I have never been to San Guillermo Church in Bacolor, Pampanga before. But I have certainly heard about it, and grieved with many when the mudflow (lahar) from Mount Pinatubo left the church and many parts of Bacolor, Pampanga half-buried in nature’s wrath.





San Agustin Church was built in 1571. San Guillermo Church dates back to 1576.



Mount Pinatubo put us back in the world map with its disastrous eruption after a hundred years of dormancy. A sleeping monster. The ash fall covered a large area just as I was spending a holiday in a beach in Zambales that sad day in 1991. We cut short our holiday then, but it didn’t end with that. The large deposits of lava emitted by the volcano was a serious threat to the areas surrounding the volcano each time the country experienced some heavy rainfall. Four years after the eruption, the town of Bacolor, Pampanga met its sad fate from nature’s fury. San Guillermo Church was not spared.







Sad to think that a church nearly as old as the San Agustin Church in Intramuros stood helpless when lahar flowed from the slopes of Mount Pinatubo on that fateful day of September 3, 1995. Four years after it erupted on June 15, 1991, Mount Pinatubo continued to wreak havoc on this Philippine countryside. Half of the 12 meters of this baroque and neo-classical architecture lay buried in mudflow. Yet faith and perseverance united the Bacolor folks who wasted no time excavating the religious statues, altar and retablo which they carefully and lovingly relocated under the more spacious church dome where it would fit.




They moved the altar and retablo in this space under the dome, where it would fit.


Those bats gave me the creeps…………



We were the only ones visiting the church at the time. The silence and presence of bats guarding the retablo added to the mood. Such sorrow at seeing this church “halved” by this catastrophe. We entered and exited through what used to be the church windows. We lamented seeing the arches touch the ground. So with the windows touching the now-tiled floor. We stooped through low archways to get inside the Adoration Chapel. Thank God many of the religious icons were salvaged and painstakingly restored and preserved.





Yes, it reached all the way up there.



The centuries-old religious statues on display is a testament to the town’s faith and pride. A popular TV series (“May Bukas Pa”) had their location shooting in this church. We didn’t miss checking out “Bro” — a statue of the reincarnated Christ. There were more where we found Bro. All equally finely crafted.




Si Bro…..


Don’t You Just Love This Image of this thumb-sucking Infant Jesus?




For sure, “Bro” is pleased that nature’s wrath did not at all diminish the faith in this town. In a way, Bacolor “saved” the other towns in Pampanga as it served as catch basin for all that mud flowing down from Mount Pinatubo. Many lost their homes, businesses and loved ones. One can’t help but feel sorrow for their misfortune. God bless this town.





It is actually named Saint James the Apostle Church. But you’d get by asking for directions to Betis Church. After all, every person in Pampanga has every reason to be proud of this historical and architectural treasure.






Huge, but it doesn’t look much from outside. And for a moment, I wasn’t sure if the 1- 1/2 hour drive from Manila is worth it. I’ve seen many photos of this 17th century church and its famed frescoes and murals but thought it could all be hype. That happens. So I braced myself not to expect much.






As we entered, we were pleasantly surprised to walk on wooden floors. Dubbed the “Sistine Chapel” of the Philippines, local artist Macario Ligon certainly didn’t disappoint. Biblical scenes and cherub paintings on the ceiling are guaranteed to give you a stiff neck while appreciating the majesty of this ceiling art. It confuses the senses whether to walk appreciating the native wood used for flooring, craning one’s neck so as not to miss the majestic “Sistine Chapel-ish” ceiling frescoes, or walking forward to get closer to the lovely and ornately-designed “retablo” of this church in Guagua, Pampanga.






Don’t miss standing in the nave and spending a few minutes there just to take it all in. Check out the baptistery on the right side, “guarded” by a statue of the Nazareno, before taking baby steps towards the altar.






The opulence strikes one with this pleasant sensation that a church as lovely as this has been spared from the disastrous lahar or mudflow from Mount Pinatubo. The neighboring town of Bacolor was not as lucky. By God’s grace, this church still stands in all its splendor so many more generations of Filipinos may appreciate this historical, cultural and architectural treasure.







