Latest Entries »


La Gota de Leche

 

Skipping Manila? I know …. the sun and sand beckons in the beaches of Boracay. There’s serious diving in Palawan. You long to breathe the mountain air in Baguio and Benguet,  or simply go completely rustic in the northermost part of the country in Batanes. Or maybe you want to try your surfboards in Siargao or even check out the tarsiers and chocolate hills in Bohol.  For many, it’s the heritage sites in Vigan and Laoag in the Ilocos region, where one is transported in time to a colonial era.  The air is cleaner, less crowded, people likely less busy and thus friendlier, and board and lodging even cheaper in the islands south of Manila and the provinces north of Manila.

 

La Gota de Leche

And Then There’s Manila…..

 

I can’t blame you.  Manila is so congested, dirty in many parts of the city, and traffic is so bad.  I live in the better part of  Metro Manila not too far from the shopping malls and fancy restaurants  lining the streets of Makati.  I hardly venture out of Makati. In fact, it has been ages since I last got to the center of Manila where one finds Rizal  Park,  Intramuros with its city walls and Fort Santiago.  Whenever I have foreign visitors who have a day or a whole afternoon to spend in Manila, I would invariably bring them to Intramuros and Fort Santiago, and simply point out Rizal  Park as we pass this park along the way.  These 3 are the likely top tourist attractions in the city, but I’d say only because not too many write or talk about the other interesting historic sites in the metropolis.

 

 

No, it is not a secret.  We have heard of some of these places, even watched documentaries on television about them.  But perhaps not often  enough. Nor enough.  Many history books hardly talk about them too.  And as soon as we hear the heritage sites are in Quiapo,  many of us would either lose interest or feel not too brave to walk the streets there.   Sad but true.  And I am ashamed to admit it.

 

Quiapo Church

 

 

 

QUIAPO is best known for the Quiapo Church, the official “residence” of the Black Nazarene. Around the Church, one finds many hawkers selling religious articles side by side vendors selling “anting-anting” (charms, herbs, amulets, voodoo items) . Crossing the plaza towards the Church, one would likely meet “traders” who would not too subtly whisper the  dollar-peso exchange rate for those interested to change their precious dollars to Philippine pesos.  Mixing with the crowd are likely predators on the lookout for “innocent victims”.   You find them too in the streets of Madrid, Paris, Prague and Rome.  The bag snatchers and thieves.  Sadly, these characters kept many like me from visiting this place more often.

 

All That Chaos Towards A Center of Spirituality!

Garden View from Inside La Gota de Leche

La Gota de Leche

 

Amidst all the chaos, it is a pleasant surprise to find this corner of elegance.  A kind of class that soothes the nerves.   Like some oasis which quenches the thirst for some degree of tranquility.  

 

Literally means “drop of milk”.  This place was inaugurated in 1907 by then Governor-General, later US President William Howard Taft.  Designed by Arcadio and Juan Arellano, fathers of Philippine architecture, inspired by the Hospital of the Innocents, an orphanage in Florence designed by Brunelleschi, a renowned  Italian Renaissance architect.  As if to indicate what this structure stands for, there are decorative reliefs on pediments with images of infants.

 

Established as a clinic to address malnutrition concerns among the indigents, it was run  by the La Proteccion de la Infancia, Inc. This outreach organization was founded by philanthropist Teodoro R. Yangco in 1907. Records show the construction was completed in 1917 so that makes this building nearly a hundred years old.  You can say this organization was the country’s very first NGO or non-government organization.  A charity project dedicated to infants and young children, its operations involved the distribution of milk to indigent children. It further evolved to champion women’s rights as it also houses the “Kababaihan Laban sa Karahasan Foundation” (literally “Women Against Violence”). The charity organization exists to this day, and must take credits for the restoration of this building in 2002-2003, for which it was awarded the 2003 Heritage Award of the UNESCO Asia Pacific Heritage Award for Culture Heritage Conservation.

 

Located in 859 Sergio Loyola Street (parallel to Morayta Street), La Gota de Leche is very near the University of the East.  It almost sticks out like a sore thumb in the University Belt, in Sampaloc to be precise, in an  area hemmed in by sidewalk vendors, dilapidated buildings and smelly trash bins. But La Gota stands proud like an old contessa, with its cross-vaulted arcaded loggias, front garden and a non-functional water fountain.

