Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year 2008


Guidelines for a Happy New Year:
Dance
as though no one is watching you
Love
as though you have never been hurt before
Sing
as though no one is listening to you
Live
as though Heaven is here on earth.
/Souza
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Friday, December 28, 2007

Top Destinations in 2008

Frommers, The New York Times and Lonely Planet have come out with their list of top destinations in 2008. The NY Times has selected 53 destinations, one too many if you spend a week at each destination. Three places mentioned by both Frommers and The NY Times are Quito in Ecuador, Essaouira in Morocco and St. Lucia in the Caribbean. Colorado is on the radar screens of both Lonely Planet-Region and Frommers. Read why.

http://www.frommers.com/articles/4811.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/09/travel/09where.html

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/bluelist/

Where do you plan to go in 2008? Let me know by participating in my informal poll (side margin) and please send me a comment why you've chosen a particular destination.

Happy travels in 2008!

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Plane Etiquette

Your narrow seat and small legroom is your personal space for several hours (sometimes up to 12 or 15 excruciating hours). It does not help that your neighbor hogs all the space underneath the seat in front of you with his or her bag, shoes, discarded newspapers, blanket and what not. He/She has also taken the entire luggage compartment for wheeled luggage, laptop, coat, and gift bags with the logo of a famous store which all come down right after take-off and spread out on the seat between you and the fold out trays. But never mind that. That's a small inconvenience compared to the guy behind you who can't seem to decide what movie or video he wants to watch and keeps punching that screen which is right behind your headrest. Or you can be unlucky enough to sit in front of a kid who keeps kicking your seat or that man who has his knees locked to your seatback so you cannot recline your seat. Don't even mention the smell when someone can't wait to go to the lavatory and passes gas in your general vicinity. And you thought all that is over when the plane lands but no! Watch out for the passenger who is super eager to get out of the plane and pulls out his heavy carry-on from the compartment right above your head. Yes, I've been a victim of an assault in an airplane. And the man didn't even apologize though he saw he had hit me on the head with his vicious weapon.

P.S. I forgot to mention the time when I flew from SFO to Seoul and a man with long legs wearing no socks decided to recline across 3 seats with his feet right next to me. His toenails were long and black. Need I say more?

For more laughs and indignation, check out Delta's Planeguage site which features videos on Plane Etiquette. Learn about Planeguage before you fly.

http://blog.delta.com/2007/10/31/planeguage-language-of-traveling-by-plane/

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Merry Christmas in as many languages

"Mele Kalikimaka is the thing to say
On a warm Hawaiian Christmas Day"


To my friends and family around the world,

We Visayans say, Maalipayon nga Pascua. Elsewhere in the
the Philippines it's Maligayang Pasko!

To my good friends in Germany - Klara, Sonia, Marico, Trini, a warm Frohes Weihnachtsfest!

Joyeux Nöel to Maryse, my friend of many years.

Mele Kalikimaka to Nancy and Larry in Honolulu.

Feliz Navidad to friends in Mexico, especially Josefina and cousins in Spain.

André, Deborah and family, Rochelle, all in Amsterdam, a big hug and Gelukkig Kerstfeest.

Good Jul to Rahman and family in Sweden.

Veselé Vánoce to my good friend, Noubikko, in Prague.

Bom Natal to Rui in Portugal.

Buon Natale to Sisters Marcellina and Sofia and the
Sisters of St.Bridget in Assisi.

Wishing you the joy of Mary on the birth of her son, Jesus Christ, whose birthday we celebrate on Christmas day. May you be blessed a thousandfold with hope and love, both symbols of His birth

Merry Christmas.

* * *

Image by Rosario Charie Albar


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Travel Nightmares

First there were germs on bedcovers, telephone receivers and of course, the toilet. Then they spread to remote controls, door knobs and light switches. Here's one more to watch out for:

http://www.bestviral.com/video/6629/dont_ever_drink_from_hotel_glasses

Disgusting? How did we ever survive the early days of travel?

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Christmas at the Mall

Glorietta Mall, Makati

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas with temperatures dipping to the low 30's. I'm all bundled up. At this time last year I was in tank tops and pareo walking along Baybay Beach.

In the greater metropolitan area of Manila and Makati with a population of roughly 10 million, the malls are a favorite destination on Christmas day. Why not? They are airconditioned, decorated with Christmas finery, offer lots of entertainment, choice of restaurants or food courts, and shops galore. And in a predominantly Catholic country, you can hear mass at the mall.

Unthinkable, you say, to spend Christmas day at the mall. But that is exactly where I was on Christmas day last year having lunch with my childhood friend and exchanging gifts. We were vastly entertained and distracted by the noise and hoopla around us.

Yes, it was a Maligayang Pasko. May you be blessed with a colorful and lively Christmas day.
* * *
Photo by Rosario Charie Albar

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

How terrific to be invited to Thanksgiving dinner. We spent a leisurely day free from worrying if the thermometer has been released by an overstuffed roasted turkey. On our way to dinner, we passed by Best Buy and saw people camping outside the closed store. These people must have had their dinner early or at the store's parking lot. They are serious shoppers who want to be the first to enter the store tomorrow when it opens at 5 a.m. and avail of the bargains on the first and biggest shopping day of the holiday season. It's been a cold night and it's unimaginable how they can sleep at the parking lot on Thanksgiving evening.

Our dinner table was filled with all the trimmings and more but before digging into the turkey, honeybaked ham, prawn cocktail, mochiko with Chinese sausage, cranberry, cheese and crackers, mocha cake, leche flan, apple pie, cashew nuts, and an assortment of chips, we said a little prayer of thanks. And it was this:
"Thank you Lord for this wonderful opportunity to celebrate together
Thank you for all the good things you've given us and for the bad
Which makes us appreciate the good things all the more
And thank you for the feast we are about to partake."

I might add a prayer of gratitude that Thanksgiving comes around just once a year else I'll grow out of my denims if I ate anymore.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

10 Places to see before you......

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

The proliferation of these books and blogs listing where you should go before you kick off is phenomenal. This is one of the reasons why tourists are sometimes disappointed with a destination because they had such high expectations after reading someone's overly enthusiastic and personal account of a place they visited and recommend you to see before your last breath. No book or magazine or e-zine can can give you a sense of place until you get there. So where you want to go is entirely up to you.

There are places we visit that linger in our minds long after the journey is over. Remember the ad, "Your Windsong stays on my mind"? Here are my Windsongs:
1. Yosemite National Park, California - When I first laid eyes on Half Dome, I had a frog in my throat. I thought of the artist whose hand sculpted it, painted the landscape with towering trees, sketched waterfalls and streams where his pets could sate their thirst and drew expansive meadows where they could play under big, blue skies. Ah, but there's more to feast your eyes on in this great museum of nature. But you'll have to go and pick the artwork you like best.
2. Quebec City, Quebec, Canada - I remember looking down at the Old Town and the river beyond from my room at the Hilton. It was a beautiful sight.
3. Sydney, Australia - As our plane made its descent, I caught a glimpse of the Opera House and thought, "I can go home now. I've seen it!"
4. The Grand Canyon, Colorado - The bus driver asked me if I took enough pictures after observing me clicking away. "I couldn't possibly take enough pictures to capture the immensity of the Grand Canyon", I replied. And he agreed.
5. The Inside Passage, Alaska - I can feel Alaska from where I stand on the front deck. It's quiet and peaceful, the islands are uninhabited and the chill pierces my bones but I am loving it.
6. Cairo and the Nile River - I suffered from sensual overload trying to absorb all the things I saw, remembering facts and figures from the lectures, tasting falafel and drinking hibiscus tea, meeting new people and making new friends, shopping in the souks, sailing in a felucca and speaking the few words I know in Arabic. Inshallah I will be able to cruise the Nile River again.
7. Venice, Italy - On my first trip to Venice in the 70's, I got lost in the maze of alleys looking for a church on a Sunday afternoon. I came across some nuns who were happy to show me the way, saving me from my predicament. That experience left a long lasting impression of bewilderment over labyrinthine streets with no way out.
8. Home - Where I can take a long hot shower, wash my clothes, rest in bed with crisp, clean and sweet smelling sheets and dream of the next destination.

