Category: Travel, travels


Anna Bay in Port Stephens


The weather forecast was gloomy but we were dead set to spend our weekend with the boys in Anna Bay. The preceding week in Kiama was an all girls (errr ladies) bonding adventure which included a visit to our favorite Benedictine Abbey in nearby Jamberoo. So for this weekend, we were hoping to join the boys on some thrilling adventures. Anna Bay belongs to the Port Stephens area in the Hunter Valley region and is one major entry point to the beach and sand dunes of Birubi Point. Here, there’s an assortment of things to do. Whale-watching, fishing, surfing may sound exciting but many find more thrills with the camel and horse rides along the shore, sand boarding and 4 wheel-drives across the sand dunes.

We weren’t in luck with the thrilling rides. But we sure got extremely lucky spotting pods of whales. The downpour was put on hold to allow us some time at the Gangan Lookout, the beach and sand dunes at Birubi Point and lovely walks by the shore just right behind our crib here in Anna Bay. We could have waited for sunset (before 5pm!) but it grew cold and the looming downpour dampened our spirits. The waters were so calm and so soothing to frayed nerves. Many residents and guests like us spilled out of the apartment buildings to idle away the hours at the beach, playing with their dogs or even letting their toddlers play around the huge “sandbox”.

Back in Kiama, I missed the pods of whales. I saw more than enough here in Birubi point. The beach behind our serviced apartment here is another whale-spotting area but after putting on a show for us in Birubi, these aquatic mammals must have thought we’ve seen enough. Evenings here are so pleasant, if not wonderful. The waves crashing to shore lull you to sleep and early morns are marked by visits of different birds perched on your balcony. Imagine having your morning coffee while these birds chirp in chorus and while watching dogs frolic by the beach. Happiness!

Our Crib

My Vivid Sydney 2022


Finally, I found the chance to experience my Vivid Sydney after countless visits to Sydney. Running till June 18, this festival is truly a must-see. The Opera House looks majestic on any ordinary day, but its splendour is all the more amplified with all the lighting and well-curated designs. Viewed up close by the steps, or from across the harbour, one can only gasp appreciating its beauty.

The festival in the Circular Quay area is not limited to the Sydney Opera House. That iconic bridge looks real grand too, along with the buildings lining the quay. A real standout is the Customs House which has quite a story to tell.

The only drawback is the low temps. I’ve always experienced mild winters here but certainly NOT this time. The wind factor adds to the chill so you can imagine how briskly we walked from Darling Harbor through Barangaroo towards Circular Quay. All spots by the water edge so yeah, cold. Really cold. And windy. When the Hare Krishna band paraded through the crowds, dancing to a beat and with the slightest clothing, I can only sigh with awe over their high tolerance for the cold.

We managed to check out only a few, but the more significant displays of this Festival of Lights, music and creative ideas. But for those who are eager to cover the entire spectacle, have a good walk around 11 Sydney CBD locations: Circular Quay, Sydney CBD, The Rocks, Barangaroo, Darling Harbour, Darling Square, Darling Quarter, The Goods Line, Central Station, Luna Park and Taronga Zoo. Not sure if there’d be more fireworks after the grand festival opening on May 27, which I missed. But hey, this Sydney event shouldn’t be missed!


This Fish Market smelt soooo good. I was adamant to put oysters on the bed of my tongue as soon as I landed in Sydney and those cravings just had to be satisfied. I didn’t expect there were so many oyster choices! Good thing our food guru friend’s instructions were simple enough. Get the smallest oysters. Have the Balmain Bugs cooked with Singapore Chili. Then throw in a piece of lobster, calamari, grilled salmon and octopus on skewers, and some sashimi and Kani salad to start with.

Frankly, I couldn’t tell rock oysters from Coffin Bay oysters (yeah, what a name for a bay that yields really good oysters). Nor whether they were sourced from Sydney or Merimbula. I can only tell the Pacific Oysters are the largest, yet nowhere as large as those served to us in San Francisco, California. Enjoyed these appetizers way too much, along with the freshest tuna, salmon, scallops and other fish sashimi. I could have stopped there and gone home real happy but those bugs are still a-cooking! And the salmon and octopus a-grilling!

Balmain Bugs in Singapore Chili
Grilled Salmon and Octopus with Lobster Mornay

Heaven landed in Nicholas Seafood Bar in Sydney Fish Market in Pyrmont. Next to our table is a band of athletic men feasting on scampi and bottles of wine. They were happy to down their alcoholic delights and the scampi was just an excuse to keep their stomach linings warm and not empty. In fact, they hardly touched them as they got busy with their spirits. Not so with us 3 Oriental ladies who feasted on all these lovely seafood finds like there’s no tomorrow.

