Italy: Giotto’s Campanile in Florence

CSC_0790The Piazza del Duomo is one of the most interesting places to visit in Florence and it is just a few minutes walk from the Florence central train station.



DSC_0792Florence’s main cathedral, the bell tower (campanile) and the Baptistery of St. John are all in the Piazza del Duomo.



DSC_0746Florence’s Duomo is the second longest church in Italy after St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.




CSC_0755Ordinarily called Il Duomo di Firenze, this cathedral’s officially called The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower).


CSC_0751Standing right next to the basilica is the bell tower which is one of the great showcases of Florentine Gothic architecture designed by Giotto di Bondone or simply Giotto.



DSC_0745When you are in Piazza del Duomo, you probably would, at one time, need to decide whether to go up the Dome of the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore or Giotto’s Campanile or do both or skip both.





DSC_0786My wife and I decided to go up Giotto’s Campanile instead. The tower would take us to a vantage point with a breathtaking view of the nearby cathedral’s dome towering over the city and the harbor.




We already bought the ticket to go up the campanile until we realized there was no elevator and we have to climb up 414 steps to the top of the bell tower!  We were not prepared but we did it anyway!



CSC_0761At the first of. five levels of the tower we got a view of the Baptistry of Florence, a religious building dedicated to its patron saint, John the Baptist. It was originally believed to be a Roman temple dedicated to Mars.



CSC_0766Halfway through our ascent we had this view of the dome, which dominates the cathedral exterior, and was engineered by Filippo Brunellesch.




DSC_0769We took from above snapshots of the place voted many times as the best city to live in……



DSC_0764….and the views were truly breathtaking.






DSC_0785Finally we reached the top of the bell tower and the cathedral dome (slightly higher than the campanile) is gloriously dominating the Florentine skyline.


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My wife and I took turns taking our photos with the dome. Unless one has a selfie stick, it’s rather difficult to take a selfie due to the narrow walkway at the top of the bell tower.



CSC_0759Going down the bell tower was definitely easier than climbing up.  When we reached the ground we explored the other side of the basilica.



DSC_0787We also checked the bronze door panels of the baptistery by Ghiberti.



DSC_0788It is said that when Michaelangelo first saw them, he supposedly exclaimed, “Oh door worthy of heaven!”




DSC_0791We walked away from Piazza del Duomo feeling awed and exhausted.



DSC_0793As we looked back I believe we made the right decision to climb up the campanile instead of the cathedral’s dome if we had to choose only one option.




Cambodia: Angkor Archaeological Park

My wife and I wanted to maximize our short vacation to the Philippines so we wanted to visit a nearby Asian country that both of us have never been to. Cambodia, in particular Siem Reap, became the unanimous choice. The primary reason for our trip to Siem Reap would be to visit the World Heritage Angkor Archaeological Park that includes the world-famous Angkot Wat Temple, the world’s largest religious building.


Angkor Wat Sunrise Experience

I have read from some first time visitors to Angkor Wat that the sunrise tour is overrated but after experiencing it I’d say it is not. It’s a different experience as we allotted one morning to wake up at 4:30 a.m. for the tour. We were picked up at our hotel at 5:00 a.m. by our designated driver. If one has already bought a ticket for the day,  the pickup time would be 30 minutes later depending on the sunrise timing. Take note that the ticket counters open at 5:00 a.m. and one needs to be personally present in the ticket line for a photo ID to be taken. The ticket that costs $37 for a full day validity will have the photo in it to be checked at entrances so it is non-transferable.

20190127_055957At 5:30 a.m. we were already at the pond located at northern side of the complex facing Angkor Wat temple. There is another pond at the southern side but it’s not the best spot to watch sunrise. The sky was starting to emit a reddish-gray color.  It was quite a walk in total darkness from the parking area to the temple wall and finally to the pond. Our cellphones’ flashlights were a great help and we just followed throngs of early risers also going to the same spot where we were headed.

For the sunrise tour I do not recommend hiring a tour guide unless you go for the temple tour right after the sunrise. Whether you came in via a private car or via a tuktuk (local tricycle), the driver will tell you what to do once you arrive at the drop-off point. We took an offer from our resort for a private car and a chauffeur for the whole day tour for $75 so we did not have any problem with the transportation to and from the hotel starting from the sunrise tour up to the other temple tours.


20190128_163421The entire pond was surrounded by tourists  facing the temple and we got the best view in the middle part as we were among those who came in early.



20190127_070154A few minutes past 6 a.m., the sun slowly crept up behind the temple towers.





20190127_070214Some visitors were actually not interested in the initial sighting of the sun and they were busy walking around in front of the temple.




20190127_090034I left my position for the past 45 minutes and moved back and a bit to the left. I  got this shot of the crowd who were previously behind us with the sun entirely hidden behind one of the temple towers.


20190127_071050A few more steps to the left the sun became visible again.


20190127_082438My wife and I took a selfie with the sunrise and part of the crowd as background.



20190127_073029As the sun was already way up high…..



20190127_071253….we took shots around the pond.  Shown here is what remains of the sunrise crowd where we positioned ourselves earlier.


20190127_071441Walking toward the temple, we saw some lilies in the eastern part of the pond.



20190127_071544They’re beautiful lilies.



20190127_071943Some were still busy making snapshots of the sunrise in and around the pond as we prepared to leave for breakfast at our hotel and come back later for the temple tour.



Angkor Wat Temple Tour

20190127_130209After a sumptuous breakfast and a few minutes rest at our hotel we headed back to the Angkor Wat complex. As you can see above the complex is surrounded by a man-made moat. Measuring 190 meters the moat forms a giant rectangle measuring 1.5km x 1.3km around the temple complex. Entry is only via a causeway in the western side.


20190127_104815After exiting the causeway we entered the temple outer wall still a few minutes walk away to the main temple.


20190127_130142We mostly stayed in the western side of the outer wall and inside the right hand tower there is a statue of the 8-arm Hindu god Vishnu measuring 3.25m in height and hewn from a single block of sandstone.



20190127_130121Right after we went through the Vishnu statue our tour guide took our photo inside the outer wall’s main entrance 235m-wide foyer richly decorated with carvings and sculptures. Yes we hired a tour guide whom we met near the parking area and we’re glad we did! I suggest a tour guide for $15-20 depending on one’s desired duration of the tour, otherwise the temple tour will just be a meaningless tour of stones and carvings.  Also the tour guide knows the exact location where one can have the best snapshots in and around the temple.




20190127_130024Exiting the outer wall we came to the nearly 500-m walkway lined with balustrades leading to the temple main entrance. Three of the five towers are visible from here. The temple is the heart and soul of Cambodia.  It is a source of intense national pride that the temple with its towers is even depicted in the national flag.


20190127_100835As suggested by the tour guide we quickly turned a bit to the left and stopped at one of the two libraries  for a quick photo with the temple towers in the background.




20190127_104658Finally we reached the temple main entrance!  See, the tour guide could also act as your willing photographer so it is more than worthy to pay for one.



