Paris

Paris, for the young and the lovestruck

Some say Paris is overrated. To some extent it is, being overly tourist-y and given that there are other equally or more stunning cities in Europe. But there’s something about the combination of the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre Museum, along with a dozen other fabulous attractions that make this city irresistible for so many tourists, particularly the first time travelers to Europe (that’s us!). It’s an enchanting place perfect for the young and the lovestruck.

Louvre Museum

Our first stop, the Louvre! Wanting to have an amazing hassle-free experience, I scoured the web to get tips from the experts. The experts didn’t fail me. I was advised not to use the Louvre Pyramid Entrance. Avoid the insanely long lines by using these other entry points: Porte des Lions (east of Pont Royal), Number 99 entrance at the Rue du Rivoli, the Arc du Carousel, or go directly from the Metro Station when you alight at the Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre (this one we did).

Louvre Pyramid from afar

As one of the world’s biggest museums, the amount of artworks in there is crazy. Its 60,600 square meter space is home to 35,000 objects, some dating back to prehistoric times! Louvre was originally a fortress built under the regime of Philip II. It was first opened in 1793, featuring only 537 artworks.

Inside the museum

I read in one blog that Louvre is so big that some tourists would spend the entire day looking for the Mona Lisa and end up not finding it. No, that wasn’t going to be me. When we got there, we immediately inquired where Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpice was located. We were given a map and we followed the trail. The sweet smiling painting gave me goosebumps as I expected.

The world’s most celebrated painting

Everyone wants to get a glimpse of the Mona Lisa

But more surprisingly, some artworks enthralled me more like the Wedding
at Cana by Paolo Veronese. I didn’t want to leave its side. I felt like I needed weeks to fully absorb the artwork’s detail and meaning. 

Wedding at Cana by Paolo Veronese

Our next stop was the Eiffel Tower. I have so many photos of this mindblowing structure, it deserves a post of its own. And I’ll do just that later on. For now, let me tell you that we had the most awesome experience below, on top, beside, everywhere near this tower.

Eiffel Tower by Gustav Eiffel

A little bit of trivia first. It was designed by Gustav Eiffel (Oh, so that’s where it got its name!) for the World Exhibition in 1889, a celebration for the French Revolution in 1789. It took 7 million nails to erect this 300-meter tall tower!

The place where we stayed, Hotel de Londres Eiffel was just a two-minute walk from the Eiffel Tower. We got there early in the morning after having authentic croissant (the best I ever tasted in my life) at a nearby cafe.

View from the top

So we went up the tower not to the top floor because it was being renovated in time for the Valentine’s Day. It was around January when we traveled to Paris. And oh my, it’s like you’ve seen everything there is to see in the world when I got up there. It didn’t matter which side you turned, all the views took my breath away.

View from below

When we got back down, I stood below the enormous structure and looked up. I was just as mesmerized as I was on top. The incredible steel work left me feeling like a big simpleton. I can’t even construct the words to describe it.

Lovers in Paris

After this, we walked the streets of Paris to get to the Notre Dame. We passed by the River Seine, where we found padlocks all over the bridge. The idea is that you write down your names on a padlock, lock it and throw the key into the river so you’ll be locked in each other’s arms for all eternity. How’s that for cheesy, er, romantic?

Notre Dame

Construction of the beautiful Romanesque church began in 1163. After 182 years, it was finally over. The result? A 128 meter long building with 69 meter tall towers. Wow! And when you see the intricate sculptures around Notre Dame’s facade, you won’t wonder why this took so long to build.

Inside, I tried to take photos but my camera failed me. It was weird hearing upbeat contemporary songs inside a very old church. When our Notre Dame tour was over, we headed back again to Eiffel Tower to see it in a different light. It was all shiny shimmery like a giant Christmas tree.

Shiny shimmery Eiffel Tower

I went home with a big smile on my face. We had the best time climbing the awe-inspiring eiffel tower, squeezing through the crowds to catch a glimpse of La Joconde, eating authentic flaky croissant, and saying bonjour and merci again and again.

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Coron

Oh, Lovely Coron!

