TRAVEL: PARIS Sera Toujours Paris!


Mon rêve. Votre rêve. Truth is, we all have had wild fantasies about this city. And I think, it isn’t such a crime to desire something so beautiful, rich and elegant. The first time I visited Paris, three years ago, I thought I just walked into a theatrical dream. It was in spring and we enjoyed pitch-perfect weather the whole time. Though it was quite a short stay, we were able to cover pretty decent ground in the sense that I was able to do some of the touristy things – visits to la Tour Eiffel, Musée du Louvre, Montmartre, Champs-Elysées, Notre Dame, Jardin du Luxembourg, etc. Obviously, there’s still so much of Paris that I haven’t seen, so we made sure to cover a bit more during our last visit in February. It was winter and the mood was a bit different, more sombre in fact, and I think our stay in Paris was even shorter this time, following a longer stay Avoriaz and Bordeaux just days before.

Le Panthéon. As many of you probably know, the Panthéon was first constructed as a church dedicated to St. Genevieve, the Patron Saint of Paris, but after many changes over the years, it now also serves as the final resting place of some of France’s most noble citizens. There is currently some renovations works being done but inside it’s business as usual, so fret not, you will still be able to pay this amazing attraction a visit. There is a fee of 7 euros, with some standard exceptions (students, etc.), but quite frankly, a small price to pay for some good cultural and historical immersion right in the heart of Paris. Inside the Panthéon, you will see a lot of paintings dedicated to St. Genevieve and also plenty of sculptures аt thе base оf pillars depicting French Revolution. When you go down to the crypts, you will see the resting chambers of France’s illustrious poets, philosophers, architects, scientists and writers such as Voltaire, Alexandre Dumas, Marie and Pierre Curie, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Soufflot, Louis Braille, etc, and also, former Presidents and children of the revolution. In other words, these aren’t normal joes like you and I. There are guide booklets at the entrance (just after you cross the checkpoint area) and they come in different languages, so you can always refer to it if you need to know more about the Panthéon. One hour is definitely not enough to soak in the rich history of the Panthéon, as well as the people interred therein, so I suggest that you visit after a good meal.

Inside Le Panthéon.

Inside Le Panthéon.

Elaborate sculpture dedicated to La Convention Nationale.

Elaborate sculpture dedicated to La Convention Nationale.

It is not enough to conquer; one must learn to seduce. - Voltaire

It is not enough to conquer; one must learn to seduce. – Voltaire

Jardin de Tuileries. The day started on a very gloomy note because the weather wasn’t exactly ideal for walking around Paris, as it was raining in torrents. So, we thought we could spend the afternoon at Musée de Louvre. Alas, a whole bunch of us seemed to have had the same brilliant idea because the queue for tickets was so long it would’ve taken us two hours just to get ours. And so we abandoned the idea and took to walking around Jardin de Tuileries instead, heavy downpour and all. Despite the inclement weather, the garden, with its perfectly manicured lawn and trees, appear unfazed, just like the beautiful sculptures scattered around the area. I remember the first time we came here, it was on a sunny spring day and we spent some time soaking in the sun lying supine on the grass. I prefer that actually, my skin brushing against the soft grass. Though I must admit, the rain and dark skies do give the jardin a more sombre, dramatic backdrop. Between this and Jardin du Luxembourg, I will take the latter anytime but a garden is a garden and France, especially, seems to do them pretty well.

Jardin des Tuileries

Jardin des Tuileries

Pont Alexandre III. To say that Pont Alexandre III is stunning is no doubt an understatement. With its resplendent details – the cherubs, nymphs, pegasus, etc – unseen in any other bridges, Pont Alexandre III is undeniably the most beautiful of all bridges in Paris – and perhaps even in the world. Joining the Champs Elysées and the Grand Palais on the right bank with Napoleon’s resting place, Les Invalides, on the left, Pont Alexandre III commands your attention from different angles and keeps you suspended in that state of wonderment long after you have walked away. We saw the whole stretch of the bridge from the boat when we did the Seine River Cruise in the afternoon and came back two days later, this time walking along the riverside towards the start of the bridge. We couldn’t walk all the way across because it was raining heavily that afternoon with the wind blowing in icy gusts, rendering our umbrellas completely useless against the deluge. I mean I do understand why couples would feel extra romantic crossing Pont Alexandre III, fingers intertwined, perhaps even stopping briefly for a kiss a few times.

