Europe 2013: Of beautiful nightmares, Pontifical paparazzi, and Eat, Pray, Love

It feels good to be lost in the right direction.” – Unknown

To “get lost in Rome” is as clichéd as it can get, and as such, I tried my best not to, well, be lost in the final leg of our Eurotrip. Being the self-proclaimed better navigator between myself and Kite, the pressure had actually been on since the beginning. I didn’t quite live up to those expectations based on the countless times we got off track (in all countries we went to, actually), so imagine my anxiety when I was mapping our last few routes. Determined to beat the odds, however, I conditioned my mind to be at its most alert, and equipped myself with maps – yes, with an –s, one digital, one printed – as we braved the roads of the Eternal City.

I did succeed at first, having no trouble finding the historic Colosseum. Little did I know Rome was just mocking me. The hours of walking around in incertitude that soon followed was like the city telling me You think can simply come here and easily find your way? Ha! You fool!

Finding our other planned destinations, the Fontana di Trevi and the Pantheon, for example, was like an OC travel planner’s worst nightmare. It felt like we were walking around in circles as each turn looked like the previous one. The street signs were a hit and miss. Sometimes it’s where I expected it to be, at times it’s an apparition that teased me with “Surprise!”.

The more steps we took though, the more we learned to appreciate the nightmare as a beautiful dream in disguise. The labyrinthine alleys led us to discover the Spanish Steps (it came out of nowhere, so much so that I wasn’t able to take a proper photo!), made us stumble upon Altare della Patria (apparently considered one of the locals’ most disliked structures ), a totally random but gorgeous church whose name escapes me now, among many other interesting displays of both traditional Roman architecture and contemporary street art. Our biggest “Waaaah! I can’t believe we found this!” moment? Il Gelato di San Crispino. Yep, the gelateria that made a cameo in that small Julia Roberts film, Eat, Pray, Love. My heart still skips a beat every time I remember that serendipitous find. Their crema allo zenzero e cannella is genius, I tell you. Genius!

But wait, there’s more! As if all that wasn’t enough to make up for having us feel like mice scrambling in a complicated maze, Italy gave us the best send-off we can get before our flight back to Manila: a Sunday Eucharistic celebration officiated by Pope Francis himself.

I.

Know.

Right.

We didn’t plan on it at all as we wanted a stress free, que sera, sera kind of last day in Europe. Kite and I just went there to catch any mass at the piazza, and visit the Sistine Chapel afterwards. The second item on the agenda we didn’t tick off since the chapel was closed during that day (again, we didn’t know), but we weren’t even bummed. We saw Pope Francis for crying out loud! What else was there to complain about?

Seriously speaking, the energy at St. Peter’s Square that time was just something else – calm and peaceful, yet electric and palpable. Being in the presence of the Pope surrounded by a massive crowd of faithfuls at the heart of the Vatican was unbelievably surreal.  You know how at certain special moments in your life you get that inexplicable something in your gut that you know for sure you’d never forget for as long as you live? Uh huh. I had that, and I’m pretty sure Kite did too. I’m faaaaar from religious (Kite is), but I wasn’t able to help myself whisper a silent prayer thanking the powers of the Universe for having me experience that divine Sunday morning.🙂

Get lost?

Realize you are in the right direction not because you’re where you intended to be, but rather because you were led to something equally wonderful?

Feel good about it? Really, really, REALLY, freakingly, awesomely, good about it?

Check, check, and check.

Europe 2013: Of hand gestures, teacher’s pets, and d*mn good food (Eating Italy Taste of Testaccio Food Tour)

Alas, the leg of the trip that I can claim complete ownership of. And what do you know, it involves food. Glorious Italian food. Ha!

La cucina di un popolo è la sola esatta testimonianza della sua civiltà. (The cuisine of a country is the only exact attestation of its civilization.) – Anonymous

Gorging on Italian cuisine was on the top of my “things to do in Rome” list. Yep, believe it, beating wishing at the Fontana di Trevi, or visiting the Colloseo, or attending a mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. Go ahead, sue me, but when I think of Italy, the first thing that comes to mind is its cuisine, one of the most recognizable and popular in the world. I simply wouldn’t have forgiven myself if I wasn’t able to sample legit Italian cooking while I was in the country where it originated from. Now finding honest-to-goodness regional food may sometimes be a challenge while in a foreign land, and it definitely was the case for Rome. We actually had two and a half days to do so on our own, but we didn’t want to risk spoiling our Italian gastronomic adventure, so for that we enlisted the services of the pros.

