Archive Page 2

08
Mar
17

Morocco: The Red City of Marrakesh


North central Morocco was where we have been based for the last few days touring the medieval city of Fez and nearby Chefchaouen, Meknes and Volubilis and we were mesmerized by each city’s unique character. To cap our Moroccan holiday, our last destination and our point of exit would be Marrakesh. We hired the same travel guide that took us around north central Morocco for our road trip to Marrakesh stopping for a night in steamy Casablanca. If Chefchaouen evokes the shade of blue, if Fez sparkles gold and if Casablanca emits its polluted gray, Marrakesh surely explodes brightly in red.

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We entered Marrakesh on a stunningly sunny day and we immediately understood why it is called the “Red City”. Almost every building we saw were built using the signature red bricks.

 

 

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Be it government or private buildings………

 

 

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…..the red bricks were a construction staple.

 

 

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It was red all over.

 

 

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Okay, I am exaggerating.  Probably except for the Royal Theater pictured here and a few other buildings, everything we saw were made of red bricks.

 

 

THE MOGADOR PALACE AGDAL

With so many excellent choices of hotels and riads in Marrakesh, from the ultra opulent to the less swanky, the Mogador Palace Agdal was our choice as base.  It is a very affordable yet a seemingly palatial choice.  This hotel is located in the center of the new tourist zone, and faces the Atlas Mountains, the ancient wall of the Royal Palace and Marrakesh’s Gardens of Agdal.

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One of the reasons we booked this hotel was its elaborately-decorated and exquisite lobby where we were welcomed with Moroccan tea and sweets. [photo of the lobby courtesy of hotel]

 

 

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Considering the vast layout of the hotel comprising of 750 rooms spread out in a sprawling complex,  we found it quite a long but interesting walk from the lobby to our room passing through intricately-designed hallways.

 

 

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Another reason we chose this hotel was its stunning pool views. We liked best the hotel room balcony overlooking  the pool.

 

 

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Yes, we had this amazing view from our room!

 

 

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We spent some time in and around the pool.

 

 

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My wife and I were actually 32 weeks pregnant so in a way our activities in Morocco were quite limited. In Marrakesh, our last leg of the tour, we were already content taking our selfie in this magnificent hotel by wrapping my DSRL’s strap around a palm tree and voila, we had our first wedding anniversary memoir. I stopped carrying my heavy professional camera stand a few years back.

 

 

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Here are more photos at the pool side.

 

 

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Myself at the amazing poolside.

 

 

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Another shot of myself at the amazing poolside.

 

 

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Relaxing at the hotel pool side feasting on some local food is one of the more relaxing activities we had in the red city.

 

 

JEMAA EL FNAA, THE MAIN SQUARE

One of the best things to do in Marrakesh is to experience the frenzy at its main square, Jemaa El Fnaa, from sunset to late.  You can still visit it during the day and there would be restaurants and other establishments that would be open but the square would be mostly empty.

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We arrived at the square less than an hour before sunset and the crowd was starting to fill in the huge square.

 

 

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We thought this would be an experience like we never had before.

 

 

 

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The Marrakesh International Film Festival was also ongoing and some activities in the square were related to the festival.

 

 

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We took selfies at the square while we waited for the sunset.

 

 

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As we watched one of the shows pictured, there would be someone who would go around with the tip box who would easily spot visitors and acknowledge their presence and then nicely but persistently ask for tips in return.

 

 

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Games abound and so do musical performances and acrobatics!

 

 

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As the sun had set for the day, the fruit stands and food kiosks started to entice both locals and visitors.

 

 

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Food anyone?

 

 

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When we left the square, it was really filled with a crazy combination of locals and tourists.  Many are saying that Jemaa El Fnaa is the happiest place in Morocco!

 

OTHER THINGS TO DO

 

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Other activities that are interesting to do in Marrakesh are camel trekking at the city’s palm grove or…….

 

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….visiting the newest mall in the area, Menara Mall, to rub shoulders with mostly locals which we did on our last day in Marrakesh or…….

