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My European Vacation

I've traveled a large part of the world but I have never been to Europe.  So when the queen and I started planning for a trip to France and Italy in 2015,  I got really excited.  I knew that apart from spending a substantial amount of money for the trip,  I also had to take an extended amount of time from work.  So - it required a lot of planning - so we don't spend a fortune for the vacation - and to ensure that we maximize the trip - with the limited time I can take off from work.

Going to Europe - if you're a Filipino citizen can be tricky.  First - you need to get a visa.  Like most visa applications, we needed to compile documentation to demonstrate that a) we don't have any intention of illegally staying in Europe b) that we have the money to support our trip c) that we have a place to stay when we get there.   Documentations come in the form of bank statements,  certification from my employee that I'm actually employed,  pre-booked hotels etc.   With all of that documentation - you may even end up denied or - like in our case - we were given a very limited window for the trip.

But even through all the visa hassle - we were actually able to plan this trip without a hitch.  

For this trip,  there were things that I wanted to accomplish:  a) See the Louvre and go inside the Louvre b) Go to Florence and the region of Tuscany c) go to Provencal France d) visit Venice.   We didn't get to see Venice - and we substituted Rome for it.   I'm glad we did because Rome was a really wonderful experience. 

It had been a couple of days since we got back to the Philippines and I still have a European hangover.   I actually created a slide show video of the photos that I really liked.   I'm sharing the video with you.   If you see me in the photo - the queen is the photographer.  If you don't,  I'm the photographer.  I used a point and shoot for my pictures - with post processing via the iOS apps called Enlight and Facetune ( they have the same makers ).

This is an 18 minute video.  I don't expect you to watch all of it.  However - I watch this video over and over again.  It gives me really good vibes when I do.   Needless to say I think that this is the greatest vacation ever.


The last leg of our north Luzon trip included a stop in Vigan.  Vigan is a beautiful town.  Very clean.  It is also one town where there are a lot of heritage houses.  Calle Crisologo - is the main attraction because it remains to be a cobblestone road.  However - outside of Calle Crisologo - there are still numerous Spanish-occupation era houses.

The old houses remind me of my home in Sta. Ana, Manila.  Sta. Ana also has a lot of heritage houses.  In fact among all the districts of Manila,  Sta. Ana has the most number of houses that survived World War II.

When we visited Vigan --- it was so crowded.  It was during the New Year break of 2014/2015.  It was impossible to get a picture of Calle Crisologo without a person ( I could have - maybe if I went there really early in the morning ).  So instead of taking numerous pictures of the houses - I just did the next best thing.  I did people watching.

We stayed in Casa Rica.  It's one of the bed and breakfasts in Vigan.  The owner is really nice.  They don't have parking - but the owner said it's safe to park on the streets.  Vigan is one of those towns in the Philippines with virtually no crime.

A visit to Vigan is not complete without buying Vigan longganiza and Bagnet.  We just asked the staff of Casa Rica to buy for us.  While we're in Vigan - we also tried Cafe Uno - located at Grandpa's Inn. I love their Bagnet Quesadilla and their Pancit Loglog. 

After this quick visit to Vigan - we headed home to Baguio.   I have one more post on our great Luzon journey after this.  It's about my home in Baguio.  Watch out for that last post

Pagudpud and The Bangui Wind Farm

Pagudpud is the northenmost part of the Philippines that I have visited.  I have heard of many stories from people saying that it's beaches are really nice and that it can be called the Boracay of the North. To be honest --- I actually take offense to that title because my opinion is that each of the beaches that we have in the Philippines have their own characteristic.   I understand that Boracay is internationally known - but Boracay and Pagudpud are very different from each other.

Anyways - back to my trip to Pagudpud;  this is still part of the great North Luzon expedition that the queens embarked on last year.  First stop was Laoag and Paoay.  Second stop is Pagudpud.  We stayed at Saud.  I googled what Saud is - trying to figure out why the place is called Saud.  I can't find an answer to that question but I did find out that it's the name of the ruling family of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  Interesting - you really get to know a lot of facts - when you google.

The resort is nice.  It has that Filipiniana decor that most resorts have when it is still not spoiled by a commercialized tourist industry.   I remember Waling Waling in Boracay - before it became Estacio Uno.  I like the feel of Filipiniana - and I prefer it over the concrete resorts.  It give off that island feel.

The waves were very strong when we visited Pagudpud.   It was actually very noisy --- that at night - the loud crash of the wave sometimes woke me up.  Like most beaches - the best part of staying seaside is that of being able to wake up early to do a sunrise walk or for those who can't wake up early - they can always do the sunset walk.   Pagudpud faces the west - so the sunset scene is more spectacular.

When we left Pagudpud,  we checked off another site from Ilocos Norte:  the Bangui Wind Farm.  The wind farm was the first one installed in the Philippines.   It provides electricity to the town of Bangui.   I can understand why it makes sense to install these wind mills here.  The wind was so strong that there are times I felt that I was going to be blown away ( exaggeration ).

For people who want to visit this place - and are turned off by the long drive from Manila ( or even Baguio ) --- I suggest breaking off the trip midway.  For us - as I described in my earlier blog - we spent a night in Laoag going to Pagudpud.  Coming back we spent a night in Vigan.   It may be a long trip - but I assure you it's worth it.