Hat tip (again) to my travel peg Ish, we discovered Eating Italy, a group that organizes walking food tours including the one Kite and I booked, the Taste of Testaccio Food Tour. It was four hours of walking, storytelling, and eating around the rione of Testaccio, generally acknowledged as Rome’s foodie neighborhood, and birthplace of cucina romana. It didn’t come cheap at USD 85.00 (PHP 3,815.52) per person, but we were sold when we saw mostly glowing online reviews, and these words in the company’s website:

…lets you experience Rome like a local, in an actual neighborhood where people live, eat and shop…

Featuring nine authentic food stops with 12 delicious tastings, you get to escape the crowds and taste the best of what the city has to offer…

Take a break from being a tourist and discover the real Rome with us!

When I first read it, I was like: “For real?!? Nine food stops, and twelve tastings?!? Where do I sign up?!?”. Haha! Kidding aside, what really convinced me was the promise of authenticity, and the chance to deviate from the usual tourist traps. Of course, the convenience of it being an organized activity with someone knowledgeable about the area was a big plus. You know what they say about being lost in Rome right?

What follows are some of the highlights from our cloudy, sometimes rainy, November Taste of Testaccio Saturday. I was actually contemplating on giving a blow-by-blow account, but decided against it as I felt it would spoil the experience of one planning on booking with the tour group. (No to spoilers!) I did, however, add some notes so at least you can have bits and pieces to look forward to and get excited about if and when you decide to embark on the same food tour.

Let’s get it on!

1. Barberini

What your taste buds and tummy will be thanking you for: cornetti, tiramisu

Knowledge and stories you’ll be taking away with you: Italians’ breakfast and coffee habits, and why there are no ladyfingers in their version of tiramisu.

2. Volpetti Piu

What your taste buds and tummy will be thanking you for: pizza margherita

Knowledge and stories you’ll be taking away with you: the history of pizza in general and pizza margherita specifically, the difference between pizza tonda and pizza al taglio, why you should never have coffee with pizza, and how to show Italians that the food they made for you is “Delizioso!” without saying anything.

3. Volpetti

What your taste buds and tummy will be thanking you for: prosciutto di San Daniele, salame al Barolo, pecorino al tartufo, parmigiano reggiano

Knowledge and stories you’ll be taking away with you: how freakishly good (and equally freaking expensive) quality food can get.

4. Cimitero Acattolico

What your taste buds and tummy will be thanking you for: Seriously? Haha! This is one of two non-food related stops in the tour, so yeah, no tastings here. (Thankfully!)

Knowledge and stories you’ll be taking away with you: why Rome has a pyramid, and the uniqueness of John Keats’ tomb and the one beside it.

5. Testaccio Market – Lina & Enzo’s Salumeria (Delicatessen), Paola & Francesca Fruttivendolo (Fruit and vegetable stand), Massimo’s Panificio (Bread stall), and Dess’Art Pasticceria (Cake shop)

What your taste buds and tummy will be thanking you for: insalata caprese, bruschetta al pomodoro, cannoli

Knowledge and stories you’ll be taking away with you: how to pronounce bruschetta, facts about tomatoes, bread, and mozzarella, how to have a successful marriage, and what constitutes a genuine Sicilian canolo.

6. Flavio al Velavevodetto

What your taste buds and tummy will be thanking you for: cacio e pepe, amatriciana, carbonara

Knowledge and stories you’ll be taking away with you: what amphorae is and why it is relevant to the origins of Testaccio, the story behind the restaurant’s name, and of course, pasta, pasta, and more pasta!

7. 00100 Pizza

What your taste buds and tummy will be thanking you for: suppli ala genovese

Knowledge and stories you’ll be taking away with you: Genoa (not Geneva :-P) vs. Naples

8. Giolitti

What your taste buds and tummy will be thanking you for: gelato

Knowledge and stories you’ll be taking away with you: very detailed criteria on how to spot genuine gelato

…and that’s not even covering all of it! Whew!

So would I recommend it? Yes, yes, and in case you missed it, another YAAAS!

If you are a self-proclaimed foodie (like I am), this will be a perfect chance to test your knowledge and (humble)brag about how much you know about anything on the topic of food. At one point, our guide was not looking at me anymore when she had questions she wants the group to answer. Well me, and another expert in the group, Anthony. Hahaha! But seriously, it will get you reminded of why you love food in the first place. Now if you aren’t particularly obsessed with food (like Kite is), I reckon you’d have a new found appreciation of what makes food good, and even more, what can make it great.

Naysayers may point out that it’s not a lot of grub for 85 bucks, but while that may be true (they are mostly tasting portions, after all), the food tour is more than just, well, the food. The lovely Alexandra, our guide for that day, was awesome, lively, a joy to be with, and most importantly, knows her stuff. The people (who we probably would never have met on our own) and the stories they have with them are fascinating and never boring. The four hours didn’t even feel like four hours in terms of the area we covered (and trust me, there will be a lot o walking) and the amount of knowledge we gained. Taken as a whole, Eating Italy’s Taste of Testaccio is worth more than it’s weight in gold.

