Category: Travel



It was a clear, sunny morning for walking. But a rainy afternoon. We made good. Set out early enough, had a good lunch in the area near the Museum, and got promptly back in the car, heading home, when it started raining. 





Too bad the Museum was closed when we visited. But it was quite a sight , both from a distance and from its porch. Housed in a former cable station building, you can view the La Perouse Monument and the coast from the Museum porch.  This commanding view is a fitting tribute to  the French explorer Comte de Lapérouse who allegedly arrived in Botany Bay in 1787-1788 before his expedition mysteriously vanished. The Atlas of the Voyage of La Perouse is housed in this Museum.  Right outside of this Museum area, you can spot a row of restaurants and cafe bars including Danny’s where many chose to lunch on its famous fish and chips. 




We first rounded up the tower and crossed the bridge before a piccolo break and the walk along the coast. Being ANZAC DAY, there were many who had the same idea as ours. Young families with strollers, a group of scuba divers, a pair doing their pre-nuptial pictorial in the rocky coast, some fishermen-hobbyists, a crowd of tourists, hikers and a few nudists in a quiet corner of the beach. (Oooops…. )





There is a sign that 4 people have died in this rocky coast, a prompt reminder never to turn your back against the waters. Then again, I thought of the peril of bringing young children to play among the rocks.  But this morning, the water was calm and unthreatening. Still….. I thought the water must be cold for swimming but you’d never know that watching how these folks take to water. 





These Australians are extremely lucky to be blessed with such a natural landscape and seascape.  I can only envy those with easy access to the beach, maybe sharing lunch with seagulls, playing beach ball by the shore, and to a few (nudies), having a complete and even body tan! Congwong Bay Beach, Little Congwong Beach, and the beach at Frenchman’s Bay —– these swimming areas in Botany Bay are only 14 kilometers southeast of the Sydney CBD.  






A delight to walk around this area. Lots of activities going on, fine sand, a Museum (!), a nudist corner (!!), rock formations, pockets of scuba diving and fishing spots, an old bridge, a row of cafe bars and dining options. Your day’s complete! 








You can’t leave Donostia-San Sebastián without promising to be back. No, you’d actually be swearing and checking your calendar to mark off dates for your repeat txikiteo! How I love this Basque city and its txikiteo or Pintxo bar crawl. So lively, so crowded, so full of energy and if you don’t watch it, so full of calories. 






San Sebastián’s skyline, its coast, its Basque architecture, the mountains looking like bookends to the equally lovely playas, the many Pintxo bars and restaurante. How can you not be so enthralled by its magnificent beauty? You come here to swim, surf or just bake in the sun, toes digging into the sand. At night, you get ready to do the txikiteo and enjoy the gildas and pintxos and cheesecake and txakoli! Life is good in Donostia-San Sebastián. 






Whenever I’m asked which Pintxo bars to check out here, the following come top of mind: La Cuchara de San Telmo, La Viña (cheesecake, baby!), La Cepa (Jamon Jabugo), Bar Zeruko, Casa Urola, Atari Gastroteka, Borda Berri, all in Parte Vieja. All just a few steps apart. Plus Bar Azkena in Mercado La Bretxa.  There are more. But heading back, I had this list like it’s a mission. 😉










Last time, we stayed in an Airbnb apartment.  Plus a night in Pension Larrea right in Parte Vieja — so perfect for txikiteo nights when you take pub crawls real seriously! This time, I tried a very modern and hip hostel (they have private ensuite too) which I thought is very cool. My latest discovery here is A Room In The City. It actually costs more than a room right in Parte Vieja but it is more quiet here. Plus it is very near Buen Pastor Cathedral (which runs straight into Yglesia de Santa Maria in Old Town) and has a pretty neat sun deck and spacious dining hall and lounge. Next visit, I’d likely book here again. Perhaps spend more time in the deck or lounge. 




Check this out: http://jollybelly.weebly.com/blog/a-room-in-the-city-san-sebastian


Well …… it’s a 7 hour layover and we’re enjoying the food, drinks and huge shower room (my favorite corner here) of Al Dhabi Lounge in Abu Dhabi while waiting for our connecting flight to Manila. Still, it’s a seriously long wait and what better thing to do? BLOG ! Yes, before those memories fade. 


