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Most visitors will hit the beaches and the stroll along Art Deco buildings in South Beach. Or perhaps they’d hop on a boat to view celebrity homes and if lucky, bump into suntanned Hollywood stars or the rich and famous. But I was drawn to visit this Spanish Monastery in an obscure place in North Miami Beach area. I was driven by my Miami-based friend who has not in fact visited this site the last 30 years she’s lived here.

There was a sprawling garden even before the Romanesque and pre-Gothic monastery was reconstructed here. Reconstructed, yes. The original site was in Sacramenia, Spain in 1133. That marks it a good 360 years before Columbus discovered the New World. Originally dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the Monastery was renamed to honor the famous monk Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. Cistercian monks lived in the Monastery for 700 years until a social revolution broke out in the 1830’s. The cloisters were then seized and sadly converted into a granary and stable.

Then came William Randolph Hearst. This media tycoon bought the cloisters and outbuildings in 1925. Stone by stone, the structures were dismantled, numbered, packed and crated in hay, and transported to USA. Unfortunately, hoof and mouth disease broke out in Segovia and the 11,000 wooden crates were quarantined, broke open, and the hay burned. But the stones were not replaced back in their original numbered boxes before being stored in a warehouse in New York where the stones remained for the next 26 years!

Meanwhile, Hearst ran into financial woes and it was only a year after he died in 1952 that the collection was again sold, and then resold in 1964. A wealthy philanthropist finally purchased the cloisters for the Episcopal diocese and the Monastery has since remained here with an active Episcopalian congregation. Now popular for weddings, photo shoots and as locations for film and TV shoots, it has been maintained very well to be enjoyed by visitors. The Museum Shop houses some antique decors from the original structures such as a series of corbels, coat of arms, bas reliefs, altars and religious statues. Worth a visit, if you ask me.

Lest I forget, the first time we visited (yes, we went twice) we even met this flamenco dancer posing, posturing and dancing in the gardens. Olé!


We came for this. Happy seniors in that Happy Place. Avatar opened only last May 2017 and we simply had to try those 2 new rides: that 3D Flight of Passage on a banshee and the Na’vi River Journey through a dream-like cave world full of bioluminescent light from the Avatar movie. All inspired by that all-time top grossing film by James Cameron.

We went on a Thursday, thinking it won’t be crowded but passing by a FULL parking lot on our way to the Dolphin Hotel within the Disney compound could only mean we should expect a huge crowd. Then again, we thought the huge throng of humans in Disney’s Animal Kingdom must be there for that popular safari ride. We were wrong again. Every human seems headed for Pandora. And yes, everyone wanted to ride the banshee!

The lines for the rides were long. More than an hour. But we can’t be deprived. We drove more than 3 hours from Miami to Orlando for this, so what’s another hour? We chose the 3D banshee ride first. The line weaved through a laboratory reminiscent of scenes from the top-grossing Jim Cameron’s epic film. We even passed Jake’s avatar floating in an aquarium-like space. Finally, we were in a room, ready to be paired with our respective Avatars. Mine looked like the rest — blue, wide forehead, big eyes and all.

It was a marvelous ride. I screamed at the top of my lungs as my banshee soared high, dove low, flew through the floating boulders, got entangled with some floating trees, went through the falls, nearly collided with another banshee and other banshee-like birds, and simply paused to float in the air to take in the whole lovely panorama comprising the Na’vi world. I heard there were a few medical cases since the Flight of Passage in Disney’s Pandora opened last May. Mind you, not every collapsed person was a senior. Thankfully, I was completely aware of every minute of the ride and enjoyed it tremendously. Will I recommend it? Of course.

