Archive for the ‘ travel ’ Category

Open City, Intramuros, Walled City, Manila…

P_20180116_134215This heritage spot has varied nicknames, seen varied colonizers, has been bombed, has burnt to ashes, has been rebuilt, has been a place to teach foreigners the past of the Filipinos. It was built by the Spaniards in the 16th century. I wouldn’t be caught wandering around past 11pm here. I’ve accepted it has many ghosts, so I don’t want them triggered.


I once worked at the Ilustrado Restaurant, a famous restaurant here, as a food taster. Well, sort of. My editor in a previous gig took me under her wing when she worked here, so back then, I was tasting new menu picks, writing PR kits, ushering the TV presenters, coordinating the photo shoots of food and writing the text for Ilustrado’s recipe-postcards.

It was a 9 to 5 job, my day off was on Sundays. I worked in a tourist-y block, so on my lunch break I would wander into the nearby art handicraft store Silahis Center, with the art gallery within, Galleria de las Islas.

El Amenecer    Silahis CenterP_20180116_120217P_20180116_120821P_20180116_120932

Or walk down the road to Manila Cathedral to hear mass. Since my job was fulltime, I rarely walked on the actual walls, and if ever there was a friend visiting or a play to watch, I always headed straight for the Fort Santiago citadel.

Manila Cathedral  Manila Cathedral

P_20180116_124506Plaza Roma   Plaza de Roma

Fort Santiago

Fort SantiagoRizal Shrine Dr. Jose Rizal, National heroFort Santiago

I had my own history with this place, but more recently, I just wanted to walk the perimeter wall. If I hadn’t decided to walk the wall, the top parts, I would never have discovered that some parts of it are seriously worn out and some of the top parts are closed off and you can’t walk it completely.


I began my 2018 walk within the walls of Intramuros here in the area of Baluarte de Dilao, that area beside the universities of Mapua and Lyceum. On top of the wall, there are many original cannons. And the ramps leading to them are the ravelins that aided the transport of platoons, cannons and ammunition on the fortress.P_20180116_114005


Having climbed off the Baluarte de Dilao, I continued to walk within the walls towards Muralla Street, that area known as the  Baluarte de San Andres. A few steps along the street and I climbed onto another part of the top of the wall.


Then I walked off this wall again to walk towards the next university, Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila to reach Revellin de Real de Bagumbayan and Puerta Real, both built in 1663, used exclusively by the Governor-General for state occasions, according to a site marker in that spot of the wall.

Destroyed during the British invasion, 1762, rebuilt in 1780. Transformed during the American occupation into the Manila Aquarium. Used as prison cells during the Japanese occupation and subsequently damaged in the Battle of Manila 1945. The youth in this photo is my godson, who was with me to explore.


We skipped Plaza Real Gardens to return to the top of the wall on Baluartillo de San Jose, the one beyond the gated part. Curiously, this next spot was where US Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters were during the American occupation.

As the Japanese were bombarding Intramuros heavily, Gen. MacArthur was the one who decided that Manila be demilitarized, then he declared Manila an Open City, in December 1941.


We walked a lot in the four hours we were within the wall. Bring water to hydrate. We did. But you can see the rain clouds in the above photo that made us quit our walk suddenly. Note that we didn’t join any of those 10-20 US$ tourist group walks. You can get by using this blog, if you have less than a full day.

I was aware of the Manila Biennale Open City 2018 (scheduled February 3- March 5) passport tours, but it’s not for me. It’s very expensive, 3-5k pesos I think. Anyway, that was it for the day, we walked out through the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila Gate, crossed via the underpass and saw the monument dedicated to the Philippine Revolution against Spain waged by Andres Bonifacio (shown wielding a bolo).












My year-ender: 2017’s GOAT (Greatest of all travels). Did you go to these places also? Let’s talk.

Let’s keep 2018 movin’ by being grateful for my 2017 destinations: Yangon, Sagada, Boracay, Hong Kong, Macau, Quezon Province, (Calatagan) Batangas Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Laiya (Batangas). It was my first time ever in Yangon, Sagada and Penang. I love those who were with me on the road and those who fed us and showed us around! A big thank you to all the people who viewed, liked, subscribed, shared, commented on my travel vlogs the past two months. Blessings to all of you here! ^ – ^

Happy 2018!

The holidays were filled with warm greetings from family and friends. You could glimpse that through the Tagaytay brunch I documented in the above Youtube travel vlog. For our annual bff get together, we went for a loooooong ride, owing to the holiday traffic, to windy city Tagaytay.

On the way to the center of Tagaytay, we picked up a few tubs of ube at the Good Shepherd. The ultraviolet dessert was a hit with my nephews and nieces when I shared it with them!

If you watched the vlog, you’d notice I was wearing a fleece-lined jacket. Aside from the winds associated with Tagaytay weather, it was extra-cold (20-23 degrees celsius) because it was drizzling. That’s why I looked “fatter” wearing my hooded fleece jacket.

We had lunch (which was originally planned as breakfast) at Tagaytay, in a place called Crosswinds. The downside to the area was that it didn’t have the pretty view of the volcano, it was on the side without the usual view. Thin fog rolled in when we got there. Good thinking on my part for bundling up.

It was a surprise, walking into Cafe Voi La’s interiors. Was I in Morocco? That was immediately what hit me. However, the aural experience did not match the Moroccan vibe given off by deep colored lamps, seat cushions and red wood. They had a radio channel playing in the entire restaurant.

If you watched my Youtube vlog, you’ll see the many eye-popping details of the Cafe Voi La’s decor. And that’s not just describing the traditional Christmas tree by the door that made you feel so at home.