Palacio Cristal in Parque de Retiro


Travels have a way of emptying one’s mind of day-to-day concerns. Perhaps to make room for our fond memories. There is that giddy anticipation over new places, flavors and experiences. I delight in the novelty, discovery as well as in the rediscovery of past delights. Cameras make great memory-keepers but our minds play out varied reactions  with each discovery and replay of happy thoughts. Priceless. When I was growing up “alone” (busy parents, older sisters in college), I learned to read a lot and write down my thoughts. I completed many diaries and even named them. Dear Betty. Dear Jane. Dear Henry. Dear Kevin. Whenever I feel seriously sad, I write. Whenever I feel happy, I write more. Life is a celebration. And it’s worth writing about. If only to remind me of the many things to be grateful for.  No handwritten diaries this time. Thank God for blogsites where I can store my journals in cyberspace while drinking my cortado!


Mi favorito, Cafe Cortado!




Mi hermana. Mi sobrina. Mi nieto. Mi amigos y amigas. All together in dear Madrid, which is home for 6 years to my dear sobrina. I have visited yearly for at least a month to nearly 3 months. Left alone in our Madrid crib in times past, I’ve learned to appreciate Madrid’s many quaint alleys, tiny squares, specialty museums, roadside taperias, and many off-the-beaten paths. No tocar (don’t touch) rule in mercados doesn’t apply in my favorite fruit and vegetable stall. There, this “suki” can enjoy touching the zucchini, potatoes, carrots, spinach, asparagus, naranja, mushrooms, etc. The vendor simply hands me a bowl or basket to fill with my chosen greens and fruits. And the cheese store where I get to taste slices of different quezos — “para probar” (to try). Or ask the fish vendor to clean the fish I buy. Mercado visits are no obligations here, they’re actually delightful adventures. And walking without maps, missing turns and getting lost? There’s always a cafe bar or Iglesia to relax in, meditate, or simply sit out and while away the time. If you chance upon a wedding in the church, it’s your good luck. Cheap thrills! 


Parroquia de San Jeronimo. Behind Museo Del Prado.


And so our Spanish Holiday with sidetrips to Lourdes and Saint John Pied de Port in France is over. Temps rise as our plane lands in Manila. Our hair still a tad limp and wet from the shower we took in the lounge. Our bellies still full from the buffet spread. Our hearts warm with the precious bonding moments. Our minds filled with happy memories. Our leg muscles reminding us we’re no longer spring chickens. And our pockets dry and burned out. Tee Hee. 😉 It would likely take a week to recover our energy to prep for another flight Down Under. From the last dregs of winter to early spring to the intense summer heat of Manila before we catch the onset of Autumn in Sydney. Phew! 


Nap Time En Parque Retiro 😴

Adios, España. Hasta luego.


I’m nearing the end of my holiday. Just one more week. Had my sister and grandnephew with me with some friends visiting. I’ve posted blogs on my other sites to chronicle what kept us busy. Here goes. 





Madrid

Madrid is home. Have shown friends around and some a 2nd time. Always a pleasure. Each time, I can’t help pointing out some of our local heroes’ favorite haunts. Patriotic and curious? Maybe. 

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2017/03/13/lento-como-los-caracoles/

(Updated)

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2015/04/30/platea-madrid/ 





Pamplona

Friends know me well enough as a big fan of Rizal, Luna and …. Hemingway. Don’t ask me why. I just find something seriously intriguing about each of them. 

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2017/03/20/the-sun-also-rises-in-pamplona/

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2017/03/27/murallas-de-pamplona/

http://jollybelly.weebly.com/blog/restaurant-irunazarra






San Sebastián

You can’t leave San Sebastián without swearing you’d be back again. The coast, the mountains, the shore, the food!!!

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2017/03/29/beyond-gildas-pintxos-en-donostia-san-sebastian/

http://jollybelly.weebly.com/blog/segunda-vez-en-bar-zeruko

http://jollybelly.weebly.com/blog/la-vina-cheesecake-is

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2017/04/12/san-sebastian-lures-me-back/

http://jollybelly.weebly.com/blog/a-room-in-the-city-san-sebastian




Alcala de Henares

When touring Madrid, there’s that nagging idea of hopping on a train to be away from the city center yet still find the art, culture and character of Iberia. Here’s one just under an hour by local train. Only €6.80 yda y vuelta. 

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2017/04/01/goofing-with-cervantes/




SLOW. Like Snails. 

