10 Honest Tips When Going To Parts of Europe

Our trip to Europe last summer is totally memorable; the sights are breathtaking and the experience is surreal. With the aim not to stress the vacation that much and avoid following a day-to-day loaded schedule, we planned our own itinerary (travelled without a guide or group) with our kid as the top-of-mind concern. We arrived in Austria (Vienna, Hallstat, Salzburg) then Czech (Prague), Switzerland (Zurich), to Germany (Munich, Stuttgart, Frankfurt). Pan your eyes from left to right and the view is a guaranteed beauty.

View from the Castle

#AustriasInAustria

But getting too engrossed with what we are seeing might not be ideal as we still have to be on guard. Excited with your European tour? Here are a few reminders before you fly.

1. Get ready to walk for kilometres. Forget the fancy shoes and just pack your most comfortable pair. Appreciating the place is way better on foot and get up close with the intricate details of the surroundings. If you are visiting on a summer (end of May to August), do not wear flats with thin sole. Remember, you will walk on cobble stones/brick floors and you will feel the roughness of their pathways if your feet are not properly equipped.

#PraguingLakadSaPrague

2. Water bottles are so expensive (depends on where you buy but ranges from Php100 to Php250 per 500ml) so make sure you pick the right one—purchase the “no gas”water; they are mostly selling “with gas” (imagine flavored water and sparkling).

3. There are pickpockets so stay alert. We’ve met a few tourists who lost their wallet or an item especially in Prague. Avoid leaving stuffs unattended, put your money/passports closest to you and your credit/debit cards secure with RFID blocking wallet.

4. Bring usable, foldable tote bag as they don’t give paper or plastic on to-go purchases (even at grocery stores).

5. There are taxi cabs and uber rides but trains and buses are good to explore.

Train ride at MarienPlatz Station, Munich, Germany

6. If you get a chance, drive at Autobahn and enjoy the speed. You will not need to apply for a driver’s permit if you have a valid Philippine license. More treat for car fans as there are the Mercedez-Benz, Porsche, and BMW Museums to linger on.

Hubby enjoying his 220 drive at Autobahn

7. They speak English but not all are very fluent so be patient when you converse. A lot are really nice (especially warm with kids) but there are rude people too so keep the calmness and don’t let these few ruin the trip.

8. Most hotels do not include a pair of toothbrush and toothpaste to their personal hygiene compliments pack so make sure to bring your own.

9. Try their local food and don’t be intimidated by goulash and schnitzel. Spoiler alert: they are our Pinoy versions of kaldereta and breaded porkchop/chicken.

10. It is okay to get lost. You will surely find spectacular and wonderful corners along the way.

What to Wear while Visiting the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque?

Our family had been praying to travel this summer of 2017 and we are thankful that it was granted for the most part of May including a stay to United Arab Emirates as part of the itinerary. We spent our five nights in Dubai and allotted one whole day at Abu Dhabi exploring Ferrari World and Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in the morning.

We were lucky to go to Ferrari World on a Sunday afternoon which is part of their weekdays (Sundays to Thursdays) and had no problem with the queuing of rides as the theme park was not very crowded. So yes like in most amusement venues, prefer to go there on weekdays and not on weekends/holidays. Just a heads-up, some riders do not follow the line and would just pop themselves to get ahead. Be more alert of who’s in front of you and who is sneaking so you can secure your spot.

As you visit the grand mosque, it is a MUST to follow a dress code while within the vicinity as there are guards who consistently approach their guests if they are not abiding to the rules. If not in proper attire, female visitors will be provided an abaya (loose over-garment, robe-like dress) but you can still explore with no abaya and still wearing your own cloth.

what we wore at the mosque

At the Mosque

There are many resources telling what not to wear but not exactly what you can. Someone even told me to buy an abaya. But the mindset should just be conservative and simple, eye on what is readily available from our closet. Here’s a suggestion for ladies:

  • Wear long sleeves shirts
  • Cover your head with a black shawl
  • Wear long, not-tight pants or slacks (must be ankle length)
  • Open-toe shoes is okay but I recommend to wear flats or rubber shoes with socks as you will walk bare foot inside

For men visitors:

  • Half or long-sleeve decent shirt
  • Long pants
  • Rubber shoes

Sheikh Zayed Dress Code

Decorum must also be maintained, begin with these 5 reminders:

  1. It is a no-no for couples to show any sign of intimacy like holding hands or kissing
  2. Selfie is okay but stay within the areas of the mosque that are permitted and to not roam around
  3. Smoking and food are not allowed in the mosque area
  4. Out of respect to the worshippers, remain silent
  5. Not to touch the Holy Quran (Holy Book) and other architectural elements inside the main prayer hall

Opening hours are from 9am-10pm daily but close for tourism activities on Friday mornings. Sheikh Zayed Mosque is surely worth a visit!

