Tag: travel

Smart Travels: Madrid

I’m doing a thread of smart travels to help those who are planning their future trips make the most out of their journeys.

Madrid, as I’ve learned, is a city that comes alive in the afternoon. Breakfasts at our normal Filipino times (7 to 8 am) is practically unheard of. When you go to the mall at 10 (yes, the mall does open early), don’t expect the dining places to be open earlier than 12 or 12:30.

TIP #1: Breakfast

If your hotel does not serve breakfast, make sure you go to the grocery and buy easy breakfast food that you can prepare, like fruits, cheese and bread. This is especially important if you’re traveling with kids. They will get fussy and no one wants that. Now, if you’re really not keen on making preparations, or stocking food, look for the San Gines Churreria which is open 24 hours. Churros dipped in hot chocolate is a perfectly acceptable breakfast for Spaniards.

TIP #2: Free Walking Tours

Now, if you’re ever wanting to learn about Madrid’s rich history and their leaders (eg. Isabel II), you might want to take advantage of some companies that give free walking tours. All you need to do is sign up online and you’re set for a walk around the city. Cost? Just tip your guide! You’ll also most likely have a coffee break at another Churreria 😊

TIP #3: Free Museum Entrance

Just like Milan, Spain’s museums offer free entrance an hour before closing time. By the time you finish your walking tour, have a coffee break and take a very late lunch (around 3-ish), you’ll most likely be just in time to take advantage of this freebie.

TIP #4: Flamenco!

Wondering what to do with the money you’ve saved taking advantage of all the freebies? Why splurge on a Flamenco night of course! Yes, it’s bit pricey (about €40), but it comes with a free drink and an hour long of feverish dancing! Cap your night off with some paella from the nearby mercato and you’re set!

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Smart Travels: Milan

Milan is quite an expensive place to visit, with museums costing on average € 15, and simple meals at € 10. However, if you’re smart, you can still save a few euros without depriving yourself of a good time.

 

TIP 1: Transport Cards

There are 2 types of transpo tickets that can get you around the city. One is a €1.50 card that expires within 90 minutes after use. There’s another that’s €4.50, that can be used for the entire day. Now, you might think that the obvious choice is the €4.50 one since it’s for the whole day. But here’s the thing—sometimes, you will really only need to use it twice (going to one place, and then going back to the hotel). That means you’ll actually be better off with the one-time use card. Remember, Milan is a walking city. If you’re going to the center where all the museums and shops are, you just might opt for walking.

*Note: kids 10 and below ride free.

 

TIP 2: Museums

How many museums can you possibly go through in a day? Now that really depends on the museum and your patience in walking. Some, like the Biblioteca Pinacoteca Accademia Ambrosiana, are all in Italian. While there are important pieces there from Da Vinci, like some paintings and his codex, there are hardly any English translations. You will need an audioguide to survive this. A complete walkthrough might take you about 2 hours. So, assuming you do a museum in the morning, take a leisurely lunch, a walk/in the park/shopping in the afternoon, you should just be on time to avail of the ‘free’ museum pass—around 4 or 5 pm, an hour before the museum closes. I suggest to research about the museum and go directly to its most important pieces to save on time. A beautiful place to visit in the afternoon is the Castellos Sforzesco. You can buy food-to-go and then eat it at the park.

 

TIP 3: Food

There aren’t really any “cheap” food in Milan, unless you prefer to eat standing up. But there are some good deals. We tried the Trattoria de Pino and it serves 3-course meals for only €16! It also comes with either mineral water or a glass of wine. You can also order ala carte for the young ones. Ask for the Filipino waiter so that he can explain the menu in English.

 

TIP 4: Souvenir Shopping

I really didn’t do souvenir research in any of my previous travels, until a recent one in Korea. Because there were so many products, I thought it would be best to search the net for recommended ones. I did the same for Italy and got some really good deals!

