Category Archives: Arts

Crossroads

I’m about to cross the bridge
Leaving behind a place
That I once considered my sanctuary
That now became a nightmare

Alone I cross this feeble bridge
With a river of tears flowing beneath it
Emanating from the windows of my soul
Stop it I cannot and will not

Just let me cross the bridge
Alone I must on this grueling stretch
What lies at the end I don’t know
Good or bad it can actually be so

Trish Castro
16 December 2014

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Farce

Define farce
Is it these roles
That we play
When we’re with
Each other
Face to face
And that we play
When we’re with
Others

Answer this farce
If it’s a question at all
This farce that’s
Confusing both of us
That destroys the future
Ahead of us

Explain this farce
Is it these stares
That dart my soul
When you look
At me quietly
And that kills me
Stabs me gently

End this farce
Put a finality
Is it black or white
Just end this farce
With truth you’ll end it

Let’s give this farce a chance
To turn into something real
Let’s give this farce a fresh take
And turn it into something real

Trish Castro
15 December 2014

Ma-ARTe Manila Museums Field Guide – An Attempt

I have appreciated and gotten high looking at the art in Louvre and Musee D’Orsay in Paris, the Prado Museum in Madrid, the Vatican Museums in Rome, and the Met in New York, but I have not even visited the museums (at least in the age of my enlightenment) of my own country. Mind you though, my Bachelor’s thesis is about Philippine contemporary art. I only managed to appreciate them from coffee table books, but never saw them in the museum. I carry this guilt in me, and a greater guilt within me for being lazy to just go discouraged by traffic, and parking woes.

I finally had a chance to go to even to not just one, but FIVE! museums in just one day. Our school’s MAPEH department organized a museum visit during the semestral break for the Arts and Music teachers. When I heard about it, I insisted to go with them as long as the vehicle can bring one more passenger, and that I will pay for my own meal and entrance fees. I was given permission – YES! – and we were off on that happy Tuesday.

Ms. MG, our MAPEH Coordinator prepared an amazing brochure (for the lack of downloadable brochures online), and I am sharing it with you here:

Museum Field Trip Brochure Outside Museum Field Trip Brochure Inside

The art quotations are well-chosen because they spark ideas.

Let me now run through with you what to expect in each museum.

  1. The Museum at De La Salle University – Manila
    • 2401 Taft Ave., Metro Manila (2nd Floor Yuchengco Building)
    • 8:00 AM – 6:00 PM (Mondays to Fridays)
    • 9:00 AM – 12:00 NN (Saturdays)
    • Fee: P25.00 (Filipinos), P50.00 (Foreigners), Free for DLSU employees
    • Suggested duration of visit: 1 hour
    • Picture-taking not allowed. Bags are left with the guard.

During our visit, the focus of the chosen art featured in the museum was allegories. The museum was accented by various statements on visual allegory. One example I like is:

A visual allegory communicates its meaning through symbolic figures. Reflecting an event or story of our societies, an artwork feature allegorical figures or symbols, offers meaning beneath the surface level.

Inside, you are given samples of Ang Kiukok’s sketches, Botong Francisco’s rendition of patriotism, BenCab’s impressions of the Filipino, and many other samplers from Filipino contemporary artists. It was great to start with this museum because it was not overwhelming, but caffeinated enough our sleepy interests to build a slow but steady awakening into the addictive high of art which we were about to see at The Metropolitan Museum.

The Museum

2. The Metropolitan Museum of Manila 

    • Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Complex, Roxas Blvd. Manila
    • 10:00 AM – 5:30 PM (Mondays to Saturdays)
    • Fee: P100 (Regular), P80 (Senior Citizen and Differently-abled)
    • Free guided tours on Saturdays at 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM
    • Suggested duration of visit: 2 hours
    • Must not miss: Installation Art, Joya, Sanso, and Saguil
    • Picture-taking not allowed. Bags are allowed inside.

When you arrive at The Met, you are greeted by a jolly plump guard who is willing to be comedic to entertain the seemingly serious visitors who want to critique art. He’s the best comic relief to a highly intellectual activity. Sadly, this museum is not academe friendly – no discounts for teachers and students. Read: “Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas”. Kidding! 🙂 I understand fully how expensive it is to curate and preserve art, especially those gold artifacts in their vault at the basement of The Met! WOW!

The highlight of this museum is that the Philippine contemporary art pieces are organized by period. The Met visit will give you a glimpse of the artistic trend during a span of a decade or so. It shows you also how an artist’s style evolves as new philosophies are introduced. Does the artist imbibe the new style, or does he stick to his own?

