Category Archives: Travel

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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Our do-it-yourself Europe Itinerary

This is a do-it-yourself (semi-backpacking) Europe trip we made. It wasn’t perfect because our trip started on a Wednesday in Rome. Better start this itinerary on a Monday so you won’t miss the Papal audience scheduled on Wednesday mornings.

Rome

Day 1: Ancient Rome Tour

  • Santa Croce in Jerusalem (Relics of the True Cross)
  • St. John Lateran (Seat of the Bishop of Rome, get a relic of Bl. John Paul II at the Offices behind the Church)
  • Scala Santa  (walk up the stairs on your knees that had blood drops of Jesus on the steps)
  • Colosseo (appreciate the geometrical genius behind the making of this structure)
  • Roman Forums (Imagine how the Romans spent their time before the age of technology)

Day 2: Vatican City and Across the Trastevere

  • Vatican Museum (spend 2 hours at least, appreciate the passion of artists to glorify God in their amazing art works – especially Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel)
  • Santa Maria in Trastevere (Oldest Church dedicated to Our Lady)
  • Santa Cecilia (Remains of St. Cecilia, patron saint of Music)
  • Santa Maria in Cosmedin (Bocca Verita)
  • Circus Maximus (Imagine how the races were held)
  • Castel S’ant Angelo

Day 3: Florence (Day trip)

  • San Lorenzo Market (Buy tons of leather goods, murano glass)
  • Basilica of San Lorenzo
  • Duomo/Baptistry (Appreciate the design, the mosaic, sheer human work of art)
  • Basilica di Santa Croce (see tombs of Michelangelo, Rossini, Galileo, Dante)
  • Piazza Della Signora (Statue of Medici on a horse, Fountain of Neptune, Replica of David, Loggia di Lazi, Uffizi Gallery
  • Ponte Vecchio (Classic Florence background)
  • Walk along Via S. Maria for shops
  • Visit Dante Alighieri’s house

Day 4: Revisit/Shopping

Must eat: Pizza, Gelato, Lasagna

Vienna

Day 1: Schonbrunn Palace and Gardens (Relax, unwind, visit the zoo, climb up to see the Victory arc uphill)

Day 2: Heart of Vienna Tour

  • Hofburg Palace (Government palace)
  • Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral, appreciate the roof, the colorful stained glass)
  • Spanish Riding School guided tour (For the equestrians, learn how riders are trained and how they take care of their white horses)
  • Mozarthaus (Learn about the life and works of Mozart)
  • Beethoven’s Memorial (picture-picture!)
  • Dinner at Naschmarket (try a Schnitzel)

Day 3: Tribute to Musicians and a return to the Heart of Vienna

  • “Musiker” group of graves at the Central Cemetery via U3 to Simmering and Tram #6. Enter through the main gate, walk 150 m straight toward the Church. Walk along the left side of the street. Watch out for “Group 32” of graves. You’ll find the graves of great composers in that group. (Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Strauss)
  • Back to Heart of Vienna: St. Peter’s Church (appreciate Baroque architecture, if you’re lucky, watch a free concert)

Must eat: Kasenkreir (yummiest cheese dog!), Sausages, schnitzel, more gelato

Madrid

Day 1: Plaza Mayor and nearby places

  • Plaza Mayor (be entertained by actors)
  • Mercato San Miguel (try artisan foods – pastries, tapas, drinks, fruits, vegetables, wine)
  • Almudena Cathedral (appreciate this newly-renovated Church and be awed by the image of Our Lady of Almudena inside)
  • Palacio Real de Madrid (See the kind of palace the Monarchs of Spain live in during May of each year)
  • Chocolateria de San Gines (Churros con chocolate!)
  • Parque Del Buen Retiro (This is one heck of a Park!)

Day 2: Museum Day

  • Prado Museum (appreciate the works of Spanish artists like Greco, Caravaggio, Velazquez, Murillo, Rubens, Van Dyck, Rembrandt, Goya, Dürer, and Brueghel
  • Reina Sofia Museum
  • Thyssen Museum

Day 3: Segovia

  • Roman Aquaduct
  • Alcazar (See a real Castle in the medieval ages)
  • Eat Cochinillo (Spanish version of Lechon) – tastier than Lechon, really!
  • Visit minor churches
  • Segovia Cathedral

Day 4: Shopping (Shop typical Spanish brands)

  • Mango
  • Desigual

Must eat: Churros con chocolate, cochinillo, Paella (Try Cafe e Te), Tapas, more gelato

Paris

Day 1: Shopping Center

  • Champs Elysee
  • Arc de Triomphe
  • Eiffel Tower
  • Opera House
  • Pont Alexandre III

Day 2: Museum Day

  • Louvre (see the Mona Lisa, Pyramid, Venus de Milo, Code of Hamurabi, Rameses II, Winged Victory of Samothrace)
  • Jardin de Tulieres (Relax like a native)
  • Musee D’Orsay (Expressionists and Impressionists: Monet, Van Gogh, Renoir, Cezanne, Degas, Manet, Delacroix, Gauguin, Seurat and avant garde works)

Day 3: Paris Center

  • Saint Chapelle (Attend a concert there)
  • Notre Dame Cathedral
  • Basilique de Sacre Coeur de Montmarte
  • Moulin Rouge (Blanche station)

Day 4: Shopping (or Window shop!)

  • Luis Vuitton
  • Yves Rocher

Must eat: Crepes, Foie gras, French breads, all the French words you can think of!

