Back in 2002, I had the chance to watch a bullfight in Madrid’s Plaza de Toros. I still remember vividly the simple decisions we made which spelled a helluva difference on how much we enjoyed the bullfight. Like buying a ticket for a seat that’s “half out in the sun, half in the shade”. And renting cushions for the stone seats. Frankly, I don’t think I’d last 2 hours sitting on those stone seats under the sun! And you’d thank me for heeding this most important advice.







Bullfights begin in May. So maybe I’d get a chance to watch another one before I head home. But I do want to see the Plaza de Toros early on, remembering how impressed I was with the plaza cum colloseo built in neo-mudejar style in 1929 that seats as many as 22,000 spectators.







It took many Metro stops to reach Ventas. As soon as I climbed out of the Metro Station, the same, familiar expanse of the Plaza greeted me. I went to the ticket booth to inquire, possibly buy tickets for the next corrida. Instead, I ended up buying a ticket for a tour of the Bullring and the Museo Taurino inside.







Of course it is not the same as being there hearing all the yelling and cheering during an actual corrida. My 2002 memory was a mixed bag of anxiety, thrill, panic, and pity for the poor beast. This time around, I needed the sobriety of being shown around empty stone seats with this young good looking Spaniard rendering a history in the best English he could muster. Besides, it was quite thrilling for me to be standing right there in the middle where matadors and bulls face off!







The Museo Taurino did not allow photography. I did the next best thing to do. Do the museum TWICE! No worries, it is a small Museo with exhibits of busts, paintings and paraphernalia of famous matadors. I missed the only bullfighter I know, errrr I heard of. Manolete. Realizing I was at the exit area as soon as I saw the sign SALIDA, I asked if I could go back and look for dear old Manolete. The old Spanish gentleman at the gate was kind enough to let me and even shouted instructions to the lady guard inside to ensure I’m guided to Manolete’s gallery. Muy bien!








(Last photo sourced from the Net, to give you an idea of the size of this bullring)

Today I’m ready for another Photowalk. Best in the mornings, then brunch, then siesta? It’s amazing how days somehow fall into some kind of routine.



Free hours at the Museum are late afternoons or early evenings anyway. (Cheapskate!) But I can’t wait. When I saw that the Museo de Prado has some Hermitage artworks on exhibit, I immediately bought a ticket so I can have more time to leisurely view the collections. Spent all of 2 hours viewing the Prado collections and another 2 hours for a quick lunch in the Museum Cafeteria and the Hermitage exhibits.






No photographs allowed inside. But I’m happy. Truly, the Prado is Madrid’s pride. The immense hoard of Spanish treasures, along with those of Flemish, Dutch, Italian masters feed the soul. My favorites are Goya’s “The Naked Maja” , Rubens “Adoration of the Magi” and “Three Graces”, El Bosco’s “The Garden of Delights” and Van der Weyden’s “Descent from the Cross”. I also liked Velasquez’ Meninas and Crucified Christ. The Hermitage Collection is an added bonus. I have been to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg back in 2004 and promptly concluded that Catherine the Great is the greatest shopper, collector and hoarder of them all. I’m no art connoisseur but I enjoyed my time at the Museum.






How I wish Juan Luna’s painting of “The Battle of Lepanto” is also hanging here rather than in Madrid’s Senado. I have yet to figure out how to view this masterpiece, but I’m determined not to leave Madrid without seeing it. (I actually did. Check out my blog on it) It also gives one immense pride to see Juan Luna’s “Death of Cleopatra” hanging side by side with Spanish Masters. Unfortunately, the 2nd time I visited the Prado to view this Luna painting once more, it was no longer there. When I checked with the Information Desk, I was informed it was put on storage. 😦







As i walked out of Prado, I turned green with envy of the guests staying in the adjacent Ritz Hotel. Such a lovely edificio! And in the best location too! One day. One day soon. I shook off the envy and instead dropped in on nearby San Jeronimo Church before rounding up the corner to view the Plaza de la Cibeles. One thing I love about Madrid is the many rotundas, gloriettas, museos, plazas, monuments, fountains and gardens they have. This city, both cosmopolitan and “old world” at the same time, makes each day a photowalk day.