The Paoay Sand Dunes

I watched the movie Panday when I was young.  I can't remember the story - I just remember the late Fernando Poe Jr. fighting his enemies in this desert.  I can't remember who in my family said that this was shot in Ilocos.  So - as a kid - I wanted to see this Ilocos desert. 

Last year,  my friends and I embarked on a quest - which we called the great northern Luzon journey. It started in Baguio and ended up in Pagudpud.  From Baguio to Pagudpud - with my driving,  it would have taken us close to eight hours - so we actually decided to break down the trip and going north,  we stopped by Laoag and Paoay.  The Ilocos desert - I discovered is actually the Paoay sand dunes.  I'm not really sure if it's an actual desert - but since it's actually close to the sea,  I'm thinking it was actually a portion of the land which was under water so many years ago ( actually I think there are a lot of deserts like that - except that those were actually lakes that dried up ).

Anyways - when we reached the Paoay sand dunes,  there's only one thing in our minds --- we had to ride the sand dune buggy.   I have heard of the first world version of this ride from people who have visited Dubai.   In the first world version,  you are strapped in.   You wear seat belts.  In the Philippines version,  there are no seat belts.   You just have to hold on to the bars.   You have to hold on tight for dear life.   If you are unlucky and you bruise up easily - you will end up black and blue.   But I must say this --- I think that when you have that thought that you can die from the ride - and you survive it,  you end up thinking that it was a lot of fun.

The whole ride is half an hour to an hour.  At the end of the ride,  you get to try sand boarding ( standing up or sitting down ).  Again - no safety equipment.  No safety briefing.  Just try to have fun - and if you break a bone ( or bones ) while doing it --- tough luck.

I guess the tag line for Philippines is right --- visiting the sand dunes in the Philippines is definitely more fun.   Especially when you survive it.

My January 2015 Shopping

I have celebrated the beginning of the year 2015 by checking out the different sales from my favorite stores.  I love the beginning of the year because most of my favorite stores go on sale (trying to get rid of the inventory that wasn't sold during the holiday season).  I am not a shopaholic - far from it.  I am a sensible shopper which is why I feel that waiting at the end of the season is the best time to get some of the basics.

Blue-Green jacket from Zara - on sale for 200 RMB ( or 2,600 Philippine Pesos )

One of the stores that I check out first is Zara.  I'm actually thankful that this time,  I had a business trip to Kuala Lumpur - so I didn't have to battle it out with all the boys of Manila to check out Zara's goods.  I skipped the dress shirts section ( I have one too many of those from online shopping at Express for men ).  I immediately went to the coats and jackets.  Why people in KL will buy coats and jackets I will never understand - the city's temperature - any time of the year is - hot!  But I guess - if they were to travel - they will need jackets ( or like us Pinoys - they can wear them inside their air conditioned offices ).

This is a Faux Leather jacket - colored blue green.  I checked out other colors to describe it - I found Ultramarine, Turquoise.  I'm gay but I've always been deficient in identifying the colors outside of those found in the rainbow.  This jacket has a snug fit - just the way I like it.  My blue leather jacket that I got from Wilson's leather - I think is a bit too big.  So although I like wearing the blue jacket - I think like - most of my shirts - it would have to be altered to fit my new body (the one I got after I lost so much weight last year) .

Blue-Green Faux Leather jacket from Zara - 200 RMB

When I got back to Manila from KL- ( before climbing the mountains to go home to Baguio ),  I checked out my other favorite store - Uniqlo.  There is a Uniqlo store in KL but I found that their price is higher than Manila.  They post the prices of the merchandise in all countries - and after conversion - the Philippines price is lower so I decided till I get back to the Philippines to do my Uniqlo shopping.  Anyways - Uniqlo is fast becoming my go-to store for jeans.  I am now very comfortable in wearing slim-fit jeans - and my Uniqlo size varies from 28 to 30.  I know that it's vanity sizing - but I don't care.  They look great when I wear my favorite shoes ( the blue chucks that I'm wearing in this picture ).

Slim-Fit Black jeans from Uniqlo - 990 Pesos

Before you accuse me for just checking out international chains exclusively - I will have to describe the t-shirt that I'm wearing.  It's from Folded & Hung.  It's a Filipino owned chain.  I buy almost exclusively from them when it comes to polo shirts.  I don't buy regular price.  I wait till they go on sale.  So this shirt that I'm wearing is just 450 pesos ( when they typically go from 750 to even a thousand pesos ).

Shirt from Folded & Hung - 450 Pesos

I actually bought a lot more than these items  and I will try to show the other merchs that I got in another post.  Note that I've also done a little bit of closet cleaning to make space for the new clothes. Some of the t-shirts that I wore with a horrible size of Extra Large - I gave away.  Looking at all of those clothes - I exclaimed - how did I let myself grow that big?!?!?

That's all I have for now.  BTW - I truly apologize for not writing as often as I should.   I will not make an excuse - I had time to write - but I didn't find any inspiration to write.   Although looking at this blog post - it isn't so inspired - but I guess it's a start.  I hope to write a lot more often this year.

I'd like to hear from y'all.  Why don't you share what you've been up to this first month of the year in 2015?  Have you been shopping like me?  What are your best buys?