Half a day in Intramuros: Must Visit Places and Must Dos

A serene view from Intramuros of the former Legislative Building now the National Art Gallery

A serene view from Intramuros of the former Legislative Building now the National Art Gallery

Due to the massive urban sprawl Manileños have been experiencing at a rapid rate these past few decades, more and more are physically being distant from the historic center of the city. This creates for a lot of citizens a feeling of disassociation from their urban cultural history and heritage.

The Puerta Real, which leads to a garden. This gate was formerly used exclusively by the Governor General and the Archbishop of Manila.

The Puerta Real, which leads to a garden. This gate was formerly used exclusively by the Governor General and the Archbishop of Manila.

Fortunately, in today’s age of the Internet, increased mobility and the leisure travel craze, more and more folks from places like Quezon City, Marikina, Antipolo, Makati, Las Piñas, Mandaluyong and all these other “provinces” of pre-war Manila are developing an encouraging sign of interest in the old capital. I am not claiming that there is increased sympathy or even, care for Manila. However, it cannot be denied that more and more youths and adults can be seen walking the streets of Intramuros and Binondo. We who work for the promotion and preservation of the city must be happy with the influx of smartphone-holding people, taking “blogger” shots here and there, and well, just visiting the remnants of what used to be “a city of affections”.

A view of the after-sunset glow from Bayleaf's Skydeck

A view of the after-sunset glow from Bayleaf’s Skydeck

Before I get carried away and turn this entry into an essay, allow me to share with you my suggested itinerary for a trip to Intramuros. I must admit, I would prefer that people would call on me to be their guide but unfortunately, I can only do tours on weekends and holidays – upon request. This blog entry will be a helpful guide for you as you go around the historic (some squalid) streets of la ciudad murada, Intramuros, the walled city.

The main portals of San Agustín has been witnessing this all-too-familiar scene for roughly four hundred years now. Until today, San Agustín Church is a favorite wedding venue.

The main portals of San Agustín has been witnessing this all-too-familiar scene for roughly four hundred years now. Until today, San Agustín Church is a favorite wedding venue.

This is because sadly, getting around Intramuros can be quite overwhelming especially with the lack of signboards, directions, maps and other helpful information. You may search on Google maps directions but you’ll be hard-pressed to get information behind the streets’ names, the stories about the buildings and the historical context of certain events because well, you either didn’t pay much attention to your history classes or you simply don’t know them. Nevertheless, here’s my informative guide to half a day in Intramuros.

Allow me to even propose a time-table for this one-day tour of Intramuros for your reference and guidance. Note that I dropped Fort Santiago here as visiting it will take much of your time. You can go to it if you have a whole day set aside for Intramuros.

1:00 PM – San Agustín Church and Museum (Calle Gen. Luna)

The patio of the cloister of San Agustín

The patio of the cloister of San Agustín

If there is one sole original structure within Intramuros, it is none other than San Agustín Church, the only connection of any person to the history, art and culture of pre-War Intramuros. It is an exquisite repository of local Baroque designs and fixtures. Built in 1581, it is a UNESCO heritage site.

The intricately painted ceiling of San Agustín is something that beholds.

The intricately painted ceiling of San Agustín is something that beholds.

If there is one museum in Intramuros you must visit, it is this one. Inaugurated in 1975 by the former Principe de Asturias (eventually King) Juan Carlos de Borbon and former Princess Sofía, it holds a vast collection of Augustinian and ecclestiastical arts and artifacts saved through the years. The former monastery gives visitors a veritable feel of the religious life in one of Intramuros’ seven convents, with its manicured gardens and patios, stone staircase and cloister or clausura lined with religious paintings.

The sarcophagus of the founder of the city of Manila, El Adelantado, Miguel Lopez de Legaspi

The sarcophagus of the founder of the city of Manila, El Adelantado, Miguel Lopez de Legaspi

What you’re in for at the museum: Paintings, wooden pieces of furniture, pre-Vatican II vestments with gold thread, bronze, silver and gold works, exquisite ivory statues, centuries-old books and documents (including dictionaries of ancient Philippine languages) as well as access to the Sala de Profundis, the hair-raising crypt (occupied by some of Manila’s old rich families and historic figures including the ilustrado artist Juan Luna y Novicio) and Padre Blanco’s gardens. Currently, the coro or choirloft, which features the silladores or the carved Molave choir stalls of the friars, is closed due to conservation work. From this loft, one can view the church’s nave and get up close to the pipe organ.

The tombs of the forebears of the Zóbel - Roxas - de Ayala - Soriano clan

The tombs of the forebears of the Zóbel – Roxas – de Ayala – Soriano clan

Sala de Profundis or the Crypt of San Agustín

Sala de Profundis or the Crypt of San Agustín

Perhaps one of the most famous pieces in the San Agustín Museum collection is this statue of the Dominican martyr San Pedro de Verona who was hacked on the head by heathens.

Perhaps one of the most famous pieces in the San Agustín Museum collection is this statue of the Dominican martyr San Pedro de Verona who was hacked on the head by heathens.

Must sees:

– The trompe l’oeil (“fools the eye” in French) decoration of the wall and ceiling gives you the impression that the ornamentations are carved but they are actually painted. Started in 1875 by Italian opera backdrop artists Cesare Alberoni and Giovanni Dibella, the paintings are actually under threat of corrosion due to the air quality in the area.
– The side chapel of The Assumption, which you can immediately find at your left upon entering the church. It is a family crypt where most of the ancestors of the highly-influential and affluent Zóbel – Roxas – de Ayala – Soriano family are interred.
– The pulpit or ambo is an artistic piece. Elaborately gilded, it is located at the right side of the church (if one is facing the sanctuary) and holds a position of prominence since in the old days, when the microphone was still non-existent, the priest used to give sermons from the canopied structure. It has native flora and the pineapple as its decorative motifs.
– The Chapel of the Conquistadores – located at the left side of the sanctuary, the sarcophagus of the founder of the city of Manila, el adelantado, Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, figures in the middle. It contains the mortal remains not only of Legaspi but also the other pioneer conquistadores who used to be buried in the church but whose bones were scatted when the British pillaged the church during their occupation from 1762-64.

The refectory (which I still is under conservation work) is located across the crypt. It houses the Pagrel collection, part of donation of Don Luís Araneta to the museum.

The refectory (which I still is under conservation work) is located across the crypt. It houses the Pagrel collection, part of donation of Don Luís Araneta to the museum.

Myself in the clausura during one of my tours

Myself in the clausura during one of my tours

Tips:
– The museum opens at 8:00 AM and has a lunch break from 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM. It closes at 6:00 PM.
– The entrance fee for adults is at Php 200 while students should bring their IDs so that they would only pay Php 100.
– If you don’t have time or you don’t want to go to the museum but you want to see the church, you can enter the church at 5:00 PM.
– You would usually see the doors flung open but that’s because there’s a wedding. You can only stay at the narthex if there are religious ceremonies going on.
– Don’t be in a rush when you do the museum tour. Take your time as you read through the descriptions and marvel at the fine craftsmanship of Filipino and Chinese artisans.

A sumptuous image of Nuestra Señora de la Consolación y la Correa, patroness of the Augustinians in the Philippines, wearing hammered silver and gold thread vestments mounted on a silver-plated carroza - one of the many images you can see in the museum.

A sumptuous image of Nuestra Señora de la Consolación y la Correa, patroness of the Augustinians in the Philippines, wearing hammered silver and gold thread vestments mounted on a silver-plated carroza – one of the many images you can see in the museum.

2:00 PM – Plaza San Luís Complex

Calle Urdaneta lines the Plaza San Luís Complex

Calle Urdaneta lines the Plaza San Luís Complex

A reconstructed compound, it resembles a Spanish colonial residential enclave. Entering it gives you a semblance of what it was like to enter the mansions of pre-War Intramuros. Currently, it houses souvenir shops and Barbara’s, one of a few dining options in Intramuros. Although the Barbara’s in the upper floor is quite formal in set-up, you can enjoy a more relaxed dining experience at the first floor, surrounded by plants and white-washed stone walls. Sometimes, rondalla music would accompany you here.

The Barbara's section of the compound makes you feel you're being transported to a different era.

The Barbara’s section of the compound makes you feel you’re being transported to a different era.