What are your Windsongs?

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Photo by Rosario Charie Albar

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Panini e Torta

I know you're wondering why I would eat at a McDonald's after I've given you a list of fine restaurants where I had the pleasure of dining. Let me explain. I had just come back to Assisi at the end of a long day climbing one of those "mountain villages". I was tired, cold and was looking for a clean restroom. McDonald's was just down the corner from the train station so I ran over there and on my way to the clean Ladies Room, I passed by the display of tortas (cakes) and stopped to check out the goodies. There were cupcakes, doughnuts, croissants, and a selection of tortas. I was deliriously bewildered from the overabundance of choices. I finally settled for the Torta della Nonna (Grandma's Cake) which is filled with ricotta cheese and egg yolks and topped with confectioner's sugar and almonds. I could have had the Torta di Noci (walnut cake) or Torta Macao or Torta Caprese. Of course they offered cappuccino, latte, and café americano among other beverages.

I was surprised to see they had buffalo wings besides panini (burger) but alas, no pizza or bruschetta. This is half the fun in discovering McDonald's restaurants away from home. The menu will usually offer something different. In Hawaii I enjoy the saimin (noodle soup) sold at McDonald's.

I also noticed several McCafés. And depending on the time of day, most of these places were packed with people.

So if you happen to be at a McDonald's in Tokyo or Egypt or some other destination, please let me know what you find in their menu.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

This thing called "amore"


Traveling by train from one hilltown to another in Umbria, I was privy to amorous displays by couples saying goodbye to one another. If the lingering kisses were an indication of how long or how far the girlfriend, husband, or lover is traveling, then I can surmise that the separation would be for a prolonged period. I can't say that the traveler was going very far because the train ride from Florence to Rome is only 2 hours.

I didn't see any tears but lots of intense kisses and caresses which brought a smile to my face. I even saw a young man keep holding back his girlfriend as she tried to board the train. In the end, he went up to the train with her and delivered her to her seat.

It was touching to watch from my window seat the show of affection unfolding live and in color. How wonderful to see that love is alive and well. It made me realize that parting is really "such sweet sorrow". But I disagree with Shakespeare that "I shan't say goodbye till it be morrow". Rather I would a thousand goodbyes if I were to be the recipient of these delicious and bittersweet manifestations of love. Ciao, amore.

* * *

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Room with a View - Saving Euros

Suore Svedesi, Assisi

With the dollar exchange vs. the euro at an all time low, I'm back to traveling as I did in the "hungry" years. This means staying at cheaper hotels without sacrificing clean and safe surroundings. I found this in religious hotels which offered not only nice rooms but in some, both breakfast and dinner as well. What a deal!

At the Suore Svedesi in Assisi, my room had a view of an olive orchard and church steeples behind medieval walls. It was harvest season and I observed some nuns picking black olives which were later taken to be pressed for olive oil. The nuns were having such a great time under unseasonably warm and sunny skies that I wished I could have joined them although I would not go up the tree. One nun's veil got caught in the branches and it was quite a picture as she tried to untangle her veil, laughing all the way. Only in Italy.
* * *
Suore Svedesi
Via Moiano 1
Assisi, Italy
For other locations around the world:
Photo by Rosario Charie Albar

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Vivere per mangiare


Umbria
Assisi
*Ristorante Bar Metastasio - Via Metastasio, 9
Bruschetta al Tartufo (Norcia truffles sprinkled over bruschetta)
Love the Braciola Erbe (grilled in aromatic herbs)
House Wine
Panoramic view of the valley from the terrace or eat indoors on a cold day in their rustic cavelike dining room.

Gubbio
***Taverna de Lupo, Via Ansidei 6
Prima Piatti - Sfogliantina al legere salsa bianca with tartufo, ham
Contorno - Timbale de asparagi e patate
Seconda Piatti - Trota in lemon sauce
Dolci - Assortment of biscotti
Wine: Prosecco

Perugia
*Osteria de Gambero (Ubu Re) - behind the Duomo
Antipasto - Bruschetta al tartufo
Entrée - Umbrichelli al persico del Lago Trasimeno
Dolci - Dolcetti delle Umbrie with Vin Santo
Dining room wall is filled with modern paintings.

Tuscany
**Kome - Via dei Benci, 41/R, Firenze
Sushi and BBQ restaurant near Santa Croce
Choose from the array of sushi, gamberi or chicken fry, noodles from color plates rotating around the bar. Or you can order the fixed menu which includes a variety of sushi for 14.90 euros.

*Wabi Sabi - Via Romana, Firenze
Japanese restaurant
The salmon steak was well prepared.
Stark modern setting in white.

All these restaurants, besides serving excellent cuisine, offered friendly and efficient service.
* 25 euros and up per person
** 30 euros and up per person
** *40 euros and up per person

* * *

Photo by Rosario Charie Albar

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Tartufo


It was an overcast day when I visited Gubbio. After sunny days, the cold November winter air claimed its due and it was reason enough to take shelter at a trattoria for some truffles and prosecco. For prima piatti I chose the sfogliantina al tartufo (Norcia truffles that are heaven). This was followed by trout from Lake Trasimeno with a timbale of asparagus and potatoes. The waiter, who lived in New York for a good many years, made sure my glass was always filled with prosecco. I had to say no to dolci (dessert) but he gave me a plateful of local cantuccini (biscotti). How could I refuse?
After all that climbing to the top of the hill to see the Duomo, I thought I could afford to eat and not worry about the calories. Anyway, those hilltowns are really mountain villages. The climb is steep and the descent is as much a workout as it pulls the knees, not to mention the cobblestones that are the bane of flat feet.
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Photo by Rosario Charie Albar

Saturday, November 10, 2007

In Umbria and Tuscany


I have an ambitious plan to see as many places in Umbria and Tuscany. I made Assisi my base to explore Perugia, Gubbio, and Spoleto. But after days of climbing uphill, my feet now feel like lead. At the end of the day, I sleep for long hours to rest my body and prepare it for another day of physical training.

Today I'm off to one more hilltown, Orvieto. It's a late start but now I've accepted the fact that I can't possibly see everything. Unless I stay overnight in each town, I can only cover so much. And perhaps have some time to savor the Norcia truffles which are the black gold of Italian cuisine.

There was a train strike yesterday so I spent the day exploring Firenze. As many times as I've visited this city, there are still more places I haven't yet seen. I chose to return to Santa Croce to see the Pazzi Chapel by Brunelleschi and was treated to a fresco of St. Francis by Giotto and a Crucifix by Cimabue. It was bitterly cold and luckily I found KOME, a Japanese restaurant off of Piazza Santa Croce. I was famished and ate a fortune in sushi, gamberi fry and chicken. It was well worth it.

