Category Archives: Vacations

Touchdown Tokyo!!!

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My little family was blessed to be able to travel to Tokyo again this year.  You may remember that last year, we were treated by my in-laws to a 6-day vacation.  This year, it was just the three of us, exploring what is starting to become one of my favorite cities in the world :).

We arrived at Tokyo at around 2PM.  Not a bad schedule because it gave us the time to still do some afternoon sightseeing.  Because we landed at the Haneda Airport which is much nearer to the city (only 30 mins!) and accessible by train to and from our hotel, we were out and about by 330PM! :)

This year, we opted to stay in a different neighborhood from our previous visit.  We stayed at the Shiodome Royal Park Hotel–very near Ginza and Tsukiji.  Also, as I had mentioned, our hotel was right by a train hub, so getting to and from the various areas in Japan was very, very easy for us :).

On Day 1′s bright, sunny and COLD afternoon, we opted to take a leisurely stroll right outside the Imperial Palace, right by Hanzomon Gate.  According to the hotel reception, that area was lined with blooming cherry blossom trees.

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After taking the requisite photos and spending some time at the mini park for A, we dropped by Ginza for dinner and a little bit of Uniqlo shopping.

Our next day in Japan had a forecast for rain.  After hearing mass at St. Ignatius Church, we decided to spend the afternoon indoors at the Japanese Toy Museum.

What a charming and fun place!

Set in a quiet neighborhood in Yotsuya, in what looked to be like an old school building, the Toy Museum was basically two floors of various traditional and modern Japanese toys.

Not only was it a wonderful place for A to explore and enjoy, but admittedly, both the hubby and I had a great time too!  We spent hours playing, touching, feeling, and experimenting with the various toys on display.  I love that it was such an interactive place!  If you have small kids, this is definitely an awesome experience for them :).

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After the Toy Museum, we decided to stop by the Shinjuku Gyoen National Park for more cherry blossom sightings.  Unfortunately for us, while on our way there, we were told that the park closed at 430PM.  So, since we were already in the Shinjuku area anyway, we instead spent the rest of the evening at my craft haven–Tokyu Hands!  And boy did I rack up a bill!  Huhuhu :(!  Can’t resist all the kawaii stuff!

On our third day, we had a taste of something old and something new.  In the morning, we made a quick visit to Legoland Discovery Center at the Decks Mall in Odaiba.  Who doesn’t love Lego, right?

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Similar to our experience at the Toy Museum, it was a fun place, and truly for every member of the entire family!  I especially loved the miniature version of Tokyo, made entirely out of Lego bricks.  It was amazing!!!

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The little one enjoyed the play area very much, and insisted on building one lego tower after another.  She especially enjoyed using the big rubber lego pieces, and building towers that were taller than her!

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At around lunch time, we made our way back to the Minato District to visit Zojoji Temple.  I make it a point that every time we visit a place, we balance out the cultural and sightseeing stuff with the shopping, the eating, and the kiddie activities.  Although the great thing about A is that she enjoys the cultural stuff as well!

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Zojoji Temple definitely did not disappoint.  I liked that it was not as crowded as Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, and the grounds were actually more picturesque and Instagram-worthy–hahaha!  With the Tokyo Tower in the background, it’s hard not to take a great picture of the temple, especially during sunset!

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After Zojoji, we headed to Shibuya for some dinner.  It is unfortunate that in the two times I’ve been to Tokyo, I’ve not been able to spend more time to explore this area.  It can be a bit overwhelming because of the throngs of people that crowd the streets and sidewalks, but I’m sure the shopping must be wonderful!  Hahaha!  Oh well…maybe next year… :).

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By Tuesday, our last full day in Tokyo, I was already feeling the exhaustion from the activities of our trip.  Instead of packing our day in, we decided instead to take a leisurely stroll inside the Imperial Palace East Gardens, and while our morning away there.

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It was a beautifully warm day, and seeing people lay down and relax underneath the cherry blossom trees made me wish I had packed a picnic blanket and some lunch.  Hahaha!  But I guess that just gives me something to look forward to on our next trip here :).

Oh Tokyo, oh Tokyo.  I truly love you so!  Hoping we meet again next year, same time, same place! :)

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The Holiday Round-Up

With this post I recall all the great moments of this year’s Christmas, and finally lay the holidays to rest :).

It was a wonderful time spent with my bigger family and with friends, peppered with a lot of quality moments with the H and A.

Hectic as usual, but I love that every day was a day that was celebrated well, with new memories created, and many blessings to be thankful for  :).

Ayala Triangle Light Show

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To kick start the holiday season, the H and I always try to catch the light show at the Ayala Triangle gardens.  There’s something about all those lights draped from the trees, flickering to Christmas music, that makes me feel so giddy and excited. It never fails to put me in the holiday mood :).

I guess this is the modern day version of those COD Christmas display shows I used to watch when I was a kid (they actually have a revival of it at the Greenhills Shopping Mall, but I’ve never been).  It was always a family tradition to trek down to Cubao to witness this Christmas production.  My dad would prop me up on his shoulders, so I could have an unobstructed view of the show.  I remember always being entranced by the set and the moving figures, and it always strongly reinforced how much I loved Christmas, and all its traditions and festivities :). Still do :).

Hi-5 House Party in Manila

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This holiday season, we were also able to catch two shows :).

The little one loves Hi-5, and it just so happens they had a show at SM Aura–right in our neighborhood!  The H and I knew she would be so ecstatic to watch them live, so we immediately snapped up some tickets, and took A to see her favorite group perform.

And boy did she love it!

Even though I am personally not too into Hi-5, seeing the excitement on A’s face, made it more than worthwhile for me :).