London

Day 1: Buckingham

  • Buckingham Palace (witness the changing of guards)
  • Churchill (Imperial) War Museum
  • Westminster Abbey
  • Big Ben
  • London Eye
  • Parliament Square
  • Relax at the Park

Day 2: Museum Day

  • Victoria and Albert Museum
  • Science Museum
  • Natural History Museum
  • Kensington Gardens/Princess Diana Memorial
  • Watch a show at the Royal Albert Hall

Day 3: London Bridge

  • Tower Bridge (the real London Bridge)
  • Ride a double-decker to Charing Cross plaza
  • Appreciate the water fountain
  • Admiralty Arch
  • Picadilly Circus (a rotunda) – Ripley’s Believe or not, walk along the “Broadway” Street (West End) of London
  • Oxford Circus (Oxford St. and Regent St.) and start shopping!

Day 4: Musical and Shopping

  • Shop along Regent St. and Oxford St.
  • Watch a musical

Must eat: Fish and chips

This is a summary of all the major places we visited during our 22-day trip. We allotted one day in each trip as allowance for shopping and if we want to revisit some places. I think this is a pretty relaxed itinerary. I’m sure we still missed a lot of places we should have gone to, but we can’t possibly visit all of them unless we want to stress ourselves out on our vacation. 😉

We need not wake up early to catch a tour. We woke up at our pace, and my sister even had time to do her jogging and gym.

Share your thoughts and suggestions on this itinerary. 🙂

Want to know how much this trip costed? Click here.

Europe Trip Costs

When my friends found out I came from a recent 22-day trip to Europe with my sister, they were all interested in how much it costed us to get through the trip.

I will try my best to re-trace the expenses we made sans the shopping costs to come up with the ultimate 22-day budget trip to Europe.

PRELIMINARIES

1st Step. Book your flight. You kinda need this to apply for your VISA. Accommodation reservations are fine. They will do for VISA application.

KLM Round Trip (Entry in Rome, Exit through London Heathrow): $1,455.00

(includes Airport Taxes including NAIA)

2nd Step. Get Insurance. I got mine through BlueCross. You can get this by faxing an application form for their policy and pay by giving them your credit card details. I didn’t experience any fraudulent transactions in my credit card.

BlueCross: P2,388 (Euro 44 Premium)

3rd Step. Get your VISAs. UK Visas (contrary to the list of requirements) are easier to get and more understanding. In my experience, Schengen VISA applied through Italian embassy, are difficult. They need more definitive bookings to prove your travel.

Schengen VISA – P2,300

UK Visa – $129.00

4th Step. Accommodation. I found out about airbnb.com which is one of the best new things I learned this year. It’s classified ads for rooms and flats worldwide being rented out by private people for short term and long term lease. I painstakingly scavenged through the ads and looked for flats that my sister and I can use for ourselves without sharing with strangers. Some might prefer, however, to mingle with other travelers.

Rome lodging: 4 nights, € 269 (for two) ~ P15,188 (P7,594/head)

Vienna lodging: 3 nights, € 184 (for two) ~ P10,341 (P5,170.50/head)

Madrid lodging: 4 nights, € 202 (for two) ~ P11,353 (P5,676.50/head)

Paris lodging: 4 nights, € 180 (for two) ~ P10,116 (P5,058/head)

London lodging: 4 nights, € 277 (for two) ~ P15,568 (P7,784/head)

NOW THAT YOU’RE IN EUROPE…

So, you already have a flight to and from Europe, and a place to sleep in. You’re now worried about the daily expenses: Museum and sights entrance fees, transportation and food.

Transportation and food costs differ from every country even if they use the same currency.

Rome

Transportation:

  • To and From the airport (Terravision): € 8.00 (per head)
  • From one sight to another: Free (walking is the cheapest way to go around)
  • Day trip to Florence: € 63.00

Food:

  • Breakfast: Our lodging served breakfast
  • Lunch and Dinner: € 10.00/head per meal (Really decent meal) x 2 meals x 5 days

Museum fees:

  • Vatican Museum: € 16.00/head
  • Colloseo/Roman Forums: € 12.00/head

Plane Fare to Vienna: Austrian Airlines = $185.00

Vienna

Transportation:

  • To and From the airport (Taxi): € 66.00
  • Train ticket: € 6.70 (one day unlimited) Vienna trains do not check tickets diligently. You can get on a tram and a subway train without swiping the card. So you can get away with this one day unlimited ride for 4 days. Just don’t get caught. If you get caught, show them your unused ticket. 🙂
  • From one sight to another: Free (walk)

Food:

  • Breakfast: We prepared our own breakfast. Just got some sausages from the nearby grocery. Bill total € 15.00.
  • Lunch and Dinner: € 10.00/head per meal (budget meal) x 2 meals x 4 days

Museum fees:

  • Spanish Riding School: € 16.00
  • Mozart Haus: € 10.00

Plane Fare to Madrid: Vueling Airlines = € 107.15

Madrid

Transportation:

  • To and From the airport (Metro): € 20.00 (Or take Aerocity Airport Shuttle for Euro 60.00)
  • Getting around Madrid: 3-Day Metro Tourist Unlimited Rides = € 18.60
  • Segovia Bus (Round Trip): € 14.55

Food:

  • Grocery for Breakfast: € 15.00
  • Lunch and Dinner: € 10.00/head per meal (Really decent meal) x 2 meals x 5 days

Museum fees:

  • Prado Museum: Free after 6:00 PM (Museum closes at 8:00 PM)
  • Alcazar (Castle in Segovia): € 4.50
  • Cathedral in Segovia: € 3.00

Plane Fare to Paris: Vueling Airlines = € 97.99

Paris

Transportation:

  • From the airport: SuperShuttle (One Way) = € 31.00
  • Getting around Paris: Paris Metro Tourist Pass (3 days, Zones 1-3) = € 23.40

Food:

  • Grocery for Breakfast: € 15.00
  • Lunch and Dinner: € 10.00/head per meal (Really decent meal) x 2 meals x 5 days

Museum fees:

  • Louvre: € 11.00
  • Musee D’Orsay: € 12.00

Train to London: Eurostar = $180.00

London

Transportation:

  • Taxi to the Airport:London Airport Transfer = £ 35.00 (for two)
  • Oyster Card (Top-up card on demand): £ 18.00 (with 15.00 load)
  • Top-up total in excess of the load: £ 17.20

Food:

  • Grocery for Breakfast: £ 15.00
  • Lunch and Dinner: £ 10.00/head per meal (Really decent meal) x 2 meals x 5 days

Museum fees:

  • Churchill Museum: £ 17.00
  • Mamma Mia (West End Musical): £ 67.50 (Stalls seat)
  • Concert at the Royal Ablert Hall: £ 70.00 (Lodge seat)

Grand Total: P189,402.07 ($4,371.15)

Benchmark: Typical 2-week Guided Tour package around key cities in Italy = $3,000.00

I think, an extra $1,371.15 is not bad to be able to visit 4 extra major cities in Europe, and visit must-see places around Europe in one trip. Especially if you’re only making this trip to Europe once in your lifetime.

Still expensive? You can scrimp on the following:

  • Food: Further lower it to Euro 7.00 per meal, or don’t eat heavy dinner.
  • Museums: Visit museums that are free on certain days/times or free all the time
  • Shows: Don’t watch
  • Transportation: Don’t take the airport shuttle. Take the Metro instead.
  • Plane Fare/Train: Book really early. Prices are way cheaper when you book at least 4 months ahead of time.

This is not the best budget traveling costing I may have come up with, but I think this is pretty realistic and reasonable for all the places we have visited, and the culture you cannot learn anywhere else than by being immersed in them.

If you have a better estimate, I’m sure my readers would also love to get some better idea. Leave your comment below for everybody’s information.

Want to see our itinerary for this trip? Click here.

Tip: Exchange your currency in your home country. They tax currency exchanges in Europe, which they call “commission”. Don’t be fooled by Money changers that advertise “No Commission” because their exchange rates are crazy high.

Hotel Centro, Puerto Princesa: A Review

I don’t normally make a review just on a hotel. Normally I place my hotel reviews on TripAdvisor, but this hotel deserves its own blog. LOL! Here it goes:

Hotel Transfer

I like this hotel because it offered free airport transfers. The hotel driver was already there outside the airport with his placard and dressed very 5-star like compared to the other representatives from other hotels and travel agencies. Impressive! They didn’t pack us all up in one van so we had more than enough space inside without the other groups rubbing their skin on ours. They placed the other group in another van. The driver even gave a simple introduction about Puerto Princesa although he didn’t speak in straight English for our foreigner co-rider but his English enunciation is quite okay mixed with some Tagalog expressions and prepositions. Not bad. 🙂

Reception

This is where it becomes a little inconvenient. We booked a Family Suite with 1 queen sized bed and a twin bed. Only 2 adults are free for this room. My sister and I needed to pay extra person fees. Okay, it’s a family suite with beds good for three persons, why pay for two extra persons? In effect we are paying for two extra persons just as expensive as getting another deluxe room. What did we do? We just booked another deluxe room. This is crazy pricing. The family suite is not worth their money. Someone else could have booked the deluxe room.

The good part is their welcome drinks. No
sarcasm here because I love their lemongrass drink! It’s the best free drink I’ve had. It was cold and refreshing I want to stick them up for it’s recipe! 🙂

The Family Suite

Upon entering your room you’re welcomed by a small living room cooled by a window type aircondition unit. Not impressive. A sliding glass door divides the master bedroom with a split type aircondition unit. So-so. The TV is small not proportionate to the room. The bathroom has unmaximized space which I think they can convert into a dresser.

20121227-102815.jpg

The sink space is not enough for all the women’s toiletries, vanity bags and other beauty product routines. It’s cramped. Amenities are ample.

Verdict: With 50% discount, okay, but not great.

Breakfast Buffet

Ah. The reason why this hotel deserves its own blog. 🙂

There were only 3 viands to choose from: pork tocino, hotdog sautéed in mushrooms, bell pepper, onions and ketchup, and fried lamayo. Disappointing choices for a typical Filipino family because this is just the typical breakfast we have at home. On another table, they have arroz caldo, breads, mango jam, pineapple jam, and watermelon jam. There were also fruits and cereals. The humor to this breakfast is the bread toaster that has a conveyor mechanism. Make sure you’re ready to catch the dinner roll you placed in the toaster because the dinner roll rolls! Hahaha! Gosh I was lucky the stainless tongs were open and it barred the bread from totally rolling to the floor! 😀

Overall, they basically served processed foods. Poor foreign guests who want to feel at home, they’re left with bread and fruits to eat. You wish they could serve bacon and hams that go with their bread and adobo that does not fail to please even foreign taste buds. Oh and their jams were not jams nor marmalades. They were more like chutney. Haha!

