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Showing posts from 2009

A Philippine Christmas

The Philippines has the longest Christmas season in the world. It begins the end of September and lasts through January 6 (the feast of the Three Kings in the old calendar). Christmas songs are played over the airwaves and in malls and restaurants. Television shows remind viewers how many days are left till Christmas.

On December 16 "simbang gabi" starts. People would rise in the early hours to attend mass at five in the morning. While it's warm in the Philippines, it gets slightly cooler in December. Outside the church vendors sell freshly made bibingka and puto bumbong*, perfect handwarmers unless you can't wait to eat these till you get home.


Two of the most enduring symbols of Christmas in the islands are the nativity crèche and the parol (Christmas lantern). Many homes display their colorful parols outside their windows so passersby can admire the play of lights. In the old days, the parol was lighted by a candle. Churches have beautiful nativity scenes but ma…

Flavors of the Philippines II

This video is all about a food journey in the Philippines. There are delicacies like diwal, lato and balut. There's an abundance of fresh seafoods like sweet prawns, talaba, pusit and bangus. And there are a number of local dishes like kare kare, pinakbet, pancit canton or bihon or malabon or sotanghon. I just love sweet mangoes and I'm lucky to have guavas, papayas, coconuts, and tiny bananas fluorish in my garden.

For more on Philippine cuisine check out http://www.youtube.com/user/easypinoyfood.

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Celebrating Christmas in San Francisco

San Francisco is all decked out for the holidays.
Under the tree at Nieman Marcus

Victoria Secret "Give Her Sexy"

Outdoor florist
Macy's window
Macy's window
On Union Square
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Photos by Charie

Bargain Shopping in Greenhills, Metro Manila

At Greenhills indoor flea market, you will find santos (religious statues), costume jewelry, authentic South Seas pearls, clothes, shoes, knock off branded handbags, Oriental furnishings, Christmas decorations, paintings, souvenirs and linens. There are stalls upon stalls of goods and you walk down narrow aisles teeming with shoppers who are at this moment doing their Christmas shopping.


I was particulary interested in new costume jewelry trends and there are a variety of stones and glass beads on display. The latest is a headband made of shiny glass beads, a unique party accessory. I was pleased to find wood carvings and paintings at much more reasonable prices than elsewhere in the city, except in Divisoria which I have yet to check out.


Weekends and holidays are the worst times to come though you can shop their night market during the holidays. Crowds notwithstanding, I plan to spend more time shopping for home furnishings at Greenhills after the holidays.

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Photos by Charie

Lonely Planet's Best Value Destinations List for 2010

Lonely Planet's list of destinations for 2010 is for the traveler seeking to get more for his hard earned money. This list includes Iceland, Thailand, London, South Africa, Malaysia, Mexico, India, Kenya, Bulgaria and Las Vegas. For more on the story, check the link below.

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/iceland/travel-tips-and-articles/42/18862?affil=fb-fan


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Balay ni Charie Celebrates 4th Year of Service to Schoolchildren

On Thursday, November 5, 2009, we distributed school supplies to 92 children at the Manuel Arnaldo Memorial School in Milibili, Roxas City. Three sections of the third grade and one section of the fourth grade were the recipients of pens, pencils, erasers, and pad paper. Some students who won in the informal math contests we held received children's books, crayons, notebooks, pencil cases and other prizes. It was a great day to help the kids in Milibili. Many thanks to Leda Albar, Bock Loo, Terri Smith, Monique AlbarJen, Diane Acas, Anthony Albar for their generous support.

For more on Balay ni Charie, follow this link:  http://www.balaynicharie.blogspot.com/.

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Image by Charie

Fruits of the Philippines

My favorite fruit is the mango. The best of the breed comes from Guimaras Island. It is sweet and every scoop is a treat. Green mangos make for a sour face but are great to eat when paired with shrimp paste. In the above photo are green guavas (front right) and tangerines ( back left).

The smaller pineapples are usually sweeter. You can find these on the road from Iloilo to Roxas City. Papayas are easy to grow. Drop some seeds in your garden and pretty soon you have 7 feet papaya trees (if you live in warm climates).

Watermelons are perfect wholesome snacks anytime especially in a hot and humid country. These bananas are smaller than the Chiquita variety but great tasting.

