Back to the Philippines after 10 years – Part 1

While the Czech Republic was knee-deep in snow, we went for a short trip to my motherland, the Philippines.  It was the first trip for my family to this land of eternal sunshine, and we all enjoyed it immensely.

Our first few days were spent in Manila, where I was able to meet and spend time with my long-time friends.  We stayed at a hotel in the Makati business district.  I specifically chose this location because it was not too far from the airport and close to one of the popular malls in the city.  Prior to our trip, I’ve read news about the worsening traffic in the metro, so I decided to have us stay in a place where meetups will be convenient and a trip to the airport will not melt the snow folks who are travelling with me.

It was great bonding with my friends again and I was happy that my family instantly became comfortable with them.

After 3 days, we flew out to Bohol, where we spent the most time in.  Everyday there was something in the itinerary.  A few of the places we visited were….

SONY DSC  The exotic animal park in Loay, where my son and my husband fearlessly petted a snake.

The idea seemed cool, but it was not to my liking.  I would rather watch them at a distance.  On this trip, I was also able to show my kids where the rice comes from.

SONY DSC

If you have ever met a Filipino, you would know that we love rice.   It is such an important element in our culture.  I have yet to meet a Filipino who doesn’t like rice.

Another famous attraction that we visited is the Loboc floating restaurant.

SONY DSC

I have been to this restaurant several times during my younger years, and I was quite happy to go back there.  I have noticed a few improvements from the last 10 years.  The port is now well-built and those boats themselves had a little face lift.

SONY DSCSONY DSC

But what amused me though were the air-conditioned bathrooms.   Finally someone figured out that a restroom should live up to its name — a place to rest.  Those restrooms provided visitors a much-needed respite from the tropical heat.

On this same journey, we also hit another major spot, the Chocolate hills.

SONY DSC

The hills were not very “chocolatey” on this visit because it was just the end of the monsoon season.  Every day it had its daily dose of rain.

On the way there, we also dropped by the Bilar man-made tropical forest, where we paid a visit to the all-knowing Tarsiers of Bohol at a conservation park nearby.

SONY DSCSONY DSC

Before heading out for home, we decided to drop by a butterfly sanctuary where there was much fun to be had.

SONY DSC

We had a very funny guide who told us that he used to work with a Czech volunteer.  It was interesting to know that like Filipinos, Czechs are also everywhere.

img_1016

Like this Czech butterfly for instance.

Stay tuned for the next part of this butterfly’s Philippine adventure.

Advertisements

Moms’ Night Out

If you had been wondering what I’ve been up to lately, suffice it to say that I have been working.  Working on myself, that is.   Finally my children are at an age where they are not too dependent on me and I can actually go out.  I have recently started a diet and exercise program (updates later), and I have also started to go out with friends without having to tag my kids along.

IMG_0533.JPG

This past weekend, I decided to take a night out  in Prague with a few friends.  We went to Kstar  Karaoke bar, the only Karaoke bar in Prague specializing in private room karaoke, where guests can have a room to themselves and sing in front of people they know.  The concept of this type of bar is nothing new.  It is an Asian concept, and I was told that the owner of the bar got this idea from Japan after living there for several years.

IMG_0539.JPG

Those who know Filipinos and have spent time in Filipino communities will know that we love karaoke.  Hence, it was no surprise that we completely enjoyed the experience.  The room was spacious enough for all of us, and food was allowed to be brought in. (Probably one of the biggest pros about this place.)   The bar was well-stocked with a good selection of drinks and the song selection was also a good mix of old and new pop hits.

IMG_0536

Most of their customers are foreigners, and they also cater corporate events for some companies and organizations who are interested in this type of entertainment.   Although karaoke is not a popular Czech past-time, I was told that more and more Czechs are starting to take interest in this form of entertainment.

IMG_0523

Perhaps the only downside for this place is that it didn’t have a parking space, which is quite common for establishments in the city center.  I also found the microphone wires bothersome.  But Marek, the manager told me that plans are underway to change that.  They are planning to do a system upgrade where everything will be touch screen.

All in all, it was a pleasant experience.  It is good to know that a place like this is already starting to gain popularity here in Prague.  I think I’ve just found a new hangout.

 

 

 

 

Helloween, your typical halloween with a Czech twist

A month ago, I got a flier from our mailbox regarding a “helloween” celebration in our community.  I was excited and curious at the same time, since it sounded like a typical western halloween celebration, save for the fact that it wasn’t going to be celebrated on Oct 31, but a couple of days earlier.  Whatever the reason for calling it so and picking out the date, it was one event that I was glad my family participated in.