Sometime in September 2010, Mike, Mikkel and I with my brother Willhen, his girlfriend Karen and her parents Tita Chat and Tito Rene, and my friend Aleth from Hallmark and his hubby Penny flew to Coron for a 3-day vacation.

This wedge-shaped limestone island, which is also the third largest in the Calamian Group of Islands, is well known for its exquisite coastal areas and the nationally-acclaimed cleanest lake in the country–the Kayangan Lake. And like El Nido, it also boasts of several gorgeous islands that offer a number of water activities like snorkeling, deep sea fishing and diving.

Presenting the Magnificent Kayangan Lake!

But what makes Coron a different diving spot is the presence of sunken Japanese warships that prompted Forbes Traveler Magazine to include this place in the list of the world’s top 10 best scuba diving spots. Makes you proud, doesn’t it? More so if you’re a Palawenyo!

Shipwrecks–the best of what our camera could capture

Lots of fish in the sea!

Too bad, we weren’t able to do any shipwreck diving. But we definitely had a grand time checking out the awesome attractions like the Twin Lagoon, Banol Beach and of course, the world renowned Kayangan Lake.

Lunch at Banol Beach

And this was our lunch! Yuuuuum!

Except for Aleth and Penny, we all stayed at Darayonan Lodge. The sweet couple booked their accommodation at Sea Divers. Both were okay, except that in Darayonan, I almost got to eat a fly that was squeezed so firmly into the head of the Danggit I ordered.

That didn’t annoy me as much as the fact that the waitress just uttered, “A talaga po?” I didn’t even get a sorry. Meanwhile, the crew at the front desk had sore eyes (Who’d wear sunglasses at night, right? It was confirmed right after I sneaked a peek into the guy’s vampire eyes.)

The weather wasn’t cooperating as well, until the very last hour of our trip. It was like the sun was taunting us, “Sorry, I’m not making an appearance until you’re already at the airport, until you’ve checked in your bags!”

Flight back to manila aboard Air Phil

Yet, I can say that we all had a good time.

Singapore

Near the Esplanade

Singapore is the place to go to if you want to escape the chaos in Manila. Everything here is so perfectly organized that I don’t think people even know what the word “stress” means. It’s also popular for being a fine city, in more ways than one.

Mike, Mikkel and I visited this wonderful country two years ago (2009), in time for my hubby’s birthday in November. As a birthday treat for my artist better half, I arranged a visit to the Singapore Art Museum for our first day, which to our surprise, was hosting an-all Filipino exhibition.

Singapore Art Museum

It featured artworks from historic figures Juan Luna and Jose Rizal and also showcased young talents.

After that, we visited the Sculpture Garden, and roamed around the city center. We strolled along the breathtaking Clark Quay. We took a river cruise that brought us to the Merlion Park.

Merlion Park

The next day was a treat for our curly top, we visited the overrated Sentosa and saw/rode a couple of attractions like the Luge and Skyride, and the Underwater World, among others.

Sentosa Luge and Skyride

Sentosa Underwater World

The last day was my day. I enjoyed Little India for its colorful culture and strange music. No, I wasn’t going to say strange aroma but the incense was honestly a bit intoxicating. Not that it was bad. It was a very interesting place for me, getting to see their clothings, accessories, and so on.

Little India

Also on our last day/night, we got to meet up with some friends, some on purpose, another by chance. We had dinner with Sara, a former officemate at Hallmark and her boyfriend, Danny. They were very nice to treat us with smorgasbord of Chinatown’s best delicacies. I especially loved the chicken satay. I can still remember the taste up to this date. On our way to the airport, the next day, I bumped into an old friend, Marvin, former GMA reporter turned Universal Studios Dancer. Such a small world!

I’m ready to go back to SG anytime now, especially now that Universal Studios and Marina Bay Sands are now up and running 🙂

Zambales

  Just last summer of this year (2010), my brother Willhen, one of the head artists at Pencil Head Creative Studio went on a trip to Zambales with his college friends. When he got home and showed me the photos, I instantly fell in love with the place. I’ve heard about Capones and Anawangin many times before, often from my friend, Ramon, a free soul who spends a good chunk of his time seeing the nicest places in our country.

