Archive for December, 2017



It was her first time in Paris. My nieta is traveling with me to Europe and Paris is at the top of her list. For many many reasons. The iconic Tour Eiffel, Sainte-Chapelle, the Louvre, Montmartre, Notre Dame, Arc de Triomphe, Champ Elysees, Madeleine, Pompidou Center, Sacre Coeur, Moulin Rouge, to name a few. And of course, there’s Versailles. I wanted to also bring her to Claude Monet’s Home and Gardens in Giverny but the impressionist painter’s estate is closed for the winter. Boooo! 😩

A quick sketch, but many short brush strokes on a really tiny piece of paper the size of a postcard. This art work is her first expression so soon after landing here. So little time in Paris, but we made do.

The very grand, iconic Louvre Museum impressed her so that she kept going back to the same art pieces across the huge museum. I settled on a bench by the staircase and let her shuttle here and there for the 4 hours we stayed! From Louvre, we went to another museé – the Centre Georges Pompidou. Here is a collection of many of the world’s best modern and contemporary art works and nieta is deliriously happy. Dalí, Matisse, Basquiat, Mondrian, Raysse and a few more.

Basquiat

Mercifully, the line was very short in Centre Pompidou towards early evening and the museum closed real late for nieta to do an unrushed, leisurely review. More than that, her youthful “face value” earned her free admission (under 26, student) even if we didn’t present any document like her passport. The young man at the counter who asked how old she is simply said “I believe you”. Then he looked at her abuela, and charged me 14 euros. 👵👵👵 Rounding up the works of Jean Michel Basquiat, she recalled the portrait she painted of this free spirit whose works she found again when we visited Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum. This young lady is in Cloud 9!

She’s been using the ink and watercolor she brought for this trip. But a day before Christmas, she bought art materials and a sketchpad so I bet she’d keep herself busy the next few days. More so, after a trip to Barcelona where we’d stay in a hotel a short distance from Picasso Museum. That, and all that Gaudi and Miro madness. I can’t wait. Too bad there’s no time to visit Dali’s Museum outside of the ciudad. Meanwhile, she’s done a few more art pieces. Taking inspiration from the gardens of Chateau de Versailles, she painted away. (But not happy with her Versailles work). Unable to forget the taste of the best tarta de quezo from San Sebastian, she painted the facade of La Viña. (We made 3 trips here — those cheese cakes are to die for!). And then some more. My young artist has never had formal art lessons but she’s been painting from the heart. I sense her art is still evolving and an artist-friend suggested to let it evolve without any “influence” from art mentors. The way it’s going, I am truly amused that she’s been experimenting with different medium and stoking her passion with stuff that interests her. Like dogs. (She loves painting those furry balls!) Portraits of celebrities. A germ, a seed of something that tugged in her heart of hearts. An experience she recalls. Really, I can hardly wait.


My introduction of Donostia-San Sebastian kicked off with a ride on the txu txu train. From Playa de la Zurriola to Playa de la Concha to Playa de Ondarreta. Nieta enjoyed the txu txu petit train ride. But she would have gotten off if she could to dig her toes on the beach and feel the sand under her soles. Too cold for that, but her love for the beach drew her back here every single day of our stay in San Seb.

And so we walked the whole stretch of the concha (shell) shape of the beach one afternoon. Done this before but my nieta grew tired walking more than 5 kms and nearly gave up. We broke our trip with a dessert of chocolate y tarta de manzanas in Hotel Ezeiza near the funiculare to Mount Igueldo. Refreshed, energized, she walked all the way to the end.

Having painted San Sebastian with all its peculiar details like the statues and sculptures along the shore, she just had to walk it to appreciate it. 🏖⛱🚶🏻‍♀️ Especially the Peine del Viento which are the 3 iconic pieces of steel firmly anchored to the rocks. In English, they translate to “wind combs” and Eduardo Chillida couldn’t have named his sculpture better. His best work, they say.

