Archery at Gandiva Archery Range

My nephew is visiting from the US and I wanted the kids to have a unique activity. I had heard of Gandiva Archery from a friend whose kids had gone. I asked the kids if they wanted to try archery and they said yes. I made reservations for a weekday slot, just to make sure the three of them would be able to go together.

The Gandiva Archery Range is located on the 7th floor of One Corporate Center, Julia Vargas corner Meralco Avenues. The range was empty when we got there, it being a weekday early afternoon. I got them one hour sessions each, which included a set of archery equipment, target face, and safety gears, plus the instructor.


The kids had fun channelling their inner Katniss, Legolas and Hawkeye. Their arms felt sore afterwards, but they had a lot of fun.



Quick Day Trip To Nagcarlan

We are firm believers of domestic tourism. We try to bring the kids to a new town/province/region in the Philippines every year. With the change in the academic calendar, vacation was pushed to the rainy season, so we didn’t make plans to go far. I chose Nagcarlan, Laguna as our local destination this year. Our good friend, Amie Malabag-Hernandez, was recently elected as the Vice-Mayor of Nagcarlan. I got in touch with her and she agreed to meet us.


With Vice Mayor-elect Amie Hernandez

Amie first brought us to the Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery. It is the only underground cemetery in the Philippines. During the Philippine Revolution, the cemetery served as a meeting place of leaders of the Katipunan. It also served as hideout during the Philippine-American War and World War II.

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Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery

We also visited a candy-making factory and the vegetable tram which was high up in the mountains.

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For our last stop before lunch, Amie brought us to the Nagcarlan Forest Resort. Aside from the usual swimming pools, this one had a stream of running water. The water was cool. Too bad we weren’t ready for swimming.

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Nagcarlan Forest Resort

By then, we were famished. Amie brought us to what used to be an abandoned warehouse, but is now a “boodle fight” restaurant. Boodle fight is how soldiers eat – the rice and viands are placed on banana leaves in the middle of the table and each one gets from there and eat with their bare hands. The food was delicious!

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Boodle fight!

Our last stop in Nagcarlan was the San Bartolome Apostol Parish Church. It is a beautifully-preserved church. The original floor tiles from Talavera, Spain are still there on the walls. This church was used as setting for “Kampanerang Kuba”, the movie which starred Vilma Santos, as well as the television series which starred Anne Curtis.

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San Bartolome Apostol Parish Church

This trip was very educational and fun for all of us. Thank you to our very gracious host, Amie, for a day of discovery.



Tips for Travelling to Japan

Our trip to Japan was a DIY project. I researched on what sites to see, how to get to each destination, where to eat. Here is a compilation of the tips that helped us in this trip:

  1. Apply for your Japanese visa 60 days before your scheduled trip. Get the forms from accredited travel agencies. Complete all the forms and submit them. Make sure you fill in all the blanks. You will also need to submit your planned itinerary, copies of your tax returns, and certifications from your bank. Allot 6 – 10 working days from the time you submit your application to the time you get your passports back. Also make sure that your passport is not yet expired.
  2. Order Japanese yen from your bank. Some banks require a few days to a week.
  3. If you are going to take the Keisei Skyliner from the Narita Airport to Tokyo, it would be cheaper if you booked your tickets online.
  4. Consider getting a hotel close to most of your destinations. We always choose a hotel that is close to a major train or subway station.
  5. Get a Suica card or its equivalent. These are reloadable cards which you can use to pay for train/bus/subway tickets or even convenience stores. This saves you time since you don’t have to line up to buy tickets. Consume it to the last yen, if possible. Before leaving Japan, you can return the cards for a refund of JPY500. You are charged JPY220 if your remaining balance is more than that.
  6. Order a rental pocket wifi. I rented a unit from Pupuru. This will come in handy when you are trying to access Google Maps or any navigation guide. I had the unit delivered to the hotel so it was ready when we arrived. Before leaving, I placed it in an envelope that they provided and had the hotel drop it in the mailbox for return.
  7. Wear comfortable shoes. You will do a lot of walking.
  8. Don’t be afraid to try small restaurants in the side streets. Food is delicious and prices are lower. Even the sushi and onigiri sold in convenience stores, department store basements and train stations are delicious.
  9. Depending on your itinerary, you might want to consider getting a Tokyo Metro 24-hour pass for unlimited subway rides. I think there are also passes for multiple days.
  10. If you are a fan of outlet shopping, you might want to schedule a trip to Gotemba Premium Outlets. You have the added bonus of having Mt. Fuji as your backdrop while you shop. Prices are generally not as low as those in the US outlets, although there were some stores that offered great deals. You can get to Gotemba by bus or by train. I booked our roundtrip bus tickets online before leaving Manila.

