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SLOW. Like Snails. 

Why not? It’s my 6th visit to Madrid and this time taking my oldest sister for a month-long holiday. The first day was hard for her, hardly sleeping on our long flight from Manila. We managed to go out on Day 2 but careful not to tire her out. The bus in front of our Madrid crib took us to Almudena Cathedral, right beside Palacio Real. The mandatory shots in front of the Royal Palace turned out alright. There was a long snaking line outside for those seeking admission into the Palace. We trooped to the nearby Cathedral instead where a mass was going on. Coming out, we turned right down the street to get inside La Crypta. For a €1 donativo, one finds solace in this Crypt underneath the Cathedral. An altar inside tells you that mass services must be held here too though I never heard one since I started frequenting the place. Why, you ask? I like how tranquil the place is. More so than in the Cathedral where the religious and the tourists comprise the crowd. One time, I sat beside a friendly priest visiting from Zimbabwe. We prayed quietly then. 


From La Crypta, we crossed the street to view portions of the ancient muralla (walls) before walking up along Calle Mayor. It’s a 1 kilometer walk from this corner to Puerta Del Sol. Many iconic landmarks and short detours along this main road. First off is my favorite tiny square called Plaza de la Villa. The old Town Hall can be found here. The oldest building, fully restored, in Madrid. Across it is the Tower where the French monarch Francois I was imprisoned for a year following their defeat in the Battle of Pavia. In the center of the square is a statue of a naval commander who led the Spanish Armada. Truly, a very interesting square.


Not very far, and still walking along Calle Mayor, you’d find Mercado de San Miguel. You can pick up a Sangria or a Tinto de Verano here, to go with a cone of fried calamares or octopus or boquerones. Great appetizers! The giant paelleras of greatlooking Paella Negra or Marinara may appeal to firsttimers like my sister. But I won’t be fooled a 2nd time 😜. From here, we walked just a few more steps, under one of 9 or so arched entrance ways, towards Plaza Mayor. Being a Saturday, it was way too crowded. 


Museo de Jamon. It’s a chain. Their tapas bar on the littered ground floor is packed with tourists. On the second floor, we found a table and this old waiter who fondly calls my niece La Niña. We took our seats, and ordered enough for our lunch here, and leftover dinner later! No problem having a meal replay of callos, pecaditos and boquerones. We didn’t bring home the pulpo, and we drank our sangria to the last drop. It won’t be our best meal and we’re really being touristy here, but hey, it’s my sister’s first time in Madrid. 


For dessert, we walked FASTER towards Chocolateria de San Gines. Churros con Chocolate for my sister and niece. Cafe for me. Refueled, we managed to do some shopping. Then some snapshots with the Bear and the Strawberry Tree statue, an iconic landmark to be found in the Puerta Del Sol. Before taking the metro here going home, I wanted to get inside La Mallorquina for some napoleones and marron glacé but the place looked like it’s been invaded by tourists! 


Home is in Bravo Murillo. We heard anticipated mass in the Parroquia right next to our building. Estamos Felices! 


I realize I can’t do this in one go. Not all of 800 kilometers (500 miles) in one go over a period of 6 weeks or so. But after walking my first camino spanning the last 114 kilometers from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela, I knew it would be the first of many. One year after, I did the last 100 kilometers from Viterbo to Rome — what’s called Via Francigena which is the Italian equivalent of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Both tracing pilgrimage hiking trails, one ending in the northwestern part of Spain, the other ending in Vatican City. 


The same year I walked from Viterbo to Rome, I likewise tried a short leg of the famed Nakasendo Trail from Magome to Tsumago in Japan. Like a preview or sampler of a longer hike sometime in the future. In Japan. But one idea continues to occupy my mind. The Camino Frances. From St. Jean Pied de Port (SJPdP) to Santiago de Compostela (SDC). Not just a part of it. The whole 800 kilometers of it. Yet, how? The mere thought of crossing the Pyrenees freaks me out of my wits. 


First off, I accepted the reality that walking everyday for 5 to 6 weeks will make me miserable. Or fail. So I’d settle for “mini successes”.  Like breaking up the 800-km hike into 8-9 adventures, each involving 100 kms or so over 5 or so walking days. I thought the following itineraries doable: 

St. Jean PdP to Pamplona (68kms)

      SJPP to Roncesvalles

      Roncesvalles to Pamplona

Pamplona to Logroño (94 kms)

Logroño to Burgos (121 kms)

Burgos to Sahagún (124 kms)

Sahagún to Leon (56 kms)

Leon to Ponferrada (103 kms)

Ponferrada to Sarria (92 kms)

Sarria to Santiago de Compostela (114 kms)


Then, I read that the WORST, HARDEST, MOST PUNISHING walk is the first leg of Camino Frances. Specifically, the first walking day from SJPdP to Roncesvalles. Literally across the French-Spanish border in the Pyrenees area. No wonder most walking guides say most quitters do so on the first 2 days. My research taught me it’s also not as daunting as literally climbing up and down a mountain. Over time, this leg may have been “romanticized” as “crossing the Pyrenees” though that is not to say that it’s not difficult. Let’s just say there are ways to walk AROUND the mountains. 