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And of course, service. There were tables that had dirty dishes laying there for almost half an hour and no staff was bussing them out. Our chosen table was not set. It didn’t have glasses and utensils and the coffee condiments were not replenished.

This review is to be continued. 🙂

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Tokyo Shopping on a Budget

I again had the privilege to visit Tokyo, Japan for the second consecutive year, and again, we had a free day on our schedule we can use to tour and mostly shop. Last year’s free day was more of a tour than a shopping experience. I thought, this year should be more shopping and less touring! So I spent almost every night on the internet searching for the best places to shop around Tokyo. Coming from Manila, I am very used to the mall concept where shops have their own stalls, and the department store is just a part of the whole “Mall” concept.

I would put “Tokyo Mall” in Google search but it gave me “Department stores”. In faith, I placed the biggest department stores in my itinerary hoping that one of them is an actual mall.
Harajuku
Image
Since we had a first timer in Tokyo in tow, our first stop for the day is to have a picture with Hatchiko at Shibuya Station. From there, we had a liesurely walk to Harajuku along Meiji-dori (Meiji St.) where we saw a lot of high end stores like Lacoste, Burberry, etc a la  Rodeo Drive. Of course, we didn’t have budget for those.
We finally arrived at the famous Harajuku where Anime fans and the young go to to get their young fashion fix. Although I am not young and restless nor an Anime fan, I enjoyed the visits to the quaint shops that sold cartoon characters from The Simpsons to Manga. You might find something interesting in the stores that might turn out unique when you bring them to your home country. If you still cannot find anything worth buying, there’s a 4-floor Daiso store along the street that caters to all ages. With Daiso there, your trip to Harajuko is not at all in vain.
Shinjuku
Image
From Harajuku, we rode the JR Yamanote line to Shinjuku to visit Isetan Department Store, and maybe Takashimaya.
From Shinjuku station, we walked along this street (see picture above) that is lined up with stores that sell all sorts like the ubiquitous ABC Mart and Family Mart. After much confusion on how to look at the map, we finally found our way to Isetan. As soon as we entered, we were welcomed by a Hermes shop. To our joy, we though we found the “mall”. Sadly, it was just one shop. The whole building is more like a department store with famous brands a la Rustan’s. It’s just one big Rustan’s. We didn’t stay long in our dismay, and decided to go to our next stop which we still didn’t know yet. We had a choice between going to Takishamaya Department Store or go to Odaiba. We decided on the former.
On our way to find Takashimaya, we stopped by H&M when we saw big “SALE!” signs outside. H&M is another version of Forever 21. When on sale, they’re really on sale like getting a top for ¥600. You have regular priced cardigans for ¥1,450. Really cheap clothes!
Finally, we headed toward Takashimaya (Times Square), and we saw Uniqlo and Tokyu Hands outside the building. We didn’t know what to expect, but we entered anyway. We were ready not to be deceived by its size. We parted ways and decided to meet in an hour.
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I decided to visit Tokyu Hands. As soon as I entered, I was enamored! Wow! 8 floors of amazing stuff! My favorite sections are the Kitchen and Stationery! 😀 I have not spent enough time on the other floors, I’m sure I’d find something interesting as well on the DIY floor. I saw from the outside that it also had DIY Scientific experiments. 😀
I was late for our meet up by almost 20 minutes. I wanted to check out Uniqlo, just to be able to say I was able to visit Uniqlo — in Japan! 😀
Odaiba
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After Takashimaya, we were too pooped. One of us already wanted to go home, but he was convinced to move on to our next itinerary: Odaiba. It was a tricky, but scenic, evening commute to Odaiba, almost creepy because the train to Odaiba was quiet. It was almost empty. We got to our stop, and further emptiness. We didn’t know exactly where to go. As we ran our eyes to the street, we saw “Decks“. Sounds like the place where we were told we can see the Rainbow Bridge and the Tokyo Tower from. 🙂
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We were famished so we ate at the very first restaurant we saw: Yoshinoya. Yum! Philippine Yoshinoya doesn’t compare to the yumminess of the authentic — or maybe we were really just that hungry. Kidding aside, you should be able to taste the difference in food preparation quality.
We walked to Decks and we were welcomed by “Lego Land” and Joypolis signs. We were excited! We find out that Joypolis is a Sega gaming place. We decided to have our picture taken with the Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo Tower behind us first before moving along. We strolled to the Aqua City Mall and finally, a real mall that we’ve been wanting to go to! Toys ‘R’ Us, Gap, Disney Store etc. Across the street you have Divers Tokyo where you have in one building H&M, Forever 21, Uniqlo and Krispy Kreme. LOL!
My shopping Verdict: Tokyu Hands and Odaiba. If you are on a budget, and want the familiar Philippine mall concept, Odaiba is the best place to go to shop. If you like home gear and office supplies (much like going to Staples), Tokyu Hands is heaven.
I’m sure I wasn’t able to include many other stores that should be visited that only Filipinos in Japan could probably enumerate with certainty. If you have ideas to add here for the rest of the readers, do leave a comment. 🙂
P.S. Ueno
I went to Ueno last year, but didn’t have time this year. For Divisoria open-air feel, you would definitely want to go to Ueno St. where you can find authentic brands and put on sale. Common things to buy from here are perfumes and branded sport shoes. I also saw a Levi’s store where you can probably get some on sale. Along the parallel street, you will find local delicacies like mushrooms, herbs, nuts, and what not’s. This should be part of your itinerary for a unique, but familiar, shopping experience. To go to Ueno, take the JR Yamanote Line and get off at Ueno Station. It shouldn’t be a difficult walk. 🙂
Tokyo trips shouldn’t be expensive for you to enjoy it. You can still be on a tight budget, and enjoy Tokyo sans the shopping. There are enough fee-free places to go to in order to still make your stay memorable. We always hear people say, “How can I enjoy my vacation if I don’t have pocket money?” There is actually an answer to this seemingly rhetorical question. If you only try to believe that you can enjoy your vacation without having to spend on Hermes and Louis Vuitton, you will enjoy the history, art and God’s creations.
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A Gastronomic Cebu Stay