Japan is a very nice vacation destination. We hope to return there someday soon.

In Love With Japan

Just recently, my family and I went on a trip to Tokyo, Japan. Like in our other previous trips, we did not join a tour group. We made our own itinerary based on what we want to do and see. We did not want to be confined to a pre-set schedule and preferred to do the exploring on our own. We got lost at times, but that was part of the adventure. From the minute we landed in Narita, we loved every minute of our stay in Japan. Here are some of the reasons why:

  1.  Weather

Coming from a scorching summer in Manila, the cool weather of Tokyo was a welcome breather. Days were cool and nights were chilly. Even during the early afternoon hours when the sun would be at its peak, it was still cool enough for a thin jacket. It rained on our second day there, but we did not let that get in our way.


Going around shortly after arrival

2.  Efficient transport system

To get around, we took the subway, the train or the bus. Cabs are expensive in Tokyo. There is an extensive network of subways and trains, so there’s bound to be a stop near your destination. The trains arrive on time and leave on time. That way, you can schedule your activities more effectively.


On our first day there, we got the Tokyo Metro 24-hour ticket (JPY 600) for each one of us. That allows unlimited rides on the Tokyo Metro for 24 hours. Aside from that, we also got Suica prepaid cards for everyone. Suica is a reloadable card that can be used to pay for train, bus or subway tickets. It can also be used in convenience stores. It is very easy to use and saves you time, since you don’t have to line up to buy tickets.

3.  Food

Everything we ate in Japan was delicious. Prior to the trip, I was not a big fan of ramen. But I became a convert after eating ramen in Japan.


Ramen and gyoza in Ippudo

We also enjoyed the katsudon, gyoza, tempura, sushi, Harajuku crepes and Japanese cheese tarts. It didn’t matter where you got them – from big restaurant chains, mall food courts, department store basements, train stations, hole-in-the-wall restaurants. They were all delicious!

4. The sights

There’s much to see in Tokyo. There are temples and parks and gardens. There is a huge Gundam statue outside Diver City in Odaiba.


The highlight of our trip was seeing the majestic Mt. Fuji. We were really hoping to get a glimpse of Mt. Fuji while we were in Gotemba. Cloud forecast that day wasn’t very encouraging. So we were surprised that the peak of Mt. Fuji was visible throughout the day that we were there. Mt. Fuji is the highest mountain peak in Japan and is a famous symbol of Japan.


5.  The lack of noise

Tokyo is a very vibrant city, with lots of tall buildings, cars, busy people walking along the streets, but it is relatively quiet. Even with all the tourists crowding around in Nakamise Dori or in front of the Senso-ji Temple, there is no shouting or yelling. There is no mad honking of horns or loud music in malls.

6.  Cleanliness

Tokyo is a very clean place. Most restaurants observe a “clean-as-you-go” system, where diners are expected to bring out their plates and utensils and wipe the tables clean after eating. The streets, train stations and even public bathrooms are clean.

7.  The Japanese people

Everywhere you go, Japanese people are very polite. Even if they do not understand English, they will try to help you in any way they can.

All of us enjoyed our stay in Tokyo. This early, the kids are already asking if we can go back.  There are so many other places in Japan that we’d like to see. Until the next adventure.


