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!

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Vacationista: Tbilisi, Georgia Day 8 (Carrefour grocery, Tbilisi Mall, Aerial Tramway, Kartlis Deda, Metekhi Cathedral, Holy Trinity Cathedral)

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Today was a bit of a free day. Our meetings were over so most of our delegates would be leaving today. Though I didn’t set my alarm clock, still woke up early and headed for breakfast with the team.
 


Since the others had their own plans, I decided to use this time to go and find the bigger grocery store, Carrefour. Hotel told me it was walking distance so I was up for the challenge. It was hard to find! It was somewhere near Freedom Square but hidden behind the buildings. Kept on walking and saw the fanciest ATM ever, a panaderya aka bakery selling their local boat-shaped bread, and an old lady selling veggies. After asking around – and after checking out this small clothes store which had some ukay-ukay vibes – finally arrived at Carrefour, which had no sign. Haha!

 

This is a much better grocery store as there is more variety and more options – from chocolates to cheeses to sausages to toiletries.

 

I went around and just chose stuff that looked interesting, mostly chocolate bars (so cheap at 2.5 gel each) to coffee sachets and wafers (my colleagues wanted some) to of course, cheeses and sausages (ranging from 5-9 gel). My bags were so heavy that I took a taxi going back to the hotel (5 gel). It’s very easy to get a taxi in Tbilisi and good thing the driver understood me. For all my items, I only spent 43 gel (the additional 20 gel worth of items was from my officemate who asked me to buy stuff for her).

 

Back at the hotel, my colleague wanted to go to the Tbilisi mall because she needed new rubber shoes. So I accompanied her. Took a taxi (20 gel) since it was a bit far from our hotel, about 20-30 mins ride. Saw this very interesting jenga-like building. Once at the mall, we parted ways and I just walked around. Unlike Manila, the mall was deserted. Haha! There were only a few shops, some were international ones while others were local brands. I didn’t find anything interesting so I just stayed in a local coffee shop called Moka & More since I haven’t eaten lunch yet and was starving. I ordered their ham and cheese crepe, cinnamon and mint frappe and bottled water (total of 20 gel).

 

At around 4pm, my friend who will soon become my personal tour guide messaged me that his meeting was over and that we would meet up in about half hour. Met up with him at the big bike and thus started a day of adventure. We grabbed a taxi going to the Aerial Tramway located at Europe Square which would take us up the old fortress. Was greeted by this pretty tree structure.

 

My friend insisted on paying for everything so now I don’t know how much the expenses are. He kept on telling people either my lari was fake or that he should be the one paying since he is a man, all in Russian so I couldn’t argue with them. Haha! I think the cable car was around 2.5 gel roundtrip. I highly recommend it as it takes you across the Mtkvari river where you can see the whole of the city on the top of Sololaki.

 

At the top, you’ll have a breathtaking view of the city with the wind on your face. Don’t I look so happy in the second photo? It’s basically because the wind kept whipping my hair.

 

We walked a bit and found the Kartlis Deda, meaning Mother of Georgia. I couldn’t get a decent photo but we could see she was holding a sword (for protection) and a bowl of wine (for friendship).

 

There were some interesting plants surrounding the area, one of which was Juniper and another acorn-like tree.

 

On the other side, we saw a vast forest and right in the middle was a lone modern mansion. He teased me that that the man who lived there was someone I dated before and I retorted by saying I dumped him because of our toxic relationship. Haha!

 

On the other end was the old castle called Narikala Fortress. We couldn’t find the entrance going there (or we were too lazy) so we just took photos then went back down via cable car. More photos of the chocolate-colored river.

 


Once on ground level, we walked around the nearby Bridge of Peace and an old abandoned concert hall, per my friend. It was such a waste for the concert hall since it looked so pretty but he explained that there was a lack of investment so it was never used.

 

Went through the Bridge of Peace again and appreciated its design.

 

We went down a flight of stairs because I saw a pretty graffiti wall of butterfly wings. Walked forward and saw a rotunda with the Georgian and EU flags. See also my poging friend turned tour guide. It’s not obvious but just take my word for it. Hehe.

