travel

Marcela Agoncillo Historical Landmark in Taal, Batangas

I visited the house of Marcela Agoncillo, the woman who is known to Filipinos as the person who made the first and official flag of the first Philippine Republic.

Ideally, that’s a good start.

A group of teens entered the Marcela Agoncillo Historical Landmark and upon seeing the statue fashioned after Marcela sewing the flag, a visiting teenage girl squeaked: “the flag was made here?!” Examining the statue some more and glancing back at her companions she once again exclaimed: “the flag was made here?!” I exhaled heavily and silently exited the crime scene.

Nonetheless, the house is beautiful and the ambiance leaves you exclaiming questions that would (like the teenage girl) lead you back in time. It is located in the old, historical town of Taal, Batangas and open from Wednesday to Sunday from 8:30 A.M. to 4:30 P.M.

I took these photos, you be the judge.

The first Philippine flag made by Marcela Agoncillo was unfurled in May 28, 1898 at the Teatro Caviteño in Cavite Nuevo (now Cavite City) when it used as Aguinaldo’s standard in the Battle of Alapan. The reason for the country’s annual celebration of the Philippine National Flag Day.

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We Love Batad!

From Sampaloc, Manila, we took an overnight (Ohayami) bus that left at 9:00 PM (August 20) going to the municipality of Banaue, traversing a series of cliffside roads up North. The roads are long, winding, rough, wet (due to rains this time of the year), and risky. We arrived at around 8:00 AM the next day (Thursday), had breakfast overlooking the Banaue rice terraces, found a special trip (shared with 6 backpackers) at noon to visit the Batad rice terraces, a UNESCO-declared World Heritage.

Spent the night in Batad, slept in a traditional Ifugao house (with the convenience of modernity: a mattress). Pounded rice manually. Hiked up to the highest view point of the Batad ampitheatre terraces. Witnessed a huge rock mountain landslide that sounded like thunderstorms. Hiked back to the Jeepney joint and took a jeep back to Banaue to spend the night there before going to Sagada the morning after.

Sagada was a good 3-hour trip with endless exhilarating scenery. Food choices were the best we’ve had in the trip so far. I devoured a home-made yoghurt. We arrived at around noon of Saturday, spent the whole afternoon sampling food, exploring the streets of Sagada on our own, and admiring the limestone formations and pine trees that generally define the landscape of this charming, isolated, and artsy mountain town.

Tough, rough, exquisite nature. E-x-q-u-i-s-i-t-e!

Exploring More of Dumaguete, Philippines

Some days I get excited at the prospect of discovering new stories, I think about finding my way to new destinations, imagine the beauty of nature, taste local delicacies i.e. some days, I wake-up really excited about traveling. Rightfully so because traveling takes us places as beautiful as the province of Negros Oriental.

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Who wouldn’t want to be a witness to this? A common sight in Sibulan, Negros Oriental. A rural community on the mountainside located just beside the capital city of Dumaguete.

Us, Burburs, took a Cebu Pacific flight from Manila to Dumaguete City, we booked a promo ticket online last April. Upon our arrival at Sibulan airport (popularly known as Dumaguete airport), we rode the local transport – a tricycle for PhP40.00. We asked kuya (aka driver) to take us to the motorbike rental. Another kuya (in-charge of the motorbike rental) asked for an ID deposit + PhP300  for 24 hours rental. After dropping by the gas station, we used the motorbike to look for a hostel. The search led us to a backpacker’s hostel that cost PhP800 per night for an airconditioned room with double bed. We took a quick shower and went out for dinner:

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We devoured our dinner at Lab-as restaurant located on the other end of Rizal boulevard. Lab-as is bisaya for “fresh,” and bisaya is a Filipino language widely spoken in Negros Oriental (Visayas & Mindanao at large).

Now, imagine a live band serenades you as you eat your fresh seafood while you look at the moon by the seaside. That was our Friday night in Dumaguete. Before  going about how even more brilliant the day that followed, we could never let our first night in the “City of Gentle People” end without trying these famous Dumaguete delicacies:

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Sans Rival. Did you know that this pastry name is French? The term translates as “without rival” (sans /sah/ is without, rival /reeval/ has the same meaning as the English word rival). According to one story, the recipe of Sans Rival was taken to the Philippines by some students who came back from France. Sans Rival’s origin can be traced to the French pastry called daquoise.

