See you, Europe& UK

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I scheduled this post right on the day of our departure. Im probably flying over some part of the ocean or asia or something. Haha! Pray for our safety as we go on tour for two weeks. Thank God for blessings like this!

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Ill try to do “live” blogging from Europe. But if I don’t blog in 2 weeks’ time, call a search group for me 🙂

Have a bloody good week, lovelies!

Vacationista: Labor Day Weekend in Malapascua Island, Cebu plus Sirao Garden and Temple of Leah (Day 3)

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I planned on leaving by 10am today since I didn’t want to wait till check-out to go. I got up at around 7am, had some karinderya breakfast, fell asleep again then lounged at the bahay kubo. By 10am, I was already at the boat station waiting for the boat.


Tip: the boat station is different from where we arrived. This is where boats depart going back to Maya port. I saw in their schedule board that boats leave every 30 minutes. Paid P100 for the big boat but since it was low tide, a smaller boat they called a boat-y (boatie?) needed to take us to the big boat.


 Paid P20 for the boat-y. Take note that Maya has two ports: the old and new and where your boat will dock depends on the boat. When I arrived, I left from the new port but upon going home, the boat docked at the old port. For a moment, I was worried: was I in another island? Not to fret though since there was a motor bike waiting at the old port and I asked if he could bring me to the Ceres bus terminal, which is located right beside the new port. That’s when he explained to me the old and new port confusion. Paid P30 for the ride.

 

Arrived at the Ceres bus terminal – I was the only passenger there – and the staff told me that if I wanted to leave right away, I could ride the Deluxe bus (non-aircon). I wanted the aircon bus so he told me I had to wait 40 minutes, which was fine with me since I had my stock of Netflix shows to pass the time. But after about 10 minutes, he said I could go on the aircon bus already. The bus left, picked up more passengers at the nearby new port and thus started the 5 hour journey back to Cebu City. Passed by a cute, pink church and of course, one of the stop overs was at that yummy bbq place so I bought me some pork bbq and puso (rice) for P48. So good!

 

I actually planned on going to Sirao Garden once in Cebu City, given I still had time. Since I arrived at around 4pm in the city, I decided to go forth with my plan. Made my way to JY Square (took the 01k jeep to SM then the number 4 jeep to JY Square) where the motor drivers who will bring you to the garden are located. How will you know you’re at JY Square? Motor bike drivers, even before you get out of the jeep and even before the jeep has fully stopped, will start shouting ‘Sirao Garden’ and annoy the hell out of you. I hate people like that so I actually got off farther down from the jeepney stop. I walked back towards the group of drivers and while the annoying ones were busy with the other tourists, I approached this one quiet guy standing at the back. Joseph (0905 025 7146) offered P150 going to Sirao Garden then P200 if we add Temple of Leah. He also offered to go to TOPs Lookout but I wasn’t interested in that so for the garden and temple, it was P200. Initially, I thought this was roundtrip already – as mentioned in some blogs – but later on found out it was per way. Perhaps they had a price increase? Haha. Anyway, I didn’t stress it since I just keep in mind that I’m helping the locals make a living. With my helmet on and one hand holding on for dear life, off we went for the 45minute drive uphill.

 

Note that this is not for the faint hearted. There were times when Joseph would go really fast, like he was so used to going through the route. An adventure, for sure, but not for everyone especially for those who are a bit on the safe side. View was nice though and air was cool and fresh. Tip: If you want to see an overview of the city but don’t want to go to TOPs for the viewing deck, stop over at the small carinderia right across it for a great view (we didn’t stop though).

 

Finally arrived at Sirao Garden where there were a lot of people and cars. Entrance fee is now P50 (when before it was P30 according to blogs). I think they are open from 10am-6pm. Inside and even right outside the garden are some stalls selling snacks like banana que, turon, buko juice, corn and the like. Had a light snack of turon (P12) which I shared with Joseph and some buko juice.

 

Once inside, you’ll see the vast garden with blooming flowers – from sunflowers to small yellow flowers to the most famous one called brain celosia. They were beautiful though I had a hard time getting a half-decent photo due to the number of visitors.


 

Our next stop was The Temple of Leah. It was already sundown so it was quite dark when we got there. Paid P50 when before it was free. This is to be expected since there has been an increase in visitors. I think this has a huge potential to become a major tourist attraction in the coming years, especially once everything is constructed, though really not entirely original in its theme. I’ve been to Europe and have seen other better tourist spots than this but considering this is in Cebu, I think more people would want to visit it.

 


When I got there, there was still a tractor and some unfinished business but generally, it’s almost finished. So many people though. Can’t blame them as it’s a nice place to hang out at.