 

We then walked towards this old small cathedral called the Metekhi cathedral where the monument of King Vakhtang Gorgasali was also located.

 

We arrived just in time since the church was already closing up. Took a quick peek inside then visited the King as well.

 

We headed back down and just walked around the area, enjoying the views and the small streets. Everything to me was interesting!

 

We walked some more and headed towards the Sulfur Baths.

 

Further down, we saw a small bridge with locks, a souvenir store, restaurants and three men just sitting nearby, playing their instruments and singing. They didn’t even have a box or hat where you could ‘give’ money. I think it’s really because they just love their music. Amazing.

 

Gorgeous cave like walkway!


At the end is a small water fall. I cannot believe all of this is in the city center! A moment ago, we were in the middle of a busy street. Just a few steps more and you’re transported to this gorgeous raw nature-inspired place. Amazing.

 

Of course, cannot resist the obligatory ‘I love Tbilisi’ photo.

 

With much of our walking, I was so tired and thirsty that I practically begged my friend for a pit stop. He teased me that it was because I had short legs and that he was a better ‘walker’ because he’s long legged. I consider myself a great ‘walker’ but gosh, he was unstoppable! Finally, he let me buy a drink at a small store selling fresh pomegranate and orange juice. I’ve been meaning to buy the pomegranate juice since I’ve been seeing these small stalls scattered everywhere (just like the churchkela stalls). I chose pomegranate, he got the orange juice. I wasn’t able to finish my drink – it was a bit sour – so he finished it for me and paid for our drinks.

 

When we got tired, at around 800pm with still some sun out, we decided to have some dinner at Stelzen. I wanted to try the kachapuri again but this time in the more traditional boat shaped bread with an egg on top, which I’ve been seeing online. He ordered some pork kebab, chicken salad (which looked more like a viand; think ginataang manok), and more khinkali (gigantic dumplings). I only ate one piece of chicken salad, one piece of kebab then feasted on the kachapuri. I like the kachapuri with egg on it since the egg downplays the cheese a bit. He ordered some beer and ginger lemonade while I had the orange lemonade (so good!).

By the time we finished, it was already 930pm. Good thing we checked the time since I really wanted to see the Holy Trinity Cathedral at night. I’ve seen photos of it online and it was gorgeous. I wanted to pay for our dinner, I even had my 100 gel inside the check book already, but he again spoke to the waitress in Russian. The waitress turns to me and says to me in English, “He’s the man” and gives back my 100 gel. I kept arguing with him to let me pay for something so once our taxi going to the hill reached the cathedral, I quickly placed 5 gel on the driver’s hand and went out. My friend had no choice but to keep his change. Score! 

 

Upon seeing the cathedral, it looked so luminous and overpowering. It was washed in gorgeous light and made the perfect backdrop.

 

The cathedral was huge inside as it was outside. Every corner there was a different saint or artifact. I noticed a lot of Georgians kissing each of the paintings then making a sign of the cross. My friend said Georgians are very religious. Perhaps just like Filipinos. We walked a bit outside and as it was super windy, I started freezing so my friend lent me his hoodie. They have winter in Kyrgyzstan so he’s used to the cold, he explained. When the security told us to leave, we made our way back and got a cab, going downtown.  

 

Back at the center of the city, he really wanted to eat some ice cream so we went in one of those small local shops we always passed by which was always filled with people. We were lucky to snag a free table. I ordered some Nutella ice cream and café latte while he had an espresso and pistachio ice cream. Again, my money was worthless as he paid for our dessert. The ice cream was too rich and creamy for me (and didn’t taste anything like Nutella) so I gave the rest to him, which he willingly ate. I also didn’t finish my coffee and he kept teasing me I had a tiny stomach.

 

We then headed out and walked around different small side streets. He knew his way around since he had already been there. Even though we didn’t have a fixed destination and kind of just let our feet drag us wherever it wanted, our eyes just simply enjoyed the view while enjoying each other’s company. Passed by parks and buildings and even the Bridge of Peace (still gorgeous even at night) until finally at around midnight, we made our way back to the hotel.  