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Silvanas. The object of everyone’s craving, or at least of my friends who couldn’t resist asking for this as their “pasalubong”.

The next day, the Burburs woke up with a few more pounds and extra determination to explore the province. On the (non-food) itinerary was Balinsasayao Twin Lakes in Sibulan. The sights going to our main destination didn’t disappoint.

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The Philippine’s national animal: carabao (kalabaw, karabaw) seen here taking a well-deserved siesta during early afternoon. A rice farmer’s bestfriend, the carabao plows the field for rice planting that starts at the rainy season, then and now.

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Acacia trees, one of the many beautiful trees that line up the roads leading to the Twin Lakes.

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Wild flowers.

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And some more colorful wild flowers.

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The Burburs at the entrance of the Balinsasayao Lake. Fee is 100 pesos for foreigners (the Bur at the back riding the motorcycle) and 10 pesos for locals (the big-faced Bur infront). Motorcycle is always our preferred means of transportation in exploring the countryside.

Our Negros adventures shall continue…

Dolphins Showing Up Without a Memo in Negros Oriental, Philippines

One of the dive masters shouted “dulpin!”, he pointed at the far horizon and made a hand gesture intended for the boat captain.

I was busy looking at people napping on the boat.
Two Korean guys infront of me were both tall and lean donning the same hairstyle and were in almost identical napping position, a middle-aged Taiwanese couple beside me looked very deep into slumber as the wife’s head rested comfortably on her seated husband’s lap. Their two teenager boys, meanwhile, were silently sleeping (as opposed to their only other state: wide-awake bickering) at the boat’s upper deck.

Either I was too preoccupied or I hardly understood the context of what the dive master was saying. Until moments later, everybody rushed towards the front edge of the boat and the dolphins became visible under the clear, deep blue waters of Dauin, Negros Oriental.

There must’ve been a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand dolphins alternately half-circling on and off the water surface! I couldn’t count, of course, all I know is that they were all over the sea. Some dolphins were staying closer to one another, most of those within our very limited view of them were noticeably staying in small groups as if racing with each other and those staying close to our boat, racing with our captain. My good guess is that there’s one important trait Filipinos and dolphins share: our love to entertain! That impromptu dolphin show was nothing short of magical.

An Overview of Sabang, Puerto Galera, Philippines

I’ve been to Puerto Galera’s local tourist destination of White Beach a couple of times but this was my first visit to Sabang beach. Now, Sabang is quite known to be frequented by foreigner tourists and a notorious hook-up place for old men and Filipina girls. But I never really let hearsay precede my judgment so off I went and here’s a snippet of what I saw:

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Tranquil scenery abounds in Sabang.

But the rumor, too, I found to be true. On the coast (albeit small area) of Sabang, a few steps from the island’s pier is the filthy beat that thrives day in and day out. Clubs that come alive early evenings are reminiscent of Filipino action movies in the 1990s (patay-sindi scenes without the police raids). Girls on stage gyrating their almost naked bodies on a pole, old white men, not-so-old Asian men. Skimpy-dressed, teenager-looking girls in full make-up chatting while munching on green mangoes, aged women falling into short naps along the sidewalk next to their makeshift stores. And on our way back to the hostel is a staple sight of a forsaken woman talking to herself, her back leaning on a huge stone. Kids flank the shore in early afternoons chasing small crabs, some swimming on the shallow, clear water, and little boys swinging by the locally-made boats’ wooden fins.

After a good snorkel, I seated at our hostel’s bar contemplating Sabang’s prostitution industry over two glasses of mango daiquiri cocktail (happy hour is buy one take one!) when the bartender told me an interesting trivia: prostitution is legal in Sabang. Seventy (70) percent of the island’s population is female and half of that is in the business of prostitution. It is a profession if we mean government-registered for purpose of taxation and regulation; prostitutes are required to have tests for sexual diseases every other week.  Jaw-dropping, really, if you take into consideration the backdrop of a conservative Catholic country who couldn’t even pass a decent reproductive bill because the Catholic church thinks population control is immoral and the only valid contraception is abstinence.