There’s a glass cabinet with decorative cocktail glasses. There’s a huge center table with curios on display. Butterflies, colorful ceramic stuff, coin collections, etc. Add to that the hanging lamps in deep jewel hues.

I ordered a bacon and mushroom omelette with toast. I was so happy I ordered that. My dish arrived with a plump omelette and not just ordinary toasted bread! It came with french toast! My favorite kind!

Their red velvet cake slice was huge. And sweetened just right. It was rich. I was already tasting dessert, the red velvet cake, when I realized they had forgotten to bring my order of softdrink, which I requested they cancel. It was supposed to arrive with the main course. Too late.

I wouldn’t say I was in a hurry, but as I mentioned, the intention was to eat breakfast and my bffs had underestimated the traffic, one had even scheduled a mid-afternoon meeting in Manila. So, we weren’t matching the somehow turtle-ish pace of the resto’s service.

I’d come back to this resto even if it’s a tad pricey. I mean, red velvet cake, and that unforgettable morsel of french toast! Maybe on a not-so-busy, not-so-Christmas rush time of the year. It’s a quiet and hip spot in touristy Tagaytay which managed to make the three of us feel the Christmas spirit.

This Tagaytay blog should be out in the New Year, so Happy 2018 my dear ones and thank you for supporting my wordpress blog here. And I’ll be dropping more travel posts about the Philippines here.

And since I’ve been traveling not just around the Philippines, but also in new places outside, you can see that on my Youtube channel, just go to Youtube and type in Onnah Valera and click on my travel vlogs abroad (Kuala Lumpur, Penang Malaysia).



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Chillin’ at Villa Escudero

Villa Escudero straddles the border of Laguna and Quezon provinces south of Manila. The entire place is owned and managed by the Escudero family. The motif includes rural life in the Philippines, Castilian and turn of the century collections both local and foreign. You have to see it yourself.

Since 2008 when I last visited, they no longer allow cameras into the pink church/gallery of collections. The collection contained in the church/gallery is virtually a hodgepodge. Stuffed animals and petrified butterflies and insects above, life-sized Catholic saints below. However. it’s not accurate to say they’ve put the heavyweight articles on display on the first floor and the lightweight ones on the balcony, because there’s a vintage deep-sea diving suit and helmet which resembles an astronaut’s gear rather than a diver’s up there. It looks as if it might weigh a ton (Sealab 2020, an animated TV show decades ago, had this aqua gear).

The pink church looks Castilian, but the garden in front of the church seems Victorian in contrast.

The carabao, named Madonna, pulls this thing on which guests travel from one area to the next in this vast place. Guests are assisted by Filipino-costumed usherettes.

One of the usherettes sat beside the guitar man who played familiar Filipino folk songs, some I learned as a kindergarten student. You half expect these two musicians (the usherette sings the melody) to play Filipino love songs and then end up surprised that you know the tune and some of the lyrics of their songs, so I ended up singing second voice.

You get to Villa Escudero presumably hungry so they have a Filipino buffet al fresco dining, feet dipped in water falling from a man-made dam. Some tables are sufficiently covered by leaves of trees, but the part where a waterfall forms, is uncovered. The current from the waterfall is gentle but the area is very slippery so it makes sense actually to wear aqua shoes to lunch.

The right side is where the one buffet table is situated, so there’s quite a long line, but you can go back to the table for more food. No spoons and forks, you get chopsticks. You may also want to bathe beneath the waterfall, or skip doing that and just opt to go swimming in their pool.

We went rafting in the man-made lake that fed the waterfall. It looked easy to maneuver the bamboo rafts, but the execution was harder than we thought. Technique was still necessary to be able to paddle away from the platform and get the raft back. The men who handed us paddles and life jackets did not provide the technique so we had to figure it out before we melted under the heat of the noon sun.  Oh by the way, those lakeside huts are for rent in case you want to stay longer than the usual day trip.

P.S. I’ve watermarked my photos here with O.V. as the owner of these images for my Villa Escudero blog.


Look! The boondocks in Bontoc are alive

P_20170309_164431On my maiden sojourn up to Sagada, on the 10th hour of the epic bus trip up Mountain Province, I woke up to this surreal fog-covered, dream-like area. There was a pit stop, and the bus pulled over a vegetable slash convenience store that served hot coffee. It was freezing when I got off the bus to see what was veiled in this mist. But I was tentative, what if I was unknowingly walking straight off a cliff?

Insert commercial here. P_20170310_152112

Fresh broccoli is dirt-cheap in Bontoc. A kilo goes for less than a dollar, or Php 40. The freshness of the produce there is unmatched anywhere else in the country, owing to the crisp cool climate. The veggies they grow and sell are carrots, cucumbers, cauliflowers, lettuce, etc. And when you live in extremely rugged regions like Bontoc, you can’t climb terraces or slopes without consuming vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables. I will also offer an observation that the locals’ complexion shows how veggies make their faces glow.

Anyway, Bontoc was more of a pit stop than a destination on my recent trip, but, I gotta share here some wonderful photos I took that left me in awe of this vast realm of rice terraces, raging rivers and fog-covered mountain roads. I call it an enigma. Not the name of the place, because Bontoc simply comes from the word buntuk meaning a place surrounded by mountains. You can feel the power of the place. Bontoc, unlike the nearby environs of Sagada, Benguet and Banawe may not be talked about often, but just skimming the ridges of the place, really gets you into a Marlboro country slash Lord of the Rings mood. I did say Bontoc is an enigma, so I’ll end the text here, like I won’t talk, so you can see Bontoc for yourself.