Unique stuff to buy:

Marvis Toothpaste: Yes, who would’ve thunk it would be a good idea to bring home toothpaste? Well, for one thing, it’s an Italian brand. It has a cult following that swears by it. And it comes in very quirky flavors and great packaging. Buy them in pharmaceuticals or select groceries.

Soaps: Italy is home to scents so don’t forget to grab a couple. I didn’t put here any brand in particular because they had so many suggestions.

Door Knobs: I swear I’ve never seen so many different knobs in my life! Sold in hardware stores

Happy travels!

5 Tips for Beach Travels with Kids

The sun is my enemy, obviously.

Frankly, I’m not what you would call a beach person. I love a lot of things about the seaside–obviously, one is that in most cases, the air is clean and pollution-free. I love strolling on the sand, looking at seashells and fishies when I go snorkeling and waddling. Swimming, on the other hand, that’s another story altogether. I have a little bit of a fear of the breadth and depth of the seas. And because I am a mom, I am doubly worried that I might lose sight of my child whilst I frolic in the waters. 
But, having said that, I still find relaxation whenever I do go the beach. And as I also want you to have as stress-free time when you go with your family, here are five tips that I want to share with you.

1. Have your child wear his/her bathing suit before traveling. I am the type of person who hits the beach the minute I get there. If you’re that type as well, simply wear your bathing suit inside your regular clothes. Tours nowadays begin with island hopping anyway, so it’s most convenient that all you need to do is peel off your outer clothing and you’re good to go! Putting the bathing suits on your kids beforehand also saves on a lot of time. Your super excited kid won’t have to wait for mommy to put on his trunks.

There’s her swimsuit peeking from underneath her floral dress

2. Bring an inflatable life vest for your child. I used to pack an actual life vest for my daughter, but it does consume a lot of space. An inflatable life vest solved my packing problems, and it made it easier for us to lug the life vest in our carryon. (FYI: When my child didn’t know how to swim yet, I had her wear a life vest on the beach, just in case a strong wave hit the shore. I know, I am a worrywart. ) 

3. Bring 2 sets of slippers. You could bring a pair of aqua shoes, or just plain rubber slippers will also do, plus an extra one for when you enter your hotel room. This way you don’t bring in the beach to your room and the bed.

4. Bring mesh bags. Mesh bags are not only great to store your wet clothes in, they’re also awesome for storing your child’s sand toys! Again, this helps lessen the sand you bring home.

5. Check beforehand the government’s policy on shell-picking. There are are some places in the Philippines where bringing home shells from the beach is prohibited. Palawan and Romblon are two of those provinces. Knowing what is allowed will save on heartache when the child refuses to part with his/her beloved collection. 

Dumaguete on the Cheap

This year, I made a promise to my family that we would explore the Philippines more. We are avid travellers, but sadly, we rarely choose to go around places in our own country because 1) it is hot most of the time and 2) it almost costs as much, or sometimes more than travelling to certain countries with more pleasant weather. But, I told myself that I wouldn’t make any excuses this time and really put the Philippines in our travel agenda.

Dumaguete was actually our second planned trip around the country. The first one was to the Pagsanjan Falls in Laguna, which was really just a day trip so I don’t have a story for that visit.

Dumaguete surprised me with its natural beauty and accessibility. There are so many gorgeous places to go to in this tiny island of just over a hundred thousand people. But, as we were newbies, we took the more expensive route and hired a tour guide. You can skip this part, and benefit from my experience by reading along and finding a more cost-effective way of going around Dumaguete.

Transportation

As I’ve said, all the major attractions in Dumaguete are just 30 minutes to an hour away from the main city, so if you’re travelling in a group, just hire a van. This will set you back Php 3,500 per day, but the van is very comfortable and can easily sit 9 people, ideal for families and groups of friends. If you’re on your own, best to hire your own motorcycle guy to bring you to different places. Of course, you have to risk it because Dumaguete doesn’t require helmets for motorcycle drivers and passengers (go figure).