 

 

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…..checking out if you know someone who is visiting the city too!  Through Facebook we learned that a friend from Portugal whom I previously met in the Philippines as we traveled to Palawan was staying just next to our hotel and we visited her and her boyfriend from Ireland. The world is indeed small.

 

 

 

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Surely, our stay in Marrakesh was limited and we would have loved to venture further to Essaouira too or come back again when the Atlas Mountains would be capped by snow.  As our Norwegian flight took off to bring us back to Oslo, we looked down and saw the red city (yes, fiery red) for one last time. We promised we would be back in a different time and in a different season.

 

 

06
Jul
16

Morocco: Medieval Fez


IMG_2038Arriving into Fez, Morocco from Barcelona, Spain was exhilarating with stunning top views of the Rif Mountains and its surrounding lakes.

 

 

IMG_2046The shadow of the Ryanair plane as we were about to land in Fez airport was so haunting against the nicely lined up olive trees.

 

WHERE WE STAYED

IMG_2054We were met at the airport by Mr. Abdel, whom we booked to be our guide and driver during our entire stay in Morocco (except until after he had sent us off to Marrakesh).  He brought us to the riad we booked called, Riad Rcif.

 

 

DSC_0964DSC_0967We were welcomed by the owner himself Mr. Hasish (not pictured) with complimentary Moroccan tea and sweets made by his mother.

 

 

IMG_2068This was the view of the receiving area/restaurant from the third floor of the riad.

 

 

IMG_2079Welcome to Morocco!

 

 

IMG_2074After a quick rest, we decided to have our lunch in the riad before we ventured into a city tour.

 

 

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We did the right thing! The food was sumptuous!

 

 

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This is Moroccan food at its best.  This truly stamped Riad Rcif as one of the best, if not the best restaurant in Fez. In my entire stay in Morocco the food here was the best I have tasted.

 

 

DSC_0027And on to our room.  My wife was 35 weeks pregnant and I failed to verify that the riad did not have an elevator so we had to walk 3 stories up to our room. We just considered it as an exercise and we found it worthwhile as it is the only room with stained glass windows and views of the city.

 

DSC_0036Could have I asked for a nicer bed?

 

DSC_0977There was a tiny nook with a small table and a couple of chairs.

 

DSC_0030 DSC_0029The bathroom gave us the experience of  medieval times.

 

 

image3Finally, up at the penthouse of Riad Rcif one can have the view of a part of the old walled city.

 

THE WORLD-RENOWNED POTTERY OF FEZ

DSC_1035As one of the city tour stops, our guide brought us to the famous pottery in Fez which is the biggest in Morocco.

 

 

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We were oriented on the entire process of ancient pottery.

 

 

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We were also briefed on how the intricate designs are prepared and meticulously carved out and put together.

 

 

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These are some of the outputs from the same pottery factory that are exported to all parts of the world.

 

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We also toured the area of those painting the designs on the ceramics.

 

 

Here are some of the the colorful finished products being sold inside the factory.

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We were so enticed we bought some to be brought back to the U.S.

 

 

MORE OF FEZ’S AMAZING CRAFTS

DSC_1056We were whisked off to a metal crafts store that’s selling magnificent metal lamps…..

 

 

DSC_1053….gleaming copper plates……

 

 

DSC_1052….with demonstrations of how intricate designs are etched on the plates….

 

 

DSC_1064…Berber jewelry…

 

DSC_1062….even ultra expensive dining set made of camel bones.

 

 

 

MORE BEAUTIFUL SITES AROUND FEZ

image2This is the area where we would be dropped off by our driver and picked up by the hotel staff to traverse the winding alleys of the old walled city as it is only accessible by foot and donkey. Somewhere up there is Riad Rcif, our base in Fez.

 

 

image1Yes, donkeys abound, nicely blending with modern cars and they are real mode of transportation mostly in the northern and eastern part of Morocco.

 

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Another beautiful place we visited was the Army Palace overlooking Fez.

 

 

DSC_1014At the mountain summit is a small palatial compound composed of just one squarish structure guarded by armed men.