Tips:

– This is a good spot to catch your breath after the tour of San Agustín. Catch a cup of coffee and have some heavy pancit (stir-fried noodles) as you rest your feet for a few minutes and bask in the old colonial world feel of the place.
– Casa Manila is located within Plaza San Luís. It is a museum that depicts the classic colonial residence of a middle-class Filipino family. It has beautiful furnishings. However, the museum’s stiff restrictions (i.e. because of the polished wooden flooring, you are only allowed to walk on the red carpet, which also serves as the route of the museum visit; no photographs allowed, etc.) can be a turn-off. Also, if you’ve been to other old houses in the country, this might pale in comparison. But for first-timers, I suggest you go and see it for yourself. It isn’t something though you’d be coming back to.
– Entrance fee: Php 75.00

The portion of Calle Luna in front of Plaza San Luís has cobbled stones, giving you a real feeling it's a well-preserved area of Intramuros.

The portion of Calle Luna in front of Plaza San Luís has cobbled stones, giving you a real feeling it’s a well-preserved area of Intramuros.

Trivia: The whole area is not original. Because of the excellent work initiated by the former First Lady Imelda Marcos, visitors get the impression they’re in an historic compound.

Casa Manila - a museum you can visit once, and never come back to.

Casa Manila – a museum you can visit once, and never come back to.

2:30 PM – Memorare Monument (Plazuela de Sta. Isabel, Calle General Luna cor. Calle Anda)

Memorare Monument at Plazuela de Sta. Isabel

Memorare Monument at Plazuela de Sta. Isabel

Serving as a common gravestone to the 100,000 innocent civilian men, women, children and infants who were killed during the Liberation of Manila in February 1945, it is a somber stop in tours I give. It remembers the unjust, cold and bloody murder of Filipinos, Spaniards, and other persons living within Manila during the time when they were supposed to be freed from the Japanese. Scuplted by Peter de Guzman, the memorial was unveiled in 1995 on what used to be a girls’ school’s plaza. The merciless murders perpetuated by the Japanese Imperial army during its last day in Manila caused severe trauma to the city’s original residents, compelling them to leave their once beautiful city, and transfer to the suburban, almost provincial areas of San Juan, Pasay, New Manila, Quezon Avenue, and eventually, Makati.

A sobering stop reminding tourists that Intramuros was witness to some of the most violent and terrifying chapters in human history. Manila was the second most destroyed city after Warsaw during World War 2. It lost forever its charm, its very soul.

A sobering stop reminding tourists that Intramuros was witness to some of the most violent and terrifying chapters in human history. Manila was the second most destroyed city after Warsaw during World War 2. It lost forever its charm, its very soul.

Statue of King Carlos IV

Statue of King Carlos IV

2:45 PM – Plaza de Roma (Calle Aduana/Andres Soriano Avenue cor. Calle Real del Palacio/Gen. Luna Street)

A view of Plaza de Roma from the steps of the Cathedral

A view of Plaza de Roma from the steps of the Cathedral

Located at a strategic area in Intramuros, Plaza Roma was formerly Plaza Mayor, the “queen” of all plazas in the country, which was surrounded by the former Palacio del Gobernador, the Ayuntamiento (which was recently reconstructed rather tastefully) and the Manila Cathedral, the “mother” of all dioceses in the Philippines. One must remember that Intramuros was the city of Manila; thus, Plaza Mayor, being the main public square of the capital, it was once a busy and important open space, similar to all the major squares in European cities. Why, even bull fights were held here. Eventually, it was transformed into a garden, and today it is a manicured garden graced at the center of a bronze statue of King Carlos IV, the Spanish monarch who sent the vaccine against small pox to Spain’s only colony in the Far East. The said statue was erected in 1824. The plaza’s current name – Plaza de Roma – in in honor of the Eternal City of Rome, and the change was brought about in 1961 when the first Filipino was elevated as a Prince of the Church (cardinal), the aristocratic Archbishop Rufino Jiao Cardinal Santos.

A view of Manila Cathedral from Plaza de Roma

A view of Manila Cathedral from Plaza de Roma

The tympanum above the main portico bears a Latin inscription, which in English means: To your Immaculate Heart, we entrusted for safekeeping and consecrated. It also bears a strong net-romanesque style.

3:00 PM – Manila Cathedral or formally the Catedral Basílica Metropolitana de la Inmaculada Concepción de Santa María (Calle Gen. Luna cor. Postigo)

Destroyed during the Liberation of Manila in 1945, the current building was rebuilt in 1958 through the efforts of the first Filipino Cardinal, Archbishop Rufino Cardinal Santos. The 8th cathedral building to stand on the same spot, it was designed in the neo-romanesque style by a team of Filipino and Italian artists under the supervision of notable Filipino architect Fernando Ocampo. Technically, the Manila Cathedral as an establishment has been around for 430+ years.

During Holy Week, expect the cathedral to be filled with both pilgrims and tourists.

During Holy Week, expect the cathedral to be filled with both pilgrims and tourists.

Three Popes have celebrated Mass here: Blessed Paul VI, St. John Paul II and most recently, Pope Francis. Beneath the cathedral is the crypt where past archbishops of Manila are buried. The reason why this church is important is because all the other archdioceses and dioceses in the country were technically established by the Archdiocese of Manila. The church also houses the biggest pipe organ in Asia.

A mosaic of St. Jude in one of the side chapels.

A mosaic of St. Jude in one of the side chapels.

Must sees:
– The replicas of la Pieta and San Pietro statues, the original ones being iconic artworks in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
– The mosaics. Not many notice the exquisite mosaic works that grace the side chapels of the cathedral. These mosaics were executed by Italian artists and some of them are accentuated with gold leaf. The ceiling of the canopy in the sanctuary is also decorated with gold leaf mosaic.
– The cardinal’s galero or red hat which hangs from the dome. It is a sign that a church is a cardinal’s church.

A view of the sanctuary of Manila Cathedral with the image of Our Lady veiled as customary during Holy Week.

A view of the sanctuary of Manila Cathedral with the image of Our Lady veiled as customary during Holy Week.

Trivia:
– The statue of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in the altar used to be painted totally in gold. However, since it was too glaring, almost gaudy, they repainted it.
– The Manila Archdiocese used to be a parish of the Archdiocese of Mexico.
– The cross on the dome of the Manila Cathedral used to be the Philippines’ “Kilometer Zero”, the reference point from which all distances were measured.
– Its bells are the largest in use in the whole country.
– Its pipe organ is the biggest in Asia.

A view of the pipe organ of Manila Cathedral

A view of the pipe organ of Manila Cathedral

The Ayuntamiento lit up at night.

The Ayuntamiento lit up at night.

3:30 PM – Ayuntamiento (Formerly Calle Aduana/Andres Soriano Avenue)

The Ayuntamiento or the former City Hall made a recent comeback to the walled city when it was reconstructed on its original site to house the Bureau of Treasury. It is a rather tasteful reconstruction project, and its main hall is a beautiful place to hold an event.

The Ayuntamiento served as the palace of the Manila City Council, which consisted of two alcaldes (city leaders), eight oidores (judges), a clerk, and a chief constable. This set-up was also the precursor of the current Supreme Court. The First Philippine Assembly and the eventual Philippine Legislature also held sessions here. It was destroyed in 1945 with only the outer walls of the original building left standing, and for practically 60 years, it served as parking lot. In 2009, reconstruction began and was completed albeit delayed in 2013.

Trivia: It used to be known as the “Marble Palace” because of its generous use of Romblon marble.

Tip: You really can’t enter the building because it’s an office and not a tourist site.

A view of the Ayuntamiento during the day.

A view of the Ayuntamiento during the day.

3:45 PM – Intendencia/Casa de Moneda/Aduana (Muralla cor. Calle Aduana/Andrés Soriano Avenue)

The Intendencia

The Intendencia

This building serves as a “what-if” reminder to visitors in Intramuros. You see, after the Liberation of Manila (World War II), not all the structures were flattened. Most of the facades and outer walls of the churches, convents, palaces and buildings remained. This was one such example. The unfortunate tearing down of old buildings took place through the decades particularly in the 50s and 60s. Intramuros could have been a city of wonderful if not, hair-raising facades!

Some of the remaining wrought iron fixtures in the building. Thankfully, not all have been stolen by junk peddlers.

Some of the remaining wrought iron fixtures in the building. Thankfully, not all have been stolen by junk peddlers.