Accommodations

Our hotel was located at the heart of the city, and I still think it’s a good idea to do that since all sights worth seeing are just walking distance from the hotel. Next time though, I would opt to book a hotel facing the Rizal Boulevard because 1) the scenery’s great. You’re overlooking the sea and the island of Siquijor; and 2) all the major restaurants are lined up along Rizal Boulevard.

Rizal Boulevard
The Places to Hit

Siliman University- Apart from being one of the oldest universities in the Philippines, it also boasts of its very own anthropological museum and the biggest library in Dumaguete. The library is open to the public, while there is a small fee for entering the museum.

The sprawling campus grounds of Siliman University
Rizal Boulevard- For anyone who enjoys eating, or hanging out, the boulevard is the best place to walk through. More on what you can eat in this area later.

Twin Lakes of Balinsasayao- Oh my, this is probably one of the most gorgeous places you can visit. It didn’t even take us thirty minutes to get her from the hotel. Once you arrive, you can take a boat to see both lakes from a viewing point.

Manjuyod Sandbar- I’ve been to the Honda Bay sandbar in Palawan, but it’s tiny compared to the 7 km sandbar of Manjuyod. White sand, clear waters, boatmen selling fresh buko, who can say no to this gorgeous location? After you get your fill of walking (if you don’t swim) or swimming, they’ll whisk you off to the middle of the ocean to look for dolphins! Then there’s lunch on the boat where copious amounts of crabs, shrimp and fish will be served.

Pulangbato Falls and Sulphur Mountains- Pulangbato waterfalls is another easy-to-reach place in Dumaguete. You can swim here, so do bring your bathing suits along. Very near it is a hot springs resort that gets its heat from the sulphur mountains. The water is really rusty, and the stones are a magnificent copper color!

Twinning in Pulangbato Waterfalls
Eats Time to Eat!

I would be amiss if I didn’t mention all the wonderful food that you can eat and bring home from Dumaguete.

Budbod sa Tanjay – A good thing to snack on, and a cheap pasalubong to take home is Dumaguete’s version of suman (sticky sweet rice). You can choose from just plain suman, suman with chocolate (the one I got) and suman with mango. This is normally served along the marketplace. If you want to take some home, I suggest you refrigerate it, or store in the freezer until you’re ready to eat. I usually fry mine once I take them out in the freezer. Yummy breakfast!

Panda Fried Ice Cream-Located at Maria Cristina St. (very near Siliman University), this treat is like eating a donut stuffed with ice cream. I really liked it!

 Sans Rival Cafe – You can get cheap meals here (some are not even Php 200 a plate), plus you can take home a box or two of their silvanas and sansrival. This, and many more restaurants are found along the Rizal boulevard. That’s it! I hope you learned a thing or two! Happy travels =)

Chocolate silvanas? Yes, please!

Sweet, Sweet Osaka

I ‘discovered’ Osaka in 2010, and since then, have made it a pilgrimage country, one that I keep religiously going back to on an almost yearly basis. Here are the top three reasons why I love Osaka:

  1. I love Osaka because it has a proliferation of Daiso/Seria stores, my favorite fabric stores and oodles and oodles of craft supplies. Yes, it might be weird for other people to see that this is my top reason to go back, what with Daiso stores being available here in the Philippines. But, guys! The Daiso stores here are Php 88! The Daiso stores in Japan are just Php 45-50 (depending on the exchange rate). Plus, the stuff available there are really not available here (particularly craft supplies!). So do you understand why it’s the first thing I go to when I arrive in Osaka? (I imagine people shaking their heads at me…hehehe.)
  2. I love Osaka because of the proximity of very interesting places surrounding it. It’s a train ride away from Kyoto, Kobe, and Nara! It’s the home of Universal Studios, the home of Harry Potter! It’s where the Kaiyukan Aquarium is! Castles, temples! They have it all!
  3. I love Osaka because of the food! Every time I’m there, I just have to order gyoza, katsu and karaage. Not the most adventurous set of meals, but I always get a kick out of how authentic the taste is. I have yet to find a gyoza place in the Philippines that can rival Osaka’s vendo gyoza, the cheapest gyoza you can find there! And the desserts are so plentiful! Methinks Japanese, like Filipinos, love their sweets.

