Category: Travel, travels

In Russia, it’s called Okhotsk Sea. In Japan, it is called the Ohōtsuku- Kai. Among the many adventures in Shiretoko Peninsula is “drift-ice walking” where you’re suited into this swimming gear that feels like a mini-sauna but absolutely keeps you dry while you are flailing about off this marginal sea of the Pacific Ocean. The week before we arrive, temps were hovering around double-digit negatives but this group of adventurous foodies from the Tropics brought sunshine with them. Temp was at zero Celsius which the locals compare to “spring weather” and “too warm” for winter. Luckily too, it wasn’t windy at all! How’s that for an auspicious morning for water adventure?

Ready to Rumble!!!

Those ice floes! No, we didn’t do the ice walk here. 😜

Before we set out to do “the walk”, we struggled putting on these suits. Oh, how we struggled! I had to go on my back, lift my legs to get our guide pull the suit up my legs and thighs. It doesn’t stop there. Getting my head through the “hole” and finally zipping me up was another struggle. And just when I was getting the hang of walking in this suit out in the open, frozen sea, I slipped! But slipping in and out of water in between drift-ice walking was really this morning’s activity. The guides made us walk towards a certain area off the frozen Sea, by the breakwater I think, then challenged us to jump while saying “I love Japan”. Jumping together on what our hindsight tells us must be thin ice was all it took to break the ice. We floated for a while, then some of us climbed over the floating ice slab. Then there were those who quickly gained the confidence, jumping here and there, breaking more ice! At some point, one of the boys jumped in and went down body limbs, head and all!

Getting into it is an adventure by itself!

We’ve met others who went ice diving. I cannot imagine how they put on their more complicated gear and what nerves of steel they must have. What we did was nothing compared with their adventure. But I’m sure we drew more laughs as we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves lying down on the icy sea and floating among the ice floes. Some of the pictures and videos are simply too funny to be posted. For sure, we’d talk about this adventure for many years to come. 🥶😜🙄😊

Late last year, this same group trooped to Vienna and Bologna and braved winter for the love of food. You bet we’re at it again. This time to Hokkaido for a taste of its “cruel winter”. Call us insane but we have very specific reasons for being here. Beyond the freezing temps and snow flakes, we’re here to spot some very rare species of birds like the red-crowned cranes, Blakiston’s Fish Owl, some whooper swans, the rare Steller’s sea eagles and white-tailed eagles. Many of these birds have chosen Hokkaido as their home and hopefully, we can spot them as we walk on the drift ice. Yes, that’s what we plan to do. Walk on drift ice! Yup, that’s the plan. So go ahead. Call us insane 🙄.

Packing for this trip was a real struggle. I pack my stuff on a day by day basis. This way, I need not have to decide which shirt to pair with which pants or skirt. With previous trips, one packing cube is typically good for 3-4 days of clothing. Not this time. One day’s wardrobe fills an entire packing cube! An inner/thermal shirt, a wool shirt, a fleece vest, a winter jacket. Four layers. Paired with winter pants and fleece leggings. Warm enough? Throw in those mufflers, beanie and gloves. And an extra pair of socks for good measure. Phew! And don’t start asking me for my nighttime wardrobe. You bet I feel like a grandma in wools and a bonnet.

All packed and ready for snow adventures? Temps have risen but are still in the negatives. Early this morning of our arrival, I can almost feel those ice crystals landing on my cheeks and forehead as the wind blows. Yay, can we actually walk on drift ice tomorrow? It’s our first activity on this trip and my nerves are going haywire. Hmmm…. go ahead. Call us insane. 🥶

The self-proclaimed 7-star Empire Hotel and Country Club looks palatial off a stretch of shore overlooking the South China Sea. The experience maybe closer to 5 stars but hey, those are still 5*. It makes for a great convention and holiday/spa resort for sure, and yes, “very instagrammable”. It is, after all, Brunei’s only beach hotel, within some 160 hectares of paradise. Also, it was originally intended as a royal guesthouse when it was built under Prince Jefri’s watch. This same complex houses the air conditioned stables for the Sultan’s prized polo ponies. There’s more. I’ve never seen picture windows this size. Imagine yourself stargazing while slouched inside the Atrium lobby with a million dollar chandelier hanging from a ceiling that rises so way up there. Such glitz.