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Photos by Charie

Pockets of Calm

Found this garden on Market Street

Yerba Buena Gardens on Mission between 3rd & 4th Streets

Yerba Buena East Garden (in front of SFMOMA)
The waterfront behind the Ferry BuildingIn the shadow of San Francisco's skyscrapers, there are many places to kick back and unwind, perhaps during the lunch hour or after work. The images above show some of these pockets of calm.* * *
Images by Charie

Ferry Building Marketplace

One of my favorite places in San Francisco is the Ferry Building Marketplace on The Embarcadero and Market Street. I love to walk up and down this indoor market and check the array of offerings from meat and seafood to cheese to fruits to wine to plants and flowers. There are several restaurants and cafés including the famous Vietnamese restaurant, Slanted Door.
Cowgirl Creamery's Artisan Cheese Shop

It's fun to browse at Sur La Table with its cooking tools from around the world or if reading is your interest, The Book Passage has a branch here. Afterwards, it's nice to sit outdoors if it's not too cold and enjoy the view of the bay with a delicate pastry or a nutritious fruit in hand.

Farm Fresh to You
For a list of merchants at the Ferry Building check their website at http://www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.com/. The Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market is open on Tuesdays and Saturdays in front and at the back of the Ferry Building.* * *

Photos by Charie

"My Life is My Message" - Mahatma Gandhi

Behind the Ferry Building in San Francisco is a promenade with tremendous views of the bay. It's especially inviting on a warm day when you can sit outside and begin to relax while listening to the sound of water lapping against the pier. In the midst of this outdoor setting, there's a statue of Mahatma Gandhi. The inscription beneath his thin frame dressed only in a skimpy robe and aided by a walking stick reads: "Non violence is the greatest force at the disposal of Mankind.
It is the supreme law. By it alone can mankind be saved."

And right below his name and vital records is this quote:
"My Life is My Message".
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Photos by Charie

The Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco

The view of the Museum from Mission Street reveals only the brick façade of the former Jesse Street Power Substation. Hidden behind the neo Gothic cathedral of St. Patrick's is the startling extension to the Museum which is in the shape of a gigantic cube designed by Daniel Libeskind. Libeskind's idea of melding distinctive architectural styles translates into the successful fusion of the old substation in the Classical Revival style and the bold and contemporary blue metallic steel cube extension. View from Yerba Buena LaneThe museum is located at 736 Mission Street (between 3rd and 4th), San Francisco, CA 94103 . It is a short walk from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. http://www.thecjm.org/Hours: Daily 11 AM–5 PM, Thursday 1–8 PM, Closed Wednesday.* * *Photos by Charie

"Survivor Package" in San Diego Resort Hotel

In beautiful and sunny San Diego, a four-star resort offers rooms for $19.00 a night. Great rate? There's no bed, no electricity, no toiletries included at this price. Bring your own tent and sleep on the floor. Oh, and don't forgot your flashlight and toilet paper. For more on this story click on the link below:

http://marketplace.publicradio.org/display/web/2009/09/11/mm-hotelamenities/

5 Scams Tourists Always Fall For

This article from How Stuff Works says 25 million American travelers overseas were victims of these scams in 2008. Here are the scenarios:

1. Good Samaritans - scam artist is trying to help you out
2. Unscrupulous cabbies - literally cab driver takes you for a "ride"
3. Money changing "errors" - visitor unfamiliar with local currency
4. Create a distraction, steal your wallet - beware the woman who undresses
5. Fake police officers searching for counterfeit bills

It's easy to be victimized traveling abroad because every traveler is vulnerable in a new and different environment. Add jetlag to that and ecco!, an easy target. I was once a victim of a money changer in Bali who swore he didn't have larger bills to give me hence he had to count thousands of rupiah as I stood soaking in the hot and humid air while he slid his hand over the bills and pulled out $12 worth of rupiah. Thank goodness the hotel staff where I stayed in Nusa Dua helped me recover the money…

The Alsace Wine Region

The Route du Vin is an oenophile's dream destination. With its vineyards producing rieslings, gewurztraminers and pinot blanc among others, visitors drive through its medieval villages for a taste of Alsatian fare. Colmar sits at the southern tip of this wine road. At first glance, it looks like any other bustling city. But as you enter the center of the city, you are transported to another age. Fourteenth and 15th century half timbered houses, seemingly untouched by time, invite you to linger. At every turn of its cobblestoned streets, a picture waits to be taken.

Colmar once led the Decapole, an alliance of ten cities that banded together to protect them from taxes levied by the nobility. The Ancienne Douane (Customs House) is a 15th century building where members of the Decapole once met.

The legacy of the merchant class remains in finely detailed homes such as the Maison Pfister with its balcony and turret and the Maison des Têtes which, true to its name, is decorated with scul…

Under Brunelleschi's Dome

In the quattrocento, Lorenzo Ghiberti was awarded the commission to carve the gilded bronze panels decorating the north door of the Baptistery after winning the competition against the likes of Jacopo della Quercia and Filippo Brunelleschi. The outcome of this contest proved providential for Florence because Brunelleschi moved on to build the dome which crowns the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore. Not since the Pantheon in Rome was constructed between AD118-28 has a dome of this scale been built.