Every Christmas vacation, my family goes out of town, and this year, Dad chose Cebu just because we couldn’t book a room at Camp John Hay in Baguio and that because there was a promo at AirPhil Express. Here’s a summary of our eating-filled Cebu trip.

Flight to Cebu

Being a promo fare — and beggars can’t be choosers — our flight to Cebu was at 5:50AM. AirPhil Express has beefed up its planes and service. In my opinion, it is much better than Cebu Pacific now. They ought to be because Philippine Airlines is trying to match or be better than its budget airline competitor. The Airbus 320 is shiny, relatively spacious, and the staff are no-nonsense and not too imposing. We arrived at Mactan International Airport at 7:05AM. We took a rental car (with driver) to our hotel which cost us around P400.

Checking in at Radisson Blu, Mandaue City, Cebu

Knowing that we will be arriving early, I already called up the hotel to request for an early check-in the day before we left. They confirmed our early check-in free of charge. We reached the hotel, right beside SM City Cebu, and tried to check-in at the Concierge. We were told that our room (Superior Room) was not yet ready so we needed to wait. Pleasantly, the lady at the Concierge told us that we can opt to take one of the two complimentary breakfast that morning. A pleasant surprise of this amazing flexibility! My dad was also surprised by the relaxed service of the hotel. +1 for that! We all agreed to have our breakfast that morning, the next day no breakfast, and third day claim our free breakfast.

The Breakfast was at Feria, the hotel’s restaurant. Upon entering, you will be overwhelmed with buffet tables of international food! There’s a buffet table for sweets: pastries, ice cream and fruits. Another buffet table to breads and marmalades, and juices. Another buffet table for salads. Another one for cereals. Yet another one for meats. As you move, you’ll see another station just for eggs, and another for Congee, and the farthest one is for Filipino breakfast with fried rice. All these — if only your tummy could have all — with free brewed coffee your heart could handle!

After our extremely sumptuous breakfast, we checked back at the Concierge if our room was ready, sadly, it still wasn’t. We waited patiently at the lobby sleepy and tired for another 2 hours. When we finally decided to check back again if our room was already okay, we were pleasantly surprised that our room was upgrade to an Executive Suite! It was great! We settled in our Suite and decided on our itinerary for that day and the next.

Our Itinerary

Searching through blogs, browsing through the Cebu coffee table book in our room, and plotting the supposed places in Google Maps we were able to finalize our itinerary:

Day 1: Lahug Vicinity

2:00 PM Lunch at AA BBQ and Grill (along Salinas Drive)

When you order here, that's the only time they cook your food. So you're assured that they are cooked fresh. Don't miss out on the P100 Baked Talaba! Yum!

3:30 PM Taoist Temple (30 mins)

The main Taoist Temple upon climbing a few flights of stairs. Get ready with your Arthrocin, Seniors! 🙂

4:30 PM Tops Lookout in Brgy. Busay

The view of Cebu Province from the Tops Lookout.

The view of the snack bars stalls and the lovely honeycomb pavement surrounded by greens.

5:45 PM Dinner at Casa Verde

Casa Verde is a house-turned-restaurant. It feels homey.

Casa Verde Menu 1

Casa Verde Menu 2

"Brian's Ribs" good for two! It's not the best, but definitely the best for its price!

7:30 PM Back to Hotel

Day 2: Downtown Cebu

12:00 nn lunch at Salo Salo Sutukil in Lapu Lapu City, Mactan Island near the Mactan Shrine

In front of the fresh catch where you will choose which fish to SUgba, TUlo or Tinola, and KILaw, or just one of the 3. :),

0.6 kg Alimango costing P408.00.

1:30 PM Shop souvenirs outside Sutukil Restaurant

Souvenir shops outside the line of Sutukil Restaurants.

1:45 PM Visit Mactan Shrine (Donation)

Lapu Lapu monument facing the sea. He's really goodlooking here!

2:00 PM Drive back to Downtown Cebu

2:30 PM Fort San Pedro (P30 Regular, P24 Senior Citizen, P20 Student)

Fort San Pedro

3:00 PM Walk 500 meters to Magellan’s Cross

Detail of the Magellan's Cross painting vis a vis the actual cross.

