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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.”

 

 

 


The equivalent of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela is the Via Francigena. The first ends in Santiago de Compostela in Northwestern Spain but involves many routes with the same final destination. The latter starts from Canterbury, England and ends in Rome. Specifically, in the Vatican. We walked the last 100+ kilometers from Viterbo to the Vatican. This is our story. 


Day 0: Viterbo

Day 1:  Viterbo to Vetralla

Day 2:  Vetralla to Sutri

Day 3:  Sutri to Campagnano

Day 4:  Campagnano to Isola Farnese

Day 5:   Isola Farnese to Rome/Vatican

Day 6:  Roma, Finally. 



Just click on the links to read the blog for each VF walking day. Buon Camino!

       


Hola, witches! 

I got back this early morning from Rome where I completed my Via Francigena . The last 100 km-Camino from Viterbo to Rome, Italy was most certainly backbreaking and hard on my poor knees. You bet we all felt wasted after each day of 6-9 hours of walking! 


The first day was without a break for coffee, beer or even pee stops. If you need to go, it’s bush land for you. No town in-between. Somehow, I missed the lively vibe in the Camino Frances’ last 100km stretch. Walked 5 days and Day 2 was excruciatingly difficult at 30kms with only 1 break for late lunch before meandering in woodland. We crossed a stream 3 times and I must confess those improvised bridges weren’t meant to encourage walkers. Day 3 was cold and wet. Day 4 was hot and humid. The 5th and last walking day towards Rome was most uninspiring. Roadside walks but most times, no sidewalks. Was I glad we were a big group and a fun group too. In all, we met only 9 other pilgrims. They, on the other hand, must have been pleased to meet our group of 11 pellegrinos.


So unlike my Camino Frances last year. Same last stretch of the final 100+ kms. But no way like it. So here are some lessons learned from this Italian Camino.

  1. None to Barely any breaks for snacks, toilet or just to sit it out. Water bottles a must or dehydrate!
  2. Prepare for ALL weather. Hot. Cold. Dry. Wet. Needless to say, you need a good raincoat and walking shoes that keep your feet dry. Layer up! Peel off as necessary.
  3. Medications, first-aid kits welcome. We met a couple along the way. The man took a bad fall and they had to quit. They hitched a ride back to town. As we walked, we imagined how it could have been much worse if it happened in the bush land, where we meandered for well over 3-4 hours. 
  4. Lunch stops are for lunch. But don’t overstuff yourself just because you’ve been walking hungry for hours. An energy bar when you’re feeling tired and deprived should suffice. Quit the coffee and beer. With no toilet in sight, it’s best to walk semi-hungry. Alcohol is dehydrating. Save it for dinner times. 
  5. Don’t count on meeting people along the Camino trail. Pellegrinos are very, very scarce. Neither is the trail lined with cottages with people living in them. 
  6. Souvenirs? Forget it. No Camino shells, VF t-shirts, pins etc. I’m no collector, but I would have bought refrigerator magnets and key chains if there were any. 
  7. Stamp your pilgrim passport in the hotels and trattorias where you stayed/ate. There were hardly any tiny chapels along the trail nor in the hamlets we passed. When found, the chapels were either closed or without stamps. At times, we wondered if they’d know if we walked or bused in.
  8. The equivalent of a Pilgrim’s Certificate after walking a minimum of 100 kms is called a Testimonium. This can be obtained in a Center in the St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican. The same Center SELLS tickets to the Vatican Museum and other stuff. So if you think it’s a dramatic moment to have pilgrims lined up to be certified and recognized, you’re dreaming. 
  9. Do your research on where to sleep, eat, have your credenziale stamped, and where to obtain your Testimonium. Even in the Vatican itself, hardly anyone in uniform know what Via Francigena is all about. 
  10. Lastly, I didn’t bring a camera for this Camino. I made do with my iPhone6 plus which takes decent shots. My friend’s Samsung takes even better shots. So we were able to document and chronicle our walk without the unnecessary weight.


So there. We survived the VF, and we’re lucky to be walking together. I dare say the Via Francigena is NOT ideal for solo or lone walkers. 


Watch this page for more photos and details on our day-to-day Camino experience from Viterbo to Roma. 


Buon Camino! 

Food Coma In Spain


We landed in Sevilla for the first leg of our binge-ing here in Spain. No first-time visitors among us, and so the agenda centered on food. Right on the day of arrival, we hit 3 tapa bars in our neighborhood of Barrio Santa Cruz. What a fitting start before calling it a night. Next few days we continued with our “feast” and also found time to arrange a day trip to Ronda before moving to Madrid. This is our story of gluttony. 