Barkada Christmas Get-Togethers

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I’m glad that despite our busy schedules, we were able to plan our barkada Christmas get-togethers early enough for them to push through without a hitch.

The H and I both have groups of friends that we’ve known for like forever.  My best gal pals have been my friends since Grade School (some since Nursery!), and the H has known his since High School.  They are truly our closest friends, and because we don’t get to see each other as often, celebrating these occasions with them and their families is always such a special time for us :).

Christmas Eve

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Christmas is the only time of year that my family is complete.  And that’s why I love it :).  The house also always looks so festive, sissy is home from New York, we do our thing and decorate the Christmas dinner table together, and the food we feast on has been a family tradition for many, many years :).  What’s not to love, right?

And for the past couple of years, we’ve started to have color themed parties as well :).  This year’s theme was red, green and gold :).  Our parents were all in red, my cousins, siblings and I were in green, while the kiddos were in white and gold.

In my family, Christmas Eve is also the night when presents are exchanged and opened.  Because of Yolanda, gifts were a lot simpler this year, and some of our relatives decided not to give gifts at all, but that did not dim our celebration one bit :).  In fact, I think it was even more fun, and definitely more meaningful :).

Christmas Day

Christmas Day this year was spent at Cousin A’s house.  It’s pretty much a repeat of the night before, minus my siblings, who celebrate the holidays with their in-laws.

For the past couple of years, my generation (my cousins, siblings and I)  has already been hosting the family holiday celebrations.  Our parents have been “passing on the baton”, so to speak, and getting us ready for what will eventually be our role in the future :).  I love it when traditions are passed on successfully, and hope my cousins, siblings and I will be able to keep it up, and keep our families close in the years to come :).

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In the evening, we trooped over to my in-laws for Christmas dinner.  Since last year, they decided to celebrate on the 25th itself, just so that we wouldn’t have to rush Noche Buena with the Pascual side (my family’s side) on the 24th.  Best. Decision. Ever!!!  Plus, we could totally enjoy the feast that my MIL ends up preparing.  Before, when we would celebrate both Noche Buena’s on the 24th, I would be too full to eat by the time we reached my in-laws’ place.  The kids would also be a bit tired, as it would be waaaaaay past their bedtime.

This time around, dinner was enjoyed quite leisurely, with no one rushing to leave; and gift opening was ofcourse the highlight of the evening, with all the kids excitedly opening presents, and creating a huge mess in the process!  Hahaha!  Oh to be a kid again! :)

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Santa’s Visit

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This year was the first year we introduced Santa to the little one.  During past Christmases we felt she was still too young to understand who he was, so we did not even bother with it.

But this year–thanks to Rockwell mall–she got so into the idea of Santa!  I guess it helped to see an actual live, breathing version of him (haha!).  Unfortunately however, as Christmas Eve drew nearer, and our schedules just got waaaaaay too hectic, we were unable to compose our letter to Santa.  Instead, I asked A to wish very hard, for what she wanted Santa to get her, and that if she was a good girl, Santa would give her a gift on Christmas.

On December 26, A opened her very first gifts from Santa Claus.  He left them inside her stocking :).  As you can see from the look on her face, she was very pleased with her presents :).

Next year, I promised her, we’ll try to work on her letter, and we’ll even leave milk and cookies for Santa.  We’ll go for the whole shebang :).

Cousin’s Night Out

When we were younger, the days in between Christmas would be spent partying at bars and clubs.  Obviously, those days are far behind us now.  Hahaha!  Staying in and having wine and cheese nights are more our thing :).

Thanks to big sissy for being our host this time around.  We had a great time bonding with the sibs and our cousins, in the comfort of her beautiful home :).

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NYC Roomies Reunion at The Pen

As December is a time of reunions, we couldn’t let it go by without seeing our good friends from New York.  We met at the Peninsula Hotel, which is always so wonderfully decorated during Christmastime :).  The H and I hope to make this another tradition with A, to have bibingka and puto bumbong at the Pen every year.

While unfortunately there wasn’t any more by the time we got there, we still enjoyed the company and the ambience very much :).

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I especially loved this life-size gingerbread house!  It smelled so heavenly! :)

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Disney On Ice

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For our second show of the holiday season, we took the little girl to Disney on Ice. She is currently fascinated by the Disney Princesses, and by the Prince’s too! Personally, I also enjoyed the show very much :).  I remembered when I was a little girl and my parent’s used to take me and my siblings to Holiday on Ice.  I remembered being in awe of the costumes, and the gracefulness of the skaters. This show is much, much more commercialized, but I still loved being able to sing the songs, appreciate the set and dance numbers, and to give A this experience. After all, who doesn’t love Disney? :)  Their productions are as magical as ever :).

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Anvaya

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To escape a little bit of the traffic and holiday madness, we took a quick out of town trip to Anvaya :).

The weather was sooooo glorious, and it was definitely a welcome break to relax by the beach and enjoy the company of family :).

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New Year’s Eve

This year’s party theme was fascinators and bowties.  I thought it was a fun and festive theme, don’t you think? :)  And everyone certainly got into it, which made it even more fun!

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My brother has a huge balcony that overlooks the Marikina Valley.  We were so lucky to get a 360-degree view of different fireworks displays!  We did not even have to have our own fireworks!  Hahaha!  I must say that the fireworks this year was very impressive, and there were a lot!  I hope that means that 2014 will be good to all of us, and we’ll see that kind of abundance in terms of blessings as well :).

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New Year’s Day

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New year, new family picture :).

As you can see, our family is growing!  We had a new addition last year in the form of my nephew, K.  Isn’t he a cutie? :)

And because our family is much bigger than it was before, we thought it was high time to start documenting it by way of a studio family photo :).  The last time we had one done, my siblings and I were all single! :)

Here are my parent’s with all of their grandchildren :).  There’s a complete family picture, but will share it with you in a future post.