Four months. Four Countries. November 2011 through February 2012. Extended till May 2012. Vietnam. ThailandΒ . Bhutan. Spain. Each country a delight to visit. Each country with its own distinct, unique cuisine. The languages compete with the culinary delights to render you “tongue-twisted”.






It lasted about a week each in Vietnam and Bhutan. And some 4 nights in Bangkok, Thailand. Then all of 10 weeks in Spain. My taste buds were never as confused as they were in the last 4-6 months. But if this is what confusion means, I wouldn’t mind being in that state for a prolonged period. 😊😍😘






Vietnamese cuisine tastes “clean” and subtle. Happily combining Asian flavors with French mastery of the kitchen, the dishes are beautifully plated even if purchased off a corner stall in the market. Besides, Vietnamese dishes are more veggies than meats which lessen one’s guilt but not the pleasure. The same aesthetic value can be said of Thai dishes. The vibrant colors combine so well in every single plate or tray whether they are vegetables, fruits or meats. And the sauces! Each single dish presents a variety of options by way of sauces. Major decisions!






The food in Bhutan is an altogether different story. There isn’t much by way of meat choices unless you are craving for yak burgers. Vegetarians would have a field day here in this Himalayan kingdom but the spices are just too much for my liking. But I like their mountain rice and the simplicity of their vegetable dumplings and soups.






Aroused by the flavors of the Orient , my taste buds were ready to be assaulted by the varied, meaty, cheesy, olive-oily dishes of Spain. From the very beginning, I knew 10 weeks won’t be long enough to try all 500 or so bacalao dishes. But really, I can’t complain.






We tried and compared the churros con chocolate from Chocolateria De San Gines and Valor, we sampled the croquetas and quezos in Mercado de San Miguel, we dined in 101 Tapas in Andalucia, traveled to Valencia for their authentic and original paella, ate not once but twice in Segovia for that cochinillo we’ve dreamed about, relished the morcilla from Burgos and the Leche flan and crema de Catalan of Barcelona.



So, after 4-6 months….. What do you think am I craving for? Sure I miss those Vietnamese rolls, the pad Thai, momos, Jamon y Quezos . But nothing beats food from home. I shamelessly requested a good friend to cook my favorite pancit, ordered halo-halo in the middle of a board meeting, drove all the way to Binondo for my lumpia and quikiam fix, waited mornings for the taho vendor, emptied my dish of dinuguan and puto in record time, and to this day, still dreaming of bibingka with kesong Puti and my favorite seagrapes (Lato) salad. Pinoy food rocks! 😝




This is a Phlog. That’s short for Photo Blog. Here goes. My life in Madrid in Phlog.













This is the moment where I take a break from travel blogging. Back home now after 2 and 1/2 months based in Madrid, after 42 blogs on WordPress and 5 more on TravelBlog. I was busy apartment-hunting with my niece, IKEA-shopping for furniture, waiting and wasting lotsa time for the delivery men, and getting serious with household chores. Well, sort of.







So, how was it? I never made it out of Madrid in the first 4 weeks. In fact, the first week spent in a hotel was most boring, while the 2nd week apartment-hunting provided the excitement. I did most of my Madrid walks during the first week as there wasn’t much to do in the hotel. Besides, wifi sucks in that hotel.



The 3rd and 4th weeks were devoted to furnishing the apartment, having the appliances and furniture delivered and assembled. I enjoyed this part. In between, my daily trips were largely to Carrefour, the palenque and the Chinese stores for food and little things like sandwich bags, detergents and other cleaning stuff.






By the 2nd month, we were nicely settled and welcomed our first batch of guests. All girls. No room for men guests as there is only 1 toilet and 1 bedroom. The sofa bed in the living room warmed many backs. My “survival cooking” survived. No one grew hungry, for sure. While we had no TV and wifi yet, we spent a lot of time chatting, laughing and eating.