 

Around 6pm, I was ready to go home. My flight was at 10pm and when I told Joseph, he offered to take me directly to the airport. In the end, I paid him P600 plus P50 tip for the whole afternoon ride. Imagine going to the airport – driving through Cebu City’s bridge – on a motorbike. Yep, super possible. Arrived at Mactan airport before 7pm. After freshening up, walked around and looked for dinner. So happy they had Zubuchon there because I really wanted to eat Cebu lechon before I leave! Yas! I ordered the lechon meal with rice and atchara (P220) plus 3 citrus iced tea (P80). The lechon was so good! Meat was tasty and super soft while the skin was crispy and yummy. Anthony Bourdain was right. Best pig ever!

 

My flight got delayed for about an hour because they didn’t have parking – who knew that applied to planes too?! – but that didn’t dampen my spirits. I immensely enjoyed the whole weekend of beach bumming, long commuting by air, land and sea and basically just going on an adventure. I’m happy I can make memories like this – memories I can look back to and would only ignite happy thoughts, rainbows and laughter.  

How to score designer, luxury bags for a lower price

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I have a thing for bags. Nice bags. A bit expensive, designer, luxury bags. Some people like gadgets or shoes or miniature things. I like bags. I could wear a simple, all black outfit while toting a really nice bag for the rest of my life.

But here’s the thing: I don’t think I could ever spend more than P40,000 for any bag. I can’t imagine carrying a bag that’s too expensive (unless given as a present. Hihi). I guess I’m still practical like that. So how was I able to buy the bags that I have right now? Below are four ways to score designer, luxury bags for a lower price, which can also be applied to any other item:

1. Buy the item at the country where it is originally made. This is a no brainer that any product bought in the original country it came from would be cheaper. Not only because there’s no shipping cost, but also more often than not, taxes are deducted for tourists. This is the case for my very first Louis Vuitton bag bought in Europe.


2. Buy at outlet stores. When I say outlet stores, these are the legitimate ones that you should ensure have original and authentic items. The reason why they are sold in outlet stores is because they are from the previous or old season. If you don’t like following the crowd and being ‘on trend,’ like me, then this is the best option for you. You get the same quality of items but for a much lower price. Tip: Choose classic looking bags that would look great any season! Scored Prada bags in an outlet store when we went to Florence, Italy.


3. Buy at Duty Free shops, particularly in airports. There’s a reason why airports have a lot of designer shops in them. Not only are they conveniently located in terminals, they also have no taxes. Bonus points if you get lucky enough to get a coveted bag on sale, just like my Longchamp Cuir in yellow. Tip: If you really like a certain bag, ask the saleslady personally because sometimes, the item is on sale, even though there’s no sign.


4. Buy pre-loved items. This is definitely one of the best ways to score some designer bags. If you browse the net, one of the most known, well-respected and safest places to buy pre-loved bags is Japan’s Komehyo. Japan is known to be very strict and careful in selling bags, plus the fact that fake items are illegal in their country, so you know you’re getting the real deal. Not to mention, the quality the bags are in are so amazing! They look close to brand new, as if it wasn’t used, which makes it great value for money. The Japanese are known to want the latest designs and so when one bag is already out of season, they instantly sell it even if it’s still in good condition. Take note though that depending on the item, sometimes the original box or dust bag won’t be included. Tip: Invest in leather bags as this will last you forever if you take care of it.

 

Now, if you’re a snob, you’re probably thinking eww, pre-loved. Well, it doesn’t bother me and it doesn’t matter to me. Generally, I wouldn’t buy a preloved designer bag from online sellers simply because I fear they might be fake but Komehyo is the real shiz. If preloved is good enough for celebrities, socialites and even my millionaire friend, then it’s great enough for me.

Make sure to care for your bags by not letting them get wet, keeping humidifiers in the closets where you place them, having it professionally cleaned and using bag stuffers to keep their shape.

Hope these options give you hope that we need not shell out all of our savings or max out our credit cards just to meet our desires and wants. Friendly reminder though: make sure to balance your expenses and still have savings left. Because what’s the point of having a great bag if in the future, you’ll just end up in the streets with nothing?

My US Visa Application Experience

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With all the countries I’ve been to and with all the visa applications I’ve gone through, this I must admit is the first time I ever got nervous. Sure, there was an interview for my Europe visa but I wasn’t really nervous then. It’s not necessarily because of the country itself but simply because this trip to the US is one of the most important trips I would ever make – it’s for my sister’s wedding celebration! How could I miss this once in a life time event? I couldn’t! So imagine my nerves during the days nearing my interview. Not to mention, I don’t find myself a ‘safe bet’ because I am single and don’t exactly have a lot of ‘assets.’

I got ready for The Day – prayed, prayed and prayed some more (and asked all my prayer warriors to pray with and for me!) and prepared all my needed documents, paid the fee and scheduled my interview. I chose the 7:15am Monday schedule. Fair warning: be there 15minutes before your scheduled time and not a moment earlier because they don’t have a waiting area. Some vendors actually set up some plastic chairs near the entrance but they have a fee of P30! Haha! Just go to the entrance and you’ll see signs regarding the current appointments being processed.

Tip: don’t bring any electronics including USBs because you’ll be forced to leave it with one of the vendors, who claim to be “authorized vendors” and “I have been working here for 20 years now so you should trust us vendors” so if you don’t want to leave your valuable phone with them, leave it at home.