I was tempted to walk back to Puerta del Sol from the corner where Banco Espana stood and where I can get a glimpse of Cybele, the Greek fertility goddess, looking smug seated on a chariot pulled by 2 lions. Naaah. Not today. No rush. Today is strictly Museum Day. Prado Day. Thyssen and the rest can wait another day.








Can’t resist including this excerpt from Rizal’s impromptu speech at a dinner in honor of Luna and Hidalgo at the Hotel Ingles:



“Luna and Hidalgo are as much Spanish glories as they are Filipino. Just as they were born in the Philippines, they could have been born in Spain, because genius has no country, genius blossoms everywhere, genius is like the light, the air, it is the heritage of all”

I may not speak Spanish but somehow feel unintimidated by this somewhat familiar language. I couldn’t resist eavesdropping whenever and wherever I am, catching a few understandable words but get stumped not being able to figure out the whole deal.






I downloaded this Spanish Talk Pad and thought it was a most clever thing to do. Ha! Ha! And another Ha! The easy part is when you are able to express yourself, with or without the Talk Pad, either with a question or a statement. The hard part is getting a response and not understanding it. Duh 😦







Like getting directions. Easy enough to begin with “Donde……” and getting confused with the isquierda (left) and derecha (right!) directions. These are words which found their way into our local language….. but somehow the meanings got crossed or lost.



So, imagine us Indios hunting for an apartment in Madrid. With all the Internet research on available flats within our budget, picking up that phone to dial the number and inquire is an ordeal. ☎ You see, hand gestures don’t work over the telephone. Yay, what to do?






We prayed for an angel. We found one. Through a friend, we met this Pinay working as a waitress in an Italian Resto who speaks Spanish fluently. What’s more, she just happens to be on a one-week leave. For 3 days, she made telephone calls, scheduled the visits, and accompanied us inspecting the apartments. She even negotiated in our behalf. We “followed” her negotiations through the familiar uno-dos-tres numbers we Pinoys have grown used to. Thank God!






This morning, we finally found the flat we wanted. Not exactly in the price range we wanted for its size, but we drew comfort in the friendliness of the porter and admin staff and the location. Move-in set this March 5. We’re “squatters” in Doyee’s flat 2 floors down while Mayette’s own flat is not yet ready for occupancy. Time to do our laundry too. Having concluded the deal, I passed one bar and decided to have my regular brew. No hot chocolate this time. Nor cafe con leche. Too much milk there. Had cafe cortado instead —- more coffee than milk. ☕ My usual. And a cinnamon roll. Then, back to my hotel for some siesta. The next few days would be devoted to some serious IKEA shopping.



Hasta luego! I’d get busy with the laundry.



Just before this journey into cuchinillo country, we took time to visit Cebu. Land of Lechon and Chicharon. I still have my backblogs on our visits to Boljoon, Dalaguete, Carcar and Simala, but these would have to give way to my first journal on our flight out of Manila into this land of cuchinillo, tapas, flamenco y abanicos. ✈






Still reeling from my hypertensive moments post-Cebu, I promised myself I’d stay away from my beloved pig. On February 22 we took our 11:40pm Emirates flight into Madrid via Dubai. All of 15 hours combined or so, plus 3 hours waiting in Dubai for the connecting flight. The 2 flights each served 2 meals which I happily munched through 4 in-flight movies. Didn’t even get the chance to read my book. Had a few winks, only to wake up and agonize over whether to have the Arabic Mezze or the Deli platter. And that’s only for breakfast!






Dubai airport is truly grandiose but lacks the character I found in Singapore’s Changi or Hongkong Airport. Perhaps I missed a few interesting corners, so I vowed to give it a second review on my homeward journey. As for Madrid’s Barajas Airport, it looks like any other as we breezed through immigration and got out in this bitter cold weather at 12:30pm! Immediately, I felt justified squeezing in my fleece vest into my 10 kilo trolley bag.






By the time we reached our NH Breton Hotel in the Chamartin area, I was lusting for a quick shower and jumping into my bed. The hotel is centrally located. Just off the corner is a bus stop and the Metro. Right in front of the hotel is a fruit store and beside it, a 24 hour convenience store. I promptly bought 4 big bottles of mineral water, a dozen oranges, bread, cold cuts, yogurt and vegetable salad. And some lip balm and skin cream too. My chapped lips and dry skin need some TLC after only a few hours out in the cold.