20190127_104201Looking back from the temple main entrance we saw again the pond at the northern side of the temple, a popular spot to watch the sunrise. Quite a number of tourists were still wanting to take the mirror view of the temple.


angkor1After climbing a few steps up at the entrance and coming around the outside of the central temple complex, our tour guide showed us something incredible.



20190127_102004It is the very impressive 800m-long series of intricate and astonishing carvings depicting historical events and stories from mythology.  It was simply overwhelming even if he just discussed a part of the entire stretch.



20190127_104855Angkor Wat is famous too for having more than 3000 enchanting heavenly nymphs carved into its walls.



20190127_211006At close quarters we were truly amazed at the temple’s fascinating decorative flourishes.


20190127_102212Our tour guide then led us to this area of the temple’s first level just for a photo and we obliged.



20190127_165808No further details were given about the area so we moved on.



20190127_165612It was time to go up the second level of the temple.



20190127_102908As we turned around clockwise past the first tower in the second level we saw the line going up to the upper or third level of the temple open to a limited number per day.



20190127_102947As our tour guide explained there is nothing to be seen by climbing up the upper level except the view of the temple grounds so we decided to skip it to save some time. Also as shown above, the stairs to the upper level are immensely steep. Entrance is only via the second tower.




20190127_124933Then it was time to take a snapshot with the third tower…….



20190127_125751….and of the young locals dressed Cambodian-style.



20190127_211053Another photo suggested by the tour guide with the fourth and first tower officially ending our tour of the area.  All the four towers surrounding the main tower are located at the corners of the second and third storeys and each one is topped with symbolic lotus-bud towers.



20190127_103739As we descended back to the first storey we walked pass through another area that has the Gallery of a Thousand Buddhas used to house hundreds of Buddha images but many of these were removed or stolen, leaving just the handful displayed today.



20190127_210752Walking back to the western outer wall entrance, the temple in all its grandeur can be seen with all its  five towers. Indeed, Angkor Wat is the ultimate expression of Khmer genius – an awe-inspiring temple that is stunning for both its grand scale and its incredible detail.


20190127_101158Before leaving the temple courtyards one can check out the area next to the northern pool where one can find places to eat and small kiosks selling souvenirs.



20190127_101311These paintings by a local are sold at prices that you can haggle.



20190127_101340One of my favorite paintings was the one depicting the faces at the Bayon temple which would be our next destination.




20190127_074317As we exited the outer temple wall we came back to the temporary causeway and we started walking back to the parking lot for our next tour to the Bayon Temple. The original causeway made of sandstone located at the other side just a few meters away is being repaired so the government has acquired a temporary one from Canada shown above.




20190129_014706A short drive to the north of Angkor Wat is the ancient city of Angkor Thom, with our main destination, the Bayon, as its centerpiece showcase.  The western entrance of Angkor Thom is a very interesting gate. One side is lined up with statues of the gods and the other side with demons.


20190129_014728On the left side are the gods…..



20190129_014651….and on the right side are the demons.




20190129_014630Our chauffeur dropped us at the start of the statues and we took a short walk passing through gate where he would be waiting. Shown above is our photo taken near the gate.



20190129_014040A short distance from the gate is the Bayon Temple. From afar the Bayon appears as a great pile of rubble but only as you make your way up to the third level, it starts to fascinate. Our chauffeur dropped us at the western entrance and he told us he would meet us at the eastern entrance.



20190129_014053The first level of the temple wall has intricate carvings and  incredible posts. The famous carvings on the outer wall of the first level depict vivid scenes of everyday life in 12th-century Cambodia.




20190127_165305The second level are adorned with less impressive bas-reliefs.


20190129_014508We finally went up to the third and circular level.



20190129_014148This is where you can find the Bayon’s most distinctive feature of 54 Gothic towers each adorned with 4 gargantuan smiling faces of Avalokiteshvara (a total of 216 faces). They jut out from the upper terrace and cluster around its central peak.




20190129_014229This was the most crowded area of the temple. We spent some time here looking at the faces on the stones.




20190129_014535The Bayon is sometimes called the “faces temple”.



20190129_014521We crossed the center of the third level and found more impressive and intricate carvings.


20190129_014111We climbed down a series of steep steps to the  second level…..



20190129_014551…..and then to the first level.




20190129_014617If Angkor Wat is the grand showcase of the classical style of Khmer architecture, Bayon is the most striking expression of the baroque style.

Sarai Resort & Spa

The presence of Singapore’s Raffles Hotel and an Aman resort right in  the middle of Angkor shows that the hotel business is flourishing and very competitive in the area.  With our budget limited to boutique hotels, I picked Sarai Resort and Spa as our base in Siem Reap, roughly 7 km away from Angkor Wat.

20190129_011047The backdrop of the front desk of the Sarai.





20190127_130242A photo of the resort lobby taken from the first floor.  To the left is the pool area and to the right is the entrance and the restaurant area.


20190129_011351We were given room 101 at the end of a hallway giving us more privacy but it is the farthest distance from the elevator that we did not mind at all.



20190127_130426Taken from the hotel lobby with the tiny stunning pool.


20190127_084151Although I loved the pool I was not in the mood to dip in it early in the morning so I understood why there was nobody there too.



20190129_011439This was taken at the other end of the pool.



20190127_083925A perfect spot to have a pool shot.



20190127_083844This view of the pool was actually the deciding factor why I chose this resort.


20190129_011224Our room had a view of the beautiful pool.



20190127_084942I believe all the other rooms too especially the lofts have stunning pool views too!





20190126_234129Our room met our expectations.  Aside from that tiny window area with a pool view, we had a king-sized bed, a separate tub & toilet area and a sofa.



20190127_000956One thing I noticed was the Moorish design prevalent all over the resort even in the bathtubs and room windows.




20190127_081333The resort’s amazing complimentary breakfast is worthy of a mention and the service is extraordinary. The staff were extra pleasant and attentive.



20190129_011530Breads and cakes and pies.



20190129_011542With a Korean owner mixed with the local influence, even the choices for spices amused me.



20190129_011628Fruits and vegetables.



20190129_011653To top it all there was a wide variety of hot food choices and the coffee was at par with our favorite Vietnamese coffee.



Getting Into Siem Reap

It was a good thing a Philippine budget airline, Cebu Pacific,  offers cheap & direct flights four times a week from the Philippine capital of Manila to Siem Reap.  Although the schedule is not the best one because the flight departs at 6:55 p.m. and arrives in Siem Reap three hours before midnight certainly making you lose a whole day, we still took it instead of taking non-direct flights that would waste our time at airports. I noticed as I was searching flights online that direct flights to Siem Reap are also available mostly from nearby Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and the Vietnamese cities.

20190127_122322We landed in a very nice airport in Siem Reap that would put some U.S. airports to shame.



IMG_0177 2The immigration lines were a bit long because there was a flight from China that arrived with us but we were out in less than 30 minutes.



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It was good to see Malaysian and Singaporean influences in the airport dining options too.  Cambodia’s ASEAN co-members have truly invested heavily in the country in addition to the hotel scene.