Another tip: Some “authorized” vendors sell ballpens, saying that sign pens won’t be accepted inside. Don’t fall for that. You don’t need a pen inside. There are some food stalls inside, just in case you get hungry or thirsty. I actually brought my own sandwich and it was allowed, though I wasn’t able to eat it because once inside, you just keep on moving through the stations. Sis advised me to wear something corporate so I wore slacks, a blouse and blazer though it’s not a requirement. Best to look ‘presentable.’

Process is simple enough. Just follow the staff’s instructions plus each “stage” has a number. Please read the signs scattered all over the place in order to move in a timely manner. The woman I was following took such a long time during biometrics simply because she didn’t read the instructions on how to do it correctly (and she wasn’t listening to the staff as well).

The consul asked me the usual questions:

· Why am I applying for a visa?

· Who am I visiting?

· Where am I working?

· What’s my job position?

· How long have I been working there?

· What other countries have I been to?

· How long will I stay in the US?

· Do I have immediate family there? 

No additional documents – like bank certificates, itinerary etc – were asked of me. Afterwards, he said “OK, you’re all set. You’ll get your passport next week.” And that was that. The whole process including waiting time outside took only an hour.

I was caught off guard when Thursday came and my passport was delivered! That was just 3 days after the interview. Didn’t prepare an authorization letter with valid ID so my passport was received at home the next day.

Thank You Lord for this! Prayed super hard for favor and this was actually one of the items in my prayer requests during Victory’s Mid-Year Prayer and Fasting so praise God talaga! Can’t wait to visit the US and my sister and family for the next 10 years!

My “favorite” books

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To be more accurate, I labelled these particular books my favorite ones not really just because of their story or their characters. Honestly, if you ask me their names or what happened in this particular chapter or where did the most intense event take place, I probably wouldn’t be able to answer you right away. But the real reason why I tag them as my favorite books is because of how I felt right after I read them. It doesn’t matter if I felt anger or sadness or happiness or with most of these, that I felt I couldn’t move on from the stories and the characters. These books elicited something in me and so, they stuck in my mind and now I consider them my favorites. I’m sharing these with you just in case you need some inspiration on which book to pick up next. 

 
1. Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger. This is definitely on top of my list. If I were to name just one favorite book, this would be it. I read this in high school as part of a school project and I think I just found this lying at home (my sister’s) so I picked it up and got hooked. In a time when I was surrounded with The Baby Sitters Club and Sweet Valley books (both of which I also read), this particular book was the first book that elicited some emotion in me. Perhaps because it’s a coming-of-age book or perhaps I related with the protagonist. Whatever the reason, this is the first conscious book that I really liked. Funny that I haven’t reread this and yet, still consider it at the top of my list.

  
2. 11 minutes by Paulo Coelho. Included in Coelho’s works that I love are Brida and By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept but amongst all of his titles, 11 minutes is still my favorite. To be honest, Coelho’s books are a hit and miss for me. But 11 minutes is definitely a bullseye. A controversial topic – prostitution and sex – yet even though I was young when I read this, it struck me as pure beauty how Coelho wrote this novel.

  
3. Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. This might be a cliché (and a bit weird following the title above) but this came out when I was in college and part of this Christian organization I was in was a study program with this book. I actually really enjoyed reading it. It clarified what my purpose on earth was in a very simple and practical and easy-to-understand way. Plus, I really enjoyed the group discussions then with my friends. I recommend this to anyone – whatever belief you have – because it is very universal.

  
4. Shogun and Tai-Pan by James Clavell. I was very proud when I finished these two titles, both part of the Shogun series, because they are super long! It’s about 3 inches thick and yet, it was able to capture my attention from the get go. Clavell’s way of writing is very detail-oriented that he really describes what you are seeing and describes each character precisely, even if you’ll never see that character again. I could not put the books down! I remember wanting to go home as soon as possible just to read the book and before long, I would find it was already 2am in the morning! Unfortunately, the following titles after that didn’t really captivate me anymore, even though I have the complete set and am trying to finish the last two books.

  
5. Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul by John and Stasi Eldredge. Oh my gosh! This book should be read by every.single.woman out there. I promise. I mean, just read the title! Isn’t that enough to make you want to read the book? As in, I can still remember the emotions I felt after reading this like it was just yesterday. I had to stop every few pages just to internalize and reflect on what I just read. A lot of times I cried! I practically wanted to ear mark and highlight every page and word in the book! Then I would be in awe and amazed and dumbfounded with the revelation after revelation of this book. Grabe, this is an absolute must for every female, living body. It will make you realize who you are, what your worth is, how you should be treated, what value you should have of yourself and so much more. So, so powerful yet such an easy read! Definitely a book that added more light to my spiritual walk with God. To think, this was given to me during my college years but I only read it a few years back so that’s approximately a decade of collecting dust before I actually turned a page. For men, there’s Wild at Heart, which I also want to read just so I could have a glimpse of what goes on in the minds of men somehow.

