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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 »


On clear days, the soft, pillowy clouds dot the blue horizon. Grass turn golden on certain hours of the day while the few trees left standing (and uneaten by ellies) in the savannah provide shade to some of the most beautiful animals. Safari drives early morn, packed lunch boxes midday, more game drives, before calling it a day. All these can drain you of whatever energy is left. The thrill of animal sightings in their own habitat pumps your adrenaline, leaving you wasted by day’s end. Mercifully, our accommodations in the Ole Serai Luxury Camp make for glorious evenings. The camp’s only 7 months old but it’s so well-run (thanks, Rashid!) and well-appointed. The tents are more permanent structures, roped down tight and “zipped up” every night by able staff. Nighttime melodies include “scratchings” of cape buffaloes’ backs on the ropes supporting the tents, followed by squeals of delight after a good scratch, the occasional rawrrrrr of a lion, leaves crunching while an unknown beast passes and birds chirping early morns.

I’ve heard of and read about luxury camps, yet I was still floored by how luxurious this camp is. The soft pillows, the dresser, the escritoire, the sturdy but comfy granny armchairs, the lookout porch, the modern sinks and bath appointments. It broke my heart to leave this camp after 2 nights! Internet may be weak in the rooms but that’s a good reason to head for the Reception Lounge or the Serengeti Cocktail Lounge. My only complaint is how they price their wine. A bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon costs US$40, but a glass of the same wine costs US$15. If there’s 2 of you, you’re better off getting a bottle and bringing what’s left over (if any!) to your tent. Well, it’s a “young” camp and they can always review their price listings for cocktails. But they sure have a good crew — in the dining lounge, I remember the very efficient Ezekiel who’d happily take our breakfast and dinner orders. There are always choices, and it’s a chore to decide which from among the good stuff.

If there’s a word I’d use to describe the lounges and our rooms, I need to choose between luxurious and opulent. I mean, even many 5 star hotels don’t have escritoire as good looking as what we had in our room. The bathroom and toilet may not be as luxurious as those found in regular hotels but hey, we’re in the middle of a savannah! No tubs too but I’m impressed with the attention to details — the coffee and tea set in the room, the soft towels, the dresser, chandeliers and night lamps.

I just love how the camp looks at night. From our tent, the pathway leads up to the Serengeti Lounge (for cocktails) and right beside it, the Acacia Lounge where breakfasts and dinners are served. I noticed there’s an area for Boma dinners too but I guess one needs to make prior arrangements to set it up 😉 We enjoyed our meals here, and found the selections adequate. It’s just too bad we can’t linger in the porch with our feet up, nursing a drink, enjoying African starry nights. The camp staff will gently nudge you in and remind you to use the radio for help, if need be, before they leave you all “zipped in” inside. Mornings are ok since the roving guards and crew are up and around. But there was one morning they found a loitering lion at the camp’s periphery. Soooo….. early morning jogs may not really be a good idea.

(This is NOT a paid review. Just ramblings from a happy, satisfied guest )


Here you are, way too giddy with excitement in the vastness of the Savannah plains. Then your camera jammed, wasted after all that zooming in for close up shots. Must be dust in the lens. What do you do? You fish out your iPhone and try your best not to lose your calm. These animal sightings have been your Safari dreams and NO ONE, and NOTHING can ruin this holiday for moí. Seriously. Then, I found a solution. It was my good fortune to be traveling with a hobby photographer. And I did push my luck by unashamedly asking if I could grab some of his photos. Master Photographer Ernie Albano, you saved the day for me! Even if my camera didn’t conk out on me, I couldn’t have taken these lovely, stunning closeups of the safari animals we met and experienced. And just so you know, your dear wife takes pretty neat photos too with her tablet! 😊