3:10 PM Cross to Basilica Minore de Sto. Niño de Cebu

The view of the Minor Basilica from outside. Locals would instead wave their hands at the Sto. Niño instead of make the sign of the cross. I waved mine, too. 🙂

3:30 PM Cross to Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral

Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral

4:00 PM Tabo-An Market for dried fish and other Cebu delicacies

Basketloads of dried fish! You can never have enough. 🙂

5:30 PM Back at Hotel

6:00 PM Free Evening Cocktails at the Hotel Lounge

7:30 PM Shopping at SM City Cebu

 

Other trip suggestions:

  • Bantayan Island
  • Casa George (Pasta place)
  • Casa Laguna (Filipino restaurant)
  • Cebu Heritage Monument
  • Harbour City Dimsum House
  • Asilo Church (St. Vincent de Paul Charity) with a reredo imported from Spain

The Verdict about Cebu: Guilty

Cebu is guilty as a place for great food. For people from Luzon, their cooking style is different. They give a different taste to the typical Lechon Kawali that we have here. Their soy dip (sawsawan) is also different with the additional tomatoes to the typical onion, soy sauce, and calamansi squeeze. For me, the best place to eat in Cebu sans the frills is the AA BBQ and Grill. You should try their Sizzling Squid (P320) which is all worth the price, and you just have to have their Baked Oysters priced only at P100 with almost 16 shells.  Their Lechon Kawali is soft and crispy at the same time. The meat just melts in your mouth. You should also try their other soup-based menus because they looked and smelled yummy from the table near us. For the western menu, you should try Casa Verde for Dinner (nice ambience at night) and enjoy the quaint interior and feel of the restaurant.

Sutukil, like what I have read in other blogs, is overpriced. Our bill for 1 whole Parrot fish, half kilo of prawns, and 0.6 kg of king crab (alimango) + cooking charges (P90 each cooking style) totalled P2,400 for 4 people. That’s P600 per head. You could already eat at a fancy restaurant with A/C, nice music, nice seats, and ambience. At a Sutukil restaurant, you get a personal “butler” service to shoo the flies away from you, pour your Coke for you, and crack crabs for you, smell the fishy sea, and get harassed by umbrella men who will put an umbrella over your head on your way to the Mactan Shrine which is about 50 meters away and demand for a “Merry Christmas” tip. Although I did have an impression that Cebuanos are generally kind people, generous with their time, and are very helpful. You can tell the kindness with the hotel staff. They are not as airy and discriminating of their customers. They are not suplada.

Cebu has a lot of history to offer and this should not be neglected in any trip. It is rich in history starting with Lapu Lapu and Magellan, and the evangelization of the Philippines. Among all the provinces in the Philippines, I am proud that Cebu (having Archbishop Palma there now and most likely previous equally strong Catholic leaders) has been strong in the faith ever since they were first evangelized.

Visit Cebu. I hope that you’ll have an enjoyable trip as I did with my family. 🙂

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My Dates with Tokyo and a Footnote

As promised, here I am writing about my adventures I had with Tokyo. Although I was there for a good 6 days, I only had a chance to go around Tokyo for 3 days. In those three days, I was able to see Yokohama at night, Yoyogi Park, Meiji Shrine, Harajuko, Akihabara, Ueno, and Tokyu Station.

Yokohama at night. Our host, Prof. Nobuaki Otsuki, graciously offered his time to bring us around quickly to Yokohama after the day’s work. We had a pleasant walk from the station to the Landmark Tower. On our way there, we had a nice view of the (one of the many) ferris wheel showing off a play of lights that lined its steel bars as it changed its colors. At the Landmark Tower, we paid ¥1,000 each to ride the fastest elevator to the 69th floor moving at 750 m/min! It took us exactly 40 seconds to get to our destination. (Math geniuses, compute the distance we traveled. LOL!) On the 69th Floor, you will be able to have a spectacular 360˚ view of Tokyo. It’s a romantic sight at night! There is souvenir shop located on the floor to buy some gift items. Or you can opt to have your picture taken at the self-service photo booths and choose Mt. Fuji as your background, which we did! We then went to the Landmark Tower mall, passed by Toffy store that sold really nifty and cutie stuffs like flat origami lunch boxes and others. Had dinner at a Tonkatsu place, and visited my first 100¥ store.

View of the Ferris Wheel

View of Tokyo from Landmark Tower

Shibuya, Yoyogi Park and Meiji Shrine. Our first stop for the morning was Shibuya. Here you would have a good view of the Tokyo version of Times Square. I also heard that if you stay at the Starbucks shop on the 2nd of the building for a view of the crazy rush hour wave of men and women in black and white. Just go with the flow! At Shibuya, you would have a chance to have your picture taken with the famous Hachiko dog. Get ready with your rubber shoes and walking endurance for the Meiji Shrine. From the entrance, you will still have a walk a few hundred meters to actually reach the shrine. At the shrine, we were lucky to witness a traditional Japanese wedding ritual. It was very solemn. Once there, you could also write your wish on a wooden plaque (¥500) and hope that your wish may come true. I read through some of the wishes and were written in different languages!

View of "Times Square" of Tokyo (Shibuya)

Yoyogi Park

Traditional Wedding at the Meiji Shrine

Harajuko Shopping Street

Harajuko.From the Meiji Shrine, you could actually walk to Harajuko. Once you reach the Harajuko station (Yamanote Line), you can walk along the other side and look for the shopping street. The street is lined up with bargain specialty shops. There is also a 3-storey Daiso (¥100 store) there for you to grab your gifts for the people you left behind. There are more clothes stores here than any other items. But if you want to buy clothes for costume playing (cosplay), you can get them here. Mind you, Japanese anime dressing is normal in Japan. For the foreigner’s eyes, they all look like they’re cosplaying everyday. After shopping, you can grab your lunch or dinner at Yoshinoya near the corner of the street across Harajuko station.