Towards late afternoon, the air is chilly and the winds grew fiercer. Nieta took shots of the peine way too many times, each time inching nearer the edge. I couldn’t watch her! Told her she’d give me a heart attack and lose her dear abuela if she doesn’t stop. She did, with a lot of teasing and ribbing on how I’m so easily scared. The nerve!

Thankfully, we went back to watching this young artist make beach art. Amazing falls short to describe this genius. Aaaaah, art takes many forms here in Donostia. Either in its architecture, food art served on a plate, etched on the sand, painted on the door or wall, or anchored on the rocks. Well done, San Sebastian!


Finally! On our first night here, we only tried Atari Gastroteka right across Yglesia de Santa Maria in Parte Vieja. It was a leisurely meal without the tourist crowd, with wait staff not too busy to chat you up. Txikiteo can wait till tomorrow, I thought. For our first night, let it not be rushed and frenzied. Just one relaxing meal ordering the same stuff we enjoyed here the last time.

We’ve always known the Pulpo and Foie Gras here are tops but we discovered its salmon and beef cheeks too. My nieta was introduced to Ribera del Duero though she also took a swig at my Rioja. Our butts got stuck here as we were seated outside across the Yglesia at 7Celsius with a friendly waitress checking on us from time to time. The Txikiteo can wait, I repeat. For now, we savoured the peace and quiet, along with the good food and bebidas.

On our 2nd night we were ready for our txikiteo. But it so happened the whole of San Sebastian was celebrating Santo Tomas Fair and transformed the entire city into a farmers’ market. Locals donned farmers’ and peasants’ attires. I was tempted to buy an outfit but my Oriental looks would give me away. Any txikiteo idea was promptly dashed as we could hardly move across Parte Vieja. Crowd was so thick, everyone’s in high spirits (literally and figuratively) and so many drunks have dropped and broken their copas. No war freaks, just too drunk to stand steady and hold their glasses. Ergo, glass shards all over. We did the next best thing. La Viña is famous for its tarta de quezo but they do have a fine dining restaurante inside. More pulpo for us, plus jamon jabugo paired with txakoli. Perfect! Txikiteo can wait.

And so the txikiteo finally gets started on Day 3. First off, Borda Berri for bacalao al pilpil and orejas de cerdo. Next, Bar Etxeberria. That’s lunch. Kutixik para llevar so we can nib on jamon while walking around the Playas. For dinner, Bar Zeruko for La Hoguera, mushrooms and tuna. Next stop was La Cuchara de San Telmo for its cochinillo and oysters. Dessert was in Casa Urola for that torrijas to die for. You can say we took our txikiteo real seriously. After all, we were “deprived” of this famous pub crawl the last 2 days. No regrets though as we’ve discovered the relative quiet of a sit-down dinner and good txakoli in its stead.

My nieta swears she loves txakoli and ribera del duero. By the 6th copa, we have started calling ourselves “Luningning” and “Liwayway”, just for fun. The 2 wait staff flirting with each other we promptly named Mateo and Juana. Don’t ask why. The Lola (grandma) and Nieta (granddaughter) are simply enjoying their txikiteo. Salut!

PostScript: On the day we were leaving San Sebastian, we decided to have almuerzo (lunch) in Parte Vieja, hoping some of our favorite pintxo bars are already open. They weren’t. But we enjoyed our pintxos, cafe, desserts in 2 bars which now make up our list of new favorites. Casa Alcalde where I enjoyed my txistorra and pimientos de padron (as a first meal) while nieta had her mushrooms, kebab and iberico topped with a quail egg. Bar Sport has good reviews but never tried it before because it was always crowded. Not this time. Sangria with cheese cake? Why not? Nieta liked the tarta de quezo better here so we made sure we dropped in on La Viña again just to compare. 🙄


Eat well, laugh often, love much! This is our wish for everyone in 2018!

Who cares if you keep going back to the same “pre-loved” places? While I do have my bucket list, it can’t be more serious than being with loved ones. My family. My friends. The new friends I meet are a bonus. And my heart overflows with gratitude.