Bahay Nakpil

Bahay Nakpil

 

Bahay means house.  This is the house of the Nakpils and Bautistas, built in 1914 Truth is the house should be called Bahay Nakpil-Bautista. Besides being a century-old house , its distinction lies in its being home to some of our heroes of the 1896 revolution.  Located in A. Bautista Street, just off Ramon Hidalgo Street,  the 2 Philippine flags and a marker in front of the house are the only tell-tale signs that it is a house of distinction.  Right beside it is another house, even older, which seems ready to collapse anytime. Both are of the “bahay na bato” architecture which literally means “house made of stone”, though structure is really that of an upper storey made of wood built over a stone foundation.  Typical of the bahay na bato, architect Arcadio Arellano incorporated Viennese Secession motifs into the making of the house. Oddly, the style was adopted after the family received a gift of Secessionist furniture such that the design of the house worked around the furniture motifs.

 

Street Scene @Bahay Nakpil

 

The house is owned and built by Dr. Ariston Bautista, a noted propagandist during the Philippine Revolution .  His wife was Petrona Nakpil, whose brother, Julio Nakpil, composed the secret society Katipunan’s patriotic hymns.  Katipunan was founded by Andres Bonifacio, who is married to Gregoria de Jesus.  Inside, there is a marker citing that this has also been home to Gregoria de Jesus, widow of working class hero Andres Bonifacio, who then married Julio Nakpil.  Bahay Nakpil-Bautista was also the place where the family operated its Plateria Nakpil which crafted many jewelry pieces highly prized by Manila’s elite at the time. As distinguised Quiapo families,  the house witnessed many social gatherings and concerts aside from being home to national heroes and artists. View full article »

Bratislava Food Porn


When in Bratislava, eat tons of potatoes, meat, cabbage, blood sausages, venison and other game meat. Drink lots of beer too! And the locals will remind you not to forget the dumplings and the kofola — which is like Coca Cola with a hint of coffee and lemon. And just like its neighbouring countries, it has its own spin on the Hungarian goulash. On my last dinner in Bratislava, I wanted a light meal and settled for soup and salad. When dinner was served, I just stared at this massive salad in front of me. And the soup? It was goulash with dumplings! The one who served me promised a very Slovak dinner even if I just wanted soup and salad. The portions were so generous I wanted to make friends with the pair seated at the table next to mine! Lesson learned: Slovak cuisine is both hearty and generous. Oh yeah. If you’re eating alone, suffer. Or go just have a drink and pica pica.

From Day 1 in Bratislava, we fell in love with their Creamy Garlic Soup and Cabbage Soup. In this corner of the world, cabbage and garlic is life. I should have stuck to those. I said NO to brynzove halusky — potato dumplings with creamy sheep cheese sprinkled with bacon. That happens to be the Slovak national dish and the waiter from Linos Bistro can’t see how I can leave their city without trying it. And so we settled on soup with dumplings. Except that the soup turned out to be the hearty goulash…. with dumplings. Touché!

If I were dining with the boys, there wouldn’t be this problem. I just feel bad about wasting food, but neither do I want to get sick for over stuffing myself. If we didn’t have dinner 2 nights in a row in Bratilavsky Metiansky Pivovar, I would have gone there and ordered the Creamy Garlic Soup. One bowl of that could have been a good dinner. In fact, everything we ordered here those 2 nights were good. The boys enjoyed the pork ribs (even the side dish of peppers), the veal, while I swooned over the soups and grilled cheese. The chicken dish was so-so but ain’t bad. We found this gastropub through our tour guide. Beer was excellent, and I like that one can order a half a litre or 1/3 liter of beer.

Our Bratislava Loft Hotel houses the Fabrika Brewery Restaurant where we had our first meal soon after arrival. We enjoyed our welcome drinks of beer 🍺 and rosé 🍷 as well as ALL of the dishes we ordered. From the salad to pork scratchings (I swear that’s what they called ’em), to lamb shank to risotto. We ordered the risotto thinking we must be missing our Asian staple. 🙄 All winners! Even when we did retail therapy and found ourselves having lunch in a mall, we enjoyed our burgers and pulled pork sandwiches. For drinks, we tried the Slovakian cola. It’s like Kofola. And if you ask me, I’d rather have a lemonade.