Prostitution is a moral issue, I agree, but I doubt one’s disgust has a teeny dint of space in a highly profitable industry that is as old as time. At the very least, the local government’s independence (or escape) from the moral dictates of the Filipino Catholic church is impressive. Liberal, brave, ground-breaking are a few other adjectives I could think of to describe a local government unit in the Philippines. We live in changing times, fellow countrymen!

Upnext: Diving and Other Travel Expenses in Sabang, Puerto Galera. Because diving is yet another side to the Sabang story. sabang fish

Honey, I Shrunk The Netherlands!

WARNING: Seeing these photos is like seeing The Netherlands in the flesh! Have fun!

Fast Facts About the Dutch
>The average height for all adults for the Netherlands is 6′ 1″ (1.85 m). WiseGeek.
>In the last 150 years, the Dutch have become the tallest people on Earth. USA Today, 2006.
>The president of the Dutch Tall People’s Club is 6′ 11″, Paul van Sprundel. ABC News.
>The current minimum required height for doorways to homes and businesses is 7′ 8″. WiseGeek.
>A Dutch guy, Berger, stayed with us in Gent, Belgium for a couple of days and he was taller than Yoann who is already 6′ 1″ in height. Once Berger and I were walking and I realized how tall he really was because I couldn’t hear what he was saying and his voice sounded so faraway!
>The Dutch loves the color orange. Don’t ask why!

Be a Giant for a Day!
So wouldn’t it be nice to be a giant in the land of giants for a change? If you think so, too, visit Madurodam. It holds miniature versions of places around The Netherlands (NL), such as the Schiphol airport, the International Peace Palace, the Cube building in Rotterdam, Royal palaces, castles, the wonderful Dutch bridges and canals, iconic windmills, old buildings, theatres, museums, churches, and a lot more. The replicas look SO real and so beautiful. NL is truly a wonderful mix of the old and the new. I went and was treated by my cousin Mark back in 2011 (some good experiences in great places last!). It was a mere 20-minute tram ride from my student dormitory and had no idea the place existed. Thanks for taking me to this wonderful place and for these wonderful photos, kuya!








Strasbourg is Christmas Capital

The Christmas Tree
Strasbourg is pretty much known around here for Christmas. I was informed a few times, and enthusiastically each time that it’s the Christmas Capital. I normally reply with an overly flexed face to show excitement to make up for my very limited French vocabulary, yet once I finally asked, “Christmas capital of what – du quoi?,” the question bothered me from the very start. “Just the Christmas Capital,” Julien, an Alsacian born and raised in Strasbourg, said with a shrugand his usual air of nonchalance. And that’s the short story behind why Strasbourg is the Christmas Capital, period.

It was finally in Strasbourg one December weekend that I realized how my question simply merited a shrug. The city is in full Christmas bling swing and one simply steps into the plaza to be transported to the heart of Noël – the Christmas tree, one illuminated, unimposing, huge Alsacian sapin. What follows is the starting line for the famed Strasbourg Christmas market, the oldest one in France and the largest in the world. Ahhh, c’est bien ça!

The Christmas Market
During winter, Christmas markets are in every towns and villages in Alsace, the North East region from France (right on the border with Germany). The capital city of the region, Strasbourg and its Christmas market, draws in about 2 million visitors each year. The market sprawls in the town center periphery, sometimes bundled up in spacious (mini plaza-like) areas and sometimes making up a stretch of temporarily set-up wooden stalls called chalet mushrooming along the streets. Did you know that this market started in 1570? The earliest Christmas market, however, started way back. The oldest one in the world is recorded to be in Munich, Germany first held in 1310. Meanwhile, Vienna’s “December market” was traced back to 1294, but only became a “Christmas Market” in later years.

n the Strasbourg Christmas market, one can find traditional and artisan products such as spice bread, bretzels, confectionery, pastries and mulled wine on offer. From here you can also find and buy your real Christmas tree and be able to choose from a huge selection of tinsels, Christmas baubles and other trimmings to decorate your tree and home. If you are thinking Christmas Bazaar, this is indeed it.

You might be interested to know how much this whole festivity costs. Let me tell you then that the city spends $3.3 million for the holiday preparations and decorations each year and is said to maintain this investment level. Why? Because the period from the last weekend of November to Christmas generates more than $210 million in benefits for Strasbourg. Oh la la!