As the year ends and a new one begins, my heart is filled to the brim with fond memories that money can’t buy. What’s been, has been. You can’t go back and “create” your history. You make it as you go along. Your past is THAT. Can’t change it. So be mindful of your present, to gain a past to remember with fondness.

From my family to yours, God bless us all this Christmas Season as we remember Him who is our greatest present. Merry Christmas, everyone! 🍾🍸🥂


We came for the food and the seascape. And more. The city of San Sebastian — or Donostia in Basque — is lovely any time of the year. It’s my 3rd visit in 2 years. First with my friends. Second time with my sister and niece. (Another niece and grandnephew followed) And this time, with my grandniece. The same nieta who has been dreaming of San Sebastian since she painted it on a wall in Bar Pintxos in BGC. Yes, she did the mural based on a photo of San Sebastian’s skyline and seascape. A black and white mural. Now, she’s seeing it all come to life just by being here.

We couldn’t have timed it better. Initially, we thought it was just a simple festivity. After all, it is nearly Christmas so there’s no big deal about the Christmas Market booths lining the Urumea River near the TerminiBus. But we found more stalls, booths and tents near Buen Pastor Church and observed that many locals were dressed in Basque outfits. Turned out one of Donostia’s unique Basque festivals was being celebrated on December 21. The winter solstice is celebrated as Santo Tomas Fair, where the entire city is littered with food and Basque handicraft stalls. Locals dress like rural farmers or peasants and most stalls sell txistorra, that very famous local cured sausage paired with txakoli, a typical Basque white wine or sidra (cider). Of course, there’s also pulpo to be had which I just can’t miss. That, plus the jamon jabugo.

By 11 pm the entire Parte Vieja looked like there were processions going off each corner. The peasant – dressed locals complete with aprons and berets were all milling around the bars it’s nearly impossible to do a txikiteo or pub crawl. Besides, many have had a drink too many and dropped their glasses or bottles. We took care not to step on glass shards, and dodged drunk locals who can barely walk straight. It was NOISY! But fun.

Thankfully, we found an open restaurant for a proper sit-down dinner. Txikiteo can wait till tomorrow. La Viña Restaurante may be most famous for their tarta de quezo or cheese cake (the best!) but they likewise serve good, decent dinners. By the time we finished ours and walked out of Parte Vieja, the locals were still busy downing their txakolis and sidras. But the streets outside of the old part of town were nearly deserted. We enjoyed our walk through the streets bedecked with Christmas lights and decor. Sans the crowd.

(Excuse the nocturnal iPhone shots)

My Habibi Turns 17


Rest your palm on your heart

Feel Mamu in that special spot

Whispering a birthday cheer

Miles away, but no way apart.

Happy birthday, dear Martin

Found your “seat” in OUR park

In freezing weather & icy rain

Don’t let distance be a pain.

Have a good celebration,

Eat my share, as if I was there

I’d have a copa, perhaps a rioja

And raise my glass to cheer ‘ya

We’d pass the same places here

I bet lingering far longer

It’s a girl thing you know

To pause and pose in the snow.

Pretty soon we’d hit the beach

Sandy feet, with a tent to pitch

We’d let the sun kiss our skin

Toasted, y’know what I mean.

Enjoy your last 3 teen years

Time’s a thief, but have no fears

Oh my sweet, giant habibi

Love you, that’s how it’ll always be 💕


The Louvre. Our young artist can’t miss this. Both the Louvre and the Pompidou Center. It’s been on her list, but I made sure she likewise didn’t miss Sainte-Chapelle, which is a good walk from our Paris crib. I guessed right. She swooned over this royal chapel’s stained glass windows. Her keen interest showed when she grabbed some literature and started reading on the Biblical stories expressed in the lovely stained glass collection. In her words, “if I have any expectation of how heaven looks, it’s this”.

