FUN. During My Time.

Pre-digital F.U.N. No iPad. No iPhone. No digicams. No Facebook. No Instagram. No tweets. No youtube. Just old-fashioned postcards. Snail Mail. Time when we actually dialled on the phone! 


How times have changed. Yet a holiday then was truly a holiday as we weren’t concerned about how “perfect” our travel photos were. Nor how others would approve over where we went, what we did and the food we ate. We didn’t google the food, destinations and major attractions. More likely, we bought and actually read a book about the trip. If not, we just braced ourselves for surprises. 


Pre-teens, I remember a favorite weekend holiday in a relative’s fishpond. For many years till I went to high school, we would troop to a fishpond via a small narrow boat ride counting some 10-15 minutes. Armed only with cooked rice, shrimp sauce and calamansi (local lemons), we claimed our spots by the riverbank and fished for tilapia while the men harvested oysters, steaming them ready to be shucked. Oh heaven! The oysters tasted like the sea and the grilled fish couldn’t be fresher! 


Simple joys. And we didn’t take any photos for posterity. Why? We were having too much fun. We would take dips in the river to wash our hands which we used for eating — sans forks & spoons — and to cool down our hot (literally, as in summer, sweaty hot) bods. No tiled swimming pool could match the joy of swimming in a cool river. Sooo fun!

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Good Enough To Share

When I first landed a job, I’ve already decided how to spend my first pay check. I treated my parents to dinner and got myself a set of matching luggage. I guess early on, I knew what I wanted. Food and Travel. With each, my family is top of mind. 




With the subsequent pay checks, I resolved to support myself through graduate school. Not much chance to travel but I made sure my study groups share my passion for food. That somehow worked well. By the time I finished graduate school, I’ve saved enough to buy a car. And when I got a promotion and chunky raise, I made my first investment in real estate and upgraded my car. There wasn’t much more. I was happy with what I had. The company perks provided the next few items I needed — a better car, a representation allowance, some travels and a few luxuries. I was happy and content. 




I didn’t dream of a bigger house. I still live in the same condominium building that has seen better years. I haven’t bought a new car with my own money since I retired 16 years ago. And I shop only to buy food, books and gifts. I still find joy in watching movies/concerts and dining alone. I feel excited even when I’m lost because it presents an adventure for me. I only feel miserable when I feel sick and helpless. 


“Comparison is a thief of joy.” I fully subscribe to this. Why compare when it can rob you of your moment’s happiness? When I pray, I ask God to give me friends who’d share with me the stuff they enjoy but which I may not have. Likewise, I pray He gives me the means to share as much as I have with others. Friends, who like me, know when it’s enough. And feel happy and cheerful about sharing. 

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Feeling The Pain

Some things are best left unsaid.

Some remarks are best left ignored.

Some disappointments best dismissed.

So let the heart bleed. 💔

At the end of the day

You’ve done your duty

Shared your blessings

And feel much pain. 💔

Expect not. Just do.

Let questions remain unanswered.

For the world keeps revolving.

But some go unchanging. 💔

Yet again, surprises spring

When you realize it’s not a dream

Undeserved, but rendered

Unto you, who hardly mattered 💔

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Goofing With Cervantes

My childhood friends arrived in Madrid. A couple for the first time; another couple for the second time. Then there’s my sister visiting for the first time too, and my niece who’s based here but has not made the day trip to Alcala de Henares, birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes of Don Quixote fame. 





I like this university town. Earlier, I blogged about Alcala de Henares and knew I’d be back sometime soon to share this discovery. While the town gained fame because of Miguel de Cervantes, I grew fond of it because of the community of storks to be found here. Every spire, tower, church windows and rooftops seem to have storks who’ve taken permanent residence there. Huge storks, comfy with their huge nests!






We checked out the Universidad de Alcala where we found a tienda with many interesting stuff. Don Quixote immortalized in many forms! Then there’s the Museo Casa Natal de Cervantes and the lovely Plaza Cervantes itself. The Museo comes with free admission and the Plaza has no tourist crowd. How refreshing! And this town is only 35 kilometers from the center of Madrid. Just a short Cercanias train ride from Atocha or Nuevo Ministerios.





If you wish to simply spend time away from the city yet still immerse yourself in Spain’s art, architecture and culture, visit Alcala De Henares. The university youth even runs plays nearly year-round so check that one out as well. We even found pastelerias (try the rosquillas), tapas bars and restaurants with reasonably-priced set menus. Really a great day destination without burning a hole in your pocket.





 




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Beyond Gildas & Pintxos En Donostia-San Sebastián 

Donostia-San Sebastián. I knew I’d be back for more of you. Those pintxos lure me, and your txakoli and gildas keep me craving for more. I may upset some friends who think I travel for food alone, forgetting or dismissing the real character of the land, its culture, traditions and people. Well, too bad. I won’t be bothered by how they think I should travel. Neither would I explain that my interests are not exclusively on matters of “taste”.  Take San Sebastián. Proud of its Basque cuisine, architecture, rich in history and equally proud of its landscape and seascape. Pais Vasco to the core. 








Playa de la Concha. There were sunny breaks though by and large, it’s a chilly, windy and cloudy day. We heard mass at Buen Pastor Cathedral then walked straight towards Yglesia de Santa Maria in Parte Vieja (Old Town). These 2 landmarks stand across each other at each end of Kalea Mayor. At Santa Maria Church, you either commit yourself to a serious txikiteo or Pintxo bar crawl or turn left, away from the bars and towards the water or Playa de la Concha. Here you’ll find the lovely Ayuntamiento and in spring, enjoy the blooms in the garden park.  Trace this paseo from here to the other Playa Ondaretta — passing Don Quixote’s brass sculpture, the century-old Hotel Londres, the Miramar Palace and another sculpture to honor Dr. Fleming — where it ends with the iconic Peine Del Viento sculptures. If you’re lucky, you can go nearer when the surf’s not so fierce. 