Many break the SJPdP to Roncesvalles route into 2 walking days, either stopping and resting the night in Orisson or in Valcarlos. Others simply skip this route and start their camino past the border in Roncesvalles. I’m determined to start from St. Jean Pied de Port. I’m also realistic enough to set this goal only up to Roncesvalles so that my next camino would be entirely in Spain’s Basque Country towards Navarra and Galicia. Small victories, I reminded myself. Just go past that crucial border crossing!  


I hope to do this entire Camino Frances before I hit 71. Why 71? It’s the age I lost my old man and I just know that if he were around, he’d do this pilgrimage walk with me.  Perhaps even at a faster pace! So there. Seems like a good plan. Wish me luck. God bless me with good health and the spirit to do this. 

CAMINO REFLECTIONS



Humility

One trick works when doing uphill climbs. Look down, as if tracing your steps. Somehow you forget how steep an incline you’re scaling. Just like in life — uphill climbs are struggles meant to humble ourselves. We struggle to reach the top but the best advice remains: succeed with your feet firmly on the ground. With heads bowed, humility is the true measure of a successful man. 


Listening

What is the best prayer while walking the Camino? I’d say the best and hardest is to listen. Everyday life has tuned us to many of life’s distractions. If only we can empty our minds of all these cobwebs that easily. It probably starts when our muscles begin to ache and the rhythm of walking dulls our senses to pull through. When we ache without suffering, we listen. The pain is dulled and we prep ourselves to listen. First to our body, then without warning, our mind opens up in prayer to listen. Prayerful thoughts without the prayer recitations. 

Mindfulness

A friend reminded me that communing with Nature is mindfulness. It comes after the initial pain and aches. One’s senses are heightened, fully engaged. Mono-tasking prevails. You walk, and mind how you walk. You look around and the beauty around you cheers you up. His presence felt with every lovely tree you pass, every stone and pebble you step on, every leaf felt crunching under your soles, every fragrance from the forest and woodlands you cross. 

Instant Familiarity & Openness

When you walk the Camino, you come across strangers who don’t feel like strangers. It’s not them. It’s YOU. The newfound “openness” within you offers instant familiarity. Walked my first Camino SOLO, and the familiar faces of fellow peregrinos made me feel safe and never alone. For a mile or two, you walk with some before bidding them “Buen Camino” – a cue you’d walk ahead or behind, depending on your pace. But for those 2 miles or so, you’re talking initially to a stranger who slowly transforms into a pilgrim buddy. Hardly asking about names, profession and status. Quickly and almost logically, these aren’t important details anymore. Pilgrim buddies rather talk about how long they’ve been walking, where they started, and how they feel. They may even share meals, clink beer bottles, laugh at jokes or pray together. This I miss. To others, don’t hesitate to walk alone. The Camino provides. God provides. 


The Gift of Time



 

Please do not grieve

For I have truly lived

Every single day & second

Not one moment wasted. 


I was born with some gifts

But later learned more tricks

To detach from wordly stuff

Love and harmony enough. 


I’ve seen snow-capped mountains

And far too many ancient fountains

Sunrises, glowing sunsets & moonlights

As pretty as the skies at twilights. 


Solitary walks my pleasures

Nothing fancy by any measure

In touch with myself, alone with my thoughts

While adding up all the naughts.


Yet there’s that time with you I relish

A memory I cherish 

Just as my hair turned gray

Unmindful even when things go astray.


I have gifted you with experiences

Plus memories & all the time I could give

Continue on, my loves, and understand

How precious is the gift of time.













Minimalism is the best idea I’ve come across of late. Tough. Not in any way easy. A friend of mine laughs every time I tell her I’m looking at my closet, agonizing which to give away. Indeed, we accumulate so much in this very material world. When I retired 16 yrs ago, I found shoes, bags, blazers, clothes still unworn, collecting dust in my closet. I saw JOY in the faces of those I gave them away to. I felt JOY seeing them wearing my stuff which I’ve ignored for months & years since I purchased them.