The red-tiled Duomo is one of the most enduring symbols of Florence. White ribs contain its sides and a lantern of white marble with windows caps the dome, directing light into the cupola. There are 463 steps leading to the dome for a 360-degree view of the Tuscan countryside. From within the cathedral, one can marvel at the restored fresco of the Last Judgment which covers the cupola.

A walk along Via del Calzaiuoli reveals tempting shop windows, fun distractions as we crisscross our way to P…

Lemon Tree

For the first time in three (or four) years, my lemon tree bore a fruit. A single, precious one. I thought I'd lost all the blooms but somehow this one survived. Now I can sing "lemon tree, very pretty". Happiness is a green lemon. Yes!
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Image by Charie

School supplies

It's back to school in the U.S. in late August and for the last couple of weeks many stores have been holding sales on school supplies. One I couldn't resist was at Office Depot recently where they had 5¢ pencil pouches, 10¢ sharpeners, and 25¢ pack of 10 pencils. I was all excited to pick up a few hundred for the grade school children in Roxas City but when I got to the store, I could only buy three of each item as there is a limit on the number you can purchase on sale items. What a letdown! So I called my Mom to buy some supplies at the Office Depot near her office and I visited another store close to my house. I figured I have enough pencils to give to 6o kids. It's not nearly enough. Last year we gave school supplies to 234 children so we have a long ways to go. This will be our fourth year giving school supplies to children in Roxas City. I have to say it's one of the most satisfying experiences I've had, ever.
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Image by Charie

Talk

Today's writing prompt from The One Minute Writer is "talk". Here's what came to my mind first: "Talk is cheap". Think politics. It's not hard to connect the two. Next prompt please!

Field of Colors

For the last month I've been passing through this field of colors in Gilroy on my way to work. Last Monday I could no longer resist the view so I finally stopped to take this picture. Thank goodness this field has not withered under scorching temperatures but the sunflowers down the road sure did. I took too long to take a shot of that. Time takes it toll.

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Image by Charie

Last Call

It's 1:30 p.m. and we are waiting for the rest of our party to join us. The buffet bar is closing in 30 minutes and all the food will be taken away. The image above shows our panicky response to last call.

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Image by Charie

How to be a good tourist

In the latest survey of 4,500 hotel owners around the world conducted for Expedia, French tourists were ranked the worst tourists for the third year in a row. So what went wrong? Survey found the French arrogant, rude, stingy tippers and the least likely to speak another language. The French were followed by the Spaniards and the Greeks.
On the other hand, Japanese tourists were rated the best tourists by those surveyed because they are polite, clean, quiet and least likely to complain. American tourists were most likely to complain among all groups but were ranked in the Best Tourists category because they are generous tippers and big spenders. Americans however ranked poorly in tidiness and grooming.
Let's count the ways to be a good tourist: 1. Be polite 2. Be clean 3. Dress carefully and appropriately 4. Don't be loud 5. Try to speak at least a few words in the language of the country you are visiting 6. Tip reasonably (Check Conde Nast Traveler tipping guide by country) http://ww…

What's in a bento box?

I was invited to lunch recently at Dashi Restaurant in Menlo Park. I ordered the saba shioyaki bento lunch and here's what I got: miso soup, green salad, fried tofu, california rolls, steam rice, grilled mackerel (saba shioyaki) and a slice of orange. I ate everything but the salad. Why? I'm not fond of lettuce. The orange is for cleansing the palate. But after eating fish, I needed to brush my teeth anyway.

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Photo by Charie

The Wooded Hills of Kamakura

Daibutsu

The Kamakura countryside is within an hour by train from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo but is so far removed from the trappings of the big city. Set amidst a backdrop of wooded hills and sea, it is the ideal place for prayer and meditation. A small train chugs along the Enoden line from Kamakura to Hase where we got off for the short stroll to see the Daibutsu or Great Buddha. Measuring 37 ft. in height and weighing 93 tons, it is the second largest bronze statue of Buddha in Japan. I could see its face through the wooden slats which made up the gate enclosing an area where a temple once sheltered the statue. That temple was washed away by a tsunami in 1495, exposing the Daibutsu to the elements for the last 500 years. But this has proved to be a godsend because visitors can see the Amita Buddha in full view, serene yet majestic against the natural setting.

Closer to the train station is Hasedera (Hase Kannon Temple) which is up on a hillside. A typical Japanese garden leads …

Geocities is closing

Yahoo sent me an email last week informing me that they will be shutting down Geocities for good. I'm saddened by this because Geocities is the original blog. I kept my first travel writing journals "Decouvrez" in Geocities. It's a free site and hosted both my writing and photographic works. So sorry it will no longer be around. Thanks Yahoo for the free ride.