The photo shoot was such a riot!  But I’m glad we had it done anyway :).

Afterwards, we attended mass to commemorate the first day of the year, and had dinner out as despedida for my sister, who left for NY the next day :(.

As you can see, our holidays were choc-full of activities!  Writing this blog post and looking back at all that happened these past few weeks allowed me to remember all the wonderful memories we created and shared as a family.

Here’s to more memories, adventures and exciting experiences in 2014!  God bless us all :).

Food-Tripping in Baguio

Gosh, it’s been ages since I last visited Baguio.  15 years to be exact :).  So when my good friend M invited us to join her for a weekend getaway to the City of Pines, the H and I (along with my cousin A, and her husband, D) didn’t really have to think twice :).

I’ve been hearing and reading a lot about the gastronomic adventures one can look forward to in Baguio.  While the sights have not really changed much in the last 15 years (except to look a bit older), the dining scene apparently, is alive and kicking.

This got me really, really excited!  I mean, who doesn’t love eating, right? Hahaha!  Well, I obviously do :).  So before our journey, I did a little research, and listed down all the places I wanted to try :).  Thankfully, we had enough number of days, and enough number of meals to do so.  Hahaha!

Here is a run-down of our favorite Baguio eats :

1. Cafe by the Ruins

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Photo courtesy of pasahera.com

The first stop on our culinary escapade was Cafe by the Ruins.  I guess a trip to Baguio is not complete without stopping by here.  This oldie but goodie is located on Shuntung Road.  While it is one of the city’s must-try’s, can you believe I’ve never even set foot in it?  As in ever?  Where have I been, right?  Hahaha!

So the minute we arrived in the city, we pretty much made a beeline for the restaurant (we were also quite hungry na!).  We chose to have their various specialties such as the Baguio bagnet, duck, crispy tapa, and some chicken sotanghon soup for the little girl.  We also tried their Rizal’s Tsokolate-e, which was surprisingly a bit different from what I was expecting.  I was hoping for a thick, creamy, and steaming cup of hot chocolate to warm my belly.  This version, although good, was a bit runny and not as milky as I would have wanted.

Our food, however, was both yummy and satisfying.  I love that it was served with healthy mountain rice, a side of tomato relish, and a generous serving of ulam. 

For our first meal in Baguio, I’d say Cafe by the Ruins set the tone just right. Even in terms of ambience, I thought it was very charming–with the “old”, antique-ish looking wooden furniture, the work of local artists that were on display, the light fixtures hanging from the ceiling, and the walls or ruins, ofcourse, that inspired the restaurant’s name.  I also loved how open and maaliwalas the place felt :).

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Photo courtesy of ourawesomeplanet.com

Needless to say, we enjoyed our experience there very much :).

2. Hill Station

Dinner that evening was spent at another Baguio must, Hill Station.  Located right underneath SM Baguio on Upper Session Road, Hill Station is recognized as a Miele Best Restaurant in Asia.  Impressive, right?  It’s offerings are influenced by the chef’s travels throughout Europe, America, and Asia, so it has quite an interesting and varied menu selection.

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Both the H and I decided to try their recommended pasta dishes–the seafood carbonara, and the spinach and mushroom ravioli.  Both were equally good, but I have to say the carbonara was my favorite of the two :).  There was a spice in the ravioli that I couldn’t quite identify, but that made the flavor very unique and unlike other ravioli’s I’ve tried.  You could totally tell how fresh the pasta was, too, made from scratch in Hill Station’s own kitchen.

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I would definitely love to come back to try some of the other dishes, such as the Cambodian coriander and garlic chicken, as well as the Moroccan-spiced ribs that my cousin-in-law, D, had (he said it was yummers, by the way :)).  We decided to go a bit “light” with dinner that night and didn’t order too much so as to save our tummies for our last course–dessert!

But before I move on to the next restaurant, I have to give special mention to the ambience at Hill Station.  I loved it for its elegant simplicity, for its homey, easy vibe.  I loved the huge windows that surrounded the entire dining area, and the two staircases leading to the second floor.  I actually felt like I was eating in someone’s living room!  Hahaha!  The dimmed lights also made it feel quite romantic, but at the same time, it is conducive for family dining as well :).  Too bad it didn’t have a fireplace.  That would have sealed the deal for me :).

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Hill Station is also right next to Mt. Cloud Bookstore, by the way, another must-visit in Baguio :).

3. Choco-late de Batirol

For dessert, we decided to try another one of Baguio’s classic restaurants–Choco-late de Batirol in Camp John Hay.

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I was surprised to see that it literally looked like a shack in the middle of a forest! Hahaha!  Granted, however, it was hard to miss since it was pretty much the only establishment on the road :).

What I loved about this place was how rustic it looked.  It had so much personality!  Tables were either made out of wood in a local design, or made out of bamboo slats.  Each table had a woven runner, obviously made by the native artisans.  I love how they made use of and are proud of their indigenous accessories and tableware.  It definitely added so much charm and uniqueness to the interiors of the restaurant :).

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Their choco-late was also very good, although similarly runny like the one we had earlier at Cafe by the Ruins.  It made me conclude that Baguio tsokolate probably really has that consistency :).

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4. Ketchup Community

On Day 2 of our Baguio getaway, we did a lot of sightseeing.  We decided to take the little one to see all the places we used to frequent when we were younger.  At around lunch time, we found ourselves at Wright Park, so we decided to try an interesting place just across the street called Ketchup Community.