I enjoy travelling. I like going to new places, discovering new restaurants, seeing the sights. I like preparing for a trip, awaiting seat sales on different airlines and beating everyone to the punch when the clock strikes 12. I enjoy preparing our itinerary, researching not only on the usual tourist spots, but also other interesting places or things that are not hyped about. Travelling gives us a chance to be together, away from work and school, on our own. Bong hardly goes on a day off when he’s in town so it’s only when we travel that he is really on vacation. He and I know that before we know it, our children will grow up and embark on their own adventures. So while we can, and while they still want to go with us, we try to travel as a family.

Revisiting Makati (Part 2) – Dining Around

Makati is known to have a lot of good restaurants so we were very excited to try out some of them. Our first stop was Lulu for dinner. We almost didn’t find it. We used Google Maps to locate it but the address it gave us was wrong. It turned out to be on the next street instead. Anyway, we found ourselves in Lulu in time before the dinner crowd came in.

Ambience was great – lovely place for a date. They had an open kitchen design, so you can see your food being prepared and hear the chef calling out what dishes need to be done. Service was good, too. We ordered Caesar Salad, Lulu Burger, Lulu Pasta and the US Certified Angus Beef Bolognese. The bolognese was excellent, very tasty. The salad and the Lulu Pasta were mediocre, not bad but nothing great either. The burgers were disappointing. The center of the burgers were raw and the burgers had that raw taste. Not a very good way to end our day.


For breakfast, we went to Pablo, which was located on the ground floor of the Picasso. We ordered the Bangus with Rice, Chicken Adobo Flakes with Rice and the Sardines in Oil with Rice. All these orders came with eggs the way you want them. From the buffet, you could get cereals, fruits, cheese, deli meat, salad, bread and fruit juices. Not too many choices in the buffet. We found the food to be of average taste. Serving size for the bangus and sardines were quite small. The adobo flakes had a burnt taste. Again, quite a disappointment.

Later on that morning, we went to the Salcedo Saturday Market. What an interesting place! There were so many stalls to choose from, with a wide range of cuisine available. There were homecooked meals, specialty food, fresh produce, flowers, fresh fruits and vegetables. We would have wanted to buy some of those dishes but we didn’t have the proper storage to prevent spoiling. We did try out the ice cream. We were choosing between Carmen’s Best and Adam’s Seriously Good Ice Cream. Unfortunately, the flavors we wanted in Carmen’s Best had already been sold out. So we ended up with Adam.

Adam’s Seriously Good Ice Cream was just that – seriously good! We had a hard time choosing which flavor to get. Adam was there to make the sales pitch (not that we needed any convincing). He explained how they make their ice cream, what makes them different, and how they use only the best ingredients for their ice cream. We got the First Lady’s Fantasy (“the best sugar-free chocolates sweetened with organic coco sugar and  bit of honey”) and the Ambassador’s Butter Cream (“a rich buttery cream with pieces of home-made almond brittle candy”).


Both flavors were absolutely delicious! They more than made up for the disappointing food choices we’ve made recently. I hope they find more distributors soon – so we can have a follow-up fix 🙂

Our last meal in Makati was at Bugsy’s Bar and Bistro. It was also walking distance from the Picasso. We had the Buffalo Wings, Buffalo Tenders, Bugsy Siegel and some mashed potatoes to go with them. The chicken was good – flavorful with just the right amount of spiciness. Not too oily, too, compared to other versions. The steak was okay, a little bland but still okay and reasonably priced too. It was large enough to split into two orders. The mashed potatoes were nothing great.

Revisiting Makati (Part 1) – Staying At The Picasso Boutique Serviced Residences

It is not very often that we go to Makati, the country’s financial district. But my daughter needed to be there on two consecutive days – one for their Technical Dress Rehearsal and another for their actual performance. The timing was also bad – my husband couldn’t drive, it was a payday weekend and there were numerous sales in almost all the malls in Metro Manila. So we decided to stay overnight at the Picasso Boutique Serviced Residences. It was the only place within walking distance to and from RCBC Theater where my daughter’s rehearsal and performance were going to be. Fortunately for us, Deal Grocer offered a room there at a discount.