Vacationista: Tbilisi, Georgia Day 2 (Shota Rustaveli, In the shadow of Metekhi)

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At about 7am, I woke up and got dressed. I planned to use this time – before work becomes unbearable – to see the surrounding area in the early morning. It was as gorgeous as it was at night, and this is only from the limited things I already saw the night before. I only walked back and forth Shota Rustaveli since I had to be back at the hotel for breakfast with my teammates. But during that short time, I was able to see a lot and with my trusty selfie stick with tripod, was able to capture a few ‘pwede na’ touristy photos. 


Just look at the crowded streets… not! So gorgeous! It was absolutely divine walking around. I think I only passed by 10 people in total for the hour long walk, which made it possible for me to take photos without being self-conscious.


My favorite shot would be of this museum. I was never able to visit it afterwards but I’ve become that kind of person who enjoys the outside architecture of a building more than seeing what’s inside, though of course, what’s inside is also good. 


Also passed by the distinct-looking opera house which looked a bit shabby for an opera/ production house but as they say, never judge a book by its cover. Will share on my next post how the inside of the opera house looked like. Spoiler alert: it was glorious.


Here and there were pretty walls, pretty gates, pretty buildings, pretty concrete. Pretty everything! Couldn’t stop snapping my camera! 


I also love the way Tbilisi Marriott looked like! So old Europe like! Too bad it wasn’t available for our meeting dates. 


I passed by a small church and though it was closed, saw a man outside praying. I love the ceiling and wall painting.


A colleague told me that there’s a nearby Carrefour supermarket, which had a lot of options and items, so I tried to search for it only to end up at some park and a line of stores. I even reached the famous Freedom Square just looking for the elusive supermarket.


Heading back to the hotel, I dropped by the nearby Smart supermarket and grabbed some items I thought were interesting. Saw some hug red chiles, fresh peaches (yey!) and even a liter sized beer! Heavy drinkers would find heaven here. 


Goods were pretty cheap, ranging from 2.5 Gel for chocolate bars. I still wanted to visit Carrefour so I didn’t buy a lot from here. I only spent about 32 gel for everything. 


Bought 3 biscuits (1 gel each), 3 chocolate bars (2.75 gel each), 2 packs of coffee (because the packaging was so quaint, I think 2 gel each), 2 boxes of wafer (2.5 gel each), 3 boxes of chocolate-covered plum, apricot and fig (4 gel each) and 3 packs of random chips (1.5 gel each).


Before heading back to the hotel, I walked by the other side of Shota Rustaveli and aside from the huge bicycle, saw some interesting graffiti and more pretty buildings.


Back at the hotel, I had breakfast with the team. As with most of my work trips, our strategy when it comes to eating is to have a heavy breakfast at the start of the day so that we’d still be full during lunch (so no need to go out and just simply work), then if time permits, have a quick dinner out. I was ecstatic with all the fresh salmon available! Just look at that pile! 


Seriously, I think I ate the salmon + cream cheese + lettuce + tomato in a croissant combo every single day. Haha! Fresh orange juice was also divine. I had it everyday for more Vitamin C and to combat bad bacteria.


After breakfast, one full day of work commenced until we realized it was already night. For today, since our big boss arrived from his flight, we decided to have dinner at this special restaurant called ‘In the Shadow of Metehki’ which boasted of good food, wonderful ambiance and amazing Georgian song and dance performances. Good thing one of my colleagues absolutely loves Georgia that she was our unofficial tour guide who made the arrangements beforehand. According to her, we got lucky since usually the restaurant is jam packed but they were able to get us a table for 6.


Getting there was a bit of an adventure since our driver got lost, even after my Russian speaking colleague explained the location to him beforehand. So when we got lost, we had to call our Russian speaking colleague (who was in the other car) and then she’d talk to the driver. After much discussion, we finally arrived at the restaurant. It was so pretty and was overloking the city! 



My colleague started ordering all the classic delicacies, similar to what we had last night since we wanted our boss to try all the best Georgian dishes. We had 3 different kinds of khachapuri (tarragon and two others), grilled trout (no photo again!), pates, fresh salad, grilled meat, beef stew and chicken in milk sauce. Food was great as always. Grateful too that our boss insisted on paying for our meal.