You will love the Juan Luna and Amorsolo samples to abstract artists like Hernando Ocampo, and other more contemporary artists who already exhibit “installation art”. The latter must be the highlight of your visit rather than the paintings themselves.

Of course, The Met visit is never complete without the visit to their vault at the basement where they keep the precious metals and pottery. Along the corridor that divides the two media are religious artifacts and statues date all the way back to the 18th Century. On one side, the smell of old pottery work pervades. You will be amazed by the hand-made variety of pottery work throughout the ages. On the other side, appreciate the gold accessories that pre-Spanish inhabitants of our country molded, designed and wore to differentiate the classes in their tribe. They look like cheap designs, but appreciate the intricacy of the details placed into the molding in an era without technology. It is only from this perspective that you will appreciate this genre of art.

The Met

3. The National Museum of the Philippines

    • Padre Burgos Drive, Rizal Park, Manila
    • 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM (Tuesdays to Sundays)
    • P150 (Adult), P120 (Senior Citizen), P50 (Student with valid ID) – See website for big group discounts, Free during National Museum Month (October)
    • Picture-taking allowed, bags to be left with guard (small body bags okay)
    • Suggested duration of visit: 2 hours
    • Must not miss: Spoliarium, Manansala pieces, Joya, Botong Francisco, Hidalgo, Villanueva collections

This museum should not be missed by every Filipino. It showcases all Philippine art works. It highlights and gives the deserved throne at the center of the museum Juan Luna’s Spoliarium. It deserves the visitors critical eyes. Let your eyes wander across the award-winning painting in Madrid (second place is taken by another Filipino artist, Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo). Appreciate the chiaroscuro – discover the source of light, where it falls, and leaves the plane. Appreciate the perspective, the detail, the edges, the direction of the strokes. Purposeful art and techniques make the experience of the beholder a little more exciting I should say.

In your stay, enjoy the amazing early cubist-realist tendencies of Vicente Manansala in portraying the evangelization of the Philippines. Feast your eyes on the abstract art of Joya – the play of shapes and shades. Compare that with H. R. Ocampo’s style. Observe his sketches of how he chose his colors and patterns. Appreciate abstract art by matching the artwork title with the actual art. See how the title reflects the choice of colors, pressure placed on the stroke, the overlapping of paint, the choice of medium.

Simply discover the beauty in apparently simple, but really complicated pieces of art and let your soul soar!

IMG_7392

IMG_7375 Tolentino Collections

4. Yuchengco Museum

    • RCBC Plaza Gil Puyat Ave. corner Ayala Avenue, Makati City
    • 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM (Mondays to Saturdays)
    • Fee: P100 (Adults), P50 (Students), P25 (Children and Senior Citizens)
    • Picture-taking allowed; small bags allowed, big bags need to be left with the guard
    • Suggested duration of visit: 1 hour

The Yuchengco Museum houses the art pieces that the Ambassador Alfonso T. Yuchengco owns. He is obviously an art collector. He has an extensive collection of Rizal memorabilia: samples of his work, handwriting, and pieces of furniture form Rizal’s home. The art is organized per artist, so this helps the visitors to develop a concept of the artistic style of a particular artist based on sample works. He has a wide collection of paintings by Fernando Amorsolo, Juan Luna and Botong Francisco. Admire the floating zen garden that you wished you had at home.

The best way to divide and conquer this small museum is to start from the highest floor down to the ground floor – tip given by the museum guard.

Here, enjoy some museum gifts and art books at their little bookstore, and have your picture taken in front of Eduardo Castrillo’s “Spirit of EDSA” monument. Yes, the same one who did the People Power monument along EDSA. While you’re there, pass by their food court to have coffee or even a full meal. Amazing food court!

5. The Ayala Museum

    • Makati Avenue corner Dela Rosa St. Makati City (Between Greenbelt 4 and 5)
    • 9:00 AM – 6:00 PM (Tuesdays to Sundays)
    • Fee: P225 (Resident Adult full admission), P125 (Resident Student, full admission), Free for Teachers with school ID or PRC ID – See website for rates for basic admission and foreigners
    • Picture-taking allowed only on the Ground floor and 2nd floors; small bags okay, big bags to be left with the guard
    • Suggestion duration of visit: 3 hours

Our last stop was the Ayala Museum. The services available and curation are at par with international standards I should say. Audio guides are available for borrowing on an iPod for only P75, tourist maps are available here for free. The visit comes with a complimentary guide of the museum.