Ketchup Community is precisely a community of restaurants enclosed within one location.  Each establishment there serves a different type of cuisine such as American, Thai, Filipino, Italian, etc.  If you find yourself without a particular craving, that’s not a problem at Ketchup Community because you are welcome to cross-order from the other restaurants, just as long as 50% of your meal comes from the restaurant where you are sitting.  Cool, right? :)

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That afternoon, we decided to try Canto.  I was sold when I saw how mouth-wateringly yummy their burgers looked…and their ribs, too!  I can’t tell you how long it’s been since I’ve had a burger!  Hahaha!  Because the H isn’t particularly fond of eating them, I find myself craving for a bite, every so often.  This was one of them times!  Hahaha!  And thankfully, Canto’s burger was very flavorful and soooo gooood!  It hit the spot!  I have to admit I enjoyed the bun a little too much too :(.  Ayayayay!  With the side of fries that I devoured almost entirely, this meal unfortunately turned into a carb-fest as well.  Tsk, tsk!!!!

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Aside from the burger, I was also attracted to the open seating of Canto, which allowed us to take advantage of the pleasant weather.  Coming from a stormy and foggy first day, the sunny but cool climate we enjoyed that day was precisely the Baguio weather we were looking forward to :).

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5. Mama’s Table by Chef Vicky Tinio-Clemente

I’d been hearing a lot about this private dining experience in Baguio, and I’m glad we were actually able to take part in it during this trip.  My friend M’s mom, Tita L, happens to be a good friend of Chef Vicky, so she arranged for a special 5-course meal for a group of us (we were 26 in all!) at her residence.

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The fog was already quite thick as we made our way up the mountains, and it seemed like we were driving to a very secluded destination.  When we finally arrived at the home of Chef Vicky, it was so dark, save for the light that illuminated her front porch.

It definitely didn’t prepare me for the what greeted us, as we entered the front door…

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What a sight to behold right?  From the grand fireplace, to the high ceilings, from the huge floor to ceiling windows, to the very large, cozy sofas at the center of the room, Chef Vicky’s weekend family residence is one of those places that instantly make you feel at home.  Aside from the beautiful interiors, I love how homey and intimate it felt, despite the size of the room.  I immediately felt so comfortable, and at ease, like I’d been there a million times already.  Chef Vicky’s home provided such a wonderful venue to enjoy amazing food, and equally amazing company! :)

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Unfortunately, my iPhone crashed that same night so pictures of the first part of the meal–the appetizer spread–are gone forever :(.  Huhuhu :(.  I am so bummed because the appetizers were not just good, but were also so prettily presented on the table.  We had a variety of spreads to choose from such as an artichoke dip, kani spread, chili, and a selection of cured meats, crisp breads, and even chicharon!  Everything tasted soooo good!  I actually had to discipline myself just to try a little of each, so I wouldn’t ruin my appetite.  I couldn’t wait for the rest of the evening’s meal :)!

Luckily, though, I was able to take pictures of the four other courses using my camera.  This is what we feasted on that evening :)…

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Everything from the soup to the dessert was cooked to perfection! I kid you not!  The mushroom soup was creamy, and I loved that it was laced with truffle oil.  YUM!!!  The salmon was cooked just right, and was nicely complemented by the roasted squash.  The roast beef was very tender and soft, simple yet satisfying.  I loved the salad with its fresh greens, crunchy nuts, and refreshingly sweet orange slivers.  And to think I’m not really such a salad person.  Hahaha!  Despite the fact that I devoured each and every dish, the meal was so nicely paced that I didn’t feel at all full, and definitely had room for dessert :)! Or does that mean that my stomach has expanded already?  Que Horror! :(

5. Chaya

For our last meal in Baguio, we had lunch at Chaya on Legarda Road.

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Chaya is a charming old house turned Japanese restaurant.  I love the dark wooden walls that are reminiscent of many old homes in Baguio, as well as the quilts that adorn the walls.

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But the star of this restaurant is most definitely the food!

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We were so excited to try it out that we ended up ordering so much–Chirashi, Chicken Teriyaki Salad, Chicken Teriyaki, Salmon Sashimi, Mixed Tempura and Sukiyaki!  To wash it all down, I couldn’t resist ordering their Green Tea shake too!  It was sooooo yummy!

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To say we enjoyed our food is an understatement.  We LOVED it!  The tempura batter was light and crisp, the soup of the sukiyaki was not too sweet and very comforting, the salad had a wonderful, tangy dressing that was quite refreshing, the chicken teriyaki was soft and had a nice glaze to it, and the sushi was fresh and served in huge slices.  What more could we ask for, right?  And the cherry on top was that everything was sooo reasonably priced!

We definitely ended our trip on a high note with Chaya!

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So there you have it, six of Baguio’s best culinary gems :).  Should you find yourself in the City of Pines anytime soon, do take the time to check them out!  I am sure, like us, you will be truly delighted!

Hong Kong Highlights Part 3

Ok, guys.  This is the last post in my Hong Kong series :).

We scheduled an 830pm flight out of Hong Kong so we practically had the whole day to explore and shop for last minute pasalubong.  I love that our hotel room came with an option for late check out, so that really enabled us to make the most of our remaining time there :).

First up on our agenda was a semi-late breakfast (Marco Polo has a wonderful buffet selection!), and then a trip to the Peak Tram.  In all the times I’ve visited Hong Kong, I’ve never quite made it to this top tourist destination.

Getting there was pretty easy.  We took the MTR and got off at Central Station, then walked uphill towards the Tram’s Lower Station.  We actually got there just in time as lines were already starting to form (actually, I advise an early start if you plan on riding the tram.  I think we were just lucky that day that the lines were not that long :))

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The trams arrive every 10-12 mins.  After about a 40 minute wait, we were able to get on board!