The Intendencia used to be customs house of the country. Inspectors of the galleons that would enter the Pasig River would hold office here. This was also where the first Philippine currency was minted after we stopped using Mexican silver after Mexico’s independence from Spain.

Until 1979, the Intendencia was still in use.

Until 1979, the Intendencia was still in use.

Actually, the building was still used after the War and was conserved to function as the offices of the Central Bank, the National Treasury and the Commission on Elections. However, in 1979, a fire ravaged the building. Currently, it serves as a picturesque albeit creepy backdrop with its remaining elaborate wrought iron grills, arched doorways and sparsely-decorated Baroque façade. Trees, ivy and plans have grown inside the edifice.

Plaza Mexico is very near the Intendencia. One can make a stop to visit this monument celebrating the long ties that bind Mexico and the Philippines.

Plaza Mexico is very near the Intendencia. One can make a stop to visit this monument celebrating the long ties that bind Mexico and the Philippines.

Trivia: The first Philippine Pesos were minted here. They called our money “pera” in reference to “perra” (bitch), as it bore the face of the unpopular Reina Isabela II.

The statue and puerta de Reina Isabela II is also very near the Intendencia.

The statue and puerta de Reina Isabela II is also very near the Intendencia.

4:00 PM – Muralla Walk

A view of the cathedral from the back of Letran as you make your way to Muralla

A view of the cathedral from the back of Letran as you make your way to Muralla

This portion of my tour takes you on the actual adobe stone walls of Intramuros as you walk the periphery. Coming from the Intendencia, you make your way down to el Colegio de San Júan de Letran whose high school department is the oldest suriving in the country.

The clock tower of Letran bears the date of establishment and the date when the "new" building was erected (1937).

The clock tower of Letran bears the date of establishment and the date when the “new” building was erected (1937).

You ascend the walls in front of Letran and walk on it, passing by the Puerta del Parían near Lyceum.

A view of the clock tower of Manila City Hall from the walls

A view of the clock tower of Manila City Hall from the walls

Upon reaching Mapúa College, you may take time to take photographs at the palisade replete with cannons.

Walls lined with cannons

Walls lined with cannons

Trivia:
– The walls of Intramuros are made from adobe stones quarried from Guadalupe, Makati and transported through the Pasig River. The project of fortifying the city with stone was initiated by a Jesuit, Padre Antonio Sedeño, SJ, after whom the Salcedo Village street was named.

– The Mapúa compound used to be the Franciscan friars’ section of the city, occupied by the Iglesia de San Francisco and the Capilla del Venerable Orden Tercero (VOT) or the Chapel of the Third Order, the lay arm of the Franciscans.

You can walk on the walls of Intramuros. This activity gives you a nice vantage point to view different aspects of  the walled city as well as its peripheries, just like the soldiers of yore.

You can walk on the walls of Intramuros. This activity gives you a nice vantage point to view different aspects of the walled city as well as its peripheries, just like the soldiers of yore.

4:30 PM – Sunset at Bayleaf Hotel’s Skydeck

A view of the Intramuros golf course, the National Art Gallery and Natural Sciences Gallery from Bayleaf Hotel's Skydeck

A view of the Intramuros golf course, the National Art Gallery and Natural Sciences Gallery from Bayleaf Hotel’s Skydeck

To end your tour of the “ciudad insigne y siempre leal” – “the distinguished and ever loyal city” (a royal appellation given by the King of Spain to Manila/Intramuros), go to the penthouse level of the Bayleaf Hotel (owned by the Laurel family).

This restaurant deck affords you a 360-degree view of Metro Manila. On good days, you can marvel at the iconic Manila sunset as you enjoy cold drinks to end your tour.

End your tour of Intramuros with a cold drink at Bayleaf Hotel. If the weather permits, you will be able to enjoy fantastic views of the sun setting over Manila Bay.

End your tour of Intramuros with a cold drink at Bayleaf Hotel. If the weather permits, you will be able to enjoy fantastic views of the sun setting over Manila Bay.

If you have more time for Intramuros, I suggest you also visit:

1.) Baluarte de San Diego – an archeological site, you can pay a measly Php 75 to enter the grounds, which also include a bonsai garden and access to a portion of the bulwark that affords you a great view of the former Beaterio or convent of the Religious of the Virgin Mary, which is now the Lights and Sounds Museum.

2.) Fort Santiago – the former military headquarters during the entire 300-year rule of the Spaniards, this has been transformed into pocket gardens and parks, an idyllic tourist and event venue. The former main gate which bears the bas relief of Santiago Matamoros (St. James Slayer of the Moors), patron of Spain, still stands.

Heavily damaged during World War 2 (there's a photo of a tank ramming itself into the gate), the former entrance into Fort Santiago stands proudly as one of Intramuros' more popular monuments.

Heavily damaged during World War 2 (there’s a photo of a tank ramming itself into the gate), the former entrance into Fort Santiago stands proudly as one of Intramuros’ more popular monuments.

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Diwali and Elegant South Mumbai

Thoroughly enjoyed my days spent exploring South Bombay

Thoroughly enjoyed my days spent exploring South Bombay

A NIGHT IN SOUTH MUMBAI

A tree-lined street at Colaba, South Bombay

A tree-lined street at Colaba, South Bombay

We came in time for the Diwali, the Festival of Lights and a time of family reunions and gift-giving for Hindus. On the eve of the Diwali, our counterparts graciously took us to South Mumbai, a place I personally fell in love with. Because we came at night, it had a different appeal. Some of the stately Edwardian buildings were lit while others were obscured by the evening darkness.

Our group at Mondegar

Our group at Mondegar

For that evening, our friends first brought us to a South Mumbai institution, Mondegar’s Café. Inside, one can get the old Escolta feel as if one was being transported to 1950s Manila. It was packed to the seams. However, it was also a witness to a violent and sad chapter of Mumbai history when Islamic radicals sprayed bullets into the café as they shut down Mumbai, culminating with their occupation of The Taj Mahal Hotel. After having some beer and chicken tandoor, our colleagues took us to this famous street side joint called Bademiya, a hit among Mumbai young professionals. It was street food but it looked clean and with hot grills, it was really appealing. The set-up was you ordered your food and when these would be ready, the dishes would be brought to your car… hood or trunk! What we did was we opened our car’s hood, laid out news papers and the food on paper plates and voila, we had a hearty dinner! We ordered some of Bademiya’s popular offerings: chicken tikka rolls (super spicy!) and lamb and chicken brains with lots of onions and soft, warm roti.

Ox brain, chicken keema and lentejas with hot fluffy roti served on our car's hood at Bademiya, Colaba

Ox brain, chicken keema and lentejas with hot fluffy roti served on our car’s hood at Bademiya, Colaba

Enjoying our streetside food

Enjoying our streetside food

Going home, we took the train. Now, you must agree with me, with all those scenes we’ve seen on Discovery Channel or National Geographic of Indian trains bursting with people and the occasional monkey climbing in the coaches, we’ve already developed our pre-conceived notions of what a train ride in India could be like. Well, since we rode the train from the terminus at a very late hour on the eve of the Diwali, we didn’t experience anything eventful…until we got to our stop. Upon arriving at our stop, someone was pushed out of the coach and he hit the platform with a loud thud, eliciting screams from the white tourists!

Posing at the floral carpet for Diwali at The Leela, Mumbai

Posing at the floral carpet for Diwali at The Leela, Mumbai

DIWALI IN MUMBAI

CST lit for the Diwali

CST lit for the Diwali

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Diwali in Mumbai fell on a Thursday and Francis and I began our day tour around South Mumbai roughly after lunch. We alighted our car at Colaba, which was the street shopping area in South Mumbai. After an hour or so of going through boutiques (Francis managed to buy his girlfriend an elegant cashmere jacket perfect for a fall outdoor affair), we had a quick lunch at Leopold’s, a popular café frequented by tourists who might be after either Indian or continental fare.

Posing with the Gateway of India behind me.

Posing with the Gateway of India behind me.

South Mumbai streetscape

Afterwards, we began our walk from Colaba past the

The clock tower of Mumbai University, which has one of the best campuses in the world.

The clock tower of Mumbai University, which has one of the best campuses in the world.