This trip was planned in a breeze. Maybe because there weren’t too many expectations and we’re all feeling cheery, we thoroughly enjoyed our trip. It likewise helped that we had good appetites and drank heartily. Not too much, but we sure love to drink a glass or 2 with our meals. And because the food and drinks bills here didn’t burn a hole in our pockets, Bratislava is ❤️. (How can you complain over wine that costs less than €2? Or beer costing €1.20? One dinner we paid €45 for the 6 of us. And that includes our beers!)


The homeward flight is from Vienna but I chose to stay behind in Bratislava before boarding that express bus (Slovak Lines) for the one-hour easy & relaxing bus ride to Vienna Airport. I enjoyed brekkie in our hotel with the boys who left a day earlier, then took off on my own. The plan was to join the afternoon walking tour of “20th Century Bratislava”. Plan B was to do another round of the Old Town, check out the concert hall schedule, visit a museum, lunch al fresco while listening to some music from a street busker, then take the bus to Dubiana Art Gallery which is Bratislava’s own MOMA. Finally, an early evening stroll along the Danube Promenade. Those were the plans. Until it rained. As in the whole day, intermittently. 🌧 ☔️🌧

Grassalkovich Palace is the equivalent of the White House where the President resides. It has a public garden behind which seemed unexpectedly unguarded. The only giveaway that a prominent person lives here are the flags hoisted by the entrance gates. On my last afternoon here and the morning of departure from Bratislava, I passed this corner which is only a couple of blocks from our hotel and took pictures without the tourist crowd.

I took the chance to visit Trinity Church, an 18th century baroque Catholic Church. Situated at the fringes of the Old Town, trams pass by this tiny church with a surprisingly ornate interior and altar. From here I crossed the tram tracks to cross the tiny bridge by the entrance of St. Michael’s Gate. I made good time dropping by the 18th century Neo-Renaissance opera house but they only had ballet performances that evening. Would you believe Bratislava has 2 opera houses? The new one is by the Danube Promenade. I was on my way there to see if I can buy concert tickets when the sky opened up and poured! I only got as far as the Promenade past the UFO Bridge and right before the Slovak National Museum. I took shelter here and made good use of my time. It wasn’t an Art Gallery but a Museum of Archaeology. Want to see an extinct woolly mammoth? Come here.

By the time the rain stopped, I’ve decided to skip the concert and the Danubiana Art Museum. Instead, I walked along the Danube Promenade and then took a turn heading for the famous Blue Church. This Church of Saint Elizabeth looks like a wedding cake with creamy frosting amidst a non-descript neighbourhood. It wasn’t hard to find, just that you don’t expect it to be situated here. It was closed but I was able to peer through the windows and took a shot of the interior. Not the best shot, but it will do. 🙄

From the Blue Church I headed back for the Old Town’s Main Square. It poured again. Thankfully, the 18th century Primate’s Palace beside the Old Town Hall has alleyways leading to coffee shops and bars. Getting stuck in LINOS Bistro and Coffee Shop wasn’t a bad idea. I claimed a seat outside watching the rain, watching people rush by, and listening to a busker fiddle with his guitar. When it rains, one drinks. No… there’s no such saying. I made it up 🍷😊🍸

Though the sun sets at 9pm here, I took an early simple dinner of soup and (massive) salad, soaked up the atmosphere of the Old Town then headed back to the hotel. One last stroll in the Main Square, wondering if that 16th century Renaissance fountain should be called Maximilian Fountain or Roland Fountain. Just one of 140 fountains to be found here, but this one’s the oldest. Truly a city of fountains! And then finally, exiting through St. Michael’s Gate out of this charming Old Town. ❤️❤️❤️


Devin is a borough of Bratislava. History records place its first settlement as early as the 5th-8th century B.C., around the time of the Great Moravian Empire. Before Napoleon’s army blew it up in 1809, it served as a boundary fortress and trading port. It became a national cultural monument in 1961 and has since been visited by locals and foreign guests for its strategic location, panoramic views and rich history. The site says the castle is closed on Mondays, but on a Trip Advisor forum someone confirmed that only the Museum is closed while the castle grounds remain open. Swell! Our troop donned our rubber shoes 👟 and off we went via 2 easy red bus transfers (#39 and #29 which terminates just below the castle) to explore the ruins of Hrad Devin. Took us less than half an hour from Bratislava to reach Devin. If you’re driving a car or taking a cab, I’d say you’re there in 15 minutes. Along the way, we’ve met a small crowd of no more than 10 pairs visiting at the same time — all eager to glimpse this well-preserved ruin depicted in Slovakian currency and stamps. In fact, the word “Devin” has become synonymous with anything Slovakian!