Akihabara

Akihabara and Ueno. From Harajuko, we took the train to Akihabara. Akihabara is the digital town of Japan. No tourist will let their Japan trip past without visiting Akihabara. Japan is known for its advanced technology. What is trendy now in your country, is already being phased out in Japan, and most likely get your PC much cheaper. You can also find the latest in gadgets there. Just stop by one store, and you’re good to go. Prices are competitive, so there is really no need to go around more to compare prices. Prices don’t vary too much that you would mind not buying from the other store because it was ¥100 cheaper. Cameras and accessories are also replete in Japan, however, if you are from the US, the prices are just the same since both countries are the main sources of camera products. If you are from the Philippines, DSLRs and accessories are cheaper in Japan because they go on sale more often than not in the Philippines, and because Canon and Nikon do not have a factory in the Philippines. Only distributors if I’m not mistaken. Oh, and you can buy second hand iPhones here using your credit card. Now that’s a great deal! The Apple iPhone is probably the most ubiquitous phone in Japan. It’s the lowest end phone you can get for the cheapest plan at ¥3,000. That plan already includes unlimited data plan and free texts and calls within the same network. Not a bad deal to get an iPhone. From Akihabara, we walked to Ueno. Now this is their bargain market (in the Philippines, “Divisoria”). The difference here is that everything in Ueno is original — no matter what. Good deals here are rubber shoes and perfumes. However, when I was trying to look for Christian Dior Cherie Eu de Toilette, I wasn’t able to find one. You’ll most likely find the older brands and common perfumes like CK Summer and other perfumes. All you need is time and a lot of patience to get a good merchandise for a good deal.

Tokyu Station. On my last night at Tokyo, I had to make some last minute shopping, and I was referred to Tokyu Station. Without have to swipe or scan my Pasmo card, I was able to go from one specialty store to another. There is a store there where you could buy great souvenir items for Tokyo. You can also get Landmark Tower souvenir items there if you regretted not buying when you were there. You can also get typical Japanese cookies and other delicacies here specially packed as gifts. This is a great place to do your last minute shopping.

Inside Tokyu Station

So these were the most memorable places I went to during my stay. But if you’re on a budget, you can always be amused with the local Combini (e.g. Lawson and Sunkus) and get your food items there. I got those nifty personal drip coffees and instant UCC coffees! Japan is coffee world. I love coffee, and so I love the way Japan loves its coffee. 🙂

Footnote

I had an interesting insight from a very casual and lighthearted conversation with the Japanese principal who toured us around Yokohama. He talked about Japanese being more single than ever — that there are a lot of single Japanese men, and commented, “Aging. Aging population the Japanese” and laughed a bit as if this little truth is something to laugh about. I laughed with him though. My laugh was borne out of the thought that in the future, the Filipinos will occupy Japan and inherit its technology if they don’t do something about their “aging population”. This is why I wonder why reproductive health measures like encouraging the Japanese to take birth control pills is still strongly advocated and promoted here.

When I spent a few minutes in Yoyogi Park, I had similar observations of an aging population: Families only had two children each. Rarely, three. Commonly one or two children. Single men spending their time in the park walking their dogs, or practicing on their instrument.

Aging Japan. Why don’t population management experts address this very real problem, and leave it to the government (sans UN aid and funding) to encourage their people to get married and have children. Let’s learn from our elderly Japanese.

A Love Affair with Tokyo

I love traveling, but I honestly could not afford to do so as often as I would want. But this year is an exception — I was able to go to Europe and soon after to Tokyo. The Europe trip was a choice and pretty much on my expense, and the latter is a privilege of getting appointed to the job that I hold now.

My love affair with Tokyo began the moment I set foot at Narita Airport on that very fateful October 7, 2011 via Delta Airlines. Tokyo immediately won me over by its cleanliness, discipline and order, pace, and the people.

Cleanliness. I should say that Tokyo is cleaner than Singapore. It’s so clean despite not having trash bins available around the area. The Japanese knew how to keep their trash until they find an appropriate place to throw them in. The streets free of any piece of trash and it was just a pleasant experience to not get distracted by disorder.

Discipline and order. Six months after the Magnitude 9.0 earthquake that hit Japan last March, Tokyo showed no signs of any past disaster. The empty groceries they had last March left no trace in the typical Kombini (convenience store). They are clean, filled with products, and no apparent inflation in prices. At train stations, people knew where to stay on the escalator to give way to hurrying commuters. So much order that you could see the people walking almost equidistantly from each other and almost at the same pace! No one complained it was too hot on the trains when people are shoulder to shoulder crowded inside the trains. I have yet to encounter a Japanese who lost his or her temper because of another’s lack of concern for others. Everybody has foresight. Everybody has concern (though it might not be love). Honestly, I am one who would easily lose temper because of incompetence or lack of discipline and order. During my whole stay in Tokyo, I never lost my temper. Tokyo never made me lose my temper.

Pace. Japan is fast paced. It’s literally crazy. Everybody seems to move like clockwork. Train schedules accommodate the fast paced Japanese people. Trains come every three minutes on the dot. Only two things break this strict schedule: natural disaster or man-made (i.e. harakiri on the train tracks). It’s in Japan that you literally see the cliché “Time is gold” incarnated.

The people. The Japanese people are great. Like any Asian, they are hospitable. They are friendly, lovable. What attracted me to them is their calm. They are incredibly calm people — or at least the people I met at the school we had an exchange program with. You can see the concern on their faces when they have problems, but they never raised their voices nor lost their cool. This is probably borne out of the trust that the Japanese have with order and that everything could be fixed just with a little discipline.