Having freshened up, I did a quick round up for a late afternoon walk and check-see of the metro station and nearby dining places. I was pleased to find that Rios Rosas Metro Station is just a short walk from the hotel. I took mental note of the Blue and Red Lines which will take me to the Sol and Retiro Stations. Also of the food outlets serving Desayuno (breakfast of churros con chocolate or cafe con leche) for only €2. This is way better than the €12 breakfasts available in the hotel! On lazy mornings, I can even make my own sandwich with the bread, cold cuts and vegetable salad I bought.




Self-Served Breakfasts!



All things looking up. Except one very important thing. Internet. Enjoyed the free 30minute wifi, only to be prompted to buy at €8.85 per day for unli-surfing. I made full use of the free wifi in the hotel. Refusing to pay the €8.85 daily Internet rate (who are they kidding?), I find it uncool to pay €80 for a room with no free wifi.






I am NOT cranky yet. I have my books. But these Internet withdrawal symptoms are getting in the way. Woke up early at 5am. Looked out the window from our hotel room. By 7:30am, it was still dark. Sunlight came at 8am. I downed 4 naranjas in one sitting just to shake off the blues. Got to find a coffee shop with free wifi. Tried 2, but no luck. The waitress said they don’t share the password with paying diners. And this is Madrid in the heart of Europe! Ooooops. There goes the temper. Gawd, I need another shower.




View From Our Hotel Window

Bangkok. Think Grand Palace. Wat Po. Vimanmek Palace. Chao Phraya River. Floating Market. MBK. Jim Thomson. Oriental Hotel. Wat Arun. Pat Pong. Khao San. Chatuchak.

Wat Po. Just one temple this time. We skipped the rest!

After as many as 7 trips or so here, I have yet to venture out of the capital. Well, I have visited Ayutthaya if that counts. But that was just a day trip from the city. I’m thinking Chiang Mai. Or even Phuket. Ko Phi Phi. Hua Hin. Kanchanaburi. Chiang Rai. Not this time. Another time, is what I keep repeating to myself.

Golden Gate Bridge Crossing Terminal 21's Atrium : Impressive!

Inside Terminal 21

So what else is new in Bangkok? Stuck in the city, we checked out the newest shopping mall in the capital. (Thanks to Bing who brought us here) Terminal 21. No, it is not within the airport complex. But it does look like one. Located at Sukhumvit 21 (hence, Terminal 21) this shopping mall is connected with the BTS Asoke and MRT Sukhumvit Stations.

Carribean-themed floor is all about the beach and lighthouse!

Working on the theme of travel, Terminal 21 allows you to “travel” from San Francisco, USA to Istanbul, which is just an escalator away. As we entered the complex, we were greeted by this red and white lighthouse right smack in the middle of the atrium. This ground floor is where the supermarket is, replete with its Carribean beach decor. The signature shops are largely on the Paris and Rome-themed floors. Higher up, one finds the London-themed floor. You can’t mistake it, what with the lifesize red bus parked at some corner there. The Tokyo section is also quite popular. Many ladies had fun posing beside the sumo wrestler statues you find on that floor. 😉

A London Bus Parked in Terminal 21?

And then there’s Istanbul. And the fancy restrooms! No visit is complete without stopping by the modern restrooms. Think bidet, heated seat cover, air blower, etc. Cool! What’s more, there’s wifi all around the complex. So bring your laptop and check out the many food outlets here. Grab some lunch. Just take time to decide what to have. With all these different themes, it can be a chore choosing what to have for lunch. Happy time, happy thoughts to all!

Be warned. Old hags can have fun too!

An Array of Dining Choices Inside Terminal 21


Just an hour away from Thimpu. We passed this site and drove another 1 .5 hours to reach Punakha just a couple of days before. No chance to get off the car to count the stupas. But you can bet your bottom ngultrum (Bhutanese currency) that they do number 108. No more, No less.



There you go. All 108 Chortens.