As I have mentioned in previous entries, we live in a small community just outside of the city and close to the woods.   Aside from its idyllic location, what I love most about this place is the atmosphere and the friendliness of our neighbors.  We are the only multi-cultural household in this area, but that didn’t seem to make a difference in how we are treated by our neighbors.

Now back to the “helloween” celebration.

The event was held in one of the unoccupied vacant lots.  Everyone brought their own food to share.  I managed to whip up some chocolate cupcakes sans the halloween design.  But who cares, it’s edible, right.

IMG_8412

There was also hot red wine for those who were chilly.  This is a typical autumn and winter drink here in Czech.  I remember when we used to go skiing in California, my ex-boyfriend (now husband) is always left with the task of making this drink  for the group.

IMG_8410

And of course, halloween-themed treats …  In my opinion, this is the best of them all.

IMG_8418

The event started with pumpkin-carving where kids eagerly carved their own pumpkins with the help of their parents.

IMG_8402And of course, some parents were all game and came in costumes.

Then there were games for everyone to participate in.  My Michaela was way too young to participate in any of these, but she was all happy watching it.

IMG_8421

When darkness crept in, we lighted the pumpkins and displayed them in a single line on the side of the street.

IMG_8424

Here is my son proudly posing with the pumpkin that him and his father carved.

IMG_8428

We were blessed with perfect weather that day.  It was not too hot nor was it too cold.  And there was no rain!

The event was culminated with a short walk in the woods with the young kids.  That means us because both our children fall into the young and gullible category.  It was like going into a haunted house except that it was open-air.  The organizers prepared a short trail where the older kids and some parents dressed up as ghosts, monsters, and whatever “i-will-scare-your-wits-off ” costume you can think of and tried to scare the younger ones.  At the very end, a pumpkin full of candies awaited the braver ones.  Fortunately, none of our kids got scared.  But it was a very interesting walk for them — and for us.

There was no “trick or treat.”  But I didn’t miss it that much.  Because  I’ve never really been to a “trick or treat.”  I was already way too old for it when I moved to the States.   Back in the Philippines where I grew up, the practice was not customary.   It is the same over here in the Czech Republic.  Even though adults and children love to dress up and scare each other during halloween, they haven’t gotten around the practice of doing a “trick or treat.”  Albeit, there is a street in Prague where the “trick or treat” is being practiced.  But it is where most American expats live, and they have managed to keep the tradition alive.

Anyhow, my little community’s helloween celebration was enough for me.  I’m glad that my children got to experience this western tradition with a Czech twist.

So how was your halloween?

Lately

It seems like forever since I wrote my last post. Too many things have happened that I couldn’t seem to put them in order.

Anyhow, we’ve had several visits this summer and early fall. First off, my husband’s cousin and her son from Moravia to spend a weekend with us.  We brought them to Prague and Kutna Hora, since it has been awhile since they visited these  beautiful cities.

Here’s a picture of us in front of one of the most beautiful churches here in the Czech Republic, the St. Barbora Church in Kutna Hora.

IMG_8133

The weather was not in our favor during their visit but we were still able to snap some beautiful pictures of Prague.  It is breathtaking in any weather.

IMG_8109

My friend Melba and her daughter also spent some time with us.  It was nice for the babies to see each other again.  This time, we contacted some alumni from the university where we had our bachelors and had a mini reunion in a cafe in Prague.

IMG_8279

A couple of weeks ago, My friend Mymy also came for a visit with her son.  She lives in Prague and it was her first long out of town drive since she got her license a year ago.  She also has a toddler who is close to Michaela’s age, so it was nice sharing motherhood experiences with her.

IMG_8396

Lastly, my son has started going to a state primary school and my daughter is turning one pretty soon.  How time flies.

Photo credit:  Jan Strnad (www.atelierkolin.cz)
Photo credit: Jan Strnad (www.atelierkolin.cz)

It seems like only yesterday since we made the significant decision to move here in CZ.  Since then, every year is marked with significant milestones.

A quick visit to Děčín

A couple of weeks ago, we visited the town of Děčín, located in the northwest Bohemia.  We were on our way to visit a famous Czech national park and decided to do a quick stop in this beautiful town.