So, on to my actual article. On this trip, we really wanted to sample more desserts. This was the first one I tried–a cream bun from Hop Chou ala Creme in the Shinsaibashi-Namba area. The outside looks like its hard bread, but looks can be deceiving! Inside is yummy, cool and creamy filling! I chose a chocolate-flavored one because you can’t go wrong with chocolate. The thing though is that it’s not heavy on the stomach, so you could be tempted to eat more than one bun. Plus there are many flavors to choose from, which is another temptation.
The next dessert I sampled was the waffle-on-a-stick at Maison de Gigi (Shinsaibashi Suji, Chuo-Ku). We each ordered our own flavor, and I again got the chocolate-flavored one, while Bumbum got the strawberry-flavored waffle. Okay, note that this was spring time in Osaka, which may have accounted for the waffle being a bit cold. But that said, the chocolate on mine was very good, dark (the way I like it) and the waffle had the sugar crystals that gave it a bit of crunch. Bumbum polished hers off in no time.
Finally, we ate the small cheesecake tarts in Pablo and the big premium one as well. I wasn’t able to take a picture of the premium cheesecake (too busy stuffing my face with it), but here is how it looks like:

*photo borrowed from http://mogmog.us/category/review/106/

I really loved the premium cheesecake with the creme brulee-esk top. Honestly, if left alone with this cake, I could probably finish off half of it. The burnt sugar top gives a wonderful flavor to this cheesecake.

I wish I could tell you that I ate more desserts, but sadly, I did not. After all, I’m always on a diet 😜

 

Airline Review: Emirates

Although not intentional, I’m glad that I got to try a lot of different airlines this year, making it seem like my posts are cohesive and well-planned =). 

For a family trip to Germany, we opted to take Emirates. When we were scouting for airlines, we originally planned on getting Singapore Airlines again. But, since we are a big group and Emirates was cheaper, we decided to give it a go. I was dreading it a bit because I really didn’t like the Dubai airport we stopped over in our trip to Greece, but thankfully, I was proven wrong because Emirates apparently had its own terminal, which was much better than the one we landed in the first time around. All the shops were open 24 hours and there was even a live band playing at one point.

On to the good stuff: First, I noticed that the Emirates crew made an effort to be friendly. They gave warm towels before the plane took off, which in my opinion is always a good sign.The stewardess even tried to chat with my daughter. Unfortunately, it was not reciprocated because once she is strapped in, she is in entertainment-mode and is primarily concentrated on how to figure out the screen in front of her. Speaking of entertainment, Emirates had enough movies to keep me busy and not bored with the very long travel time (7 hours MNL to DBX and another 7 from DBX to Germany). The meals were quite edible, with my daughter enjoying her kid’s meal and snack pack; and daddy giving his thumbs up on the double chocolate chip cookies. By the way, my daughter’s freebies included a lunch kit, a travel blanket and a strapped bag loaded with stuff to read and craft. And while this is a small thing, it was very relaxing for me to see that when the crew dimmed the lights, the plane had a lot of pin lights overhead, mimicking a very starry night. Maybe it was to comfort the kids, as the plane was never completely dark, but for whatever reason, it looked quite beautiful. Hubby was also pleased with the leg room (he’s about 6 ft tall). I, on the other hand never seem to notice leg room because I fit anywhere! Hahah, the benefits of being tiny.