From there I went to the basilica of San Lorenzo, the church of the Medicis. And here is a treasure trove of works by Donatello and Settignano.

On the way back it started to rain. That wasn't so bad but the lightning and thunder were worrisome. What a relief it was to be back in my hotel room and put my feet up and under covers! It felt good to have seen so much in a day and my feet held up to boot.

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Photo by Rosario Charie Albar

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Helping the Schoolchildren


There are 131 schoolchildren in the first grade at the Conrado Barrios Elementary School in Baybay, Roxas City. There are only 3 sections so each teacher is in charge of 43 students. It was raining heavily the day I dropped by the school so a few students didn't show up. The Principal, Miss Carandang, has instituted a reward program for students who have the best attendance.

In December last year, my family and I distributed school supplies to 20 of the first graders who had the most need for assistance. We also donated books to their library. This year we saved enough money to give all the first graders the tools they need and could not afford to buy.

The children were all excited as we distributed crayons, pencils, pens, sharpeners, pad paper. Some children were extending their hand to get the supplies before their turn, probably because they wanted to ensure they got their school supply. Each child smiled and said "Thank you". One child was brought by his teacher to me while I was giving supplies in another classroom because somehow he was left out during the distribution in his classroom. He was near tears.

It was a special day to see the children happy. Now I know that they will be able to write and draw and color with the school supplies we gave them.

Next schoolyear, (starts in June in the Philippines), I hope to include the second graders in the distribution of school supplies. I will also work with the teachers during the reading hour to motivate the children to read and use the meager resources of their library.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Is Beauty White Skin Deep?

After three months of watching Philippine television, it was difficult not to miss the numerous ads on skin whitening. I’ve been aware of these in the past but it seems that all the famous cosmetic brands are now embracing this national obsession to be fair skinned.

"When it comes to whitening, I trust only one name", proclaims a young, fair skinned model. Her ad is just one of many that claims their cream or lotion has “Power whitening”, “Whiter skin that stays”, “Star white skin", and "White radiance intensive whitening cream, closer to perfect fairness". A popular soap star who promotes a whitening cream reminds viewers that the "batok" (back of the neck) and the "siko" (elbow) must also be white.

According to some of these ads, papaya and calamansi (of the lime family) are ingredients that help skin turn white and stay white. Even armpits have to be white. It is no longer enough that you use deodorant to get rid of the “baboy” (pig) in your underarms. Women specifically, must show white armpits in case they raise their arms in public. Otherwise, they’ll stand to lose their boyfriend or bevy of admirers.

One ad I remember from a few years back was of a young bride-to-be who was worried her skin was not white enough to wear a white wedding dress. In Western countries, Caucasian women love to sunbathe to get that healthy tan before donning that white dress. White skin in a white gown projects a ghostly image while tanned skin glows with a white outfit.

It’s obvious that there is a stigma attached to brown or dark skin in the Philippines. As they discussed in a popular morning TV show recently, young men prefer women with white skin. The beautiful and ‘kayumanggi” actress, Angel Aquino, defended the brown skinned woman who she says grows on men the more they observe her. Another point made by a white skinned panelist of the same show is that when a brown skinned woman sweats, she is more dirty looking than a fair skinned woman who perspires as profusely. Really?!!!

Growing up healthy and brown in the Philippines, I was always the object of teasing by classmates who called me “batok” meaning burnt in Ilonggo. I’ve also heard people say that I’m “beautiful but too dark” and I’m “bright but brown”. I’m never just beautiful or just bright. People always qualify their remarks by saying “maitim siya” (she's black). I guess I should accept the complements with grace and serenity.

There’s no doubt that opposites attract and many Filipinas with dark skin buy these products that promise whiter skin. They can’t be blamed because in a society where white skin is emulated, even the poor people do what they can to have white skin. My maid bought body powder she saw advertised on TV and applied this to her face so she could look white without realizing how funny she looked.

A young woman I spoke to at the beauty parlor told me she uses these whitening creams regularly or goes to a skin whitening clinic. She was not aware how susceptible her newly peeled and thinned skin is to the sun's harmful rays and skin cancer. And it's pretty hard to avoid the harsh sun in these islands where the sun shines nearly everyday.

Is beauty really white skin deep only?

* * *

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Not under the Tuscan Sun

My new home is not in the glamorous region of Tuscany nor in Peter Mayle's neighborhood in Provence. But it is across from the beach where I can walk every afternoon when it's low tide and scan the horizon for islands close by. What's more, I can wear my pareo all day long and walk the length of my driveway if I don't wish to go outside my gate. What a perfect hideaway though my good friends are always inviting me to some lunch or dinner in one of many restaurants that line the beachfront.

My skin is now a deep chocolate brown after spending three months tending to my garden. My friends have given me so many different kinds of flowers, cactus and trees which I've planted along with my little helper. In two months I've watched how fast the papaya and plumeria trees have grown. I love the roses in hues of pinks, reds and oranges. I've recently been given a white rose bush. And the bougainvillea are flourishing as are the orchids and gumamela.


I feel a tremendous sense of satisfaction to see all that I've planted and I can't wait to see my mango and avocado trees bear fruit. I'm sure my banana tree will soon deliver a different kind of banana, not of the Chiquita variety, but the short and sweet ones I ate as a child growing up in these parts. We've already tasted the tomatoes from the garden and drank fresh "buko" juice from the coconut trees. What a blessing to enjoy the best of both worlds.

* * *


Photos by Rosario Charie Albar

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Yes! A Pre-Flight Massage

I no longer dread waiting for hours for my flight after checking in at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport. I’m more worried that if I don’t check in early I’ll miss the chance of a good massage. Moreover, I’m preoccupied with the type of massage I’ll get: a one hour full body rubdown, a foot, back or scalp massage, or foot reflexology. The charge for a 20 minute back rub is $7.00 and my masseuse really worked hard on my aching back and shoulders and surprised me with a scalp massage to remove the fog in my head. She was also solicitous enough to ask me if her massage technique was hurting me. But I was already half asleep. Before finishing she asked me to sit down so she could stretch my back muscles and arms. What a clincher that was! True to the description given on their leaflet, the massage helped ease my anxieties. When we were done, I found I wanted more. But I had to board my flight to Tokyo.

With a little bit more time, I could have had a full body massage for P1,000.00 or roughly $22.00 per hour. The thirty minute costs half that. I’m especially intrigued with the foot massage because it is supposed to help stimulate blood circulation which is exactly what a traveler needs on those long flights while trapped in narrow seats and even narrower legroom.

What's next? I hope they’ll consider a foot spa, a manicure and a pedicure. So when I arrive at my next destination, I will look polished and relaxed.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Fodor's List of 7 New Wonders of the World

Tian Tan Buddha

The editors and writers of Fodor's, a publisher of popular guidebooks, have compiled a list of the 7 New Wonders of the World. Here it is:

1. Banaue Rice Terraces - Banaue, Philippines
2. Palenque- Chiapas, Mexico
3. Tian Tan Buddha - HongKong
4. Palm Islands - Dubai, UAE
5. Panama Canal - Panama
6. Guggenheim Museum - Bilbao, Spain
7. Walt Disney World - Orlando, Florida

Top 5 Honorable Mentions
Pueblo de Taos, New Mexico
Temple Expiation de la Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain
The Summer Palace, Beijing
Teotihuacan,Mexico City
St. Peter's Basilica, Rome

For more information click on this link: http://www.fodors.com/wire/archives/002574.cfm

Check also my article about Lantau Island (under Images) where I wrote about our climb to the top of the hill to see the Tian Tan Buddha.