 

 

DSC_1009 DSC_1010The sweeping views of Fez before sunset were overwhelming.  Yes a  walled city lies below with its ancient culture well preserved.

 

 

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We were not accompanied by our tour guide as we roamed around the palace and stopped at the lookout so we had to take a selfie instead as we were the only ones at the top as it was late afternoon already.

 

 

12314005_10208193219496769_8379035391630529412_nNext, the king’s palace was a sight to behold even from outside!

 

 

 

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DSC_1016More of the gates of Fez.

 

 

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DSC_1015And its walls.

 

 

 

 

 

DSC_0008As the sun went down the golden effect it had was captured on the city wall.

 

 

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We then visited a night market that was starting to come alive at twilight.

 

 

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DSC_1070The dramatic and imposing Blue Gate was one of the highlights of our tour of Fez.

 

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Our tour guide and driver, Abdel, also brought us to Fez’s version of the Champs Elysees.

 

 

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Here are some shots of the narrow, ascending and descending maze of alleys inside the  old walled city only accessible on foot and donkeys.

 

 

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Surely, Fez gave me and my beautiful wife a unique experience.

 

 

 

25
Apr
15

U.S./Florida: Dry Tortugas Nat’l Park


As we were planning our Key West itinerary, we came across a stunning photo of a beach located at the Garden Key. We never knew that almost a hundred miles west of Key West there’s a place that is out of this world! Our minds were already framed on what to expect from the beaches on the Florida Keys that are located in the world’s third largest coral reef that makes the area excellent for diving and snorkeling. Key Largo, one of the keys, has even earned the title of the Diving Capital of the World. However, this means that because of the coral reefs filtering the waves before they reach the shores on the islands, there would be less pulverization of the sand so there are less fine, white sand beaches around the islands. That captivating scenery of the Dry Tortugas National Park’s South Swim Beach convinced us to make the place one of the major destinations that we will be visiting during our first trip to the Florida Keys.

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Situated between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, the remotely located Dry Tortugas National Park is 70 miles west of Key West, Florida which is the southernmost city in the continental United States. It is composed of six pristine islands of which the Garden Key is the centerpiece island.  It is also where Fort Jefferson is located.  It is America’s third largest and most spectacular coastal fort.

 

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Access to the Dry Tortugas National Park is only possible from Key West. You can fly to either Miami or Fort Lauderdale and take a scenic four-hour drive to Key West. You can also fly direct to Key West but I would not suggest this option because you will be missing the breathtaking views of the ending stretch of U.S. Route 1 that terminates at Key West. From Key West you can either take the ferry to Dry Tortugas National Park which is exclusively offered by Yankee Freedom III  (US$190 per adult person for a return trip including breakfast and lunch) or you can take a sea plane which can be chartered at this link (US$299 for a half day tour or US$525 for a full day tour per adult person).

 

things to do at dry tortugas

We just opted for a full day tour so what I will be presenting here will just be activities for those who are on day tour, except for the camping tips.

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We took the ferry that left Key West at 8 a.m. and reached Dry Tortugas National Park at around 10:30 a.m. For the day tour you have exactly four and half hours to spend on the island. Upon arrival you can either join a free one-hour tour of Fort Jefferson or you can just do your own thing. We did the latter and we immediately went to South Swim Beach.

1. relaxing at South Swim Beach

South Swim Beach was my favorite place on the island. From the docking area, you can proceed to the left side and walk past the entrance to the massive fort for about 2 minutes and it will bring you  to what I consider the most picturesque area in the Dry Tortugas National Park.

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You move further south and walk past the amazing white sand beach.

 

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You will end up at this stone structure that also houses the helipad.

 

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From the stone structure, one can have this stunning scenery.  This area is also one of the designated snorkeling places.

 

 

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Visitors would spend most of their time just lazing on this white sand beach and swimming in the turquoise waters.

 

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From this beach, one can also chance upon sea planes passing by.

 

2. going around the fort via the moat wall

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From South Swim Beach you can start walking along the south moat wall and start going around the entire structure from outside.