The lush gardens, beach and pool are visible from the Atrium lobby on the 5th floor that looks more like a royal court – an almost sublime experience. This hotel is huge! And for avid golfers, here’s the good news: Empire Hotel has its own golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus no less. There’s also a cinema, bowling alley, polo grounds and a shopping arcade. There are swimming pools facing the South China Sea and we noticed there were not too many guests. Many tables were unoccupied in the Lounge yet the meticulously-uniformed but seemingly confused service staff are all over to cater to the guests’ whims. We are concerned the hotel isn’t making money but judging by how well-maintained it is, money doesn’t seem to be a problem. Perhaps we are simply overthinking, in a place reeking of opulence and pomp, and where guests should expect only to be pampered. After all, this grand, luxurious hotel opened in 2000 is owned by the Sultan. For sure, financial issues are the least of their concerns.

From these opulent surroundings we moved to the Kianggeh Market by the riverside and a Mall to buy local fruits and for some souvenir shopping. The Mall was quite underwhelming and we could have skipped it to go directly to the Gadong Night Market where we soaked in the vibrant local scene. I like the vibe here more than in Kianggeh and the Mall. We quickly claimed a table here to eat some of the local food bought off the food stalls — grilled salmon, various noodle soups, barbecued meats and the ubiquitous chicken and rice. We also found some sticky rice with either meat or prawn fillings, and some fried rolls and banana fritters. More local fruits like Durian but that was “settled” in Kianggeh. One can have very, very cheap meals here and as we found out, dining here isn’t exactly the exclusive turf of the locals as we found some tourists checking out the food stalls too. I had my cheapest meal of beef noodle soup (good for 2) and 4 sticks of sticky rice with prawn fillings wrapped in (not banana) leaves. How much? All that for B$5. That is about US$4. Can you beat that?

What To Do In Brunei?

Brunei never made it to my bucket list. Nor any of my friends’. But here we are, spending 4 days, 3 nights in its capital, Banda Seri Begawan. I knew absolutely nothing where we are booked, which hotel we are staying in and who’s coming. It was a case of a couple of friends going with a few more at a time free of any travel and personal plans. Swell! I joined on the solitary reason that I’d be in good company. These fun trips with friends never fail!

When I think Brunei, I think gas, oil and Bolkiah. It’s a tiny but very wealthy nation off Borneo ruled by one of the world’s oldest reigning monarchies. As in the last 600 years! Sultan Bolkiah’s fame is rooted on his wealth and extravagance. Think 9,000 cars, 17 planes including a custom-designed 747, a private zoo, his own golf course, and an air conditioned stable for his 200 polo ponies. This man and his family lives in the world’s largest royal residence — even bigger than London’s Buckingham Palace. And guess who was the architect of this royal abode. No less than our own Arch. Leandro Locsin whose iconic masterpieces in the country include the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Folk Arts Theatre, PICC, Sofitel, Intercontinental Hotel (now demolished), Hyatt (now Midas), Mandarin Oriental (likewise demolished), Saint Andrews Church in Makati, Philamlife and Filipinas Life Insurance Buildings, to name a few. I’m a big fan of this National Artist and would always be enthusiastic to find more of his masterpieces. Especially this royal residence built in 1984 which established his masterful international calibre.

Banda Seri Begawan is easy to navigate. Most landmarks are located in the City Center, and I suspect every interesting site is only 2 hours or so away by car. Aside from the royal palace, I am curious of the 2 mosques here: the Sultan Omar Ali Saiffudin Mosque, more famously called the Brunei Mosque, and the Jame Asr Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque or simply, Bolkiah Mosque but likewise called Kiarong Mosque owing to its location. The 2 mosques were built by the current Sultan and the one before him. Brunei has Malay traditions and deeply rooted in its Islamic faith. Its people are principally Malays, with a small minority of Chinese and Indians. Its cuisine is largely influenced by neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia — heavily spiced!

So, what to do after hitting a royal palace and 2 mosques? Well, there is the Royal Regalia Museum housing many of the Sultan’s memorabilia including the chariot he used in his coronation ceremony in 1967. The chariot was held and supported by 24 men in front and 24 more at the back weaving through the capital for a good 2 hours! Quite interesting to know more of this man who now rules this tiny wealthy kingdom.