Like in the Yuchengco Museum, you would like to start from the top floor going down. For every collection, a viewing room explaining the collection is available for you to watch at your convenience if you are not in a hurry. The collection of gold and wares on the fourth floor is less overwhelming than that of The Met.

Going down to the third floor, appreciate Fernando Zobel’s abstract arts. Learn a little Spanish to understand the titles so you can practice matching titles with the seemingly meaningless blotches of paint and sketched grid lines on a typical Zobel work of art. On the same floor, you will find the Museum gift shop. Find time to see some souvenirs you might want to bring home.

The favorite of all visitors is probably the 2nd floor where the dioramas are. I grew up in highschool making dioramas for projects – it’s like that is the only project we could think of doing then. The ones found here exemplify how our dioramas should have been made! It is numbered in order of events with “1” being the coming of the Aetas into the Philippines. The diorama exhibition ends with the EDSA revolution.

Appreciate the detail placed into making the dioramas. They are well done, and do help visualize Philippine history for the learning mind. This is also the floor where you can take pictures. Don’t miss out on the the model Spanish ships that landed our shores. It’s amazing work.

On the Ground Floor, take time to see the changing exhibit. On the day we were there, there was an exhibit of Mexican paintings. You can download the museum map here to help you plan ahead of your visit.

Diorama samples

That ends our ultimate 5-museum field trip. The suggested duration isn’t what we followed that day. We spent lesser time in the museums than I would have suggested and wanted to. But if you ask me the essential museums, these are (and in this order roof priority):

  1. The National Museum
  2. The Metropolitan Museum of Manila
  3. Ayala Museum

Art is for everyone. You just need a great tour guide to help you appreciate it. I have always believed that people from all classes can appreciate art. Anyone with a soul is capable to doing so.

Cheers!

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The Phantom of the Opera – Manila 2012

I again have the fortune of watching another West End hit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) with my family yesterday, September 9, 2012. What I like about Broadway shows is that they are already coming to Manila. Filipinos need not go to New York or London or even just Singapore to watch West End and Broadway shows. I’m just also glad that CCP has allowed these tours to use the main theater, and that the CCP Main Theater has the requirements of the tour.

In my New York visits, I was not able to watch The Phantom of the Opera, and now I am able to see it here in my own home country! It is a joy to be able to watch famous musicals in the Philippines. My family and I were looking forward to this day. I was just raring to watch my favorite Phantom songs sung on stage as opposed to just listening to them.

First impressions

I have not read in full the plot and sequence of events of the Phantom. In my experience, I would normally see a glimpse of the beauty and majesty of the set design upon entering the theater. What I saw was a gloomy set filled with gray curtains.

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The stage set upon entering the theater.

The first scene is the auctioning of the items from the closed down opera house. The stage was so dark you could hardly see the faces of the characters, but you could still, though faintly, recognize the emotions from the main character. This first scene lasts for just 5 minutes and as the story flashbacks to the glory days of the Opera House, the gray curtains reveal its original majesty.

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The majestic stage design with the trademark chandelier.

First impressions don’t last. They lasted only 5 minutes for this one. 🙂 Now, I don’t want to spoil your viewing of the show by giving too many details, so let me go straight to my humble appreciation for the production.

Set Design

The set is just amazing. They probably have three different curtains they play with. The effectively used these to fill the stage. In certain scenes, the curtains are half-drawn, almost alluding to the scarred half face of the Phantom. It also effectively covered the other half of the stage for the element of surprise most especially in the opening of Act II with “Masquerade”.

The opera within a musical was a great opportunity to showcase elaborate designs for the three different operas within Phantom. Aside from that, the operas came in the right frequency to break the drama since they also served as a comic relief, and the climax of the show. Genius this Andrew Lloyd Webber indeed!

What you need to watch out for in this production are the visual effects. You would be amazed and you are left to wonder how they would execute the boat ride scenes (how will the boat move on stage?!), the hundred candles that appear suddenly on stage without burning anything. The best scenes and those that require most technology are those set in Phantom’s lair. My favorite scene though is the scene where Christine Daaé bowed down to the audience after her opera performance because suddenly you are brought “backstage” instead of having the feeling of being the audience for the operas. That kinda tickled my brain. 🙂

Another favorite set is Christine’s dressing room with a big mirror where the Phantom appears. The mirror was angled properly to make the tiny dressing room look to have more space.