Simba and his Queen both make good profiles but admittedly, the Lion King looks more impressive with his royal mane. Ernie caught him with his mane blown by the wind in the vastness of the golden savannah. And don’t you agree he snapped a good impression of the lioness with keen hunter’s eyes? Or have a look at the Mommy and Baby Ellie out on a stroll, or this cheetah with spots so clear you’d want to run your fingers on its fur….. until it sticks out it’s tongue! Those zoom lens are good but obviously, Ernie has mastered these shots. I’d be afraid to have him take my closeup — warts, wrinkles and all. 😱

Some animals really look lovely. Like the swans of the Savannah — the giraffes, looking so demure with soulful eyes generously endowed with thick, long lashes. So with the regal lions, exotic cheetahs, graceful gazelles and impalas, majestic elephants, tough looking rhinos, smart baboons, sexy zebras, serious-looking wildebeests. But I couldn’t find an adjective to describe the hippos. We found more of them in Lake Naivasha and in Ngorongoro, but the stinky ones we encountered in Maasai Mara look just the same. Non-descript smelly mammals who look fearsome and aggressive? I’m trying here. Or maybe I’m just biased against them after the mauling incidents and attacks in Lake Naivasha.

Ernie took very good photos of the birds too. The yellow weavers responsible for those nests we found in many trees grace many of Ernie’s frames. My favourite. And there were others — kingfishers, herons, egrets, vultures, cranes and many more species we couldn’t name. We stopped to let him take these impressive shots every so often until we grew tired and connived to refrain from alerting him of our spottings. My bad! 🤐

Thank you, Manong Ernie, for sharing all these Safari photos with me. So crisp and clear, and such depth. Very generous of you. And ohhhh, the last 2 photos I took. Not as crisp nor clear, but just so the readers see you “in action”. Hakuna Matata!😊

And here’s one for the birders. Photo Credits to Ernie Albano, of course.

https://youtu.be/0hHx6IOJscU


I’ve had Safari dreams. The Big 5, witnessing a “kill”, perhaps a mating, or even just watching the Great Migration. Every year, some 2 million wildebeests travel from the Serengeti Plains in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara in Kenya. This annual spectacle in these animals’ search for grass , lasts from July through October covering nearly 3,000 kilometers. To see all these wildebeests with zebras as their likely travel companions from a hot air balloon sounds mind blowing. And for good measure, a champagne breakfast in the bush after that awesome ride won’t hurt. 😊

https://youtu.be/Pc07D7si6ts

📸 by Ernie Albano

We were a party of 12 pax. The 12-seater basket held all of us comfortably, 6 to each side, with Captain Peter right in the middle. Peter is a most amiable man who just happened to love his job taking tourists up in the air over the Maasai Mara National Park. He gently reminds us about the rules while acting as captain, spotter, narrator and even photographer. Every now and then, he’d point to the balloon shadow on the vast Savannah and the Safari cruisers following our flight on the ground as we drifted quietly over the plains. He navigated the balloon right up to the Tanzanian border and pointed out the animal tracks for the migrating animals, the rivers and even joined us briefly for the post-ride breakfast in the bush. He was gone before 9 am. He did warn us while up in the air that he’d make a quick, quiet leave in keeping with his “5 to 9 job” 👌

Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley is contiguous with the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. Wildlife viewing during the dry months when the wildebeests and zebras migrate from Serengeti to Maasai Mara starting in July is simply magical. Named after the Maasai tribe who lived in the region and using the Maasai word “Mara” which means “spotted”, this reserve is home to the Safari Big 5 as well as to many other wildlife animals. Up in the balloon, Capt. Peter spotted some zebras and wildebeests seemingly playing “follow the leader” as they either moved in a line or as a pack or herd. He likewise spotted a lion but only one of us saw it. I wasn’t quick enough. He lent us his binoculars but I just knew I couldn’t build a career as a spotter. Amazing how these animals expertly camouflage themselves on trees or in the vast wilderness of the Savannah fields. Zebras make a breathtaking sight too when spotted from the air — white animals with brown or black stripes. Yes Virginia, brown. We’re told young zebras have brown stripes which turn black as they mature. I know. I didn’t know that too before coming here. What a spectacle seeing these striped animals run along with their wildebeest buddies!