Mumbai University,
Bombay High Court

Bombay High Court

Bombay High Court,

The Municipal Corporation Building reminds me of Cibeles in Madrid. It houses  houses the civic body that governs the city of Mumbai

The Municipal Corporation Building reminds me of Cibeles in Madrid. It houses houses the civic body that governs the city of Mumbai



the Municipal Corporation Building

The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) was built iin 1887 to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Victoria.

The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) was built iin 1887 to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Victoria.

and on to the iconic and breathtaking Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, an impressive edifice of combined Indo-Saracenic and High Victorian Gothic Revival styles replete with ornamentation and topped by a dome.

The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, which survived a terrorist attack a few years back. It stands proudly in front of the bay.

The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, which survived a terrorist attack a few years back. It stands proudly in front of the bay.

Our walk through canopied streets and excellently laid out avenues reminded Francis of New York while I felt I was back in Europe.

Have you ever seen shows that featured this side of Bombay? For me, it was surreal to walk through these streets because they never registered in mind to have been extant in India. Impressive!

Have you ever seen shows that featured this side of Bombay? For me, it was surreal to walk through these streets because they never registered in mind to have been extant in India. Impressive!

Edwardian and Victorian buildings abount in South Bombay, adding a sense of gentility to the otherwise chaotic mega metropolis.

Edwardian and Victorian buildings abount in South Bombay, adding a sense of gentility to the otherwise chaotic mega metropolis.

The ornate Flora Fountain is a heritage structure in Mumbai located on Martyr's Square.

The ornate Flora Fountain is a heritage structure in Mumbai located on Martyr’s Square.

A lot of my preconceived notions of India were erased because of our trip to South Mumbai. India is indeed a multi-faceted country. We intended to have a short break at the McDonald’s across CST as we booked an Uber but because of mobile data and roaming problems, it took almost 30 minutes before the driver finally got our call and made the move to go to where we were. Apparently in India, the drivers wouldn’t drive until you call them.

Francs and I unwinding at Corniche on the grand feast of the Diwali.

Francs and I unwinding at Corniche on the grand feast of the Diwali.

From there, we went to Bandara, a hip coastal town, which was frequented by Mumbai’s middle class youths and expatriate community. We settled in this placed called Corniche, an al fresco café on the beachfront. We were lucky because we made it to their happy hour promotion, which was “Buy 1 Drink, Get 1 Drink”. We then bought one bottle of red Indian wine to get another one free! Throughout Mumbai during Diwali, we saw floral carpets with oil lamps everywhere, ranging from elegant ones to the more simpler displays.

An old black cab behind me.

An old black cab behind me.

LAST DAY IN MUMBAI

Beautifully preserved buildings utilized for modern ends.

Beautifully preserved buildings utilized for modern ends.

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On my last day in Mumbai, Vineeta graciously took me around South Mumbai. We walked along tree-lined streets and grand avenues that reminded me of Paris and Madrid. Upon my request, she also brought me to the textile market, Mangaldas where I splurged on beautiful fabrics for my polos. The qualities of the cloths were superb while the prints were very unique. She also brought me to a famous eatery that served traditional Indian food on banana leaves.

St. Mary's Basilica in Bandara

St. Mary’s Basilica in Bandara

After lunch, I went to Bandara again to visit the Catholic basilica of Holy Mary, which sports a neo-gothic style. I noticed that the locals also prayed at the sanctuary area in the same posture as they would in Hindi temples. Finally, before I flew out of India, I had an afternoon drink on the rooftop restaurant of the Sea Palace Hotel, which afforded me fantastic sunset views of the Bay of Mumbai. It was a quiet afternoon that left me feeling extremely grateful for my once-in-a-lifetime experience in India.

The view from the Sea Palace Hotel

The view from the Sea Palace Hotel

Mumbai International Airport was exquisite! Really beautiful!

Mumbai International Airport was exquisite! Really beautiful!

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INDIA 2015

Elephants on parade at Amer Fort, Jaipur, Rajasthan

Elephants on parade at Amer Fort, Jaipur, Rajasthan


One of the most unexpected trips I’ve ever had was my business trip to India last year. I went with my team mate (and also, school batch mate) Francis. We were tasked to monitor a project and create positive rapport with our 3rd party supplier, and the deployment was more than 2 weeks.

India had always, to tell you honestly, given me the impression of being too over-the-top a destination that I never really wanted to visit it. Ever since I was a young kid who loved watching National Geographic, scenes of rats being adored, king cobras poisoning hapless farmers, elephants running amok and corpses being allowed to rot at the banks of Ganges – all these, well, turned me off. Before my trip, I researched on some travel tips to avoid getting food poisoning, and the list was quite long: “don’t eat cut fruit”, “don’t drink water that is not served in a sealed bottle”, “do not try street food”, etc.

Our 5-star accommodation in Mumbai - The Leela

Our 5-star accommodation in Mumbai – The Leela

Fortunately, throughout our stay in India, we never woke up to bad tummies.

The lobby of The Leela upon our arrival in Mumbai at past 12 in the evening.

The lobby of The Leela upon our arrival in Mumbai at past 12 in the evening.

For our first time in India, our main destination was Mumbai where the office of our consultants were located. Luckily, we had a swell time staying for two weeks at The Leela, one of Mumbai’s oldest 5-star hotels. It was 5-minutes away from the international airport and is an expansive compound with a big pool and well-appointed lobby. Our room was not big but neither was it cramped. Sadly, we never enjoyed the breakfast fare here except during our first day. Why? Because they served practically the same items EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Every day, we took either Uber or Meru cars as it was very difficult using local cabs as foreigners. We also had the option of using the rickshaw but that would mean more than 1 hour of traveling amidst Indian heat and Mumbai traffic. To tell you honestly though, the only difference with Manila and Mumbai traffic is that in Mumbai, you’d see an occasional cow on the road. Manila traffic is almost like Mumbai’s! It wasn’t too much of a culture shock.

The quintissential Mumbai ride: the rickshaw

The quintissential Mumbai ride: the rickshaw

Every lunch, Francis and I would enjoy authentic Indian food as our counterparts’ office had free buffet lunch daily. Francis loved the Indian practice of putting yoghurt on rice. I, on the other hand, loved the lentils, the eggs and the different kinds of rice served. Since a lot in the office were vegetarians, it was always a treat for me and Francis when there would be chicken or veal served.

Every day, we came home to this beautiful view.

Every day, we came home to this beautiful view.

In this series of blog entries, I will share with you some of my memorable times spent in the land of colorful saris, exoticism and dizzying culture – India.
DIWALI and SOUTH MUMBAI

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Why I Will Miss La Cocina de Tita Moning

A private sala shared to the curious public. La Cocina de Tita Moning is housed in the former home of Dr. Alejandro Roces Legarda and Doña Ramona Hernandez who was also known as Tita Moning. Diners get to experience the Legarda household's own lifestyle with the restaurant featuring some family memorabilia for guests to use, touch or see.

A private sala shared to the curious public. La Cocina de Tita Moning is housed in the former home of Dr. Alejandro Roces Legarda and Doña Ramona Hernandez who was also known as Tita Moning. Diners get to experience the Legarda household’s own lifestyle with the restaurant featuring some family memorabilia for guests to use, touch or see.

In a week, La Cocina de Tita Moning, the bespoke restaurant experience in old Manila, will be closing her doors to guests and diners after a 15-year run. Located within the former home of Dr. Don Alejandro Roces Legarda and Doña Ramona Hernández (aka Tita Moning to relatives and the then tightly-knit Manileño community) in one of the earliest Art Deco residences in the city (the house was built in 1937), La Cocina de Tita Moning was opened by one of the couple’s grandchildren, Suzette L. Montinola, who is also a faculty member at Enderun Colleges, not solely to run a business but likewise, to share to the greater public Tita Moning’s recipes, which were already quite popular among her friends and family.

The biggest group I've toured at La Cocina de Tita Moning, members and friends of the Heritage Conservation Society - Youth.

The biggest group I’ve toured at La Cocina de Tita Moning, members and friends of the Heritage Conservation Society – Youth.

A member of the staff serving leche flan for one of the groups I brought for merienda cena.

A member of the staff serving leche flan for one of the groups I brought for merienda cena.