Image Source for the “Dress Code”: http://www.szgmc.ae/en/plan-your-visit

Dining at Katsuya, Hollywood

Our family was able to relive the blog about seven tips for parents traveling with younger kids as we visited the US about a month ago. It was a spectacular time for us. A lot of theme park adventures (Legoland, Disney Land, Universal Studios) and long drive escapades (from Orange County to Laughlin to Grand Canyon reaching Las Vegas back to Los Angeles) but the highlight of every stopover is food!

Serving size there is so overwhelmingly huge drooling on Popeye’s fried chicken, Panda Express’ lemon chicken, Shake Shack’s hamburger, Joe Shack’s crabs, Ihops’ pancakes, Kona’s grilled steak and a lot more I can only fancy now.

On top of all the meals we’ve had, one completely stood out. If you are a Japanese cuisine lover and is going to the United States any time soon, you must include Katsuya by Starck on your itinerary.

Katsuya Hollywood

Katsuya Hollywood

They have many branches around the City (Hollywood ▪ Brentwood ▪ Glendale ▪ L.A. Live ▪ Las Vegas ▪ South Beach) plus Middle East (Kuwait and Dubai). And perhaps we’ve been into the hottest spot, Hollywood!

Sushi Tray at Katsuya Hollywood

Devouring the sushi (at once! So good that we failed to capture in photo the beautiful whole, untouch shot!)

Our tray of sushi was masterfully crafted by the only lady Sushi Chef at the Resto, KitKat Austria. I so love watching her prepare in precise rhythm and with so much passion.

Sushi Chef Kitktat Austria of Katsuya Hollywood

Sushi Chef KitKat Austria in Action!

Everything is outstandingly delicious but my #1 pick is the Baked Crab Hand Rolls! Imagine a baked snow crab lightly kissed with Chef’s signature sauce, wrapped with rice in soy paper. I can eat it all day and crave for more. As part of your starters, don’t forget to add the Crispy Brussels Sprouts with balsamic soy and toasted almonds!

Katsuya Brussels Sprouts

Brussels Sprouts

Katsuya’s Japanese kanji symbol “Katsu” means “victory” or “to win” and it’s fitting considering the loyal following of Hollywood A-listers and Zagat critics the restaurant has won over with its inventive combination of Japanese and Californian cuisine. Exuberant servers welcome you “irashaimase” as you walk in and bid you “arigato gozaimas” as you leave and in between, original creations like the Crispy Rice, Spicy Tuna, Yellowtail Sashimi with Jalapeño, Miso-Marinated Black Cod and award-winning cocktails like the Burning Mandarin delight your palate.

Featuring the dynamic pairing of Master Sushi Chef Katsuya Uechi and design impresario Philippe Starck, Katsuya by Starck is truly a feast for the senses. With superb talent and exacting precision, it is truly changing the face of Japanese cuisine.

7 Tips for Parents Traveling with Younger Kids

Hubby and I personally find it gratifying to travel with our son; we always make sure to bring him on our trips. Traveling opens his mind to various cultures and enhances how he deals with different kinds of people. While it is totally fulfilling to see the world with our children, there are also a lot of challenges too. We have listed some ideas that you can consider on your next trip to lessen the drawbacks.

1.Always bring a medicine kit – Aside from his daily vitamins, try to bring a small bottle of Paracetamol or Ibuprofen,  bring anti-histamine in case of allergy attack, and even small undissolved antibiotics for that “just in case” scenario. Yes, you would be able to find a similar medicine in other countries but when a fever strikes, it is definitely handy to have it available ASAP without stressing out where to find a pharmacy.

Last week we were fortunate to get a free trip to Taiwan together with relatives, thanks to my Father-in-Law! But my son caught a fever on the eve of the departure due to tonsillitis. He was quarantined at the arrival and we were told to go the hospital in Taipei to get a certificate that his fever is not because of dengue or other easy to spread ailment. We immediately went to the Emergency Room, got the certification, and were given tons of medicines. We have consulted our Pedia via Viber and she refused to use most of  the prescriptions. She told us to stick with what she is giving him. Good thing we have brought the “usual” drug as he became fever-free over night.

