Ciao, Roma!

Every turn on the streets of Rome will lead you to fountains and churches. There's really a lot of things to see and do at what was once a great empire.

Soulful Seoul

Seoul is full of soul when it becomes dramatic during Autumn!

Temple run!

The secret to enjoying Angkor Wat's famed temples now revealed!

Spring blossoms

One of the best times to mount that trip to Japan is during Spring when cherry blossoms abound!

Oui, Paris!

More than the Eiffel Tower, there's so many things to see and do in this dream destination.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Post card from Japan: Cherry blossoms in Kyoto!



Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto, Japan

Spring is here, and the cherry blossoms or sakura season is upon us. Hurray! I'm sure a lot of you bitten by the travel bug and wanderlust are heading to Boston, Seoul, Taipei, or in many parts of Japan such as Osaka, Tokyo, or Kyoto.

I've got to experience the latter three in Japan and I should say, I can't imagine Japan without the sakura, that being my first time in the country!

There are numerous places in Japan to best enjoy the pinkish-whitish glow of cherry blossoms, be it through plain sight-seeing or through a hanami or picnic under the sakura trees -- at the grounds of Osaka Castle; the Philosopher's Walk, Kawaramachi Avenue, and Gion in Kyoto. I tell you, no matter how well-trodden these places are, taking selfies here could yield to hundreds of likes on Facebook or Instagram!


But the place depicted in this photo is not in the travel guides. I've just chanced upon this corner by the creek coming from Kawaramachi Station and crossing the Kamo River while walking towards my hostel a couple of blocks from there, to the direction of Kyoto Station.

I don't remember the name of the street but looking at it from Google Maps, the exact spot is right in front of Cafe Kano, with address 785 Nishihashizumechō, Shimogyō-ku, Kyōto-shi, Kyōto-fu 600-8029, Japan.

I just want to say, that to best enjoy the cherry blossoms, you should also be open to other places that you might chance upom where the cherry blossoms are as beautiful. 

P.S.:
I was travelling alone. How was I able to take a picture of myself? I mounted my DSLR camera on my folding bike!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Cherry blossoms in Japan on a budget

CHERRY BLOSSOMS OR SAKURA at the old rail tracks in Kyoto.

It’s springtime once again and my countrymen stricken with wanderlust are off to their new-found favourite destination at this time of year – JAPAN!

Well it’s really understandable why: apart from the fact that Japan is just about four hours by plane from Manila, and the Japanese embassy in the Philippines has relaxed its visa restrictions for Filipinos, the springtime spectacle in Japan that is the Sakura or the cherry blossoms is simply irresistible.

For the tropical fish that I am, who’s not too familiar with the changing of vegetation (as we only have to seasons here in the Philippines – hot and hotter, that is!), the sight of cherry blossoms is simply surreal.

Believe me when I say that my first sighting of a cherry tree with whitish-pink blossoms at a centuries-old temple in Osaka, and the seemingly never ending rows of cherry trees along Kawaramachi St. in Kyoto is worth every cent that I have spent for this eight-day trip.

Speaking of spending, for the Filipino budget traveler, a trip to Japan could be double the price as compared to the most common destinations such as Hong Kong or Singapore. For instance, usual round trip fares to Singapore could range from P8,000-P12,000, Manila to Tokyo trips could be about P16,000. And we haven’t talked yet about the hotel rates and prices of commodities in Japan, which is way higher compared to those in the Philippines given the higher standards of living in what is deemed as the third largest economy in the world.

But based from my experience, budget of P50,000 is way too much already.

Let me share with you my eight-day Sakura-sighting trip in Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara:

Day 1: Shopping around Osaka

I went around Osaka where the trio of myself, my colleague and friend Cristina, and her hubby Martin went around for temples, shrines, and shopping and eating!

OSAKA CASTLE
The first order of the day was Osaka Castle, and rightly so. The way to the castle is already a treat  as you will be greeted with rows upon rows of cherry trees! Photo ops abound, and your choices range from the bridge, the castle grounds, or by the moat! The castle, an architectural spectacle by itself, houses a museum that tells of the rich history and culture of Osaka. Head to the topmost floor to see a 360-degree view of Osaka!