More On Cambodia

tuktukThis is Cambodia’s version of the tuktuk (tricycle) that is also famous in Thailand.  It is an inexpensive mode of transportation if you don’t mind riding along unpaved roads that are too dusty.


moneySome Cambodian notes.

To end I want to share a little piece of history told to us by our chauffeur. Siem Reap has an interesting meaning.  It means “Thailand defeated”.  Siem Reap was conquered successfully by the Siamese (Thais) in the 18th century and was under Thai rule for more than 100 years being part of the Angkor empire until the Khmer took it back from the Thais and renamed it to Siem Reap when the Thais were expelled from the land.  When Thais visit the place, they do not call it Siem Reap but another name, “Siammarat” meaning Thai’s territory.











Aruba: One Happy Island

Endowed with an all year round warm, hurricane-free weather with average temperature in the 80s, any time of the year is always a perfect time to visit Aruba and laze around its stunning beaches.  The island, which is one of the three Dutch Caribbean islands together with Curacao and Bonaire, has a tagline “One Happy Island“. Yes, everywhere you go you can feel the happy vibe in one of the most celebrated tropical islands in the world.

DSC_0620 However, its geographical location positions it far from the U.S. mainland. Compared with Bermuda, for example, which we frequently visit because it is just less than two hours flight from New York’s JFK and Boston’s Logan airports, Aruba is almost a five-hour flight from those two airports. Still we decided to visit Aruba for the first time as we would be using our timeshare points and the airfares going there from Boston were at an all-time low ($110 or 11,000 miles plus tax, one-way on Delta Airlines). Coming back to the U.S. from Aruba, the fare is always ridiculously higher.



20180818_180551At Aruba’s tiny airport our arrival experience was indeed a very happy one: short immigration lines and efficient officers. The line to get pass through customs was a bit long though but was fast moving.  Just across the street from the arrival area were the rental car companies where we got our car and drove away to our resort.


Baby Beach, Aruba’s Gem

Before we get drowned in the many happy details of our Aruba experience, I will start with our best experience in Aruba, the remote Baby Beach in a little town called San Nicolas, a 30-minute drive south from Aruba’s capital city of Oranjestad.

20181214_200354After passing by the pastel-colored houses of San Nicolas……



img_8809….and an eerie, large swath of land filled with cactus,…..



img_8813….we finally reached the entrance to the stunning Baby Beach.



20180821_090337It was still mid-morning so the beach was almost empty and the views were gorgeous and relaxing.




DSC_0611There were only less than five people in and around the beach excluding workers of the only establishment there.



DSC_0583The early morning drive was worth the effort to reach a beach that was almost to ourselves.



DSC_0587Before we dipped in the shallow and calm turquoise waters, we took some time to have family snapshots.



DSC_0584Our best Aruba experience: the secluded and beautiful Baby Beach.



LRM_EXPORT_20180822_111610Shown here is the One Happy Island sign on the beach right next to the only restaurant in the area that also houses locker rooms and bathrooms.



DSC_0597Then it was time to spend some moments in the immaculate beach.



DSC_0594This is the northern view taken from the center of the beach.



DSC_0599This is the southern side of the beach that leads to one end of the rocky wall protecting the shore from the big waves of the Caribbean Sea.



DSC_0608The stretch of a wall or rocks is the main reason why the beach is so calm and the waves almost non-existing that makes the place perfect for toddlers and babies, thus the name Baby Beach.



DSC_0606This is certainly one of the best beaches we have been to.




DSC_0613Wildlife abounds in the beach area too.



DSC_0618And I could not wait to lie down on the beach too!



DSC_0615As we were leaving the area, covered beach chairs (the colored ones above) have started to be setup along the shore. Since the beach shore faces west, it is also an excellent place to watch sunset if driving back to Oranjestad in the evening is not an issue.



Holiday Inn Resort in Palm Beach

20180819_072823For most of our days in Aruba we based ourselves in the massive Holiday Inn Resort in Palm Beach area. It is one of the resorts in Aruba where we could utilize our timeshare points.  There is always quite a long check-in line anytime of the day in this resort but because of our status with the Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG) we were able to use a priority lane, thank God! We were given a room with partial sea view as shown above.



DSC_0496A few steps from the resort lobby is the beach dotted with hundreds of palm trees, thus the name Palm Beach.



DSC_0497Again, our IHG status gave us the benefit to reserve a beach hut solely for our own use during our entire stay that nobody else could use.  So we chose one that was directly in front of the beach.



20180820_092959It is an advantage to be at the beach early in the morning between 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. as the beach is not very crowded yet.



DSC_0503 2Some are still doing the morning beach walk.




20180820_082838Early in the morning kids can already start enjoying the beach’s calm and clear waters…..



DSC_0511….and the white powdery sand on the beach.



DSC_0505 2One can also do the early morning dip.



DSC_0524It is truly rewarding to be at the beach early.




DSC_0521 2It is also a perfect time to just sit back and relax on the beach enjoying the views and the morning breeze……


DSC_0514….and spend some time with family.



DSC_0527Retreating from the beachfront and venturing farther to the middle of the resort we found a beautiful scenery.



DSC_0532 2The resort’s main pool area with the swaying palm trees rising high up to the blue, spotless sky!



DSC_0547This is the center of Palm Beach!


20180820_090150My daughters enjoyed the kids’ pool.



Sunset in Palm Beach

DSC_0446With our dedicated beach front hut we were always ensured of stunning sunsets as long as we’re staying in the resort.



DSC_0442 2Sunsets in Palm Beach are to die for.





DSC_0444With the resort beach directly facing west, we have the sun setting in front of us as we lounged on the resort’s beach chairs or be simply on the beach.



DSC_0456My wife and two daughters at sunset.



20180818_190520Just a random couple on the beach during sunset.



DSC_0467Here are some of the few sunset shots I took.




DSC_0469There are some tours offering sunset cruises.



20180818_190605The sun vanishing halfway through the horizon.




DSC_0473 copyAnd another happy day has just ended in Aruba.



DSC_0495 3The resort turned on its magical evening spell as the sun set on the horizon.



Around Palm Beach Area

DSC_0537The Palm Beach area is the most touristy of all the Aruba beach areas.



DSC_0539It has lots of shopping malls…..



DSC_0536…and souvenir shops…..



DSC_0535….restaurants, convenience stores and many more. Knowing the area, we tried to avoid it unless necessary to refrain from paying prices higher than anywhere else. We just drove 5-10 mins away from the area if we wanted cheaper groceries and other stuff.




Arashi Beach

DSC_0544Arashi Beach is also another great place to watch the sunset.  We drove around 10 minutes from Palm Beach to Arashi Beach.




DSC_0542Arashi Beach is actually a public beach mostly frequented by locals.  Beach huts and chairs are available for use on a first come, first serve basis.



DSC_0543It is only a short stretch of beach but it gets pretty crowded especially in the afternoon going into sunset.