 

SEVILLA

Bar-hopping In Sevilla

Doña Elvira In Barrio Santa Cruz

La Brunilda

 

RONDA

Ronda’s Puente Nuevo

 

MADRID

La Pulperia de Victoria

A Birthday Lunch In Casa Botin

StreetXO

Casa Alberto

Mercado de San Anton

Solo: La Gabinoteca

Solo: Lhardy 

Solo: Bar Jurucha

Solo: The Little Big Cafe

Missing (In) Madrid

 

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 19 IN MOROCCO


No, I am not talking about Tom Cruise’s latest MIS. I’m talking about our group of 18+1 in Maroc. All of 18 flying in from Manila via Abu Dhabi, plus one based in Casablanca who booked all our tours, vans, hotels, restaurants and quite simply, everything. Including shopping. We can’t thank you enough, Lulu! 


Just before this trip, I was so looking forward to 3 things: Dinners in Rick’s Cafe and some riads, the medina in Marrakech, and a night in a bivouac in the Sahara with sunset and sunrise as bonuses. Yes, I confess visiting mosques and mausoleums don’t excite me. Certainly not in the same breadth as the experience to be gained visiting souks, dining, or sleeping in a desert camp. Let’s just say I’m more into interactive experiences and natural landscapes. 


This is how we spent our time in exotic Morocco. 


Arrival In Casablanca

Dining In Rick’s Cafe

Visiting The Dead In Rabat

Come Weeth Me To Zee Kasbah

Meknes Surprises!

Volubilis

Fes

Fes to Merzouga Roadtrip

Sahara Desert Adventures

From The Gorges of Todra to Lawrence of Arabia

Marrakech

Essaouira


Just click on the topics to access links to the blogs.  This is another blogsite under 

retirementsuitsme” site. Now, don’t forget to hit SUBSCRIBE or FOLLOW, in case you haven’t.

By subscribing, you get the blog updates.


Happy reading! 




I have been dreaming of my camino de Santiago de Compostela like forever. I realized that dream on the first week of May 2015. Yes, just this year. And just nearly 3 months ago. I waited for many of my friends to join me, only to decide to do it solo. Well, not exactly solo. I joined caminoways which organized my camino for 6 walking days and booked all my hotel and luggage transfers, as well as my breakfasts and dinners. I dreaded walking so far only to find no decent accommodations and sleeping without dinner. I decided well. The pre-booked hotels and meals were all good, and all I worried about is finishing the day’s walk. All of 113 kilometers in 6 walking days. Minimum daily walk is 15 kilometers. Other days, we walked 30 kilometers including detours! 


 

On the Feast Day of Saint James (July 25), I mused over my own camino. Interestingly, I thought back to all those moments when I felt God’s presence in the green fields, the moist smell of the forest, the encounters with grazing farm animals, the non-verbal interactions via sign language with friendly locals, the centuries-old medieval bridges crossed by many pilgrims before me, the tiny, dark churches in the quaint hamlets we passed, the muddied paths and puddles of rainwater along the trail. NEVER did the pain of walking so many miles in the rain cross my mind. If at all, I look at my little toes and reminisce how I persevered to finish my camino. A little triumphant sensation there, I confess. 


 

Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time savoring my camino moments after my walk. Soon after, I met up with cousins visiting Madrid and then I had to fly to Berlin to meet up with friends before flying into Copenhagen to join our Scandinavian cruise. After sailing back to Denmark, I then flew back to Madrid with a couple of friends to join up with 2 more couples flying in from USA. The reunion lasted 3 weeks and covered many side trips from Madrid including bus and train trips to Burgos, Bilbao, Getaria, San Sebastian, Lourdes (in France), Irun, Santiago de Compostela (yes, I went back too soon), Muxia, Fisterra, Oporto, Fatima and Lisbon.  The adventure with friends left me no time to really indulge in more musings over my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Besides, the experience was clouded by a couple more pilgrimages to Lourdes, France and Fatima, Portugal. It’s an altogether wonderful experience. Really. Just that I would have wanted to relive the memory of EVERY SINGLE DAY of my camino and remember how all the yellow arrows directed me throughout my weeklong camino. 