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Image by Rosario Charie Albar

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Oahu Aloha Gallery


One of the many things I look forward to when visiting Oahu is indulging in island favorites like saimin (noodles in hot broth topped with vegetables and strips of meat), a bento lunch, and malasadas. I had the opportunity to travel to Honolulu recently with two of my best friends. Amidst sand, sea and chow, we relaxed and fortified our friendship.

On our first day in Honolulu we decided get our shopping out of the way so we took the free shuttle to Hilo Hattie. Instead, we each found floral printed dresses, perfect for a night out on Waikiki Beach. Shopping over, we crossed the street for lunch at Sam Choi’s. While the menu had many appetizing dishes listed, I had my heart set on the bento lunch. In the old days when I used to live in Honolulu, bento orders were served in a black lacquer box with compartments for salad, rice, fish or meat entrée and the quintessential Hawaiian sliced meat, Spam. My plate arrived with generous servings of steamed rice, chicken and beef teriyaki, mahimahi (dolphin fish), an omelet and Spam. Locals eat a lot of Spam and they gather annually at the Waikiki Spam Jam street festival to celebrate the islands’ diet staple. The event benefits the Hawaii Foodbank.

Hiking to the top of Diamond Head was just what we needed to offset the extra calories from the previous day’s overindulgence. Bus #22 dropped us some distance from the entrance to the park. We walked about 10 minutes to the gate where we paid a fee of $1.00 each. The trail was gentle at first but became progressively challenging. Stopping a moment to catch my breath and sate my thirst, I saw steep stairs leading to a tunnel. I had second thoughts about continuing but after resting briefly, I slowly climbed up without looking back. Inside the tunnel are more stairs which lead to the summit. The view from the top is the reward for doggedness.

We waited for TheBus to take us back to the beach but it took so long to arrive that we decided to walk instead. On the way we passed by Diamond Head Market and Grill and saw a steady line of customers in front of their “take out” window. We ordered lunch and took it to Kapiolani Park where we hungrily cleaned our plates. We all thought the food was exceptionally good and we wanted to go back for more.

To circle the island we decided to rent a car rather than take TheBus. Our first stop was Leonard's on Kapahulu Avenue. They have been serving their famous Portuguese malasada from this site since 1957. It’s practically an institution. We bought plain and filled malasadas. The choices of fillings are haupia (coconut), pineapple, chocolate and custard. With enough snacks in our bag, we were finally ready for sightseeing. On Kalanianaole Highway we paused at Hanauma Bay and Halona Blow Hole where we watched spectacular displays of water shooting through the air and admired the rugged coastline. After lunch at a Thai restaurant in Kailua, we drove on to Byodo- In Temple. Calm pervades lush surroundings speckled with colorful foliage, fruit bearing trees, carp ponds, and elegant peacocks. We rang the bell for good luck and happiness then took off our slippers before entering the temple to contemplate briefly. Back on Highway 83, we got out of the car to view Chinaman's Hat crowning deep blue Pacific waters. This is an incredibly endowed spot with the incised walls of the Koolau Range forming a vertical backdrop. Down the road in the North Shore, we scanned the beaches for monster waves but were disappointed.

We had more presents to buy so we went to the “Swap Meet”. The Aloha Stadium parking lot turns into a flea market on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. There’s so much here to entice the shopper that it wasn’t any surprise at all to see many visitors laden with new, plumeria printed luggage filled with souvenirs. How fortunate that we had only a couple of hours to look around. But we bought enough to warrant extra carry-on bags. There are the proverbial T-shirts, jewelry, local arts and crafts, Hawaiian shirts and muumuus, hats, fresh-baked breads, nuts and dried fruits, plants, and all kinds of stuff to tempt even the most resolute non shopper.

On our last day we listened to mellow music while sipping tropical drinks at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. I was feeling nostalgic sitting by the beach at sunset with Diamond Head on one side and the ocean in front of us. When the musicians sang my favorite Hawaiian classic by the Beamer Brothers, Honolulu City Lights, I was transported to that time when I called Honolulu home. But the lyrics brought me to the present. It goes in part:
“Looking out upon the city lights,
and the stars above the ocean,
got my ticket for the midnight plane,
and it's not easy to leave again”.

* * *

Photos by Rosario Charie Albar

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Mmmm, Malasadas


Leonard’s Bakery on Kapahulu Avenue in Honolulu has been serving their famous Portuguese malasada from this site since 1957. It’s practically an institution. Malasadas are ball shaped doughnuts served warm from the fryer. There are plain and filled malasadas. Pick from a variety of fillings like haupia (coconut), pineapple, chocolate and custard. Try one of each.

If you can’t go to the bakery at 933 Kapahulu Avenue, there are Malasadamobiles™ around Oahu.

If you would like to make your own malasada, check out Emeril Lagasse’s malasada recipe at www.emerils.com/recipes/by_name/malasadas.html

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Image by Rosario Charie Albar

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Boracay on Yahoo! Travel's 2007 Top Ten Best Beaches List

Boracay Island's dazzling beaches has just been selected by Yahoo! Travel among its Top Ten Best Beaches for 2007. Boracay ranked 7th on the list which follows:
1. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
2. Miami, Florida
3. Cancun, Mexico
4. Kaanapali, Hawaii
5. Honolulu, Hawaii
6. San Diego, California
7. Boracay Island, Philippines
8. Key West, Florida
9. Sydney, Australia
10.Santa Barbara, California

For more information, check out this link:
http://travel.yahoo.com/beaches;_ylt=Ag5LWiuYAlPghcC6YWI3sHn8xmoA

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Images by Rosario Charie Albar



Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Travel Reads


It's summer and many of you will be traveling far and wide or to destinations closer to home. Here are some travel-related books to read when you stretch out on that beach chair or during long flights across the Atlantic or heaven forbid, interminable delays at the airport. Happy reading!
Fiction
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

Africa
Paul Theroux, Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Capetown

Asia
Greg Mortenson, Three Cups of Tea
Peter Hassler, A River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze
Paul Theroux, Great Railway Bazaar: By Train through Asia
Paul Theroux, Riding the Iron Rooster: By Train through China
Pico Iyer, Video Night in Kathmandu

Australia
Bill Bryson, In a Sunburned Country

Europe
Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island
Bill Bryson, Neither here nor there
Frances Mayes, A Year in the World

Panama
David G. McCullough, The Path between the Seas

Memoir
Marlena de Blasi, A Thousand Days in Venice
Marlena de Blasi, A Thousand Days in Tuscany
Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love
Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha
Peter Mayle, A Year in Provence
Peter Mayle, Toujours Provence
Peter Mayle, Encore Provence

Old World
Marco Polo, The Travels of Marco Polo

Women Write About Their Travel Experience
Seal Press, France, A Love Story
Seal Press, Italy, A Love Story
Seal Press, Mexico, A Love Story

USA
Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail
John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

Travel Anthologies
Houghton Mifflin Company, Best American Travel Writing
Travelers Tales, Best Travel Writing Series

Traveler's Life List
Patricia Schultz, 1000 Places to See Before You Die

Monday, June 11, 2007

Berlin Dining with a View


On Mother's Day we celebrated by the Wannsea Lake, just a short metro ride from central Berlin. The weather cooperated so we could eat outdoors. I never imagined that potato pancakes could taste so good with chicken kebab.