DSC_0545Before sunset, one can actually visit the California Lighthouse a few minutes drive up a hill near Arashi Beach.  One can also watch sunset from the lighthouse area. We ran out of time and we decided to stay on the beach for the sunset.



Divi Village Golf & Beach Resort

20180820_210818On our last days in Aruba we moved to Divi Village Golf and Beach Resort, one of the few resorts where we can use our timeshare points at very shockingly low rates. We vowed to be back at any Divi Resorts using our timeshare points after the experience.



20180820_210511I booked a studio unit.



20180820_194908It has one queen size bed and another queen size pull-out sofa just enough for my wife and me and our two daughters.



20180820_194720It was a very nice place for a few days stay near the beach.



20180820_210454The resort offered unlimited punch rum as welcome drinks redeemable everywhere there is a bar or a restaurant.




IMG-364eb0a07a73d8430fc0c0674bc95d64-VThe best thing for us was the fully-equipped kitchen that we heavily utilized during our stay as the package I took was not an all-inclusive one as I wanted to cook our own food.



20181214_200151The resort is actually huge and shown above is just one of the pool areas near our unit which was also walking distance from the resort lobby.



Sunset at Divi Beach

DSC_0576Just a few minutes walk from the resort across the street is Divi Beach (and farther to the right is Eagle Beach).



DSC_0549The sunsets there were amazing too but still the ones we experienced in Palm Beach were the best for us.



DSC_0552The area is not crowded during sunset.



DSC_0560Nevertheless, it is still a beautiful and relaxing place for the family to watch sunset.



DSC_0565My daughters loved the place too!



DSC_0566Indeed all of Aruba’s stretch of white sand beaches are all facing west so whatever beach you are in you’ll surely experience a unique sunset.



Our Food Experience in Aruba

20180820_174838The food experience in Aruba is not something we begged for more but the best thing that got my discriminating palate’s attention was the Aruba-made ginger extra hot sauce we had inside Super Food.




20180820_164204Speaking of Super Food, it is a huge supermarket in Oranjestad just a few minutes drive from Divi Village.



20180820_164319Since we decided to cook our food on our last days when we were in Divi Village, we came here to buy  something we could cook.


20180820_204455One of them is the marinated pork belly that tasted so good.



20180915_150305On one occasion when we were not munching on KFC or McDonald’s we tried a restaurant inside Holiday Inn Resort called Sea Breeze.



20180915_150403They were offering a reasonably-priced steak + lobster combo for dinner that sounded so irresistible.



20180915_150332We also had the fried fish topped with fried plantains.



20180819_201729The best Aruban-Caribbean bouillabaisse experience we ever had was probably this magnificent broth chock-full with fresh seafood in Sea Breeze.




img_8785Aruba’s beaches rank among the best in the world, no doubt about that.  The place has tropical weather all year round with no dangers of hurricanes. Its people, fluent in English, Spanish and Dutch, are very friendly and exude a lot of happiness. There is no reason why one cannot fall in love with Aruba.



DSC_0621Aruba’s capital city of Oranjestad is also an attraction.  However, traffic is not the best in the city center especially on those one-lane areas. Parking is a big headache too if you are not familiar with the city’s layout.  We even had difficulty finding a parking area to take the above shot at the Ike Cohen Monument, dedicated to all those who contributed to the development of the tourism and hospitality industry in the island. We parked farther from the monument and my wife and I alternated going to the site as our daughters slept in the car.

Despite the cons I have listed above, we vowed to visit the place at least once every two years. Aruba is one of the more interesting islands in the whole of the Caribbean.



Italy: Roaming ‘Round Rome

Coming from Italy’s stunning north where we stopped for a few days in the usually frequented cities by travelers like Venice, Pisa and Florence, we disembarked from our late afternoon train ride from Florence in Rome’s central train station. Just as we stepped outside the train station, the area was reeking of urine smell worthy of a vomit.  I then realized we were entering the real, current Rome beneath the old glory of the powerful center of the great Roman Empire. Aside from that smelly experience, I enjoyed Rome with all those classic sights and great food. Here are the places we visited.



DSC_2284Located in the center of the city of Roma and east of the Roman Forum is the Colosseum which is the largest amphitheatre ever built. We stayed the whole afternoon until after sunset to get snapshots taken during different times of the day.



COLOSSEUMHalfway circling the compound counterclockwise past the entrance to the Roman Forum we chanced upon a hill overlooking the colosseum.  And this jump shot was made.



CSC_2350We rested, hydrated ourselves, people-watched and circled the colosseum compound trying to find the best vantage point for the sunset shot.


CSC_2383We finally settled on a hilly area outside of the colosseum compound but just right across the street.



DSC_2403Sunset came and I waited for that moment after sunset that the blue hue of the sky would be very prominent in photos. Amid the blue sky the lighted colosseum appeared majestic.



CSC_2455 2Just the street below separated me and the colosseum.



DSC_2413One last round and one last shot of the colosseum and we called it a day.




CSC_0889Part of Rome’s historic center is the Pantheon with its dome still considered as the world’s  largest unreinforced concrete dome.



DSC_0874As you can see on the left side of the photo there is the circular part of which above it is the dome which is not seen from ground level.



DSC_0875This is the dome taken from inside. The height to the oculus and the diameter of the interior circle are the same, 142 feet or 43 m.



CSC_0881The Pantheon was originally built as a Roman temple.



DSC_0882 It is now a church.



DSC_2446For me, the Pantheon is more beautiful at night (I love night photography).



DSC_2449 2There are still a lot of people in front of the Pantheon taking photos in the evening and you just have to get the right timing to get solo photos when there is no one around you.



DSC_2441The small piazza in front of the Pantheon is called Piazza della Rotonda.



DSC_2451The piazza is surrounded by restaurants and bars that are very much alive until late.




DSC_2286Just next to the Colosseum, is the Roman Forum which was the political, administrative and religious center of  ancient Rome.



DSC_2421Foro (Forum)  was the name that the Romans gave to the central square of the urban settlement. There were a lot of temples inside the forum but not all were dedicated for the gods but to people too.  The Romans believed that by building a temple and dedicating it to themselves they became deity.



DSC_2422Shown here is what remains of the Tempio dei Castori.




CSC_0840Good for us that our lodging was just a few steps away that every morning and every night we would pass by the famous Trevi Fountain. It is always crowded so it is rather difficult too to get a good snapshot of yourself with everyone wanting that photo memoir.



DSC_2470The Trevi Fountain is one of the oldest water sources in Rome dating back to ancient Roman times, since the construction of the Aqua Virgo Aqueduct in 19 B.C. that provided water to the Roman baths and the fountains of central Rome. As you can see, in the centre of the fountain is a statue of Oceanus, standing under a triumphal arch. His chariot is being pulled by two sea horses, one wild and one docile, representing the opposing moods of the sea.





CSC_0848 2From our hotel we just walked for less than thirty minutes to another famous place in Rome, the Spanish Steps, which are a series of 135 steps from its base at the Piazza di Spagna to the top where a church is located. Again it was almost a perfect shot with only one person on the side of the stairs I was sitting on.