This experience is absolutely worth waking up to at 3 am. Cold and sleepless, we left our hotel like zombies by 4am for a bumpy one-hour ride towards the “take off” spot where several other balloons lay on their sides before being inflated. It was very cold. And very dark. I went back to the Safari van to keep myself warm while the sun began to peek out before rising. Then the hot air balloon was readied for flight. Take off and landing were smooth. And I do like the pilot’s calm demeanour and modulated voice as he gently prepped us for minor bumps upon landing. The excitement made us forget we’ve been without nourishment since we woke up at 3am. Bush breakfast came with flutes of champagne. We can’t complain. Even the loo with a view was literally “with a view” because there is a huge gap between the flaps so that one sees the vast fields while doing his/her business.

Hot air balloon rides don’t come cheap. But I’m glad I did this. Would have wished to see zebras or wildebeests running and crossing the Mara river while predator lions and crocs lurk, eyeing the weakest among them. But the Great Migration is all there, running or not. Truly G.R.E.A.T. This natural phenomenon is just magical. Fantastic memories stored forever in my heart and mind ❤️


It was not planned and it wasn’t exactly a detour. Lake Naivasha was right along the way and it was a no-brainer to go for it. Some do this as a day trip from Nairobi. After all, this 2nd largest freshwater lake in Kenya is only 100 kilometers northwest from Nairobi and is along the way to Nakuru. Of course we didn’t know at the time that there have been hippo attacks in this area. Hippos being extremely territorial have attacked humans, with the latest incident just 2 days after our visit.

Blue skies and blue waters, with dead trees reaching up, and many water birds resting on a branch or twig. We took the boat safari and motored up to an island where we found a community of hippos lazing around. Most of them looked like they’re sleeping but every now and then, one or 2 would stand up snorting and grunting to stray a bit from the group. It’s hard (and scary) to imagine one of them biting into one Chinese tourist’s chest a couple of days after our visit. Read the tragic news after the wonderful morning spent here where we actually felt safe. A couple of hippos we found wallowing in the waters, peeking out, but our boat carefully observed a distance.

The water birds are another thing. The lake was teeming with trees sprouting out of the lake, providing resting branches for the pelicans, ibises, storks, and many more we couldn’t name. The trees by the lake shore bore many nests, mostly from yellow weavers. The entire place looks so serene and relaxing. The one hour boat safari was enough to see the resident hippos and birds. No wonder this place was chosen as one of the movie locations for “Out of Africa”. Remember that Redford-Streep starrer? I know, you must be humming the movie title’s song now. 🎵🎶

📸 by Ernie Albano
📸 by Ernie Albano

Some Hippo Trivia:

Hippos are 3rd largest land mammals after elephants and rhinos.

Hippos can run at 30 kms per hour.

Hippopotamus is a Greek term for “water horse”.

Hippos need to stay near the water to remain moist. If skin turns dry, it can crack.

Stay away from a “yawning”, honking, snorting and grunting hippo — such are signs that they’re marking their territories.

Life span is up to 40 years.

Closest relatives are whales and porpoises.

One of dangerous animals in Africa because they are highly aggressive especially when you get between them and the water.

Although they largely wallow in water and come out 4-5 hours only to graze, hippos can’t swim nor float. They can however hold their breath for up to 7 minutes.

Even while sleeping, hippos can resurface from the water without waking up.

Hippos secrete an oily red substance that acts as moisturiser and sunblock, but gives the appearance that they’re bleeding.