Members of the staff putting paella valenciana on the plates of students I brought to La Cocina on one occasion

Members of the staff putting paella valenciana on the plates of students I brought to La Cocina on one occasion

The restaurant was a big hit. It was a novel experience in a Manila that was still beginning to jumpstart what is currently a booming restaurant scene. What set La Cocina de Tita Moning apart was the fact that diners (who had to call at least 24 hours in advance to reserve a table) were given an experiential meal, which made them feel they were being transported to a bygone Manila – a Manila of gentility, sophistication, class and affection. Specializing in Fil-Hispanic menus, La Cocina de Tita Moning provided the total dining experience –

The patio is where guests begin their La Cocina de Tita Moning experience. It gives you a very homey vibe and it is a perfect spot to enjoy your pandan iced tea.

The patio is where guests begin their La Cocina de Tita Moning experience. It gives you a very homey vibe and it is a perfect spot to enjoy your pandan iced tea.

from the ambience,

Exquisite Vajillas La Cartuja from Sevilla. These are expensive china and by the sheer number of pieces in La Cocina, you get an idea of the old wealth of the family. It's a joy to be eating on these.

Exquisite Vajillas La Cartuja from Sevilla. These are expensive china and by the sheer number of pieces in La Cocina, you get an idea of the old wealth of the family. It’s a joy to be eating on these.

Roast pork with crispy cracklings served on La Cartuja Sevillana.

Roast pork with crispy cracklings served on La Cartuja Sevillana.

to the exquisite La Cartuja china,

The Murano pieces were bought by Mrs. Legarda from previous trips to Italy.

The Murano pieces were bought by Mrs. Legarda from previous trips to Italy.

the Murano table centerpieces, the silver,

The household staff are always ready to assist you.

the staff’s attention – all those made it a wonderful place to mark special occasions.

The Spanish Pop Culture class I brought to La Cocina. Their professor was my own profesora, la Señora Heide Aquino.

The Spanish Pop Culture class I brought to La Cocina. Their professor was my own profesora, la Señora Heide Aquino.

And the beautiful part is, visitors come to a realization that there was indeed that kind of Manila in recent history. It was a chance to dine how our grandparents dined, and for those who are not from the same social background as the Roces-Legarda family, an opportunity to eat how the alta de sociedad wined and dined.

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Claudia, Nicole and I. Claudia, who had been a vegetarian for years, suddenly ate chicken relleno and savored every bit of it without feeling guilty!

European guests at the sala

A small walking tour group

 

However, for this author, La Cocina de TIta Moning wasn’t only a restaurant; it was an important asset or feature of my tours.

Welcoming guests at the foyer of the Legarda house, which smells like butter. Yummy!

Welcoming guests at the foyer of the Legarda house, which smells like butter. Yummy!

As some of you know, I give tours around Manila and in all the groups who asked me to guide them around Manila, I never failed to recommend La Cocina de Tita Moning as a must-visit stop. Usually, my tours would end there or would have a merienda stop in the patio. Ms. Suzette actually customized a merienda menu for my tour groups. For a modest fee of P500, my guests got to tour the house and have their fill of toast bread with their signature queso de bola spread, sotanghon guisado, really good chicken relleno, leche flan and pandan iced tea.

With friends Patty and Bianca Rodriguez

With friends Patty and Bianca Rodriguez

Friends from France and Spain on a December 30 tour

My friends from Globe posing in the sala

My friends from Globe posing in the sala

With Mathilde, Seb, Chiara and Nico. This particular tour was quite a memorable one. I enjoyed their group very much!

With Mathilde, Seb, Chiara and Nico. This particular tour was quite a memorable one. I enjoyed their group very much!

I can’t count the number of groups I’ve brought to La Cocina de Tita Moning. However, I can say that in all those visits to the house, the staff have always given us the warmest welcome that only a Filipino family could. Service was always top-notch and the food never faltered in consistency of taste.

The Aguinaldo siblings listening as they started their tour at the foyer

The Aguinaldo siblings listening as they started their tour at the foyer

When La Cocina de Tita Moning accepts its last order on 31 May (which happens to be my birthday!), I will miss it terribly. My tours always ended or started on a high point precisely because of the unique and genuine Filipino hospitality and heritage my guests experience when we stop at La Cocina de Tita Moning. For reasons we can only guess – and for things that are purely private in nature – the Legardas’ (a family whose members form part of the Philippines’ historic cultural and intellectual elite) decision to close to the public their private property is another loss for Philippine cultural heritage. Why? Not only is the house a heritage site but its recent mission and purpose of introducing Filipinos and foreigners to a real, tasteful aspect of our culture will be lost, and will be replaced by other restaurants in Manila which do not measure to the authenticity it offers.

Tita Moning's classic bread and butter pudding. Decadent!

Tita Moning’s classic bread and butter pudding. Decadent!

With Suzette Montinola at Madrid Fusion Manila 2016

With Suzette Montinola at Madrid Fusion Manila 2016

Christmastime was a good time bringing guests to La Cocina because the house would be spruced up with Christmas decor and lights.

Christmastime was a good time bringing guests to La Cocina because the house would be spruced up with Christmas decor and lights.

Speakers with KF Seetoh of Makansutra and Domingo Ramon Enerio, Chief Operating Officer of the Tourism Promotions Board at the sala of La Cocina de Tita Moning after the TPB's hosted reception for World Street Food Congress speakers and international media.

Speakers with KF Seetoh of Makansutra and Domingo Ramon Enerio, Chief Operating Officer of the Tourism Promotions Board at the sala of La Cocina de Tita Moning after the TPB’s hosted reception for World Street Food Congress speakers and international media.

And finally, on a more intimate and personal level, one of the reasons why I love La Cocina de Tita Moning so much is because it is the only restaurant in Metro Manila that reminds me of the cooking of a person I miss so much: my own lola (grandmother), my Lola Entel.

My Lola and her family. She's the girl at the far right.

My Lola and her family. She’s the girl at the far right.

Born to a middle-class Manila family in 1922, Lola was known to her family, friends, in-laws and children in law (and then, to their own families), as a marvelous cook. Like any Filipina woman born to a Manila from that era, she had a strong Fil-Hispanic and Americanized orientation. What I miss from her own kitchen – morcon, lengua estofada or con champiñon, galantina, relleno, meat loaf, potato salad, pancit palabok, waffles and pancakes, doughnuts laced with generous amounts of sugar, kare-kare – a long list of things I dearly miss. All of those labors of love tasted of her own character – loving, passionate, patient, of good taste.

Lola carrying Papa in our family compound in Cubao with my uncles and aunts in their younger years.

Lola carrying Papa in our family compound in Cubao with my uncles and aunts in their younger years.

That is the great, almost divine, aspect of food – it evokes memories. Food (taste, scent, texture, presentation, etc.) take you back to stories from the past, and by savoring meals, you are reminded of so many things that actually, make you as a person. Food nourishes the body, the spirit, the mind and also, the heart.

Chinie Diaz, Suzette Montinola and myself at the World Street Food Congress

Chinie Diaz, Suzette Montinola and myself at the World Street Food Congress

To Ms. Suzette, Manang Tining, the entire staff of La Cocina de Tita Moning: muchísimas gracias por todo. Thank you very much for everything. Maraming, maraming salamat sa lahat!

READ ON THE FOOD I LOVED MOST FROM LA COCINA DE TITA MONING HERE:

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2015: A Memorable Year of Travel

Posing in front of an iconic world heritage site, the Taj Mahal

Posing in front of an iconic world heritage site, the Taj Mahal

Traveler”. Numerous folks these days call themselves by the said label. With beautiful (filtered or “no filter”) photos that showcase the different wonders of our planet, people these days share on social media their love for visiting new places, tasting new cuisines and most of the time, the new friendships they have fostered on their trips. These posts are encouraging and inspiring. Sometimes, however, they can go overboard and border as boastful acclamation on their wealth and influence.

Basking in the charm of Wat Bo, Bangkok on a hot January afternoon

Basking in the charm of Wat Bo, Bangkok on a hot January afternoon

For myself though, I cannot swallow calling myself a traveller. Why? Because I’m a self-confessed (and happy!) tourist! Plus, I am an employee. Reality is, my travels are funded by my salary savings or are business trips in nature. I’d like to believe I have a healthy sense of reality for me to know that traveling to new places for me is not my job but a perk of being able to save (or of living with my parents haha!). I know how some of these seasoned (or not) travelers look down on individuals who act like tourists, but for me, I do insist on seeing tourist spots and taking photos at the most touristy of places (such as MTRs, which unfortunately, in 21st century Manila is practically dysfunctional and depressing).

The Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand

The Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand

But do not be mistaken! My personal views on travel do not entail of purely shopping, fastfood (eating McDonald’s in Bangkok for example and not trying pad thai) and “picture-picture”. I look forward seeing non-touristy trails, trying the local food and absorbing as much of the cultural heritage as possible. Although I admit that I occasionally indulge in shopping at stores that are already available in Manila (perfect example: H&M), I also make it a point to buy goods uniquely from the countries/provinces I visit even if I’ve been to that country before.

Wat Mahathat, Bangkok, Thailand

Wat Mahathat, Bangkok, Thailand

My beautiful plate of pad thai at Paragon Siam

My beautiful plate of pad thai at Paragon Siam

What I love about being a tourist is that everything I see seems new and interesting. Everything is worth a photograph and almost everything is worth trying. I think the only thing I won’t queue for hours for are amusement parks. This year, I tried Universal Studios in Japan and said “no” to Disneyland in Hong Kong. One amusement park last year was okay for me.

The biggest Catholic church in Asia: Basílica Menor de San Martín de Tours, Taal

The biggest Catholic church in Asia: Basílica Menor de San Martín de Tours, Taal

Casa Regalo de Boda for Gliceria Marella, an 1896 Revolutionary. She is said to be the "Angel of the Katipunan".

Casa Regalo de Boda for Gliceria Marella, an 1896 Revolutionary. She is said to be the “Angel of the Katipunan”.

2015 was a wonderful year for me in terms of travel because I was able to enjoy and see new sights and at the same time, revisit old favorites. Traveling is not only about wishy-washy things. It’s about a multi-billion dollar industry that requires heavy investment in infrastructure, telecommunications, heritage preservation, food production, ecological maintenance, training, etc. It generates incomes for tour guides, bed-and-breakfast establishments, national parks, etc. Being a tourist makes a you a player in a life-changing game for countless others. Thus, it is also imperative that we become responsible tourists, travelers or visitors.

Arashimaya Bamboo Path, Kyoto, Japan. An  ecological and spiritual destination for tourists and pilgrims.

Arashimaya Bamboo Path, Kyoto, Japan. An ecological and spiritual destination for tourists and pilgrims.

A flower that brings millions of dollars to Japan, the cherry blossom. We were very lucky to have been able to visit Japan as the cherry blossoms were starting to bloom.

A flower that brings millions of dollars to Japan, the cherry blossom. We were very lucky to have been able to visit Japan as the cherry blossoms were starting to bloom.

Last year, these were the places I remember visiting:
Bangkok, Nasugbu, Taal, Tagaytay, Sombrero Island, Japan, Magalawa Island, Boracay, Bantayan (Cebu), Singapore, India and Hong Kong.

With my cousins at Asakusa Temple.

With my cousins at Asakusa Temple.

A Rajasthani thali. 2015 was the year I first got exposed and immersed in Indian cuisine.

A Rajasthani thali. 2015 was the year I first got exposed and immersed in Indian cuisine.

Last year, I also facilitated tours in Intramuros, San Miguel and Binondo.

Hokkaizanmai-don: raw snow crab, deep-water shrimp, sea urchin, salmon, salmon roe and scallops on top of a bowl of hot steaming sushi rice.

Hokkaizanmai-don: raw snow crab, deep-water shrimp, sea urchin, salmon, salmon roe and scallops on top of a bowl of hot steaming sushi rice.

Marjo's pochero, a very popular soup dish of bone marrow in Cebu

Marjo’s pochero, a very popular soup dish of bone marrow in Cebu

A hearty lunch for two at Virgin Island, Bantayan, Cebu all for less than 1,000 Pesos.

A hearty lunch for two at Virgin Island, Bantayan, Cebu all for less than 1,000 Pesos.

In all these trips, I was able to learn of the many things local tourism still lacks. However, I also realized that despite our many disadvantages (i.e. our airport is terribly disconnected!), our people make visiting the Philippines an enjoyable experience. People always smile and serve visitors with grace (unlike in other places I visited abroad where you couldn’t distinguish brashness to being “padabog”). Almost everyone too has a working knowledge of English.

Clear as gin, fine as powder. This is a typical morning view of the beach in Boracay.

Clear as gin, fine as powder. This is a typical morning view of the beach in Boracay.

Among the most memorable experiences for me in my trips were: seeing His Holiness, the Pope, pass by Terminal 3 before I flew to Bangkok, shopping at Chatuchak Market and partying in Silom with friends, waking up at sunrise in Magalawa (Zambales) and Bantayan (Cebu), chilling with my friends on the rocky shore of Sombrero Island, traveling for the first time to Japan with my cousins, eating at Tsukiji Fish Market the freshest and tastiest chirashi bowl I’ve ever had, jumping off at Ariel’s Point in Boracay, eating a hearty lunch with my best friend in the office at Bantayan’s Virgin Island, eating pochero and lechon in one night in Cebu with my two funny and close office mates, traveling to India for a 2-week business trip with my team mate and seeing the Taj Mahal, and finally, spending 8 memorable, uneventful days in Hong Kong with my whole family, my grandmother and my Mama’s other siblings.

Never knew Mumbai would have such lovely streets! I loved this part of the city, South Bombay.

Never knew Mumbai would have such lovely streets! I loved this part of the city, South Bombay.

A marvelous view of the pristine white-sand beach of Bantayan on the way to the pier. It was so difficult to leave such a beautiful sight!

A marvelous view of the pristine white-sand beach of Bantayan on the way to the pier. It was so difficult to leave such a beautiful sight!

In all of those trips, no unfortunate occurrence ever happened. All successfully ended with no injuries, stolen handbags or lost passports. Even our trip to Hong Kong was smooth despite the fact that my Papa is bound to a wheelchair. Why, we even got to travel from Kennedy Town (end of the Island line) all the way to Mongkok by taking the MTR! It was no sweat.

Papa conveniently commuting using the HK MTR

Papa conveniently commuting using the HK MTR

The Avenue of the Stars is a big draw to tourists. By just watching the lights show displayed from the unobstructed views of the Hong Kong Island skyline, tourists enjoy free evenings of amusement.

The Avenue of the Stars is a big draw to tourists. By just watching the lights show displayed from the unobstructed views of the Hong Kong Island skyline, tourists enjoy free evenings of amusement.

Causeway Bay. Streetscapes add much charm to a city.

Causeway Bay. Streetscapes add much charm to a city.

Unfortunately, for many Filipinos, coming back to Manila can always be a bittersweet experience. We are so near many advanced, well-maintained urban centers and yet, ours is a seemingly hopeless case. Our MRT and LRT are not PWD-friendly, they are inadequately staffed by inefficient personnel, and our roads are always jam-packed with pedestrians being the last priority. For a metropolis that has a heavy security presence, you ironically feel unsafe in Metro Manila as compared to Singapore, Bangkok or Hong Kong.

Variety and hygiene. Small restaurants, rustic kiosks or high-end Michelin-starred restaurants offer a variety of clean and savory choices for locals and tourists alike.

Variety and hygiene. Small restaurants, rustic kiosks or high-end Michelin-starred restaurants offer a variety of clean and savory choices for locals and tourists alike.

Elephants on parade. These animals and their care-takers are probably taken care of through tourism.

Elephants on parade. These animals and their care-takers are probably taken care of through tourism.

Traveling is a way for us to open our minds to better ways of doing things. We need to cease extolling practices or “virtues” that highlight our “patience” and “kindness” because really, we need to attack things decisively already. Our “resilience” is being taken advantaged by lazy policy makers. We cannot let everything to fate (“okay na ýan”), and start taking things seriously. I hope and pray that 2016 brings new leaders to our government who will orchestrate an integrated effort to fix our country to really make visiting the Philippines more fun.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, a Victorian train station that is a gem for both locals and tourists. Manila, let's do this for the Paco Railway Station!

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, a Victorian train station that is a gem for both locals and tourists. Manila, let’s do this for the Paco Railway Station!

Amer Fort, located in the mountains of Jaipur, Rajasthan was a scenic destination.

Amer Fort, located in the mountains of Jaipur, Rajasthan was a scenic destination.

Cliff diving at Ariel's point was one of the most unforgettable experiences I had in Boracay last year. Really worth the money!