And oh, in case you’re wondering, the top three items I had in those four hours were the cornetti (vanilla + honey glaze heaven!), the bruschetta al pomodoro (a perfect example of how simplicity can be oh so mindblowingly good), and the insalata caprese (Best. Salad. Ever. Fresh buffalo mozarella! Hhhnnnggghhh…). Special mention to the canolo (ricotta realness yo!), the zabaione gelato, and Volpetti’s €1,475.00, 100 year old balsamic vinegar (shhhh… don’t tell them I told you you can ask for a taste…)

Eh parang lahat na din! Hahahaha! *burp*

Singapore, USA, Philippines and Malaysia represent!

Singapore, USA, Philippines, and Malaysia represent!

***

Taste of Testaccio Food Tour, Eating Italy Food Tours,
Testaccio, Rome, Italy
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/EatingItalyFoodTours
Twitter: https://twitter.com/EatingItaly
Instagram: http://instagram.com/eatingitaly
E-mail: info@eatingitalyfoodtours.com

Europe 2013: Of snow, snow, and yes, snow

Let me start by saying that the photos you will see next are probably the happiest you’ve ever seen me yet. That’s saying a lot because, really, when have I ever posted a sad one?😛 And yes, a warning is in order – long post coming your way loaded with images of a giddy Filipino experiencing his first taste of snow.

The cold never bothered me anyway...

The cold never bothered me anyway…

The second of our (very, very) limited two-day stay in Switzerland has been reserved for one thing, and one thing alone. It was to be the day both Kite and I will have our first encounter of that white thing not a lot of tropical folks like us ever get to see. Again the SO’s brainchild (man, what did I really contribute to this trip?), this was one of the destinations that didn’t budge from our itinerary once it got added in, locked down the moment Kite discovered Viator. Now if you’ve been a long time reader you’d know we swear by DIY trips, but we figured the day-long journey to the Alps coming from Zürich made much more sense as a packaged tour all things considered. Turned out the USD 174.18 (PHP 7,801.53) excursion as organized by Best of Switzerland Tours was worth every peso/dollar/franc paid.

So here’s how the day unfolded (ahhh, the benefits of having mild OCD):

9:30 AM to 11:30 AM: Zürich to Lucerne
11:30 AM to 12:45 PM: Lucerne
12:45 PM to 1:45 PM: Lucerne to Engelberg
1:45 PM to 5:00 PM: Mt. Titlis
5:00 PM: Engelberg to Zürich

Pffft. That’s it? Really? On paper it looks basic enough, but don’t be fooled. This only comes third to the 1 day London Pass Challenge and the Windsor-Stonehenge-Bath adventure in terms of having a truly jam-packed day.

Hat tip: looking at the main train station with the lake at your back, the terminal is on the right side, right across a nearby Starbucks. You’re welcome. :-D

Hat tip: looking at the main train station with the lake at your back, the terminal is on the right side, right across a nearby Starbucks. You’re welcome.😀

HELVETIORUM FIDEI AC VIRTUTI (To the loyalty and bravery of the Swiss)

HELVETIORUM FIDEI AC VIRTUTI (To the loyalty and bravery of the Swiss)

The scenic ride from Zürich to Lucerne was gorgeous; picturesque in every sense of the word. I guess it will be anytime a countryside is involved, but my goodness, the views cruising across the Albis Pass, and passing by the shores of the Lake of the Four Cantons was beyond lovely. We never ran out of things to swoon over in that two-hour ride! The Lucerne pit stop, though quick, was eventful as well. We went as a group to admire the Lion Monumenta poignant sculpture carved directly in a sandstone cliff’s face – and then scattered to explore at our own pace. Kite and I spent ours covering whatever we can of the city center by foot, grabbing a quick bite at Bäckerei Hug, and going through the prominent Kapellbrücke (literally, Chapel Bridge).

The hour leading to Engelberg can only be described as a dream, one that transitioned into a beautiful reality. One moment we were just breezing through the autumn colors of the roadside flora, the next we’re seeing snow-dusted treetops and cabins, and then, boom! Just full on white! It was too surreal… To be honest, seeing the first few snowflakes hit the windshield was enough to make our hearts flutter, but when we stepped out of the bus, we totally lost it. To think we were still at the base of Mt. Titlis! Haha! (Hey… Don’t judge alright? :-P) You can only surmise how much that progressed as we went through a series of cable car rides to reach the 3020-meter peak.