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It was pretty cool riding this very traditional means of transportation.  I didn’t feel all woozy even though we were climbing up to such an incredible sight, and the views of the harbor were truly breathtaking!  A enjoyed it very much too!

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When we finally got to the peak, we took a couple of minutes to look around and take pictures.  We decided against going up to the observation deck as we felt we would practically be seeing the same thing, just with an unobstructed view.

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If we had more time, I would have loved to go around the mall (apparently there was a Coach outlet there!).  This time, however, we opted to head back down to Kowloon side so we could go back for some last minute purchases, and we could have lunch somewhere closer to our hotel.  We got back just in time to do both. And that pretty much was how we ended our Hong Kong holiday– or so I thought!

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Unfortunately, because of the bad weather in Manila, our 830pm flight was moved to 3am.  When you are traveling with a child, 3am flights are practically impossible!  I almost started to hyperventilate just thinking of waking up early and dragging my sleeping child to the airport.  Such a hassle!

Instead, the hubby and I decided to spend the night in Hong Kong, and to re-book ourselves for a 9am flight going home.  Sounds more reasonable, right?  But expensive too!  Hahaha!  While we were lucky that there was an available room for us at the Marco Polo Gateway, we could no longer get a discounted rate because of the short notice.  At that point, however, I didn’t really care anymore. I just wanted to get settled in, have some dinner, and get some rest!

Having an extra evening in Hong Kong, proved to be a blessing.  First of all, we heard that some flights that departed were diverted to Clark, Pampanga because of the heavy rains in Manila.  If that happened to us, I would probably be freaking out!!!  We also heard that many passengers had difficulty getting cabs that evening because of the floods.  Thank goodness we didn’t have to deal with that!

Instead, we were able to stay another night in a very comfortable room, and had dinner in a nice restaurant–BLT Burger–to celebrate the eve of the little one’s birthday :).  In all the years I lived in New York, I unfortunately never had the chance to try this restaurant out.  Funny that I finally did– in Hong Kong! Hahaha!

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Although the burger was nothing extremely special (we got The Stripper aka a burger without the bun), it was seasoned well, and you could tell the beef was of really good quality :).  And by that time, I was a bit tired of all the cantonese food we had eaten, so this was a welcome break and hit the spot–especially the french fries! :) Hahaha!

This trip to Hong Kong was a bit quick, and I have to admit, it was the first time that I actually felt bitin about our stay.  Hopefully next time, we’ll be able to plan something longer–there is still so much to see and do!

It was a much needed vacay, though, and I’m glad we had the chance to leave Manila even for just a couple of days.  While I honestly cannot say I feel rested and recharged, I think what’s more important is that I feel truly blessed :).

Hong Kong Highlights Part 2

While I was glad (and lucky!) that my family was out of the country during the time typhoon Maring battered Metro Manila, we were actually not spared from rainy weather in Hong Kong either.

On our one and only full day to go around the city, it showered for most of the morning, and into the early afternoon!  Boo :(.  But eventually, the sun started to peek through the clouds, and we were off to explore the Nan Lian Gardens and Chi Lin Nunnery at Diamond Hill.

I love that Hong Kong is such an easy place to teach children about travel :). Because it is convenient to commute and go around via MTR, I took the opportunity to make our journey a ‘teachable moment’ for A.

A at the MRT

She learned about maps, and enjoyed pressing the screen to choose our destination…

A inserting the MRT card

…and she also loved inserting the MRT card to enter and exit the station :).

Finally, we arrived at Nan Lian!

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A at Nan Lian

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A in front of the Pagoda

For those of you who have not been here, it is a must-see that I highly recommend :).  It’s kind of like a hidden patch of green, amidst the tall buildings and concrete jungle that is Hong Kong.  It’s a wonderful place to stroll through and enjoy at a leisurely, relaxed pace.

The highlight of the park is this golden pagoda, built in the Tang Dynasty style. The striking orange bridge that leads to it makes it even more of a sight to behold!  Very picture worthy!

I also read that each element in the 3.5 hectare garden (as in every rock, plant, hill, body of water, tree, etc.) was meticulously placed according to very specific rules and methods.  Talk about discipline!  But the results are a beautifully manicured space for the public to enjoy :).  And we certainly did!

Right next to Nan Lian is the Chi Lin Nunnery.

A at Chi Lin

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The nunnery is basically a huge complex filled with temple halls, Buddhist relics and lotus ponds.  The vibe here is very serene.  Some people were there to pay tribute to Buddha, while others simply soaked up the beautiful, elegant wooden architecture.  It was lovely, and I can say my family truly appreciated every aspect of this place.  It was unfortunate, though, that because Chi Lin is a place of worship, photos were not allowed inside the temples :(.

As dusk started to settle, we left Chi Lin and headed back for Tsim Sha Tsui. After a quick, early dinner at Ippudo (this is a MUST for the H), we headed for the Victoria Harbor waterfront, to catch the Lights and Sounds show by the promenade.

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Since we were also already in the area, we decided to cap off our day with a walk along the Avenue of Stars.  It’s basically similar to a Hollywood Walk of Fame with statues of various movie paraphernalia and sculptures of famous Chinese actors on display.  Along the path one can also find hand prints and autographs of stars set in cement.

A in front of the Movie Reel

A in front of the Movie Clicker

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A on Bear

A with Bruce Lee

While we didn’t really know or recognize many of the stars that were honored along the Avenue, we did enjoy the stroll and the view of the Hong Kong side skyline :).  So many beautifully designed buildings!!! :)

So that’s basically what we did during our second day in Hong Kong.  I love that everything we did was new, and not part of our usual Hong Kong itinerary :).  In my next and last post, I’ll talk about what we did on our last day.