But minimalist-wannabe that I am, I confess the temptations are so present in this mad, mad world of consumerism. It helps that I dislike shopping. I find no joy in it. Neither do jewelry impress me. I bought a set before which cost me an arm and a leg, but wore it only 4 times that I even forgot I still have it! I buy what I need, rather than what I want. When I was still working, I remember a few of my managers teasing me — “Ma,am, your Jurassic phone is crying out to be replaced.” Or “Ma’am, this bag brand suits you better” followed by a look at my favorite, semi-worn-out bag. Once, I advised one of them to get an economy car that’s reasonably priced. He balked and joked “That (car model) isn’t even a car!” I was tempted to say I had one and I believe my pay is way higher than his.
Listen. I am comfortable. I eat well. I have several experiences tucked under my belt. I don’t Christmas-shop, but I can be generous. I travel light, and I don’t mind wearing the same wardrobe all the time. I spend on adventures and love sharing my experiences. I’ve convinced some of my friends to donate rather than exchange gifts. In my family (with the exception of the kids), we gift each other with “experiences” — a dining sponsorship, an adventure. I still have an unclaimed Sydney bridge-climb and a trip to Tasmania. If ever we shop, we prefer buying from small stalls rather than big malls.


I still have too much stuff. When I travel, I like the idea that I’m limited to a few wardrobe items, 2-3 pairs of footwear and a fixed budget. The less I can do without, the better. I discovered that we accumulate NOT for ourselves, but to please or impress others. How about pleasing those who may NEED the stuff that we only WANT?


Only last June, I was in Tokyo ( A Quick Break)  with my elves for a week. That was a fun holiday filled with many activities. 

This October, I’m back with my Sydney-based niece. Visiting more areas in Japan over 15 days to do justice to our JR Rail Pass. This is the summary of many blogs I’ve written on Japan. More blogs for posting, so drop in from time to time for blog updates. 


Tokyo

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2016/10/06/a-shinkansen-rush-to-tokyo/

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2016/10/07/a-whole-new-world-of-anime-ghibli-museum/

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2016/10/09/snoopy-museum-in-tokyo/

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2016/10/12/besties-in-tokyo/

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2016/10/11/last-night-in-odaiba-tokyo/




Kyoto

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2016/10/24/old-japan-in-kyoto/


Hakodate

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2016/10/14/its-a-squids-life-hakodate-hokkaido/


Lake Toya
https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2016/10/14/lake-toya-hokkaido/


Sapporo

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2016/10/24/almost-forgot-you-sapporo/


Otaru

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2016/10/15/whats-there-to-like-in-otaru/


Nakatsugawa (Nakasendo)

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2016/10/19/a-preview-of-the-nakasendo-magome-to-tsumago/


Nara
https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2016/10/20/dear-me-deer-me-nara/


Hiroshima & Miyajima

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2016/10/23/miyajimas-oysters-eels/

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2016/11/07/the-hall-of-1000-tatamis/


Osaka

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2016/10/21/osakas-kitchen/


And don’t miss this post on Japan’s gastronomic delights! 


FOOD TRIP 

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2016/10/25/a-food-trip-across-japan-with-a-jr-rail-pass/



A FEW MORE THOUGHTS

Only in Japan 

Happy Travels, everyone. 


Why not?  Yeah, it’s cold but NOT “sufferingly cold”. And for Cebu Pacific’s basic return fare (Manila-Sydney-Manila) of only PhP13,000, how can you go wrong? Even inclusive of those add-ons (food, baggage allowance, seat assignment, etc), it’s still a steal at US$350 or so! Again, why not? 

 

Check out these links for the winter time I spent visiting family in Australia:


Of Roadtrips, Train Journeys & Flights

Back In The City (Sydney)

Househunting: Katoomba

A 3rd Visit to Watson’s Bay

Sydney’s Barracks Museum

Lake Conjola Weekend

Flaneur On The Loose

Bushwalking in Lake Parramatta

Mayfield Garden

Coastal Walk from Bondi to Coogee

Gold Coast 


Food Trips

The Grounds of Alexandria

Salt Meats Cheese

Dining: Cupitt’s Winery & Restaurant

Tandoori King

Donto Sapporo


Enjoy, mate!



Some of you may think I’m living way beyond a “retiree’s budget” because of all the traveling I do. Well, I can’t say I haven’t been spending but I do keep to a budget whenever I can if only so I can stretch my travel fund to cover as many trips as possible without backpacking. Not that I think backpacking is wrong. Just that I can’t hack it. I do need some wardrobe, a good bed to sleep in, and my own toilet & bath. Plus I do indulge in good food. No shopping for me. I have long turned off my “acquisition mode”. Instead, I invest in EXPERIENCES, and dining is part of that. 

And so, just how do I travel without blowing my budget?  Here are a few tips.


FLIGHT DEALS



Much has been written about how to snag promo flights and redeeming miles. Let me just say one only needs to look for them. 