We also checked out the Water Village or “Venice of the East”. If you ask me, I think the village is nothing more than stilt houses lining the river that spills out to the South China Sea. Some cost Bn$10,000, others maybe more. I can give this a skip and instead enjoy tea or coffee in Empire Hotel And Country Club instead. Or maybe a better experience can be had in either Gadong Market or Kianggeh Market. Wherever, so long as the group enjoys. 👍

All That in 2018

The year 2018 is about to end and I promised my family I’d stay put over the New Year. Well, it was actually tempting to join my travel buddies in Hanoi after Christmas but no, I’m home and will be home for the holidays ⛄️ . Around the same time last year, I was with my Nieta (“apo” or grandniece) spending Christmas and New Year in Spain. As was the custom, the Cabalgata or 3 Kings Parade was held on a very rainy January 6. Many still waited and watched the parade despite the cold and the rain. Including us. That capped my nearly month-long Travels With My Nieta.

Cabalgata 2018. Madrid.

Travels With My Nieta. Dec 2017-January 2018.

By March, my travel buddies were all set to explore underrated Sri Lanka. The highlight of this trip was the mini-Safari we had where we watched herds of elephants in their natural habitat. By the time we left Sri Lanka, we agreed the state was quite a revelation and that we won’t mind visiting other parts of Sri Lanka in the future.

Mini Safari in Sri Lanka

Travels With Nieto. Vietnam. 2018.

Pretty soon, I took off to visit that part of Vietnam I’ve missed in previous trips. Danang, Hoi An, Hue. All in Central Vietnam. Only problem was my travel buddies had this flash idea to do Vienna, Budapest and Bratislava too. So I did the next best thing. From Vietnam, I flew back to Manila, said goodbye to my nieto and a couple of friends, then flew out the same day for Vienna. I caught up with the troop in time for a 9am beer in Karlsplatz. Voila! From Vienna, we proceeded to Budapest and then Bratislava . I decided to stay an extra day in Bratislava while them boys flew back to Manila. For sure, these adventures beyond Vienna made good memories.

Vienna Boys +1.

Day Trip from Bratislava

By the time I got back in Manila, I was ready to pack again. In less than 3 weeks, I’m having my dream holiday. My 2nd African Safari. This time, timed with the Great Migration. We moved from Kenya to Tanzania and even managed a hot air balloon ride over the Maasai Mara. It was just magical! The thing with safaris is that you don’t know what to expect nor what to see. And there lies the excitement, and at times, the disappointments. There is no telling which animals will show up, more so how they’d behave.

Ngorongoro Crater. Tanzania. 2018.

The animal adventures comprise many memories that’d last a lifetime. One yearns for more and that’s where Safari addictions begin. In my case, budget will always be an issue. So those precious Safari memories are good. For now. Besides, there’s a golden wedding anniversary in Sydney that I’m attending some 2 weeks from my Manila arrival. Some friends from USA are attending too and we have a week to bond and travel in and around Sydney before the grand event. Oh, what fun! I stayed in a hotel in the city to be with them so we maxed out our time, especially with sunsets at 9pm. It was great bonding time with my family too.

Sydney Opera House. 2018

My Sister’s (Golden) Wedding (Anniversary). Sydney. 2018

I barely had time to “recover” from the month-long holiday and I was off again. In between trips, I managed to do my medical and dental checkups, parlour appointments, some business meetings, and a few meet-ups with dear friends. My last trip for the year was scheduled late November. This time to Bologna Via Vienna. We made several day trips out of Bologna, and while we were prepared to “get bored” in Vienna (we visited only last July, remember?), we were so thrilled with Vienna’s Christmas Markets. Not just one, but I think there were 10 if not more. We managed only 4 because it was so freaking COLD. The grounds were carpeted in snow so yes, we had an early White Christmas. Only in our dreams, yeah!

More importantly, Bologna (and the day trips) didn’t disappoint in the “dining options” department. We had jolly bellies up until we reached Vienna in freezing temps. And Vienna’s pastries didn’t disappoint either. Happy bunch!

Dinner at Ristorante Donatello. Bologna.