Performance

There is nothing to comment much about set design since standards in design are pretty much dictated upon by the original designers and directors. Same goes with the fidelity to the original script and even acting and dance sequences. What remain are the skills of the members of the cast.

Since I have no basis of comparison for Phantom other than the soundtrack which I have been listening to for many years now, I will give my simple critique of the performers.

The singing is just superb. I should say that their voice quality is comparable and at par with the original performers’. I had a difficult time distinguishing the singers on the live show from the CD. Both are just as good. For the die hard fans, they would probably be disappointed with some singing style that differs slightly from the original, but they are negligible and you should be able to give some leeway to the actors.

I would like of course to give much credit to Dondi Ong, the sole Filipino member of the Phantom cast. I was fortunate to get his insights regarding his stint with Phantom because he was my brother’s good friend. We called him up and met with him outside CCP’s artists’ entrance. A tenor from UP Diliman, Dondi’s classical execution of his parts was spot on. His performance is nothing short of professional. He was able to rehearse and get into his role quickly, and delivered it humorously at that. You also have to give it to him because he is one of the few who needed to do eight – EIGHT! – costume changes during the 2 hour performance, and two major make-up changes which he said he already did on his own. Add to this, he had to bear 5 pound heavy costumes each time. He confessed that he already lost 10 pounds since his joining the cast. You also know that he’s that good, that on the day he auditioned, they were already showing signs of their preference for him. According to Dondi, the casting director already framed his profile and judged that his looks fit the role. They also asked him to sing a portion of the musical on the same day other than his prepared audition piece. To prove further he deserved the spot, they signed him as well for the Korea and Singapore tour (I don’t remember if he’s already going to the Australia tour). It was just supposed to be a token role for a local artist to fill, but they contracted him for other tours as well.

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With Mr. Dondi Ong, Tenor

For Phantom fans used to listening to the voices of the original cast, you won’t be disappointed by this casts’ performance!

What is impressive with Christine Daaé’s actress is that the role requires training in classical ballet. I’m impressed with the actress’ natural ballet dancing skills, but definitely not a Lisa Macuja-Elizalde. It didn’t require complicated arabesques and lifts, but the basics were executed nicely.

Conclusion

I just simply love the fact that you can somehow (of course, not entirely) appreciate both musicals and opera in one show. According to Mr. Ong, people have looked down on his decision to take part in this popular West End musical because they think that it belittles his talent as a classically trained Tenor. I would agree, however, with Mr. Ong’s opinion that this is the best way to reach to more people. With this show, people come to watch because they want to watch it, and not because they are required to watch an opera. It’s the best way to reach out to the teens and influence their taste for higher culture. I just couldn’t agree more.

The Phantom of the Opera doesn’t come to Manila often having an international cast chosen by an accredited production staff. Every Filipino who can afford should afford to watch this. Hopefully, after we have exhausted all the popular and top-grossing musicals to show here, we can start importing the not-so-popular ones, but are worth watching as well, and still people go and watch.

International tours being welcomed in the country, Theater courses should begin flourishing in our country. Younger people become more interested in theater, and taking it up as a legit course in college, taking minor in singing, ballet, jazz dancing; thus, taking theater acting a notch higher. No matter how noble it is to act out plays with social dimension and that speak about politics, they still do not appeal to the pop culture generation. We have to use more popular media to reach to them, to educate them ultimately to appreciate a different kind of culture that is more lasting, and which does not change even after 25 years, just like this classic musical, The Phantom of the Opera.

Take advantage. Watch.

Upcoming shows in Asia:

May-June 2013: Bangkok, Thailand

August-October: Singapore

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Mamma Mia! (The Musical) in Manila

How many times in your life do free tickets to a renowned musical fall into your hands without your asking for it? In my lifetime, once. Of course, I grabbed the opportunity. To my sponsor, we did each other a favor watching Mamma Mia! 🙂

I’m not exactly an Abba fan, nor one who would key in “Dancing Queen” on the videoke machine. When I am in New York, and if I would be the one to spend for my TKTS, I would go for Disney musicals or Les Miserables or Phantom of the Opera. My aunt has always raved about Mamma Mia! and how funny and fun it was to watch it, but I guess her enthusiasm wasn’t convincing enough. Until that very fortunate opportunity came my way.

We were fortunate (O, what fortune!) to get seats close to the stage, where we could see clearly the faces of the actors, and at the same time, have a good view of the whole “picture” without being too close.