2. Expect detours – Sure we have already scheduled spending a whole day in Hong Kong’s Lantau Island but then there was a heavy downpour and a 3-hour queuing line to get our turn at the cable car. So, No. What’s next? Make sure to orchestrate an advance plan B. (To my delight, we just decided to explore the nearby Citygate Outlets).

3. Charge his gadgets – Ipad had served as well especially while waiting at the airport and on the plane during his early trips. Now, we are starting put a distance with his use of gadgets as we introduce him to read books or appreciate the idea of simply observing around.

4. You cannot really shop your heart out UNLESS you take turns – One to stay with the kid at the hotel room or nearby play area while the other sneak for a quick shopping.

5. Bring his favorite snacks – My son loves the fried chicken of McDonald’s and got sad when he learned that there was no McDo Fried Chicken in the US. So while we were convincing him that Popeye’s Chicken is a good alternative, we let him munch his local snacks and slowly encourage him to try a new brand.

6. Let go of your whims – While at Osaka, we had sudden plan to go to Nagoya  because Hubby wanted to visit the Toyota Museum. We haven’t been there and not familiar with the place so we hoped to rely on impulse—it would have been a real adventure if it just me and him but we got a kid now; doing research is important to make sure we won’t tire our son with long walks or unfed tummy for hours.

7. Again, conduct a research – It does not need to be an intensive study but just get acquainted with where you are going. Take a glimpse of what the weather will be like, the best way to commute with kids, identify kid-friendly landmarks, and be familiar with nearby places around the hotel.

We are continuously learning and exploring! Every travel leads to gaining knowledge and creating beautiful memories as a family! Where are you going next?

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What Our Family Took Home from the Japan Vacation?

Memories.

What also gave a mark during the entire stay was how we got fond of the people and their overall attitude.

Our family celebrated the holidays in Japan mainly in Tokyo, Osaka and a one-day-side-trip in Kobe. It was a remarkable vacation with some note-worthy realizations, too. An inspiration to formally start the new work year as we all go back to our normal routines in the Philippines.

I won’t be writing about the vacation details—the quiet New Year’s Eve, the daily ramen meals, the takoyaki balls overdose, the freezing weather, the daily distant walks, the ramen-coffee-and-tea vendo machines,

Ramen Vendo

Ramen Vendo

the plain thrill of being at the Shibuya crossing, the 3-hour-standing-only bullet train trip, the climb to the Tokyo Tower,

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Tokyo Tower

my son’s per city ferris wheel mandatory ride, the Disney Sea’s looonnngggg line,

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Lining up for snacks at Disney Sea

the Japanese-speaking witch and wizards of Hogwarts.

Universal Studio's Hogwarts

Universal Studio’s Hogwarts Castle

Coming to Japan for the first time, I was in awe witnessing the usual Japanese daily behavior.

The discipline.

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  • They automatically maintain a single line on the left-side of the escalator, allowing the right lane to be passable for those in a hurry. Same pattern goes when walking on the street, they know where to side, they lessen the crowd chaos by sticking to where they should walk.
  • They have a proper queue on the train stations.
  • They stop at the pedestrian lane.

The initiative.

  • My son dropped his train ticket at the escalator and we could not find it as we reached the end of the ride, we were surprise that a Japanese woman actually went down to get it for us and handed it with all smile.
  • It was quite a struggle to speak with them in English but despite the communication barrier, they tried to understand what we were saying and was eager to unpuzzle our words. Hubby was looking for a Nike store and Google Maps could not reliably locate it for us so we asked for direction to a mall-attendant nearby. It took a while before he understood what we were looking for and when he did, he actually walked us to the spot.

The efficiency.

  • A twelve-to-fifteen-seater restaurant was just managed by one server and to our surprise, she did it all well from getting the orders, serving the food, addressing our request, doing the cashier, cleaning the table, and staying polite.

The enthusiasm.

  • Most of the waiters and customer service personnel threw warm smiles and delivered enthusiastic replies to our inquiries anytime we approached them. We seldom encounter a frowning reaction or an idle treatment.