Once we were done ordering food and wine, at about 8pm, the staff suddenly broke out into a series of song and dance performances. First performers were dressed up as waiters, which was probably why they didn’t want to take our orders beforehand! Haha! They were all so good! 


As you can see in the photos, they had a very lively dancing, which was difficult to capture. So nice to see and hear Georgian dances and songs.


After a while, we headed back to the hotel without finishing all of the performances since it was already late and we needed to work tomorrow.

Vacationista: Tbilisi, Georgia Day 0

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Me and the rest of the advance team’s flight was on a Wednesday night so I still went to work during the morning till lunch time. Stayed at the NAIA 3 Business Lounge until it was time for us to fly. I was pleasantly shocked by how nice Turkish Airlines’ (TK) Business Class was. The past Business Class flights I’ve been on were Thai Airways and Cathay Pacific but both were not as nice as TK’s. 


Leg room was huge, there was in-flight wifi, the seat converted to a bed was the most comfortable I’ve been on, they had a pseudo-candlelight dinner, an in-flight chef, lots of good entertainment choices and the restroom was spacious and even had real plants inside. The fake light and real plants are shallow additions, I know, but come on? Nice touches, right?


Food, both dinner and breakfast, is as good as airplane food can be. I did enjoy the fish, which I usually order when traveling since I don’t want to be bloated in the middle of the air. Tried the Turkish coffee which was so strong, I only took one sip. 


We had a one hour transit in Istanbul which wasn’t enough to actually do anything but wait, which was fine with me since I didn’t want to get too tired. Upon getting into the place, drinks and food again welcomed us. Haha! Loved the tiniest salt and pepper containers I’ve seen. Wanted to steal them (I didn’t though). 


After a series of movies and a good night’s rest, we were finally in Tbilisi, Georgia. Looking out the plane windows, Georgia had a lot of unoccupied land. I think they only have 4 million people in the country, same number as the people in Manila. Haha!


Saw two interesting things at the airport. First was a passenger who individually wrapped her handbags. Why she didn’t buy a luggage instead, I will never know. I then saw her being interviewed at customs, because well, small checked in bags can get suspicious. Outside, there was huge gold, snail-like building. Pretty. 


The moment I stepped foot outside the airport and breathed in the cool fresh air, I knew I was going to absolutely love my stay here, even though I would be in the midst of work stress and lots of meeting arrangements. For starters, the weather was sunny but the temperature was cool and nice. Such a great change from Manila’s harsh sun and humidity. The architecture of the buildings and the uniqueness of the stores were so beautiful to look at, very similar to European buildings (though some would think Georgia is part of Europe, most Georgians would still associate as Asians). There was little traffic and people were scarce. Later on I’d find out that goods and food were affordable and delish. If I could identify one negative thing about Tbilisi is that people smoked anywhere, including inside of cars, taxis and even in the mall. Other than this, I knew I was already falling for Tbilisi. 


We stayed at Radisson Blu Iveria because that was where our meetings would be held. It was the perfect location, right near Shota Rustaveli avenue which was lined up with gorgeous old buildings, museums, the opera house and tiny shops, cafes and restaurants. Hotel was close enough to walk to tourist spots such as the Old Tbilisi Town where most souvenir shops, clubs and bars were. Plus, it was right beside Smart supermarket, Dunkin Donuts and Wendy’s fast food as well as the Museum of Modern Arts and the famous big metal bicycle overlooking the city. In front was a majestic view of the mountains.


View from my rooms (rooms because I had my first room changed) was so pretty – the pool, the Mtkvari river, the streets. It helped me relax after a full day’s work for a week. 


Room was basic, which I loved. I mentioned before how I don’t enjoy staying in a humongous, too glamourous type of room, since it feels empty and un-homey. So I was glad this room was the standard, business room. I loved how they had a cushion lining up the windows (so you can stare outside while thinking about what in the world are you going to do with your life). I also find their characters interesting, very loopy, unlike Russian characters which are more triangular-ish, if that makes sense.


After settling in our rooms and still being full from all the plane food we ate, we went straight to work and only stopped for dinner. Will share in my next post what happened next.

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.”