Why not? It’s my 6th visit to Madrid and this time taking my oldest sister for a month-long holiday. The first day was hard for her, hardly sleeping on our long flight from Manila. We managed to go out on Day 2 but careful not to tire her out. The bus in front of our Madrid crib took us to Almudena Cathedral, right beside Palacio Real. The mandatory shots in front of the Royal Palace turned out alright. There was a long snaking line outside for those seeking admission into the Palace. We trooped to the nearby Cathedral instead where a mass was going on. Coming out, we turned right down the street to get inside La Crypta. For a €1 donativo, one finds solace in this Crypt underneath the Cathedral. An altar inside tells you that mass services must be held here too though I never heard one since I started frequenting the place. Why, you ask? I like how tranquil the place is. More so than in the Cathedral where the religious and the tourists comprise the crowd. One time, I sat beside a friendly priest visiting from Zimbabwe. We prayed quietly then. 




From La Crypta, we crossed the street to view portions of the ancient muralla (walls) before walking up along Calle Mayor. It’s a 1 kilometer walk from this corner to Puerta Del Sol. Many iconic landmarks and short detours along this main road. First off is my favorite tiny square called Plaza de la Villa. The old Town Hall can be found here. The oldest building, fully restored, in Madrid. Across it is the Tower where the French monarch Francois I was imprisoned for a year following their defeat in the Battle of Pavia. In the center of the square is a statue of a naval commander who led the Spanish Armada. Truly, a very interesting square.




Not very far, and still walking along Calle Mayor, you’d find Mercado de San Miguel. You can pick up a Sangria or a Tinto de Verano here, to go with a cone of fried calamares or octopus or boquerones. Great appetizers! The giant paelleras of greatlooking Paella Negra or Marinara may appeal to firsttimers like my sister. But I won’t be fooled a 2nd time 😜. From here, we walked just a few more steps, under one of 9 or so arched entrance ways, towards Plaza Mayor. Being a Saturday, it was way too crowded. 




Museo de Jamon. It’s a chain. Their tapas bar on the littered ground floor is packed with tourists. On the second floor, we found a table and this old waiter who fondly calls my niece La Niña. We took our seats, and ordered enough for our lunch here, and leftover dinner later! No problem having a meal replay of callos, pecaditos and boquerones. We didn’t bring home the pulpo, and we drank our sangria to the last drop. It won’t be our best meal and we’re really being touristy here, but hey, it’s my sister’s first time in Madrid. 




For dessert, we walked FASTER towards Chocolateria de San Gines. Churros con Chocolate for my sister and niece. Cafe for me. Refueled, we managed to do some shopping. Then some snapshots with the Bear and the Strawberry Tree statue, an iconic landmark to be found in the Puerta Del Sol. Before taking the metro here going home, I wanted to get inside La Mallorquina for some napoleones and marron glacé but the place looked like it’s been invaded by tourists! 




Home is in Bravo Murillo. We heard anticipated mass in the Parroquia right next to our building. Estamos Felices! 




I realize I can’t do this in one go. Not all of 800 kilometers (500 miles) in one go over a period of 6 weeks or so. But after walking my first camino spanning the last 114 kilometers from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela, I knew it would be the first of many. One year after, I did the last 100 kilometers from Viterbo to Rome — what’s called Via Francigena which is the Italian equivalent of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Both tracing pilgrimage hiking trails, one ending in the northwestern part of Spain, the other ending in Vatican City. 




The same year I walked from Viterbo to Rome, I likewise tried a short leg of the famed Nakasendo Trail from Magome to Tsumago in Japan. Like a preview or sampler of a longer hike sometime in the future. In Japan. But one idea continues to occupy my mind. The Camino Frances. From St. Jean Pied de Port (SJPdP) to Santiago de Compostela (SDC). Not just a part of it. The whole 800 kilometers of it. Yet, how? The mere thought of crossing the Pyrenees freaks me out of my wits. 




First off, I accepted the reality that walking everyday for 5 to 6 weeks will make me miserable. Or fail. So I’d settle for “mini successes”.  Like breaking up the 800-km hike into 8-9 adventures, each involving 100 kms or so over 5 or so walking days. I thought the following itineraries doable: 

St. Jean PdP to Pamplona (68kms)

      SJPP to Valcarlos

      Valcarlos to Roncesvalles

      Roncesvalles to Pamplona

Pamplona to Logroño (94 kms)

Logroño to Burgos (121 kms)

Burgos to Sahagún (124 kms)

Sahagún to Leon (56 kms)

Leon to Ponferrada (103 kms)

Ponferrada to Sarria (92 kms)

Sarria to Santiago de Compostela (114 kms)




Then, I read that the WORST, HARDEST, MOST PUNISHING walk is the first leg of Camino Frances. Specifically, the first walking day from SJPdP to Roncesvalles. Literally across the French-Spanish border in the Pyrenees area. No wonder most walking guides say most quitters do so on the first 2 days. My research taught me it’s also not as daunting as literally climbing up and down a mountain. Over time, this leg may have been “romanticized” as “crossing the Pyrenees” though that is not to say that it’s not difficult. Let’s just say there are ways to walk AROUND the mountains. 