We have other nice stories to recall but the idea of writing this just means one thing—small gesture of kindness and a practice of discipline mean so much; these values should be reflected when treating others. The positive effect could linger to someone for a long time, wherever they are.  So maybe, we can all take home and manifest such attitude too?

Weekend from South to Surf Capital of the North

San Juan, La Union is the Surf Capital of the North with travel time of around four hours from Paranaque (via SCTEx and TPLEx).

Surfing is the core activity but the place is as welcoming to non-surfers too! You can learn to surf or just simply swim with the strong waves. Maybe watch the superb sunset while on the beach. Nourish the fresh rural air and the light traffic route. Why not drool over the food?

The family went to La Union for Hubby’s Birthday and Father’s Day celebration. I should say it was a suited weekend break—timing is just right to enjoy the province and trip is not too tiring for a back-to-reality Monday.

The Hotel

We stayed at Awesome Hotel and for the lack of a better word, our entire stay was apparently…awesome. We seldom find an establishment who would exert an extra effort to make their guests happy. What I appreciate the most is the sincere and warm approach of the Awesome staff in doing their job.

awesome-hotel-san-juan-la-union

Awesome Hotel is a new luxury 4-storey beach-front resort in the region. It claims to offer a quality accommodation designed to exceed the expectation of even the most discerning Guests (based on experience, we give this claim a thumbs-up).

Our room is called the “Deluxe Sea and Mountain View (Third Floor)” furnished in a mix of classic-modern  furnishings and all-white bedding with European style comforters. It has a five-star quality imported orthopedic mattresses, work station, sofa, flat screen, hair dryers, thermos pots, safety vault, vingcard key and a free Wi-Fi. The third level also gives a picturesque view of the sea meeting the sky; room rate per night is about Php6,800 to Php7,000 with bread-butter-and-fruits breakfast.

Awesome-hotel-3rd-floor-de-luxe-room

All Guest Rooms (except the Suite) have elevator access. 24-hour security and CCTV throughout the vicinity. The swimming pool has a jacuzzi area; it also has a Splash Bar ready to serve drinks while submerged unto the mostly deep water.

Awesome experience

We did not expect the whole-cake birthday surprise for Hubby

We did not expect the whole-cake birthday surprise for Hubby

With such enthusiastic birthday greeting from the Staff

With such enthusiastic birthday greeting from the Staff

Floating in the deep pool

Floating in the deep pool

Engulfed by the waves

Engulfed by the waves

The ocean and skyline just kissed

The ocean and skyline just kissed

Address: #319 Eagle St Montemar Village, Ili Norte, San Juan, La Union

The Food

Since traffic flow is smooth in La Union, exploring for a “good” food won’t eat as much time. And when I say good, it means a must-try and top-notch local restos! Here’s our meal itinerary, take your pick or try it all.

Lunch upon arrival

Halo-Halo de Iloko

halo-halo-de-iloko-restaurant-writenowna

Current Home-Resto

Expect to wait long before you can actually get a seat but for all we know and never must doubt—the waiting is worth it. From their tiny home-resto at Zandueta Street, Halo-Halo de Iloko is set to move to a bigger venue at 2017 Brgy. Biday, San Fernando, La Union.

What we’ve tried? Ginettaan nga Halo-Halo/Hot Halo-Halo, Buko Halo-Halo, Emparedados

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All smile for the Hot Halo-Halo!

Current address: Zandueta St, San Fernando City, La Union

Dinner

Flotsam and Jetsam Artist Beach Hostel

flotsam-and-jetsam-san-juan-la-union

Flotsam and Jetsam is a living space celebrating art, music, design, style, and life. Such cozy place to just chill out (surfers or non-surfers alike),  love the dish, and have a fun chat while lounging on the bean bags!

flotsam-and-jetsam-la-union-writenow

What we’ve tried? Vigan Longganiza Pizza, Vigan Bolognese Pasta, Bailey’s cupcake

What’s more exciting is a movie produced by the Hostel Owners and the shooting of the entire  scenes primarily took place at Flotsam.  It will be in cinemas soon! The gist? 1 Surf Town. 8 Love Stories.10 Beautiful Songs.