  
6. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. Way before the movie came out and way before there were even talks of making a movie, I already read this. It was such a simple story but somehow, the whole book captivated me – from the storyline, to the country it was set in up to the amazing culture behind it. I must have a thing with stories revolving around the controversial and sexual side of our history and current society.

  
7. The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons by Dan Brown. I think this catapulted me into liking ‘action-packed’ books. I love how the book captured me from the start of the race up until the end, not wasting words or book space and leaving me breathless with every page. It was so fast paced that there was no room for boredom or anything else except that I was there in Europe, in the middle of all the action with Dr. Langdon. I know the movies caused quite a stir with the Catholics and other Christian religions but for me, this is just a work of fiction. A beautifully written work of fiction at that. If one’s faith is easily shaken by a simple movie, then I don’t think that faith is built upon a rock solid foundation. Go back to the Bible.

  
 8. StarGirl by Jerry Spinelli. This is just simply cute. And weird at the same time. I remember liking the girl. A very easy read.

  
9. The Hunger Games series by  Suzanne Collins. Ok, this may be under the Young Adult’s section but it has so much violence and darkness that I don’t think teens should even read this. Haha! But really, from the moment I read Hunger Games up to the Mockingjay, even with the last book’s weaknesses in writing, I was hooked. Then when the films came out, me and my sister really worked our schedules around watching it! Haha! I remember my feelings after turning the last page of Mockingjay. I was like, “That’s it? That’s the end? What’s next? What am I going to do? I cannot move on from this!” And then spending a week in my room, depressed, murmuring ‘Katniss’ and eating nothing. Haha. The last part’s a joke though.

  
10. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. My latest favorite author. Either his way of writing or the translation of his work has a quirk and weirdness to it that I like. Imagine if he wrote the originals in English, how would that have been? With almost a thousand pages, this too is one I am proud of having finished. The way I describe his way of writing in this book is that he really takes time; he takes time for you to know the characters and what they are doing. What they eat, how they eat it, where they bought it. So much so that after I read the book, I would find myself wondering what the characters were doing at that moment. I was so into the story that I felt I knew the characters and that I were part of their everyday routine.

And so, to date, that rounds up my top books that I consider my favorites. I’m not a super reader nor will I “pretend” to have read a certain title just to make me seem intellectual and special but I do consider myself to be a book worm. Reading is really one of my interests and something I have done since I was a kid and something I will continue to do well into my golden years. Though sometimes it’s hard to find time to cuddle with a good book (oh the hassles of adulthood!), reading is one of the times I can be myself.

It’s nice to note that half of these were from my older sister’s collections, books she would recommend me to read. So if you have any suggestions, please let me know. I’d love to hear what books you have in mind for me to read. =)

*note: photos not my own

 

Longchamp’s Le Pliage Cuir Medium Leather Handbag

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So I recently went to India and of all the things I bought during – or more correctly – after the trip, it had to be a Longchamp. Hahaha! In my defense though, I have six good points in my favor. First, I didn’t see much that I wanted in Bangalore; second, I’ve been wanting a Cuir for years now; third, I didn’t shell out on this since I used my extra per diem allowance; fourth, I bought the Longchamp in Singapore’s Changi airport during my lay over so it’s certified duty-free; fifth, it was on a huge discounted price on top of being tax-free; and sixth, I consider this as my reward for all the hard work I did for our work meeting. So technically, this is a non-India-but-overdue-reward-slash-need-purchase. Haha!
 

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Anyway, I’ve been wanting this bag ever since I went to Europe and saw it in Paris since it’s so soft, stylish and usable. But since I already bought an LV then, I didn’t want to seem greedy and buy too much (I always have a budget and try to stick to it). Two years after, I finally bought it! And on sale too at 40% off! Such a good buy! What happened was I went to the Longchamp boutique at Changi airport and saw the red Cuir at USD545. I also checked out the maroon medium nylon tote at approx. USD270. I told myself I’ll walk around first and think about it, since I had time to spare before my flight back home to Manila. Then I saw this huge sale sign at The Fashion Gallery, which houses various brands including Longchamp. I decided to look and lo and behold, Longchamp’s Le Pliage Cuir Medium Leather Handbag was on sale at only USD336 (roughly only Php15k)! Imagine, most of Fino’s (a local Pinoy-made brand) leather bags are already priced at Php10k so this Longchamp was a steal. Plus, back in Manila, I checked how much the Cuir was at Longchamp’s store in Shangrila and it was a whopping Php31,500! Pfft. Catch was that they only had the limited edition medium cuir in pink, green and yellow. I already have a green epi leather LV speedy and pink isn’t really my color. I’ve always wanted a yellow bag – it provides the pop of color I need when I’m wearing dreary clothes! – and so, I made the decision to buy the yellow cuir. The fact that it was on sale is awesome! The bag is made of soft lambskin leather and is so versatile with its top handle and body bag handle. As with most Longchamps, it can also be folded and stored easily. Very usable too since I can put so much stuff in it and use it every day. Downside would be since it is bright yellow, dirt and stains can easily be seen and since it is soft leather, extra care is needed. Long strap is also one length (I would have preferred that it be adjustable). Still, it is such a great buy for me (can’t stop raving)! Thank the heavens I have high EQ and didn’t buy the red cuir at once. 