After the Castle, head to Shinsaibashi Suji, a covered arcade of stores that range from designer items, department stores, thrift shops, and what have you. We also found a hole-in-the-wall noodle shop here after attempting to talk to several Japanese wait staff from other restaurants (and failing) on the food that they serve. It’s from there that I tasted possibly the best chasu ramen ever. And oh, what did I get from an afternoon’s worth of stroll? Several pairs of socks and a couple of tops from a popular clothing chain. Martin, on the other hand, scored some sporting goods and Asics trainers for cheaps.

GIGANTIC NEON SIGNS at Dotonbori, the most notable of which is Glicos.
The rest of the evening was spent strolling around Dotonbori, which, aside from being a popular place for food tripping and shopping, is where the colourful neon signs are. Most notable among them is the Glico sign showing an image of a running man, which shines brightly over the Dotonbori River.

Day 2: Temples and more of Osaka

We’ve just continued walking around Osaka for more sightings of Sakura around temples while on our way to the other highlights of the City.

MY FRIENDS, real-life sweethearts Martin and Cristina Lazo, make a wish at the shrine.
I WAS STILL single at that time and third-wheeling with my friends. Hence, this photo.
Ohatsu Tenjin or Tsuyunoten, one of the most popular spots in Osaka, is famous for lovers as this is believed to strengthen the bond between couples. The site is where Ohatsu and Tokubei pledged their eternal love, thus prompting superstitious lovers to either put their hands on the marble fountain or buy heart-shaped ema where they are supposed to write their wishes.

UMEDA SKY BUILDING from below.

We’ve strolled around Shinsaibashi and checked out Amerikamura, another famous shopping spot, before we headed to the Umeda Sky Building, an architectural wonder in Osaka for its twin towers and a circular sky garden in between. Access to the floating garden is 700 yen. But the cheapskates that we are contented ourselves with the topmost floor that can be accessed for free where we are rewarded with photo ops at the escalator as well as shopping time for souvenirs.

Day 3: Kyoto at Night

I was alone by this time as the friends headed to Tokyo while I pushed for Kyoto.

Got the chance to see Kawaramachi Street for the long line of cherry trees while looking for my hostel.

GION AT NIGHT.
Spent the evening geisha-hunting at Gion district. Be aware, though, that geishas are not tourist attractions and they have the right to refuse to be photographed. It is impolite to just ask them to stop for photos!

Day 4: Philosopher’s Walk in the afternoon, Gion at night

Head to the Philosopher’s Walk and bask under canopies of cherry blossoms!

PHILOSOPHER'S WALK.
While at the Philosopher’s Path, check out the temples and shrines along the way, counting among them the Silver Pavilion (Ginkaku-ji). Otoyo Shrine, Honen-in, and Eikan-do Zenrin-ji. The Silver Pavilion is a must-visit for the sights and the peaceful ambience.


GINKAKU-JI, also known as the Silver Pavilion.
Walk a bit farther and you will see the Nanzen-ji temple. Still a bit farther, there’s the old rail tracks that also make for dramatic photo ops, one of the best in Kyoto during the Sakura season!

Come evening, join a walking tour of Gion (1,000 yen), perhaps the most famous geisha district in all of Kyoto aside from Ponto-cho and Miyagawa-cho. The walking tour will show you a brief history of Gion, those quaint machiya or wooden houses where geishas live, a school where geishas are being taught of the arts that they should learn, and the so-called tea houses where geishas entertain. My favourite spot in Gion is the Shirakawa Stream, which gives fans of Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha a lot of giggles, like myself.

MY FOLDING BIKE outside an okiya or machiya in Gion, those wooden structures that house geishas.
Please note that canopies of cherry blossoms are quite dramatic at night in Gion.

Day 5: A walk into the bamboo forest in Arashiyama

ARASHIYAMA'S TENRYU-JI TEMPLE.
One of the most popular spots in Kyoto is the bamboo forest in Arashiyama. From Kyoto station, Arashiyama could be a 45-minute train ride, making it a bit out-of-townish.

RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE of Arashiyama bamboo forest.
Arashiyama, however, isn’t just about the bamboo forest. From the train station, the bamboo forest itself is still quite a long walk but on the way there, one of the must-see sights is the Tenryu-ji temple, which was designated by the UNESCO as a world heritage site for having a beautiful structure, a beautiful zen garden, and for being merely old as it was erected sometime in 1255.