 

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Then you will come across your first turn to the west moat wall.

 

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We took some photos on the west moat wall.

 

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And then on the east side as well.  It took us around 12 minutes to go around the fort via the moat wall.

 

3.  spending time at North Swim Beach

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Either by going the entire walkway along the moat wall outside the fort from South Swim Beach (described in the preceding section) or taking right from the docking area to the pathway (shown above), you will be led to the less crowded North Swim Beach.

 

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This beach is shorter, less crowded and less charming than South Swim Beach. Nevertheless, this beach also has crystal clear blue waters.

 

4. snorkeling & fishing

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As I have stated earlier the Florida Keys sits on the world’s third largest coral reef and it should just be fitting to do some snorkeling around designated areas in the island.  The protected waters are home to an array of extraordinary sea life. Snorkeling gears are provided free by the boat, Yankee Freedom III.

Fishing on Garden Key is also allowed at five designated areas. Fishing license is required unless you are under the age of 16 or a Florida senior resident over the age of 65.

 

5.  camping

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There is an option to camp on the island up to three nights and that’s what we wanted to do but we did not get camping slots anymore as they only limit the number of campers per day to around sixty-six campers at the eleven camp sites in the island.  So be sure to book in advance if you want to camp.

 

6. touring the inner side of the fort

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Welcome to Fort Jefferson.  This fort was 30 years in the making but was never finished.

 

DSC_5843This is harbor light as seen from the ground level.

 

DSC_5835This is the ground level of the fort from inside.

 

DSC_5832The ground level of the fort has walkways that lead to the entrance to the second level of the fort.

 

DSC_5844 DSC_5845Also on display at the ground level are the boats used by sailors.

 

DSC_5858This is a part of the second level.  Imagine, you are inside one of the largest brick structures in the western hemisphere. There are 15 million bricks that make up this enormous fort.

 

DSC_5857From the second level, the view of the inner part of the fort is just haunting.

 

DSC_5852 DSC_5856Glancing outside from the second level, the view of the blue-green sea is just calming to the eye.  If you have time, you can stay put at any of the windows overlooking the waters and read a book.

 

7. enjoying the view from the boat

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From the boat you can enjoy the view going to the adjacent Bush Key while having lunch.

 

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You can also enjoy views of the harbor light and part of the eastern part of the fort from the boat.

 

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The four and a half hours was really short and I wished we could have camped there for a day or two as I also wanted to experience sunsets and sunrises on the island. We left the Garden Key at exactly 3:00 p.m. and reached Key West after two and a half hours.

 

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This has been my best island experience so far in the U.S.A.!  The scenery was something I have never seen before.

 

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Above all, the beach was incredibly beautiful!

08
Mar
15

Peru: The Wonders of Machu Picchu


Machu Picchu is the most familiar icon of Inca civilization and it is one of Peru’s greatest man-made treasures having been preserved and untouched by the Spaniards when they came rumbling through South America. The ancient site has been voted as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. It has also been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.

the trip to machu picchu

You can save a lot of time in visiting Machu Picchu if you fly direct to Cusco from some Central and South American cities thereby missing Lima which is actually too good to pass.  Otherwise, if you are coming in from the U.S. mainland, you need to fly to Lima first and then fly to Cusco like we did. (You can click here for my blog on colorful and bustling Lima.) You can either base yourself in Aguas Calientes area at the base of Machu Picchu or Cusco or the Sacred Valley which is two hours away from Machu Picchu. We stayed in a hotel in Cusco for a few days and we just allotted a whole day tour of Machu Picchu.

We left our hotel in Cusco very early in the morning for our 8 a.m. train ride to Aguas Calientes originating from Poroy train station, 30 minutes taxi ride away from the city central. We have arranged with our driver the day earlier at the Cusco airport for the taxi ride to Poroy.  The hotel staff in Cusco can also help you pre-book a taxi or get one on the spot.

DSC_0394Our train was on time for its departure.  For the train, you can choose between the cheaper Vistadome and the more expensive and luxurious Expedetion.  You can book train tickets directly at PeruRail website.