After “surviving” the banshee ride, we were ready for some Na’vi food. We were so curious we ended up overordering. Had a piece of the burger pod which looked like steamed Chinese buns we call “siopao” except that the Na’vi pods were dry and tasted bleh. Most reviews I’ve read recommended it though. But this Oriental knows her Chinese buns and the pods I tried just don’t make the cut. As for the grilled beef with potatoes and chimichurri sauce, we hardly touched it. Beef looked half-cooked, sauce could have been better. Another bleh. Good thing I added a kiddie meal of grilled chicken with rice which I liked. I also liked the “lumpia” (rolls filled with pineapple custard) I bought with the Na’vi drinks from the Pongu Bar. Now, the desserts looked really good but tasted overly sweet. They were left half-eaten. As for the drinks, forget the Night Blossom. They just look good but not worth a sip.

After a heavy meal of stuff we hardly enjoyed, we went for the River of Lights Show. No fireworks but the lights display in the pond in Asia World in the Animal Kingdom was worth seeing. Then, we trooped back and queued up for the boat ride through the Na’vi River. The journey didn’t elicit as much excitement as the first but it was relaxing, and cooled us through this hot, humid day. It was however just a boat ride, not much different from the “Pirates of the Carribean” or “It’s a Small World” but certainly not much more enjoyable as these last 2 Disney boat rides. And that ends our day in that Happy Place. Best part was the banshee ride. A few letdowns on the Na’vi food, but we’re too happy to be upset about it. 💕


Yes, I’m talking about St. Scholastica’s College standing on a 3.5 hectare-block hemmed in by 4 streets: Leon Guinto, Pablo Ocampo (formerly Vito Cruz), Singalong and Estrada. This college in Malate was established in 1906 and predates the neighbor campus of De La Salle University. Run by Benedictine sisters, St. Scho moved from a modest residential house in Tondo to San Marcelino (where Adamson University sits now) until it finally moved to its present Malate site in 1911. Of note is the fact that this college founded by German nuns pioneered formal music education and established a Conservatory of Music only a year after it was founded. At the time we visited, we were lucky to listen in on a pair of Music students practicing a Kundiman classic, “Pobreng Alindahaw”.  Check out the YouTube link below.

Photo Credit: Old Manila Walks



https://youtu.be/1T1fYBeYjdw


Art Deco adorns the campus chapel, the jewel-box theater, corridors, reliefs and many nooks and crannies. Despite the heat and humidity, we were enthralled by the Art Deco elements around us. Though ravaged by World War II, the post-war (from 1946) reconstruction of the school buildings was pursued and completed within a decade. Thanks to Ivan (Man Dy) who conducted the Manila Moderne Art Deco Walking Tour, we were educated and adequately guided to spot these oft-ignored details: the lines, zigzags, geometric patterns in all Deco-inspired heritage! 




Art Deco here is not all colonial-American as I earlier understood.  The architecture and style found in this campus lent itself to Bavarian influences as the chapel photo above shows. Another style is evident in the concert hall, aptly named St. Cecilia’s Hall. St. Cecilia is the patron Saint of musicians. And guess who was the architect of this premier concert venue of its time? No less than Andres Luna de San Pedro, son of Juan Luna who built the concert hall in the Egyptian Art Deco style. 





No wonder then that the National Historical Commission declared St. Cecilia’s Hall as  a National Cultural Landmark. Notwithstanding that bigger concert halls and performing arts venues now exist, this iconic theatre hall was clearly the forerunner of the Cultural Center of the Philippines as many notable musical artists had their recitals and concerts here. 






The Deco style manifests in the college’s courtyard, grand staircases, wrought-iron grills, ceiling art, sleek lines, arches, and geometric shapes adorning walls and columns. Such inspiration for its many outstanding alumnae which counts one President (Cory Aquino), 2 beauty world titlists (Gloria Diaz and Aurora Pijuan), and the first woman Supreme Court Justice (Cecilia Muñoz-Palma). 






We often forget that many of our universities and colleges are hidden cultural gems, having withstood the test of time. Though many were bombed out in the last war, thankfully their reconstruction restored many of the architectural elements prevailing at the time. After this walking tour, I am now inclined to visit as many campuses within and outside Manila. Yes. Before some idiot think of demolishing old buildings which have been part of our history. 