It was more than we imagined it to be (read: NOT finely shaved ice, and definitely NOT that slush you scraped off of the sides of the freezer as a kid :-P).

Joy, I tell you. Pure, unadulterated joy.

We did jump shots, made snow angels, threw the stuff at each other, the works. Heck, I was even crazy enough to go shirtless, something I have always planned on doing ever since Ish chickened out on her bikini shot. Haha! People were watching us too but zero effs were given by us that day. We had a literal and figurative high, we just couldn’t be bothered. So. Much. Fun. Writing about this now, I realize we were there for more than three hours, but it sure didn’t feel like it. I suppose anytime feelings of discovery and child-like wonder are involved, time really just flies by.

What hypothermia? :-P

What hypothermia?😛

Malayong lupain, amin mang marating... Di rin magbabago ang damdamin...

Malayong lupain, amin mang marating… Di rin magbabago ang damdamin…

We were back on the bus by five in the afternoon, spent, hungry, and wet (did I mention we winter noobs were wearing jeans without thermals? :-P). A few minutes from leaving Engelberg, we were even set back by more than an hour after we got pulled over by highway police because our bus didn’t have snow tire chains on. By the time we got to Zürich, I had lost track of time. We could’ve been cold and miserable through all of that, but we weren’t. The adrenaline rush has come and gone, but our smiles couldn’t be wiped off of our faces, and for good reason. We just had one of the best days of our lives. Even better? We were together when it happened.🙂

Europe 2013: Of -strasses, swans and Sprüngli

Ahhh, Switzerland. The country that introduced me to snow, 98% employment rates and really, really tall people. Who knew I’d get to meet you this soon? Not me, that’s for sure…

Spotted at a Zurich back alley. Oh yes. It most certainly is...

Spotted at a Zurich back alley. Oh yes. It most certainly is…

For our fourth Euro-trip stop, Kite and I night-trained ourselves from the chill Amsterdam to a chill-y Zürich. The ten-hour overnight ride was an experience in itself. It had to be, what with leaving luggage in an open, empty space, jumping into a six-bed cabin with four strangers, sleeping for most of the time and trusting you’d arrive at your destination. Ha! But arrive, we did.

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much of Zürich, or at least not as much as I did for London or Paris, largely due to the level of stock-knowledge and pre-trip planning I have of and did for the place. All I knew prior was that it was our entry point to Mt. Titlis, and that’s just about it. I reckon that’s why I ended up loving the city the most. You know, not quite knowing what to anticipate, and then being pleasantly surprised at what it had in store.

Get lost among the countless –strasses, both big and small? Swipe your credit card blindly while shopping for Swiss goods (yes, I’m looking at you Schweizer Heimatwerk!)? Be amazed at the largest bevy of swans you’ve seen in your lifetime? Walk along the lakeside and gaze at the romantic nightscape reflections? Comfort your tired feet and empty tummies with quality tea and world-renowned desserts? Check on all, and then some. By the way, the people were equally as lovely. Those that we had the pleasure to interact and speak with were the most polite and most proper we’ve encountered yet. And if you had to ask, yes, they were pleasant on the eyes too.😉

Had a hard time finding Confiserie Sprüngli Café-Bar at Paradeplatz but it was sooo worth it...

Had a hard time finding Confiserie Sprüngli Café-Bar at Paradeplatz but it was sooo worth it…

Desserts with Tea Sirocco Grand Selection. Gentle Blue Earl Grey for me. Red Kiss  Früchtetee for Kite.

Desserts with Tea Sirocco Grand Selection. Gentle Blue Earl Grey for me. Red Kiss Früchtetee for Kite.

Truffle Cake Slice - Delicious chocolate biscuit pastry, filled with truffle ganache made from dark chocolate.

Truffle Cake Slice – Delicious chocolate biscuit pastry, filled with truffle ganache made from dark chocolate.

Raspberry Cream Patisserie - Almond biscuit with luscious  vanilla charlotte cream and fresh  raspberries.

Raspberry Cream Patisserie – Almond biscuit with luscious vanilla charlotte cream and fresh raspberries.

Look at them vanilla specks... *wipes drool off of face*

Look at them vanilla specks… *wipes drool off of face*

Kite and I had a whole day to wander, and as just described, that’s exactly what we did. To be more specific, aimlessly wander. Looking back, I feel we ended up accomplishing so much more than if we had planned the day from start to finish. Sure, we may not have covered the must-sees in the city, but we had a grand time nonetheless. The weather wasn’t perfect – it was overcast pretty much the entire time with the occasional drizzles here and there – but the day definitely was. A most apt overture for the day that was to come next…

Of travel, family, and the five things I (re)learned the first time I combined the two

It was mother dear’s golden birthday last month, and to celebrate, my siblings and I decided to embark on our first international trip together. It was an idea I had been toying around for some time, having experienced an out-of-town trip a year prior with just me and Mama (at SG, also for her birthday), and I figured it was perfect timing. It was a family milestone after all, and we are all at a stage in our lives where we (I) could afford a vacation of this scale. So exactly on Mama’s natal weekend, we headed to Macau and Hong Kong.