Devin Castle is only 12 kilometres from Bratislava’s Old Town and lies on a high cliff right at the confluence of the Danube and Morava Rivers. From the terrace of either the Middle and Upper Castle, you spot Morava joining the Danube amidst a glorious view of Austria (you can ride a boat from Hainburg) across the Danube and where parts of Hungary are visible. We were able to replenish our water bottles in a medieval well within a courtyard just before crossing a bridge over the moat. From here, one climbs the stairs to reach the top platform. I remember a girl of 8-10 years going down the same stairs while I was climbing up with one hand on the rail. She suddenly stopped, looking pale and scared as she looked down. I offered my arm for her to hold on to. Hesitantly she held on to my arm till I got her on the handrail while her dad waited for her on the lower platform. I saw myself in that young girl: adventurous with delayed nervous breaks!

The sun was relentless that mid morning as we climbed our way up the castle ruins. Before the climb, I didn’t see sheep grazing in the castle grounds but I spotted a lone donkey who kept so still under a shed. The red-roofed houses in the village presented a magical panorama amidst the mountains so green with its lush forest. On the side of the Danube and Morava rivers, the Maiden Tower draws your attention. I couldn’t take a good photo without overreaching and risking dropping my iPhone so I grabbed a photo from the Net. The tower is likewise called VIRGIN Tower and a legend goes that a bride jumped to her death from here when her groom was killed by her family who disapproved of the marriage. Sad 😔

The view from the top is certainly worth the climb. A sign says “Horny Hrad” (shut up – It only means Upper Castle 😂) which describes it as having been built in the late 13th century, only to be blown up in 1809 when French army led by Napoleon Bonaparte installed explosives to destroy it. The ruins still tell a compelling (and complicated) story of this castle fortress once held by monarchs from the Austrian and Hungarian kingdoms. It’s hard to even imagine that the border of the Iron Curtain once ran just in front of this Castle.


Photo sourced from the Net

The Maiden Tower. Photo Sourced from the Net

On a good day like we had, it would be nice to explore the hiking and biking trails. But our energy levels were down to a single bar and we were eager to ride back to the city for lunch and a bit of air-conditioned retail therapy. The hike would have been an ideal activity during spring when the farm animals are put to pasture and the flowers are in bloom. We didn’t bother checking the dining places near the castle but we’re told there are a few offering authentic Slovak cuisine. Just the same, Hrad Devin is one of the highlights of our trip to Bratislava . So glad we went even though the Museum exhibits were closed. 💕


This is my 4th time in Vienna and it’s only now that I’ve visited nearby Bratislava, Slovakia. I never thought it’s only an hour away from Vienna by bus on fare that costs a measly €5 (with snacks and bottled mineral water!). Of course you can travel in style and take that taxi ride between Vienna Airport and Bratislava for less than €100. Do note that it cost me €45 taxi fare from Vienna airport to my hotel in the city center. So, what gives? If you prefer small cities to big cities, spend more time in Bratislava where food, taxi, souvenirs, park, hotels and museum admissions are way cheaper. 👍

In our case, we rode the 2.5 hour train journey from Vienna to Budapest where we had a lovely time. From there and a few days after, we took another 2.5 hours from Budapest to Bratislava. Our train cabin was ideal for the 6 of us. My window seat was perfect for viewing the sunflower and corn fields, and tiny churches we passed. From the train station, it was just a short walk to our lovely Budapest Loft Hotel which sits right above a popular brewery and located between the train station and the Old Town. The hotel offers a free mini bar (yes!) and a welcome drink at The Fabrika Gastropub below, which btw has a very good breakfast spread as well as a la carte meals. We were prepped for lunch while they got our rooms ready and we were happy with our first Slovak meal.

Soon after we deposited our bags in the room, we set off to meet our guide in the Old Town for our afternoon walking tour. It was another long walk (3 hours), but very informative & entertaining. We entered the Old Town through St. Michael’s Gate. Under the arched entrance is the equivalent of “Kilometro 0″ — technically the city center where distances are measured. Just before the gate is a small bridge adorned with love locks where one views the former moat below which has since been converted into a garden cum reading area. I promised myself I’d go back here on my last day with a mug of coffee and a book.