Hot Wine and Nutella Crepes
Roaming around the Christmas market is never complete without stopping by a chalet that sells mulled or hot wine or vin chaud, another Christmas season staple. Since the weather can be very cold, more or less 5 degrees Celsius when I was there on 13-16 December 2013, people drink this traditional recipe to warm up. One cannot miss it in the Christmas market, just follow the smell of cinnamon in the air. It normally is the more crowded chalet and juste à côté would be the crepe stall, go grab one with the Nutella spread. This ensemble tops my favorite Christmas market festivity list. If you are not anywhere near these Christmas markets, try making the crepes yourself with this simple recipe by yours truly, and this promises to be a vin chaud recipe from the Alsace region itself.

“When the switch was thrown in here to signal the start of the holiday season, 2.75 miles of streets strung with 38,000 feet of cable flashing 35,000 bulbs confirmed Strasbourg as France’s Christmas capital. Nowhere else in France – not even in Paris – is Christmas celebrated with the natural conviction, respect for ceremony, and generosity of spirit that it is here.”

“Nowhere else in the world!,” declares ze Couz.

So You Want To Be in Europe?

Paris, France. July 2013.

How to Get to Europe: A Sober Answer to a Very Tricky Question

When I’m asked how much it costs to travel in Europe, the first thing I say is that when I went back to the Philippines in May 2011, my Cathay Pacific ticket from Paris-Manila, Manila-Paris cost €600. Converted to Philippine peso – PhP32,238.06 is quite an affordable rate considering it’s Europe and the mere sound of it is very far. Like when I say I’m from the Philippines and a European would think I’m from a far, far away land.

Transportation is Key

Next, I would say it depends on the duration of the trip and how many countries one would want to visit. From where I (used to) live (Ghent, Belgium) for example, it only takes 51 minutes to reach Lille (France), 2 hours 16 minutes to be in Amsterdam (The Netherlands), 2 hours 50 minutes to Paris (France), 2 hours 37 minutes to Cologne (Germany), and 3 hours 48 minutes to London (United Kingdom). My overnight bus trips from Manila to Bicol took longer, indeed. But it’s not only about the distance, it’s primarily about accessibility – the means of public transport and transport facilities.One can travel around Europe quite easily by car or by bus, faster by train, and fastest by airplane. Cars run up to 110-130 KPH speed limit on the highway (depending on the country), while some German highways are “speed-free” where you can go as fast as your car can. I just got started and easily I’d get carried away. It’s the same enthusiasm I hold when I tell Europeans about Philippines and our neighboring Asian countries. Both worlds are just so different and awesome in their own ways.

The Biggest Secret is to Book Ahead

At this point, I’d figure the question was originally intended for a small talk so I’d quickly conclude my litany by saying that a good trip from Manila to Europe via Paris or Amsterdam requires at least a pocket money of €1,000 (PhP53,730.10) to visit a minimum of 3 European countries (more cities/countries would logically mean more expenses) in two weeks, all senses inclusive – see, hear, taste, smell, feel Europe. Food, drinks and museum passes take a chunk of the budget here so backpackers should make it with around €600. Meanwhile, all the nitty gritty details you can read in my previous and future posts in the blog for free.This budget ONLY applies to a carefully-planned Eurotrip, wherein bookings are made at least 6 months before. There are also tons of tour packages one can avail of for a lesser price. If not, then forget it. But then again, why would you come to Europe and spend your hard-earned money on a dream trip without a plan, right?

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Right.

Albufeira, Portugal. September 2012.

Albufeira, Portugal. September 2012.

Belem, Portugal. September 2012.

Lisbon, Portugal. September 2012.

Florence, Italy. November 2011.

Florence, Italy. November 2011.

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Pisa, Italy. November 2011.

Lund, Sweden. September 2011.

Lund, Sweden. September 2011.

Carlsberg Museum @ Copenhagen, Denmark. September 2011.

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Prague, Czech Republic. May 2011.

Budapest, Hungary. May 2011.

Budapest, Hungary. May 2011.

Budapest, Hungary. May 2011.

Budapest, Hungary. May 2011.

Keukenhof Tulip Gardens, Netherlands. May 2011.

Keukenhof Tulip Gardens, Netherlands. May 2011.

Paris, France. December 2010.

Paris, France. December 2010.

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The Netherlands, September 2010.