 

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Breakfast of pancakes and fruits with coffee or tea was served during the 112-km, 3-hour trip from Cusco to Aguas Calientes.  [As of this writing the 112-km trip has been divided into a combination of train and bus bimodal service from January 2015 to April 2015 only.]

 

DSC_0402 DSC_0411Through the train’s huge large and transparent windows and ceiling, we enjoyed the view on our way to Aguas Calientes.

 

 

arrival at aguas calientes

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Finally, we arrived at the Puente Ruinas train station at the end of the laid back town of Aguas Calientes.  You can opt to base yourself here for a few days if you want to explore more of the neighboring attractions like the Sunday Market.

We were greeted by the travel agency representative from whom we had bought bus tickets in advance.  We were led to the bus queue going up Machu Picchu. The bus is just one of the options for you to reach Machu Picchu from the train station. Another option would be to hike around 3km for around 45 mins up to Machu Picchu. Since we did not have much time, we  decided to take the one day tour and go up via the bus ride. The bus would leave every 10 minutes. The more adventurous travelers can join the 1-day or 3-day hike via the famous Inca Trail.

 

 

the ascent to machu picchu

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The view going up 7,970 feet above sea level was absolutely breathtaking and at the same time spine-chilling.  The winding roads do not have side protection and you could see the sceneries below directly from your bus seat.

 

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We arrived at the entrance of Machu Picchu after 20 minutes. We waited for our tour guide to call our names at the time we were scheduled to enter. When purchasing the entrance ticket, you would need to select the time of your entry to the site. Do not risk of getting no entrance tickets to Machu Picchu especially if you are only one a one-day tour so book in advance.  Take note that the number of visitors are limited per day at certain time allocations. You can book at this website.

 

 

the machu picchu ruins

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Our tour by the English-speaking guide started at the side of the ancient site overlooking a spectacular mountain range.

 

DSC_0454There were around 20 tourists with us. It was actually raining when we started the tour but as the tour guide told us, rain in Machu Picchu is just always passing and do not be disappointed as the skies will clear in a few minutes after a sudden rainfall. I suggest that you bring a disposable raincoat with you. There are also umbrellas being sold at the site entrance that you can use to protect yourself from both the sun and the rain.

 

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Machu Picchu was built in classic Inca style, with polished dry-stone walls.

 

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We then started to descend for a lower view of the ruins. I was actually starting to get bored halfway through the tour as I wanted to go up immediately to the highest point where the classic view of the site of the ruins could be taken.

 

 

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In a few minutes we started to go up.

 

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I was really awestruck at the ruins and the layout.

 

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Finally, the classic Machu Picchu shot!

 

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Machu Picchu ruins and myself.

 

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We were truly thankful for the excellent weather and safe travels.

 

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Alpacas abound in the area and they have been giving nature accent to the surroundings.

 

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And it was time to go and catch our train ride back to Cusco.

It was truly a dream come true for me to visit Machu Picchu.  The entire trip was challenging from planning to booking especially the connections from Lima to Cusco to Aguas Calientes/Machu Picchu but everything was indeed worth it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

04
Mar
15

Hungary : The Marvels of Budapest


Budapest is one of Europe’s most beautiful cities and it certainly has its own unique charm.  Separated by the Danube River into the Buda and Pest areas, it is expected to mesmerize first time visitors.  Budapest appears even lovelier at night with the absolutely thrilling display of lights along the Danube River and beyond.

the train ride to budapest

DSC_2155Coming from a few days tour of Prague, we took a 9-hour overnight sleeper train to Budapest that left around midnight.  

 

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One has the options of two-in-a-room or four-in-a-room setup.  We got the two-in-a-room which has actually a bunk bed.

 

It was not the most comfortable train ride I have taken.  Even though the beds were conducive for sleeping I was awake most of the time we were traveling because I am a light sleeper.

CSC_2182 DSC_2178Complimentary breakfast was served in the train as we were about to arrive in Budapest.