Wait for it! :)

Hong Kong Highlights Part 1

August is always a good month to escape Manila.  There are a lot of long weekends to choose from, and it also happens to be my daughter’s birth month :).

Last year, we took the little one to Hong Kong.  We took her to Disneyland, went food-tripping, and did some shopping.  This time around, we decided to make the trip a bit more educational, opting to sightsee, rather than to spend our time at a theme park.  Ofcourse shopping and eating are always part of the itinerary :).

A goes to Hong Kong

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We decided to take an 8am flight out of the Philippines, and arrived in Hong Kong at 930 in the morning.  Everything went smoothly from the moment we left our condo, to the minute we arrived at our hotel for the next 3 days, the Marco Polo Gateway.

It’s been years since I last stayed at this hotel, and I was glad to see that everything was nice, modern, and newly refurbished!

I also super love the location!  Because it is on Canton Street, not only is it just across Silvercord Mall (home to Din Tai Fung, Ippudo, and near H & M), but it is also conveniently connected to the Harbor City Mall!  All the shops are practically a stone’s throw away!

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When we got to our room, I was happy to discover that it was a nice size, perfect for our little family.  I was thrilled that the bathroom looked so clean and brand new!  It totally passed my standards with flying colors!  Hahaha!

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After we unpacked and had gotten settled in, lunch was in order.  We decided to give our friends at Din Tai Fung a visit, especially since I was craving for some soup dumplings.  They never fail to hit the hungry spot!  Hahaha!  I also needed to fuel up for the whole afternoon shopping session that was to come after our sumptuous lunch :).

A at Din Tai Fung

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A feeds herself

The Fam Bam

Since I’d rather not bore you with shopping details (I was on my best behavior! *Read : I didn’t really buy much :)), let me end this post by sharing about the restaurant where we decided to have dinner.

By this time we were exhausted and chose to eat close to home.  Prior to our trip, I had been researching the blogosphere for some recommendations, and this one came from Jin of Jin Loves to Eat.  We decided to eat at Canton Deli, located at the 3rd floor of the Harbor City Mall.

They serve very traditional cantonese dishes, and since we were in Hong Kong, we thought, “What the heck, might as well eat authentic Chinese food!”.  Hahaha!

While the ambience was nothing to rave about (although they did have these cute bird cages suspended from the ceiling), the food was quite good!  Since it was a bit late, the hubby and I decided to just share some soup and beef tenderloin cooked chinese style.

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I was pleasantly surprised at how tasty everything was :).  The soup had a good amount of crab chunks and corn.  The beef had slices that were thicker than I was used to, but it was very soft and flavorful that I did not mind at all!  Definitely, we enjoyed our meal very much :).  I would have wanted to try other stuff on the menu, but because it was already very late, we decided against it :).  Hahahaha!

If you ever find yourself in the Marco Polo/Harbor City Mall vicinity, do give Canton Deli a try :).  While it’s not the type of restaurant that’ll blow you away, the food tastes pretty good, and it is very conveniently located as well :).  We walked away that evening with pretty happy tummies! :)

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Anyway, since this is already pretty lengthy, in my next post, I’ll talk naman about the places we visited, and the sights we saw in Hong Kong.

Hope you guys will stay tuned! :)

Dreaming of My Happy Place

Seriously, I. WANT. TO. GO. TO. THE. BEACH!!!

Yes, I am having a major hang-over from my trip to Palawan last week :(.  And despite the scorching heat, I cannot help but long to be in and dream about my happy place :).

*Sigh*

I just love the soothing sound of waves crashing against the shore.

Or how mesmerizing it is to watch the water as it creeps up the sand.

Ofcourse I wouldn’t mind sipping a cocktail and losing myself in my thoughts as I watch the clouds and sky stretch endlessly for miles either…

puerto princesa pchc

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sheridan pchc

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*Sigh* I love the beach.

 

Just in case you’re wondering, these photos were taken by me at the Sheridan Beach Resort and Spa in Sabang, Palawan.  Home to the Underground River, one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World.

Konnichiwa, Japan!

I’ve been to Japan numerous times, but unfortunately, I’ve never made it past the airport.  Hahaha!

Luckily, we were treated recently by my very generous in-laws, to a 6-day trip to Tokyo (technically, we were there for 4 days, the other 2 days were for travel to and from Manila).

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Here are highlights of the things we did, the places we went to, and the sights we saw.  The best part, ofcourse, was the viewing of the cherry blossoms, which was why we were even in Japan in the first place, during this wintry time of the year.

DAY 1

Sanrio Puroland and Ueno Park

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DAY 2

Mt. Fuji, Strawberry Picking, Hakone River Cruise, Shibuya

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DAY 3

Sensoji Temple, Meiji-Jingu Shrine, Omotesando

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DAY 4

Harajuku, Ginza

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This was truly a wonderful vacation, and a much needed respite from work and the horrendous summer heat wave!  There are too many things to see, do and eat in Tokyo that 4 days is definitely not enough!

Hopefully, we’ll have the chance to come back and explore other neighborhoods in the near future.  Tokyo, I’m far from being done with you :).

Singapore La la la la laaah…la la la laaaah!

My super sweet H knows how stressed I’ve been at work, especially these past couple of years (yes, years!).  Prior to all the challenges, I used to have more of a life–hahaha!–which included lots of travel and quality time with the family.

This year, though, I promised myself that things would be different, and that I’d make more of an effort to do all the things that I used to love doing.  At the top of that list is ofcourse spending more time with the little girl and the H, followed by making more time for arts and crafts projects, and going on trips!