I have been to Africa before, but never in Kenya. The Great Migration and River (Mara) Crossing is top of mind, but we were eager to see those long pink legs in Kenya. Lake Nakuru was first on the list. Never mind that the flamingos have moved to Lake Bogoria where pink flamingos found a more abundant feeding ground. Algae forming in the lake bed attracts these flamingos with thin, long, pink legs and just as thin, long necks. Still, the few who remained in the area of Lake Nakuru managed to present quite a spectacle amidst cape buffaloes frolicking by the fringe of this soda lake. An iconic image of both Lake Nakuru and Lake Bogoria is a swathe of these birds feeding as a flock thus carpeting and turning the lake pink or taking flight thus turning the sky pink. To say such scenery is breathtaking would be an understatement. But the numbers have dwindled and the lake in Nakuru is hardly pink.

Still, not all is lost in Lake Nakuru in the Great Rift Valley some 150 kilometers northwest of Nairobi. It is the first rhino sanctuary in Kenya, home to both white and the more elusive black rhino with hooked snouts. The threatened Black rhinos number 25 here, the biggest concentration in Kenya. It also abounds in game animals like leopards and prides of lions who’ve decided not to make an appearance during our visit. 😔 But we were rewarded with sightings of zebras, giraffes, waterbucks, impalas, gazelles, elands, baboons and many species of birds we couldn’t even name. Birdwatchers will have a heyday here.

By the time we’ve reached Lake Bogoria, it was late afternoon. The “kill” we’ve been praying for happened here. Nothing as grand as a “wait, chase and kill” of hunter beasts seen in NatGeo videos but rather, an unexpected predator bird patiently waiting by the edge of the lake. The whole drama unfolded before our eyes. A Marabou stork threateningly flapping its wings, scaring them pink flamingos to take flight. Flying as a tight flock can be disastrous as these birds may accidentally break their wings as they collide into one another especially in a sudden flight. And a pink flamingo with a broken wing is this stork’s easy next meal. How tragic. The marabou stork lost its charm with our group as we witnessed this lone stork feast on this lovely bird, still moving and flapping its better wing while its predator pulled out what looked like its intestines. Ouch!

(Trivia: Pink Flamingos have pink eggs (inside) and pink milk. Would their intestines be pink too? Must be their diet of brine shrimps, Blue green algae and crustaceans.)

📸 by Master Photographer & good friend Ernie Albano

📸 Ernie Albano

We can only watch with mixed emotions as the “kill” provided excitement and the slow death made us cringe with disgust as the stork delighted on its meal. We tried as best as we could to soak in the whole African credo that such is the “nature of Nature” — an acceptance of the circle of life. Survival of the fittest may sound harsh, even cruel, but Nature is a universal law of life here without question. We share this same acceptance but seeing Marabou storks the next few days on this trip reminded us of the sad plight of one pink flamingo with a broken wing that lay dying in front of the entire flock, seemingly indifferent to the whole drama. Sad. But such is Nature.

https://youtu.be/Jb-bgXIbxA8


It doesn’t look much – may even be overrated – but it lays claim on history as the Safari lodge where “Elizabeth came as a Princess and left as a Queen.”That’s right. Queen Elizabeth was billeted here in 1952 when her father, King George VI died in his sleep. Her bodyguard at the time wrote on the Visitors Logbook these now-famous lines:

For the first time in the history of the world, a young girl climbed into a tree one day a Princess and after having what she described as her most thrilling experience she climbed down from the tree next day a Queen — God bless her.

She acceded to the throne and remains Queen of England to this day. Mom to Prince Charles. Grandma to Prince William. That’s a long time to be Queen. And she sure looks like she’d live to a hundred.