An hour and a half passed and we were bursting at the seams. Even before we capped our lunch with a cup of our favourite brew, I was already planning on setting this gastronomic treat as a Sydney tradition. Unforgettable. Each morsel a culinary delight. All that for 3 ladies with discerning tastes. Please don’t judge us 🙄


It started out as a heritage house tour and simple get-together of long time friends, then as bienvenida for visiting family members, and finally as a pseudo wedding reception for a young couple whose most significant ceremony we all missed because of the pandemic. There were 18 adults and 2 toddlers meeting for the first time who hardly warmed up and interacted with each other. Topics covered a broad range and the long table divided between the senior and younger members of the family. All’s well.

Palacio de Memoria

We nearly went overboard with the pseudo wedding reception. A bridal bouquet, a flower girl’s flower basket, the ring bearer’s pillow, the wedding cake. All in good fun. That happens when we all felt deprived missing a young couple’s wedding. The sprawling garden provided a beautiful backdrop for our group picture as well as bridal bouquet toss up between a spinster and a widow! The little girls from the past have all grown up, some with their adult children and toddlers. And the more senior members have done away with the dyes, proudly bearing their greying hair. The laughter across the long table sounded just as loud and crisp, the jokes nearly the same, and the banter seemingly endless but fun.

All In The Family
The Long Table

Here’s one unforgettable get together of family and friends. Never mind that the museum tour was cancelled and the bar housed inside one of the airplanes (spotted the 3 aircraft collections parked in the lawn) were closed. We enjoyed the antipasti and the main entrée as well as the refreshing beverages and vanilla-flavoured wedding cake. The pre-ordered al fresco lunch was seamlessly served and there was time enough to loiter around the gardens. For sure, I’d be back for the guided tour and the date at the bar. Por supuesto!

The Antipasti and the Wedding Cake
A Choice of Lamb, Beef, Salmon or Pasta

Palacio de Memoria is now an events and auction venue consisting of a historic mansion restored to its pre-war glory. Abandoned for 2 decades and now owned by the Lhuilliers to house their antique collections including the 3 aircraft, one of which has since been converted into a bar. One can just imagine how this heritage mansion cut a majestic vista right along the wide Roxas Boulevard just across the Manila Bay before parts of the Bay were reclaimed. I bet many parties were held in its sprawling lawn while the breeze gusts in from Manila Bay. At the time we visited, tents were being set up in the front lawn for what looked like a wedding event. I can also imagine what great parties one can host here to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries or just about any momentous occasion. And there’s La Loggia Restaurant housed in a separate al fresco structure right beside the Mansion to provide the Italian food and refreshments. I heard one can even arrange picnics under one of the trees or just outside the airplanes with a picnic basket packed by La Loggia. Swell!


The last 2 years were marked by non-activity and a much-limited social life. My last trip was just a few weeks before the lockdown and meet-ups with family and friends were restricted to zoom meetings and Viber chats. Finally, this.

Boracay

Flying into this island south of Manila was a thrill by itself. After all, it’s been 2 years since my last flight. Travel today involved many health protocols, but seeing this slice of Shangrila is worth all the “trouble”. The hotel was fully booked and it’s good that people are spending their holidays and traveling again. Overcast skies and intermittent rain didn’t deflate our excitement. In the four days we were in the island, we had 2 days of sun. Not bad.

Sunset Watch

Unlike our previous trips, this one tops the list in the leisure and R&R department. Most activities centered around the beach and the hotel pool. We even managed to put to good use the excellent hotel facilities for kids such as the entertainment center, fish feeding ponds and playground. There were shuttles to take us to the more crowded and busier boat stations and Resto/shopping spots, but the hotel has been our little corner of paradise we truly enjoyed staying in. A perfect way to enjoy this break from our pandemic confinement.

Happy thoughts. Happy memories. May this pandemic finally blow over so we can spend more holidays under the sun with sand between our toes, sipping our piña coladas, mango daiquiris and margaritas or cold beers. As the wind slaps our salty faces and ruffles our sandy hair, we feel grateful to enjoy these slices of paradise. A real Shangrila.