NONOMIYA SHRINE in Arashiyama, famous for having been mentioned in The Tale of Genji.
I also took the time to drop by the Nonomiya shrine as well as check out the commercial and eating places around Arashiyama.

KIMONO FOREST, Arashiyama, Kyoto.
Head to the so-called Kimono Forest for some photo ops with patterns of kimonos encased in acrylic pillars on display.

WANNA SEE GEISHAS in action without having to pay a fortune or the hassles of having to stalk them? Join a tea ceremony at Gion Corner before the Miyako Odori show. 
In the afternoon, head back to Gion and watch geishas in action sans the hassles! Go to Gion Corner and check out the Miyako Odori, a presentation of 50 or show geishas of dances and music, which only is only shown during springtime. Before the show, guests are treated to a tea ceremony led by two geishas, where everyone’s given matcha (Japanese green tea) and a mung bean pastry. The small ceramic plates used for eating the pastry can be taken home as a souvenir!

Day 6: Narra Day

Nara's Todaiji Temple.

THE GREAT BUDDHA inside Todaiji Temple.
Head to Narra, about an hour by bus from Kyoto station. Join the walking tour to get a sneak preview of what the place has to offer aside from the free-roaming deer!


LOOK FOR THIS PILLAR inside the Todaiji Temple and see for yourself if you're gonna fit the whole and how's your chances of entering heaven going to be.
Don’t miss the Todaiji Temple, said to be the largest wooden structure despite the fact that it was scaled down to two-thirds of its original size after being burnt down.  This is a must-see primarily for the Great Buddha housed within its walls. Check out that one pillar, the whole underneath of which is said to be the size of Buddha’s nostrils, and anyone who can pass through it is said to be eligible for entry into heaven.

THE FIVE-STORY pagoda in Nara.
Also head to the Kohfukuji Temple for the five-story pagoda beside it. It might also be of interest for anyone to check out the temple and the forest with lots of shrines for the departed, the small geisha district in Nara, the Seismic Museum for the experience of simulation of great earthquakes that hit Japan, as well the traditional stores selling Japanese pastries and biscuits on the way back to the train station.

Oh, when in Nara, enjoy the deer!

Day 7: Gion and Fushimi Iinari

MY FOLDING BIKE by the bridge over Shirakawa Stream. 
I still can’t get enough of Gion so I went back to see how the place is at day. I then took the train going to Fushimi Inari.

SOME OF THOSE vermilion-coloured torii gates at Fushimi Inari in Kyoto.
The place is full of vermillion-coloured torii gates, each one sponsored by a company or a family. The rows of torii gates extend up to the top of the mountain which is considered as a sacred site. I went on top, and even bought coffee and hard-boiled egg on my way up to sustain my energy, but I think the tori gates at the bottom of the mountain should suffice.

And when in central Kyoto, don't forget to drop by Nishiki market where you can buy lots of food items.There are also souvenir items here but best to buy your staples such as keychains, ref magnets, or even traditional Japanese cloth at the Kyoto Station.

Day 8: Head back to Osaka

OSAKA'S Tsutenkaku Tower.
Explore Dotonburi for some street food and beer, particularly the Janjan Yokocho Alley. Don’t miss the nearby Shinsekai, which looks like a colourful amusement park for the colourful signages and shop displays. Don’t forget to pose by the Tsutenkaku Tower, Osaka’s take on the Eiffel Tower.

THE WONDERLAND that is Shinsekai.
FOOD TRIPPING in Osaka? These are just some of the fares.

STREET FOOD in Osaka.


Monday, February 15, 2016

Where to go in Singapore


SINGAPORE'S FAMOUS ICON, the Merlion. But no, this is not the most photographed water-spewing statue that most tourists are familiar with. This one, albeit equally majestic, is the one in Sentosa.

"Did you ever work in Singapore?" My lawyer friend Grace once asked when I told her of travel anecdotes that is almost short of saying, "I love Singapore."

Yes, I keep coming back to Singapore. I love it in Singapore.

Maybe because Singapore was my first out-of-country destination when the travel bug first bit me. And since then, I've been there for more than eight times. I wouldn't mind having a long layover in Singapore.