If I had my way, I would love to escape somewhere out of town or out of the country every month!  Hahaha!  And so far, I think I’ve done pretty good!  While January had its share of day trips, February was a highlight because the H treated his ladies (that’s moi and the little girl) to Singapore!  Yup, a first for A, and a first for our family!

Here’s a photo diary of what went on during our 3-day vacation.  We also celebrated my birthday, so turning 38 (yes, I am proud of my age :)!) turned out to be extra special this year!

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Day 1 consisted of a trip to the aquarium in Sentosa.  Thank goodness we decided to buy our tickets online!  We totally skipped the long queues and got in right away!  But it seemed like we were there with the rest of the world–so many people were in the aquarium that day!!!  Nevertheless, we really enjoyed ourselves :).

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Day 2, the busiest of all the days, started with a trip to the Children Little Museum, and ended with a visit to Singapore’s newest attraction, Gardens by the Bay.  We had an awesome time!

The Children Little Museum is basically a two-storey shop filled with curios and vintage paraphernalia.  That it was filled with a collection of items that would give one an idea of life during the “olden” days, piqued my interest.  I thought that it would be a fascinating experience for the little one too :).

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Located very near the Bugis area by the Arab Quarter, the Children Little Museum is identified by the tall robot standing at the store front.

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Some of the merchandise on the first floor are for sale, but it is the display items on the second floor that people come to see, and where the real treasure lies.

Ascending the steps is like walking up memory lane–the items on display reminded me of a totally different era when things were much simpler, when children drew pictures and played games on the streets.  There were different types of toys mounted on the wall, different types of tricycles, rocking horses, strollers, a collection of school supplies, old musical instruments and equipment, and other interactive displays.

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This was a really cute display of a street barbershop, the H pretending to give the little miss a haircut! :)

As you can see, we really enjoyed our visit here :).  There are many things to explore so the little one was kept busy! :)

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After the museum, we headed over to Gardens by the Bay, right by the Marina Sands Hotel.

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Aside from the outdoor gardens, this place also has two huge conservatories. The one called The Flower Dome features many different flower species from various parts of the world, while The Cloud Forest mimics the conditions inside a rain forest.  Visitors get to walk through the “forest” via some ramps that go up, down and around a mountainous structure.

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The Gardens by the Bay is unlike anything I’ve ever seen or experienced so we really had a wonderful time!  It amazes me how the Singaporeans are able to come up with these unique tourist attractions.  Galing!

On our last day, we decided to take it easy and have brunch at one of our favorite restaurants, PS Cafe.  Since the Dempsey location was a bit too far, we decided to try the one on Orchard Road instead.

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I really, really love the interiors of PS Cafe.  It’s very chic!

We decided to sit outside on the balcony though since it was a pretty cool day, and we wanted to take advantage of the sunlight and natural setting.

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Aren’t these tiles soooo pretty?  I tried to take the token feet shot with the fam, but the little one couldn’t keep still!  Hahaha!

We left PS Cafe and decided to walk all the way back to our hotel.  When we arrived, we had just enough time to freshen up and grab a cab to the airport.

It was a really quick weekend, but I think it was a weekend well spent!  We saw a lot of new attractions, and a side of Singapore that we have never seen before! :) It was also wonderful to be able to get away even for a short bit to re-charge and spend quality time with the fam bam :).

Next month, it’ll be a trip to Japan to see the cherry blossoms!  Woohoo!  I am sooo excited!  In April, it will be a Palawan trip with my colleagues.  I can’t wait to hit the beach!  I wonder what other trips this year will have in store?  Stay tuned!!! :)

Madrid Eats

After Paris, the parentals and I flew to Madrid where we spent the most time during our trip–8 days!  Luckily, the last time I was there was almost 20 years ago, so definitely there was a lot to reacquaint myself with :).

We were billeted at a hotel called Hotel de Las Letras on the main road, Gran Via. It was a super nice hotel!  I loved that the interiors were very modern and streamlined, yet the hotel itself was housed in a restored, historical building.

The location was also very ideal as it was near a lot of shopping areas, restaurants, and many of the tourist attractions.  We were pretty much within walking distance of everything!  Definitely this is a major requirement for my family when we travel and book a place to stay :).

So what did we do during our 8 days in Madrid? Because we had quite some time to spend, we pretty much did a little bit of everything :)  We ate, we shopped, and we toured, ofcourse! :)  I have so many wonderful experiences to share with you all!  However, this post will focus more specifically on the food, though, otherwise it will be a terribly looooooong article.  Hahaha!  More on my adventures in another post nalang :).

Anyway, unfortunately for my waistline, we ate a LOT on this trip (good thing we walked a lot too!).  We gorged on tapas and other traditional Spanish fare.  We definitely could not pass up on having some authentic churros con chocolate as well.  Spanish food is soooooo good!  It still is no match for Pinoy food in my opinion, but good nevertheless :).

Of all the places we dined at in Madrid, here are the ones I enjoyed the most and would definitely recommend you try:

1. Mercado de la Reina

Situated just right outside and across the street from our hotel, this tapas bar was such a delightful place!  Nicely designed interiors, great tasting food, and fast, friendly service are their winning combination!  And being our first stop upon arrival, we were definitely grateful for that!

2. El Asador de Aranda

As opposed to the Mercado de La Reina, this was a more traditional type of Spanish restaurant.  From the looks of it (even just looking at their plates and flatware!), it has been operated by a single family for many, many years and throughout several generations!  Located on Calle Preciados right by the Teatro Callao, it serves time-honored Spanish dishes cooked via asador or oven–hence, the name.  We were able to try their lechal–suckling lamb–and it was sooooo yummy!  I can’t actually believe I enjoyed this dish, especially since I’m not particularly fond of lamb.  But this did not taste at all like lamb but more like crispy pata (crispy pork knuckles)!  It was fall-off-the-bone and melt-in-your-mouth soft, and so simply cooked yet bursting with flavor!  Eating this dish was definitely memorable for me.  I was truly impressed!