  • Travel off-season
  • Save those miles
  • Subscribe to airline newsletters
  • Watch out for promo deals


FREE WALKING TOURS

I’m surprised not too many know this. Or perhaps many think they’re not good. Let me prove you wrong. Many of my best guided walking tours are free. Madrid, Florence, Rome, Tokyo, Paris, Berlin. Many of them field their best, I repeat, their BEST tour guide to entice you to book their other “paid” tours. They make you like the free tour so much that you’d be willing to book some tours with them, and pay for them. Others are simply there to promote tourism in their city. Check out these links: 

http://www.newberlintours.com/daily-tours/free-tour.html

http://www.florencefreetour.com/

      http://www.newamsterdamtours.com/

      http://www.discoverwalks.com/tour/paris-walking-tours/montmartre-tour/


Just google for FREE walking tours and your destination. Like “free walking tour in Berlin”, and be surprised how many pop out.  And if you’re happy with the guided tour, be generous and give a tip. Typical is $10-12. 


METRO PASS

First off when visiting a city for the first time, cluster all the attractions you wish to visit and figure out how to go from one cluster to the next. See what’s the minimum number of rides you need. Walk if you can. Then decide whether to buy that rail or metro or day pass. Do your arithmetic. 


LODGING and DINING


Booking.com allows me to book and cancel. I book to be safe that I’m sure there’s a bed waiting for me somewhere. I cancel after I’ve searched for better or cheaper lodgings. Most often, I choose based on location — near or in city center, walking distance to metro or subway stations, and SAFE. 

There are many choices these days. I choose AirBnb in areas where hotels and breakfasts are pricey. AirBnb or serviced apartments allow me to prepare simple breakfasts, and pre-dinner cocktails or night caps. Plus do my laundry — so I can pack light.  You bet major consideration in AirBnb selection is a coffee machine and a washing machine.  Another is wifi and cocktail glasses. Lunch is almost always a calendared event. Eat local. Have a good midday meal for energy, to sustain you through the day. No desserts. I take that  as mid afternoon break with my coffee or tea in some joint we chance upon. Dinners are hit and miss affairs — depends on the place, and how tiring the day was. 


FREEBIES


This works with many museums. Why pay €15 to visit Prado Museum when it’s free from 6-8pm daily? You can instead choose 3-4 halls or artists each visit and go 3 free days. A little research will guide you on the free museum days or hours. 


DINING Tips 


Of course, it depends on your budget. But list down all the local foods and see where they’re famously served. Lampredotto in Florence is best served in this hole-in-the-wall in Mercato Centrale called Nerbone. I bought my percebes in the market in Santiago de Compostela and asked a restaurant across the mercado to cook it for us for €6. We skipped the pricey food tours in San Sebastián and simply hopped our way around, watching where there are lines or where locals go. By itself, it’s an adventure!

Sure, you can reserve tables in fancy restaurants and enjoy good food. But again, do your research on what’s best in the area. Check out Yelp, TripAdvisor, etc. for dining tips. Plus there are apps like El Tenedor (The Fork) or booky where some restaurants give as much as 30% off on your food bill when you dine certain hours of the day. Like lunch at 3pm — why not, in a fancy restaurant. 

Also, do visit the local market. Buy your breakfast supplies here (and the bread from a good bakery). Jamon in España, Prosciutto or Parma ham in Italia, croissant in France, etc. 


FINALLY. A GPS.


Whether you’re walking or driving, it makes lotsa sense to have/rent a portable wifi to use the GPS in your phone. Google maps. Waze. TripAdvisor. A friend of mine traveled with her big family and one constant problem for them is where to eat. Wifi-enabled, we were always guided on NEARBY recommended/ranked dining places wherever we were. The same app will likewise guide you on nearby landmarks. Such can save you lots of time and money. 

And when in despair, go look for a big department store and check out their food court 😀 A big group can “separate” here and choose to eat what they like, then sit close to each other. 


HAPPY TRAVELS!


Half the family. Six whole days. Five nights. A flight deal. An AirBnb find. A Disneysea dream. A shopping spree. A few discoveries. All within budget! 

Just tap on the topics below for blog photos and details. Enjoy! 

A Happy Place: Disneysea Park Tokyo

Twinnings In Tokyo

Tsukiji Market

Dining In Tokyo

Family Travel Made Easy


We didn’t just do the pilgrimage walk in Italy. We prepped ourselves for this Camino while home-based in Florence, then we rewarded ourselves after while home-based in Rome. 

All in all, we had a magnificent time in Italy. We visited new sites and revisited some old, familiar, favorite places. We feasted on long-missed dishes and also discovered new favorites. Just click on the topics/places to access the blogs. 


Florence

Dining 101 In Firenze

Lucca & Pisa

A Night of Opera

Viterbo 

AngryPig Birretta e Porchetta

Pasta (and some desserts) In Italia

Rome

San Giovanni Rotondo

Lanciano & Monte Sant’ Angelo

Sorrento

Capri

 

So, as the song goes……..

“Sweet dreams are made of this.  Who am I to disagree? I travel the world and the seven seas. Everybody’s looking for something.”