back to sleep.

Dos Palmas Buffet!

While he was sleeping, the lady from the neighboring hut approached me and we talked for a bit. I walked around the area of the hut to try to help melt the food in my stomach and I guess it worked because by the time the others got back I was feeling a bit better but I was unsure if I could manage to snorkel again given that I still wanted to throw up.

Eventually, I decided to join them snorkeling. It was amazing tho because there were some fish that were amazing to look at that weren’t around in the first time we snorkeled, but then I got a bit dizzy. As we were going back to the floating hut, I started feeling dizzier and dizzier and water started to creep into my mask. I also didn’t realize that I had blood coming out of my foot and leg. I apparently had scratched myself somewhere while swimming.

We washed up and rushed to the boat that was ready to leave. It was a bit difficult for me since I now had three different scratches on my left foot which made it hard to walk with sand trying to get in the wounds. With all that had happened that day I fell asleep so soundly on the boat that Camille and Kris were worried I wasn’t breathing. Haha I love you guys.

On the way back to the boat

When we got back to the room, Dr. Nikko and Nurse Camille fought a battle with me while they were trying to put betadine on my wounds. I kept fidgeting around because I worried of how much it would sting me. It was such a sight with Camille holding my foot down, Nikko trying to drop some betadine on the wound and me screaming and flailing my arms and the others laughing at how I was reacting.

After fixing up, we went to Ka Lui, one of the hardest restaurants to get a table in due to the demand. Mar and I had read about it beforehand so we made reservations the minute we got to Palo Alto. They had delicious food. We all ordered the same thing, which was the daily special. I regret now not writing down the names of the dishes but what i do remember is that there was Steamed Fish in Mango Sauce, Fish Steak, and Crunchy Eggplant.

Ka Lui!

what to eat??

They also gave us complementary dessert which was fruit salad in half a buko! It was so good. After eating, we spent an hour taking pictures inside the restaurant. They had this beautifully lit area which was probably built for the purpose of having pictures taken in it.

outside Ka Lui

We got home and everyone was tired. Kath, Kris, Mar and I were the last ones standing and we played cards (and I kept losing)  while drinking some of the leftover drinks. It was our last night so we had to consume everything we bought from the previous days. Nikko, Camille, and Enzo were sleeping soundly but Nikko woke up after a while and had a drink as well. Then we all went to sleep.

Day 4

It was our last day in Palawan. How sad. We woke up early to pack our stuff because we would have to rush to the airport right after our Underground River tour. We rode the van which we shared with four other tourists and set off to Sabang where the Underground River is located. The Underground River is in the running to be declared as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature, and rightfully so! It is a definite must see for anyone who plans to go to Puerto Princesa. It goes to show how brilliant nature truly is and how it is able to create something magnificent.

ready for the underground river!

The rock formations in the Underground River were truly amazing! All you need is some imagination and a story can just be brought into life while you’re in the cave. Even if you don’t try hard, you can still visualize what the tour guide is saying. Amazing. I was just staring and listening and staying quiet the whole time so I can take in the whole experience.

Even the outside of the Underground River was really pretty.

"wacky" shot

After that we had a buffet lunch by the beach. The food wasn’t as great as the food in Dos Palmas. It kindov reminds me of those family picnics that we used to have when I was younger. There was one dish that was made of nothing but fat. Was it the liempo? I can’t remember. But every time I would go and get some it would be all 98% fat 2% meat. I complained about the omnipresence of fat on my plate and Mar tells me to eat it anyway since the fat tastes good and a good five minutes later he makes the same remark that I did that he countered himself. Very good.

On the way home, I was a bit freaked out by the way the van was just speeding through the turns on the road. I think Enzo noticed it because we started talking a bit while everyone else was fast asleep in the van.

When we got back, we quickly collected our things and then left. We had little time the previous day to buy some presents for our friends so we had little shopping left for the airport. While waiting for the plane, we got key chains as our reminder for the trip. Kath, Nikko, Camille and I got the Starfish, Kris and Mar got the turtle, and Enzo got the Crocodile.

With the Palo Alto staff!

We got back to Manila safely and we knew everything would go back to normal. They would all go back to work and I will carry on with the rest of my vacation in Manila. I would have to say it is the most fun I’ve ever had in a while. Looking at the pictures make me sad that we’re no longer there but at the same time I’m glad that we got to experience an amazing almost hassle free vacation together! I’m hoping we have one for next year as well! Thanks guys, for the amazing Palawan experience!

Goodbye, Palawan! 😦

** Photos (except underwater shots) courtesy of Kris and Kath. You guys have such beautiful cameras.