And so I encouraged (or coerced) my hubby Mike to plan a trip for us and our friends. Although Willhen was not able to go camping (they stayed in a hotel in Pundaquit), he told me that camping is the best way to enjoy the place and so we did. I was very excited about the trip. After all, I’ve been writing about camping for 3 years already and this would be my very first time to go on an actual camping vacation.

A day before the trip, Mike and I did our last minute camping shopping. We brought our very cheap tent for only P600! (Salesman told us, “Ma’am murang mura lang po itong tent na to! Bilhin nyo na! Pag umulan nga lang po, basa kayo, hindi kase waterproof.”) Since we were not ready to invest on the P4,000 camping tent (which was the only alternative we saw), we took our chances with this not waterproof tent.

The next day, Mike and I with our friends, Lauren, Dino, Migs, and Grace went to Victory Liner at around 6am to catch the 7am bus. Unfortunately, the tickets were already sold out. Good thing, the Manong in the other booth told us to catch the next bus to Olongapo at 7:30 am and ride another bus going to Zambales.

In Zambales, we rode a tricycle going to Pundaquit, where we met with Kuya Jay, Ramon’s friend who did boat tours to Capones and Anawangin. Unable to decide where to set camp, the guys set out to see Anawangin first, where we had our lunch. Anawangin is a beautiful beach with black sand and pine trees that would make you feel as if you’re out of the country. But it was packed with campers! We decided to set camp at Capones for a much relaxing experience. As expected, we all had a grand time. Even though, we offered my eyeglasses and Grace’s goggles to the island, we didn’t mind. They’re worth the trip.

Mike and I didn’t take too many pictures of the place during our vacation. Most of the photos we have of the trip are just ourselves and the infamous underwater shots wherein Grace and Lauren had a difficult time making me submerge. So instead of boring you with all those, I’m just going to post the photos that Willhen took.


Hong Kong

The first thing I noticed about Hong Kong is that the air smelled like roasted peking duck. Sorry, but I’m not a great fan of that dish. I felt lightheaded when I first stepped down in Central.

It was my first time to go out of the country, but Mike and I decide to make a trip itinerary of our own instead of opting for the constricting package tours. The great thing about this place is that it’s very easy to go around. The MTR is so efficient and so many signs would point you to the right direction.

We had a grand time but it is not without blunders along the way. Here are some of those I’ll never forget about.

Trip bloopers & lessons to be learned:
1. Bought the airfare tickets two days before the airline announced an international seat sale (i could have saved around 6thou!)
Lesson learned: Don’t be too excited. Always wait for the seat sale.
2. Got lost twice. Lesson learned: Bringing a map and using it are two different things.
3. Checked in at a terrible hotel (actually this one is in Macau). Lesson learned: Pictures lie! Leave hotel booking task to your graphic artist husband who knows the difference between a real photo and a manipulated one.
4. No video and very few pictures at ocean park. Lesson learned: Video cam batteries can discharge without you noticing it, so bring a spare bat. Also, digicams can breakdown at crucial moments like when your son sees a shark for the first time. Bring a spare camera!!!
5. Almost missed the flight back to Manila (thank God, the flight was delayed). Lesson learned: International airports are enormous, the walk to the terminal gate takes about an hour!

Anyway, here are some of the spots we visited.

Victoria Peak

I love the majectic view! It’s just too bad that it was cloudy when we went here. We couldn’t see more than half of the buildings.

Ngong Ping Cable Car Ride

If you’re a nature lover, you’d love the sights that you’d get to see aboard this cable car ride. We didn’t go to the giant Buddha statue anymore since we are not physically fit. 🙂

View from the Cable Car

Symphony of Lights at Tsim Sha Tsui

This is the first time I saw Mikkel dance. He couldn’t resist it. It’s not every day that you get to experience a spectacular light and sound show. Unfortunately, neither our camera nor our video cam could do justice in documenting this wondrous event.

Royal View Hotel

This is the hotel where we stayed. It’s located in Tseun Wan. Quite far from Central but they have a free shuttle service that will bring you to the MTR station. It’s a wonderful hotel and for 3k a night, it’s quite a steal. Tip: Don’t book directly with the hotel, try asiatravel.com, agoda.com, and other travel websites so you can get the best deal.