Easily, you’d tick off: 




But there are smaller-sized, more manageable museums like: 


Museo Lazaro Galdiano

The museo housed in the Galdiano Mansion is actually where the childless Lazaro Galdiano lived with his Argentinian wife, Paula Florido. Along with the estate given over to the Government is Señor Galdiano’s impressive collection of paintings, sculpture and other works of art. This one generous intellectual obviously collected without regard for cost.



Sorolla Museum

This is the house where the great Spanish painter Joaquin Sorolla lived with his lovely wife and muse Clotilde. This is where he painted in his spacious, lovely studio. Imagine the great painter here with his wife and 3 lovely children. And the gardens!





Museo Cerralbo

If you are in the area visiting Plaza de España and Templo de Debod, it’s a good pitstop (from the cold or all that sun) before proceeding towards Calle Bailén to view the Palacio Real or Royal Palace and Almudena Cathedral. 



Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida

The mortal remains of Goya lie in this original 18th century Neo-classical church, while worship was transferred to the adjacent sister church. Both churches are tiny, with floors shaped like a Greek cross.



Monasteries de las Descalzas Reales

In this Convento, I have this feeling that the wealthy families of the barefoot royals donated what’s “BEST” from their own collections and treasures. I can only imagine them saying goodbye to a daughter or a sister and parting with a treasured work of art to keep the novice nun “company” and provide a source of joy.


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A fellow blogger once asked how many countries I have visited. A friend once “humble-bragged” by advising I should start planning to cover all 7 continents to “round up my travels”.  Unfortunately, I don’t keep count. Why do they, I wonder? Nor does it matter to me what others think I missed or should have done. I go where it pleases.  And beyond the sights, my memorable experiences are always characterized by the people I interacted with. That includes the people I traveled with. I have the good fortune of traveling with many, varied circles of friends outside of family. The foodies, the sightseers, the adventurers, the history buffs, the art and culture vultures, the hikers, as well as those who just long for some R & R. Not stuck with any single group, I relish the company of each. That includes a peculiar group I’d call the “losers” — people who don’t care getting LOST, seeing the ”mishap’ as another opportunity to explore! 






In Bhutan, I found a very admirable tour and hiking guide. My friend Beth and I “adopted” Sonam whom we referred to as our godson. We are still in touch, thanks to Facebook. We were updated with Sonam’s adventures from a young man to bridesgroom to young father, moving from Bhutan to Australia. I credit Sonam for making it possible for me to hike up to Taktshang Monastery aka Tiger’s Nest. The hike is quite dramatic considering you see the site high up in the mountain from the base where pilgrims and tourists commence the hike or horseback ride for the first 1 hour. I chose the latter to conserve my energy for the hike and met Tring, the old man whose horse is likewise called Tring. Don’t ask why. Meanwhile, I left my friend Beth with our driver who grew years older (again, don’t ask me why 🙄) accompanying my friend up to the Halfway Station. Tashi Delek!





Still on Bhutan, I have to say I’ve been so impressed with how kind and caring their people are. Whenever I stopped for oxygen breaks, there were locals eyeing me as if asking if I need some help. They’d only stop staring and got on with whatever they were doing when I smiled to reassure them I’m still alive 😊 Also, I never found a race so detached from material wealth as these Bhutanese. Sure there were poor people around, but I never once felt that money mattered most to them. I sure hope that didn’t change over the years since I’ve been there. 






Because I run a blog site, one of my followers learned I was staying in Madrid for nearly 3 months back in 2013. He messaged to invite me to a good Cocido de Madrileño lunch plus an afternoon tour of the city’s hidden gems. The best tour I ever had! Under the tourist radar sites included trespassing on strangers’ apartments to view better preserved medieval walls of Madrid. Well not exactly trespassing — Marco actually knocked on strangers’ apartment doors to view the walls from their porches!  And these locals were most accommodating. 