Treetops Lodge is located right within Aberdare National Park in Kenya. A waterhole and salt lick renders the lodge an almost sure pit stop in the elephant migration pathway towards Mount Kenya. This magnificent wildlife can be viewed from the deck, windows or even from the ground, day and night! During dark nights, the hotel lights up a thousand watt “artificial moon” for the animals stopping by the waterhole. But we didn’t have to wait long till a herd of cape buffaloes, elephants, and some antelopes we couldn’t name, dropped in. From nearly 5pm to 9pm, we never grew tired watching them as they passed, stopped, drank, frolicked in the mud. A buzzer in the room can be activated to alert guests that the animals have arrived. Initially, we were happy to see so many cape buffaloes and waterbucks…. until whole families of elephants came. We jumped out of our beds to view elephants seemingly marching down in a line like following their leader who made a thunderous noise exactly as he passed our window!

I’m writing this while seated by a large window watching them elephants. There’s a big one I see now. The alpha male dominates the scene. I am not sure he’s the same elephant I spotted just before sunset. I can skip dinner just watching these animals. I even spotted one peeing! I would have wanted to snap shots from the open balcony overlooking the watering hole, but it has grown too cold for comfort. Also, I feel I’ve taken way too many shots and it’s time to just sit by the window and watch. And listen. So happy for this experience! 😊

Postscript: It’s 12mn now and we have an early wake up call tomorrow. Still looking out the window from our hotel room viewing a couple of elephants and something just passed under our window that I couldn’t make out. The buzzer is quiet. But I’m still fully awake, waiting if I’d get lucky to spot a hyena or a leopard. Another look at the electric fence separating our hotel from the animals around the waterhole gives comfort. 🙄

Some Trivia that’s fun to know:

Cape buffaloes and elephants have exceptional memories. It is said an elephant never forgets while a Cape buffalo never forgives.

Buffaloes have killed more hunters in Africa than any other animal. They are also known to kill lions and their cubs as “preventative punishment”.

Elephant females can have babies till 50 years old.

Elephant trunks can pick up very tiny objects like single rice grains.

The African elephant has bigger ears than its Asian cousin. Both male and female African elephants grow tusks; only Asian male elephants grow tusks. It is said that African elephants have ears that bear the same shape as Africa. Asian elephant ears resemble the shape of India.

Touchdown, Nairobi


My excitement started long before I boarded that Qatar flight bound for Nairobi, Kenya. I have long wanted to experience this after that first African Safari in South Africa in 2012. At the time, I was tentative, hesitant, dripping with excitement, adrenaline pumping, nearly out of my wits. After all, it’s not everyday you see wildebeests, giraffes, elephants, zebras, kudus and cape buffaloes having a “party” out in the open Savannah, hear a roaring lion, sit still while a rhino crosses your path, or wait till the pair of cheetahs grow tired of the shade under a lone tree in a vast field. It’s wild. And then and there, I knew I’d never ever want to see any of these beautiful animals in a zoo or caged, whipped like in a circus.

Our tour escort sent a video a week before our departure. The video was captioned “spotted near the border” where we are headed for. Read: “happening now”. Just enough to whet our appetites for the long-coveted Great Migration or Maasai Mara. We pocketed those “dreams” as we struggled during our long flights via Doha, Qatar. The Doha airport looks so much better than the last time I was here in 2008. And it’s a very busy airport too.

As we tried to dismiss the same thrilling thoughts of animal sightings, we touched down this one bright afternoon in Kenya’s capital, just south of the equator. Almost anti-climactic as there isn’t much to do upon arrival. We felt wasted, post-flight, and needed to recover our energy. Not even a quick city tour of the capital’s historical landmarks perked us up. We did spot some really huge birds though up in the trees lining the roads leading to our hotel. Birdwatchers would have a heyday here. It would also have been lovely to visit the Karen Blixen House and Museum but there isn’t much time. Besides, we’re told much of the furnishings in the house were really production sets from “Out of Africa” — a movie based in Ms. Blixen’s book of the same title. I’m really quite happy with the movie and the house at the foot of Ngong Hills would have been interesting. But that visit can wait for another day. Instead, we headed straight for Sarova Stanley Hotel in Nairobi. I wasn’t confident to venture out of the hotel after freshening up. A few of us braved walking towards the market and narrated their encounter with a couple of “aggressive” locals who kept asking them where they came from. They promptly returned to the hotel after that episode. As for me, I stayed in the room and decided to rest till dinner. I just knew I’d doze off as soon as my back touched the comfortable bed, with my head snuggled between the soft pillows. And so, it was a quick soak in the tub before the dinner inside the hotel. The adventures can wait. My apologies for a very uneventful day. These long trips really suck my energy. Tomorrow we head for Aberdares where we booked at Treetops. Should be quite a relaxing day in a very historic place. Karibu, Nairobi! Goodnight 💤 💤 💤