A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” – Lao Tzu

And a dozen or more single steps soon after, to be more accurate.

See the extended weekend saw the international travel “devirginization” of the three members of our party, and I guess by now you know who those are. Now that I think about it, I am sooo guilty of being amused by how the siblings went through the entire ordeal process. Think Schadenfreude.😛 From saving money weeks leading to the actual day of the flight, scrambling to get their first passports, going through mini-nervous breakdowns during airport formalities, and finally landing on and navigating through foreign land, I had a constant, sometimes silent, sometimes audible snicker and grin.

Ironically (or maybe not), these somewhat brought me back to my clueless-about-travel days. (Though I have to say I was in much better shape then, given mine was a solo business trip to India. Just sayin’.😉) The reminder that at an earlier point I was in the same shoes was appreciated nonetheless, and made me hopeful that with more of these in the future, they’ll blossom into travel-savvy people too.

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

Quick personal confession: as personable as I am in the outside world, at home, I am the quiet, almost withdrawn, (and fine) sometimes grumpy older brother. Mind you I have several defining moments under my belt (when it was most needed, I would think), but in general, the closeness I have with my siblings has always been less than what they have with each other. Also over the past few years, my two sisters had families of their own, so the little we time we initially shared was reduced even more to weekends, birthdays and special occasions.

I mention all of that because the three days I spent with the family overseas enabled me to see them in a different light, and (I hope) vice versa. A meal we had at Tim Ho Wan, in particular, was pretty memorable, not because of a specific happening, but because it was one in a really long while where we all just sat down and shared lovely food over lighthearted conversation and rounds of boisterous laughter. Outside that, I also got to witness them in environments I don’t normally see them in (something as mundane as them conversing in English was a recurring spectacle!), was reminded of how playful all of them really are (I am really sounding like the family grouch, am I?), and was re-acquainted with the mannerisms and character traits I seemed to have forgotten over the years.

Seriously, to say that that vacation was enlightening would be an understatement.

When travelling with someone, take large doses of patience and tolerance with your morning coffee.” – Helen Hayes

Ahhh… The “What have I gotten myself into!?!” moments. Yep, moments, with an s.

Didn’t I tell all of you to bring an umbrella?!?

What do you mean you just want to sleep the whole morning?!?

Si Mama na naman maghuhugas ng plato?!?

You get the drift.😛

Everyone knows these can happen when travelling with friends or partners too, but dealing with patience and tolerance when family is involved is a different beast, at least for me. I mean you don’t snap at someone you’re not related to as easily as, say, your (not so) little brother or (not so) baby sister. I know, I know, that mindset is wrong and quiet frankly, stupid, but I was not labelled as the masungit Kuya for nothing, right?

That being said, the multiple challenges to my forbearance were met with tightly bit lips, the deepest of sighs, and quietly repeating the words “Ralph, be nice.” as many times as needed to calm me down. To be fair to them, I bet they did the same every time I was the one testing their restraint for the things I may have done wrong, which leads me to the next point…

The most important trip you may take in life is meeting people halfway.” – Henry Boye

…which is, when things don’t go as planned, arriving at a compromise is crucial.

I have been travelling conscientiously for almost four years now, and I have developed standards when I’m out and about. I don’t mind walking under the sun. I don’t mind getting wet with a little rain. I don’t mind walking long distances. I don’t mind eating food that I’m seeing for the first time. I don’t mind splurging for things every once in a while. And so the list of travel ideals goes on.

Traveling with the siblings and my mom, however, highlighted that all (heck, not even most!) of these I can’t impose to other people, and that for everyone to be happy, I have to bend. I understand this more as I write all of these now.

I think this would be the right time for me to apologize to Mama, Dave, Mutya and Erika for the series of events that led to the vacation ending in a sour note. I know everyone had a part in it but I take full accountability for not being the bigger person and letting it all happen the way it did. I should’ve (and could’ve) reined it in, but I didn’t. For that I am truly sorry.

All was not lost though, because even though the the three days were not as perfect as I envisioned it to be, I’d like to believe we had more good – great! – moments, than so-so ones. And isn’t that what’s more important?

It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” – Ernest Hemingway

Our first journey was a dream come true in that context, and the only thing that could’ve made it better was if Papa was there. Physically he wasn’t, but I know in my heart he witnessed all of that and would want for us to continue. I don’t know, maybe we’ve unknowingly started a tradition? What I am certain of is for the next ones, we know better.