"If you live in Manila, you would definitely want to be in Singapore!" said another high school classmate. She was pertaining to the horrendous Metro Manila traffic and the inefficient public transport system, which is a stark contrast to what Singapore has.

For the highly efficient train and bus system, the cleanliness, and for being an expert in giving tourists a treat, I would definitely come back to Singapore for more.

I thought I've already decided to turn my back on Singapore after I saw Bangkok. An international tourist quoted in a Philippine broadsheet even said that Singapore is "too predictable." But I don't know. I don't care. There's that lure to go back to Singapore. And for the many times that I am in Singapore, there is always something new to experience and enjoy.

The recent trip that I've had in Singapore was really meant to show my younger brother around. In crafting a four-day itinerary, the question I've had in my mind was: what's with Singapore that is worth seeing?

So here, I want to share with you a four-day itinerary that would fit a limited budget:

1. Singapore Zoo
Going to a zoo on a holiday may be just a waste of time for the adventure-seeker. For some, it can be a mere tourist trap. I've skipped many a zoos in my previous travels after realizing that a trip to Jurong Bird Park (also in Singapore) was not worth the SGD 20 entrance fee. But, as many tourists say, you haven't been to Singapore if you haven't seen the Singapore Zoo. This place is pretty well-managed, as it is as clean as how the whole of Singapore is. Divided thematically into 11 zones -- counting among them Wild Africa for the Lion King-esque array of safari animals; to Australian zone for your fare of kangaroos, koalas and other marsupials; to a Frozen Tundra in the middle of humid Southeast Asia. What was very interesting at least for myself, my brother, and my Singapore-based cousin is the Tropical Crops and Orchid Garden as we were so thrilled to see the same plants and vegetables that once thrived at our grandmother's backyard in the Philippines! The climax, for us, was the presence of betel leaves (locally called in southern Luzon as mam-in) which the elderly chew alongside smoking hand-rolled cigarettes.

Ticket prices: SGD 32 for adults, SGD 21 for kids, and SGD 14 for senior citizens. Less 30% when you book online!

2. Geylang
I was told during my first ever trip to Singapore that Geylang is the city-state's red light district. But for this trip, I had to look past the reputation and look for that store that sells film for vintage Polaroid cameras. The trip was so worth it, anyway, as the store that we went into could be a destination by itself for its vintage knick knacks ranging from wooden combs to pomade to moustache wax! To add to that, we've chanced upon a hawker stall that sells yummy cereal prawn noodle soup! 

3. Arab Street
Arab Street could easily strike to anyone as the center of Islamic activities in Singapore. BUT this place could easily be the hipster's paradise or artists' haven, what with the old structures that shout Peranakan architecture that now house stores that range from carpets to clothing and anything artsy fartsy! There are also rows upon rows of restaurants that serve Middle Eastern fare (we went to the Moroccan restaurant). At Haji Lane, there are colorful murals alongside rows of quaint restaurants and bars. There was even a band playing live music along the street! There's also a hostel right in the middle of the Arab Quarter and I would love to try to make this place my base, given the chance, just to experience the charm of the place.

Average price of a meal: SGD10-20

4. Universal Studios and Sentosa
We aren't really fans of theme parks so a stroll at the free areas of Universal Studios sufficed. There was also a new covered walkway going to Sentosa from Vivo City so if you're on a tight budget, you may consider the walk -- quite scenic because of the pocket gardens and a view of the river -- for maybe half the price if you were to take the bus from somewhere. What's also good about Sentosa is that you need not be loaded in order to enjoy what it has to offer. Sure, there's the skydiving experience and the other attractions where you have to pay, but sight-seeing around the place which is essentially free, should be enough. There's the Palawan beach where you can hang out by the sandy shores (never mind that the sand is imported). You can also have photo ops by the hanging bridge which Singapore claims to be the southernmost point of continental Southeast Asia.

5. Lau Pa Sat
Foodies will definitely have a grand time at Lau Pa Sat, which is located right at the heart of the business district of Marina. There are street foods (satay, anyone?) and a lot of Malaysian, Chinese, Singaporean, Persian, and even Filipino fare at the many stalls housed in this historic landmark!