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Vacationista: Bacolod City (Church of the Angry Christ at Victorias, Negros Museum and The Ruins)

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Started my day at around 8am and my first stop was the Church of the Angry Christ at Victorias. After breakfast, I rode a jeep (P7) going to the Ceres bus terminal (any north bound jeep will pass by the terminal). You won’t miss it since it has a huge yellow sign. It’s after Robinsons Bacolod and near the overpass.

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All Ceres bus passes by Victorias. They even have a non-airconditioned bus going directly to Victorias (which quickly got full) but since I wanted an aircon bus for the trip & I wasn’t in any hurry, I rode the Cadiz bus (P55). The bus waited for 30mins for passengers. Travel time about 45 mins.

I got down at Victorias City Hall. You won’t miss it because it’s this huge green and white building. Once there, I asked one of the manongs if all tricycles could go to the Victorias Milling Company, wherein the Church of the Angry Christ was located. Turns out the trikes needed a permit. This was not in my research. Good thing manong was kind enough to ask around for any trike that had a permit. He found one & instructed the driver where I wanted to go. It was P50 roundtrip since the driver was going to wait for me too. The Church is a bit far so P50 is a steal (I just added a tip since manong was nice).

At the Church, I immediately noticed the localized metal sun dial. It was designed as a carabao’s head with the horns as the clock. It was beautiful!

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Going inside the church, the altar was the main attraction – the mural of the Angry Christ. As I mentioned here, I love the elements of the mural – from the colors to the design. It’s really pretty and tourists should really visit it if given the chance.

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From the church, I asked manong to drive me to the Ceres terminal, which we passed by going to the Church. Unfortunately, at the terminal, only non-airconditioned busses were available. But I’m pretty sure there are aircon busses along the highway which you’ll have to hail but since I was already at the terminal, I took that one going back to Bacolod City (Ceres Terminal), the last stop (P35).

I had so much time on my hands that I decided to see what Robinsons Bacolod had to offer. At the terminal, there are already Bata-Libertad jeeps. These would pass by Robinsons. Calea has a branch there. For the girls, there’s actually a Mango Outlet there.

From Rob, I rode the Bata-Libertad again, planning on eating my late lunch at Manokan Country but since it passed by the Negros Museum, I went down there first. I’d like to share that one of the museum staff was deaf, which I think is really awesome. For P100, the museum was quite uninteresting so I reasoned that the museum fee would be my contribution to them just so they could maintain the museum.

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But then, one of the staff brought me to the hidden Toy Collection side. It is owned by a private haciendero and photos are not allowed. Basically, the owner travelled around the world – Peru, Egypt, Africa, Asia, Europe etc – then collected different toys and items. The toys are organized by theme – Christmas, voodoo, nesting dolls, puppets etc. I think that was the highlight of my museum trip. It was interesting since you’d have a guide. So many pretty toys! My fave was their smallest toy, a Russian doll, about as small as a grain of rice. Beside it is the museum’s cafe lined with small art work.

Across the museum, I rode the Bata-Libertad jeep again to eat at Manokan Country again. Haha! Ordered their paa again (P75) and pork bbq (P30). No garlic rice was available though 😦

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Along the road are some vendors of souvenirs so I bought a ceramic magnet for our collection (P35).

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Went to Calea’s again for dessert. Haha! This time I ordered their moist chocolate cake, a best seller (P90). It was good, especially the top part and big enough for sharing.

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Since it was too hot to do anything, went back to the hotel to rest a bit. Next on my agenda was The Ruins. I asked the hotel guard how to get there and he suggested I ride a trike (their terminal is near the Pepsi factory) going to The Ruins. At around 5pm, rode a north-bound jeep (by this time, you’d get a hang of directions already) and went down the Pepsi Factory (near the overpass but before the Ceres terminal). Blue tricycles will take you there though a bit pricey. He charged me P50 if one way, P150 two way plus waiting time. Again, I just considered this as my help to the driver. In addition, you may also try getting a trike at Bangga Rose Lawn Farm since according to a blog, it’ll only cost P15. Plus, trikes are also waiting at The Ruins so no need for rountrip trikes.

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Entrance fee is P95, with tour guides every 30mins. The Ruins are open from 830am-8pm. I wasn’t in the mood for a guided tour so I just went around. A fountain can be found in front, a souvenir shop inside and there’s a cafe beside the house blasting some old school music. Haha! Must admit I was expecting a more humongous ruins but nonetheless, it was gorgeous – whether during sunrise or sunset.