Local na lang muna next ha? That, or kayo naman manlibre! Hahaha!

Of bull’s balls, white busts, and chubby friends (Balaw Balaw Specialty Restaurant and Art Gallery)

Because there’s nothing quite like sharing cow’s privates to celebrate three decades of being alive.😛

This year saw most of the Katipips reach the age of *gasp* 30. *gasps again* I know! *gasps for the third time* I could still remember meeting these wide-eyed Physics freshies from 2001, and after almost thirteen years of friendship – and two babies, several master’s degrees, a couple of weddings and an ongoing pregnancy in between – we’ve gone past our 20’s and are now full-fledged, honest-to-goodness adults. Or at least that’s what we’d like to believe.😉 Alen’s and Eio’s arrived first, and to celebrate, we decided to head over to a famous destination in Angono, Rizal. The group wanted something out of the ordinary (it being a milestone birthday and all), and, well, we got more than what we bargained for.

Balaw Balaw Specialty Restaurant and Art Gallery, as its name suggests, is not your typical Filipino restaurant. On one hand, it’s still traditional, with the smell of musky wood, table settings that are so Pinoy, and an assortment of religious and regional artefacts. On the other hand, you see an eclectic scattering of almost oddball displays (PNoy’s papier-mâché busts, for example), an old piano, and finally, an adjacent gallery displaying pieces from local artists. As they say, mata pa lang, busog ka na.

And then the food.

We knew coming in that we’ll be faced with fare we don’t normally encounter in the city, or anywhere else for that matter. See Balaw Balaw is a restaurant Andrew Zimmern or Joe Rogan will be proud of, thanks to its range of offbeat dishes, featuring proteins and ingredients even Pinoys would consider adventurous. In fact, their menu has a dedicated section called “Mga kakaibang lutuin” (exotic dishes). They do have “normal” dishes too but we all knew we didn’t travel all that way just to eat something regular and boring. Riiight…

We initially planned on ordering kamaro (crickets) and uok (wood grubs), but luck was not in our favor (or was it?!?) and they didn’t have it that day. We instead “settled” for Soup No. 5, Sinabawang Balot, Sizzling Butt and Balls, Tapang Kabayo, and Bouganville (sic) flowers salad. Yep. We had a healthy combination of cow’s butt cheeks and testicles (one version swimming in a hearty broth, the other sitting on a blistering hot plate), an unhatched duckling, cured horse meat, and pink flowers for lunch. Beat that!

Soup No. 5: Butt and Balls of cow soup

Soup No. 5: Butt and Balls of cow soup

Sinabawang Balot: Duck embryos cooked with soup

Sinabawang Balot: Duck embryos cooked with soup

Tapang Kabayo: Cured dried horse

Tapang Kabayo: Cured dried horse

Sizzling Butt and Balls: Butt and Balls of Cow cooked as adobo

Sizzling Butt and Balls: Butt and Balls of Cow cooked as adobo

Bouganville flowers salad: Bouganvilla with cucumber tomatoes and vinaigrette

Bouganville flowers salad: Bouganvilla with cucumber tomatoes and vinaigrette

We ended the meal with probably the best, and most-loaded halo-halo I’ve ever had.  Yuuum!

We ended the meal with probably the best, and most-loaded halo-halo I’ve ever had. Yuuum!

To be fair, the dishes were more palatable than what we expected. I actually enjoyed the flavor of the horse tapa, and the crisp-yet-chewy mouth-feel of the sizzling butt and balls. (That sounded sooo wrong…) The two soups were not bad as well. Think a slightly game-y (but not malansa) bulalo. The balut, was well, the balut that it should be, only wetter, so no surprises there. The only plate not quite meeting the others standards was that of the flowery salad. It was your typical vinegar-based dressing laced veggies, just topped with the common garden’s very, very, VERY bitter petals. Try it for the experience points, I guess.

Over-all, our food adventure turned out to be a positive experience, and I cannot be any happier having shared it with the group of people I had it with. Now that I think of it, the Katipips is very much like the dishes we had that day: at times cheeky, almost always ballsy, minsan may bitter (LOL!), and most importantly, karamihan masarap. Wahahahaha! Joke! (But you know the thing about jokes being half-meant right? :P) What I really meant to say was, if given the chance, you’ll be in for a pleasant surprise. Boom!