Because I made many solo trips in and around Spain, I met a lot of new friends and interacted with many locals. Before getting off a bus, I’d ask the driver which is the best way to reach the Plaza Mayor. Invariably, the bus driver will advise me he’d be back on that dropoff by a certain time for my ride back. Better than riding a cab! On that New Year’s Eve I was in Madrid, I jumped up and down with the locals,shared drinks with them, and even hugged them as the clock struck 12. My niece and them locals were family 😘




In Mongolia, my friends and I had a chance to visit a ger, eat an authentic lunch, and observe how a typical Mongolian family lead a nomadic lifestyle. I parted with my locally-crafted necklace to give to the “lady of the ger” who cooked and served us some dumplings and tea right inside the ger. We didn’t sleep in a ger. I don’t think I could unless one goes to the gers put up for tourists with modern conveniences 😜 






In Hanoi, I found children playing “sipa” which literally translates to kick. It’s a native game in Vietnam, Philippines, Thailand and other Asian countries. I joined those kids for a game in my wedged sandals while carrying my bag. Beat that! Then in India, I strayed from our travel group and found ourselves in the kitchen of a Sikh Temple where they were preparing to feed a long line of devotees. The volunteer cooks looked tired but friendly. And locally? I remember spotting a fellow blogger in a Masskara festival in Bacolod City. I approached Enrico and here’s our photo before the parade started! Listen to the drum roll… 




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I have just read an article about how one shouldn’t miss out on this underrated place just a short 2 hour drive out of the more popular destination of Sevilla in Andalusia.  I wholeheartedly agree. There are many, many destinations around Spain worth a detour beyond the triumvirate of Madrid, Barcelona and Sevilla. This blog hopes to help those visiting Spain to include a few must-see’s into their Spanish Itinerary. 




When in Andalusia:


Ronda


Sevilla & Cordoba


When in Madrid:


Cuenca


Alcala de Henares


Aranjuez
Chinchon


When in Vasco and Galicia:


San Sebastián


Getaria


Finesterre & Muxia


Pamplona


Santiago de Compostela


And There’s More:


Valencia


Burgos
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Tassie. Short from Tasmania. Have not done enough research and planning on this trip but everything worked out well. You can say we went nearly on an impulse! Having agreed we should meet in Hobart and finally visit this island south of Mainland Australia, we promptly went to task: flight and hotel bookings ✔️, day trip bookings ✔️ to Bruny Island ✔️and Port Arthur ✔️ with sidetrips to colonial Richmond ✔️, and arranging to meet up with friends who kindly took us up Mounts Wellington ✔️ and Nelson ✔️.  Day 1 wasn’t bad at all. My friend waited for me at Hobart Airport and we took the Airport Shuttle together to our hotel. Round trip airport transfers at Au$35 per person for a nearly 1 hour ride. Taxi ride should be just half an hour but the Airporter delivers passengers to their hotels’ doorsteps, and that’s just fine. Weather forecast was good for the day we arrived and the next 2 days, so we didn’t waste time. Explored Battery Point  starting from Kelly’s Steps and walked in this lovely neighborhood past the brick warehouses in Salamanca. The walking notes I hurriedly downloaded proved to be so accurate that navigating around Hobart’s Waterfront area and neighborhood was a breeze. Just a pity that sunsets come real early this time of the year and the sea breeze can be so chilly that one easily yearns the comforts of a warm bed in the hotel room. Besides, Days 2 and 3 are early-morning calls for the Bruny Island and Port Arthur booked tours. 





Day 4. A glimpse of what’s in store at the Salamanca Market involved a quick grocery-shopping adventure for the much-talked about Tasmanian cheese, salmon pâté and Tasmanian apples, and a mid-afternoon indulgence at Daci & Daci Bakery. Prices don’t come cheap but we enjoyed everything we popped into our greedy mouths. We certainly looked forward to the Saturday Salamanca Market despite the early afternoon shower forecast that weekend.  Luckily, the rain came rather late. In fact, it came AFTER our Market visit and the drive up to Mount Wellington and Mount Nelson. But chilly, it certainly was. The lookouts gave a 360 degree view but only if you can brave the fierce winds. I took off my eyeglasses, worried they’d be blown away! Only put it back on when we reached Signal Hill in Mount Nelson where there was this lovely Brasserie where my friends Ren and Drew treated us for coffee and desserts.  (Thanks!)