From Sainte-Chapelle and Notre Dame, we went to Louvre where we spent the next 4 hours. Yes, 4 hours! After 2.5 hours, I found a stone bench by the staircase where apo left me to see her Mona Lisa a 2nd time. Then, a 3rd time. Moving from one hall to the next, negotiating the staircases and standing most of the time took its toll on poor moí. But not this young lady who had so much energy she even retraced her steps to view her “favorites” a second time before it was time for us to leave.

Too tired to step out for lunch, we settled for our quiche, ham and salad lunch in the Carrousel du Louvre. It was definitely NOT our best meal but it’s 4pm and we’re hungry. We also paid too much for a mediocre meal. Without going out of the Louvre complex, we then took the metro towards Center Pompidou. Oh, we did search for Jef Aérosol’s Chut — that famous, iconic street art mural near the Center. A few minutes of appreciation and we were in line to enter Center Pompidou. The young lady with me was dripping with excitement.

Going up to the 5th floor to view the Center’s Modern Art collections, we stepped out to a balcony pathway where Tour Eiffel stood in full view, illuminated. Good view but if you have altitude issues, it’s not a brilliant (pun intended) idea. But Matisse was waiting for my young artist. And Picasso. And Joan Miro. Dali. Basquiat. Warhol. Clearly, she prefers modern art more than the classics. Excited to see their works after reading up on them, she swooned and said “this is the best place ever”. How can I argue with that? Clearly, she finds modern & contemporary art more exciting. She does count many favorites though among the classics.

Once more, I settled on a (more comfortable) chair here while she happily bounced between and among the collections. She likes Matisse but found a new favorite. Jean Michel Basquiat. Yup, that’s Andy Warhol’s good friend and Madonna’s ex who died of heroin overdose in 1988 at the young age of 27 when both were at the cusp of growing fame. The relationship ended badly, where Basquiat demanded the return of all the paintings he gave Madonna and painted them all black. A pity because one of his art pieces fetched £85.4 million 29 years since his death — the highest-ever paid in an auction for an American work. Below is his work, and the Basquiat portrait was done by my young artist. So with the last 2 artworks shown here.

Four hours in Louvre. Another four in Center Pompidou. Now, I can imagine how she’d react when I bring her to Madrid’s Museo de Reina Sofia, or to Barcelona to view Gaudi’s works. You know what? I’m getting excited myself!

(More works done by “apo” below)

Taking Paris Frame By Frame


I couldn’t wait to show our young artist around Paris. The City of Lights (and Love) lives up to its name and more so this December. Air’s crisp and cold. Sky’s cloudy and threatening to pour. My young adult is looking for Santa’s Villages and Art Booths while her grandma is on the lookout for a vin chaud (hot wine). Temps dip, it grows cold, wet and even icy, it can be dark and gloomy but our spirits soar with Christmas glee.

With only 4 days and 3 nights here, with early sundowns, we need to plan well. But this is Paris! The bohemian in us would rather walk aimlessly, linger where it feels warm and inspiring, and just go where the heart takes us. But I can’t let my first-time Paris visitor miss the iconic landmarks. And so, the “mandatory tour” begins: Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Louvre, Moulin Rouge, Champ Elysees, Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, Tuileries, Montmartre, Madeleine, Place de Concorde, Sainte-Chapelle.

The sun set early the day we arrived. As soon as we dropped our bags in the Saint Germain des Pres apartment we’ve booked, we set off for the Montmartre area. Moulin Rouge in illuminated version can’t be missed as soon as you step out of the Blanche Metro Station. From here, we could have walked to Place du Tertre but took the Metro back to Anvers to find a dinner place before the anticipated 10pm mass in Sacre Coeur. Le Consulat was our first choice but they only offered drinks as their kitchen closed early. Our 2nd choice turned out to be perfect for us hungry souls. Le Bonne Franquette is on the same cobble-stoned street, likewise old as the other centuries-old buildings in this old part of Paris. We imagined Van Gogh, Cezanne, Renoir et al enjoying their meals here. History aside, we actually enjoyed our dinner of french onion soup and pave de boeuf in Le Bonne Franquette. Oh sure, the vintage charm helped too.