As the Hostel Owners/Movie Producers define the film: It is a Love Actually style romantic comedy with Begin Again musicality in a surf lifestyle setting.

flotsam-movie-with-solenn-heussaff

Address: Manila North Road, San Juan, La Union

Caffeine-Booster Spot

El Union Coffee

el-union-coffee-best-coffee-in-the-north

Imagine having a coffee by the sea? El Union is currently situated at Flotsam & Jetsam Hostel serving expert-roasted and thoughtfully prepared cup; new beach front store is on the rise real soon! To describe their coffee as ‘very good’ would be an understatement.

el-union-dirty-latte

Love at first taste

What we’ve tried (about 5x during during our weekend stay): Dirty Iced Latte!!!

Current address: Manila North Road, San Juan, La Union

Lunch before departure

Gefseis Greek Grill

gefseis-greek-grill-la-unionGefseis is a greek word means flavor. Nothing fancy with the restaurant but if you wish to pacify the craving for an array of authentic Greek food then this is a bullseye.  Oh, and Gefseis is also  set relocate to better venue soon. Hoping the next branch would exude a more Greece-inspired ambiance.

 

What we’ve tried? Pita with Hummus, Kontousouvli ( slow roasted pork), Saganaki  (Greek fried cheese)

Saganaki-gefseis-la-union

Saganaki

 Current address: Urbiztondo, 2514 San Juan, La Union

  Weekend Recap

Surf. Waves. Swim. Escape. Relax. Eat. Surf Town. Halo-Halo. Awesome. Flotsam. Movie. Coffee. El Union. Gefseis. San Juan. La Union. We. Shall. Return.

Photo Source: Some of the images are taken via Facebook page, Instagram profile,
and/or from the website of the featured establishments.

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One-Week Ilocos Summer Roadtrip

Weekend at Tarlac and Pampanga

From Down South to Up North: The 1-Week Ilocos Summer Road Trip

Browsing through Facebook and Instagram, I enjoyed seeing the posts of friends about their vacations. As we reached the mid-summer season, many have already went out of the country, to the beach, to their respective provinces, and make use of the much awaited summer get-away.

As for us, we decided to allot our one week exploring the hot and beautiful Ilocos. We’ve never been in this part of Luzon so we paid attention to what friends have to say, the reviews we read online, the expertise on road adventure of Waze and the will to be in a new place with our reliable pick-up truck (my son named him “Cookie Ranger”).

The Subic–Clark–Tarlac Expressway (SCTex) and The Tarlac–Pangasinan–La Union Expressway (TPLex) played a huge part of making the trip safer and faster! SCTex is a 93.77-kilometre four-lane expressway north of Manila while TPLex is an 88.85-kilometer four-lane expressway currently ending in Urdaneta, La Union with ongoing construction far north. The view of the entire highway stretch is scenic!

If at one point you decide to visit Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte and is a bit clueless with your itinerary, here are some of the highlights/landmarks to get you covered on your trip. We chopped the schedule from one city to another and we did not aim to go to every single tourist destination; we just want to have fun and not stress over a strict must-go places to visit.

There are just so much beauty in the Philippines; go ahead, travel! Let our country amaze you.

Day 1

Parañaque to Batac, Ilocos Norte via SCTex/TPLex (7 hours)

We left Sucat, Parañaque at 2am and reached Balintawak toll gate (via Skyway and EDSA) within 30 minutes.

Marcos Museum and Mausoleum – Integrates both memorabilia storage and the current resting place of former President Ferdinand Marcos. His remains are still on public display; the solemn interior is divided into an entry hall styled with old English standards and a bust. The family’s mortician confirmed that the corpse is real, although people suspect it is a wax replica, and the real body was secretly buried in ground.

The young Ferdinand

The young Ferdinand

Immaculate Conception Church – Built in 1527 during the Spanish era. Its facade has been renovated recently, whitewashed, and plastered with the original palitada – a decorative plaster used to protect and decorate soft volcanic stones that form these colonial-era churches. The palitada is a mixture of lime, sand, water, and molasses or egg whites.

Batac Riverside Empanada – There are plenty of stalls selling empanada in this location. Ilocos Empanada is deep-fried rather than baked and is made of a savory filling of grated papaya, mongo, chopped Ilocano longganisa and egg. The dough that serves as its thin and crisp wrapper is made of rice flour.

Empanada here is so yummy! Don’t forget to also order their orange fried quail eggs aka kwek-kwek aka tukneneng!