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As usual, rode a Bata-Libertad jeep back to Lacson St. I was still full from my lunch at Aida’s so dinner consisted of bread from C’s. I recommend their caramel ensaymada (P70) – very moist, soft and tons of flavor.

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Tomorrow (technically the day after this post happened) is my return to Manila and I’m glad that I was able to go to all the places I wanted to go to and eat all the food I planned. Bacolod is pretty small and 3 days is pretty long but I wanted it to be a chill kind of vacay so this turned out perf.

Trivia: to get down the jeep, say “lugar lang” instead of “para.”

FitFlop love (& hate)

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I’ve been looking for some sort of footwear that I would take along on trips. Havs (havaianas slippers) just doesn’t fit the bill for me anymore. Alas, I have found my travel-shopping-long-walking-buddy in the form of the Fitflops. I’ve been using the sandals (is that what they’re called?) for more than three years now and I still love it. It’s very comfortable even for the price. I can stand and walk in it for hours which is why it’s the only footwear I usually bring to my trips. My sis, mom and I love our flops! If you’re worried about the price, do not fret since FitFlop stalls and official distributers like Res Toe Run always have sales on selected items (about P2800). Of course, I’m no addict that I’d get this style in more than one design. One reliable pair is good enough for me.

Too bad though we didn’t have the suede boots version here in Manila sooner because if we did, I would have definitely bought one and brought it to my Europe trip, which would have been perf for all the walking we did there!

Anyway, since I love the sandals so much, I decided to buy the ballerina shoes version, the FitFlop Due in patent cherry. No discount unfortunately (P5790); bought at FitFlops Megamall. I’ve been reading a lot of negative reviews on this but because I really need it for work (I do a lot of walking and I can’t seem too informal as to wear the sandals one) and I can’t just use SMs Solemates because of lack of foot support, so I decided to go on ahead and buy the Fitflop Due.

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Tip: as much as possible, buy your shoes in the stores themselves and not online. It’s better to try them on since sizing might be a problem, which is where some of the negative reviews came from. Also, buy in the afternoon since our feet have already expanded by that time, making shoe fitting better.

I tried the Due and the reviews were right, the sizing is all wrong. The size 7 was too small for me while the size 8 was too big. They don’t have half sizes yet! The girl at the store said it would be better to buy the bigger one since I could just put insole corks in it. If I decide to buy the smaller size, she said it would still expand. I really needed one so I took my chances with the bigger one, which is a size 8 (US 7). It was all good as I tried it on at home, complete with the insoles, but my gosh, when I took it out for a spin and really walked, it was big and kept falling off! In the end, I had to buy and wear relatively thick socks to make it work (then took out the insoles).

Honestly, even after days of using it, it has not become any comfortable. My feet hurt, particularly my heels. Sadly, that’s P5,000 gone to waste. It’s not working for me. So now I have to sell the shoes? Hassle beans.

Any suggestion on comfortable walking shoes?

Melbourne, Australia

Standard

Date: 31 August -5 September 2014 via Singapore Airlines

Accommodation: Ibis Hotel

Weather: Sunny with scattered rainshowers in the evening

Temperature: 0-10 degrees (freezing for a tropics girl like me)

Outfit: Includes trench coat, top and bottom thermals plus leggings, scarf and beanie

Was blessed to go to Melbourne, Australia for work. I’ve always wanted to see Oz! Unlike my last mission to China, I was looking forward to my mission to Melbourne since our training venue was right smack in the middle of the City Business District (CBD) which means there’s plenty to do, see and eat!

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I had a different flight schedule from my bosses so technically, this was my first international solo flight (exciting!). I came prepared since I did my research beforehand. I knew the places I wanted to visit. It wasn’t much since I won’t be going out of the CBD as this was a work trip. It was interesting to note that the immigration officer barely looked at my business visa then immediately stamped my passport. They say that immigration officers are more strict with tourists than with business people.

My original accommodation was supposed to be at Mantra on Russell, this apartment style loft but thankfully, my boss decided to book at another budget hotel for logistical reasons. Ibis Hotel at Russel Street was closer to our training venue (and was cheaper too) so that’s where we booked.

Sky Bus Transfer: At the airport, I found a taxi driver holding a placard with my name on it. I knew my hotel did not include transfers so I was surprised by the taxi. Turns out there was a misunderstanding. I felt bad that I had to turn the driver away since I really didn’t want to take a taxi. Per my research, it was convenient and much more cheaper to take the Sky Bus, an airport shuttle that goes to and fro the airport and terminal. Plus, they offer free hotel transfers to selected hotels, including the Ibis. After exchanging currency, I found the Sky Bus kiosk and bought my roundtrip bus fare. I highly recommend this! Please visit their website for complete details. Their site is so comprehensive. The trip was so convenient, the bus is clean and way cheaper than hiring a taxi. Plus, it’s more environmentally friendly than being a lone passenger in a cab. From the bus terminal, I waited for a few minutes for another van which took me directly to Ibis, for free!