It was several visits ago that my friends Sonia and Klara introduced me to two restaurants on or near the shopping street, Kurfürstendamm. I ate recently at Le Buffet Berlin inside Wertheim department store. The restaurant offers a choice of hot and cold meals, salads, and desserts. The view from its glass windows of what's left of the bell tower of Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church is priceless.

Down the street at Wittenbergplatz is Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe), the grand dame of Berlin's department stores. Their Wintergarden restaurant has a curved glass roof which is a destination by itself. I took longer to finish my strawberry tart because I was mesmerized by the view of sunny skies. It had been raining for days.

I've always had nothing but good food at Moevenpick, whether in Germany or in Switzerland. The second floor restaurant at the Europa Center in Berlin looks out on an urban park that is very much alive with its fountains and entertainers and the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial standing next to the modern needle of a building with colored glass windows which is the new church. I ordered halibut served with rice and vegetables. The halibut was moist and tender and very tasty.

Alas, another restaurant with a view, the Turm is now closed.
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Image by Rosario Charie Albar

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Chalk Art


Outside Santa Barbara Mission (the "Queen of California Missions"), we were treated recently to a riot of colors. An outdoor gallery of chalk art graced the grounds in front of the church. There were copies of Renaissance paintings, Van Gogh's Starry Night, Winslow Homer's Boys in a Pasture and scores of original art. With no rain in sight (and no erasers), this exhibition could stick around to delight visitors.
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Image by Rosario Charie Albar

Saturday, June 09, 2007

NEMO Science Museum

At the NEMO Science Museum in Amsterdam, there are a many discoveries to be made. It's great to see the museum full of schoolkids from grammar school to high school. The younger kids were busy running around from one exhibit to the next. Budding scientists were seriously experimenting in the lab. Not surprisingly, teenagers were queued up at the booth that tackles the subject of sex. A neon lit sign asks teens, "Am I my hormones?" Personally I was mesmerized by a giant robot that could sense my presence and greet me. This hormoneless robot has a lot of potential. The rooftop terrace with its fountains and great views has become the hot summer destination. It's okay to sunbathe here. How apropos to combine scientific learning and relaxing in one venue. Maybe it's easier to retain knowledge when the brain is at ease.

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Images by Rosario Charie Albar

Saturday, June 02, 2007

To be or to bento


One of the many things I like most about Hawaii is the incredible choice of mouth watering cuisine its many kitchens offer visitors and locals alike. A mainstay of island dining is the bento box. During the years I lived in Hawaii, I remember being served my bento order in a black lacquer box with partitions to hold steamed rice, a meat or fish entrée, salad and of course, that quintessential island favorite, spam. (Spam was a staple item during WWII and it has stayed that way since.)

On a recent trip to Honolulu, I was tempted to order the bento lunch at Sam Choi's on Nimitz Highway. How could I pass up a plateful of mahimahi, teriyaki beef and chicken, an omelet, steamed rice and spam? It was a lot of food for under $11.00. I couldn't think of a better way to start our brief and hectic visit to Honolulu.


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Image by Rosario Charie Albar

Friday, June 01, 2007

Solvang


Few cities in the U.S. can claim it is truly unique. There's Santa Barbara with its distinct Spanish architecture, Santa Fe with its adobe buildings, San Francisco has its hills lined with Victorian houses and there's the Danish community of Solvang, in the shadow of the Santa Ynez mountains. A visit here is a trip to the old country of Denmark where thatched roofs crown half timbered buildings. And of course, there are many bakeries offering Danish pastries. What a way to cap off a leisurely stroll around town.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Best Eats - Santa Barbara


24 hours in Santa Barbara and we found two terrific restaurants to talk about. Yesterday we ate dinner at Arigato Sushi on 1225 State Street and were treated to new and memorable dishes including Mrs. Ebilyn, a shrimp gyoza, Locals Only, a mix of scallops and minced crabmeat served in a shell, wikiwiki roll, sushi with crab and avocado, and yellowtail kama (collarbone). The staff, of young people were very nice. And I learned to say "cheers" in Japanese. Kampai!

Today we had lunch at the Harbor Restaurant at Stearn's Wharf. What a view of the beach and Pacific waters! For starters we had the Santa Barbara Roll, a wrap with chicken, avocado, tomatoes and lettuce served with chips, salsa and guacamole. For my main entrée, I ordered crabcakes with steamed vegetables and my sister and niece shared the mixed seafood dish with mahimahi, calamari, breaded shrimp, maui onion rings and vegetables. The portions were generous and we had food leftover "to take out".

We enjoyed our short stay in Santa Barbara. State Street with its violet blooming trees and Spanish architecture deserves multiple digital clicks

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Images by Rosario Charie Albar

Monday, May 28, 2007

Houseboat Living

Living in a houseboat may take some getting used to. But one thing you can count on. You will be rocked gently to sleep. Today's houseboat has all the modern conveniences. The bed is no longer in a claustrophobic box. The bathroom is roomy and the plumbing up-to-date. The living area is spacious. Some houseboats even have a nice terrace.


Parking a houseboat on one of Amsterdam's canals entails paying a monthly "parking" fee based on the size of the houseboat. Add to that the maintenance expense. And buying a houseboat is as expensive as buying a condo or a house on terra firma. At the Houseboat Museum I noted the asking price for houseboats currently on the market. The lowest price was 199,000 euros for an older houseboat. There were several listed at 300,000 euros and up. Of course it's possible to have a new houseboat built to your specifications but before you proceed, check first if there's an available mooring space and secure it.

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Photos by Rosario Charie Albar

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Best Eats/Cafés in Amsterdam


Restaurants:
Café de Jaren - behind the Hotel de L'Europe
Dinner starts at the salad bar where you can get generous helpings of cucumber salad, lettuce, sliced tomatoes, potatoes and other vegies. My order of Victorian perch was served on a bed of buckwheat noodles with mint salsa and watercress. Good food + ambience=my favorite restaurant in Amsterdam.

Thai Company - on Rosengracht 9
I had their steamed sea bass in light soy sauce. It was divine. It takes a little bit longer to prepare than other items on the menus but worth the wait.

Japan Inn - off of Leidsestraat; reservations necessary as this restaurant is small and often booked.

Oriental City - near Damrak Square

Restaurant La Ruche - 2nd floor of De Beijinkorf Dept. Store; choose from grilled meats/fish, soup, pasta, sandwiches, desserts

Cafés:
L'Opera on Rembrandtplein - check out the art deco decor
Heineken Hoek on Leidseplein
Belgica, next door to Heineken, less crowded
Cafe Luxembourg on the Spui

Candy Shop:
Jamin with several branches throughout the city (one on Leidsestraat, near Leidseplein). They have sugar free chocolate nut clusters which are hard to resist.