By this time, I have already mastered the metro system, the “free days and viewing hours” of most museums, the bus system and gained “Suki” from the palenque. My favorite vendor is this man who would always offer me a sliver of Jamon or Quezo to try. “Para prober” he always says. And I always gladly accepted. ☺☺





I’ve spent Semana Santa in Andalusia, a long drive to Valencia and a last weekend in Barcelona. In between, there were day trips to Segovia, Avila, El Escorial, Valle de Los Caidos, Toledo, Aranjuez, and Alcala de Henares using the bus, the regional train, or the fast train. I experienced ALL seasons in the last 10 weeks. In Valencia, temp went from 7 Celsius to 27 Celsius in 8 hours. In Segovia, it snowed. Crazy, I know. I have been to Costa del Sol, Malaga and Granada before and felt no craving to revisit. Not yet. I would have wanted to see Salamanca again but there was no chance. Shopping for gifts to bring home took precedence. Perhaps next time.






Now I’m home…. in sweltering heat. I miss my daily walks in cool weather. I miss dragging my “old lady’s” shopping trolley whenever I set out to do the groceries or marketing. I miss my pair of boots which I left in the apartment. Back to normal. Back to “Lola mode”. No more solo trips except to the beauty parlor. My elves waited too long and it’s time to catch up with one another.



Since I arrived, I have completed all my blogs on my Spanish “holiday” (or have I?) and stayed home most of the time. It breaks all newly- formed habits and patterns. I even miss our washing machine in Madrid! Oh well……..

Live like it’s the last day of your life? Naaah. If that’s my mantra, I’d likely just stay home and spend time with family. Or pray in a convent or church.


I live like there are many days ahead to celebrate life. I go to the Prado and take in just a few. Knowing there would be other days to enjoy more. Leisurely. No rush. I visit Barcelona for a weekend thinking there would be many more weekends to spend there. I love visiting and revisiting places I enjoyed. That explains why I take photos in the exact same places where I had my photos taken years ago. The unwanted pounds. The unwanted lines and wrinkles. Little reminders of time past. Who cares? I’m enjoying life. Without the rush.




It’s not that I recommend it, but more than a few times I find myself buying a ticket from a vending machine to catch a train departing in less than 5 minutes. Imagine the thrill of brisk walking to the escalators, down to the ramps or platform, and hearing the train doors close behind you after having just hopped in.






And how about the excitement of reaching your destination? No matter how much you’ve read up on the place, I like the momentary ignorance and madness of deciding which way to go out of the train or bus station. Do I turn right, left or go straight? When I went to Aranjuez, I wondered whether I’m getting off in the middle of a forest. That’s how it looked just before the train stopped and I heard the announcement that we have reached Aranjuez. I walked for about 10 minutes to reach the Royal Palace and Gardens. No one to ask as most others who got off the train took the bus or were fetched by friends or relatives. It would feel the same way going to Valle de Los Caidos, except that most bus passengers are likely tourists like you too.





Fortunately, Spain has a superb transport system. The Metro, regional trains, fast trains, buses are all so easy to deal with. And clean! I also found the Spanish very friendly and helpful. Once, there was this middle-aged lady who actually walked with me for some blocks till the last corner just before my destination. In Alcala de Henares, the young students tried to be very precise with their directions (a plaza or square lined with plane trees, a building with many columns, a house with bronze statues and a fountain, etc).





It helps that google allows me to do virtual tours and obtain directions. While I do get maps and check out the attractions in each place, I always seek to get images of the palaces, museums, parks or whatever else I intend to visit. This allows me to easily “spot” the sites I intend to visit.






What I love about traveling solo is I get to linger longer in places I like, and eat whenever it suits me. The only drawback is that I don’t get to eat all I like. I mean, you can only order so much for yourself, right? No one to share with. My routine is normally to eat small portions but more often, so I get a variety of the foods I’d like to try without appearing like a glutton.