6. Gardens by the Bay
The Supertrees Grove alone -- those colorful steel structures resembling trees in Avatar -- are a major draw, especially at night when a lights show is held. And then there are those glass structures that house impressive gardens --  called Flower Dome and Cloud Forest -- where visitors pay fees to enter. BUT, again, being the budget travellers that we are, not to mention that we were already tired of walking the whole day, we just contented ourselves strolling outside and admiring the structures around and even the steel structures that surround the gardens. And oh, we also gorged barbecue and satay and gulped Milo Dinosaur at Satay by the Bay.


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Post card from Venice: Post card-perfect view

THE FACADE of San Geremia church and Palazzo Labia, a view right outside Hotel San Geremia and Casa Alloggi Gerotto and Calderan. Sestiere Cannaregio, Venice.

How about waking up to a view like this, as in literally?

Venice is replete with post card-perfect, photogenic places that often remind me of dream sequences. Photoholics will never run out of subjects to snap on!

As for this one, this is the view from a small, well-managed Hotel San Geremia & Casa Alloggi Gerotto & Calderan, located at the heart of Campo San Geremia in the sestiere Cannaregio of the beautiful, iconic city of Venice. The place is just a few minutes walk from the S. Lucia train station, the same station where trips from other parts of Italy stop in Venice.

The day starts quite late in Venice. Streets are not yet abuzz at around 7am, not really a good time to take photos of Venecians going about their lives amid the frenzy of excited tourists.

And so I contented myself with this view from my window, of San Geremia Church and Palazzo Labia.

Compared to the typical big cathedrals in Venice and Italy for that matter, San Geremia church is considerably simple for an edifice built sometime in the 11th century.

World wide web has it that this church is famous for St. Lucy of Syracuse, whose remains rest inside. And also compared to other Italian churches, the interiors of the church is rather sober that I did not bother taking pictures of.

Right beside it is the Palazzio Labia, which I also didn't bother looking into, only to discover that it is one of the iconic edifices in Venice with a beautiful frescoed ballroom. It's open to the public by appointment. I didn't bother because entry to most buildings in Venice charge fees which are not at all cheap given that this place is always packed with tourists. But lesson learned, there's no harm in asking for information.


Monday, August 10, 2015

Manila airport has a new lounge


Pampering chairs at the Manila airport lounge
The Ninoy Aquino International Airport, for years tagged as world's worst airport, is slowly making some strides to make traveling easier, comfortable, and much more enjoyable for passengers.

Manila airport authorities have recently launched a facility that will surely make vagabonds and frequent travellers jump for joy -- it's The Wings Transient Lounge.

Located at the fourth floor of the NAIA terminal 3, the airport lounge features sleeping and shower facilities for the harried and weary traveller.

It has sleeping capsules meant for solo or adventurous travelers, similar to those in Japan. There are also bunk beds for twin sharing, groups of three, and a family of four.

Capsules at the Manila airport lounge.
Sleeping capsules at the NAIA lounge.

Sleeping capsules at Manila airport.
To those who are curious, this is how the sleeping capsules look like. Not really for those with claustrophobia but highly recommended for adventurous souls.

Bunk beds at Manila NAIA airport lounge.
There aren't really rooms for couples. Rooms for two look like this.
There are common shower areas for travellers who want to freshen up before, after, or in between flights.

Shower facilities at Manila NAIA airport lounge.
Shower facilities at The Wings Transit Lounge have heaters.
Guests who want to be pampered can have a massage, a mani, or a pedi. They can also opt to have a hair cut, too, at the lounge!

Massage room at Manila NAIA airport lounge.
If you are in dire need of a massage, massage rooms at The Wings Transit Lounge are, should I say, above average. Price is also competitive compared to those outside the airport!
The lounge isn't free though, but I'd say it's relatively cheaper compared to other airports and similar facilities that I've been to.