But, in spite of all those good things, Emirates would not make it to my Top 3 because of the following reasons: First off, while daughter is happy with her freebies, mommy was not happy at all because she didn’t even get a free toothbrush! They didn’t give away a basic hygiene kit, and they didn’t stock their restrooms with any either. A good airline would either have a basic kit, or have some stocked in their restrooms. A great airline would have both =). Second disappointment was the restroom. I don’t know if it was just coincidence with Middle Eastern airlines, but just like Qatar Air, the bathrooms in Emirates weren’t very well-cleaned. 

Overall though, I’d still recommend Emirates, especially when they have a good deal on the price of the ticket =)

Fukuoka Food Delights Part 2

ramenA food trip to Fukuoka would not be complete without ramen. Hubby researched that Ramen Stadium was a good place to pick our ramen meal, and so off we went! Ramen Stadium is a floor located inside a beautiful mall, called Canal City Mall, so yey to hitting two birds with one stone! As hubby is very sensitive to certain meats and veggies (no cabbage, beansprouts, potatoes and beef), we had to be extra careful in choosing our ramen. We went to Marufuku Ramen (I hope I got the name right…all signs were in Japanese) and selected via their vendo a Tonkotsu Ramen. Of course I’ve had these before so was really curious what the difference would be. For 800++ yen, we got a bowl with two pieces of chasu, kelp, an egg and nori on the side. We noted that the aroma of the ramen was a bit stronger than what we were used to. Methinks its because the chasu was smoked. It did not disappoint. The flavor of the broth was very rich, the chasu was so soft it was like chewing butter. Noodles were nicely cooked, not soft or soggy, rather on the firmer side. Even Brie polished off her plate! Maybe next time, we shall order more meat, but again for the price, quite a satisfying meal.

I’m sure it will also be worthwhile to visit the other famous ramen places at the Ramen Stadium, Canal City, Hakata.

Fukuoka Food Delights Part 1

To celebrate our 15 years of marital bliss, hubby and I decided on a less familiar, but still familiar travel destination: Fukuoka, Japan. Why Fukuoka? The answer: food!We’ve always been a great lover of Japanese food, so it was a perfect opportunity for us to see what Fukuoka had to offer. Incidentally, we discovered that some of our fave Jap food in the Phil (Uncle Tetsu for cheesecake and Nagi Universal Ramen) originated from Fukuoka.

Just so you know, we’re not really foodies. We don’t do in-depth research on the places to eat in. We’re kinda the “let’s-get-lost-and-go-into-the-resto-with-nice-food-pics” people. So on our first night, that was exactly what we did. Our hotel wasn’t really in the busy and tourist-y district so no English translations. When we entered Ten Jin Cha Han, we pointed to what looked good, while our very gracious waitress tried to understand what we were attempting to say. I ended up with a set meal composed of thinly sliced beef steak cooked in garlic sauce, cha-han (fried rice with pork bits) and vegetable salad. Hubby ended up with cheesy cha-han and Brie got her safe, but sure karaage. Since I got the house specialty, I assumed it would taste decent. And boy, was I wrong. It wasn’t decent…it was obscenely delicious! The beef required very little chewing and was flavorful, so good choice on the garlic sauce (the other option was Wasabi sauce). Although I’ve always been a “well-done” kind of beef-eater, I have to say that their medium-rare is heavenly. Didn’t taste a drop of blood, no slimy aftertaste. Each slice had a bit of pesto, which added a very interesting flavor. And it paired nicely with the cha-han. Hubby also gave a thumbs up to his meal and said the karaage was flavorful and crispy. To top it all off, it didn’t cost an arm and a leg. It was actually a very cheap meal (1,600 Yen, or about 800 Php) for ALL of us. Yup! That’s what I call a successful first day!