The Old Town is very compact and manageable. You can’t get lost here even if you tried. The lovely thing is there are small churches, historic buildings, fountains, tiny squares, museums, art galleries, an opera house, brass statues here and there, hemmed in by an assortment of pubs, gelato bars, coffee shops, and souvenir stores. There’s also a charming Danube Riverbank Promenade where more of the historic buildings and museums are located. You can’t get bored here. It’s really a small village, quaint and with so much character. And most everyone speaks English!

We were lucky to have blue skies and sunshine on our first 2 days here. On the third day it rained intermittently nearly the whole day. We made good time, led by our able guide whose name is as Slavic as can be – Voultjo? Not sure I’m spelling that right but this pony-tailed guide kept us hooked for 3 hours. He navigated us through the Old Town — the squares, St. Martin’s Church, old town hall, the “Gazer” statue, Opera House, the city walls, the viewpoint from where the UFO Bridge complemented the entire city view, all the way to the castle or Bratislava Hrad. He also gave us very good dining tips!

Just like our walking tour guide in Budapest, Voultjo warned us that his spiel maybe peppered with his political views. All’s well though, we can always do with a local’s opinionated views. We weaved around the quaint village (why are there so many Thai Massage Spas here?), making notes on some sites I’d like to revisit on my last solo (3rd and 4th) days in Bratislava before flying home. In particular, there’s the coronation church of Saint Martin and I spotted a few tiny churches too.

We didn’t get inside Bratislava Hrad but I was keen on going inside one of the Museums or Opera House on my last day. From outside, the castle grounds is really a huge modern park on a promontory from where one gets a 360 degree view of the Old and New Town. The UFO Bridge (it does look like an UFO) is in full view from here, and of course the same Danube River we saw in Vienna and Budapest.

Our guide led us back to where we started in the Old Town after 3 hours of good walking. Thumbs up for this guided walking tour. Being a Sunday, there were more locals and tourists around, longer lines for the gelato, more snooping on a chess game played by old men, there were services in the churches, and more people enjoying the al fresco dining places. We felt we’ve covered most attractions and felt eager to check out Voultjo’s food tips. More on that in the next blog. Watch this page!

Dining In Budapest


Goulash is their national dish. Langos is the national dessert? Maybe. But really, Budapest has so much more. I love soup but one can only take so much goulash. So we tried others. And we weren’t disappointed at all.

Warning: Too many food photos. 🙄

It’s my first time to try lecsó, a Hungarian vegetable soup. I call it soup but it’s really more like a stew of peppers, tomatoes, onions, and ground sweet and hot paprika. I couldn’t believe it’s a vegetable soup or stew so I searched the Internet for its ingredients. Turns out the onions and peppers are sautéed in lard and maybe even bacon fat! But, we maybe in luck. The tomatoes are best during the summer season in this corner of the world and our tastebuds confirmed it. Like goulash, lecsó gets a generous sprinkling of paprika. Unlike goulash, lecsó has no potatoes nor beef cubes. Between the 2, I’m now a fan of lecsó .

But it’s not the only soup we enjoyed. The restaurant in Hotel Zenit Budapest (Divin Porcello Ham Bar) where we stayed serves very good cabbage soup and ham, sausage and cheese platter. Plus they have a superb wine list! The first meal upon arrival here in Budapest got us all excited for dinner that same day. This time, we tried the oldest restaurant in Pest called Százéves which literally translates to “a hundred years”. Complete with classical music from these 4 Hungarian gentlemen.

We particularly liked our fish dish here. Grilled zander? Have not come across this fish, but the English menu describes it as pike-perch of the Eurasian variety. It is a fresh-water fish with a very delicate taste. Simply grilled, and plated with alfalfa sprout toppings on a bed of lettuce and grilled onions with shrimps, we all enjoyed this dish.

We ordered our 1st stuffed cabbage here. The first of 2, but we haven’t been lucky. The first “Koloszvar” stuffed cabbage was salty, the next one (in another restaurant) tasted bland. We likewise tried the Hungarian Goulash here. A sure favourite!