 

where we stayed in budapest

The final hotel selection was narrowed down to two Marriott properties: the Budapest Marriott Hotel along the Danube River and the highly-rated Boscolo Budapest Autograph Collection in the city center. We chose the Budapest Marriott because of its excellent location and more reasonable price. Indeed it was a very wise choice because the sweeping Danube River views from our room were just breathtaking especially at night.

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DSC_0766 DSC_0760It is the only hotel in Budapest offering magnificent river views from all of its 364 rooms.

The following are the views from our room taken at different times of the day. We could see the Chain Bridge and Buda Castle from our room!

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1546122_10202937812674883_987479911_nThe hotel is a short walking distance to three of Budapest’s top attractions Buda Castle, Chain Bridge and the Parliament.

 

 

the chain bridge

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The Chain Bridge, built in 1849, is the most famous Budapest bridge.  It is the icon of the city’s 19th century development. It is the nearest of the three major attractions near our hotel so we could just take a short walk to the bridge any time of the day.

 

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My favorite time spent at the bridge was around sunset until early evening when everything was beginning to light up and the sights in and around the bridge were just incredible.

 

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It was way more lovelier here at night with all the lights than at day time.

 

 

the buda castle quarter

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Walking along the Chain Bridge from the Pest side to the Buda side will lead you to the entrance to the Buda Castle Quarter, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, just a few steps off the bridge.  From here you would be taken up to the Buda Castle perched high above Castle Hill.

 

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The castle, seen here from the Danube Promenade, was first completed in 1265.

 

the parliament

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Around 15 minutes walk from Chain Bridge is the Hungarian Parliament, which is the third largest in the world. We tried to walk to it in the afternoon at the Pest side along the Danube Promenade and we only got this side shot as there was ongoing construction and most areas around it were off limits.

 

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At night we strolled once again along the banks of the Danube this time at the Buda side.  From afar the Margaret Bridge seemed like a lighted pathway to the Parliament.

 

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The front view of the Parliament was simply magnificent.

 

 

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We had a hard time taking a photo of the Parliament with ourselves but our cameras (flash settings and all) were not cooperating so we took this shot only using our mobile phone!

 

the banks of the danube

The entire stretch of the banks of the Danube in Budapest has been declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Again I like the river more at night with thousands of lights adorning its banks.

 

heroes’ square

CSC_0412A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Heroes’ Square can be found at the outbound end of another World Heritage Site, Andrassy Avenue.  It is one of the major squares in Budapest and it is noted for its iconic statue complex. The square has played an important part in contemporary Hungarian history and has been a host to many political events.

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The statues of the basement of the column depict the 7 Hungarian chieftains led by prince Arpad.

 

thermal baths

Bathe your cares away in the ‘City of Baths’. Hungary is a land of thermal springs, and Budapest remains the only capital city in the world that is rich in thermal waters with healing qualities. If you’re looking to kick back and relax over your holiday, Budapest is the place to be. 

Gellert-Baths-@-BudapestShown here is the Gellért Baths which are some of the most beautiful and elegant baths in Budapest. Its columned, Roman-style swimming pool may look familiar as it is the most photographed spa of Hungary. This was built between 1912 and 1918 in Art Nouveau style.

 

 

the gresham palace

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At the eastern end of the Chain Bridge over at the Pest side just adjacent to Széchenyi Square, an imposing building will truly get your attention.  A true example of Art Nouveau architecture, the Gresham Palace was completed in 1906 and now houses the Four Seasons Hotel Budapest Gresham Palace.

 

the gerbeaud confectionary

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Gerbeaud coffee house and patisserie in Vörösmarty tér continues to attract both a certain class of Hungarian as well as visitors from Vienna and elsewhere.

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It is one of the greatest and most traditional coffee houses in Europe.

 

 

buddha bar and restaurant

I always enjoy lounging at Buddha Bar locations whether it is for formal dinner or just simple drinks.

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I have loved their exciting menu of a mix of Asian flavors and French influence but this time I craved for beef goulash soup and Hungarian beer!

 

 

százéves

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I personally recommend százéves restaurants which are 100-year-old for those who are interested in history and who like to spend their meals in a pleasent atmosphere.