Cliff diving at Ariel’s point was one of the most unforgettable experiences I had in Boracay last year. Really worth the money!

Chand Baori stepwell in Jaipur, Rajasthan.

Chand Baori stepwell in Jaipur, Rajasthan.

There is beauty in our world but we shouldn’t romanticize or rationalize ugliness to give off a contrived, superficial impression. We need to make beauty present and felt in our cities, provinces and our establishments because that’s the appeal of traveling: the possibility of experiencing beauty. And why is there that insatiable search or attraction to beauty in our lives? Because we were created in the image and likeness of the creator of sublime beauty. Life, through traveling, seems to be a pilgrimage in search of that Divine Beauty that will fulfill what ours hearts long for.

Sunrise at Magalawa Island

Sunrise at Magalawa Island

Kinkakuji or the Golden Pavilion, Kyoto, Japan.

Kinkakuji or the Golden Pavilion, Kyoto, Japan.

Sunset at Nami Resort, Boracay

Sunset at Nami Resort, Boracay

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Why Museums Matter (Even When The Entrance is Not for Free)

With Mr. Jeremy Barns, the Director of the National Museum, as I interviewed him inside the old Session Hall being restored. Mr. Barns' leadership has been instrumental in the many positive developments in the National Museum. We owe him much for his vision and leadership.

With Mr. Jeremy Barns, the Director of the National Museum, as I interviewed him inside the old Session Hall being restored. Mr. Barns’ leadership has been instrumental in the many positive developments in the National Museum. We owe him much for his vision and leadership (Photo taken by Joseph Angan.

These past few weeks, I’ve been seeing wonderful photos of people visiting the National Museum. Posting their shots of precious Lunas, Hidalgos, Amorsolos and whatnots, these people took advantage of the free entrance to the National Museum’s galleries and exhibits because the fee was waived in celebration of the Museums and Galleries Month of the Philippines.

Outside the iconic Musée du Louvre, a magnet for international tourists and scholars. It is a place where people of almost every race converge to learn about not only the history of France but also of other civilizations.

Outside the iconic Musée du Louvre, a magnet for international tourists and scholars. It is a place where people of almost every race converge to learn about not only the history of France but also of other civilizations.

Signed into law by the late former President Corazon Cojuangco Aquino as Proclamation No. 798 s. 1991, I presume it was meant to bolster awareness, appreciation and support for our country’s museums and galleries. But since 1991, I think it was only fairly recent when going to museums and art galleries became in vogue especially among the country’s middleclass.

Outside the Museo del Prado, the most beautiful museum this author has ever visited.

Outside the Museo del Prado, the most beautiful museum this author has ever visited.

With more and more people being able to travel abroad, where they are exposed to a barrage of museums and galleries, they come back to the country with some hunger for reconnecting with their own history and culture. I can be wrong but I think foreign travel has indeed shaped today’s generation of Filipinos into individuals in search for their own identity amidst a highly-globalized world.

Posing in front of the imposing

Posing in front of the imposing “Spoliarium” of Juan Luna, perhaps the most iconic piece in the National Art Gallery. It won the first gold medal at the Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes in 1884 in Madrid.

“La Bulaqueña”, painted by Juan Luna y Novicio in 1895, is one of the most beautiful gems of the National Museum. I call it the “Mona Lisa” of the National Art Gallery. Viewers are drawn to the innocent sensuality of the lady dressed in a Maria Clara, her face exuding a sombering, mysterious depth that pulls one into her soul and mind.

On the flip side, I’ve developed some melancholy with the impression that despite the affordability of these museums, the influx of visitors only occurs when the modest entrance fee is waived. At 150 Pesos, one can already access the Natural Sciences and Fine Arts museums of the National Museum, both housed in two period neo-classical buildings.

The backside of the National Museum of Anthropology.

The backside of the National Museum of Anthropology.

Guests to the National Art Gallery of the National Museum buy their tickets at the restored foyer of what was once an elegant Legislative House. It was designed by American Ralph Harrington Doane and his Filipino assistant, Antonio Toledo.

Guests to the National Art Gallery of the National Museum buy their tickets at the restored foyer of what was once an elegant Legislative House. It was designed by American Ralph Harrington Doane and his Filipino assistant, Antonio Toledo.

The National Art Gallery is housed in the former Legislative House, which is a neo-classical building that's part of Manila's Neo-classical Corridor.

The National Art Gallery is housed in the former Legislative House, which is a neo-classical building that’s part of Manila’s Neo-classical Corridor.

The entrance to the National Museum was the historic sight of the inauguration of the Philippine Commonwealth in 1935.

The entrance to the National Museum was the historic sight of the inauguration of the Philippine Commonwealth in 1935.

Why visit a museum when it’s free when the entrance fee is your means of helping in the upkeep of our National Museum? We shouldn’t go cheap on government agencies like the National Museum precisely because of the intrinsically important assets they preserve and showcase: our national identity and local history. I know this is a good means to bring in people to be at least acquainted with our National Museum, and there is nothing wrong with that. But I just hope people go beyond this “free trip”, and truly make trips to our museums and galleries a normal part of their lives.

One of personal favorites at the National Museum: Félix Resurrección Hidalgo's Don Perez de Dasmariñas (1896)

One of personal favorites at the National Museum: Félix Resurrección Hidalgo’s Don Perez de Dasmariñas (1896)

The University of Santo Tomas Museum is the oldest museum in the country. It is housed in the Main Building, a noteworthy architectural spectacle found amidst the hustle and bustle of downtown Manila.

The University of Santo Tomas Museum is the oldest museum in the country. It is housed in the Main Building, a noteworthy architectural spectacle found amidst the hustle and bustle of downtown Manila.

A museum is not only a building. An art gallery is not only a room. Museums, in this case, the National Museum, is a repository of things that have witnessed important chapters of our story as a people. The things you see hung on the walls or kept in shelves are not just “old” things; they are tangible bearers of our country’s soul. They communicate our past, and what is the past but the wisdom of time? The past is like a cave that conceals stories, problems, scandals, triumphs, embarrassments and other human follies, which current and future generations should discover in order for them to live more meaningful lives and plan for a better, informed future.

The entrance of the Museo Nacional de Antropología where a special hall is dedicated to Spain's only outpost in the Far East, the Philippines. My visit here was very memorable as I was able to see how our local history is displayed in the land of our colonizer. It helped that I could read Spanish.

The entrance of the Museo Nacional de Antropología where a special hall is dedicated to Spain’s only outpost in the Far East, the Philippines. My visit here was very memorable as I was able to see how our local history is displayed in the land of our colonizer. It helped that I could read Spanish.

The Asian Civilisations Museum is a must-visit in Singapore for anyone visiting the tiny city-state. It showcases a finely curated set of exhibits that display our region's heritage and history.

The Asian Civilisations Museum is a must-visit in Singapore for anyone visiting the tiny city-state. It showcases a finely curated set of exhibits that display our region’s heritage and history.

The museum is the torch you use to enter that cave, which is the past. Holding high the light of museum commentaries, research, exhibits and even events such as talks, symposia and launches, the flame which emanates from a museum – typically perceived as a temple for the archaic – is the beacon that will help us navigate through our current problems and future endeavors. The dynamics of museum operations such as research, conservation, audience engagement and marketing all add to that flame. They need to continue feeding the flame or else your museum ends up but nothing more than a stockroom or warehouse of dusty items.

Posing with French friends Marie Laure and Alexis with Paolo after a talk on Urban Planning at the National Museum.

Posing with French friends Marie Laure and Alexis with Paolo after a talk on Urban Planning at the National Museum.

With Chilean friends and my mentor Dr. Fernando Nakpil Zialcita with his son during the

With Chilean friends and my mentor Dr. Fernando Nakpil Zialcita with his son during the “Claudio Bravo: Sojourn in Manila” event organized by the Lopez Foundation and the Chilean Embassy at the Met Museum.

The Manila Symphony Orchestra posing for their last bow during the Viva Vivaldi concert at the Ayala Museum.

The Manila Symphony Orchestra posing for their last bow during the Viva Vivaldi concert at the Ayala Museum.