​​





Day 5. For sure, a rainy Saturday and Sunday afternoon could only mean a couple of hours warming up in a pub, or walking around a Museum. Or hearing Sunday Mass in St. Mary’s. Or finding the oldest hotel in Australia. As claimed. Or yet another cafe or restaurant. Of the latter, there are many choices. You won’t run out of options here especially in the Waterfront area where one can indulge in seafood delicacies like Tassie salmon, oysters, trout, trevally, or even wallaby? I feel guilty to admit I actually enjoyed my wallaby burrito. 😱 Please don’t judge me. At night, we only ventured a block or so from our hotel to try Asian specialty restos like Vietnamese, Japanese, Thai, Indian or Chinese. Well, the lady from the Tropics needed her rice to keep her warm (?!?). Not too far away is Elizabeth Mall where you can find more dining and pub options. And shopping. 









If you ask me, it’s hard to say which is the trip highlight. The food trip in Bruny Island, the open-air museum in Port Arthur, the colonial heritage town of Richmond, the leisurely strolls around the Waterfront and Battery Point, or the lookout points up in the mountains. I’d venture to say though that the Saturday Salamanca Market underwhelmed me but for that wallaby burrito episode. If you’re willing to miss it, you can book another day trip on that Saturday. Better still, move to another hotel further north in the Launceston area to visit Wineglass Bay, Cradle Mountain and Cataract Gorge. Having missed these Northern spots, I have good reason to head back. Right?  Tasmania reminds me of Batanes Island north of Mainland Philippines. Still part of the island republic but so vastly different.  Repeat visits always justified. 😊







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Spit Bridge to Manly Wharf


There are Scenic walks. And there are Scenic walks. 😀

Sydney, or for that matter, Australia, is teeming with hiking trails, coastal walks, mountain hikes, river walks, harbour side paths, etc. Blessed by Nature. Winters are mild. Spring brings forth many magnificent blooms. Autumn is awesome, and summers are well, hot. How lucky to be an OZ to enjoy these beauties.  Oi Oi Oi!








Spit Bridge was up the time we got there. A motorboat was passing and we had to wait till the lift span was down to cross it. Then we went under it and passed many yachts moored safely by the waters and “lonely benches” looking out to the northern beaches. It was tempting to stop, rest and just stare. I can only imagine how much a piece of Waterfront house fetches here. Gee, those dogs being walked by their masters are darn lucky! 









Nine kilometers sound easy. I wasn’t daunted. But there were a number of boardwalks rising to meet staircases and then downhill footpaths — some narrow and good only for lone hikers — to get back to the beach. I bet summer hikers have their swimsuits on, hiking these trails, ready in an instant to take dips in the beaches. This is ze life! 








Everything is so well-marked, so hiker-friendly. Boardwalks have these lookouts every so often where one is able to view passing ferry boats amidst a beautiful seascape. It was pleasant weather the day we hiked, and autumn leaves litter the ground we walked on. We even saw a wild turkey and many great-looking birds I cannot name.  Birdwatchers would be delighted to do this Scenic Manly Walk. 








We met many joggers and hikers and dog walkers. Nearer the Wharf, there were kids walking with moms and dads and hobby fishermen.  By hike’s end, we rewarded ourselves with a big gourmet burger and premium hot dogs,  then took the ferry back to Circular Quay where we took the train home. On the ferry, we traced the path we took. Awesomeness! 







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If there’s one single thing I’d remember from my Salamanca Market experience here in Hobart, it would have to be that I ate a wallaby. Yes, one of those cute-sy animals that look like mini or baby kangaroos. Pacha Mama did it so well, I swear I’d love to have another go if only there’s another Saturday to try it.  You see, Salamanca Market happens only on Saturdays here so unless you have a big belly room, you can’t possibly try all the foodstuff available here in one morning!