Pastries with Hot Choc. Aida Cafe. Vienna.

So here I am, waiting till 2018 wears itself out. Staying put, as Sydney-based nephews and their families plus a niece are a-visiting during this holiday period. So from my family to yours, have a good Christmas and New Year celebration! 🍾☃️🍷🥂🎊

Rathausplatz In Winter

Christmas Markets of Vienna

Let it snow 🎶 let it snow 🎵 let it snow 🎼 We didn’t bargain for a White (early) Christmas but we sure got it. Along with frozen fingers and backs stiff from the cold. I should have worn my boots but there’s no saying it won’t rain which means melted snow that could turn icy. So, back to my rubber shoes for better traction. Better safe than sorry. And for good measure, 4 layers on mah’ self! Too cold for my bones at minus 4 Celsius. I know, some of you would say it’s nothing, but do remember we’re babes from the Tropics 🙄

Rathausplatz by Gizelle Jose

Rathausplatz. 📸 Gizelle José


Of the 4 Christmas Markets we have visited, I like the Christmas Market in Rathausplatz the best. Having said that, it attracts the most tourists and the crowd even goes thicker after sundown at 4pm. Yes, Virginia. Sunset at 4pm. It turns magical after dusk with the majestic town hall building as backdrop in all its illumination. The market stalls selling lanterns, toys, Christmas balls and charms look even lovelier as one sips mulled wine or punch while watching all that revelry. In front of the Town Hall is the ice skating lane that weaves around a giant Christmas Tree and another tree adorned with red heart-shaped bulbs. So pretty especially at night!

Rathausplatz 📸 Gizelle José

Rathausplatz. 📸 Gizelle José

The Christmas Markets seem to sell identical items (some say Made from China ⁉️), including food. But I noticed the lone Italian booth in Stephanplatz selling salume, prosciutto, pecorino and parmeggiano reggiano. We also found a stall selling raclette with pane from Rathausplatz which we didn’t find in the other markets. Gluhwein we found almost everywhere. And many, many candied nuts and fruits, muffins, as well as souvenir items. Hand mittens, winter coats, wraps and mufflers in Christmas-sy designs? Trinkets? They’ve got them!




A giant Christmas Tree, chestnuts roasting, the aroma of spiced mulled wine and punch wafting in the air. But Karlsplatz seems to cater more to children. I spotted a Ferris wheel from a distance and there’s also a Merry-go-round spinning on the strength of a lone man pedalling a bike. It isn’t too big but the size of this Christmas Market is manageable for young parents bringing in their kids. I am amused that the gluhwein stalls stand right beside the merry-go-round. I saw many parents enjoying their warm, spiced vino 🍷 there while watching their kids spinning around.



There are many more but we only managed 4 Markets. The last one, but certainly not the least, is the one in Schönbrunn. The Parade Ground where the market booths are are completely blanketed in snow. So pretty especially with the Palace in its imperial yellow hue dominating the background. There was a choir singing when we visited and the stalls are farther apart so that one doesn’t feel crowded in. There were also stand-up kiosks with tables where groups can chat over their gluhwein and langos or grilled sausages. Frankly, I felt the Christmas spirit more here. It must be the effect of all that space, all that snow and the singing of Christmas carols. So, do I love Christmas Markets? You bet I do, even in this freaking cold weather! Will I do it again? Why ever not? There’s more gluhwein to drink, and more raclette to partake. Frohe Weihnacten.

Ho Ho Ho! ☃️⛄️⛄️


Schönbrunn 📸Gizelle José

Merry Christmas!

Food Coma in Bologna

We came for the food here in Emilia Romagnia. Its capital is Bologna, home to the oldest university in Europe. Rich in art, culture, history and gastronomy! We weren’t disappointed. Most dinners in Bologna while lunch is wherever the train took us. We enjoyed our Mortadella, Pizzas, Lambrusco, Tortellini, Tagliatelle, Strette, Bistecca, Osso Buco, Frito Misto, Beef Cheeks, Balsamico, Parmigiano Reggiano, mercato lunches and snacks, and a variety of desserts!