***

Balaw Balaw Specialty Restaurant and Art Gallery
16 Doña Justa Subdivision, Manila East Highway
Angono, Rizal, Philippines, 1930
Telephone: +632 651 0110, +63923 714 4209
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Balaw-Balaw/122289674505861?sk=timeline
E-mail: balaw2x@yahoo.com

Europe 2013: Of wandering hens, windmills, and bakya

You didn’t think we’d visit the Netherlands and not pass by its famed windmills right?😉

Tiggie and Tyler didn't either. :)

Tiggie and Tyler didn’t either.🙂

Truth be told, Zaanse Schans (and now that I think about it, a huuuge part of our itinerary) was Kite’s master plan. (Hey you! I love you!) The destination was one of those that we anticipated the most because of two reasons. One, we don’t really have historic functional windmills from our neck of the woods. Two, well, we imagined the endless photo-op possibilities the landscape had to offer. (Spoiler alert: we imagined right!)

The almost half hour train ride from Amsterdam Central to Koog-Zaandijk was pretty straightforward, followed by a pleasant fifteen minute walk across a fairly quiet town. (Don’t worry, as with most of our Europe experience so far, signs abound.) We saw our first windmill sighting at an intersection we crossed and while we got excited, Kite and I were both: “Hmm, was that it?”. Of course we were wrong, something we quickly realized as we walked further around the corner.

The view of the windmills lining the coast of the River Zaan was definitely picturesque, triggering chills that we didn’t quite expect. One may argue that this may not be due to what we’re seeing that time, but may be more because of the fact that we were there. Regardless, it was a sight that was unquestionably for the books.😛 We got a lucky break too when, as we arrived, the sun asserted itself through a sea of overcast clouds. A friend based in Europe told me we were blessed to have that much light for the season, so yey to perfect timing!

Saw, paint, stone, oil, spice – didn't know there that many types of windmills!

Saw, paint, stone, oil, spice – didn’t know there that many types of windmills!

Jumpshots! Because, why not? :-P

Jumpshots! Because, why not?😛

Our hungry tummies beckoned that it was time for lunch and we found ourselves dining at De Hoop Op d’Swarte Walvis (I dare you to try saying that in one breath). There will be a future post about that meal but for now, I can tell you it was one of the best and most memorable I’ve had across Europe (read: wild boar and deer stew, and sausage of apple and wild pepper *gasps*).

Full and happy, we explored further and saw all the other points of interest the neighborhood boasts of, all of which, I should note, may be accessed free of charge.😀 These included a fowl encounter inside a cheese shop (free taste FTW! Of the range of cheeses, by the way, not the hen), being awed by the sheer variety of Dutch wooden shoes a.k.a. clogs (on that note, our own bakya is a type of clog pala! A pair was even on display! Waaay coooool!), some serious souvenir shopping, and generally hanging out with the occasional fooling around. Good times!

Look at all those details!

Look at all those details!

I gather one can actually enter the working windmills but we weren’t able to do so. It was perfectly fine. Kite and I were genuinely happy simply looking and being amazed by them, and again, being at Zaanse Schans, together, at that moment. ;-)

Of going the distance, sexy waterfalls, and Eat, Pray, Love

Yes! I’m alive! And so is TPP!

Two months without a post and I’m not even sad? Odd, isn’t it? Nah, not really. I realize now that I’m actually glad that’s the case. I take it as another affirmation that life is good… And happy… And full… Happy, good and full!

So here’s the lowdown (a.k.a. the legit reasons why I went on some sort of hiatus):

160-142-3

Or more specifically, 160 lbs. down to 142 in a span of three months. Not bad eh? :-D Closing off an intense competition against worthy opponents, this was my second Biggest Loser win. Wooot! I’m extremely satisfied with how I handled this too, with wholesome food, a variety of physical activity (I’m back to the mat after a looong time!), a heavy dose of good ol’ discipline, and over a healthy and reasonable period of time.  I am now at 145 and on maintenance mode, with my sight on the mid-term goal of looking the best I’ve ever looked (hint: abs) once I hit the big 3-0 in several months. Dun-dun-dun-dun!


#wod #IfEverybodyRan #runfaster #RunFreeMNL #running

A photo posted by Paolo (@aliaspaolo) on

New babies!

First, the pogi one. Mid-March, the family welcomed Alistair Jase, my third nephew, and the newest addition to the list of kids whose master’s degrees I will have to finance when the time comes.

Second, well, also pogi, but in a different way.  Say hello to Summer, our first major conjugal purchase. Months of planning and, more importantly, years of saving finally paid off. Do we have permission to feel like adults now?😛

Summer

Temples and beaches.

Bali, Indonesia before close of May, and Puerto Galera, Mindoro a couple of weeks after. The former was the annual out-of-the-country trip with the in-laws, while the latter was the long overdue clichéd barkada trip with Katipips that was more than a decade in the making. Both were a revelation in a sense that they were more than what I expected. Bali, specifically, is a place I would definitely love to get back to in the near future (think yoga retreat). On a side note, I unknowingly ticked off all the Eat, Pray, Love countries after that recent Indonesia trip. Yeah boy!