Good research, with lots of allowances for spontaneity, and a good pair of walking shoes. Or boots to keep those walking legs warm when the temp drops. This is important. No way I’m walking anywhere unless I have comfortable footwear. Many make this mistake of looking fashionable rather than comfortable. Trust me, they are not mutually exclusive.







So who says you’re too old to travel solo? I have no talent in the kitchen. Just survival cooking for moΓ­. I’m pretty neat at home but it’s not like I enjoy domestic chores. I love to read, but my pocketbooks travel with me. A bench in the park and a cup of good brew make perfect companions. I get my adrenaline rush chasing trains, snapping photos and eating local delicacies. When I am home, I am more likely doing my “research” or blogging rather than busy with my knitting needles. C’est la vie! πŸ˜‰πŸ˜‰πŸ˜‰


Joaquin Rodrigo. 1939. Concierto de ARANJUEZ. Classical guitar. His best known work. What could have inspired him to compose this most moving, soothing masterpiece?




Rodrigo was blind nearly all his life. He played the piano, never the guitar. Yet he composed this piece for guitar as a solo instrument in an orchestra. He drew inspiration from the gardens of Palacio Real in ARANJUEZ. As intended, his composition captured the “rhythm” and “quiet melody” of the royal estate from the flower gardens to the ponds to the forest and hunting grounds.







Don’t even dare walk the entire length of the estate. The royal gardens around the Palacio Real is fine. Meander through the tulip gardens, the magnolias and the plane trees lining the river walk. But hop on the “Chiquitren” to visit the rest of the gardens cum hunting grounds. It is said that members of the royal family had such diverse interests — hunting, boating, music, etc — and it looks like they each had their fill here. The tiny train plays the concierto while weaving around the estate. Nice.






When you are done, head back to the Palacio Real and find a seat under the sun. Order the town’s famous Freson con Nata. That’s strawberry with cream for us. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Paid €8 just for the famous dessert (which I can easily whip up) and a bottle of agua PLUS a view of the entire length of the Palace. ☺






I bet you’d be humming “Concierto de Aranjuez” upon leaving town. . As you do, take one last look at the Royal Palace, then hop back on that Strawberry Train.




In those days, monarchy may have spelled POWER…….and EXTRAVAGANCE. But there’s a breed who chose to live in convents and commit themselves to a life of prayer and devotion.






One such monarch is Juana of Austria, sister of King Philip II. She founded the Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales in 1559. The Franciscan nuns in this functioning convent are better known as the “barefoot royals” because of their aristocratic backgrounds. The convent also houses the tomb of its “fundador” Juana of Austria, one of few royals not buried in the royal resting place in El Escorial.



(I only managed to snap the exterior shot. The rest of the photos were all sourced from the Net)







The guided tour is only for one hour, but certainly worth the €7 admission. (Prado Museum is €12, free after 6pm) I could have waited for a later tour in English but couldn’t wait as I was eager to view the works of arts donated by the nuns’ wealthy families. And so it was a guided tour in Spanish for me. Having read up on the Monasterio, it was “muy facil” to follow the guide’s spiel.






By this time, I am beginning to appreciate smaller museos. Prado and Thyssen are fine, worth every euro and time spent. By that, I mean lots of time. It’s hard to digest all that art in one go. In the case of smaller museums, the “collections” maybe fewer but definitely NOT less significant. In this Convento, I have this feeling that the wealthy families of the barefoot royals donated what’s “BEST” from their own collections and treasures. I can only imagine them saying goodbye to a daughter or a sister and parting with a treasured work of art to keep the novice nun “company” and provide a source of joy.






The Convent is bigger than I thought. We did the rounds from hall to hall, chapel to chapel, all around a lovely courtyard. But nothing beats the moment one enters the convent. The grand staircase is so stunning that it is agonizing to leave the area to view the rest of the monastery. This area is part of the original palace owned by the Royal Treasurer Alonso Gutierez before it was sold to Juana in 1555. The frescoes and trompe-l’oeil on the balustrades, arches and walls will leave you mesmerized. Not to be missed is the “royal balcony” fresco as one climbs the staircase. Here you’d find King Philip IV with Mariana of Austria, the Infanta Margarita Teresa and the Prince of Asturias, Felipe Prospero who died at age 4.