Ristorante Pizzeria Victoria

Where: Ristorante Pizzeria Victoria

Via Augustine Ringhi 9


What: Tortellini al Panna

Tagliatelle alla Ragu

Mussels (tomato & white sauce)

Pizzas (3 kinds)

Aperetivo: Bruschetta

Our first meal in Bologna was in Ristorante Pizzeria Victoria. And the last in Ristorante Donatello. Both recommended by the hotel concierge. Both good.

Ristorante Donatello

Ristorante Donatello is just right across the street from Ristorante Pizzeria Victoria. Highlight of our dinner here is the Strette, a kind of pasta that’s between fettuccine and tagliatelle. They cook it either with ham and cheese in white sauce or with balsamic vinegar. We regret we only ordered (3 orders!) of the first kind. Also, I could have more of that insalata.

On our first day trip out of Bologna, one batch went to Florence while another went to Modena and Parma. In Modena, we had our very strong espresso and cappuccino in an outside cafe off Mercato Albinelli. Waited out here while Trattoria Aldina has yet to open at 12 noon. This trattoria is so non-descript that you’d likely miss it. There’s only a door and a buzzer to let you in, way up to the 2nd floor. We observed many locals patronize the place. Had our tortellini en brodo (broth/soup) here, along with rigatoni al ragu, egg with tartufo, lasagna, roast beef and meatballs with peas.

Where: Trattoria Aldina

Via Albinelli 40, Modena

What: Tortellini en brodo (soup/broth)


Meatballs with Peas

Rigatoni al ragu

Roast Beef

Egg with Tartufo

Zuppa Inglese

Tortino Di Zucca

Another Dolce I can’t recall

Modena was also the place for Balsamico shopping. And Parma? Well, Prosciutto Di Parma really translates to ham from Parma. But back in Bologna, we visited 2 mercatos: Mercato delle Erbe in Via Ugo Bassi and Mercato Di Mezzo in Via Clavature. Both centrally located, and I must say, a haven for pickpockets. So do be careful, especially while buying your mortadella, prosciuttos and cheese. We had antipasto in the first and a hefty lunch in the 2nd. We simply pointed to dishes we liked in the mercato and claimed our tables and stools. Three kinds of pasta (1 creamy, another in tomato sauce, another sweetish), a huge platter of cold cuts, frito misto, and some veggie sidings that looked like seaweeds. It was fun, and delish.

Trattoria Di Pietro

But our best dinner was in Trattoria Di Pietro in Via de Falegnami, 18A. What did we order from this traditional Bolognese restaurant? We had:

Pumpkin Pie with Cheese Fondue and Chicory (The bomb!)

Tagliata Di Angus

Beef Tartare With Mustard and Mayo

Beef Cheeks braised in onions

Gelato with Balsamico 👌👌👌

Won’t forget this dinner for a long time. (I already forgot the name of one of the dishes we ordered. Sssshhhhh) The bonus was we were given complimentary Limoncellos which we drank liberally! The waitress eyed us with pseudo-disgust. 😂

We trooped back to this same Via Falegnami the following night. This time to check out Ristorante Il Muro just right across Trattoria Di Pietro. Bigger, more crowded. The Osso Buco here was really, really good. We were happy to be complete again for dinner as day trippers all came back, hungry. We overordered but that’s fine, just too happy to eat and drink together. (We should have ordered more Osso Buco rather than more seafood pasta and grilled meats)

Food coma in Bologna. But never enough, so food shopping was the order of the day. Surely, it ain’t called La Grassa for nothin’. Ciao!

Food Stash

Ristorante Donatello

Italy. What better way to go on a food trip than visiting Italy’s gastronomic capital? Turned out Bologna also happens to be a good homebase for day trips to neighbouring cities and towns, each of which boasts of its own delicacy, art, history and culture. There were only 5 nights to spend in Italy but it was enough to do the day trips and meet up with the rest for scrumptious dinners. Here’s how we enjoyed our Bologna getaway – just click on the highlighted links.

Homebased in Bologna

Balsamico Di Modena

Prosciutto Di Parma

Ravenna of My Dreams

San Marino, World’s Oldest Republic

Ferrara, Not Ferrari

It was a wonderful time with these foodies and travel buddies. Some others headed for Florence and Rome, then back for the night in Bologna where dinners were planned out. So much laughter across the table too. And we sure had some very memorable meals.