Many break the SJPdP to Roncesvalles route into 2 walking days, either stopping and resting the night in Orisson or in Valcarlos. Others simply skip this route and start their camino past the border in Roncesvalles. I’m determined to start from St. Jean Pied de Port. I’m also realistic enough to set this goal only up to Roncesvalles so that my next camino would be entirely in Spain’s Basque Country towards Navarra and Galicia. Small victories, I reminded myself. Just go past that crucial border crossing!  




I hope to do this entire Camino Frances before I hit 71. Why 71? It’s the age I lost my old man and I just know that if he were around, he’d do this pilgrimage walk with me.  Perhaps even at a faster pace! So there. Seems like a good plan. Wish me luck. God bless me with good health and the spirit to do this. 


Only last June, I was in Tokyo ( A Quick Break)  with my elves for a week. That was a fun holiday filled with many activities. 

This October, I’m back with my Sydney-based niece. Visiting more areas in Japan over 15 days to do justice to our JR Rail Pass. This is the summary of many blogs I’ve written on Japan. More blogs for posting, so drop in from time to time for blog updates. 


Tokyo

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2016/10/06/a-shinkansen-rush-to-tokyo/

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2016/10/07/a-whole-new-world-of-anime-ghibli-museum/

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2016/10/09/snoopy-museum-in-tokyo/

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2016/10/12/besties-in-tokyo/

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2016/10/11/last-night-in-odaiba-tokyo/




Kyoto

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2016/10/24/old-japan-in-kyoto/


Hakodate

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2016/10/14/its-a-squids-life-hakodate-hokkaido/


Lake Toya
https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2016/10/14/lake-toya-hokkaido/


Sapporo

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2016/10/24/almost-forgot-you-sapporo/


Otaru

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2016/10/15/whats-there-to-like-in-otaru/


Nakatsugawa (Nakasendo)

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2016/10/19/a-preview-of-the-nakasendo-magome-to-tsumago/


Nara
https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2016/10/20/dear-me-deer-me-nara/


Hiroshima & Miyajima

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2016/10/23/miyajimas-oysters-eels/

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2016/11/07/the-hall-of-1000-tatamis/


Osaka

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2016/10/21/osakas-kitchen/


And don’t miss this post on Japan’s gastronomic delights! 


FOOD TRIP 

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2016/10/25/a-food-trip-across-japan-with-a-jr-rail-pass/



A FEW MORE THOUGHTS

Only in Japan 

Happy Travels, everyone. 


Why not?  Yeah, it’s cold but NOT “sufferingly cold”. And for Cebu Pacific’s basic return fare (Manila-Sydney-Manila) of only PhP13,000, how can you go wrong? Even inclusive of those add-ons (food, baggage allowance, seat assignment, etc), it’s still a steal at US$350 or so! Again, why not? 

 

Check out these links for the winter time I spent visiting family in Australia:


Of Roadtrips, Train Journeys & Flights

Back In The City (Sydney)

Househunting: Katoomba

A 3rd Visit to Watson’s Bay

Sydney’s Barracks Museum

Lake Conjola Weekend

Flaneur On The Loose

Bushwalking in Lake Parramatta

Mayfield Garden

Coastal Walk from Bondi to Coogee

Gold Coast 


Food Trips

The Grounds of Alexandria

Salt Meats Cheese

Dining: Cupitt’s Winery & Restaurant

Tandoori King

Donto Sapporo


Enjoy, mate!



Some of you may think I’m living way beyond a “retiree’s budget” because of all the traveling I do. Well, I can’t say I haven’t been spending but I do keep to a budget whenever I can if only so I can stretch my travel fund to cover as many trips as possible without backpacking. Not that I think backpacking is wrong. Just that I can’t hack it. I do need some wardrobe, a good bed to sleep in, and my own toilet & bath. Plus I do indulge in good food. No shopping for me. I have long turned off my “acquisition mode”. Instead, I invest in EXPERIENCES, and dining is part of that. 

And so, just how do I travel without blowing my budget?  Here are a few tips.