The Sweetness of Doing NOTHING. I know. It’s been over a year of NOTHING-ness. That’s why it’s all sweeter to step out of our sanctuary to enjoy the Baguio breeze in perfect harmony with Nature, your travel and foodie buddies and some moments of reflection. Never mind the hassles of antigen tests prior to the trip. Nor the “isolation” since we stayed the whole time in MJV Retreat House except for 2 trips for lunch and snacks. There was simply no need to explore Baguio since MJV alone is enough. The Heritage and Eco Park with its rock gardens, outdoor sculptures, pine trees, bamboo grove, labyrinth and flower gardens are more than adequate to soothe your nerves. Truly a balm for the soul.

Our morning hike a la Camino de Mirador was like a hiking retreat replete with narratives brushing up on local history and recent events. There were many meditation spots, sitting/rest areas, and scenic views. There is also the option of going up and down the nearby Lourdes Grotto. After the hike, MJV’s coffee nooks and many viewing decks and terrazas are ideal relaxation spots whether the sun’s out or it’s all fogged out. Or one can visit the Iñigo Cafe to savor their baked goodies, refreshing fruit juices and aromatic brew while enjoying the views and the cool temps. Shutterbugs will have a heyday snapping photos here and there. To be honest, you don’t even need company to stay happy here 😇

While here, I found it pure luxury to hear live masses and to actually take communion. Those online masses have become the norm and to actually sit on the pew, listen to the homily and line up for communion seemed nearly surreal. The Vigil Room at the corner of the Retreat House provided a view of the Torii Gate on a promontory overlooking the city. Just lovely. A borrowed photo below confirms this. Hard to imagine MJV under the Japanese occupation during World War II, but this iconic gate symbolises that war’s end (75 years since 1945 when it was inaugurated in 2020).

Ctto: Rick C
Mirador Jesuit Villa Retreat House

My room here overlooks the flower garden and labyrinth. Seated on the bed, one can actually wait for the fog to clear and watch cars offloading the guests and also those circling the labyrinth in prayerful meditation. Every nook and corner here has coffee/tea stations and the flowers not only adorn the meditation spots with their beauty but with their fragrance. In another area, men are busy constructing a barbeque/grill area overlooking the “3 rings” which symbolise the Holy Trinity. In a separate area stands an impressive sculpture of Christ’s Redemption. The Rock Gardens and Bamboo Grove have a hiking trail thoughtfully marked with clear signs and gentle reminders. Over time, the Mirador Heritage and Eco Park has become a major Baguio attraction for tourists and local families to enjoy. It’s a site best coupled with a hike up the Lourdes Grotto.

Just 2 of the 3 rings, symbolising the Blessed Trinity

Another day here wouldn’t hurt. Another visit even hoped for. I heard the persimmon farm has a November harvest schedule. 😋 A retreat may sound like one’s perfect excuse. But truly, you need not have a reason to visit here. Nothing isn’t bad. It may even be sweet. And really, all you need to do is listen. It’s the best prayer. 🙏


A bunch of close friends. “Barkada”. We’ve long planned this — and planned around a 5-night Nile Cruise on a chartered Dahabiya or sailboat. Cairo and Alexandra first, prior to the cruise from Luxor to Aswan. Then 3 more nights in Aswan to include a day trip to Abu Simbel. There were concerns prior to the trip. Left on February 17, about the time when the world is whirling and reeling from Coronavirus issues. But we were all set for this trip. So, armed with masks, wipes and alcohol sprays, we went. The flights to Cairo and then to Luxor, as well as the long drives to Alexandria and Abu Simbel were uneventful. The weather was perfect, all rides comfortable, though I must confess we underestimated Egypt’s cold temps. The whole cruising time, we had breakfasts on the riverboat’s deck in our terry bathrobes. The same robes we donned for dinners! It grew warmer by the time we reached Aswan and Abu Simbel. Finally, we parked our boots and rubber shoes and wore our sandals to go shopping. All throughout the journey, we were floored by all these ancient wonders and happily absorbed all the ancient history lessons. It was our luck that we had very competent tour guides. Egyptologists. Yes, you take special courses for that. We also met some foreign Egyptologists in the hotels where we stayed — archaeologists who specialise in Ancient Egypt. Such interesting people. The ones we met must be in their 60s-70s but you can still sense that burning passion in them. The kind you can almost touch! By journey’s end, we can only feel so thankful for the wonderful cruising adventure, the excitement triggered by the history lessons, the fun and mirth all throughout the holiday and most importantly the good health and safety enjoyed by everyone. This is our story. Feel free to click on the links for more photos and details.