DSC_0926Il Vittoriano is located in Piazza Venezia and was only built between 1885 – 1925 to honor Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy.



DSC_2432Dubbed “The Wedding Cake” for its gleaning white marble and tiered levels, this large altar was built. Replete with stairs, columns, fountains and sculptures, it was controversial because it destroyed the area of the Capitoline Hill and dominates the skyline.


DSC_2431Nevertheless, it lies at the heart of Rome and is a focal point of the city.




DSC_0960We arrived in St. Peter’s Square in the morning of our last day in Rome.  The line going inside St. Peter’s Basilica, one of Catholic’s holiest site, was expectedly long but it moved fast.



DSC_0942 2Before lining up we checked the square grounds and took photos like this.



CSC_0996That is St. Peter’s Basilica from afar near the entrance to the square. The dome designed by Michelangelo was inspired by the Pantheon and the Duomo of Florence.



DSC_0994Looking up close to the columns lining up around the square.



DSC_0972Entering the basilica, we were stunned by the magnificence of the structure and intricate details of the interior.



DSC_0979People, probably not all of them Catholics, were all over the inside of the basilica most of them looking up.



DSC_0976 2Moving closer to the altar we found something very weird and eerie.  That dark brown thingie jutting upwards. The basilica was actually built on top of the burial site of Peter the Apostle of which the dark brown thingie marks.



DSC_0981Moving past the dark brown thingie we moved closer to the altar.



DSC_0967After a while, we decided to leave the basilica.




CSC_0905Piazza Navona is part of Rome’s historic center together with the Pantheon, a few blocks away.



CSC_0908Piazza Navona is the place that has the three Bernini fountains.



DSC_0896A closer look at one of the fountains.



DSC_0918At the plaza center is a stretch of art works and souvenirs for sale.



DSC_2457Day and night, the restaurants and bars are filled with mostly tourists. I have been warned that it is not practical to dine in this area as food and drinks are overly priced. One night as we were leaving Piazza Navona, we walked back three blocks toward Pantheon and we found a good restaurant where we tasted, what else but Italian food.




DSC_0864Piazza del Popolo is a large urban square in the center of Rome. The name in modern Italian literally means “People’s Square”, but historically it derives from the  poplars after which the church of  Santa Maria del Popolo in the northeast corner of the piazza, takes its name.



CSC_0863The entrance of the Tridente from Piazza del Popolo, defined by the “twin” churches of Santa Maria in Montesano (left, built 1662-75) and Santa Maria dei Miracoli (right, built 1675-79). The Via del Corso exits between the two churches which we came from coming in to the piazza.




DSC_0859An Egyptian obelisk of Ramesses II from Heliopolis stands in the center of the piazza.





DSC_0919We skipped Piazza Navona area for dining as we were advised and walked a few blocks going to the Pantheon. We passed by this tiny restaurant offering, what else but Italian food.  We decided to try it.


DSC_0921 2

An Italian rose wine was paired with…..



DSC_0925…lasagna and…



DSC_0924….spaghetti in tomato sauce.  We enjoyed the great, inexpensive food.




DSC_0844As we roamed around the city we passed by colorful alleys…





DSC_0853 2…more alleys….



DSC_2263….restaurants with alfresco dining…..



DSC_0891….guards of government buildings….



DSC_2462…..more alleys at night…..



DSC_0856….Manila-named places…..



DSC_0843…and more authentic local ristorante.




We stayed in Cenci Bed & Breakfast just a few steps from the Trevi. Fountain A very reasonably-priced bed and breakfast with very accommodating owner and pleasant staff.  The website is http://www.cencibedandbreakfast.it/#home.



camere-cencibb-28camere-cencibb-10Included in the room rates is a light breakfast in a tiny dining area.  Juices, coffee, breads, boiled eggs, pastries and fresh fruits are offered. My stay in this place has been one of my most cost effective travel experiences ever. We were out all day and a part of the night when we were not sleeping so we did not need a luxurious and expensive hotel in Rome.  Yes I am a frugal traveler.


DSC_0942 2Bye for now Rome!



Latvia: Riga, Baltics’ Liveliest Place

Riga, the capital of Latvia is the largest of the three Baltic capital cities and it is considered the party place in the Baltics. Its airport is the largest and busiest in the Baltics offering more direct flights to the rest of Europe than Tallinn, Estonia or Vilnius, Lithuania, the two other Baltic capital cities. Riga was our second Baltic and fourth European city destination during our summer escapade. We have already explored earlier the beautiful cities of Bergen, Helsinki and Tallinn.





Entering Riga

FullSizeRenderOn a clear sunny day, we took a one hour Air Baltic flight from Tallinn, Estonia to Riga, Lavia.  I was seated next to a South African guy who would be taking a transit flight in Riga from Tallinn to Budapest where he is based. Indeed, Riga has more direct flights to more European cities compared to Tallinn, just a two-hour ferry ride from Helsinki, Finland and to Vilnius, Lithuania which is a lesser active city.



FullSizeRendereWe touched down in Riga International Airport, one of the three international airports in Latvia.



FullSizeRendercThe airport’s rather tiny and the hallways are narrow but it looked new, organized and easy to navigate probably due to recent renovation works.



IMG_1655Welcome to Riga!



IMG_1662The city center, specifically the Old Town of Riga, is less than 20 minutes away by taxi from the airport. The airport taxi service is centralized and you have to buy a coupon near the final exit door before you can board a taxi.  It is an efficient service they offer. Drivers were nice and helpful too.  You can opt to take the train to the city center but I believe the taxi is the more convenient option that is why we took it.


IMG_1663From the airport we chanced upon classic train coaches plying the suburban areas near the capital city. They looked very Soviet-styled.




Where We Stayed

It is the usual balance of our desired location (Old Town in this case) and reasonable cost when choosing our lodging in Riga. We also took into consideration that we had two babies so every place that we must visit should be within walking distance from the hotel. The Rixwell Centra Hotel inside the Old Town was our perfect choice.  It truly did not disappoint.

IMG_1668This is part of the hotel lobby and just right outside are the restaurants, bars and shops.



IMG_1681As I usually do when traveling, I did try to send a request for a room upgrade to the hotel manager. We were given a top floor, corner suite. How generous of them!



IMG_1682It was indeed a spacious suite where my toddler could run around forever.



IMG_1684Just as we went inside the room,  the views out of the windows took our breath away.



riga2The red roofs of most of the surrounding buildings truly impressed in us the Old City aura.



riga1Churches and all.


IMG_1764The views are even more beautiful at sunset.



IMG_1765As shown in this photo taken at sunset, just below us across the street are tons of restaurants and bars starting to come alive at twilight.  Some are even open until 7 a.m. so one of the disadvantages of a room in a lower floor in this area is the noise coming from the bars that open until the next morning even with double glazed windows.  We were located in the highest floor so the noise was almost a non-concern.