Tokyo and myself have the same defect. Sometimes we both can be fixated on order and discipline, and forget about the heart. We both have to remember that people are not robots. They don’t work like clockwork as they appear to be. They — we — also have a heart to nurture. People work, yes, but we cannot forget that work is just a means to achieve the end. We don’t just work for the sake of working. Being a Christian, I know the value of work. Work could be a means to be a holy if it’s done well and for the love of God. Imagine if the Japanese are converted into Catholics, how many Japanese saints could be gained! They lack the meaning of life. We all know that the meaning of life is not rooted in work, because once we lose our work, we also lose the meaning of life. If the meaning of life is rooted in God, who does not leave us, then our lives will continue to have meaning. If we lose our job, we look for another one because we know that it’s how we get to God.

So that’s my love affair with Japan. In another article to follow, I will tell you the adventures I had with Tokyo.

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.

JMJ 2011 – Vale la pena

“Esta es la juventud del Papa! Esta es la juventud del Papa!”

The Jornada Mundial Juventud (JMJ) pilgrims in Madrid chant the words from the top of their lungs to the point of almost losing their voices. “This is the youth of the Pope!”  Indeed, the youth of the Pope is this: lively, enthusiastic, faithful, prayerful, and energetic long-haired rockstar-looking caucasians, slit-eyed Asians, dark-skinned Nigerians, sharp-jawed Iraqis, and ubiquitous Filipinos holding the Philippine, US, Abu Dhabi, and Canadian flags proudly. The youth loves the sweet Vicar of Christ on earth. 1.5 to 2 million youth from France, Italy, Spain and afar profess their faith along the streets and subways of Madrid — shamelessly and proudly, wearing their “cross” on their sleeve. This is reality — the reality of our faith, the reality of evangelization, the new evangelization.

My delegation, “Stella Orientis Choir”, at Zone E1 at Cuatro Vientos after the Closing Mass with the Pope.

“Benedicto! Benedicto!”

Pope Benedict XVI has always been portrayed as a strict and stern Pope. Ask the 1.5 to 2 million young pilgrims if that is true, and they will surely answer that he’s not. His facial expression when winds and rain battered the JMJ stage during the Vigil at Cuatro Vientos is priceless: ever smiling, almost looked like he’s enjoying the spontaneity that the phenomenon is bringing out in him! To the point that he was moved to say these unscripted words: “You (the youth) are stronger than the rains.”

Pope Benedict XVI bearing the winds for the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament despite getting a “bad hair day.” 

Firmes en la fe.

“Strong in faith.” Faith is the greatest gift that God has given to man. Faith allows us to see God in others and exercise Charity. Faith allows us to speak about God unashamedly to others. Faith allows us to kneel down and pray to God, our creator, and father. Faith allows us to have Hope in the future. These are the reasons why our faith needs to be strong: firmly built up and planted in Jesus Christ, the source of Faith himself.

Vale la pena

Vale la pena. It’s worth the pain. The heat, the thirst, swollen feet, discomfort, and crowded metros are all worth the trouble to see and hear Benedicto speak. When he talked to us, we became almost blind-sided to his words and forgot all the miseries and discomfort that we were experiencing. We, the sincere JMJ pilgrims, only saw and heard the Pope as if we were on Mt. Tabor experiencing the transfiguration. “It is good to be here.” It was good to be in Madrid; the spiritual high was good to have and we all wish that it does not end. Thanks to the Pope for the gift of the crucifix that will help remind us of what happened in JMJ 2011 in Madrid, and that all the pain is worth it. Vale la pena.

 

JMJ 2011 – Not as perfect

I decided to add this last paragraph as an endnote to explain to those Filipino pilgrims who only had bad things to say about their experience in Madrid. Some of the comments are as follows:

  • “We were housed in a school almost an hour away from the JMJ venue.”
  • “Some of our things were stolen during the Vigil.”
  • “Why would they organize the WYD during the Spanish economic recession?”
  • “Communion was not distributed during the Closing Mass!”
  • “The adoration tents were destroyed!”

These comments, though factual, have a bratty connotation to them. When we participated and registered for the World Youth Day, we should have known that we were not going there for a vacation or to expect to see heaven. We will see heaven when we die; only then will we have great and perfect accommodations.

  • Theft during the vigil is expected. We cannot assure that every single “pilgrim” is 100% sinless. For all we know, like other thieves, people go to these crowded events to take advantage to precisely steal.
  • The World Youth Day is a spiritual event and income generating. If the pilgrims registered properly on the WYD website, they would have paid a fee and received food cheques amounting to almost 15 lunches and dinners at great restaurants and fast food chains, each cheque worth 6.50 Euros. Imagine all the 1.5M to 2M pilgrims spending this much in each restaurant. Food business is good! Not to mention the souvenir shops and malls that opened even on Sundays (malls are closed on Sundays in Spain) for the pilgrims.
  • Naturally, since the adoration tents were torn because of the strong winds and rains that night, the organizers were not able to keep the consecrated hosts the next day’s Mass. We were told to receive communion in any Church in Madrid — we didn’t have to wait for Mass to receive communion. We can simply knock on the Church door, and ask the priest to give us communion.
We were all pilgrims and sacrifice was key to making the WYD experience successful and fruitful. Besides, the Christian life is to be adorned with sacrifices so that when we reach the end, there is a stronger and greater appreciation of the consequence of Loving Sacrifice: heaven.
It’s not too late to change. It’s never too late to change. You can change now. Have faith in God, and in yourself. Vale la pena!