Before I continue, just a quick synopsis of the show:

Sophie is about to marry Sky, and wants to find out who her biological father is so he would be able to give her out on her wedding day. She finds out through her mom’s diary that there might be 3 possible biological dads: Sam, Harry or Bill. She invites all three to her wedding and get a chance to know them and find out which of them is her real dad. Donna, Sophie’s mom, was enraged to find her three former lovers in Greece. She was supported by her two friends, Tanya and Rosie. The three, in their younger days, form “The Dynamos”, a singing group like “The Supremes”. The story complicates as Sophie realizes that it is impossible to really find out her biological father, while Donna’s feelings for Bill is revived. To make the long story short (Warning: Spoiler coming!), Sky and Sophie didn’t get married, but Donna and Bill did, so wedding preparations were not wasted.

The lights dimmed, and the band started to play the very catchy Overture, giving you a foretaste of the songs they will be performing for the show. Your eyes are suddenly treated to a flurry of blues, and your ears with the familiar “I Have a Dream” by Sophie (Charlotte Wakefield). Act 1 was simply full of energy and keeping with the rising action of the plot. The first Act was a lot of fun, featuring equally fun Abba songs:

          1. Honey, Honey
          2. Money, Money, Money
          3. Thank You for the Music
          4. Mamma Mia
          5. Chiquitita
          6. Dancing Queen
          7. Lay All Your Love On Me
          8. Super Trouper
          9. Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!
          10. The Name of the Game
          11. Voulez-Vous

Rosie (Jennie Dale) and Tanya (Kate Graham) were great supporting actresses for Donna (Sara Poyzer) adding a lot of comic relief (as if it needed to be more funny). My favorite part was their singing of Chiquitita to Donna, when she found out that her three former lovers were on the island, while they try hard to make her laugh with their antics. Imagine the soft and mellow “Chiquitita” accompanied by comic antics. Their size (Rosie was round, while Tanya was tall and slim) contributed to the whole caricature.

Sam (Richard Standing), Bill (Charles Daish) and Harry (Matthew Lloyd Davies) were also quite a trio, whose different personalities added color to their performances. I particularly liked their rendition of “Thank You For the Music” which they sang with Sophie. (Trivia: Richard Standing and Sara Poyzer are real life couple)

The ensembles performed very well, fulfilling their supporting roles, not outstanding the real stars of the show.

Act 1 ended with a high note leaving the audience on a high as if it could already end there. The Voulez-Vous Act 1 Finale was perfect.

Act 2 begins with an Entr’Acte introducing orange hues symbolizing the developing and complicating relationship in our show’s couples. The songs are more mellow as the story reaches its dramatic climax, and moves back into a more humorous repertoire:

          1. Under Attack
          2. One of Us
          3. S.O.S.
          4. Does Your Mother Know
          5. Knowing Me, Knowing You
          6. Our Last Summer
          7. Slipping Through my Fingers
          8. The Winner Takes it All
          9. Take A Chance on Me
          10. I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do
          11. I Have A Dream

I enjoyed the Sophie’s dream sequence with “Under Attack”. The choreography was simple, but accompanied by amazing costumes, and the dream like flow of the scenes were effectively delivered with the right amount of suspense and you start to realize that it really is a nightmare. I also most especially like Donna’s “The Winner Takes It All”. Sara Poyzer’s rendition was powerful and it takes you to the emotional ride that she is undergoing at that moment. It ends not with any high note, but ends with power eliciting a loud applause from the audience.

The subplot love story of Rosie and Sam becomes more evidently funny most especially developed in Rosie’s “Take A Chance on Me”. The director effectively used the space and the wedding stage set for this scene as Rosie tries to run after Sam as he avoids Rosie’s advancements. That song also deserved a round applause from the pleased crowd.

The show wonderfully ends with the same song it began with as if the story resolved by going back to status quo. Like a real comedy, the story ended happily, however not ideally.

After the curtain call, the cast delivered three wonderful encores which normally would get the audience standing up and dancing:

            1. Mamma Mia
            2. Dancing Queen
            3. Waterloo

Overall Recommendation

The cast, should I say, was well-casted. They are all wonderful in their roles and their faces match the character they are portraying, if such criterion exists. I saw the pictures of the original cast, and I thought, I would have indeed wanted a more caucasian cast for Sophie’s and Sky’s characters. The real nationalities of the characters are British anyway, so I would have imagined a blonde group of cast as opposed to a Latina or Latino looking set.

