Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Double Take on Amsterdam!

by: Mhe-anne L. Ojeda


Of all my August travel memories, Amsterdam, the capital of Holland (Netherlands) is set apart as the only country I visited for two (2) consecutive days without having to sleep there at night!

Yes! All you need is an adventurous spirit and a loving boyfriend slash tour guide haha.


During the last leg of my first Europe trip in August 2007, I have two (2) long lay overs in Amsterdam with the route Paris - Amsterdam - Sweden - Amsterdam - Manila.



I met Mark in Paris while I left my trip companion, Atty.Joji Olivete in Arlanda,Sweden and needed to pick her up before our flight to Manila.


Since Amsterdam is situated very centrally in the Netherlands and is not far from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport by train or bus, it would be a pity not to explore Amsterdam’s exciting sights!So from Paris,I flew to Amsterdam while Mark took the express train.

I got to Amsterdam ahead of Mark, so I braved myself and checked out some sights on foot.



The city centre is surprisingly compact and all key attractions can easily be reached by foot like the Dam Square, The Dungeon, and Maddam Tassuads Wax Museum. I was lucky to get in touch with an old friend,Victor Castillo,so it felt good to have company while waiting for Mark.

With Victor's crazy tour ideas like a walk around the 'red - light district' and Mark's commendable suggestions, I had one of the best walking tour before I headed for the airport that day! Amsterdam is so compressed that nearly all tourist attractions are located within walking distance from each other.



For my turn-around visit (after that comfortable sleep on KLM flights back and forth Sweden-Amsterdam), topping my 'to do list' with Atty.Joji is to see Amsterdam from the water. Amsterdam has 165 canals with a total length of 100kms! With all that water, one should not miss taking a cruise and exploring Amsterdam’s waterways!



So we got on that Museum City Boat and cruise along the canals for an hour enjoying the numerous monumental buildings along side and getting amazed at the beautiful gables (frontpieces at roof level) of the houses.


For history sake, we visited the Anne Frank House, a museum showcasing the hiding place where Anne Frank wrote her famous diary during World War II. Anne Frank was a normal girl who for more than two years described in her diary the events of her daily life in hiding.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Before I Hit The Twig: Busk in A European Country (Amsterdam,Netherlands)

by: Mhe-anne L. Ojeda
In Front of the Dam Square in Amsterdam

One of the perfect place to "Busk in a European country", and put to a test this task in the book "2001 Things To Do Before You Die" is at Dam Square in Amsterdam,Netherlands, a European country I visited the same month in 2007.


Buskers in Dam Square near Madam Tussauds

"Busk" is a chiefly British word which means "to entertain by dancing, singing, or reciting on the street or in a public place".


Buskers Abound in Dam Square

Dam Square is the very center of Amsterdam. It was once the central marketplace of Amsterdam where literally everything under the moon was sold. Now it is home to a number of street performers, dancing, singing, or reciting.

But since I don't have the guts to busk I satisfied myself watching and enjoying to my hearts' content the "buskers" in the like of Kingkong, etc.


In Front of Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum

Another reason Dam Square is famous for busking is the presence of Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum which can be seen on this picture. I did not go inside for lack of time (since I will be meeting my prince Mark at the train station in a few minutes). I heard though that inside are live-sized waxworks images of real people like celebrities Bon Jovi, the late Michael Jackson and Arnold Schwartzenegger.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Clark's Nayong Pilipino: JRCLS Philippines Chapter Anniversary Venue

by: Mhe-anne L. Ojeda



We visited Nayong Pilipino Clark Expo as part of the closing activity for the Second Anniversary celebration of the J.Reuben Clark Law Society Philippines Chapter last August 21,2010.



"Nayong Pilipino Clark Expo" is a theme park which features the Philippines' diverse and unique culture and tourist spots in a miniature-version. It is the same concept as that of the defunct Nayong Pilipino near the Manila airports but only located in Clark, Pampanga inside the former US Air base converted into a freeport zone.



After some picture - taking at the gate,we proceeded to check first Emilio Aguinaldo's House just to see how the replica of his house compares with the "real Mc Coy",which Law Society members visited last year during the First Anniversary celebrations in Cavite.



Within the section of the Heritage Houses is the Pampanga house with furnishings depicting the way of life of the Kapangpangan or those living in the river bed (or pampang) as the origin of Pampanga province,the venue for the Law Society closing activity.