At the end of this Paseo, you may take the Funicular to go up Mount Igueldo. Don’t miss this. The view from the top is magnificent! The funicular ride is only €3 ida y vuelta (round trip) so conserve your energy and skip the hike! 







Now, some of you may wish to “punish” yourselves by climbing Mt. Urgull for another magnificent view of beautiful San Sebastián’s skyline and seascape. Go! And for those not exactly keen doing the 5-6 km walk from the Yglesia de Santa Maria/Ayuntamiento end to the Peine Del Viento on the other end,  I have good news for you. You can simply walk over to the grand Maria Cristina Hotel area near the riverbank and look for a Choo Choo train that’ll whisk you from there through all these sites for about 35 minutes for only €5. Best to do this after partaking some pintxos at Parte Vieja or checking out Mercado La Bretxa. Now, why didn’t I tell you that much earlier? 





All done? Time to resume your txikiteo then. Y’know, that world-famous bar crawl in Pais Vasco! Love those skewers and pintxos! From the Yglesia, check out Atari Gastroteka right across at the corner of Kalea Nagusta and 31 Agosto. Very near it is Casa Alcalde with those huge Jamones hanging near its bar. Then walk right along 31 Agosto away from the Yglesia/Playa towards Dela Trinidad Plaza.  Here you’ll find Txuleton for that best cider house steak. Further down, you’ll reach a corner where San Telmo Museum appears on the left side. You take that left where you also find a beautiful water fountain by the corner wall and a maiden statue.  La Cuchara de San Telmo is where the crowd is, elbowing their way to the bar of pintxos. Really good choices of pintxos and gildas here, and some great raciones too. Now, get back to 31 Agosto to check out La Cepa for its Jamon Jabugo and Pimientos de Guernika. Then further down, La Viña’s cheesecake. That should make a good first night! 





For your second night, get deeper into Parte Vieja starting with Bar Zeruko along Pescaderia. Not too far away are Borda Berri, Casa Bartolo, Bar Nestor.  If you prefer to burn some cash, check out Casa Urola, Bodegon Alejandro and Restaurante Ubarrechena (for seafood paella). Of course, if there’s tons of cash to burn …. go pick up that phone and make reservations at any of those restos with Michelin stars! Buen Provecho. Enjoy Donostia-San Sebastián. 


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LOURDES for the 6th Time

The first time I visited was all planned but nearly got shelved because of a major surgery. Then my surgeon said I could go a month after the surgery. I went. With a dear friend and a nephew. Three years in a row, I went. My brand of thanksgiving involved solo trips and even driving all the way from Paris to Lourdes. Each visit, more meaningful. 





A nephew. A niece. A friend. This time, my sister. It’s now just the 2 of us. Our parents and a middle sister are long gone. It’s my birthday gift for her. Still too early for the Marian Season. No procession till April, but we’ve done the Mass, Confession, Baths and Station of the Cross. All these 4 you can do starting from 9 am till noon. As for the procession, you can circle the entire Basilica complex saying the rosary and your personal prayers. We took to heart the homily said by the priest NOT to pray for ourselves or personal intentions. Rather, we should pray for others. And we did. 





The day we arrived here, it rained and it hailed. It was also difficult to find dining places after 5pm as most shops are closed till April or closed early. But we were rewarded with the bluest sky ever. No crowds. No lines. So peaceful. I remember the times I was here by myself. 





Our hotel balcony presented a perfect view of the castle. It’s closed too but it’s enough to view it from a distance with a very azure skyline. 





Upon leaving Lourdes, the sky was still overcast but we didn’t feel any gloom. Our hearts are warmed by the solitude and spiritual experience. It’s another life episode we’d treasure forever. 🙏🏻




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Murallas de Pamplona

Mi apologia. But I can’t leave the subject of “Hemingway’s Pamplona” without mentioning the well-preserved murallas or walls of Pamplona. This fortified city may boast of the Encierro (the running of the bull) which is quite a spectacle like no other. Taking place from the 7th to 14th of July, the bulls are made to run from the corral in Calle Santo Domingo along Calle Estafeta into the bullring. Before them charging bulls are men and a few women who dared run nearly 1 kilometer for a brief 3-4 minutes at the risk of their lives. It’s insane. No wonder Ernest Hemingway was so enchanted. But what about its Cathedral, Plazuelas and murallas? 



 

 

We took time to walk in and around Pamplona, weaving through its tiny streets and alleys. What impressed me most was how well- preserved its 16th to 18th century walls are. The moat and sentry towers are still intact and the fortifications remind one of Pamplona’s deep history and importance as the capital of Navarra. All of 5 kilometers, it’s a good walk right up to Parque Taconera. Indeed, a National Monument and Treasure! 



 

From the Rincon Del Caballo Blanco, we made the uphill climb to Plazuela San Jose.  Very impressive! More so as one strolls all the way to Pamplona Cathedral. We paid the small admission fee to enter this Cathedral and visit its cloisters. There was a lot of construction repairs going on at the time we visited, but that didn’t take away the beauty of this religious monument . 





If you’re visiting Pamplona, don’t forget it has so much more to offer other than the Encierro and Hemingway’s fav haunts. Flex those limbs and trace these medieval walls, ending up in La Taconera  Park. The Park presents majestic views of the river and some deer and other animals. Best visited at sunset! Come nightfall, you can walk back to Plaza Del Castillo and meet up with Ernest 😜



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