Friday, May 25, 2007

Top Ten Amsterdam


1. Explore 17th century canal homes
2. Take photos of the colorful flower market on the Singel
3. Bicycle around town like a native
4. Sit at an outdoor cafe and don't rush
5. See Rembrandt's masterpieces at the Rijksmuseum
6. And don't miss the Van Gogh Museum
7. People watch at Damrak Square
8. Check out NEMO, the new science museum and get a tan from its rooftop terrace
9. Walk along the romantic bridges on the Amstel
10. Join the crowd of shoppers on the pedestrian only Kalverstraat

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Praful



Good things come in threes, I think. Shortly after seeing Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands up close and shaking hands with the Prime Minister, I met one of my favorite jazz artists, Praful, at the Akhnaton Club in Amsterdam where he launched his new CD, Remixed 2. Not only did I get to chat with him, I also enjoyed immensely listening to him play the sax and flute and sing in a foreign tongue with his band. What a talented man and quite personable too!

Some of the selections in his new album include his big hit, Sigh. I love Inspiraçao with its samba rhythms and Yalda Night, a new piece. It was a revelation to hear the influence of Indian, Brazilian and Iranian music in his work. I told him I wish we could hear more of these exotic sounds in the U.S.

At the end of the concert, he asked me if I wanted him to sign my own copy of his latest CD. I was delighted when I read what he wrote,

To Rose
With Love from Amsterdam
Praful

I could only Sigh!

* * *

For more on Praful, check his website at www.praful.nl

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Only in Amsterdam


Today is Liberation Day in Holland. The whole country was celebrating with hip music on three stages at Museumplein. My friend André who is the best host one can only dream of, took me to the park and we walked and watched the performances in bright sunshine. Afterward we went to the Amstel River to enjoy another concert with Amsterdam's own Metropole Orchestra. The temperatures plunged but we kept warm in the company of thousands who came to listen to the music and wave their flags when the Queen Beatrix arrived and sat on a floating platform across from the stage. When the concert was nearly over, Andre called me, "Rose, please hurry if you want to see the Queen". And I followed him though I didn't believe we could really get close enough to see her.

At the Opera House, we found her car with the AA license plates and sure enough she came by boat with the Prime Minister and Mayor of Amsterdam. She waved at the few gathered there and entered her car and was whisked away with the minimum of security . The Prime Minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, was about to leave when he decided to come our way and I immediately shook his hand. He asked the party next to me (in Dutch), "Was it worth your wait?" and they heartily said "ya".

Andre who is never short for words addressed him, "Mr. Prime Minister, I would like you to meet Rose Albar who is here all the way from California". You can imagine how stunned I was and I couldn't think what to say so I shook Mr. Balkenende's hand again.

What an exciting evening! After that we went to L'Opera at Rembrandtplein for drinks and talked all about our unexpected meeting with the Prime Minister. How incredible that I left my camera at home and my cellphone camera could only take a photo of silhouettes in the dark of night. Helaas, too bad!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Reaching New Heights in Waikiki


I barely remember my first climb up Diamond Head. It was that long ago and far away. But it must have been good which is why I got my cousin and a best girlfriend to hike to the top with me.
It was a cool morning when we started so the first few minutes went by quickly as we chatted along but as we began the ascent through clearly marked trail, I soon fell behind the others. The challenges were still waiting ahead. After the first flight of steep stairs I thought I would not dare take the next set of 99 steps. But after a few minutes of rest and breathing normally again, I ventured up the stairs only to find there was another spiral staircase inside the dimly lit tunnel. Thankfully this was a short climb and soon we were out on the terrace where the winds promptly claimed my visor and I was hatless. The jungle of Waikiki Beach highrises were at our feet and the ocean stretched into the horizon bursting in rich hues of aqua closer to shore and all shades of blue in the distance.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Race to the Philippine Senate

The May elections are upon the Filipino people and the media is flooded with political advertorials. This is their best season yet. I sat through an hour of national news and found the political ads more entertaining than the noontime shows and Pinoy Big Brother.

Filipinos love babies and toddlers because they’re cute and irresistible. Several candidates are quite aware of this and are banking on the cradle. They have made a point of carrying a little kid with one arm while the right hand is shaking hands with a voter. The candidate is usually followed by a crowd of admirers while campaigning at the local barangay or the public market, in schools or at a construction site and in open fields where Loren Legarda is planting rice with farmers. Miss Legarda’s posters say she is “No.1 sa Senado” but according to a recent survey, Kiko Pangilinan is at the top of the list of 12 Senatorial candidates. It’s not difficult for “Kuya Kiko” to head the list since his wife is megastar, Sharon Cuneta. Mr. Pangilinan could well stand on his own merit if only because he has chosen to run as an independent, foregoing the solid support of a well run party machine.

How about those dancers of Ralph Recto? I’m sure Ate Vi (Vilma Santos, the Star for All Seasons and a candidate for governor of Batangas) is pleased with her husband’s ad. Recto’s catchphrase is “Ko Recto sa Senado”. Does this mean there are things to be corrected in the Senate or that Mr. Recto is the right person for the Senate? Manny Villar didn’t hire any dancer to do his ad. Perhaps he should have. Mr Villar is his own dancer. Looks like he didn’t take heed of his own “Sipag at Tiyaga” slogan. Great dancing is precisely about patience and hard work.

If you don’t care much for dancing, then tune in to Edgardo Angara’s commercial. He has no less than Sarah Geronimo singing his candidacy for Senator. She croons, “Angara ng Buhay”. Really? And apparently no one told Miguel Zubiri that Boom Tarat Tarat is out of date now. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought this is a Christmas song. Regardless, Zubiri appeals to the voter as the “Amigo ng Bayan”.

Showbiz personalities spice up the airwaves like Chris Aquino who’s appealing to the people to vote for her brother, Noynoy. She says, “Deal?”. And Mr. Aquino responds, “Game na”. Both are referring to the popular shows hosted by Chris, “Deal or No Deal” and “Game ka na ba?”. How unoriginal! And poor Cesar Montano has got off to a shaky start. He has just realized how expensive it is to run for public office. His wife, Sunshine Cruz, said in a TV interview that she would pawn her sizable engagement ring, if necessary, to help his campaign. How sweet.

Certain candidates are asking voters to give them a chance because if they win, most Filipinos will have a relative in the Senate. Take Vic Sotto’s ad. “Buti nalang may Tito ako”. Or Mike Defensor’s “Panalo ka, ′Tol” (′Tol is short for utol, brother). Defensor is also the “boses ng Kabataan” (voice of the youth). Manny Pacquiao has a Manong, "Si Manong Chavit (Singson) ay idol ko". Mr. Singson is the "boses ng Probinsya" (voice of the provinces). In the absence of relatives, you have Chiz Escudero who is the “boses ng Bayan” (voice of the country). How wonderful to see Mr. Escudero smiling and relaxed for a change!

If a relative or a voice is not enough to represent the Filipino people, not to worry. Just vote for Joker Arroyo, the “Pipol’s Dragon”. I've only seen dragons during Chinese New Year celebrations and they are quite colorful. Maybe this is what the Senate needs especially during those long hearings and inquiries which seem to lead nowhere. But don’t joke with Joker because “Pag bad ka, lagot ka!”.

Ping Lacson’s ambition to return to the Senate is based on HOPE (Health, Order, Peace, Education). And who will get this done unless you plant Prospero Pichay in the Senate (“Pichay, Itanim mo sa Senado)? Pichay’s jingle promises to fulfill the hopes and dreams of the Filipino people, “Ang pangarap ko ay tuparin ang pangarap ninyo”.

Nowadays it’s hard to determine who belongs to which party since many candidates have crossed party lines. The question is who will be the real opposition when the Genuine Opposition (GO) party is opposed in the Senate?