The chapels, cloisters, choir area, halls and corridors are all crammed with paintings, tiles, frescoes, sculptures, woodcarvings and other pieces of art. And the tapestries! Surely they’re there not just to “warm” the convent during winter. Speaking of which, I’ve got to say that there’s a certain degree of “warmth” in each piece of art in here. Perhaps because they were “favorite” works of art of some of the nuns — looked at and over and over as they evoke fond memories of their families? Perhaps they lovingly view, even touch these art pieces whenever they missed their families? Who knows? But unlike some “cold” works of art on display in some museos, I enjoyed this short but very comprehensive tour of the Convent the most. And in Spanish at that! Don’t fail to visit this convent when in Madrid. It is just a short walk from Puerta del Sol, right behind El Corte Ingles.




So, who has not been to El Rastro? Today’s a Sunday, and we’ve been putting this off for the longest time. Not that we haven’t done any shopping — are you kidding?— but a trip to El Rastro is more all about experience than anything else.







Took the metro all the way to La Latina. As we got out of the Metro Station, there was no mistake we were in the area we intended to be in. Music flowed from a couple of strummers just as crowds seamlessly flowed in one direction — towards the flea market called Rastro.







The Rastro has been an “institution” for centuries. I won’t say you’d get great bargains here as we have shopped elsewhere and enjoyed many rebajas. Even our very own Jose Rizal failed to resist shopping in El Rastro. These days, the cheap finds are Made in China and the leather products are not exactly cheap. If you ask me, I’d rather shop in a store less crowded. Besides, the place is a favorite hangout of pickpockets. Knowing that gives me anxiety attacks.






Anyway, our El Rastro sojourn allowed us to meet a US-based Filipina visiting Madrid with her husband. The day we met was also the day they were leaving for home which is Rhode Island, NY. Guess what happened? The husband left ALONE for US of A. The Filipino wife stayed behind, and staying with us till May 1. Most time anyway. She’s joining my girls on a trip to Lisbon and next weekend in Barcelona. Crazy enough for you? Well, c’est la vie. We celebrate, and so does our new friend Kate!




My TravelBlog piece dwells on my day trip to Toledo — my second time here in this lovely city brimming with art, culture and history. Ten years ago, I was also here and blogged about my experience in a brief stopover on our way south from Madrid. This time around, I would not be deprived the chance to visit and LINGER in the cathedral and in this place made even more famous in many El Greco paintings.







I choose to concentrate on the Toledo Cathedral. Having just recently visited the cathedrals in Avila, Segovia, Sevilla and Cordoba, you may think it’s overkill to visit another one. Not so in Toledo. The retablo behind the Main Altar and that “hole in the ceiling” —- the dome — are enough to justify the €7 admission here. Not to forget, I particularly love the statue of a smiling Mama Mary and a playful Infant Jesus in the Choir area just right across the Altar.







As I leisurely walked around the Cathedral, I would always catch myself looking up towards the ceiling. That “hole” impresses me so. I wonder how it was sculpted out up there, or how they even keep it clean, or how they change the lightings up there. Or is that natural lighting? Perhaps. As with many church areas where these geniuses of the past thought of almost everything!







What an inheritance! Spain is so lucky to have “inherited” all these treasures. And all those El Greco paintings of saints inside the capillas. Of course no photography was allowed inside the chapels which may well be art galleries by themselves given the many precious paintings inside. And as one steps outside, there’s so much more to see. Truly, Toledo’s claim as the biggest “open-air museum” rings true.







The best way to visit Toledo is to walk all around. Easily a half day just walking around, peeking in and out of churches and museos. Just imagine El Greco walking on the same cobble-stoned paths, drawing inspiration for his paintings and Miguel Cervantes for his Don Quixote novel from Toledo’s inheritance!



You may also want to read my 10 year-old blog on Toledo. It may be my 2nd time now, but the thrill of being in this huge open-air museum remains.