 

 

shopping

Whether it is souvenir item or maintstream shopping, everything was just a stone throw away from our hotel too!

DSC_0347Vorosmarty Square has a number of shopping locations and one of them is the newest glass mall in town.  The Hard Rock Cafe is also just adjacent to the mall.

 

 

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There are also a lot of small souvenir shops around the corner.  We chanced upon this extra pleasant Hungarian lady who told us that the residents of Budapest had a fund raising event for the victims of typhoon Haiyan when I told her that my family is from Leyte, the place hit hard by the typhoon.

 

metro & taxis

Budapest’s Millennium Underground is a World Heritage Site being the oldest in continental Europe.  It is currently in use and this mode of transportation took us to different places around Budapest.

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If you are in a hurry and do not have time to walk to a subway station, taxis can be a more expensive alternative but they are pretty safe.  The drivers are extra courteous too.

 

 

Our stay in Budapest was a memorable one and we were blessed with the best winter weather we could have imagined. The Hungarian capital offers much to everyone. For me, the best ones are along the Danube River so I will end with Katonam’s stunning panoramic photo of Budapest.

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02
Mar
15

Philippines : PP Underground River


The Ultimate Underground River

Welcome to Palawan, the Philippines’ last frontier and home to the Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR), recently voted as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature and also one of the World Heritage Sites in the country.
CSC_0231It is the world’s longest navigable underground river at 8.2 kilometers with a lot of amazing natural structures inside.

 

Monkeys, large monitor lizards, and squirrels find their niche on the beach near the cave.

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DSC_0207Avoid carrying plastic bags in the open as the monkeys tend to think they are food items and they could grab them. Otherwise they are harmless unless you touch them.
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At the cave’s opening, a lagoon with clear waters is framed by ancient trees growing right to the water’s edge.



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Up to 10 persons are allowed in a boat.  If you opt to have more privacy during the boat tour, you can nicely request the tour operators ahead of time to have your group take the entire boat.  This would also depend on the crowd waiting.  Our group of 5 people was allowed to take the entire boat.

 

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Upon entering the cave, the only light that you would have is the headlight of the boatman/tour guide. Unless you have your own powerful light, it is very difficult to rely on the boatman’s headlight for sights that you would like to capture on camera.  Most of the time even camera flash is not enough.  As we did not bring our own light, I tried my best to capture the sceneries where the headlight was currently focused.

 

Here are some of the things we captured:
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A female fish head with eyeliner.

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Tom and Jerry.
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Lady in boots and a panda.
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A giant garlic.
PPUR

The biggest chamber of the underground river is known as the cathedral which is halfway into the tour. (Credits to Geb Bunado for the cathedral photo.)
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Here you can find the giant candle among other statues.

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You can also spot Pegasus resting.

 

 

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You will then pass through the “highway”.

 

Normally, some few more meters after passing through the highway the tour will end.  However, if you request the boatman/tour guide to take you to the sea cow fossil, then it would be another mile beyond the normal tour route.  And we did exactly that!
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We were able to see the recently discovered fossil of the 20 million year old Sirenia, commonly know today as the Sea cow or Dugong, of the Miocene period which is plastered on a limestone wall.  This became the highlight of the underground river tour. On the way back, you will pass the same route that you had earlier and you will have another chance to take those photos again.

 


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Finally, we were out of the cave.
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It was an experience of a lifetime with my parents and friends visiting this natural wonder right in our home country.

 

 

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Goodbye PPUR!

 

I would like to share some things to consider when visiting PPUR.

 

when to go

To avoid extremely choppy boat rides, you need to visit the Underground River from December until May.

 

how to go

PPUR can only be reached via Palawan’s capital Puerto Princesa.  Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific Air and Air Asia have one-hour flights from Manila to this laid back capital city that is the jump off point to many of Palawan’s other natural attractions like Honday Bay, El Nido, Taytay, Tabon and San Vicente.  You can check my blog here on the best places to go in Palawan.