I have published this only because a travel companion can’t access my blog drafts. These are really my “pre-travel notes” while I’m still deciding which route to take and which travel style I’d adopt.

(Will delete this blog soon……)

Nov 26 Monday 6:35 am. ETA

Flixbus to Ljubljana €27.99

ETD 8:30am

ETA 2:55pm

Hotel (3 nights till Nov 29): ???

Nov 27 Tues to Nov 28 Wednesday

Day trips from Ljubljana.

DIY or join Viator or Hire car?

Lake Bled

Zagreb, Croatia

Nov 29 Thurs :

Ljubljana – Trieste (1hr) – Padua (+2.5 hrs) – Bologna (+1 to 1.5hrs)

Or: Ljubljana – Trieste – Bologna

(Direct Ljubljana to Bologna: 4 hrs by car or 5.5 hrs by train.

Hotel in Bologna (2 nights): ???

Nov 30 Sat

Day trips from Bologna

Parma (1hr)+Modena(.5hr)

Or: Ravenna (1.5 hr) – San Marino (+1.5 hr)

Dec 1 Sunday : Fly back to Vienna or Sleeper train on Nov 30 late pm, arriving Vienna Dec 1 am?

Or indulge…. by hiring car from Bologna to Vienna VIA Padua and Graz?

Dec 2 Monday : Vienna (2 nights)

Hotel in Vienna: ???

Dec 3 Tuesday: Vienna to Taipei

Dec 4 Wednesday: Mla eta 5:50pm

Beyond Vienna


And so, the week breezed by. As I’ve mentioned before, what matters more is the company but the destination helps. On a whim, I flew to Vienna to join up with friends who snagged a promo deal for a flight to Vienna. I meant to just stay a night in Vienna but join them going to Budapest and Bratislava which I’ve long wanted to visit. I also intended to stay behind to enjoy Bratislava a bit more. I blogged within 24 hours of each visit — daily — and uploaded each blog for programmed posting on my FB page. My blogs got published as scheduled meanwhile that I had issues and lost access to the site. (All resolved now; thank God!) I did away with my camera and simply took shots with my iPhone. Free and easy, as can be. Everything conveniently worked out, despite the blistering sun and the rains on the last day. From the free concerts, to easy bus and train rides, to wonderful meals, good hotel locations, walking tours 👣, fresh markets, complimentary beers 🍺 and wine 🍷, and loads of laughter. Swell 😊

Seven nights. Eight days. Nine blogs. Quite a trip. Truly enjoyed …. sometimes, the unplanned ones are enjoyed best simply because there aren’t too many expectations. We went along just thinking we’d have a good time, albeit short, and let the universe conspire to give us exactly that: a really, good time. Beers and vino enjoyed. Food trips. Dozing off on a Danube cruise. A hike up to a promontory to view the Danube collide with the Morava River. Many sit-outs to people-watch, book left unread on the table. Travel journals crafted on an iPhone. Here’s the blog summary. Just click on the link. 👌

Vienna

Buda of Budapest

Pest of Budapest

Sad Symbols from Budapest

Dining in Budapest

First Time In Bratislava

The Ruins of Devin Castle

Alone in Bratislava

What We Ate in Bratislava

I travel light. I think the most important thing is to be in a good mood and enjoy life, wherever you are.

——-Diane von Furstenberg

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!)