Our last dinner in Budapest wasn’t Hungarian. My friend found this Italian restaurant in Pest near the Danube which earned pretty good reviews. We had bruschetta, caprese salad, beef tartare, 3 kinds of pasta, pulpo and we had HUNGARIAN wine from Tokaj, Hungary. To finish this fine meal, we succumbed to the recommended lemon sorbet with prosecco and Absolut Vodka! First time I’ve tried this and I promise it won’t be the last. 🍸

We ate very well in Budapest. And that’s only on the Pest side just around/near our lovely hotel by the Danube River. I bet there’s also many interesting bistros in the quieter side of Buda. We likewise enjoyed Hungarian wine. If at all, the only disappointment was the lunch we had at the Great Market Hall. The second floor is lined with many food stalls where one claims a table after ordering “cafeteria style” from any of the stalls. I enjoyed my beer but every dish we had was bleh. Took no pictures. Sorry. Nonetheless, I’d still suggest a visit to the Great Market Hall if only for the beer and some sausages. You’d find it at the end of the pedestrian shopping street called Váci Utca, so it’s not really out of the way. Besides, it’s the biggest indoor market housed in a magnificent building and offers many souvenir items and Hungarian delicacies.

Jó Etvágyát! 🍽👌 (Errrr, I only meant “Bon Apetit” in Hungarian)


Hungary has heartbreaking stories to tell. And many stories are told in powerful symbols that are poignant reminders of a sad history. On the Pest side of the Danube, an evening stroll along the riverbank promenade is both refreshing and heartbreaking. The memorial is just a few meters south of the Parliament and consists of 60 pairs of shoes made of iron. Cast iron signs have the following text in English (also in Hebrew and Hungarian) : “To the memory of the victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross Militia Men in 1944-45. Erected 16 April 2005″.

I thought the victims were ALL Hungarian Jews. And that they were executed by Nazi Germans. I’m wrong on both counts. Many Hungarians were killed by fellow Hungarians and Germans. The Arrow Cross Party, who shared the same ideologies with the Nazis, took as many as 20,000 Jews from the Budapest Ghetto. It is claimed they were all executed at the banks of the Danube River. In February 1945, the Soviet forces “liberated” Budapest from the Germans. And that’s another sad story.

From Nazi Germany to Soviet Communism, Hungary suffered. Typically, I skip places where I feel negative vibes. But I was drawn to these symbols. The hole on the Hungarian flag hoisted over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. A dove shedding a tear. Old photos from a not so distant past. The chilling story of the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. Just look at that flag above the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The hole is right where the Communist Coat of Arms used to be. It was cut out and this symbolism became the battlecry of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 against its Soviet-influenced, Soviet-backed government. There is a sad ending here where the uprising was crushed by Soviet tanks rolling into the narrow streets of Budapest. Power and might to crush a Revolution. About 2,500 Hungarian protesters died, and 200,000 fled as refugees. Many Hungarians consider this as the nation’s worst tragedy.

They’ve been through a lot, and these monuments and memorials reinforce that sad memory. No one forgets. 😔 One can’t help feeling impressed with the resiliency of these Hungarians.


Flanking the Danube River are Buda on the West and Pest on the East Bank. The “tale of 2 cities” merging into one has been subject of many discourses and inevitably comparisons are drawn. Our hotel is on the Pest side. This is where the Parliament is, best viewed from across the Danube in Castle Hill. A very handsome building which is only 3rd largest in the world.

Pest is flat, but bigger. Where Buda is more formal, even reserved, Pest is more vibrant. Nightlife is certainly livelier on the east bank of the Danube. It may not be “quiet and less crowded” as its hilly half, but this is where the action is. The coffee and bar scene here is tops and while relatively “new” and “young”, its bolder character gave way to many prominent edifices like the Parliament, Heroes Square, the “ruin bars”, the iconic St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and the many bronze statues scattered all around. But in my mind, nothing beats the eclectic bronze shoes lined at the edge of the Danube. The story goes that Hungarian Jews were told to take off their shoes, put whatever jewellery they have inside the shoes, and stand by the river edge. Then they were summarily executed and their bodies fell into the river as they took the shots from Budapest’s Arrow Cross Militia who shared the same Nazi ideology during World War II. The bronze shoes are poignant reminders of this dark period in Hungarian history.