In the next few weeks I'll be uploading some of my articles from Geocities to this blog starting with "The Wooded Hills of Kamakura". Hope you'll follow my past journeys as you have my latest ones.

"The Sweet Life in Paris"

The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz
My nephew who is an avid reader gave me this book by David Lebovitz for my birthday. I can't rave enough about it. Here's what I wrote to David about his new book: "The narratives in "The Sweet Life in Paris" are as savory as the recipes which you've thoughtfully paired with each of the chapters. Can't wait for your next book. Till then I'll be reading your blog which is a visual feast."

David's prose is candid, funny, honest and amusing. He confirms what I've thought and experienced in Paris in particular and France in general during my many visits there. Here's a sample: In the chapter What they say versus what they mean Davidwrites that when a restaurateur tells you they are completely full, they mean "We already have enough Americans in here".

My own personal experience dining at a starred restaurant in France is that we were escorted to the upstairs dining room where we were joine…

Scenes from Sin City

Intriguing entrance to one of the hottest spots in town
The glory days of the Roman empire lives on at Caesar's Palace Hotel's upscale shopping arcade
Continuing our tour of Italy, it's on to Venice for a view of these gondolas gliding along the canals of the Venetian Hotel
From Venice to Paris is a short walk. Vegas triumphs with its own Arc de Triomphe!
Planet Hollywood has a casino, a peepshow , a strip house and a mile long shopping mall
Triple 3x. Hey, that's a winner! (it's a five-cent machine, lol)
Oops, someone got a little out of hand. Graduation week!
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Images by Charie

Cheapest days and times to fly

More DIY videos at 5min.com

Recently on a flight from SFO to Las Vegas, I bought a ticket on Virgin America just 24 hours prior to departure for $54.00 one way for a mid afternoon flight. And the return was $49.00. Though the flight was delayed out of SFO for about an hour, I thought it was still worth it compared to other fares I checked which started at $129 and soared as high as $182, one way.

Don't wait till the last minute to buy your airline tickets but if you can't avoid it, check the airline sites for best last minute fares.

Fare Compare's CEO, Rick Seany, tells us the cheapest days and times to fly.

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Dale Chihuly's Glass Flowers

Dale Chihuly's glass flowers at Bellagio Hotel

Whenever I'm in Vegas, I make it a point to go to Bellagio to see its botanical gardens, it's Gallery of Fine Art exhibitions, and the hand-blown glass flowers by Dale Chihuly. What an explosion of colors these 2,000 glass flowers create suspended as they are from the ceiling above the reception area of the hotel! Nothing says "Welcome" better than these warm and tropical beauties.
For more on Dale Chihuly visit his website at http://www.chihuly.com/.* * *Photos by Charie

Roy's Las Vegas Hawaiian Aloha Hour

Cheers!
Aloha hour starts at 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at Roy's on East Flamingo. With $5.00 drinks and $5.00 appetizers, you can't get a better deal. It's the best way to unwind after a long and exhausting day at the Strip. We sat at the bar surrounded by locals and served by amiable and attentive staff. I ordered the Hawaiian colada, a blend of Montecristo light rum, Malibu coconut rum and fresh coconut purée, with a hint of lime juice and mint. My cousin, who was our designated driver, had a virgin colada and the simple margarita was my sister's choice.
Pork and Shrimp Shumai Check out the pupus we ordered from the menu: pork and shrimp shumai wasabi ogo bazu, beef sliders with wasabi sour cream mayo and garlic truffle fries, chicken lettuce wraps with shiitake mushrooms and chili hoisin soy, and lobster roll . The beef sliders (with Kobe beef) were a big hit as were the chicken lettuce wraps. I liked the lobster roll best. It was bursting with flavor and I tr…

PF Chang's - Las Vegas

Chicken lettuce wrap
Food is always at center stage in any family gathering. Good times together are usually associated with where and what you ate. This weekend's luncheon at PF Chang's in Las Vegas was no exception. It was truly memorable not only for the shared stories, the laughter, the hugs and beso beso, but for the selection of dishes which our famished group devoured in good stead. For starters we had light wonton soup with shrimps and vegies and chicken lettuce wrap. The combination of fresh lettuce and minced chicken with a little bit of hoisin sauce was a "no guilt" sandwich. Stir fried eggplantThere were two choices of eggplant dishes on the menu and we ordered both. I liked the ground chicken and eggplant best over the spicy stir fried eggplant (we requested a milder dish) because the latter had a sweet sauce. Everyone raved about the walnut shrimps with honeydew. Also on our table were plates of Mongolian beef, Cantonese chow fun noodles, and house fried…