Batac, Ilocos Norte to Paoay, Ilocos Norte (10 minutes)

Saint Augustine Church (Paoay Church and Bell Tower) – Completed in 1710, the church is famous for its distinct architecture highlighted by the enormous buttresses on the sides and back of the building. It is declared as a National Cultural Treasure by the Philippine government in 1973 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

San-Agustin-Church-Paoay-Ilocos-WriteNowNa

Paoay Sand Dunes – the sands are not static forms; they change in shape, sizes and location, depending on the strength and direction of the prevailing wind. It is the product of wave action during high tides cause’s sand and silt deposited offshore to form sand bars. During low tides, sand bars close to the beach are dried by the wind and sun, which are transported by strong winds blowing toward the land, to finally build up Sand Dunes.

Herencia Cafe – Not really an excellent service, even the rest room was not clean and servers look quite unhappy doing their job BUT the bagnet and chicharon pizza is worth your patience.

Cafe-Herencia-Paoay-Bagnet-Chicharon-Pizza-Writenowna

Healthy Pinakbet and Sinful Chicharon Pizza

Paoay, Ilocos Norte to Laoag, Ilocos Norte (45 minutes)

Java Hotel – I would be open to explore other Hotels when we visit back. Room is just okay for the price but guest service was very poor. No one assisted with our luggage upon arrival and staff not very courteous especially the front desk people.

Laoag Sand Dunes – Consists of an area of approximately 85 square kilometers (52 square miles) of protected sandy coastal desert and beach. The height of the dunes ranges from 10 to 30 meters.

Cookie enjoying the sands!

Fambam enjoying the sands especially Cookie!

It is a perfect spot for a 4×4 adventure ride!

Sinking Bell Tower – Built of old brick and stoned faced with limes stucco plaster, the tower rises in four tiers; claimed to be the most solid and tallest bell tower in the Philippines. It stands 45 meters high but probably stood higher before it began sinking. Despite its sinking state (supposedly at a rate of an inch a year), the bell tower still continues its centuries-old purpose of ringing the bell to call Catholic brethren to mass.

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La Preciosa Resto – Bagnet, pinakbet, and carrot cake are sure winners! And they have a better service too.  The resto is along JP Rizal Street, Laoag.

Day 2

Laoag to Pagudpud (2 hours)

Cape Bojeador LightHouse (Burgos Lighthouse) – The 66-foot-tall (20 m) octagonal stone tower was first lit on March 30, 1892. Visitors climb a flight of concrete stairs to the perimeter wall which offers a good view of Cape Bojeador, West Philippine Sea and enter the courtyard.

Cape Bojeador LightHouse-Burgos-Ilocos-WriteNowNa

Kapurpurawan Rock Formation – Rock formations created by forces of the ocean on the rocky coast of Burgos, located just a few minutes further from the Cape Bojeador LightHouse.

Kapurpurawan Rock Formation-Burgos-Ilocos-WriteNowna

The empanada at the stall before you step down the stairs is yummy!

Bangui Windmills – The wind farm uses 20 units of 70-metre (230 ft) high Vestas V82 1.65 MW wind turbines, arranged on a single row stretching along a nine-kilometer shoreline off Bangui Bay, facing the West Philippine Sea.

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Kapuluan Vista Resort – Good accommodation and warm staff. Food is a bit pricey compare to other local restaurants but a must-try. Beach is not ideal for swimming but a good place to just relax. Swimming pool is nice and cozy. Kapuluan is a sanctuary nestled between three mountains and the sea.

Day 3

Around Pagudpud

The Beach

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View of the Maira-ira Beach, the northernmost tip of Luzon Island

Patapat Viaduct – The bridge is elevated 31 meters over sea level. It is a concrete coastal bridge 1.3 km long and connects the Maharlika Highway from Laoag, Ilocos Norte to the Cagayan Valley Region. It rises along the town’s coastal mountains, which is the starting point of the Cordillera Mountain Range that snakes through Northern Luzon.

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Paraiso ni Anton – The cool waters of the mountain stream are reputed to have miraculous healing properties. There are several stalls selling local products, fruits, shell art and colored pebble trinkets.

Bantay Abot Cave – This geological formation is not really a cave but a rocky hill that resulted from an earthquake that happened so many years ago. It means “a Mountain with a Hole.” The beach is very rocky and the waves are very strong, that’s why the area is not ideal for swimming but it’s worth the climb.

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Tinmangtang Rock – Just a few meters away from Bantay Abot Caves, it is a bell-shaped rock located along the seacoast of Sitio Gaoa, Balaoi, Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte. Timmangtang Rock is said to be part of the “Mountain with a Hole”. There is no such history about this rock but locals believed that the two are “lovers rocks”—the Timmangtang Rock is the male rock and the Bantay Abot Cave is the female.