IMG_7678

We were not able to visit the historic castle due to time constraints, so we just simply roamed the town square.

IMG_7693

Like any other Czech town, it is filled with beautiful fountains and beautiful architecture.

IMG_7681

The town is bordered by the Elbe river .    Děčín lies on the right bank, while the German town Bodenbach lies on the left.  It has a very low elevation, one of the lowest in the country.  Thus, it has experienced its own share of natural disasters.

In 2002, a great flood caused catastrophic damage to the town.  Fortunately, most of the historic sites were undamaged and still stands up to this day.

A Visit to Panská skála (Lord’s Rock)

On a recent trip to North Bohemia, we had the opportunity to visit one of the country’s most visited geological formation:  Panská skála (Lord’s Rock).

IMG_7676

The Lord’s Rock is a remnant of a basalt hill.  About 30 million years ago, the rocks made up of basalt magma were pushed up  and never went to the surface.  This trapped magma began to cool very slowly, forming the typical jointing which we now observe today.

With quarrying, a lake was also formed, which became an interesting addition to this geological wonder. Now this area is protected, and is developed solely for tourism purposes.

We were very lucky to find it along the way.  My boys didn’t waste the chance to go up the hill.

IMG_7671

And here they are …..  Can you see them?

IMG_7655

The organ-like rock formation is one of the site’s most insteresting features.

My girl and I were again left behind.

IMG_7654

We didn’t mind.  I think this site is better viewed from afar.

Several pictures and further information about this attraction can be found here.

Adventures in Vltava

One of the most popular past times among Czechs is water rafting and canoeing.

A couple of weeks ago, we were with some friends in Kemp Branna, a camp close to the Vltava river.  The main purpose of our trip was water rafting.    It was also the first time for us to go camping with the kids.  Although, we didn’t stay in a tent because my daughter was way too young for this kind of accommodation.  There was an option to stay in a little cottage, so that’s what we opted for.  The camp was quite nice and the facilities were clean and very well-developed.

IMG_7373

The day we arrived, my kids immediately socialized at the camp.

Because my daughter is still a baby, we decided to split the next day’s activity.  The boys went with the rest of the group on a raft, while we girls spent our time travelling in a car or on foot.

P1070963

Can you see my boy?  Good I wasn’t there on the boat with them.  I’d be nervous to let him sit on the edge of the boat.  But I was glad he had this experience.  At least he won’t be as wimpy as his mommy.

Anyhow, my daughter and I followed them to Rozmberk where we all had lunch, and I had the opportunity to snap this photo of the castle.

IMG_7395

I didn’t get the chance to go inside, but was happy viewing it from the outside.

Under pristine waters, it looks very serene.

IMG_7389

The rest of the afternoon was a bonding trip for me and my daughter.  We went to the medieval old town, Cesky Krumlov.

Look who’s enjoying the ride.

IMG_7399

We also went to a small park adjacent to the castle where we relaxed a bit…..

IMG_7411

 

…and we had our first “date” in a coffee shop.  Although I was the only one who had coffee.

IMG_7422

 

All in all the trip was a great bonding experience for me and my daughter, and for my husband and our son.

Hopefully next time, we will all be in the raft together.

Destination: Valtice and Lednice

On our way back to Czech, my father-in-law took us to two of the most beautiful places in Moravia: Valtice & Lednice.  These places are currently protected as  UNESCO World Heritage sites.  The chateaus in both towns originally belonged to the Lichtenstein family, when they were still ruling the area.

We left our hotel right after breakfast, and the Valtice Colonnade was our first stop.

IMG_7216

This structure was situated atop a small hill in the middle of wine vineyards, home of the famous Valtice wine.

IMG_7236

Since it was getting close to lunch time, we emptied our food bags and had a little picnic under a shaded area.

IMG_7203

Afterwhich, we climbed 89 steps to get to the top of the colonnade.

IMG_7225

It was tiring, but all worth it because of the view from the top – the beautiful Moravian countryside.

During the communist era, this structure also served a less desirable purpose.  It used to be a lookout tower for the national guards, searching for vehicles trying to cross the Austrian border.

But all that is now just a part of history.  This place has now been fully restored, and is one of the important cultural sights in the area.

Next stop was a quick exploration of the town of Valtice.

IMG_7265

We also went to the chateau, the structure whose image can be found on the label of Valtice wine.

IMG_7254

We didn’t get to go to the museum due to time constraints, but we were satisfied just walking through town and viewing the buildings from the outside.