Roaming Around Riga

The Old Town & Historic Center

FullSizeRendervThe beautiful Riga Town Hall Square was a just a few minutes walk from our hotel.



FullSizeRenderIt was almost 10 p.m. and it was still a good time to take photos.  Indeed it’s summertime!







DSC_0175Riga’s historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.






DSC_0163Beautiful buildings and lots of restaurants, shops and bars are everywhere.



DSC_0167Medieval churches are greatly preserved too.




FullSizeRenderWhether at sunset….



FullSizeRenders….or on a clear, sunny mid-day Riga’s Old Town is beautiful.



FullSizeRenderbThis was taken just a block from our hotel of which the church tower accentuates the aerial Old Town view as seen high above from our top floor hotel room.



IMG_1927It was not hard to fall in love with Riga after all.



If you are a party–goer, you would love it more there.  Watch this video of a mobile bar.



The Parks

FullSizeRenderkWhile on our way from the Old Town to the Art Nouveau area of Riga outside the Old Town, we cut across beautiful parks and one of them was in Bastion Hill.



IMG_1789It’s a place of beautiful, blooming flowers and….




DSC_0210….people suntanning or having picnics.



IMG_1787Bridge love locks abound too…..



IMG_1888…..and a lock can be solitary too.



IMG_1791The area covered parts of Bastejkalna and Kārļa Ulmaņa piemineklis parks.  The greens are amazing and in good weather there are a lot of activities that can be done inside the park like kayaking.



IMG_1889There is actually a boat tour that starts from this park using a large ferry that goes around the Old Town but we skipped it.  I thought it was wonderful to see the Old City from afar.



FullSizeRenderqWe also encountered a bunch of students rehearsing for a show.



IMG_1800A walk in the park can be an opportunity to taste a Latvian ice cream…..



IMG_1794….well the best gourmet ice cream from Latvia.




IMG_1877As we crossed the street from the parks we came into an area where there were a lot of flowers on display.



IMG_1879Yes beautifully arranged, real flowers.



IMG_1876A pyramid.



IMG_1912And the #SingInRiga group singing competition. Ironically, when we went inside the competition hall, the Israeli group was singing!



FullSizeRenderoWe then came to another park called Kronwalda Park.  It has the monkey statue in a spacesuit.



IMG_2360The statue is dedicated to animals that participated in exploration of outer space and it was made by artist Denis Prasolov.  It was worth a group-fie.



The Art Nouveau Area

DSC_0199From the park we finally entered the Art Nouveau area of Riga. This Baltic capital city has the highest concentration of Art Nouveau architecture anywhere in the world!



DSC_0197Our first grand stop was at the Museum of Art Nouveau.



IMG_1845This is the famous staircase inside the Museum of Art Nouveau leading up to its tower.


The following are the snapshots taken in the area of the decorative new arts applied to buildings that was popular in the late 1800s until early 1900s.













Food in Riga

27072320_10215402361640817_1509631548771949073_nOur breakfast moments in Riga were well-taken cared of by our hotel.  This is the first and only hotel where I have stayed that offers complimentary, unlimited champagne during breakfast. We had our other meals in low-key restaurants and fast-food chains.  However, in every trip we take, we make sure to taste the local gourmet offerings.



20245581_10213782249699031_4327947262718295568_nThe closest we had to experiencing local cuisine was our dinner spent in an awesome place called Garden Restaurant just a few blocks away from our hotel.



20246017_10213782253579128_4103698983856419920_nThis is where I initially drank the famous local drink, black balsam, that the restaurant was giving complimentary.



20245476_10213782252939112_9059758374257878717_nMy wife just took a sip of  her black balsam so I finished the two glasses.  It was flavorful, strong and a bit sweet.  I liked it!



20155727_10213782250579053_7463809804359393260_nWe ordered calamari as our starter.


19989682_10213782251459075_9197408986896938830_nThe traditional Latvian bread was served too.



20228964_10213782250899061_1280012536784584324_nWe ordered the pork knuckle thinking it would be similar to the crispy skin variant of the Philippines only to find out it is somewhat similar to the German version.  It was juicy though and it tasted unexpectedly good.



20246520_10213782252539102_6395466902400332454_nI am a fish lover so wherever I am I would try to order fish.  The restaurant was only offering a fried Dorado so we ordered it.



20229281_10213782249859035_1599356938223628368_nThe black balsam was sort of an appetizer drink for me and so my favorite red was the main drink. We enjoyed our dining time in this place and we were glad at least we have tasted a bit of the local cuisine.


In another occasion when we were in the Art Nouveau area of Riga we dined in a place called Alberta just across the Museum of Art Nouveau.


We had beef stroganoff…..

IMG_1857…and Asian-stlye dumplings.




The hotel gave us two breakfast bags as we informed the front desk the evening before that we are leaving for the airport on our last day early in the morning. The driver that they arranged to pick us up was prompt, helpful and pleasant too.

IMG_1657From Riga, we took our flight back to Bergen, Norway on the way to the U.S. I was seated next to a couple of guys who smelled alcohol looking like they just got out of a bar and had a long night taking Stolichnaya shots.  Riga party fever indeed!  If I was twenty years younger I could probably have done the same thing.



Ardievas, Riga!


Denmark: Ultra Cool Copenhagen

Our stop in the vibrant city of Copenhagen, considered the coolest kid in the Nordic block and is usually voted the happiest place on earth, was unexpected and unplanned.

Our Norwegian Air flight from Bergen, Norway to Providence, Rhode Island in the U.S. was cancelled so we were rerouted to Copenhagen then on to New York’s JFK airport. It was indeed a very disappointing redirection considering that my wife and I had our 6-month and 17-month old babies in tow but instead we chose to focus on the positive side that we would be able to visit Copenhagen for two days all-expense paid by the airline.

Welcome to Copenhagen!


Where We Stayed

The airline booked us at the contemporary AC Hotel Bella Sky Copenhagen which is a 10-min drive away from the airport. A complimentary airport shuttle runs between the airport and the hotels near it.

ZCOP4From the proudly Danish-branded Bang and Olufssen TV to the minimalist yet artistic room design and furnitures, the 4-star hotel was indeed a fresh lodging experience for us.


ZCOP23This is the hotel room almost in its entirety taken using a panorama shot.


ZCOP2The room was spacious enough for my wife and my two little babies.



ZCOP1I just loved the tiny living area.



Around Copenhagen

Our hotel was located just roughly thirty minutes away from the city center so it was easy for us to roam around the city.

FullSizeRenderThe hotel where we were staying was located in Bella Center and there was a nearby metro station just less than five minutes walk.



FullSizeRender4Surprisingly, only debit cards were accepted to buy metro tickets at the automated kiosks in the station.



FullSizeRender3Our only metro stop for the day was Nyhavn.



FullSizeRender5This was the view when we went up from under the metro station on our way to Nyhavn.


Here are some snapshots as we walked our way to Nyhavn.






DSC_0223….we reached the busy, touristy area of Nyhavn.



DSC_0235The colorful facades of 17th and 18th century buildings that house restaurants, bars and cafes lined up the river.