Dull isn’t the word to describe Philippine elections. Showbiz meets politics for an entertaining season. It seems senatorial candidates have all the bases covered and the Filipino voter can’t go wrong by selecting a relative (Kuya, Tito ′Tol, and Manong), a friend (Amigo ng Bayan), a plant (Pichay). If this fails, there’s the Pipol’s dragon, a watchdog (Ko Recto) and 3 voices (boses ng bayan, boses ng kabataan, boses ng probinsya). These candidates would like us to believe there’s HOPE after all and life is good (Angara ng buhay). Wishful thinking anyone?

It’s game na for Senatorial hopefuls. Let’s pray the voters will carefully consider their candidates of choice before deciding it's a “Deal”.

* * *

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Cherry Blossoms

Cherry blossoms at Ueno Park
It's late March and the temperature is in the low 70's, enough to motivate local residents to get the picnic basket out and sit under the cherry blossom trees in Ueno Park. There's a full week to go before the white blooms turn pink but some trees are already showing a preview of Barbie pink blossoms.
It's a wonderful time to enjoy this shortlived phenomena. If you decide to go on the spur of the moment and brought no snacks or provisions for a meal, not to worry. There are food stalls and restaurants nearby. There is also a zoo, rides for children, and the Western Art Museum where Auguste Rodin's Thinker contemplates on what to wear for Spring.
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Image by Rosario Charie Albar

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Score on Boracay


Yes the beaches of Boracay have fine, white sand and its wonderful to burrow your feet into its warm recesses. The water is clear and cool. The coconut trees sway in the gentle breeze and offer much needed shade and the sunsets are showstoppers.

These things we already know about Boracay. But here’s what we haven’t heard or read about:

1. You take a ferry to Boracay from Caticlan for P30.00, a relatively inexpensive fare. But to this you have to add an environmental fee of P50 which you pay at a separate window and a terminal fee of P20 which is paid to a different cashier. If you travel after 6 p.m., there is a fare surcharge as well.

2. To get into the ferry (usually an outrigger), you have to walk a plank which measures about 1.5 ft. in width. Attendants will help you along but watch your step anyway. It gets tricky when you are carrying a bag or two. One of the passengers in our boat dropped his luggage in the sea. While an attendant dove to retrieve it, his clothes were all wet.

3. If you take a minicab into town from the harbor, the driver will drop you off at the station closest to your hotel. Since the best hotels are on the beach, you have to walk a short distance through narrow passages to get there. These routes are not pretty and it might dampen your expectations until you get to the beach. The cheaper hotels can be found in these alleys.

4. We were accosted by several pearl jewelry vendors as we walked along the stretch of beach. We enjoyed selecting from the array of siopao pearls which were being offered at reasonable prices. Bargaining is the norm. But even while eating at an outdoor café, we were approached by more pearl hawkers. This gets old fast.

5. If you think you have enough of pearl vendors, how about the fruit sellers, the tour salespersons, the restaurant, hotel and bar promoters handing out flyers, the tattoo artists, the masseurs on the beach? They’re all there.

6. Be prepared to get your feet wet if you happen to take a smaller ferry back to Caticlan. The boat will take you to shore but you have to wade in water when you get off. Wear flipflops to protect your feet.

7. If your idea of a holiday is to escape from it all, then Boracay is not the place to go to. It is a world famous beach destination and attracts many visitors. My friends stay away from Boracay during the summer season (from March to June). This is when the island is teeming with vacationers. If you want a relaxing time, go after the Ati-Atihan festival in late January. We visited in February and it was quiet and slow and the beach quite roomy.

Now that you have a fresh perspective of Boracay, you are better prepared to enjoy all it offers. We had a great time during our visit there. A friend had a massage on the beach and she loved it. Two friends had a tattoo (temporary) done. We bought beautiful shell jewelry from the many stalls around. We marveled at the site of emerald sea that turned to sapphire blue in the distance. And best of all, we didn’t have to rub elbows with anyone at the beach.

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Images by Rosario Charie Albar

Monday, March 05, 2007

On Lantau Island


The cable car ride from Tung Chung to Ngong Ping is a 5.7 km. stretch dangling above a tributary of the South China Sea and over rolling green hills of the North Lantau Country Park. Hiking trails crisscross these hills and there were a few hikers about. Suddenly through light rain and mist, we beheld the Tian Tan Buddha in the distance. It was a magical moment.

We got off at Ngong Ping Village where our first stop was the Tea House. I love to drink tea but have never done so in a tea ceremony. The ritual starts with the cleansing of tiny cups in a bowl of hot water. Then a spoonful of green tea is poured into a small pitcher filled with water heated to a temperature level that brings out the best of the selected tea. The guide transferred the tea to a filtered glass pitcher to remove the tea leaves. She then filled all our cups. Raising the cup to her nose she inhaled the aroma of the tea, just like wine. We followed suit. She took a sip of the tea. The first sip she explained is to quench the thirst. The second cup is to slowly appreciate the rich flavors and the third drink is for sheer enjoyment.

Fortified we made our way in the direction of Po Lin Monastery and started our climb to the Giant Buddha on top of the hill. About 200+ steps lead to the top for a close-up view of the 34-meter seated bronze Buddha, the tallest of its kind. It took 10 years to build the Buddha which sits on a lotus throne. There is a commanding view of the surrounding mountains and the valley below.

Hong Kong residents and our hosts, Kent and Wendy, had a special treat in mind when they took us to Tai O. The bus dropped us at the harbor and we walked the short distance to the dried fish market. Tai O is well known for its dried fish and seafood. As it was the Chinese New Year holidays, the restaurant we chose was packed with families celebrating the Year of the Fire Pig. Our hosts ordered the local specialties like shrimps with extra thick shell which is a little difficult to eat but is very juicy, deep fried bean curd sprinkled with salt and really tasty, Chinese broccoli, and a terrific dish of minced pork and squid topped with salted dried fish. It was incredibly good.

After lunch we strolled to the bridge and took a boat out to sea to watch for white dolphins. Our skipper took off like a speed maniac and the stilted houses passed like a blur. He didn’t let go until we were in open sea. We didn’t have to wait for long to see white dolphins bobbing in the water. It was exhilarating to be out at sea and see the rocky contours of the island. Returning to the village, we cruised through a community of stilted homes, with their laundry hanging out to dry next to pots of colorful flowers and an occasional raised dinghy. Tai O is dubbed as the “Venice of Hong Kong”.

The bus trip back to Tung Chung passes through the Park. It is a two-lane highway with enough twists and turns and is quite narrow in certain parts that buses have to stop at designated areas to let oncoming vehicles pass through. At this point I felt so relaxed I was ready to fall asleep.

Lantau Island is a far cry from the bustling streets of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon yet close enough for those in search of a quick restorative getaway.

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Images by Rosario Charie Albar

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The House that Sam Built


Aklan is well known as the jumping off point to the blindingly white sand beaches of Boracay. But it has another jewel worth visiting. This is the house that Sam built.

Sampaguita Gardens Resort and Spa in New Washington is only a few minutes from the center of Kalibo. It is a beachside complex with a non denominational Meditation Chapel, an Asian fusion restaurant, an aquarium, a Christmas cottage, a children’s playground called Sammy’s Circus, a butterfly farm and the house of Samuel J. Butcher, the creator of Precious Moments. Precious Moments is renowned worldwide for its unique figurines and dolls.