Royal View Indeed!

This is the view from our hotel room. This hotel surely lives up to its name. The ocean view is splendid! Mikkel’s panda bear is awestruck.

View at Night

Some more photos around Central Hong Kong.

Macau

During our trip to Hongkong, we took a side trip to Macau aboard the Ocean Jet ferry. Overall, the trip was fun, as there were so many sights to see. But whatever you do, don’t check in at Victoria Hotel. Despite the nice pictures posted on their website, the hotel rooms are small, cramped, and they don’t smell nice.

St. Paul Ruins

One of the first places we visited is the St. Paul Ruins. It’s actually the façade of the Cathedral of St. Paul, which was a 17th century Portuguese cathedral in Macau. It’s one of Macau’s most famous landmarks.

Grand Canal at Venetian Macao

Another worthy place to visit is the Venetian Macao (that’s the spelling on their website!). It’s a resort, hotel, and casino rolled into one. Obviously, it speaks of luxury and prestige. Being the budget travelers that we are, we just took a quick stroll around but no casinos or shopping for us.

Casinos

Speaking of casinos, Macau is plentiful of these. In fact, it is dubbed as the “Little Las Vegas of Asia.” I’m not a fan of gambling so we didn’t really go inside any of these casinos. Located near the casino strip is the Kum Iam Statue. We stopped by to rest our aching feet and to take some photos.

Kun Iam Statue

An Alley Leading to St. Paul’s Ruins

Some people only choose to see the glitz and glamor of Macau but Mike, Mikkel and I explored the other side of this country–old buildings, dilapidated houses, and other hints of poverty. While walking in front of one of these old buildings, we almost got splashed with a bucket of who knows what that came from the top floor. I looked up and the lady simply smirked. All in all, it was a nice trip. It’s a good idea to take this side trip when you go to Hong Kong but don’t spend any more than a day wandering around it. Hong Kong has much more things to offer.

The Other Side of Macau

Cebu

Mike and I felt we needed a break from the usual work grind so we decided to go on a trip in the middle of the year. We originally planned to see the whale sharks in Donsol but discovered that they are in hiatus at this time. We decided to see Cebu and Bohol instead. Thanks to Cebu Pacific’s air seat sale P800, our trip pushed through.When we arrived in Cebu, we right away headed to Bohol aboard the Oceanjet ferry. There we spent most of our vacation but during the last 2 days of our trip, we went back to Mactan to see some sights and wait for our flight back to Manila.

Plantation Bay

We dropped by at Plantation Bay, Tambuli Beach Resort, and Mactan Shrine. By the end of the day, we had a couple of drinks on top of our hotel with spectacular views of the bridges of Mactan and Marcelo Fernan.

tambuli beach resort

Mactan Shrine

Also, for the first time, Mikkel played billiard with me and Mike. That was after a sumptuous dinner of Hungarian sausage and lechon kawali. Our hotel, actually not really a hotel but a pension, is a very nice place. The rooms at Ace Pension are new, clean and the view is fantastic! Rooms are quite small but I swear, the view makes up for it. Most importantly, it is cheap! Standard room only costs 900! We stayed in the superior room (1200).

Interesting story: We almost booked the hotel right beside it for its promise of grandiose view. But the P4k per night rate was too much for us. The pleasant surprise is that the P1200 room in Ace Pension offered the exact same view! Phew!

Marcelo Fernan Bridge

I also have to mention this, the restrooms in Cebu are commendable (at least those that I got to visit). They are immaculately clean! It won’t be a surprise to have a clean CR at plantation bay but when I got to Mactan Shrine (a public park!!), you can actually lie down on the floor of the restroom!

Very nice and relaxing trip 😀 We all had a great time!