Dochula Pass sits right along the road on the way to Punakha from Thimpu. It was built to honor the casualties of a recent war resulting from a conflict with rebels from the South who wanted to secede. The King himself personally led an army of about 7,000 volunteers to drive out tens of thousands of rebels. Not one to glorify war nor their victory, the King had this monument built instead to honor both the dead soldiers and dead rebels from the conflict.



I can sit here all day. But do throw me a blanket!



At 3,150 meters above sea level, you can ID a number of mountains from the Himalayan Range on a clear day. But I’m telling you……… even on a cloudy day, it is still a worthwhile trip to make it high up here. Just a short walk from the Pass, have a cup of steaming coffee or tea at the Dochula Cafeteria. In our case, we had lunch. I am not exactly a big fan of Bhutanese cuisine, but one thing’s for sure. They grow their vegetables and grains organically. The mountain rice tastes better. The dumplings filled with cabbage and cheese dipped in some spicy sauce called MOMOS are so simply made, and tastes “healthy”. I passed on the fish, knowing that Bhutan is landlocked and assuming that the fish must have been transported all the way from India. The vegetables were cooked just as simply. Nothing fancy, really. But no worries. Altitude has a way of making you feel funny. It also affects one’s appetite, so I hardly complained.



Just a short walk to watch a cultural performance.



Just a few hundred meters from the Pass, we walked along a dirt path lined with prayer flags to watch a cultural performance. Since the dance routines have not been watched by the King yet, no photographs were allowed. Such is the rule in this land. Seated in an open-air site in 6 Celsius temp, we watched in amazement how some half-naked dancers can stand the cold. Mind you, the performance lasted well over an hour! I am borrowing some photographs here to give you an idea of Bhutanese dance routines.







Where's the BLANKET????


If you are a sucker for hotel pleasures, you can forget the ***** prime hotels and check out the boutique hotels in and around the city. We have tried the 5 star hotels on those occasions when we wanted to celebrate. But this is the first time we tried a boutique hotel.  And we’re not even celebrating any special occasion.  The fact that it is just a few blocks away from home made us feel like we were on a “staycation” with absolutely nothing on the agenda but to enjoy a lovely room and savor “dining in” .



HOTEL CELESTE. Pasay Road Corner Makati Avenue.



Hotel Celeste is right at the corner of Pasay Road (now Arnaiz Road)  and Makati Avenue near one of the entrance gates to San Lorenzo Village. The lobby is small, but not cramped. First off, I noticed how well-appointed the interiors are. From the lobby is the hotel’s dining outlet – Celi’s – where the decor adds much to one’s dining experience. Dined there at least twice and found the food superb without burning a hole in my pocket! Those raring to discover new dating venues, this is it.




They even have set meals for P550-650 per pax which includes appetizer, soup or salad, entree, dessert.

Impress your date!



I am told that the owner of Hotel Celeste personally supervised the interior decor of this boutique hotel. The furniture are all custom-built to her tastes. Her passion, her taste, her class is all over the place. The Lobby. The Bistro. Each of the lovely rooms. So elegant, without being stuffy.  



Suite 407

No 2 Rooms Are The Same. I should know, as we checked most rooms before deciding on one.

Now........this bath tub looks pretty neat!



No two rooms are the same. The attention to details is very evident.  From the lamps, the chandeliers, the bedlinen, the appointments, even the bath tubs.   I wouldn’t mind spending a weekend here!



Hotel Celeste.  The new dating venue. Lovely. Charmingly Quiet. Romantic. Classy.



This is not a sponsored blog. Just ramblings from a satisfied customer. 🙂



Such attention to details!


Following a week in Bhutan, we chose to spend 3 nights in Bangkok. Stubborn us, we were hoping to visit Ayutthaya. No luck. After the floods, we decided against it and instead concentrated on this lively city. And its food 😉

I can't get enough of this mango salad!

Served at Novotel's Airport Hotel.

I’ve been to Bangkok several times in the past when I was still working. I have been to Ayutthaya myself, not too long ago. But my friend is visiting for the first time and she longed to see the old capital. Perhaps another time. After Bhutan, we were just too happy (and tired?) to be with old friends to relax and indulge ourselves. And how we did! On our way to Bhutan, we slept a night at Novotel Airport Hotel as we needed to be up early for the next day’s flight to Shangrila. Homeward bound, we broke our journey with 3 nights at the Pullman Hotel where we found our Manila travel buddies waiting for us.