DSC_0220My wife and my daughter in the Nyhavn area.



DSC_0238The famous Nyhavn building.



DSC_0236There’s also a love lock bridge in the area.



DSC_0228DSC_0231I sure do loved the tourist boats and historical ships docked in the river.



DSC_0221We also witnessed the breathtaking and heartbreaking act of Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei as he barricaded the windows of the Kunsthal Charlottenborg museum with more than 3,500 salvaged life jackets worn by migrants and collected on the Greek island of Lesbos temporarily to celebrate World Refugee Day.



DSC_0237The artwork was named “Soleil Levant” – French for “Sunrise” – and was inaugurated on World Refugee Day.  Ai Weiwei wants to put attention to the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe, or as he calls it, the human crisis.  The beautiful thing about this piece is that every one of those life jackets, 3,500 life jackets, represents a human story.



FullSizeRenderzNext are some photos of the yellow buses plying around the city…….



DSC_0233…..the hop-on, hop-off tourist buses…..




CSC_0242…..and finally the amazing bicycles and their protected cycle tracks.  There are more than half a million bicycles in Copenhagen, more bikes than people.


CSC_0244A staggering 36% of its residents prefer bike as the mode of transportation in going to work and school.



FullSizeRendercCopenhagen is probably the most bicycle-friendly city in the world.



The Dining Experience

The dining experience in Denmark has been redefined largely by NoMa chain of restaurants that started in Copenhagen. We did not have the time to dine on a NoMa outlet (yeah as if we could beat the waiting list) but I could say the food scene in Copenhagen is truly one of the best in the world. If a Japanese city embodies a meticulously-prepared Asian food, I could say that Copenhagen does the Western food to perfection.

FullSizeRenderbAt our hotel, a simple dish of tatar of hay smoked salmon, tarragan mayo, pickled onions and crispy herbs was presented perfectly not mentioning its awesome taste.


FullSizeRendernThe pasta was prepared un-Italian, tasting like a five-star new dish. This was just fettucine with creamy mushroom sauce, roasted mushrooms, asparagus, North Sea cheese and watercress but it tasted heavenly.



FullSizeRenderuEven a simple chicken salad took our breath away!  Grilled chicken (really out of this world taste!), heart lettuce, anchovy mayo and North Sea cheese sour dough crumbs.


FullSizeRenderFinally, this was my favorite although the picture does not justify the taste. ‘Nordic Beef’ Burger, brioche bun, bacon, smoked cheddar, spicy aioli, pickled red onion relish at the AC Hotel Bella Sky.  Even my wife agreed that this burger tastes very good!


FullSizeRendermSome drinks in Danish version.


For desserts we had them in the city center in Restraurant Vita near Nyhavn.

FullSizeRenderFirst we had the Gateau Marcel. Just a simple chocolate mousse cake that’s perfectly done. The dark chocolate probably did the trick! 


IMG_2140My daughter obviously loved it!



IMG_2139Next we had the Cre’me Brule’e, The brittle topping of the contrasting layer of hard caramel over the rich custard base was just too tooth-inviting. Either paired with my wife’s coffee or my red wine, this was simply perfect!


Back to the hotel food….

IMG_2062Our breakfasts were complimentary at the hotel and the choices were one of the widest I have seen in a 4-star hotel.  Well, enough for the food but yes food has been one of the most striking things that we experienced in Copenhagen in addition to the Nordic hospitality. No wonder why this has been voted the happiest city in the world!  Great food makes everyone happy! Chomp, chomp, chomp!


See you again Copenhagen!


Estonia: Medieval Old Town of Tallinn

Beautiful Estonia became one of our 2017 summer European travel destinations because of the successive terror attacks in some of Europe’s biggest cities that prompted me to revise our itinerary as my wife and I were bringing with us our two daughters, both less than two years old. Parts of Scandinavia and the Baltic states were the easy choices. We found a tempting inaugural flight offer from Norwegian Air flying directly from Providence, Rhode Island to Bergen, Norway, a much more convenient route than the New York City to Oslo we took previously since we live in southeastern Connecticut. From Bergen we flew to Helsinki, Finland (via Stockholm) and then crossed the Gulf of Finland to Tallinn, Estonia which was our entry point to the Baltic states.


DSC_0091Most of our time in Tallinn was spent inside the Old Town. The imposing Viru Gate with its pair of picturesque, ivy-covered towers at the entrance to Viru Street was the first glimpse we got of the Old Town. The gate fascinated me so much that we took time to take photos at different times of the day.


DSC_0101Yes it was July and mid-summer yet chilly just like most of Scandinavia and the Baltics so we had to take off our jackets for the “summer” photo.



CSC_0095At the left side of Viru Gate is a small park atop a hill that overlooks the gate. We discovered it as we were walking along the main road.



CSC_0084There was less of the normal crowd above the hill so we spent some quiet time enjoying the views.



CSC_0081The two towers are actually only the foregates of what was a much more complex gate system built in the 14th century. It included a large, square tower that stood farther back along the street, close to where the city wall can be seen.



CSC_0088Most of the gate was pulled down in the 1880s to make room for traffic, but these two towers remained and have since become a symbol of the town.



FullSizeRender85This was taken as we entered the Viru Gate into Viru Street. Anyone passing between those two towers couldn’t be blamed for thinking they’ve left the 21st century behind and landed smack in the middle of the 18th.



FullSizeRender81After entering Viru Gate one will pass through the usually packed Viru Street.



FullSizeRender82A lot of shops, restaurants and cafes dot Viru Street.



FullSizeRender83Side streets are awesome too!



IMG_1360We entered a souvenir shop and we were surprised to see Trump and Putin souvenirs being sold together.


FullSizeRenderwFrom Viru Street we walked toward the Old Town square.



FullSizeRender4The main area of the Old Town is its square and this is the southern part.



FullSizeRender93On our first visit to the square, there was an event going on.



IMG_1429We took our own photos at the square.



IMG_1433The restaurants around the square were already bustling with local and foreign visitors alike.



FullSizeRender3Then we circled another block or two that brought us to the back of the Old Town Hall.



FullSizeRenderyThe route brought us back to the place of the square tram with authentic Estonian atmosphere.



FullSizeRendertI could never resist the temptation of having my photo taken with an Estonian girl……



FullSizeRender…or taking a photo of an Estonian girl. Yes I did ask her permission.



FullSizeRenderThis is my daughter at one of the doors of the Old Town Hall.




FullSizeRender2As we took another block tour we came upon this tri-cycle and to its back is where we would have a dinner like no other.





IMG_1426It was our first night in Tallinn so we decided to experience the irresistible call of a medieval dinner. There  was no obvious choice but Old Hanse, a restaurant we discovered as we were strolling near the Old Town Square.



IMG_1370Tucked near the center of the Old Town it has both outdoor and indoor seating.  We chose outdoor even if it was chilly because of the babies.



FullSizeRender92We were given the menu and the staff spoke with medieval flair.