You enter Sam’s house through carved doors flanked by two enormous Chinese vases. Inside the cool interior of rich dark wood, is a collection of museum quality furniture and Oriental objets d’art. To the left of the main door, behind a glass panel is the library room with an antique Chinese bed. It has a wooden canopy with intricate carving. It would be difficult to concentrate on reading anything while reclining on the bed.

In the center of the living room, behind a graceful dancing Thai figurine, is a grand piano. A doll with angel’s wings and wrapped in Asian costume with trademark Precious Moments eyes, stands next to family photos on top of the piano. A still life painting of vase, lamp and white blossoms anchors the Oriental inspired decor. A rare landscape by Corazon Aquino, the former president of the Philippines, hangs in the drawing room.

The Christmas holiday season is a good time to visit Sampaguita Gardens to see the glittering display of Capiz shell lanterns and handcrafted Christmas trees. The green Victorian house with white and burgundy trim and shake roof is Jojo’s Christmas Cottage. It stands out in this tropical setting. It is a boutique full of dolls and colorful holiday crafts. The best buy here is the Asian Precious Moments doll.

Sam Butcher himself painted the murals in the chapel. His depiction of the Lord’s Prayer is warm with gentle humor. He’s portrayed a boy taking a cookie from the cookie jar. This scene is inscribed with the words, “Lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil”.

After a morning of exploration, the Oriental Flavors Restaurant is the best place to relax and stay cool while savoring the succulent steamed fish. No need to rush through lunch. There’s plenty of time to get to Boracay for a sunset drink.

* * *
How to get there: Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific have daily flights to Kalibo.

Where to stay: Sampaguita Gardens Resort and Spa offers room packages. Their website is http://www.sampaguitagardens.com/.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

First Love


I see your face
Which way I look
I see your smile
In pages of a book

I feel your arms
So warm around me
I feel your kiss
So very tenderly

I hear your voice
In the whisper of the wind
I hear your laugh
Warm like a good old friend

I dream of you
Each night I go to bed
I dream of the day
When you and I will wed

And if this cannot prove
How much you mean to me
What else will do?
But I love you.

* * *

Happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Love and A Funeral

At the funeral of my dentist (who took good care of my teeth from childhood to my teens and never charged me a centavo), I was struck by this reading during the memorial mass:

Love is patient; love is kind.
It is not envious nor boastful
nor arrogant nor rude.
It does not insist on its own way:
it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice in evil,
but rejoices with the truth.
Love bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things
Love never fails....
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is love.


In life as in death, love remains in the hearts of the living and sends the dead happily on his/her way to the next life.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Writing exercise 1


I see my cottage rising from the bottom of the earth. Why do I say “bottom” of the earth? My property is below road level and as I walk farther into the lot, the earth dips another 5 feet. Part of the property was recently filled but another part was left as is to build the foundation of my 3 cottages. I can now see it gaping widely with parts slightly under water.

The sound of an angry and snarling dog scares the heck out of me. I realize I am alone and no one about to whom I could shout for “Help”. I have no stick to defend myself in case this mad dog, who has never seen a veterinarian, attacks me. I walk away from it feigning pluck, which is nothing close to what I really feel.

The smell of newly laundered clothes make me wince in horror. But the sun has been missing for days and my clothes must have been slightly damp when the laundry woman ironed them. It is an embarrassment and I hope I meet no one along the beach on my way home. I wish I could buy a real dryer. Not the spinner they call dryer!

I taste saltwater in my mouth as I walk leisurely on the beach. These days have been windy and I’ve been spritzed and sprayed by seawater. My hair is no longer soft. It is in a tangled web and stands on edge. I hope we’ll see sunnier days soon. Summer is a couple of months away.

I look across the long avenue of sand, to the islands in the distance and the skies above. I’m praying my new home will be completed soon. I can see the long, narrow corridor now defined by a five foot concrete fence. There at the end of a long driveway my Balinese cottage will rise amidst lush greenery. It’s all drawn up in my head, waiting to see the light of a tropical day.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Laundry that smells like a million!

I’m on my way to becoming independent again. After 2 months of major dependency on my household help, I think I’m ready to move on.

I’m confident about this because my wonderful cousin, Inday, has introduced me to Lloyd, a tricycle driver. Lloyd comes by the apartment on Monday mornings and picks up my laundry. He takes it to the Laundromat and drops off clean and scented clothes at my place the following day. Not only that, my clothes are back in shape after being washed and line dried under uncertain skies.

You have no idea how big this is. In December we had a devastating typhoon and in January, this “low pressure” has kept everything damp. No amount of “nature fresh” and antibacterial Downey could keep my clothes from smelling of sweat. I dreaded to approach anyone within 5 feet. It was that bad.

For 60 cents/kilo, my 7 kilos of clothes, towels, and sheets come home from the Laundromat smelling s w e e e t. I’ve yet to get used to this. One day after a change of fresh clothes, I looked around the bedroom wondering where the scent of Parisian perfume was coming from. Then I realized that it was silly me who was smelling sooo good, it made my own head turn.

Life is good!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

OFW Blues

On Christmas day 2006 the headlines read, "Filipina raped by 17 Kuwaitis". Nothing could be more grim. This woman was trying to escape her employer when she encountered these men who took her to a desert camp where she was raped. Then they transferred her to another camp where she was again molested. (Talk about jumping from the frying pan into the fire!) According to the newspaper report, there has been 19 cases of rape against Filipinas in the Gulf Emirates.

Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) have been called the new heroes of the Philippines. I understand there are 8 million OFWs around the world.
Many of these workers are university graduates who seek employment in foreign shores where they can get better pay. All for the sake of supporting their families in the Philippines.

They leave with noble intentions and work hard. They suffer the pain of separation from loved ones, privations and discrimination. All for love of family.

Not everyone is so lucky to come home unscathed. Some return with nightmares that will last a lifetime. A few return in caskets. Others find a broken family when they eventually come home for good.

What happened to "Joy to the world"?

Friday, January 12, 2007

Two Weddings

Barely 2 months since arriving in Roxas and I've already been invited to 2 weddings. What a wonderful occasion to meet friends and family! And I must say that the choir music at both weddings were inspiring. But what I'll remember for a long time to come are these words from the officiating priest at Cielo and Taddeo's marriage ceremony. I quote, "Hell is the absence of love".

No wonder........

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Happy New Year!


What a whirlwind 2006 was for me. One of the biggest changes I made was to drop anchor here in Capiz where I made my first steps as an 11-month old babe. Thank goodness for the warmth of family and friends, I have adjusted well to my new life.

Inday Daku and Joen Conlu have always been there for me. They've found me a place to live in on the beach and have looked after me since. And Jack and Wee Conlu have fed me so often that I'm totally spoiled. And I love it when their kids, Iggy and Carey, look for Tita Charie.

Tina Ong, my beautiful cousin, took care of finding me the contractors and getting their bids. She had paved the way for me to get started with my building plans as soon as I arrived. And Tita and Tony Santos, Tina's parents, are often inviting me for family get-togethers and took me to my first ever trip to Kalibo, only an hour and a half away.

Pilot and Rudy Beluso have helped me in many of my "local" issues. They are not only good friends but part of my family here as are my classmates Bing Arceno and his wife Esther, my high school best friend, Minnie Gannaban and my childhood playmate and longtime friend, Alma Encabo.

What a way to welcome 2007, surrounded by a bunch of caring people. I'm truly blessed!