La Cocina at Casa Consuelo – Another hotel near Kapuluan that serves affordable, delicious Ilocano food. Imagine having your late lunch with this view.

La Cocina at Casa Consuelo-Pagudpud-Ilocos-WriteNowNa

Afternoon beach view at La Cocina

Side Trip: Pagudpud to Claveria, Cagayan (45 minutes)

The 600km Mark at Claveria – The mark starts in Manila and just out of curiosity we agreed to find out where 600km would lead us since we already saw the 580+ along Pagudpud.

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Cookie at the 600 Road Mark

Portabaga Falls, Praxedes Cagayan – 25-meter single-drop waterfall having four downstream catch pools.

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We did not swim here but the pool looks so enticing we just wanted to jump!

Day 4

Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte to Vigan, Ilocos Sur (3 ½ hours)

Side Stop:

Fort Ilocandia, Laoag – 5-star deluxe resort hotel in northern Philippines sprawling over 77 hectares of land amidst gentle sand dunes and pine forests with a 2 kilo-meter sandy beach facing the South China Sea.

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Malacanang of the North, Paoay – Closer glimpse of the former President’s mansion with a lovely view of the Paoay Lake.

Malacanang-of-the-North-Ilocos-WriteNowNa

Luna Hotel – Located at the heart of the Heritage Village in Vigan City, listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Hotel Luna is the first and only museum hotel in the Philippines.

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View from the top of Luna

Calle Crisolgo/Crisologo Street Heritage Village – Streets lined with Spanish Era ancestral houses (with ancient tile roofs, massive hardwood floorings, balustrades and azoteas in varying Spanish, Mexican, and Chinese architectural styles) and cobble-stoned streets, which led to Vigan’s inscription in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Tourists can buy souvenirs or even ride a calesa (horse-drawn buggy).

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Open whole day but best to explore at night.

Cafe Uno – Small quaint corner coffee shop inside Grandpa’s Inn. Food is yummy (but not the Pesto Pasta, I should have remained loyal to the Ilocano menu) and great Iced Latte after meal.

Day 5

Around Vigan

Vigan Cathedral and Bell Tower – The city’s major church built in the Earthquake Baroque style (with the Bell Tower built separately to prevent it toppling over the church).

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Archbishop’s Residence – Located next to the Vigan Cathedral, The Archbishop’s Palace of the Archdiocese of Nueva Segovia is the oldest continually inhabited Archbishop’s residence in the Philippines, with the building itself dating to the 16th century. It was completed in 1793 after a span of 7 years

Philippine National Museum – Located almost behind the Provincial Capitol, former Ilocos Sur provincial jail. The museum is also known as ‘Father Jose Burgos Museum’ for this is the birthplace of Father Jose Burgos, one of the three martyred Filipino priests at Bagumbayan (GOMBURZA). It also houses Ilocano artifacts and ethnic arts of the Tinggians.

Plaza Burgos – Dedicated to the memory of Father Jose Burgos. Located beside the Vigan Cathedral. Depending on the weather, the streets surrounding it (except for the street adjacent to the Empanadaan) is closed off to motorized traffic every Saturday and Sunday to allow people to walk the streets freely.

Vigan Empanadaan – Reserved location where visitors can sample Vigan’s famous empanada and located at the eastern part of Plaza Burgos.

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Empanadaaaaa!!!

Baluarte – Zoo located in Salindeg where visitors can see a variety of animals (including tigers and ostriches). It is also a popular venue for special events such as seminars and conferences. The owner of Baluarte is former Ilocos Sur Governor Chavit Singson.

Pagburnayan – Barangay at the southwestern end of Liberation Boulevard in Vigan, where the famous Ilocano jar called burnay, used for storing locally made vinegar, local wine (called basi), and fish sauce (bagoong); and as decorative ware, is produced. Tourists can see these factories making the burnay using pre-historic methods of production, using carabaos (water buffalos) to knead the clay, and foot-powered potter’s wheels to turn the clay into burnay jars.

Hidden Garden – Located in Bulala (a barrio known for its making of bricks, pots, and other objects made of clay), it is a wonderland of greenery, with a mini-snack bar nestled somewhere in the middle.