Ibis Hotel: Ibis Hotel is very quaint and clean, the interior is nice, the staff are accommodating enough and the rooms are nice too. They don’t offer free wifi in the rooms but you have free 30 minutes access at the lobby or you can use their computers located in the lobby too. There’s a mini fridge, cable TV and iron in the room. Shower and bed are nice. Was very comfortable. I really liked the hotel.

Public Bath. After freshening up, I went around the area and first saw this big red building which was called Public Bath. Reminded me of a Japanese public bath. Haha. But basically it’s a swimming pool with a fancy façade and name.

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St. Paul’s Cathedral and Flinders Street Railway Station. I then saw St. Paul’s Cathedral at the end of the street. It reminded me of the churches I saw in Europe, only this one was in brown/ terracotta while in Europe, most were gray or black; in other words, gloomy. This one looked more sunshiny. Across it is the Flinders Street Railway Station. It’s a working train station with an old looking façade. Too bad I wasn’t able to ride a train inside. Lots of nice buildings to see along the way.

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Hillsong Australia. As planned, at around 5:30pm, I attended worship service at – wherelse? – Hillsong Australia which amazingly had a service a few blocks from our hotel. Needless to say, Hillsong was amazing. I really enjoyed my time of worship. I dropped by the Woolworth’s grocery store which was open until 11pm (note: I would drop by the grocery store every night because I love grocery stores!). Target is also located near Woolworth’s where I was able to buy two knit beanies – one red and one nude – for only $3 (about P120) since it was on 50% sale.

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RMIT University: The next five days, I had work as usual (9am-6pm) at RMIT University, which by the way had amazing architecture, so the only time I went out was early morning before 9am, during lunch or after work. The way I’ll narrate my story has no time period whatsoever. I’ll just share the places I visited. I also have limited photos, unfortunately.

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Queen Victoria Market: In the morning, I visited the Queen Victoria Market, which is their public market selling fresh produce, different types of bread and cheese and even ready to eat sandwiches. I love this place! Was able to buy fresh peaches and strawberries!

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As expected in most developed countries I’ve been to, one serving of their meal is good enough for two. A ham and cheese croissant with coffee cost me about $10, which is the regular meal rate for Oz. I even had leftover bread! Bacon, two sunny side up eggs, two pieces toast and coffee was also around $10 but it was sooo filling! I tried a chocolate macaron for about $3 and a bratwurst bun with all the toppings like sauerkraut, onion and cheese for about $8. Since Oz is known as a melting pot of cultures, don’t be surprised to see tons of different cuisines – from Greek to Thai to Japanese. Some of my meals, available all around the CBD, included some Gyros, Japanese curry, Vietnamese Pho and Thai curry with rice. Was also able to try their local fast food, Hungry Jacks, for the saddest $10 burger meal.

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State Library of Victoria and The Domed Reading Room. During a lunch break, I visited the State Library of Victoria which was amazing, especially the Domed Reading Room. It looked like something that came out of a Hogwarts (though I’m not a fan). Or more appropriate, it looks like the library from Beauty and the Beast (I’m a certified Disney princess so I should know).

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After marveling at the Domed Reading room and spending some time inside, I went around the free museum in the library which had pretty interesting artifacts. One side had paintings and sculptures while the other had old books, library paraphernalia and even early comic books.

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Outside, there’s a huge chess match happening with some of the boys. Looked like a set of Alice in Wonderland or something. Also saw a “pigeon man” and a colorful lady with pink hair. Afterwards, I bought some freshly baked bread from a local store and had my lunch outside, with two young lads practicing their skateboards. I sat on a bench and just watched people, which is one of my favorite past times. That’s one of the things I love about visiting developed countries. You can just buy bread at a local store, sit on a park bench and eat – no judgment, no pollution, just you with your thoughts.

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Parliament House. Walking the streets of Melbourne CBD, I was brought to the Parliament House, a huge columned white building that reminds me of a post office. Their post office was actually along the area too. It looked better at night though. I love how their CBD is a combination of old and new.

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Royal Exhibition Building. One early morning, I walked towards the Royal Exhibition Building which is a World Heritage Site. Too bad my phone’s battery died on me so I only have two photos! I loved walking in that place because it was right in the middle of a well-maintained park.

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Free city tram. On another evening, I took the chance to ride the free city tram. I think it was a Thursday since on regular days, it was only until 6pm. From Thursday to the weekend, it was until 9pm I think. Wait for the city tram to drop by Russel Street (or ask a local) and just get on. It would give you a good tour of the city. Saw the harbor and the ferris wheel and even passed by the Etihad Stadium.

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Melbourne Children’s Hospital. For work, we went on a “field trip” and was able to go inside the Children’s Hospital which was amazing! There was an aquarium and a huge sculpture (which I personally think is a caterpillar to symbolize the transformation of the sick kids once they get better) at the middle of the lobby. Inside one of the halls, there was even a place for real meerkats. We arrived during their feeding time so we saw about three of them scurrying around. How I wish our pediatric hospital was like theirs so kids won’t be sad or depressed because of their illness. We also went to the Convention Centre which was again, a-ma-zing! I can’t even describe how awesome that place. Aside from its mere gigantic capacity, it can literally turn into anything you want – a stage, a convention center, a dinner gala, a country (kidding). Plus, it was my first time to ride an elevator which can actually fit a whole truck! Haha!