IMG_7240

We then headed out to the Lednice area for lunch.  This place is also notable for having one of the most beautiful chateaus in the area.

IMG_3838

I’m glad we took my in-laws in this trip.  We got to explore not only Vienna but the beautiful Moravian wine country as well.

Next time around, when the kids are a bit older, we hope to go back and stay longer, exploring this beautiful place aboard our bicycles.  But for now, I’ll just have to wait.

A Fun Weekend in Vienna

This may not sound very normal to some, but we love travelling with our parents.  On a recent trip to Vienna, we decided to take them along.  This time, since all of us are already familiar with the historical sights, we decided to make it a fun trip involving food and taking the kids to an amusement park.

After having a hearty lunch at Mikulov, we drove to Vienna to get some coffee and a taste of the classic pork knee.

Vienna is famous for its cafes, so it was no wonder that they were all packed when we got there.  Luckily, we found the Gutenberg, a quaint restaurant tucked along a small street in Vienna’s shopping district.  The coffee was good, and so was the sacher torte that I had with it.  And it was too late before I realized that I should have taken a picture.

But anyhow, I think the picture I took from this place was more precious than the food – my children, in such a tender moment.

IMG_7147

 

We then proceeded to Prater Amusement park, where my son enjoyed the bumper cars with his father.

IMG_7157

And because he was too young to drive his own bump car, he begged to go on more rides where it was totally ok for him to take the wheel.

IMG_7181

Still, that wasn’t enough.  He is crazy about fire trucks, so here he is driving his own.

IMG_7194

The day will never be complete if we don’t get to taste the Viennese pork knee.  So we proceeded to the Schweizerhaus (Swiss house) and beer garden  to grab a mouthful and down it all off with a good glass(es) of beer.

The roasted pork knee is probably one of the unhealthiest food in this planet, but it tastes so good!  It reminded me of a typical Filipino dish, crispy pata.

IMG_7153

Yes, that was my portion.    So now you know why I am still fat.

 

Destination: Mikulov

This past weekend, we travelled with my husband’s parents to the Southern part of Moravia and Lower Austria (Vienna).

Our first stop was in Mikulov, a beautiful town which used to be ruled by the Lichtenstein family (the noble family whose name is the same as the little country that they still rule to this day)  when this part of the country used to be part of the Austrian empire.

IMG_7112

According to other writers, this part of Moravia used to be Sigmund Freud’s playground.

Sigmund Freud, the famous Austrian neurologist and the founding father of psychoanalysis was born in Příbor, a little town in South Moravia.   That was back during the day when Moravia was still part of the Austrian empire.  It is said that when he is tired of the hustle and bustle in Vienna, he is a frequent visitor of Mikulov.  No wonder, it is just and hour’s drive from Vienna, and very very close to the Austrian border.

Perhaps the most famous and most prominent historical spot in this town is the Chateau.

IMG_7141

This chateau used to be the summer residence of the Lichtenstein noble family.  Later on, it was sold to the Dietrichstein family who occupied this place until 1945.

In fact, another notable monument is the Dietrichstein tomb, where the remains of the family members now lie.

IMG_7117

Inside the chateau grounds, is a beautiful garden which is open to the public all year round.

IMG_7127

 

Up in the chateau grounds, one can view the whole town.

IMG_7136

 

In the distance, one can also see another interesting monument, the Svatý kopeček (Holy Hill), where the St. Sebastian chapel can be found.

IMG_7129

We never really went to this place because it sits on a different hill.

It seems like there were a few pilgrims who made their way to the top.  But on the other hand, they may not be pilgrims.  This hill is also home to several rare plants and animal species and has been declared a nature reserve.

Still on a different hill, one can also find the Kozí hrádek (Goat Tower).

IMG_7120

This was a very significant tower for the protection of Mikulov in the 15th century.  It contains a two-storey bombarding tower, which at that time was considered an advanced defense system in the Central European context.  Today, it is has been landscaped and included as a recreational area.

There were still a lot of interesting places that we didn’t get to see due to time constraints.  But with what I saw, I am not wondering why Freud loved this place.

Mikulov offers a wide range or nature activities and for those who appreciate good wine, this town also has a rich viticulture tradition.  The historical monuments I mentioned was just a tip of the iceberg.

I have just added this in my list of favorite places to visit.  Not sure when we can go back, but we definitely will.

If you would like to know more about Mikulov, please click here.