I like the overall feel of the Picasso. There is art everywhere. There are paintings by the corridor. There is even an art gallery. We got the Malaga Studio and asked for an extra bed for our son. The room had a queen sized bed, a small kitchen, a study area and a balcony. The Deal Grocer voucher we got included P300 purchase from the minibar and breakfast for two at the Pablo (their ground floor restaurant).

The room is spacious, even with the addition of an extra bed. Temperature of the airconditioner was just right, a welcome relief from the blistering heat outside. The art was evident even in the trash can and key card. Wi-Fi was pretty good, you just needed to get the username and password from the front desk. Water pressure in the bathroom was good too. One thing about the bathroom, though – there are no doors to provide privacy for the shower and toilet areas, just one door for the whole bathroom.


Other great things about the Picasso were location and service. It is within walking distance from a lot of restaurants, convenience stores, and the Salcedo Park. They also provide a shuttle service to many of the Makati malls. Everyone in the staff provided excellent service.

We were very happy with our stay at the Picasso Boutique Serviced Residences. We would gladly return if we need to be in the area again.


Our Naga Vacation

From Legazpi City, we travelled to Naga City by van. Riding the bus would take longer, since there would be numerous stops along the way to pick up and drop off passengers. These days, there are the UV Express vans which transport passengers to all parts of the country. We took one of those vans from Legazpi to Naga. It was a pleasant drive, although we got stuck in traffic in one area of the highway.

Upon our arrival in Naga, we checked into Naga Land Hotel. It was the one assigned to us by the convention organizers. We were not too happy with our stay there and I will write about that in another post. Meanwhile, we had some time to go around Naga.

One thing nice about our hotel, though, was its location. It was located in Naga Centro, just a few steps away from a mall, Plaza Quince Martires, the San Francisco Church and numerous eating places. On our first night, we had dinner in Bigg’s Diner. Bigg’s Diner serves typical American diner-type food alongside Filipino rice meals. The decor invokes nostalgia, with mementos and photos of icons past.


The following day, we went to the mall to catch the first screening of “Avengers: Age of Ultron”. I know there was more of Naga to explore, but we wouldn’t have a chance to watch the movie once we got back to Manila. And we really couldn’t miss this movie.

We had lunch in the mall foodcourt. I wanted to try a local food outlet – Geewan. The lechon kawali looked promising and I saw that most of their customers ordered it. Many restaurants and food outlets serve lechon kawali but many disappoint. Geewan, however, was a revelation! Their lechon kawali is one of the best I’ve had. The meat is soft and tender, the skin is crispy and crunchy. Good choice, I must say.

Another great foodie find was a cupcake stall in SM Naga – Cake My Day. They had different flavored cupcakes displayed and all of them looked so tempting. We ordered the Chocolate S’mores Cupcakes (P50), Dulce de Leche Cheesecake (P55), and the Fudgy Brownies (P50). They were absolutely divine! I fell in love with the Dulce de Leche Cheesecake. It was light and sweet, the texture was creamy and everything tasted perfect! If only they kept longer, I would have packed my bags with these yummy creations. Too bad they only had one outlet. These cupcakes could easily compete with those found in Manila.


In the afternoon, we went around to see the Naga Metropolitan Cathedral (or more formally called the Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist).  This is the seat of the Archdiocese of Caceres. I think this is the biggest church in the Bicol area. They were preparing for a wedding when we were there so we couldn’t stay long.


Right next to the cathedral is the Holy Rosary Seminary (or the Seminario del Santissimo Rosario).  It is said to be the “oldest Christian higher educational institute for the clergy in the Philippines”. Formerly the Casa de Clerigos established by Bishop Andres Gonzales, OP in the 1700s, the seminary was built in 1785 and finished in 1845. It was declared a historical landmark for having produced patriots and heroes, including nine of the fifteen Bicolano martyrs.