The reason why I feel uneasy with this periodic descent of people to the National Museum is precisely because they are motivated by the most shallow of things: it’s a free trip. Because they won’t spend a single centavo, people go to the museum. My hastiest and perhaps most flawed impression is that the free entrance motivates them to have a “selfie” at a beautiful place. Instead of going there because they’ve had a fatigue with horrendous malls and mall parking complexes, they go there with the same consumerist mindset, seeing the “free entrance” as if it’s a store sale. I hope I am completely mistaken.

Throngs of tourists at the Hall of Italian Masters at the Louvre. The same hall houses the Louvre's most popular resident, the Mona Lisa.

Throngs of tourists at the Hall of Italian Masters at the Louvre. The same hall houses the Louvre’s most popular resident, the Mona Lisa.

The Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles sits inside the Grand Palace compound in Bangkok where Thai fabrics and textiles are tastefully exhibited for visitors to learn more about the Thais' rich weaving heritage.

The Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles sits inside the Grand Palace compound in Bangkok where Thai fabrics and textiles are tastefully exhibited for visitors to learn more about the Thais’ rich weaving heritage.

Museums matter even if the entrance is not free because it is home to a people’s soul. Its halls are hallowed not because of visitors but because they are filled with items which reflect the struggle of humanity to settle some of the most basic questions it has always tried to resolve. An appreciation for museums, for art pieces, for relics, for artifacts is a sign of deep love for human life! If one finds himself thirsty to touch base with these beautiful things, it means one is searching for proof of what is true, good and beautiful.

Mythical figures on bas relief grace portions of the National Museum.

Mythical figures on bas relief grace portions of the National Museum.

In Taal, a camera museum lures in photography buffs to look and be amazed by a wide array of vintage cameras that have shot countless memories of people through the decades. The entrance fee is just 100 Pesos.

In Taal, a camera museum lures in photography buffs to look and be amazed by a wide array of vintage cameras that have shot countless memories of people through the decades. The entrance fee is just 100 Pesos.

The Casa de Regalo de Boda de Villavicencio is an experiential heritage museum which gives visitors a feel and glimpse to colonial living. It is located in Taal. Call first to book a visit. They do not charge a fee.

The Casa de Regalo de Boda de Villavicencio is an experiential heritage museum which gives visitors a feel and glimpse to colonial living. It is located in Taal. Call first to book a visit. They do not charge a fee.

By gazing at a painting or by reading through the descriptions on a particular artifact, you are connecting with the story of the past, and by doing so, you are uniting yourself – mind and heart – to the story of our race.

The beauty of museums is that so many emotional and intellectual stirrings happen within it. Curiosity is piqued, interest is generated and a hunger for knowledge is sparked just by strategically displaying pieces and curating a menu of relics for people to view.

The San Agustin Ecclesiastical Museum is housed in the reconstucted monastery of the San Agustin, the oldest stone church in the country. It is a must-visit museum when going to Manila. It exhibits the depth and breadth of influence of the Catholic Church in this part of the region.

The San Agustin Ecclesiastical Museum is housed in the reconstucted monastery of the San Agustin, the oldest stone church in the country. It is a must-visit museum when going to Manila. It exhibits the depth and breadth of influence of the Catholic Church in this part of the region.

Museum management is hard-work and is an enterprise both of artistic vision and tactical planning. Kaya, please, huwag mo ng ipagdamot ‘yang 150 mo na pinang fafafastfood mo naman araw araw. Spend your money where it matters and help our museums and galleries continue enflaming our hearts to love our people, our story and our identities.

An ornate stern displayed in the Musee De L'Homme at Place Trocadero, Paris

An ornate stern displayed in the Musee De L’Homme at Place Trocadero, Paris

A view of the National Museum and the Intramuros Golf Course from the Bayleaf Hotel, a nice spot to watch the sunset in Manila Bay.

A view of the National Museum and the Intramuros Golf Course from the Bayleaf Hotel, a nice spot to watch the sunset in Manila Bay.

Continue visiting museums and galleries to nourish your mind, heart and even, spirit and fill it with things that are lasting, true, good and beautiful. Ditch the materialism of malls every now and then and troop to your local gallery and splurge on things that make you smarter, more cultured and more appreciative of things that are really free.

As a related article, read my experience as an Ayala Museum volunteer here: https://hechoayer.wordpress.com/2010/11/04/museum-musings-work-at-the-ayala-museum/

Remember! No flash photography!

Remember! No flash photography!

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Bangkok Must-Do: Chao Phraya River Tour

A view of the soaring spires of the Grand Palace of Thailand from the Chao Phraya

A view of the soaring spires of the Grand Palace of Thailand from the Chao Phraya

Almost all of the major cities in the world trace their beginnings to settlements located along riverbanks or near bodies of water. The water served as means for transportation and a conduit for commerce. Water was and remains to be an important resource which is used for hygienic purposes, nourishment and also commercial ends. Parisians have the Seine, Londoners have the Thames, the Romans have the Tiber.

Grand edifices line the Chao Phraya as testament to its importance as a thoroughfare.

Grand edifices line the Chao Phraya as testament to its importance as a thoroughfare.

Government agencies, private individuals as in commercial establishments such as restaurants and hotels consider the Chao Phraya as a premium address.

Government agencies, private individuals as in commercial establishments such as restaurants and hotels consider the Chao Phraya as a premium address.

As such, a truly memorable visit to a historic city like Bangkok demands for time spent either traversing or at least seeing the Chao Phraya, the river that served as the lifeblood of the Siamese kingdom of centuries. Today, it continues to draw tourists and locals as a major thoroughfare that services commuter boats, tourist junks and commercial ships.

Shangri-La Hotel Bangkok as seen from the Chao Phraya

Shangri-La Hotel Bangkok as seen from the Chao Phraya

Last January (yes, this blog entry is way too delayed), I got the chance to insert a Chao Phraya river cruise into a packed itinerary. I went to Bangkok on the same weekend when the Pope came to the Philippines, and fortunately, I was able to see him as he drove past NAIA terminal 3. I, along with the other passengers waiting for the airport operations to reconvene, waited for him on the airport driveway, which had a good view of Andrews Avenue.

A classical-designed edifice probably from the late 1800s or early 1900s

A classical-designed edifice probably from the late 1800s or early 1900s

On my first day, I rode a commuter ferry from Sathorn Pier, which is underneath a highway bridge, going to the Grand Palace. The fare was only 20 Thai Baht, and it was a breezy, picturesque ride. There were locals and tourists alike on the same boat, which is different from the tourist barge (there is a different tourist barge, which gives you “unlimited” rides to and fro the different cultural/historic stops that line the Chao Phraya).

Different stately buildings line the river

Different stately buildings line the river

A view of the Grand Palace from the outside

A view of the Grand Palace from the outside

To get to the Grand Palace, I alighted at the Tha Chang stop (Pier N9). From the pier, I walked along a strip of retailers and hawkers. After my tour of the Grand Palace, I ate a delicious plate of pad thai in one of the stalls in that area.

This lady in full make-up and high heels cooked the pad thai, cleaned the tables and also served as cashier. Talk about effective multi-tasking...with elan!

This lady in full make-up and high heels cooked the pad thai, cleaned the tables and also served as cashier. Talk about effective multi-tasking…with elan!

Look at that pad thai! You can't get as legit as that!

Look at that pad thai! You can’t get as legit as that!

What was so noticeable with that pad thai kiosk was that the full made-up girl was the cook, the waitress and the cashier! Amazing! And take note, she was even wearing stilettos! According to the description of her stall, her family had been serving pad thai since 1965!

My chicken and shrimp pad thai

My chicken and shrimp pad thai

The following day, my tuktuk driver encouraged me to visit a small floating market, the name of which, sadly, I now forget. Unfortunately, I arrived too late and I wasn’t able to see the myriad of vendors and goods I was hoping to see. The trip, nonetheless, was a memorable trip. I was able to see old houses, temples and even noveau-riche looking mansions.

Temples dot the riverbanks

Temples dot the riverbanks

The inner estuaries have their own laid-back almost provincial charm

The inner estuaries have their own laid-back almost provincial charm

A view of a school beside the estuary

A view of a school beside the estuary

Coconut ice cream on the river!

Coconut ice cream on the river!

Wat Arum

Wat Arum

Going back to the pier, we passed by Wat Arum, which was being renovated that time. From the pier, I made my way to Chinatown, where I feasted on stir-fried noodles.

A temple near the pier where I alighted after my river boat cruise

A temple near the pier where I alighted after my river boat cruise

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