Our next stop was at the beautiful structure recreating the historic Barasoain Church (the original Barasoain church in Malolos, Bulacan, Philippines) where we learned that many historic events and revolutionary movements occurred at this place.



The central part of Nayong Pilipino is where you’ll find the Colonial Plaza area which depicts Spanish-styled promenade centers similar to the parks in the Vigan region with its gazebo structure.



On our way to the Kalinga Area section of the park, we passed by the Lagoon area which is the amusement area that features activities such as boating, fishing and playing bubble balloons.



The Kalinga Village (showcasing Kalinga, the landlocked province in the northernmost part of the Cordillera Region)allows us to take a peek into the mountainous, rugged terrain, dramatic river valleys, and wonderfully, lush-green forests and rich Kalingan way of life.





We then went to the Torogan House (can't find the picture!)which is the ancestral home of the Sultan or Datu, the village chief in Maranao, Southern Philippines and posed along the stairways like our "major, major" beauty queen,Maria Venus Raj who made it to the Top 5 and crowned as 4th Runner Up awhile ago because of her "major,major" answer to the Q and A.



Our last stop was the Ifugao Village (featuring typical Ifugao houses called "Ulog"), a depiction of the province in Northern Luzon. The world-famous Banaue Rice Terraces are the main tourist attraction in the province and replicated here.There was, however, a rice harvest recently, so the replica did not come close with the "real Mc coy".

Nayong Pilipino Clark Expo is open from Monday to Sunday, from 8:am until 6:00pm with P20.00 entrance fee for children and P30 for college students & adults and a parking fee of P20.00 and P50.00 for cars and coasters respectively.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Hometowns Camarines Norte and Camarines Sur: Rice Paddies and More!

by: Mhe-anne L. Ojeda


Along with the popularity (created largely by dethronement a few weeks after grand coronation) of Philippine's bet to the Miss Universe 2010 Beauty Pageant,Maria Venus Raj, came the sudden rise and awareness about farms and about her hometown - Bato, Camarines Sur where she was said to have learned the catwalk on the rice paddies. More and more tourists want to experience walking on rice paddies like Venus to see if they are also " beauty queen material" haha. Seriously, as farm life becoming an appealing option for travelers nowadays (to find some peace and quiet, a rather scarce commodity for those in the city), my two hometowns Camarines Norte and Camarines Sur are getting noticed.


Camarines Norte is a province in the northwestern coast of the Bicol Peninsula. It is about eight hours drive from Manila through lush forests and picturesque seascapes of Quezon Province. I lived in Mangcawayan,Vinzons, Camarines Norte until I was 9 years old so I have seen and walked on rice paddies myself. During recent years I have been back there a number of times to tour around my visiting foreign friends.



As for Bato, Camarines Sur, I passed by there a number of times. Bato is a rural municipality in the province of Camarines Sur, Philippines. Although, the municipality of Bato, is known for being the "home to Sinarapan, the world's smallest fish", which occupies the waters of Lake Bato, my personal memories of the place is its Pancit Bato.

Pancit Bato, (the original and the malunggay, and ampalaya flavored ones) is a family favorite. Whenever I pass by Bato,Camarines Sur (on my way to Albay and Sorsogon from Naga City and vice versa),I would have a quick stop in Bato to bring home its tasty "Pancit Bato".

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Las Vegas,Nevada: Recollected

by: Mhe-anne L. Ojeda


Las Vegas, Nevada (USA) or the so-called "The Entertainment Capital of the World",is again in the limelight as the venue for this year's Miss Universe Beauty pageant's series of activities and coronation slated to be held in Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino on August 23, 2010. Philippines' bet Maria Venus Raj is vying for the coveted title, 11 years after a Philippine candidate made it to the Top 5 pick.

Following closely the Miss Universe Pageant activities on the internet and seeing the venue, has brought back personal memories of my first visit in Las Vegas about the same date this month of 2002.

I was in Las Vegas in the summer month (i.e summer there is from June through September) with my friend Dearie and so I experienced a real hot and dry US state when I visited my friend Maidy and mission mate KC Black.

KC and Maidy toured us around the Las Vegas Strip for at least five days we were there. Las Vegas Strip is where many of the largest hotels, casinos and resort properties in the world are located. In fact, these modern hotels, casinos, restaurants, and residential high-rises on the Strip has established Las Vegas as one of the most popular destinations for tourists.