Lounge at Manila airport NAIA
Want a mani or pedi in between flights? Or just want to lounge around?
Services ans room rates and are as follows:

CAPSULE
5 hours (inclusive of light meal) - P880
8 hours (inclusive of light meal and shower) - P1,000
Extension per hour - P200

TWIN ROOM
5 hours (inclusive of light meal) - P1,600 per room or P800 per person
8 hours (inclusive of light meal and shower) - P1,800 per room or P900 per person
Extension per hour - P350 per room

BUNK ROOM (for 3 people)
5 hours (inclusive of light meal) - P2,100 per room or P700 per person
8 hours (inclusive of light meal and shower) - P2,600 per room or P880 per person
Extension per hour - P450

FAMILY ROOM
5 hours (inclusive of light meal) - P2,600 per room or P650 per person
8 hours (inclusive of light meal and shower) - P3,200 per room or P800 per person
Extension per hour - P530

LOUNGE PACKAGES
5 hours - P500 or P700 (inclusive of finger foods)
2 hours - P300 or P500 (inclusive of finger foods)
Extension per hour - P175

SHOWER FACILITIES
Shower - P300
Shower with additional services - P250

HAND AND FOOT SERVICES
Manicure - P300
Pedicure - P300
Foot scrub - P600
Package - P1,000

MASSAGE SERVICES
Massage (1 hour) - P675

The Wings Transit Lounge is located at the 4th floor of NAIA Terminal 3. It is still part of the public areas of the airport so the place is practically open even to non-passengers.

The place is being managed by the Jipang Group, the same Japan-based group that manages Networld Hotel.


Monday, May 04, 2015

Post card from Barcelona: Inside La Pedrera

Courtyard of Casa Mila or La Pedrera
A view from the bottom of the courtyard of Casa Milà, or more popularly known as La Pedrera.

It was around nine in the evening, when the sun has just set in this part of the world celebrating the onset of summer, when I arrived in Barcelona.

I can still remember that it was nine, as I've missed the paella party organized by the hostel that I booked for my four-day sojourn to the capital of Spain's Catalunya region.

After a short plane ride from Rome's Ciampino Airport, a two-hour bus ride from Gerona, and two Metro rides, I made it to what seemed to me the heart of Barcelona. 

It was quite a welcome for me, not because I discovered that my wallet was missing (did I lose it in Rome or just here?), but more because of the colorfully lit, odd-looking building that revealed itself after I emerged from the Passeig de Gràcia station of the Barcelona Metro.

I later on confirmed that this structure is the Casa Batlló, that is without a doubt, one of the many works of the great Antoni Gaudi that littered the city. And great works at that.

This is a must visit, I told myself, as I came to Barcelona not for the parties, not for the shopping, not for the paella (oh come on, I was still headed to Madrid, Granada, and Cordoba so definitely I'll have some other chances to sample the Spanish fare), but more because of the modern art and architecture.

But fate has it that while Casa Batlló is the one closest to my hostel, I met Gaudí -- quite up close and personal -- in another popular work of his: Casa Milà also known as La Pedrera (the quarry, as it looked like one during construction).

Built between 1905-1912, La Pedrera is Gaudí's last civil work specifically for businessman Pere Milà i Camps and his wealthy wife Roser Segimon i Artells.

The building was in a way intended to make Milà a standout among the well-heeled in Barcelona. And a standout he became considering how the design of the structure imposed itself upon the city: not your usul box-type edificio but a building that looks like an open pit quarry with unusual curvy facade, ornate wrought iron balconies, and chimneys with mosaic tiles that are considerably works of art by themselves.

The courtyard is picture-perfect (sans the hordes of tourists, har har) with its uneven walls and interiors that is typically Gaudí -- asymmetrical, colorful, wavy/curvy.

A visit to La Pedrera -- particularly on the floor where the flat of the Milàs was as well as the apartments on the upper floors -- would give one a glimpse at how the bourgeois lived in the mid-1900s as evidenced on the kind of furniture and other belongings on display.

Then at the attic is where an exhibition shows the basics of Gaudì's aesthetics. This is where I learned that aside from religious themes and modernism, his choice of nature as his inspiration best explains what a Gaudì structure is all about, which is not simply avant garde or moderne, if not odd to the uninitiated. Here I found honeycombs that served as inspiration for peepholes, ferns or dried leaves for door knobs and handles, tree trunks for pillars, canopy of leaves for ceilings and naves, and even human bones for various building elements.

Casa Batllo, Barcelona, Gaudi
Casa Batllo in Barcelona. Notice how the pillars resemble human bones. The balconies look like pelvic bones, don't you think?
The rooftop will pass as a theme park on its own, with chimneys decorated with tiles and sculpted as works of art, making it hard to believe that this was where building residents' used to hang their clothes to dry.

chimney, La Pedrera, Casa Mila, Barcelona, Gaudi
The chimneys at the rooftop of Casa Mila or La Pedrera. These are not merely chimneys but works of art!