Their voices were also superb, and yes, they also match the character they are playing. In fact, listening to the 5th Anniversary album of the Mamma Mia! The Musical soundtrack, their voices are as close to the voice quality of the International Tour cast. Charolotte Wakefield’s (Sophie) sweet voice reminds me of Kristin Chenoweth’s role as Glinda and I would like to believe that Wakefield would also do justice and close to Kristin’s Glinda.

As I already said, Sara Poyzer delivered all the songs with perfection. Great voices also come from Tanya and Rosie.

As for the men in the show, my ears are not particular with vocal quality since I am more hardwired to female voices, being a choir girl and is always in search of female voices I could model. If I should give an evaluation of their voices, they are very good quality and not a single one of them was in tune. What did strike me with the men is their acting ability. Their body (and I mean, well toned and muscled hot!) movements during the dance were simple but perfect. The dance numbers didn’t require extremely difficult choreography. I just love the simplicity of the whole show, even the minimalist stage was very effective in highlighting the voices and the story.

As I already mentioned, the story ended happily, but not ideally; however, not bereft of lessons that we can still learn from it. We can learn from Donna’s decision to raise her daughter alone and run away to a land to live her own life away from the men he loved. We can’t learn from her definition of love for the opposite sex though. We learn mother’s love for her daughter and everything she will sacrifice for her. We can learn Rosie and Tanya about real friendship being there through thick or thin. However, we cannot learn from the materialistic lifestyle of Tanya. We also cannot learn from them about having children because they see it as burden and hindrance. We can learn from the dads who want to be responsible for their long lost daughter once they confirm who the real dad is. We can learn from Sophie’s modesty in dressing though except for her party outfit in one scene. However, we cannot learn from Sophie and Sky’s decision to not continue their wedding as if they are totally unsure, and just live together.

Watch this show for entertainment and great music, not to learn values. Don’t watch this if you’re bringing young kids whose foundation for love is not strong. Unless you are willing to process them after.

If you ask me, I want to watch this show again — for free. 🙂

It shows at CCP Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo. Show ends on February 19, 2012. You can buy your tickets at TicketWorld.

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Budget Traveling in Rome

Not a lot of us have money to travel, and when we do get to save some money, the best that we could do is to travel on a budget. I’m not new to budget traveling, so I hope that this article will help give ideas to budget travelers like me.

Cost:

  • $1,121 via Qatar Airways
  • 60 Euros for Schengen VISA 
  • 100 Euros for 5-day budget hotel near Roma Termini (w/ breakfast)
  • 20 Euros for shuttle from Airport to hotel and back
  • 15 Euros for lunch and dinner for each day
  • The rest of the cost is for optionals (museums, metro, souvenirs)
You can save on all travel expenses except for the airfare and Schengen VISA fee. Now let’s go straight to making your Rome experience cheap but memorable.
  1. Save on accommodation. Although we opted for a budget hotel, it wasn’t that bad at all. We appreciated the breakfast served everyday which saved us a bunch. Going to a budget hotel (like Hotel Luciani) is probably worth the convenience and the breakfast. After a long walk around Rome, you’d want to go home  and sleep on comfortable beds and having not to worry about what to have for breakfast. This hotel is perfect if you are 3 or 4 persons to share the room cost. What’s best too about this hotel is that it’s extremely near Roma Termini. WiFi is for 5 Euros though but that will last you the whole trip and you could share with the others though you can’t go online at the same time. Befriend the Filipino manager, and you might get this for free. 🙂 Or you may try Couch Surfing. It requires that you agree to allow another couch surfer your own couch when he visits Manila. It’s practically free. Like asking a friend to make you stay at his place for a few days.
  2. Sightseeing and Museums. Rome is actually very small. You can walk from one sight to another literally. It is very normal for a Roman to walk at most an hour to get from A to B. You don’t normally need to pay to enter the amazing Churches in Rome. You just have to brave the long lines at St. Peter’s Basilica, but it’s not as long a wait as it may appear. If you want to see all the art collections in Rome, the only museum you should pay for is the Vatican Museum. Save yourself time by buying your ticket online although it will charge you an extra 4 Euros for the service. We overtook a really long line because of this. Then again, you might want to save 4 Euros for your lunch that day. 🙂 Take my word for it, you can just walk around Rome. On each day, you can focus on an area so you don’t go all around. Here’s a suggested itinerary for 3 days walking tour:
    • Day 1: Central Rome – Colosseo, Roman Forum, Arc of Triumphs, Trajan’s Column, have a gelato, pizza and pasta for lunch

      That's me in front of the Colosseo. No need to go inside and save on entrance fee!