Must be the freezing weather (0-3 Celsius) but Place du Tertre was stripped of the easels and actual/live paintings that fascinated me years back when I visited. I was eager to show her this art scene in the Butte Montmartre. Though a tad disappointed, excitement grew as she spotted a gallery of Dalí paintings. I hope the tiny, winding streets of Montmartre will inspire her to paint those quaint, centuries-old cafes and structures, images of which one finds in many postcards in France. So charming!

Versailles Palace was in our itinerary on our 2nd day in Paris. The chateau, the fountains, the gardens, the “fake” hamlet, the art pieces are way too much for my first-time visitor. The young artist was totally charmed. If it weren’t for her eagerness to see Tour Eiffel and Arc de Triomphe in daylight, we could have stayed in Versailles longer. And so we trooped back to the city for a couple more iconic landmarks plus a stroll through Champ Elysees towards Place Concorde. Yes, a long walk but we had a lovely break for a mussel dinner at Leon de Bruxelles. Still as crowded ss I remember it but we were early and easily found a table.

Tomorrow, we should be joining the lines for Saint Chapelle, Notre Dame and the Louvre. There may be time for Pompidou Center as my young artist has expressed her preference for modern art. Wish we can likewise throw in Musee d’ Orsay and Musee du Rodin, but I’m not hopeful. Lastly, I chose this apartment because of its proximity to Jardin du Luxembourg and the bohemian neighborhood of Saint German des Pres, but we have not even visited the gardens yet! Oh Paris. There’s so much to see and we have so limited time. But perhaps it’s best that way so our young artist’s heart continues to long for this city of lights and “finish the job”. I suspect though she’d be back, no way ever will the job get finished. Such is the allure of Paris. ❤️

Happy Thoughts For You


She painted on canvas & paper,

Now on plywood and leather

Perhaps ceramic next or fabric?

So paint me something eccentric.

Varying moods, divergent themes

As night sets in and lights go dim

What inspires her, I wonder

Not so ready with an answer.

New iPhone turned out a lemon

Stirred up moods like a demon

Oh how she vented her woes

As she treated the canvas like foes.

Boards and canvas bought in bulk

To frame this much art stock

Yet inspiration made her fingers fidget

To paint Dali on her denim jacket.

Three murals and countless sketchings

Quick strokes, untutored paintings

You’ve worked hard for those 2 exhibits

I suspect a Matisse in you inhabits.

Whenever I spot paint on your hands

A palette recklessly lying on the floor

Some brushes left hanging to dry

I know you visited your happy world.

Happy thoughts, happy world

Nurture those happy thoughts

No matter how blurred or fleeting

Nurture it. Let your heart keep it. ❤️

Abu, Apo 💕

Curious About Kyushu


It’s only a week in this southern island of Japan. Not as touristy as Kansai (Osaka, Kyoto, Nara), Honshu (Hiroshima & Miyajima), nor Kanto (Tokyo, Gifu) and even Hokkaido (Hakodate, Otaru, Lake Toya, Sapporo) which is now drawing more tourists. We timed this trip really well to enjoy the symphony of autumn hues. All around and especially in the temple grounds and parks, we were welcomed by a mosaic carpet of autumn foliage. So pretty!

Here’s a summary of blogs written on our recent visit to Fukuoka, Nagasaki and Beppu. Just click on the highlighted topics, including earlier-written blogs on my Kansai, Kanto, Honshu and Hokkaido trips.

Fukuoka

Dazaifu Tenman-gu Shrine

Shinto and Zen Temples

Yatais

Nagasaki

Peace Park, Ground Zero

Glover House

Meganebashi Bridge

Beppu

Umi-Jigoku Hot Springs

Onsen Cooking

Yufuin

Mt. Tsurumi Ropeway

Lake Kinrin

Happy reading! And hugs and kisses to my travel buddies whom I’d fondly call #Soba15 for a most enjoyable holiday.