The Central Market Hall is another iconic landmark in Pest. The market has a 2nd floor catering to tourists wishing to buy souvenirs and feast on Hungarian cuisine. There are many souvenir and handicraft for sale here, as well as food stalls where one can try Goulash, lecso, Hungarian smoked sausages, stuffed cabbage, meatballs, langos and many more. We’ve tried it here and it was forgettable if it weren’t our worst lunch. Well, it was a food court after all. But Pest is really teeming with nice shopping places, coffee bars and fine-dining restaurants. One only needs to do a little research. Thankfully, one of my friends made sure we ate very well here. 🍽

Michael Jackson fans would love it here. There is an MJ Memorial Tree in a tiny square corner just right across Kempinski Hotel where the late pop idol used to stay. The tree has assumed a Shrine of sorts with MJ photos plastered around the trunk. And Hungarian fans still gather here on MJ’s birthday, performing MJ’s popular dance moves. Nearby is the Hungarian Eye, much like the London Eye. It’s colossal but I feel it’s an eyesore amidst the many beautiful and historic buildings in the area.

Budapest has a number of popular thermal pools or baths, clearly something they must have picked up from the Romans and Turks. It was tempting to check out Széchenyi or Gellért if only to watch old men play chess while half-submerged in hot thermal waters. We passed on this one and chose to instead hear mass at St. Stephen’s , enjoy a good dinner then take an evening Danube cruise to see the Hungarian landmarks all lit up. We enjoyed both Buda and Pest. But when I do make a next visit, I’d likely try a hotel in Buda if only to feel its more sober night life.

Buda of Budapest


It used to be Buda, Pest and Old Buda. Buda and Pest separated by the River Danube, with the Old Town resting on the left bank which is Buda. Earliest settlers were Celts until the Romans occupied the present-Day Budapest in the first century B.C., annexing it as part of the Roman Empire. Then there was Attila, and the Huns ruled from the 5th century till the Magyar tribes arrived in the 9th century. By all accounts, the settlers and rulers lingered for centuries to affect Budapest’s way of life in many, many ways – art, culture, cuisine, architecture, language.

By the 10th century, the Hungarian Kingdom was established and the first king was St. Stephen who converted Hungary into Christianity. Soon, the French and Germans migrated here and then, the Mongolian invasion happened in the 12th century, thus destroying both cities. Through the centuries until Buda, Pest and Old Buda (Obuda) were joined in 1873, the city saw its transformation from Medieval Hungary to Renaissance Budapest to Turkish Budapest. And then the Hapsburgs came. Pest was soon to become the cultural and economic center of Hungary. But let’s talk about Buda first, and deal with Pest in my next blog. 😊

Buda Castle sits on Castle Hill with a perfect view of the Pest side. You can appreciate a night view of Buda riding a boat which glides slowly along the Blue Danube, or you can join a walking tour which requires stamina to last nearly 3 hours. Oh, there’s a funicular to climb up Castle Hill and visit the 3 major attractions on this side of the river. But we WALKED. 🏃‍♂️🏃‍♀️ And we crossed the Chain Bridge ON FOOT. 👣👣And we CLIMBED. 🚶‍♀️🚶‍♀️🚶‍♀️All the way to Buda Castle, 🏰🏰 Fisherman’s Bastion and St. Matthias Church 🕍🕍🕍 These 3 account for the best Buda attractions on the western bank of the Danube . All UNESCO Heritage Sites.

Its rich history doesn’t end here. The Austro-Hungarian Empire can claim much of what present-Day Budapest is. The Empire lasted only till the First World War. Then, during the Second World War, it cast its lot with Nazi Germany. The Germans seized the city and soon a dark period began for the country’s Hungarian Jews. There were political upheavals and once more, the nation in the 19th century transitioned from being a Hungarian Soviet Republic for a brief period, to being a Kingdom without a king.

Castle Hill looks more “imperial” than its better-half on the right bank. Where Pest is flat, Buda is hilly. The first bridge connecting the 2 was built only in 1848. The other bridges look nothing less and maybe more interesting for those eager for a view of the thermal pools. Among its attractions, I like Fisherman’s Bastion with its fairy tale windows offering the best views of Pest. I am also intrigued by St. Matthias Church which was the venue for the coronation of the last 2 Hungarian Hapsburg monarchs : Frank Joseph in 1867 and King Charles IV in 1916. Earlier destroyed by the Mongols, it was reconstructed, restored and survived wars to what it is today. Side by side, the Saint Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion are 2 sites not to be missed. Or for that matter, a visit to Budapest is a must-see destination. One falls in love with this city. Buda or Pest side, both are lovely. On foot or gliding on a riverboat, both sites are magical.