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2020/02/21/the-sphinx-and-moi/
https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2020/02/22/revisiting-cairo/
https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2020/02/24/alexandria/
https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2020/02/25/ballooning-in-luxor-egypt/
https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2020/02/25/gliding-through-the-nile/
https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2020/02/29/the-ancient-temples-of-luxor/
https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2020/03/06/of-egyptian-gods-man-gods/
https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2020/03/18/sailing-without-care/
https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2020/03/19/abu-simbel-finally/
https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2020/03/19/aswan-as-two/

Aswan. As Two.


The last stretch. Done with the Pyramids. The “major” temples. The Nile River Cruise. Back to the city now. Aswan. Checking out the spices and essentials oils plus some Nubian jewellery, arts and crafts. And yes, just a few more historical sites to do as day trips before really “settling” in Aswan. Like Gebel El Silsila, the sandstone quarry site sitting at that narrowest point of the River Nile. Quite an adventure here as our guide led us through mounds, climbing up some rugged path to emerge on a cliff overlooking the entire quarry site. I wasn’t prepared to climb up and told our guide I don’t feel confident after seeing it’s by the cliff edge. He said assuredly that he’d assist, offering his hand. Grabbed his hand and while I was deciding whether to go with my left or right foot first, he promptly pulled me up. Voila! By the time he pulled back his hand, I was left with no choice but to go on fours to reach the top. It was a short climb but I felt funny doing it. 😂

That’s moí leading the seniors 😂

As the ancient Egyptian builders switched from limestone to sandstone, Gebel El Silsilah met the stone requirements of the Theban temples. Like nearby Kom Ombo, this quarry site’s principal deity is Sobek, the crocodile god. More than just a quarry site, there were also rock-cut tombs and crypts discovered here. While larger boats cruising the Nile offer only a fleeting glimpse of this site, our Dahabiya (sailboat) slowdrifted and actually stopped to unload us here. Having visited the Karnak Temple earlier, one wonders how the massive stone blocks were quarried and then transported from here. My, these Egyptians!

Then there’s the unfinished obelisk in Aswan. Cracked and abandoned, this obelisk would have been the largest in Ancient Egypt if only it stood at 140 feet in height. The giant unfinished monument lying on a bed of granite is now an open air museum where scientists and Egyptologists can study how the ancient Egyptians constructed obelisks. Because it is right in Aswan, there were more than the usual tourists we found in other attractions.

Not far from our (huge) sprawling hotel complex in Isis Island is the Mausoleum of Aga Khan. Yes, Aga Khan — that celebrated imam who also happens to be dad-in-law to a Hollywood actor, Rita Hayworth. The elegant tomb looks more like a mosque along the banks of the Nile viewed from our hotel. Why was Imam Khan buried here? It is reported that he spent many winters here in Aswan until he died in 1957. His wife, who died in 2000, was also buried here. Although not open to the public, the couple’s winter Villa is located within the mausoleum gardens.

We found time to visit the Nubian Museum in Aswan. Nubia is now present-day Southern Egypt and Northern Sudan. In the ancient times, Nubia was Egypt’s supply chain for gold. Today, “Nubia” has become popular as a girl’s name. It has Egyptian origin and actually means “gold”. How so apt! The Museum building is an architectural beauty, and the many artefacts and antiquities inside is a good prelude to understanding Nubian history, culture and civilization. Amazing how these ancient kingdoms were so way ahead of their times! Heady with Nubian thoughts — hey, it takes awhile to let all that history to sink in — we ended our day with an end-of-holiday visit to the Coptic Cathedral and some retail therapy in spices and essential oils bazaar. Don’t you agree most holidays end this way?


Back in 1996, I blew the chance to visit Abu Simbel. I was on the last stretch of my 38-day holiday and I’ve grown tired of temples and shrines. Although I found the idea romantic — dismantling not one but 2 temples, and reassembling them on a higher hill to make way for the Aswan Dam construction back in the 1960’s — I wasn’t lured to make the visit. I was truly exhausted, and suffering from temple fatigue then. Or perhaps just travel fatigue. After 30 days, I was really longing to be home and found my tired self struggling with the last leg of the trip. But not this time. I was ready for Abu Simbel. I didn’t take the buggy ride to the temples and instead walked with the others. The path offers a view of the Nile River and the temples were hidden from view from the entrance. We passed a paved path crossing a rugged terrain. Behind the mounds and soon after a bend, Abu Simbel stood in all its majesty. After having survived the last 3,000 years some meters below, Abu Simbel looks like it’s always stood where it is now. There were other temples rescued from the rising waters of the Nile, but none more dramatic than this. Short of a miracle, you might say.