    • Day 2: Southeast of Rome (Passion of the Christ tour) – Santa Maria Maggiore (relics of the true Cross), St. John Lateran, Scala Santa (stairs that claim to have drops of Christ’s blood), Santa Croce en Jerusalem (relics from Calvary), Santa Prassede (relic of the pilar where Christ was scourged), relax at a park

      St. John Lateran

    • Day 3: Central eastern Rome for St. Peter’s Basilica and Vatican Museum (you might want to buy a day trip ticket for this tour @ 4 Euros), Santa Maria in Trastevere, Santa Cecilia, Bocca della Verita, Piazza Navona, Pantheon, Fontana di Trevi, and Scala Spagna (Spanish steps).

      Throw a coin over to the Trevi Fountain and wish to come to Rome. It worked for me. 🙂

  3. Transportation. Rome bus and subway systems is difficult to figure out compared to Singapore’s, New York’s or Madrid’s. It might take a while for you to figure out and maximize your unlimited ticket. But if you are willing, the ATAC Rome metro system offers one day unlimited (only up to 12 MN) for 4 Euros, and 3 days for 11 Euros.
  4. Side trips outside Rome. Our group was able to visit Florence. If you want to save on your Florence trip, purchase your train ticket ahead of time. If you do so, you might be lucky to get a MINI fare which can save you up to 60% off on regular fares. We chose to take the nonstop train (1 hour) to Florence to save time for 45 Euros and took a regular train (3.5 hours) for 17 Euros. You can get cheaper prices as well for Milan and Venice. Florence is a cheap place to go to for the art lover and can be a day trip. You can go around Florence for just half a day. The other half you can spend absorbing the art and a bit of shopping. Don’t miss out on San Lorenzo market (5 minutes walk to the west of Santa Maria Novella train station) where you can buy authentic leather goods and various souvenirs. Don’t miss out on buying Florence stationeries which they are also famous for. For better quality paper and bookmarks, visit Mandragoragift shop behind the Duomo. They sell wax seals, Florence stationeries and various bookmarks at affordable prices. Making side trips, the best place to stay is near Roma Termini so even if you come home late, your hotel is just nearby. You don’t have to pay 6,50 Euros to see Michelangelo’s David. There is a replica at Palazzio Vecchio. 🙂

    My friends in front of the San Lorenzo Church with its unfinished facade. Across is the San Lorenzo Market.

  5. Tour guides. No, don’t pay for a tour guide. There are many audio tours you can get online before making your trip. Better for you to already be informed before going to the places so that when you get there, all you have to do is admire. It’s difficult to study or listen to a podcast while you’re staring at ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Since you studied ahead, you look forward to seeing the places in real life. You can download some maps and audio here.
  6. Save on drinking water. When we visited Rome, it was summer and dry. With that weather, we were easily thirsty and hot-headed. Bring your water bottle. There are many water fountains that you can find along the way to fill your bottle with water. Just make sure it’s potable. Don’t get your water from fountains like the Trevi fountain. 🙂 Also, drinks from vendo machines are much cheaper (by a Euro) than buying from a person. 🙂
I also would like to share some generic travel tips that will save you the hassle as you try to enjoy your trip outside your country.
  • Check-in Online. Usually, 36 hours before your flight, you can “check-in” online. This has saved so much time when checking-in. For online checkers, they usually have a fast lane for you and you will skip the generic queue and you can choose your seat ahead of the rest.
  • Use your credit card. Using your credit card (I assume that you pay your bills on time), can buy you time to save money before actually paying for your train ticket or museum ticket. Above all, it saves you time from lining up most of the time.
  • Travel light. Budget hotels are found in old buildings, and does not necessarily have an elevator like in the case of Hotel Luciani. Don’t expect a first class treatment in a budget hotel. Remember always that you get what you pay for.
  • Always have a map.
I definitely enjoyed my trip despite being on a tight budget. I hope you do too! Rome is one big museum as others would say. You shouldn’t have to pay so much just to see the beauty of Rome. Appreciate the art. Appreciate the role of the Catholic Church in taking care of what’s left of Ancient, Medieval, and Renaissance Rome. The Church only wants to keep a record of the greatness of man — a record of man’s ability to create, which is a gift from his Creator.
Enjoy your trip! Worth emptying the pocket, I promise.

Cats: Now and Forever, It’s Now or Never!

Cats-Manila is just an amazing experience! It was a feast for the eyes, the ears, and the spirit.