Plaza Salcedo – Dedicated to the memory of the great conquistador Juan de Salcedo. It is also the site of Gabriela Silang’s public hanging in 1763. Located in front of the Vigan Cathedral.

Vigan Dancing Fountain – Located at the Plaza Salcedo Lagoon, this Korean-engineered attraction is the first of its kind in the country (the locals compare it to Bellagio Water Fountains in Las Vegas, Nevada).

Syquia Mansion – Vigan residence of Elpidio Quirino, 6th President of the Philippines.

Crisologo Museum – Residence of the Crisologo family in Vigan converted into a museum. It houses the memorabilia of the Crisologos and original furnishings of a typical Vigan ancestral house.

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Simbaan A Bassit – This cemetery chapel has a Bell-gable design, the only one of its kind in the Ilocos Region. The chapel’s name is an Ilocano term meaning “small church.”

(Vigan Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vigan)

Leona’s – Worst Ilocano restaurant we have tried! Makes you wait really long for the food accompanied by a very bad service! Servers are so impolite! We even saw a group of customers walked out in disgust, how terrible!

Day 6

Vigan to Baguio via Naguilian Road (2 ½ hours)

The Manor, Camp John Hay – We did not roam much around Baguio; we were there during the Labor Day long-weekend and it was so traffic, many areas jump-packed by tourists. We just stayed within the Camp John Hay vicinity (and had our first Starbucks frappuccino in almost a week!)

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Missing our Frap!!!

The four-storey structure with 177 rooms to accommodate guests is designed to blend neatly with towering pine trees, provides a magnificent view of the Cordillera mountain range. For a distinct touch, a Baguio stone exterior finish, shingled roofing and tinted glass windows add warm accents to luxurious ambiance.

But it was not a very amiable experience for us on that particular stay. Frond desk made us wait for an hour, room service food not properly cooked, and dirty carpet in the room that marked a black stain on the feet. This is also the first time we checked-in during the summer season; it was not very comfortable and my son’s been perspiring because Manor has no air-conditioned feature. They relied so much on the cool weather of Baguio but it was not that cold anymore during this time of  year. The ceiling fan did not do much help.

Day 7

Baguio to Manila via TPLex/SCTex (4 hours)

Side Trip Before Going down to Manila: Baguio – La Trinidad, Benguet (30 minutes)

Strawberry Fields (Strawberry Picking) – La Trinidad Benguet is the Strawberry Capital of the Philippines.

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Just a reminder on your trip:

  1. Restaurant service is really slow so don’t come extremely hungry or you’ll be frustrated waiting for your meal. Eat in between and always have small snacks. The long wait for the food is worth it, anyway.
  2. Bring anti-mosquito lotion and patch especially for the kids; there are just so many flying insects even when inside the hotel room or restaurants.
  3. Weather may go from 38.9C to 39.9C on summer so bring sun block, comfy clothes, and bottles of water.

Reference is hyperlink to the source
Photo Credits: c/o JK Austria

Solemn and Rugged Weekend at Tarlac and Pampanga

The family grew fond of taking weekend break seriously and whenever there is time and hubby is not at work, we tend to go out for quick trips out of town. This is a remarkable way to bond and introduce to our son the joy of trying new things and enjoy the different places in the Philippines; there are so many fun activities we can do here!

So last weekend, we went to the nearby provinces at the North of Luzon—Pampanga and Tarlac. We did a solemn visit at Monasterio de Tarlac, paid respect  at Capas National Shrine and went to a rough drive at the Mt. Pinatubo lahar.

SCTEX (Subic–Clark–Tarlac Expressway) is great for cruising!

SCTex (Subic–Clark–Tarlac Expressway) is great for cruising and makes the travel so fast!

Widus Resort offers a good accommodation when in Clark.

Widus Resort offers a good accommodation when in Clark.

Memorial to the Filipino and American soldiers who died at Camp O’Donnell at the end of the Bataan Death March!

Memorial to the Filipino and American soldiers who died at Camp O’Donnell at the end of the Bataan Death March.

The brave truck playing with the wild of Mt. Pinatubo Lahar

The brave truck playing with the wild of Mt. Pinatubo Lahar.

Part of the relic of Jesus’ Cross is here.

Part of the relic of Jesus’ Cross is here.

Start exploring this side of the country and feel the warm of each adventure. All set for the next weekend?

Do you prefer somewhere farther North? You may also find it interesting to read about our trip to Ilocos.