DSC_0055Blankets were provided for those sitting outside as it was a bit cold summer night.



DSC_0051The weapons for dining.


DSC_0056I had two pieces of wild boar and a piece of elk.


DSC_0058My wife had a piece of salmon.



IMG_1428I tasted both our orders and they tasted so different. Well, medieval.



FullSizeRender91Yes 1400 A.D. :-). It was indeed a very unique gourmet experience something we never had before, challenging our palette and reasoning even after we have left.




FullSizeRenderDOn our second night in Tallinn, we spent some colorful times at the Old Town square.



exif_temp_imageAs we waited for darkness to set in I took this photo of my beloved with the Old Town Hall and the beautiful buildings as background.



IMG_1491I also tried the iPhone portrait camera setting as I took another photo of my wife with my firstborn who was 18 months old then.



IMG_1512We finally decided to have dinner at an Italian restaurant just inside the square to experience the moments of the day turning into night with all those lights starting to turn the square into a magical place.



IMG_1525A closeup shot of the Old Town Hall at dusk.



FullSizeRenderBA view of the buildings west of the square accented by the square stones that turned reddish due to the lights from a nearby establishment.



FullSizeRenderCA part of the north side of the square.  The left end is where the Italian restaurant was located where we had our dinner.



FullSizeRenderGSome dining options abound too in the east side of the square.



FullSizeRender(23)A panoramic shot of the square that covered the north, west and south sides.



FullSizeRenderEFinally, a monochromatic shot of one of the most exciting squares in Europe.



FullSizeRenderccOn our last day, we explored the area of the Old Town nearest to our hotel.  First stop was the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, an Orthodox Christian building similar to those found in Russia. Well, Estonia used to be part of U.S.S.R.



FullSizeRenderxxAfter some time circling the cathedral grounds, we finally found a spot to take a snapshot of the side of the cathedral with more of us and less of the irritating crowd.



FullSizeRenderbbThe facade of the cathedral that was not free of Filipinos taking photos.



FullSizeRendervvThe Orthodox Christian church was truly an architectural marvel.



FullSizeRenderNext was the Maiden Tower, a less than 10-minute walk from our hotel.



FullSizeRender111It is one of the more famous of Tallinn’s medieval defence towers.



FullSizeRender2It was recently renovated and reopened a museum, complete with an exhibition hall in its vaulted cellar.



FullSizeRender444What puzzled me inside the Maiden Tower complex was these creepy monks.  There are actually three creepy monks, Ambrosius, Bartholomeus, and Claudius.



FullSizeRenderThese monks in the Danish King Garden. Their creation was funded by a shady Estonian businessman Toomas Annus.



FullSizeRender555Veering away from the creepy monks, one can have the beautiful view of this part of the Old Town from the Maiden Tower complex.



FullSizeRenderLastly as we left the Maiden Tower complex, we passed by Kiek in de Kök, an artillery tower built in 1475. It gained the name Kiek in de Kök from the ability of tower occupants to see into kitchens of nearby houses. The tower is 38 m high and has walls 4 m thick.  A defense passage actually connects it to the Maiden Tower.




DSC_0110Even if our hotel was geographically outside of the Old Town, we never ventured its neighborhood until our last day as our main focus was what was inside the Old Town  It was awe-inspiring to see outside the Old Town medieval architecture blending with modern design.



IMG_1469This is one of Tallin’s museums.



IMG_1478My wife and one of my daughters.



DSC_0097Just outside of Viru Gate, there is a nice place to go for street shopping especially for authentic Estonian handicrafts.



DSC_0098It has an extensive choices of locally-designed clothing and souvenir items.



DSC_0109Also, outside the Old Town were Hop -On, Hop-Off tour buses…..



FullSizeRendeqr….the modern transportation system of the Estonian capital…..



DSC_0099…the trike business for tourists…



FullSizeRender…..interesting buildings…



IMG_1443…and sex shops 🙂


Also, we had to visit a supermarket as we needed some things for our little baby.  We were directed by the hotel staff to a shopping mall less than 10minutes walk from our hotel located outside the Old Town.  It has a huge supermarket at its basement.

IMG_1463What made our day complete though was a restaurant that satisfied our craving for Asian food.  It was the CHI Restaurant located at mall’s basement, a food place of Thai-Asian fusion.



IMG_1448The place was not that crowded anymore when we had our mid-afternoon dining.



IMG_1462We ordered pad thai…..



IMG_1460….fried rice….



IMG_1451…green curry chicken….



IMG_1457…and sweet and sour fish.  It was indeed a food fest for us who have been deprived of Asian cuisine for almost a week.




Compared to Riga, Latvia, Estonia’s capital city of Tallinn has less direct flights from major European cities probably because of its proximity to Helsinki, Finland’s capital which is just 2 hours ferry ride away via the Gulf of Finland. We chose to cross the Gulf of Finland from Helsinki to Tallinn and it was truly a breeze.

FullSizeRenderfThe Viking Line ferry terminal was just a 10-min taxi ride from the center of Helsinki.  Although there were a lot of passengers, our check-in took us less than 10 minutes.



FullSizeRenderThere was also an automated checkin area but very few people were using it.



IMG_1271This was the massive ferry that took us from Helsinki to Tallinn.



IMG_1261With two babies in tow, we decided to book a private cabin so that we can all easily take a short nap during the sea crossing.  This is the hallway to our cabin.



IMG_1252Adding a bit more to the regular fare without cabin, one can have this cabin with three sleeping beds tucked into the wall and a fixed sofa bed!



IMG_1255This was the lower part of the sleeping area.



IMG_1260With all the beds set up the cabin looked like this.  We were able to take a short nap during the travel………



IMG_1265……especially that I took my wine inside the cabin which was not allowed.



IMG_1274We arrived in Tallinn at the Ferry Passenger Terminal where we took a taxi to our hotel.




IMG_1289After so much consideration with the price and location of the hotels, I booked a room at the Hotell Palace Tallinn in the Estonian capital.  It was way cheaper than the hotels of the same category inside the Old Town and it was just a short walk (less than 10 minutes) to any entrance to the Old Town.



DSC_0074Shown here is the small lobby of the hotel.



DSC_0073To the right of the lobby is the area leading to the elevators that would take you to the rooms.



IMG_1281Our room had two double beds that we later joined together.



IMG_1279We were provided promptly with the crib. The room had a desk with a Samsung tablet that guests can use freely and is connected to the ultra fast and reliable hotel Wi-fi.  Did you know that Estonia is the most wired country in Europe and probably the world?



IMG_1282The bathroom was spacious but there was no tub, only a shower area.



IMG_1283At the other end of the bathroom was a single sink with a large round mirror.



IMG_1435I think the most captivating thing for me in the hotel was the buffet breakfast included in the hotel room rate.  Fishes and eggs and everything healthy I wanted to eat in the morning.



IMG_1530And some meaty stuff too: bacon, sausages and pork ribs!



IMG_1643Tallinn summarizes and showcases what Estonia has gone through the several years of its tumultuous history.   Shown here is the Cross of

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