 

I have been “on the go” since May. Even well before that, as I spent a week in Madrid doing more “practice walks” before hopping on that 6 hour train to Santiago de Compostela. When I returned to Manila mid-June, I only had a week to prepare for my family from Sydney spending a whole month with us. Plus there’s the Bangkok wedding which the entire family and a few friends (all 23 of us!) attended. On the feast day of Saint James, the last batch of my OZ family took the flight back to Sydney. I am left with many happy memories of family reunions, wedding, Bangkok sidetrips, and quite honestly, bonding across 4 generations within our family.  Such memories would last me many lifetimes. As would my “me-moments with my God” during my camino. I find it a luxury to indulge myself with those lovely images and experiences from my camino now. No matter what you hear or read, your Camino is YOUR CAMINO.  It’s a personal experience — an adventure, if you like — that is completely your own. I walked more than a hundred kilometers but more than half of those walking ALONE. Alone with my thoughts. In sync with Nature, and over-the-top with the wondrous solitude to pray as much and as long for others, and for myself and my family. Before the walk, I listed a hundred names of people I’d pray for. A kilometer for each, some of whom I do not know at all. The thought of praying for someone else pulled me through. Funny that whenever I prayed for myself, I’d always catch myself praying for “no blisters”. More so whenever I stop to change my socks, wiggle my toes and slather my feet with Vaseline. I even picked up the habit of ordering a beer to “reward” myself every afternoon, and some glasses of red wine come dinner time. Every morning when I woke up, I prayed and thanked the Lord for the renewed energy, well-rested limbs, and newfound enthusiasm for another day’s walk. I never lost the excitement over what I’ll find along the camino trail. Somehow, I likewise looked forward to the mid-morning and late lunch breaks  when I find myself interacting with fellow pilgrims from different countries. One funny thing here is finding yourself deep in conversation with another pilgrim whose name you never asked. Yet you remember his nationality, from where he started his camino, and how long he has been walking.  Other times, you’d be walking with a few for about a mile, engaged in serious and not-so-serious conversations, before bidding each other “Buen Camino”. If you meet them at your next coffee break, you greet each other like long lost friends. Such is the camino routine and vibes and I gladly eased into this  “behavior”. 


 

I finished my camino without any blisters. I pity those who trudged on with blisters, nasty sore toes,  and for a few, lost toenails.  Thankful every time I reached our hotel even when there were days we were soaking from the rain. Nothing beats that first beer of the day. Except perhaps that first minute when you soak your tired feet in a tub filled with hot water. Many times I fell asleep till the water turned really cold around my swollen feet. Every night, I’d wash my hair and then wear my camino clothes for the next day. Yes, fat chance I’d jump into my pajamas and then change into my camino shirt and shorts the following morning. Happened only on the first night. 😄 Waking up every morning was a breeze as I only needed to brush my teeth, put on my socks and shoes, and walk out the room. I’m not embarassed to admit this. Really. And it’s one good advice I’d give anyone planning a camino. Starting the day right, with as much ease and convenience, is the way to go. 


 

SLOW. I’m beginning to like this word. It is NOT a contest. Why rush? You have the WHOLE DAY to do it. My daily camino started every morning at a convenient time of 8:30 am. It helps a lot that you know you have a room in the next hotel where you’d finish your day’s walk.  Invariably, I’m done by mid-afternoon. And that includes coffee breaks, lunch breaks, pee breaks, oxygen breaks, and the occasional beer or wine. Mind you, I lingered over my lunch. It’s a major social activity for the day. A time to meet new walking buddies, swap first-aid plasters and ointments, listen to more (Irish) jokes 😄, “score” some passing hunks on bikes 😜, and share some energy bars sitting and adding weight to your backpacks. Altogether, these breaks are all too important to rest your limbs and maintain your sanity. When you start having a conversation with your leg muscles, your hip joints or your little toes, you know it’s time for a cafe con leche, cafe cortado, cerveza, rioja, or a bocadillo. 👣👣👣


 

Will I do another camino in my lifetime? I’ve met many septuagenarians who whizzed past me. Many walked alone. Many on their 2nd or 3rd camino. I would love to do this again. Perhaps walk the whole hog from St. Jean or Roncesvalles — but in installments. Like a week or 2 at a time.  Let’s see. Meanwhile, BUEN CAMINO! 


 

For more details and photos, check out my blog here.  And yes, do share your own camino memories here. 😀


Hi everyone! If you guys haven’t FOLLOWED or signed up to subscribe to retirementsuitsme , now’s the time to do it to get updates on my latest blogs. Here’s the link. Just tap and tick off “FOLLOW”, then plug in your email address.

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com 

For those who haven’t signed up, this lifeisacelebration site will continue to post blog summaries and provide links. On our latest Bangkok adventure, it is still a work in progress but here’s an initial summary. Watch this page for additional blog postings. Better still, follow lifeisacelebration on Facebook and/or subscribe to retirementsuitsme blogsite.

Our Bangkok Cribs

Floating Market

Elephant Ride

Bang Pa-In Palace

Ayutthaya UNESCO Heritage Site

A Thai Engagement Procession

A Thai-Buddhist Wedding Ceremony

Art In Paradise Trick-Eye Museum

Chocolate Ville

Terminal 21
Keep reading!