Pacha Mama also sells hot chocolate with cinnamon, chili and coconut cream that’s hard to resist. Perfect with your wallaby burrito. Then there’s the veggie (leeks, mushrooms, onions, beet) and pulled beef (PINO) empanadas too from another stall .  Both pastry pockets are good, and went well with the pebre sauce. I would have wanted to also try the Tasmanian seafood paella with all those scallops, trevally, squid and mussels looking sooo fresh. Yay!






For takeaways, one may shop for Tasmanian honey, wine, chocolates. All foodstuff. The clothing and other fashion stuff i found underwhelming, though I got a pair of earrings with local gems. 😜 I fancied the hand painted scarves and handcrafted wood earrings which look really nice but quite pricey. 






Wool, anyone? I wouldn’t have need for them back home so I skipped that. But I sure found some really funny hats, and wondered who’d wear them. Kinda bohemian while a few are  outright quirky. I wouldn’t be caught wearing any. 






I did enjoy how they advertised their producé. Tasmanian apples picked 8 pm last night? Wines sold deliberately young? I love the sense of pride attached to these local products. It’s like bringing home a part of Tasmanian pride with you. 




 

And so we ended the morning trying out stuff in this market, having a good laugh over the strange head gear, listening to really good music from street buskers,  and sitting right there in the park literally watching autumn leaves fall. Swell ❤️







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I’ve been advised NOT to miss Port Arthur when visiting Tasmania. In fact, you can say I was strongly advised to make this trip to Port Arthur to know Australia better. Now, I’m NOT a big fan of jailhouses, penal settlements and con history, but Australia’s convict heritage is truly one for the books. In a manner of speaking, it is AUSTRALIA. 





There are over 30 buildings, ruins and restored houses spread over land some 96 kilometers southeast of Hobart.  It is Australia’s Alcatraz. Except that the convicts who settled here were non-Australians, many shipped all the way from Great Britain. Yup, them European convicts settled here in Port Arthur and pretty much “built” this former timber camp. Some of those who came were adolescents, even as young as 9 years old. What can a 9 year old do so wrong that’s deserving of this punishment away from his home? Quite a number of these law-breakers got truly harsh punishment for what may today be regarded as trivial offenses like stealing bread. As repeat offenders, they were classed as the hardest of British criminals. Here in Port Arthur, these convicts did hard physical labor. Escape is far-fetched but not impossible. But any escape attempts were punished with lashes. That is, assuming you survived the dog line in Eaglehawk Neck which connects Tasman Peninsula with Mainland Tasmania. Yet, that is nothing compared with the “silent punishment system” where they were put in solitude within a Separate Prison, and told to keep quiet. Hooded, without light and sound, many grew insane. Spirits broken. 







The preserved buildings here include the Commandant’s Cottage in the best part of the area. Overlooking the calm waters, the cottage stands in stark contrast to the Penitentiary and the Separate Prison.  For a while, it was turned into a hotel and there are reminders of such “modernity” in some corners of the former Hotel Port Arthur.








Other cottages and buildings include the Asylum, Catholic Church, Parsonage, the Medical Officer’s Cottage, the Chaplain’s House, the Accountant’s House, the Hospital, and let’s not forget the lovely gardens and jetty. The “ruins” in my book is a top attraction more than the “preserved” buildings.  There’s something about those walls, bare, roofless  and all, begging to tell some story.  The Penitentiary’s bars and brick walls. How many convicts have touched those, remembering a life they couldn’t get back to anymore?  How many have looked out from those windows, hanging on to every memory of a past life? 






This open-air museum needs a minimum of 4 hours to explore. It’s really an easy stroll but the place being so packed with dark history begs some really serious attention. And I’m not even talking about  the not-too-long-ago  Port Arthur massacre. (I leave you to Google that other dark history). No, you can’t miss this. Tons of negative vibes, I know, which typically drive me away. But this is Australia’s convict history.  So much to learn. So much to feel sad about. So much cruelty. 







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