With good old and not so old friends 😉

Reunited with Old Friends, Meeting New Ones

Our couple-friends and a niece with her 3 friends from Manila joined up with us in Bangkok. An ex-secretary now based in Bangkok hooked up with us too. The ex-sec I haven’t seen in over 20 years! Happy to see her after all this time. And very proud of her too!


Hot Pot Dinner With Fellow TravelBloggers Peter and Mari

It was also a chance to meet up with fellow bloggers Peter and Mari from my TravelBlog community. Peter and I are both Moderators in TravelBlog and feel we’re “old friends” after reading so much into our lives and the adventures we blogged about.

Those Thais Truly Excel in Food Presentation, don't they?


The Fish Is A Pretense At Eating Healthy 😉

Food Pornography

What a party. Which makes dining such serious business for this group. After all, Bhutanese cuisine pales miserably in comparison with Thai food. Well, come to think of it, I never complained about food in Bhutan — perhaps I even found it insignificant to deserve any mention — and that’s saying a lot coming from me. Looking back, my friend and I survived on mountain rice, Emma datse (chilis cooked with cheese, very spicy!) and momos or dumplings with cabbage and cheese fillings. I surprised myself (and my friend) when I ordered a burger and pasta at our hotel on the eve of our departure from Bhutan. You can guess what happened to that plate of spaghetti, right?

Bhutan's Momos or Dumplings Filled with Cabbage and Cheese Dipped in Chili Sauce! We survived on these!


Having convinced ourselves that we were “starved” in Bhutan, we looked at every Thai dish on the table as our well-deserved reward. Let the photos speak for themselves. But really, more than that, this last leg of my recent rip was a celebration of friendship.

You may also want to check out our visit of the famous Oriental Hotel by the banks of the Chao Phraya River where we tried Pierce Brosnan’s favorite Thaijito. Just click on this link.

Never Say NO to Desserts. Wherever. Whatever. No Regrets.


They Call it Thai-Jito. A favorite drink of Pierce Brosnan. Only at Oriental Hotel.

I love my family. We all live in a condominium building where space is gold and where we feel cramped as the kids grow taller and the adults grow wider 😦

Over time, we spilled over 2 more units in the same condo building but share THE SAME SQUARE dining table I bought when I was still living alone. How we fit or take turns at the dining table is a practiced skill!

And so family playcations is a tradition in this family. Summers and Christmas breaks are popular holiday dates for us, but we’re one family who also make good use of long weekends.

We took a vote and came up with this list of top playcations for us. Thought I’d share it with you as suggestions for your next family adventure.




To this day, our 3day, 2 night cruise sailing out of Singapore for Melaka (Malacca, Malaysia) holds truly fond memories for adults and elves. Royal Carribean’s Legend of the Seas had this $306 per pax, twin-sharing promo rate which we grabbed. All 5 meals and snacks included!


READY TO SAIL! Kids board Royal Carribean's Legend of the Seas



The FIRST family playcation out of the country is of course nothing less than memorable. When the elves were 5 and 2 visiting Disneyland (Los Angeles, USA) for the first time, they were too young to appreciate it. This time around, they knew exactly what they wanted, and how many “teacup spins” they needed!

From HK Disneyland to Macau. What a horrible ferry ride!


We were back the year after. The fireworks at the Avenue of the Stars fronting the lovely HK Harbour is the highlight of the New Year’s Eve revelry, but the dinner prelude was just as exciting. No mercy was our mantra, as we stuffed ourselves with Peking Duck and other Chinese dishes at the Star Cafe. Just as memorable was walking with the thick Chinese crowd in the middle of the road at 2am to reach our hotel.




Shelly and I flying in to Shanghai from a month-long trip in Turkey and Greece.  The rest of fam flying in from Manila.  What a reunion!


The Bund. Shanghai, China



Can’t resist this. It’s the closest we can get to a world tour.  Very educational for the children.  Very satisfying for the adult gluttons. 🙂

World Expo 2010 in Shanghai, China



It was a weeklong holiday. A road trip. We booked only for our first 2 nights in Donsol, Sorsogon where I brought the family to experience this awesome animal encounter. After that, we sort of felt our way through looking for places to stay in Legazpi City and Naga.