Since ate Dearie and I do not gamble, one of the reasons I was fascinated by Las Vegas were the free attractions and shows located on the hotel casino properties. Some of those I like include the water fountains at Bellagio, the Sirens of TI show at Treasure Island - TI, the volcano at The Mirage, and the Fall of Atlantis and Festival Fountain at Caesars Palace. Inside the casino area of MGM Grand (which we entered just to satisfy my curiosity of what a casino look like (yea, not to gamble!), I like the glass-sided lion habitat, in which up to six lions are shown every day.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Kneeboarding: First Stint At Camsur Watersports Complex (CWC)

by: Mhe-anne L. Ojeda



I wrote on this blog last April 2009 about Camsur Watersports Complex (CWC) in Naga,Camarines Sur earning a reputation for being a playground for water sports enthusiast! And you don't have to be a pro to enjoy wakeboarding in a world-class fashion with free lessons from resident instructors using basic equipment.



Yesterday, we got to CWC at quarter to 5pm with a determination to try wakeboarding. We paid for a night rate of P215 per hour (which comes with the wakeboard,helmet,vest, instructor and 15 minutes trial.There is a P500 deposit per person which is refundable).Morning rate is only P165 an hour with the same inclusions.



Well as I have written,you don't need to be a pro to try this water adventure - called wakeboarding coz I was able to try it and had fun with it! But of course, I was also very apprehensive at first. With my petite size and a weak heart,this very strenuous water sport seems not fitted for me. Good thing, CWC has "wakeboarding for beginners". One will really have to start out first on a kneeboard!Since there is a lower center of gravity in Kneeboarding, beginners can easily learn the basics of cable wakeboarding.


Wow! I finally tested the waters so to speak - kneeboarding with my friend Tes and my brother Mike while my Papa, Mama and Ate Margo cheered, posed for pics and watched us laid flat on the water or made a complete round at the lake.

Here's a collage of kneeboarding stint at CWC.

 


Kneeboarding was such a great experience that although my body still aches until now, the experience is compensating for it all!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Caramoan: Islands Adventure In Philippines Secret Paradise!

by: Mhe-anne L. Ojeda


Caramoan gives 'islands adventure' a new meaning with its dozens of islands strings and rock formations suited for island hopping and swimming.

In between the series of August typhoons, we were lucky to enjoy a full day of sunshine yesterday, cruising around the clusters of beautiful islands in the so called "Philippines Secret Paradise". An awe inspiring piece of nature, Caramoan is isolated from the rest of Camarines Sur, maintaining its real unblemished paradise far from the crowded commercialized type of tourism.



I had been wanting to visit Caramoan, but never found a perfect time. So when I finally got the chance of stepping in the shores of Caramoan with my friends Ate Margo, Tes and Kuya Mike availing of overnight commuter package (for only P2,500 per person for minimum of 4pax to 6pax inclusive of hotel accommodation, three meals, land transfers and island hopping),we took no time hopping and cruising along the six islands of Butad, Kabalignad, Kabutunan, Lajos, Matukad and Minalgos.


Butad
- experiencing the stretches of very fine white sand and splashing cool crisp water

Since we took the 8am ferry (coz we missed the first ferry that left Sabang port at 5:40am), we got in the island at around 10am. After checking in our accommodation and eating brunch, we were on our way to our first stop - Butad island.

Butad island is a small strip of island with its fine white sand. It is so close to Gota, the venue for the tribal council of Survivor Serbia which is currently shooting in the island. We immediately played in the cool crisp water showing Gota behind.



Kabalignad
- discovering the coral havens and sunbathing on its milky white sands
After Butad,our guide Rico of Caramoan Travel and Tours (owned and managed by Caramoan Brgy.Captain, Virgilio "Totem" Avila), took us to Kabalignad Island.Since it is still low tide, our boat stayed afloat in the middle of the ocean and we had fun snorkeling. It is so beautiful down there and truly a coral haven.

When the tide went up, we were able to come near the shore of pure, fine, milky white sands.


Kabutunan
-enjoying the scenic views

After snorkeling to our hearts content and feeding our eyes with such beauty, it was time to feed our stomach with the island finds. We proceeded to Kabutunan island for some "buko" (young coconut) while enjoying a scenic view of the other nearby islands.