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Shopping. Melbourne CBD has tons of stores along its streets so just choose your own adventure. It’s interesting to note though that a lot of the malls and stores, except souveneir shops and most restos and cafes, close as early as 7pm. Coming from Manila with malls that close at 10pm and stores that are basically 24/7, this was a shocker for me, especially since the CBD is a tourist spot. Anyhow, other places you might find interesting is the Melbourne Central, which is a train station with lots of stores around like Crumpler (an Australian brand) and Coles grocery (another known store). There’s also an H&M store parallel to Russel St. Its building was nice because it looked so old.

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Pasalubong/ gifts. Of course, bulk of my pasalubong bought at the grocery are all the available flavors of the famous Tim Tams – double coated, white chocolate, chewy caramel, dark chocolate, orange, strawberry etc. At the time I went to Woolsworth, it was half the price ($2.50) though if I paid full, it would be more expensive than Manila’s price of the basic chocolate Tim Tams which is about P120. With the discount, there’s not much difference, I guess, except that there are more flavors in Oz. My sister also wanted some unique flavored Cadbury so I bought two – honeycombed and double decked white and milk chocolate. I also bought a pack of caramel filled Cadbury in the shape of a Koala. Haha! I was also looking for some Koala shaped pasta, like the ones I saw in a souvenir shop, but the closest I could find was of a bear. Haha! Don’t know why but there were a lot of chai tea latte drinks at the store so I bought a box. Bought some random yoghurt and it was so good! Other items I bought were Cadbury baking chocolate and assorted shower gels for only $2.50. How I wish Manila would have more choices in grocery items like theirs.

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In conclusion, Melbourne is definitely one city I would consider moving to. I really enjoyed the weather, the people, the city. Everything about it. It’s like simple living but with the feel of a city.

Lastly, here’s some information I’ve gathered that you might find useful. Places I visited, their locations (you won’t get lost as the CBD is small and is walking distance to everywhere) and opening hours.

1. Queen Victoria Market – Corner of Victoria St and Elizabeth St

· Sunday: 9:00 am – 4:00 pm

· Monday: Closed

· Tuesday: 6:00 am – 2:00 pm

· Wednesday: Closed

· Thursday: 6:00 am – 2:00 pm

· Friday: 6:00 am – 5:00 pm

· Saturday: 6:00 am – 3:00 pm

2. Woolsworth supermarket

· 7am-11pm, 7 days a week

3. Parliament House – Spring St, East Melbourne VIC 3002

· 8-5pm

4. St Paul’s Cathedral and Flinders Train Station – Corner Flinders Lane and Swanston Street, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia

· 9-5pm

5. Target

• Monday – Wednesday: 9am – 8pm

• Thursday – Friday : 9am – 10pm

• Saturday – Sunday: 9am – 9pm

6. State Library of Victoria and The Domed Reading Room – 328 Swanston St, Melbourne VIC 3000

· 10-9pm

7. Royal Exhibition Building (World Heritage Site)

9 Nicholson St, Carlton VIC 3053

8. Melbourne Town Hall

90-120 Swanston Street, Melbourne VIC 3000

Spätzle

Standard

Me and one group of friends of mine have this monthly thing where we just meet-up, have dinner followed with coffee, then fill in with conversations, catching up and laughter. This month, we decided to explore the new wing of Shangrila which brought us to a European cuisine restaurant called Spatzle. We have no idea what kind of food to expect but my friend liked the mason jars and so, that was the deciding factor. Haha!

Spätzle is some kind of pasta, which in reality is just like some kind of pasta. Haha. Think macaroni but heavier. Most of their meals revolve around this special pasta. They also have a lot of sausages, of course.

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First off, interior is really nice and cozy. Lots of wood and intricate details like embroidered wall papers, wooden decals and exquisite floor work. Perfect for a nice get together. Price range is from P200 to P400 per meal. I ordered their roast chicken with gravy on top of spazle (P319) (center photo) and their peach breezer which is just orange juice with peach extract (P105). Two of my friends ordered their pastas: the red tomato based with string cheese pasta (P220) (right photo) and carbonara (left photo). Another friend ordered their roesti, think potato pancake, which is another of their specialty.

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Frankly, I found nothing special with the taste. Sure, the chicken was boneless and was wrapped around some ground beef but nothing spectacular. Even their spatzle tasted so-so. The Peach Breezer was too sweet for me too and not exactly something I’d order again. My friends also found their meals just average. Bottomline, you don’t get what you paid for. I am curious with their poutine (P220) though since I loved the ones I tasted in Canada. Poutine is potato fries with gravy, meat and cheese on top. So I might come back to Spatzle just for a quick snack.