From Puerto Princesa, there are a lot of vans that would take you from the airport to Sabang Beach in less than 2 hours.  From Sabang Beach terminal, a short walk away is the port where boats are docked that would take you to PPUR.  You need to get a ticket ahead of time as there is a limited number of visitors allowed per day. There are packages from travel agencies that would offer the PPUR tour for 1,200 pesos including the van from the airport to Sabang and back. You also need a licensed tour guide to go with you.  At the port you need to wait for your name or your group’s name to be called when you’re ready for boarding the boat.  The entire PPUR tour starting from the Sabang Beach port and back could be done in around 2 hours.
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This is the area where boats would load the passengers going to the Underground River.

 

 

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This is the future plan for the Sabang Wharf.

 

what to do

Sabang Beach is the gateway to the natural wonder.  You can either base yourself in Puerto Princesa or stay for one or two nights in Sabang Beach.  The few things you can do around Sabang Beach is to visit the Underground River, hang out at the quiet beach or ride the nearby zipline. If you are checked in at the two major resorts in Sabang Beach, they have a lot of resort facilities that you can use. I prefer staying just one or two nights in Sabang Beach because I would rather go back to Puerto Princesa area and spend time in nicer Dos Palmas in Honday Bay with almost the same rate.
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This is Sabang Beach right in front of the resort where we stayed which is discussed next.

 

where to stay and eat

If you opt to stay around Sabang Beach for a while and just want a really simple place to stay, you can select from the many inexpensive lodging houses lining the beach.  If you want a nicer place to stay, you can choose between the area’s only two major resorts, Sheridan Beach Resort and Spa and Daluyon Mountain & Beach Resort, a few steps away from each other.

 

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I have chosen Daluyon because of its more natural feel, native charm, eco-friendliness and slightly cheaper price than Sheridan.

 

 

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The air-conditioned rooms are all sea-facing and they are simply amazing where you can open the doors and windows for a more relaxed and airy feel.

 

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Cabana 102 was perfect for us.  They also have a three-bedroom suite that can accommodate 6 persons with private pool and dining area.

 

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Its common adult and kiddie pools at the back of the resort have the mountain view.

 

Sheridan is more contemporary.

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The resort has a really huge pool.

 

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If you like a modern place to stay then Sheridan would suit your needs.  Since our breakfast at Daluyon was complimentary, we tried having our lunch at Sheridan one time and the food was good.

 

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We also had some afternoon drinks at Sheridan too. There are other smaller and cheaper restaurants lining the shore that are alternative dining options and we enjoyed them too!

If you have any questions about this trip, you can leave me a message in the comment section with your email or you can email me directly at eaniban@yahoo.com.
01
Mar
15

U.S.: A Winter Experience


Living through an entire winter season is basically a new experience for me. Being a tropical guy who loves warm weather and goes for gorgeous tropical beaches, moving to the U.S. northeast was a big switch for me.  I have never actually stayed long in places during winter visits unlike my recent stay in New England where I have lived with snow storms and all. Nevertheless, this winter experience is an unforgettable moment for me and it came after one of New England’s most colorful fall seasons yet featured in another blog.

Here are some memorable winter snap shots taken in New England and nearby New York.

 

NEW ENGLAND

Snow came late this season but it came with a force with the first major snow storm dropping almost 30 inches of snow around New England.

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Time to shovel and turn on the snow blowers!

On sunny days, the neighborhood is indeed an enjoyable sight as we roam around seeing the colorful houses amidst the snow-covered lawns.

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And sunset time is lovely too.

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NEW YORK

A recent snow storm dumped almost a foot of snow in New York City and it was just timely as the following day we had a business transaction in the big city giving us the chance to stroll along Times Square, Midtown and Central Park.

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Our first stop was Bryant Park where the Winter Village is also located.

 

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We then briefly stopped at Herald Square.

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Our last stop was the captivatingly beautiful Central Park and we spent our time there until sunset.

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Then it was dark in Central Park.

DSC_5381 DSC_5399Indeed it was another white night in the big city.

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The Empire State building’s spire was lit up as we bade the big city goodnight.




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