Yes, 12. My family and my friend’s family. We flew to Laoag, then cramped ourselves into a van, and then a jeepney around Laoag and Vigan. Food Trip to the max.  Gee, now I miss their Pinakbet Pizza


Walking out of Malacanang of the North. And yes, we were 12 in the group!


Not our “usual” Baguio trip. This time around, we explored the lesser-known destinations and relished the surprisingly enjoyable vegetarian joints in this city. Even the elves loved their “kamatis (tomato) pasta” in Oh My Gulay Resto!

Taken at Bencab Museum Garden.


Who’d dare argue against spending New Year’s in the lovely island of Boracay?  We spent all of 5 days here. What a great relaxing way to welcome and start the new year!




Again, we were lured by the promo package offered by this lovely resort along the shores of Taal Lake in Talisay, Batangas. A weekend that’s really value-for-money. The rooms have 2 big-sized beds, the resort has 3 swimming pools, a fish spa, food is good, service is excellent, and THE VIEWS! C’est magnifique!


Excuse me…… Did you just say THAT PHALLUS belonged to one of your saints?




Yes, THAT is the phallus of one of Bhutan's Favorite Saints. I kid u NOT!



Flanked by hundreds of prayer flags, Chimi Lakhang is a good half hour leisurely walk across fertile rice fields. We passed farmers harvesting their rice and traipsed paddy fields cutting across a village where houses are painted with…..errr, phalluses of one of Bhutan’s favorite saints.  Either that, or you find hanging phalluses swinging by house corners, intended to drive away demons.  



Do You See That Hanging Phallus? It's Meant To Drive Away The Demons.

Chimi Lakhang. A Modest Shrine to Bhutan's Favorite Saint & Divine Madman



Chimi Lhakhang is dedicated to Lama Drukpa Kunley or Drukpa Kunleg (1455 – 1529) also known as ‘The Divine Madman’He “distinguished” himself for his outrageous behavior and teaching style. Legend goes that the saint used to hit the evil forces with his penis (or cohabited with them) to distract, subdue, and eventually turn them into protective deities. Trust me, this is serious stuff in Bhutan. My own guide claims the Divine Madman “took away the shame” —- i interpret this to mean “malice”—– from them. In many Thangka paintings, the saint is shown holding a “wooden stick with penis head”.




The Power of the Phallus. He is also the Fertility Saint. Guess Why!

Gho-clad Boys Coming Home From School

In Bhutan, I Saw Many Men Caring For Their Babes. Nice.



The Lhakang is just a small pilgrimage site in a rather rural setting. We passed old, modest houses and children posing for photos,  hopping, running around, and playing “kitchen” like many other children in the world. Makes you think children are the same all over UNTIL society/culture imposes itself on them. We were welcomed in a small kitchen where the women were frying rice grains much like our local “pinipig” or rice crisps. The young monks we met at the Lhakang were likewise playing — running and jumping around, swinging by the window sill, or up above munching an apple while seated on a branch of the Buddha tree.




Children Are The Same All Over the World.


I Was Right Underneath This Mini-Monk


Those Are Not Just Rice Crisps. They're MOUNTAIN Rice Crisps.



This is also a pilgrimage site for childless couples. Well, that “Thunderbolt of Flaming Wisdom” (as they call the saint’s phallus) ain’t called that for nothing. As fertility saint, he is perhaps the only saint in all religions of the world excused for his sexual exploits and inclinations, for which his phallus is identified with its creative power and ability to distract and subdue demons. Think about that!




Just A Half Hour Walk To Get Here, Past Paddy Fields


Walked past many of these houses with painted phalluses!

This Rural Village Gave Us A Glimpse of How Ordinary Bhutanese Live.

Please do check my other blogs and photos on Bhutan  here in WordPress. Or try my blog series on Bhutan in TravelBlog. Here is the link :



And by the way,  with all we’ve seen and experienced in Bhutan, we missed something big time.  Not sure if we could have mustered the nerve to watch, but here’s one interesting read for all of you.  Tell me what you think 😉