I, with my family, watched the matinee show last July 24, 2010 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. We arrived at the venue having some time to purchase Cats merchandise (courtesy of Playbill). Needless to say, the show started on time, and you better be there on time because they won’t let you in at some parts because actors use the corridors to come in and out of the stage.

A quick synopsis: Cats is based on T. S. Elliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” — a compilation of poems about the different kinds of cats. The  musical’s lyrics is based entirely on the poem, which posed a challenge to Andrew Lloyd Webber in putting music into it. As the musical, it talks about the story of the different Jellicle Cats led by the Old Deuteronomy, and the latter’s choosing of one of the Jellicle Cats to be reborn to move “up” to the Heaviside Layer. Who is it the Old Deuteronomy will choose? (N.b. Don’t expect Lea Salonga to show up throughout the musical. She only comes out thrice.)

Cats Manila production is a blockbuster hit having different genres present in the show. It has comedy, drama and even horror. The whole show, I believe, meets Aristotle’s definition of a great drama. The actors were all superb. Characters delivered the comical parts to purrfection evoking the right laughs at the right parts (e.g. Old Gumbie Cat, Growltiger’s last stand – my favorite, Rum Tum Tugger is just fantastic). Grizabella (Lea Salonga) evoked pity from the audience to the highest level giving us goose bumps at “Touch me, It’s so easy to leave me” just before she was to be announced as the new Jellicle cat. Maaawa ka talaga sa kanya. The cast are all professionally trained actors ballet dancers and classical singers. You only expect great performance and execution from them. Watch the sidelines, and you will see the “cats” all in character if they are not under spotlight. All their movements are all very calculated and precise. There is no room for imprecision because if that happens, then the whole number falls into pieces.

Another success to this hit production is its set. The set is patterned to its original London version. As you enter the auditorium, you will be amazed with the splendor of the props, the color, the lights, the hydraulics, and the floor. They are all well-coordinated and useful. No prop is left unused. Just noticed the license plate on the car engine prop: it advertised its major sponsor. Would have been a better detail to place instead “TSE 1” (in reference to T. S. Elliot) as it was used in the London set. The lights were also used very effectively. The sounds were inconsistently loud and soft though. It’s purrfect when the ensemble sings, but almost inaudible when an actress with a tiny voice sings. I almost missed the “Memory” when it was translated into Tagalog and sung by an Australian!

Other things I noticed comparing it with the Original London production. Mr. Mistoffellees doesn’t sing in this cast. He kept his mouth shut for the whole show, but kudos to his amazing dancing skills that compensated for his lack of singing. His usual singing parts were sung by another cat instead. Grizabella is supposed to be an aging cat, but Lea Salonga’s voice was too young and fresh for the character, but I must say, however, she delivered it purrfectly. She still evoked the right emotions from us and she has indeed made us proud! I am very proud because we have a very own talent amidst a group of Australians. We are able to provide our own talent to represent us in a company that is 100% foreign.

Here are some tips to enjoy your cheapest or most expensive ticket:

1) Arrive an hour and a half early and get something from the Cats merchandise. The cheapest souvenir I saw was the P450 keychain. It’s worth getting one! Aside from that, of course, get a copy of the Playbill.

2) During intermission, enjoy the CitiLounge with free food during intermission and fill up a raffle (and risk being offered a credit card though) and you might win a Cats merchandise.

3) If you got an aisle seat at the orchestra, you’ll be lucky enough to be purred by the Cats cast during intermission and have your picture taken with them. Cats move along the aisles even during the show to interact with the audience so don’t be surprised!

4) Enjoy the set, the lights, and sounds. It’s a real treat for your senses!

5) Watch how the cast dances at the curtain call. They all go out of character and wild! Oh and don’t forget to give Lea Salonga a standing ovation. 🙂

6) For matinee audience, tough luck, the cast doesn’t have meet and greet. For gala or last shows, you’re lucky to have meet and greet! Just be patient and have your souvenir program signed. They’ll probably go out. (Somebody verify this with me.)

7) Have your picture taken near the stage! Do it as soon as the show ends because the ushers will happily usher you out the orchestra in no time. 🙂

8) Read T.S. Elliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” and listen to the Cats CD to familiarize yourself with the tunes.

Overall, it’s a great show both for kids and adults. Your children will enjoy the set, lights and sounds, and even some funny antics. Adults will appreciate the same things kids will do, but will realize the depth of the plot.

Enjoy the show peeps. 🙂