It was an engineering feat. Built in 1244 BC, the 2 temples were carved out of the side of a mountain. The Pharaoh Ramses II immortalised himself with not one, not two, but 4 colossal seated statues measuring 21 meters tall. Above these 4 deified statues of Egypt’s greatest and long-reigning Pharaoh, were statues of sun-worshipping baboons. Most interestingly and impressively, the entranceways catch the sunlight twice a year in such a way that it beams straight into the temple sanctuary’s seated statues. The dates are October 22 and February 22, both of which hold special meaning to me. Of course, I won’t forget. 😊 I can just imagine the crowd here as both locals and tourists witness the phenomenon. Too bad we missed February 22 by a week. Sob. 😢

The smaller temple is not exactly small. Built for the Pharaoh’s favorite Queen Nefertari but dedicated to Goddess Hathur, the 6 statues gracing the front in between the buttresses measured 10 meters each. Of the 6, the 2 statues were of the Queen and the rest of Ramses II. Imagine what an arduous task it was to relocate these temples 64 meters higher and 180 meters west of the original site. Even more interesting is the fact that this site is actually beyond the Aswan border and technically part of Nubia, resting by the southern border to present-day Sudan. Having said that, the site selection only goes to prove the might of Ramses II. Undoubtedly, he built all these monuments to flaunt such might, Egypt’s wealth and his “affinity” with the gods. Truly, a powerful image to convey who’s in charge. Quite a character, methinks. 🙄

After the visit, I couldn’t fathom how I didn’t feel compelled to visit 24 years ago. The rock-cut temples of Abu Simbel is an engineering wonder and even by themselves, one can’t help but be impressed-amused by this king’s stab at immortality. Even the image of the Egyptian sun god Ra in front is dwarfed by the colossal likenesses of Ramses II, with his Queen sculpted like tiny dolls beside his legs and his princesses between. This glaring glimpse into Ramses II’s ambition and self-importance may have supported this building spree during his long reign. Thankfully for us, these monuments survived through hell and high waters (pun intended) for many generations to appreciate this important segment of history.

Sailing, Without Care


It sounds nearly arrogant to say “Been here; done that” but I must confess that the enthusiasm before this trip wasn’t at par with my first visit in 1996. Just the same, being with friends give it a whole new dimension and in particular, I looked forward to sailing, without care, just chilling. It didn’t matter if I were to miss some sites included in our offshore excursions. I’ve seen them before and doubt if much has changed since. But I’m curious to just sail, watching life unfold. Slowly. Unhurriedly. And with my time-tested travel buddies. Besides, this is my first trip in 5 months and I’m eager to travel again. Anywhere.

Back in 1996, it was hot and humid with temps hitting high 40’s in May. This time, it’s cool during the day at 15-22C and even cooler as the sun sets and the wind blows. February is a good month to visit Egypt. And having this riverboat all to ourselves clinches the fun element of this trip. Our group of 16 would go up the deck to read, chat, drink and eat — donned in bathrobes — and just while away the time in between the 2 activities slated for each day. Each activity is a lesson in ancient history, just enough to stimulate our mental faculties. And a bit of physical exertion, just to check if those sweat glands are still functioning. Ahem.

Life by the riverbank varies by the season. When I first visited, summer meant watching children play, swim and bathe in the Nile. It was also teeming with wildlife especially cattle while some fisherfolks are busy sinking their hooks. This winter, there is hardly any activity along the Nile except for those feluccas doing business ferrying passengers crossing the river, or going to riverside restaurants. It gets even busier come sundown when tourists go for sunset rides on sailboats. Curiously, there are also the more enterprising boatmen selling wares to cruisers like us. Right there along the Nile. They’d say “hello, hello” at the top of their lungs while we’re at the deck. As we look down, they display their wares and manage to toss up their goods for our scrutiny. The haggling begins and some minutes later, hard currencies are dropped. Swell.

Cruising clears one’s mind of many cobwebs. Just watching the scenery change ever so slowly puts one’s spirit at rest. It’s like a movie set in slow motion. In the beginning, I’d claim a corner up in the deck and say my prayers. Attempts at meditation. But the ever solicitous staff and your travel companions can easily engage you any moment. So I had my quiet moments inside my cabin instead, staring out the wide window by the bed watching Nile life unfold and while enjoying the melodious ripple of the water as the sailboat slowly sliced forward. How precious. On this trip, I slept a good 3 hours earlier than my usual past midnight knock off. I haven’t done that in a very long time. Aaaaahhhh, the sweet life!