Bohol

alona beach, panglao island

alona beach, panglao island

i don’t think i’ve ever been to a place that i can compare with the beauty of palawan. bohol is such place. the powdery white sand in panglao, the stunning view of the chocolate hills, endemic species of tarsiers, the worthwhile cruise in loboc and the nice boholanos you meet along the way truly make bohol a great tourist destination.

when we arrived in cebu on august 14 6 am, we headed to bohol right away aboard the oceanjet ferry. the resort we chose to stay in, bohol divers is an exquisite resort that caters mostly to foreign divers. being the smart budget travelers that we are, we opted for this resort to enjoy something high-end without spending a fortune.

bohol divers resort

accommodations range from 800 (fan room) to 10,000 per night! we thought the fan room was okay but it was so hot, we decided to move to the standard aircon (1600) the next day.

we spent our first day in bohol hanging out at the beach, relaxing and enjoying the spectacular beach scene. on our second day, we went on a habal-habal adventure. the plan on my trip itinerary (which mike calls my thesis) was actually to go on a day tour riding a van or a multicab. but the last minute decision to hire a habal-habal (motorbike) appealed to me because it sounded more exciting and adventurous!

baclayon church

aboard the habal-habal, my one hand on a map, and the other clasping mikkeli tightly, we traversed through the town of tagbilaran and visited baclayon church, blood compact site, hinagdanan cave, and the island city mall. i love the churches in bohol, their antiquity seems to transport you back to historical times.

blood compact site

we got back to the beach around 4 pm. after a short recharge in our room, we headed back to the beach to do the things we love doing most. mike gulped down a bottle of his favorite beer while staring at the picturesque beach scene. i got a whole body massage from this nice lady named lisa while the gushes of waves instantly calmed my senses. mikkel played with the sand like crazy. we truly are beach people.
that day, we also met Kuya Junie, a Boholano whom we had a conversation about our day tour. he probably sensed that we were looking for something beyond the usual tourist getaway and he offered to help us see new sights like the sagbayan peak and danao adventure, which are far-flung destinations not usually included in bohol package tours. he told us our vacation would be worth it if we would see those places.
we thought about it for hours before we decided to give up our original plan to go island hopping (balicasag and virgin islands) and dolphin watching. our reasons: 1. islands are plenty in palawan but we don’t get to see chocolate hills up close everyday. 2. i hate waking up very early. 3. we just saw dolphins in ocean adventure.
we woke up the next day to discover three gifts and a problem. the first gift was that it was raining. if we had pursued our original plan, it would have been a waste since dolphins do not come out in rain. the second gift was that kuya junie couldn’t find a multicab so he hired a car which turns out to be a blessing because the trip to sagbayan was long and rough.

chocolate hills

third gift was the amazing experience of seeing the larger-than-life chocolate hills at a close distance and the wonderful mountain view in danao adventure. kuya junie said it is a waste to go to danao adventure and not do the activities there like the suislide or the plunge but for me, the breathtaking scenery was worth enough our time and our efforts plus it is not really my thing to jump off cliffs or risk my life.
i was thankful for those gifts but the problem though was that my tummy was acting up! i actually had at least 5 sessions in the comfort room before leaving. i prayed so hard that i wouldn’t experience the same thing that happened to that poor woman in “sa bukid walang papel” commercial. this problem was still a blessing because at least it was i who got hit with this and not my little one.

tarsier in loboc

loboc river cruise

later that day, we proceeded to the chocolate hills viewing deck in carmen, the view was nice too but not nearly as great as that in sagbayan. we also went to the loboc river. we opted to skip the lunch buffet in favor of riding a small boat that would bring us to the loboc waterfalls. we also had some nice chat with the cute little tarsiers there. our last stop for that day was loboc church and loboc museum.

loboc church

the next day, we had a wonderful breakfast at bohol divers before heading back to mactan, cebu. this is actually the first time i felt attached to a place (other than my hometown palawan) and i rarely say this but i would surely love to go back to bohol in the near future. needless to say, we had a blast.

Bohol Divers Resort
Address : Tawala, Panglao, Bohol, Philippines
Reservation Number : (+63-38) 502-9047
Office Nunmber : (+63-38) 502-9085
Tel. Fax : (+63-38) 502-9005
Email : boholdiversresort@yahoo.com
Website : http://www.boholdiversresort.ph

wendi peneyra-garcia