FLIGHT DEALS



Much has been written about how to snag promo flights and redeeming miles. Let me just say one only needs to look for them. 

  • Travel off-season
  • Save those miles
  • Subscribe to airline newsletters
  • Watch out for promo deals


FREE WALKING TOURS

I’m surprised not too many know this. Or perhaps many think they’re not good. Let me prove you wrong. Many of my best guided walking tours are free. Madrid, Florence, Rome, Tokyo, Paris, Berlin. Many of them field their best, I repeat, their BEST tour guide to entice you to book their other “paid” tours. They make you like the free tour so much that you’d be willing to book some tours with them, and pay for them. Others are simply there to promote tourism in their city. Check out these links: 

http://www.newberlintours.com/daily-tours/free-tour.html

http://www.florencefreetour.com/

      http://www.newamsterdamtours.com/

      http://www.discoverwalks.com/tour/paris-walking-tours/montmartre-tour/


Just google for FREE walking tours and your destination. Like “free walking tour in Berlin”, and be surprised how many pop out.  And if you’re happy with the guided tour, be generous and give a tip. Typical is $10-12. 


METRO PASS

First off when visiting a city for the first time, cluster all the attractions you wish to visit and figure out how to go from one cluster to the next. See what’s the minimum number of rides you need. Walk if you can. Then decide whether to buy that rail or metro or day pass. Do your arithmetic. 


LODGING and DINING


Booking.com allows me to book and cancel. I book to be safe that I’m sure there’s a bed waiting for me somewhere. I cancel after I’ve searched for better or cheaper lodgings. Most often, I choose based on location — near or in city center, walking distance to metro or subway stations, and SAFE. 

There are many choices these days. I choose AirBnb in areas where hotels and breakfasts are pricey. AirBnb or serviced apartments allow me to prepare simple breakfasts, and pre-dinner cocktails or night caps. Plus do my laundry — so I can pack light.  You bet major consideration in AirBnb selection is a coffee machine and a washing machine.  Another is wifi and cocktail glasses. Lunch is almost always a calendared event. Eat local. Have a good midday meal for energy, to sustain you through the day. No desserts. I take that  as mid afternoon break with my coffee or tea in some joint we chance upon. Dinners are hit and miss affairs — depends on the place, and how tiring the day was. 


FREEBIES


This works with many museums. Why pay €15 to visit Prado Museum when it’s free from 6-8pm daily? You can instead choose 3-4 halls or artists each visit and go 3 free days. A little research will guide you on the free museum days or hours. 


DINING Tips 


Of course, it depends on your budget. But list down all the local foods and see where they’re famously served. Lampredotto in Florence is best served in this hole-in-the-wall in Mercato Centrale called Nerbone. I bought my percebes in the market in Santiago de Compostela and asked a restaurant across the mercado to cook it for us for €6. We skipped the pricey food tours in San Sebastián and simply hopped our way around, watching where there are lines or where locals go. By itself, it’s an adventure!

Sure, you can reserve tables in fancy restaurants and enjoy good food. But again, do your research on what’s best in the area. Check out Yelp, TripAdvisor, etc. for dining tips. Plus there are apps like El Tenedor (The Fork) or booky where some restaurants give as much as 30% off on your food bill when you dine certain hours of the day. Like lunch at 3pm — why not, in a fancy restaurant. 

Also, do visit the local market. Buy your breakfast supplies here (and the bread from a good bakery). Jamon in España, Prosciutto or Parma ham in Italia, croissant in France, etc. 


FINALLY. A GPS.


Whether you’re walking or driving, it makes lotsa sense to have/rent a portable wifi to use the GPS in your phone. Google maps. Waze. TripAdvisor. A friend of mine traveled with her big family and one constant problem for them is where to eat. Wifi-enabled, we were always guided on NEARBY recommended/ranked dining places wherever we were. The same app will likewise guide you on nearby landmarks. Such can save you lots of time and money. 

And when in despair, go look for a big department store and check out their food court 😀 A big group can “separate” here and choose to eat what they like, then sit close to each other. 


HAPPY TRAVELS!


Half the family. Six whole days. Five nights. A flight deal. An AirBnb find. A Disneysea dream. A shopping spree. A few discoveries. All within budget! 

Just tap on the topics below for blog photos and details. Enjoy! 

A Happy Place: Disneysea Park Tokyo

Twinnings In Tokyo

Tsukiji Market

Dining In Tokyo

Family Travel Made Easy