In front of the cathedral is the Porta Mariae. This is a triumphal arch which was put up to commemorate the tercentenary of the devotion to Our Lady of Peñafrancia. The arch measures 18 meters wide, 4 meters deep and 11 meters high. On top of it is a 10 feet tall brass image of Our Lady of Peñafrancia and two angels on each side. It is truly a grand structure.


We went to the San Francisco Church later that day to hear Mass. On the way there from the hotel, we passed by the Plaza Quince Martires. A monument honoring 15 Bicolano martyrs of the Philippine Revolution stands in the middle of the plaza.


According to the marker outside the church, the San Francisco Church is the first church in Naga and one of the oldest in the Bicol region. It was established in 1578.

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Our trip to Naga was memorable because of good food and interesting places. I’m glad we were finally able to visit this part of the Philippines.

Stopover in Legazpi City

After our overnight stay in Misibis Bay, we had to go back to Naga for the convention. But we wanted to go to Cagsawa Ruins first to get a better view of Mayon Volcano. On the way to Legazpi from Misibis, the top of Mayon was covered with clouds. But as we got nearer, the clouds cleared and we had a clear view of the glory of Mayon Volcano!

The Cagsawa Church was built by the Franciscan friars after 1724. In 1814, the strongest eruption of Mayon Volcano buried Cagsawa and other nearby areas. Only the bell tower and some parts of the church complex remain.

Cagsawa Ruins

Mayon Volcano is really majestic. Despite its numerous eruptions, it has retained its perfect cone. Hard to imagine that this thing of beauty causes much destruction with every eruption.


After enjoying the view of Mayon Volcano, we went back to Legazpi City for a late lunch before heading back to Naga City. We decided to go to Small Talk Cafe after reading good reviews about it. The jeepney driver didn’t know where Small Talk Cafe was, but I searched for it on Waze and found a nearby Jollibee. Now THAT was a landmark the driver knew.

Small Talk Cafe is a quaint restaurant a few meters from the main road. There were many diners even if it was late for lunch by the time we got there. There were lots of interesting choices on their menu and prices were affordable.


It was a very short visit to Legazpi City but we enjoyed every minute of it.

A Quick Retreat to Misibis Bay Resort

Bong’s midyear convention was going to be held in Naga City. We had not been to that region before so we thought we would make it our summer destination for 2015. We booked our plane tickets early, during one of the seat sales of Cebu Pacific. Later on, we realized that there wasn’t much to do around Naga City. We had heard of Misibis Bay Resort, which was an hour away from Legazpi City. Legazpi City was still a two-hour van ride away from Naga City, but we thought we might as well go now since we were in the general area already.

From the time we were picked up in Legazpi City airport, we were given excellent service by the staff of Misibis Bay Resort. We checked into a Junior Suite Deluxe. It was a very spacious room, with two double beds and a daybed. The addition of an extra bed did not make the room cramped. The room was tastefully decorated. They provided us with a native woven bag, which was perfect for carrying some of the small stuff we didn’t want to leave in the room. Hand-made slippers were also provided. What they didn’t have was an in-room safe, which I would have thought was expected in a resort of this stature. Wi-Fi in the room was pretty good too.042315-3_Fotor Trixi's corner


The bathroom was roomy too, with a bath tub and separate shower stall. Toiletries were from L’Occitane.


Our room was on the second floor, facing the pool. We did not want a unit on the ground floor because we thought it would be noisy when people are swimming. The pools in Misibis Bay Resort are clean and well-maintained. They wind around the villas, with bridges and islands of greenery.


The beach is small and the sand is quite coarse in some areas. It is quiet and peaceful, though, and for me, that’s more important. Attendants are always around, ready with some beach towels or a glass of ice-cold water.


There are other activities to do around the resort, but since we had limited time, we stuck to swimming and playing some frisbee.

Dining in the resort was hit and miss. Our dinner choices were so-so, not bad, but nothing great. Breakfast was much better. I liked their omelette station, tocino and champorado.

We had a great time in Misibis Bay Resort. It is quite far from Manila and published rates are quite high. But the amenities and service make it a very enjoyable vacation. We would really like to come back and stay longer next time.