Sun! Sand! Sea! And ice cream! ^_^

A photo posted by Paolo (@aliaspaolo) on

And finally, first half-marathon baybeeeh!

After running thirteen 5s, a dozen 10s, and a single 16, I finally made the leap of faith and decided it was time for a 21K, and this was just yesterday! I am actually writing this with my laptop on top of my legs that have never felt this sore ever. (I’ve also never hated stairs this much my entire life… >_<) After two hours and 33 minutes (at least for now as the official results aren’t out yet) I crossed the finish line. Respectable time for a beginner, people say, but really, all I could care about was finishing that distance without collapsing half-way through. And I did! Haha! I said this almost four years ago, and I say it again:

Above anything else, it’s the confirmation that yes, I can do things I never once imagined I can do.

Before and after. So bale naging mas orange lang yun shirt ko.😛 #milomarathon #buildchampions

A photo posted by Paolo (@aliaspaolo) on

So yeah. That’s how my March to July was spent. How about you? What were you up to?😉

Europe 2013: Of going Dutch, sushi, and a (very) bearable lightness of being

Never stop loving.”  – random pink bench beside The Pancake Bakery

The Netherlands, admittedly, was the lone “just passing through” leg of the trip. Unlike London and Paris, we didn’t meticulously map out every step of the way. We arrived in the country knowing just three things – the name of the hostel we were staying in (which, unbeknownst to us, was right smack in a mini-RLD), our out-of-town destination the next day, and my overnight family visit to The Hague.

As a consequence, and quite unsurprisingly, we got lost (or more specifically, we rode a tram when we shouldn’t have), which in turn caused a major fight that involved someone blaming the other for walking a really long stretch of road while dragging 60 kilos of luggage. Believe me, I have never hated cobblestone by that much my entire life.😛 Fortunately, love prevailed – with the help of some great savory and sweet pancakes – and as soon as we made amends, we were welcomed with the warmest destination we had so far.

 

Amsterdam was a joy to be in. Everyone just seemed… happy. And light-hearted. And chill. Yes, I know, what the city is well-known for doesn’t escape me, but it was for sure a welcome change to the, err, “coldness” of France (if you know what I mean). The Dutch capital itself was striking, in a not so picture perfect but still charming kind of way.

In the afternoon that we spent together, Kite and I explored the major canals of the Dutch capital. Kite gushed over the moody colors of the houses that lined the waterways, as I admired the country’s obviously effective urban planning and flood control. (Hello my dear Philippines! Can we make our own version of Delta Works please?). At The Dam, we soaked in the mixed vibe of locals and travelers going through their motions, at the same time sampling the architecture Mokum Alef had to offer. We also both sped through downtown roads with iconic (?) yellow bikes, separately though because I had to whisk myself away to Den Haag.


Speaking of The Hague, this was where I realized we should’ve allocated more time in Holland. Over a belly-busting stint at a Japanese buffet and a leisurely night-time walk around several landmarks, I caught up with family I haven’t seen in years. I spent hours chatting with Tita Ela, Tito Nick, and playing with my very animated little cousin Nickelai, slept at their lovely apartment, and enjoyed breakfast with them, but all that still wasn’t enough, and understandably so. From the brief but deeply treasured moments I had with the Poels, I felt that there really isn’t anything quite like having someone familiar in a foreign land. It goes both ways, but more especially for them, I reckon. And because of all that, I made a promise that I will return (hopefully soon!), and stay for longer. We’ll see later this year if that commitment will be met, but for now I will hold on to the memories that were created and to the hope of seeing each other again.

Europe 2013: Of gargoyles, travertine, and Babylone

Am I weird if I say I’m at a loss of words?

It’s not that I haven’t been in this position, because we all know I have. But putting it in the context of Paris, and how it has been many an author’s muse, the struggle to put into writing the resplendence that it was… is just too much.

Seriously. I don’t understand.

Was the almost monochromatic but (ironically) vibrant and colorful city not transcendental enough? (It was.)
Did the stark contrast between the artsy, gritty innards of the Metro against the otherwise opulent backdrop of the surrounding Parisian landmarks not tug something primordial? (It did.)
How about the pristine Sacré-Cœur and the enigmatic Notre-Dame? Were those not worthy of a spark? (They were.)
And what of the idyllic Seine and the countless locks (and promises) of love that adorned its bridges? Did those not inspire? (They did.)

So yes, thank you, my dear lexis, for failing me once again.

Sigh…

***

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