Lajos
-swimming on its crystal waters

The sea tide level got perfect for a visit at Lajos island. With the Survivor Serbia's set up (maybe for the next challenge), we weren't certain we can swim in its crystal waters. But we did! Wow, Truly a place where Nature casts its spells! It becomes easy to see why Caramoan is and has been the favorite of multiple international Survivor films which includes French, Israel, Bulgarians,Swedes and now Serbians.


Matukad
-current venue for Survivor Serbia


Matukad island's fame is routed to the fact that it is the venue for Survivor Serbian's cast away "house" - a floating barge. I was so lucky to step on the barge and took photo.

During our short stint on this island,the director and camera man of Survivor Serbia came to take some shots.






Minalgos
hiding/climbing on pure solid marbles

To wrap up our great ocean adventure, we visited Minalgos Island and was mystified by its rocks and limestone cliffs. It is so great to see,feel and be with nature at its finest.


Truly, Caramoan, is Philippines unexplored paradise which I am so blessed to have seen 'up close and personal'.

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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Helsinki, Finland: Summer On Foot!

by: Mhe-anne L. Ojeda



Aboard the Silja Serenade from Stockholm,Sweden, I arrived in Helsinki three years ago today. The city centre bustles with life in the summertime and I am so lucky to experience Helsinki’s many sights and attractions on foot!

Like its usual August year after year, Finland's capital, Helsinki, boasts an array of attractions such as historical sights and grand structures that left me a lasting impression.



Market Square

Since we were on a cruise ship, we were immediately greeted by the famous Market Square as we walked out of the ship. It is a busy seaside street full of stalls and tents selling food,souvenirs like fur clothings, jewellery, paintings, and fruits. Market Square is only steps away from the Esplanadi Park, where ferry boats are parked en-route to other islands.



Senate Square

For a remarkable authentic take of Helsinki, we walked around the Senate Square , just off the Market Square. Senate Square is bounded by four majestic buildings - the Helsinki Cathedral, the University of Helsinki, the National Library of Finland and the Government Palace. It is Helsinki's center for arts, culture, religion, politics and education. In the middle of the square is the statue of Tsar Alexander II of Russia.






Aleksanterinkatu

Aleksanterinkatu is the central commercial street of Helsinki which is just a stone's throw away from Senate Square. Shops, cafes, restaurants and the Stockmann department store all in one convenient location. We ate at the Hotel Kämp (or Kamp), regarded as the most luxurious and most expensive hotel in the five Nordic countries. Roland said the Rollingstones stayed at this hotel.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Midnight Sun And More In Trondheim, Norway!

by: Mhe-anne L. Ojeda


Three years ago today, I experienced this amazing sight in a stunningly beautiful country in Europe!


Courtesy of my kind-hearted friends in Sweden - Beth and Roland Ulander, I found myself in Trondheim, the third largest city of Norway.






From the end of July to the start of August every year, Trondheim celebrates the St. Olav's Festival, Norway's largest church and cultural festival and Roland thought it would be good for us to see it! Bless his heart! Norway is indeed a land of beautiful scenery. A must-see for everyone!



In the summertime, there is a phenomenon occurring in Norway where the sun remains visible at the local midnight. Even in early August, the sunset in Trondheim (quite far south of the polar circle) was at 10 PM and sunrise at 4AM. Given fair weather, the sun is visible for a continuous 24 hours. I consider it an experience of a lifetime to witness the Midnight sun and enjoy the exotic "white" night - a never ending evening of August 2007! It was truly unique and unforgettable!



Some of the sites we visited in Trondheim,Norway (with descriptions copied from the brochures).

Nidarosdomen Cathedral

The cathedral in Trondheim is the national sanctuary of Norway, built over the grave of St. Olav. Work began in 1070, but the oldest parts still in existence date from the middle of the twelfth century. In 1869 extensive restorations were begun, and a century later Nidarosdomen was again restored to its original grandeur.




The Archbishop's Palace

The Archbishop's Palace in Trondheim is one of the best preserved building complexes of its kind in Europe. It is the oldest secular building in Scandinavia. Building began in the second half of the twelfth century, and this was the archbishop's residence until the Reformation in 1537.


Though Trondheim,Norway was not part of my must-see list when I set foot in it,I came out of it with a great sense of admiration for its eminently likeable sights which are best appreciated in leisurely fashion over a couple of days of exploration!

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