And for food trips in and around Bologna, check this out:

Food Coma in Bologna


No, you go to Maranello or Modena if you’re into those fast cars. But Ferrara? It’s only a half hour train ride from Bologna and makes a fun day trip. More fun too that train fares here are sooo darn cheap if you take care to ride off peak hours. Like just a fourth or a fifth of the peak hours fare! Aren’t we smart! 🙄

From the train station, we walked towards the City Center. We’ve grown pretty good doing this — even without a map. We only needed a general direction and in Ferrara, it was quite simply a direct, straight line till one hits the Romanesque Cathedral. The streets leading up to the Center were quiet until one hits the many pop-up booths around the castle and along the sides of the Cathedral. We only managed to visit the Castelo and the Cathedral, which unfortunately is under restoration work so that its otherwise lovely facade is obstructed with scaffolding. Inside though, we found a huge Belen or Nativity Scene and many original paintings by Italian masters. It’s like visiting a Museum.

Home of the Este Familia, its Renaissance rulers erected a castle, palace and duomo among other historical sites in this city in Emilia-Romagna region. The Castelo Estense is a moated medieval castle complete with a drawbridge with 4 corners dominated by sentry towers. Built in the 13th-14th century, it is a castle built by the Este famiglia to guard and defend against the revolting people of Ferrara. Rather sad, isn’t it? One builds a castle to defend against its own people. It is reported that when the riots died down, this magnificent piece of architecture became the official royal residence of the Court.

After days of pasta, pizza, melanzane, lasagna and bistecca, we were craving for Asian food. I know, it’s not even a week yet. But I need to mention we found a good Indian restaurant here, called — brace yourself — Taj Majal. Along the same street, we found a bakery where I bought that famous Ferrarese Coppia Bread. Lemme tell you, that pan is absolutely overhyped. I’d have a croissant anytime instead.

If you think San Marino is part of Italy, you’re very wrong. This tiny republic within Italy called San Marino is the world’s oldest sovereign state, founded as early as the 4th century. Quite surprising, it standing tall and being completely surrounded by Italy. As we drove into this state, we hardly noticed any difference except for the drop in temperature. It’s the end of November and winter has set in. The wind upped the chill as we walked up on the single street leading towards the Piazza Della Liberta. The walkway is like the backbone running along the entire ridge of the mountain. I wrapped up good for this cold weather — dipping at 0 Celsius — and threw all fashion sense out the window. Throwing my thick wrap over myself — with my back pack strapped on my back — I felt like the hunchback of Notre Dame. This republic is small but hilly, so count on those calf muscles being put to the test. Phew!

Pallazzo Pubblico

Chiesa Dei Capuccini

The problem is the sun sets before 5pm so we couldn’t linger around to enjoy the vista from the top. The cold seeps through your bones and the wind renders your face stone cold. To take photos, I needed to peel off the hand gloves every so often till I gave up. It wasn’t the best time to visit San Marino. Not even if you just intended to do tax-free shopping as most shops were closed. It would have been interesting to watch the Changing of the Guards but we missed it. We passed but didn’t enter the very lovely Chiesa Di San Quirino with its equally lovely tower on our way up. (The Church and the Convent, also called Church of Capuccini looked even lovelier on our way down, captured as the light faded with the sunset) Nonetheless, the views from the fortress walls especially as the sun sets take your breath away.

There was a fork in the road and we took the uphill climb along the same Contrada della Pleve towards the Basilica del Santo. The streets were adorned with Christmas trees and a giant wreath with red candles. So pretty viewed against the fading blue sky. At the other end of this Contrada is one of the fortress towers called Guaita. The views offer unlimited boundary. A 360 degree panorama awaits you as you climb up, passing shops and some cannons. It must be a pretty sight at night when you see the towns below all illuminated with the moon shining above the turrets. The sentry posts now comprise part of the Museum which we skipped, opting instead to simply walk around. We spotted the other turrets marking the mountain outline in the limited time we had before dark set in following a 5pm sunset. While we didn’t have much time enjoying San Marino in daylight, the visit was enough to appreciate its regal beauty. The closed duty free shops were a disappointment but that didn’t dampen our moods. The dark and the cold compel us to rush back to our hired coach for the trip back to our homebase in Bologna. Arrivederci, San Marino!