My Schengen visa is good till December 12 of this year. I do want to use it again and in fact drew up several options — like back to Spain for a week’s camino with my apo but he refused, thinking it’s too much hard work (hiking), or going to Croatia, or Iceland, or Poland — places I haven’t been to — or visit a friend in Switzerland. All plans fizzled out. Then some of my friends invited me to join their small group on an “impulsive, whimsical” trip to Vienna, Budapest and Bratislava. Problem is they are leaving Manila while I’m still in Vietnam. So I did the next best thing. I booked a ticket flying to Vienna on the same day I’m arriving from Vietnam to catch up with them. Why not? Or as they say here, “wine not”?

I was very tired when I landed early morning in Vienna. I should have slept throughout the 12-hour flight from Taipei to Viena but flying solo makes me all too cautious and alert that I must have slept only 3 hours max. I found my friends ready to hit the city when I reached our hotel soon after they were done with breakfast. And so we set off. By 9am, they were eager for their Viennese coffee after only an hour of city walk. (I was keen on having a beer though — yes, at 9am!) – and so we sat down and ordered our preferences. 🍺☕️

Since they got here earlier and covered the major Vienna attractions already, we planned on just a few more. It’s my 4th visit here so I don’t mind missing some of the sights. But I haven’t been to Belvedere Palace, so we did that. Plus a visit to the St. Stephen’s Cathedral. 🙏🏻

After Belvedere, St. Stephen’s and another pass of the Hapsburg Palace, we went in search for a good lunch in the Naschmart. Then we headed back towards the hotel for some rest. By evening, we set off for the Rathaus where a musical concert is taking place and where a lively, festive mercato-type food court is set up. I love these summer concerts and food camps. Dinner was an assortment of Viennese, German, Hungarian and Slovak delicacies although we likewise spotted some Asian food stalls. Here, we had our wine, spritzer and beer. Plus assorted sausages, meatloaf, and whatever else we spotted in the next table! It was crowded and we were lucky to get a table. No chairs. But we’re just too happy with our drinks, pica pica and music that we can’t complain.

Since the musical concert wouldn’t start yet and we’re done with dinner, we decided to make good use of our time. The coffee and pastry shop at the corner beckoned. It was time for iced coffee, lattes, sacher torte and apple strudel. We picked a good spot to people-watch that we had to struggle getting up and out to claim our seats in front of the Rathaus for the musical concert.

While my friends stayed 3 nights in Vienna, I only managed a night. No worries. I’m really more keen on the trip’s 2nd leg: Budapest in Hungary. So, the next day we geared up for the train ride to Budapest. Watch this page!


A whole week in Vietnam. From Manila, Ho Chi Minh City was our first destination but we were really excited over our first time in Central Vietnam. This is our story covering Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh), the Imperial Citadel in Hue, Langco Fishing Village, the Cham Museum and beaches of Danang, the preserved Ancient Lantern town of Hoi An and the Ruins of My Son. Staying a couple of nights each in Saigon, Hue and Hoi An, we took day trips to nearby attractions and maximised our time without really forgetting we’re on holiday. It’s not about ticking off from a list, but we left room for some spontaneous and serendipitous adventures. Including trips prompted by food cravings 😊

Saigon City Attractions:

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2018/06/29/here-we-go-again-in-saigon/

Cu Chi Tunnels:

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2018/06/29/cu-chi-tunnels-vietnam/

Hue Attractions:

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2018/06/30/when-in-hue/

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2018/07/01/say-whay-in-hue/

Hoi An Attractions:

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2018/07/02/the-lantern-town-of-hoi-an/

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2018/07/03/dining-in-hoi-an-vietnam/

My Son

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2018/07/03/all-bricks-no-mortar-my-son/

In case you feel like checking out previous blogs on earlier trips to Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hoa Lu, Tam Coc and Saigon, here are the links:

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2014/12/04/a-slice-of-luxury-aboard-paradise-cruises-halong-bay/

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2014/12/06/hanoi-not-a-persnickety-trip/

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2014/12/03/hoa-lu-and-tam-coc-on-a-rainy-day/

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2011/11/17/eating-around-ho-chi-minh-saigon/