3. La Paella

Paella is a must when visiting Spain!  On our third day there, the craving struck, and it struck hard, so I definitely had to satisfy it! Hahaha! La Paella came highly recommended by our hotel concierge.  When we entered the restaurant, the fact that it was fully packed only served to reinforce that it was popular amongst both tourists and locals alike.

My mom and I shared the house specialty paella, some chorizo, and a pitcher of sangria.  All their servings were huuuuuuge!  The paella could have totally served a party of 4, but it was indicated for 2 only.  I felt a bit ashamed though when my mom and I totally wiped out every bit of the paella :(.  Yup, it was that good! Hahaha!

If you are definitely in the mood for some paella, consider giving this place a try. Do come with an empty stomach, or at least be ready to get your belly filled.  This is one restaurant where diets need to be left behind :).

4. Mercado de San Miguel

I just looooove food markets!  I love the hustle and bustle of people milling about, I love moving from stall to stall, sampling the different delicacies or specialties on display…  There’s something about a marketplace that makes it such a fun and unique experience!

And fun is exactly what we had when my folks and I went to the Mercado San Miguel near the Plaza Mayor in Madrid.

If I’m not mistaken, this is the oldest food market in Madrid, although you will not be able to tell since it recently underwent renovation.  Compared to La Boqueria of Barcelona, the Mercado San Miguel is not as big, but definitely much cleaner, and more modern inside.

As you enter, stalls upon stalls of different types of Spanish food will greet you. It’s up to you to choose which ones deserve a try, and which ones deserve some precious real estate in your tummy.  Hahaha!

Everything I saw definitely made my mouth water.  From various types of croquetas and cured meats, to cheeses, paellas and all the kinds of postres that you can imagine–this place is the bomb!!!

Mom, Dad and I had a blast trying out the different offerings.  It was like having an indoor picnic, with some vino too!  It was one of the best meals of our trip indeed!

5. Mercado de San Anton

Mercado de San Anton is another food market but with a slightly different twist. It is a multi-level building located on Calle de Augusto Figueroa housing a supermarket, a market, food stalls and a restaurant.  The first floor is where the raw meats, seafood, fresh vegetables and other produce are sold.  The second floor is where you can find the prepared foods.

While I prefer the selection of Mercado San Miguel, the food stalls in San Anton were also quite yummy.  Mom and I especially liked the pulpo or octopus cooked with spring onion and tomato sauce.  We also enjoyed the carrot cake we had for dessert.

I think that the feature of Mercado San Anton is the third level, which houses an outdoor, rooftop restaurant.  Unfortunately, during the time of our visit, it looked closed.  I heard that at night, though, it attracts quite a posh crowd.  I would have loved to experience the scene for myself but sadly, I never found the time to.

6. Chocolateria San Gines

For authentic churros con chocolate, the natives swear by Chocolateria San Gines.

Established in 1894, it is hidden in an alley near the Puerto del Sol that makes it quite easy to miss.  In fact, I didn’t know that I had actually walked past it already, on my way to the Plaza Mayor!  There is nothing fancy about San Ginesnothing that would make me stop and take notice–considering it is Madrid’s most well-known chocolateria.  However, once you step inside, you’ll find photos of alot of people, both famous and not, who have enjoyed their churros con chocolate throughout the years.

For a one-product establishment, San Gines is pretty much busy all hours of the day.  It is quite amusing to know that they are open from 9AM to 6AM! Apparently, Madrilenos enjoy having their churros early in the morning as a snack, after an all-night party session :).  I so can’t relate.  Hahaha!

When my parents and I arrived at San Gines, both indoor and outdoor seating were packed!  Luckily, after we ordered our serving of churros, a table cleared up just in time.

I couldn’t wait to dip the hot fried dough into the chocolatey melted goodness.  I was surprised though that it tasted quite different from the churros that I am familiar with, but this version happily did not disappoint :).  I noticed, however, that the chocolate was slightly runny, and it was quite sweet!  I was expecting it to be bitter and thicker, the way I know Spanish chocolate to be.  Oh well.  It was still an enjoyable treat, though, and a great way for us to end our evening :).

7. Valor

Valor is a very popular brand in Spain.  They’ve been in the chocolate making business since 1881, and most of their products can be purchased in supermarkets and convenience stores throughout Madrid.

Their chocolateria is located right by the Teatro Callao.  I was very excited to try their version of churros con chocolate, and see how it fared against San Gines.

The verdict?  Definitely, the chocolate trumps the San Gines version.  It was darker, thicker, chocolatier, bitter, but with a good measure of sweet.  It was sooooo yummy, I could have licked my cup clean!  Hahaha!

For the churros dough, while I liked its consistency, I found it extremely greasy!  I actually had to dab it several times with a tissue to remove all the excess oil.  It also did not have the usual “gear” shape but was long and smooth.  I guess Valor’s churros must have their own unique recipe :).

So that’s basically it :).

I am very sure that these establishments are but a small speck in Madrid’s thriving culinary scene.  Looking through this list, however, I think we were quite lucky to be able to experience an entire range of dishes from the most typical and traditionally prepared, to the more modern fusion but still very delicioso types.

It is a must for me that when I visit a place, that I get to sample the local cuisine, especially the ones they are known throughout the world for.  In some way, like culture, it is a type of education–this time for my tastebuds, though.  Hahaha!

And despite the fact that I am now a couple of pounds heavier because of my eating adventures, I console myself with the fact that these adventures made my vacation in Madrid all the more enjoyable and memorable :).