Airline Review: Singapore Air

On our trip to Rome, we flew via Singapore Air. The flight was from Manila to Singapore and then, Singapore to Rome. Upon entering the aircraft, you were greeted with smiling and svelte stewardesses (yes, that’s the correct plural form of it, according to Wiki =), wearing the traditional Sarong Kebaya. Before the flight even began, we were each handed a hot towel, which I thought was quite relaxing. Leg room was adequate, the entertainment was good (better on the newer planes) and the staff provided a basic vanity kit (socks, toothbrush and toothpaste). Plus points for Singapore Air is that the stopover is always at Changi, which is probably one of the best airports in the world. If you have enough time in between layovers, I seriously suggest you take advantage and go around. From now until some time in 2017, Singapore Air is also giving passengers 20 SGD shopping money at Changi, which is enough to buy quite a lot of chocolates, as I found out. It’s also a perfect stopover for kids because the airport had indoor playgrounds. And if you love shopping, Changi is a good place to buy branded items at a discount.

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Kid’s packs included Zootopia kits

Now, going back to the airline, another thing I liked is their activity packs and meals for kids. My daughter always seemed to eat what they served. I liked the meals as well (on 2 occasions, they served ice cream for dessert, which I think my husband enjoyed thoroughly). For long flights (6 hours and upward), I would definitely recommend an airline of this calibre.

Spotting Authentic Italian Cuisine

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The peppers and pointy tomatoes hanging in this local Napoli restaurant are for realz, y’all! You can’t get more authentic than that!

I was going to do a restaurant review of one of the many great places we ate at in our brief stay in Rome and Naples, but in my excitement to eat, I failed to take down where we actually ate. So, instead of doing that, I thought of just writing about the things I observed in the Italian way of preparing two of our favorite meals: pizza and pasta.
According to our guide, a pizzeria is the equivalent of Italian fastfood. Everywhere you look, especially when you’re in a major tourist spot, you will find a pizzeria. So, how do you know if it’s a good quality pizzeria? You observe who eats in it. If you find the people in it are mostly locals, then better step inside because you’re in for a treat.

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Messy, but so worth it!

Pizza

The crust of authentic Italian pizza is always thin. So the thick ones we see in Pizza Hut and Shakey’s are probably the American version. Its sides are crispy because it is a little bit burnt, and it is always sloppy, with the cheese literally falling off it when you carry it to your mouth. Italian pizza is never served sliced. I failed to ask my guide why it wasn’t served sliced since they never give you a sharp enough knife to slice it, but methinks its meant to be torn, and not sliced. But don’t trust my word for it.

When you order pizza, the server will tell you that is meant for one person only, but they will give you an entire wheel of pizza, and not a slice. Although the crust is really thin, I still think that it is a little bit hard to finish on my own.

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Pomodoro, with the pointy tomatoes Naples is famous for

Pasta

There are many lovely pasta dishes in Italy. What we see in most of the Italian restaurants we go to everywhere in the world are pretty standard in Italy. However, what I did notice that in all the restaurants that we went to, the noodles are consistently al dente. I don’t know if its because they make better pasta, but it is really cooked perfectly. Another thing I’ve observed is that their pasta is always bursting with flavor. And I think it has something to do with the many different spices they put in it, not to mention the copious amount of tomatoes. My daughter ordered a Pomodoro in Naples and it was filled with many small and pointy tomatoes that burst with flavor in every bite. And of course, let’s not forget about the cheese they put on the pasta. I think the ones we ate in all served freshly grated parmesan, which really does improve the taste. I don’t think I can eat pasta again without comparing it to the ones I had in Italy.

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This is where my selfish self came out as I almost didn’t want to share my gelato!

Dessert

Yeah, I didn’t tell you I was going to mention this, but who would want to skip dessert? Like the Japanese swirly ice cream, you must not skip Italian gelatto. It is a mountain of heaven piled on a cone or a cup. It doesn’t hurt my throat, I don’t know why because I am notoriously weak in eating regular ice cream. I think all adults should try a limoncello as well. It is an alcoholic beverage that is made from lemons. I thought it was a perfect after meal drink to balance all the flavors of the meal.

Yeah, if that didn’t make your mouth water, I don’t know what will!