The verdict? Casa Mila is a must in your itinerary to Barcelona. A visit to Barcelona is not complete without the photo ops at the rooftop of Casa Mila. A visit to Barcelona is not complete without knowing Gaudi through this one important work of his. La Pedrera, after all, will not be declared a Unesco World Heritage Site for nothing.

Tip sheet:

- Entrance to La Pedrera costs €20 for adults.
- La Pedrera is accessible through Diagonal station of the Metro.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Post card from Singapore: Jurong Bird Park

swans at Jurong Bird Park in Singapore

Swans are a-swimming in one of the man-made lagoons inside the Jurong Bird Park in Singapore. They look so graceful and seem so harmless; but I have a different story to tell.

I will always tell this (mis) adventure of mine in this part of Singapore, which happened during my first visit to the city-state and on my first ever trip outside the Philippines.

I only fancied visiting the bird park because my parents seemed to have had a grand time there during their visit sometime in the mid-1990s. They seemed to have enjoyed the park, at least based on their pictures. 

"It's nice there," my mom told me when I asked for some sort of confirmation.

And so I decided that a trip to the bird park would be part of my five-day itinerary.

But I have to tell you one thing: I am afraid of birds. Ornithophobia, as they call it. "Abnormal, irrational fear of birds," according to Wikipedia. I was like this ever since I was I kid, which has become a subject of laughter among my friends while wondering how that happened.

"You must have been a worm in a past life," said a friend, who I think is not really a friend because of this remark. Toinks!

So anyone who knows me would think a visit to a bird park would be a crazy idea. 

But I thought going to this bird park is what a tourist is supposed to do to maximize the Singapore experience.

This is the time to conquer my fear, so I thought.

And so I went to the bird park all by myself, as my Singapore-based cousin was too adamant to take me there given the two-bus and two-train rides required to get me there from where we were staying. 

And she didn't want mo to go there given the fact that I have ornithophobia.

It took me a few dollars for the bus and train rides and S$20 for the entrance (now its S$28 for adults), which already included a ride in a monorail that meanders through the park. 

The first few aviaries that I went into were pretty nice despite the fact that huge birds really scare me. 

Fowls with colorful feathers and little birds chirping, they all looked harmless as they were all in huge cages where visitors can't touch them.

All sorts of large eagles? Bring it on! They're on a leash, anyway.

Big pelicans, flamingos,kingfishers, and various species of ducks swimming on the lake? The poor creatures can't even get out of the fences!

I chanced on free-flying birds that looked like humming birds or bee-eaters at the African Waterfall Aviary, but they all seemed harmless. And besides, a view of one of the largest man-made falls -- the Jurong Falls -- did not disappoint.

But what caused my palpitations was the large aviary called Lory Loft. As the name suggests, it contained almost every species of parrots, lorikeets, and macaws. 

But as soon as I passed by the barrier made of plastic chains, I was so surprised to see all of them flying around freely inside the huge aviary. 

And then I stepped out. To breathe. To collect myself. To regain my composure.

And I was reminded of my mission: to conquer my fear. 

So I stepped in again, only to find several bright red and yellow macaws perched on the head and shoulders of what seemed to me was a caretaker. And large birds swarming on God knows who he is!

I stepped out again, with a firm resolve to run away from the aviary.

And to cap off my visit to Jurong Bird Park, I went to an auditorium to see a large hawk show off antics at the aviary. It was for free but still a bad decision for the ornithophobic, I thought, as the show had a portion where the bird will fly from the guy onstage to one of the kids in the audience! To save myself from humiliation, I had to move away from the eager-beaver kids who wanted to experience the bird up close and personal!

As for the ornithophobic me, was it a good decision to travel that far (and spend that much) for what could easily be considered as a tourist trap?

Well, the ornithophobic thinks it's a waste of S$20.

But for bird lovers, bird watchers, or simply all of you out there who aren't afraid of birds, by all means, go and enjoy yourselves!

Photo above was taken using Nikon FG powered by Fuji 400 film. The author aimed to take a beautiful picture of pink flamingos, only that palpitations due to his fear of these beautiful creatures prevented him from doing so.