Pont Alexandre III

Pont Alexandre III

La Seine. While Paris can be associated with so many landmarks, all worth their weight in gold, the River Seine provides the mirror in which the whole city can coquettishly glance upon its beautiful reflection, especially on a warm summer/spring day, so that any person who may happen to take a furtive glance on the water as well, will for certain be enamoured. On our last trip to Paris in February, we took the afternoon river cruise with Vedettes de Pont Neuf. It was my first time to take the cruise so I braved the freezing gusts of Parisian winter wind on the second level of the boat just so I could marvel at the landmarks ahead and on either side of the river banks. La Tour Eiffel, Musée du Louvre, Pont Alexandre III, Pont des Arts, Notre Dame, Place de la Concorde, Grand Palais, and many more enchanting landmarks can be seen from the boat as it gently glides along the water. The cruise itself lasts for an hour or so, with the guide speaking in a combination of English and French for the benefit of the non-residents on the boat. There is a food and beverage shop at the dock, so you can buy snacks before you take the cruise. But if you’re not too hungry, I suggest you skip the snacks and just go for a decadent meal and dessert at any of the brasseries cluttered around the riverbanks. The river cruise costs between 10 to 14 Euros. Though I think they have promo rates being offered depending on the season.

Vedettes de Pont Neuf

Vedettes de Pont Neuf

La Tour Eiffel as seen from the Seine River cruise boat.

La Tour Eiffel as seen from the Seine River cruise boat.

Pont des Arts. So we came here to see the lovelocks, and no, we did not add to the weight by having one of ours placed there as well. Either we are too old for this or we truly believe that our love is a lot stronger than any corrosive padlock. haha. Although this practice did not start with France (Belgium, Japan, etc, are in on the game as well), I suppose it does make a lot of sense for people to have it in the world’s most romantic city. They have long ceased people from clamping locks on Pont des Arts because the weight of these darn things has caused a part of the bridge to collapse. So the starry-eyed lovers have moved on to conquer Pont de l’Archevêché and Pont Neuf as well. It seems there is really no stopping young love.

Love locks at Pont des Arts.

Love locks at Pont des Arts.

Champs-Elysées. The world’s most famous avenue deserves a stroll anytime, any day and on every trip to Paris. Shopping is not mandatory, of course, but I gotta admit it’s strangely pleasant to give in to the lure of capitalism once in a while.

It was the eve of César Awards when we made a quick trip to Champs-Elysées. So they had this photowall just outside the famous Fouquet's. We thought it deserved a selfie.:)

On the subject of food, I mean really, what is not to LOVE about French cuisine?  We hit a lot of brasseries where I consumed large amounts of cheese, wine and dessert. What of meat then, you might ask. Well, considering how I shun meat except for chicken, pork (occasionally), fish and escargot (my favourites!) there’s really nothing of the exotic kind to share. Those that I remember fondly were Le Saint-André located at the Latin quarter and Le Libre Exchange (next to Brochant metro station) – both of whom I have reviewed on TripAdvisor as well.  Then, there was this fabulous crêperie near Henry IV which we visited after our tour of Le Panthéon. Really good stuff in there, too.

Le Libre Exchange is easily one of our favourite brasseries in Paris for very good reasons, namely: (1.) Great food (2.) Value for money (3.) Lovely service. I remember dining here for the first time back in 2012 as we were staying quite near the place, and back then I thought it was just okay. And on our recent trip to Paris, we dined here on three separate occasions and we noticed that there’s been amazing improvement especially with the way the staff relate with the customers. Really, really pleasant experience from the minute we were welcomed to the restaurant, to the time our orders were taken, when our food were delivered to our table, and when we had to settle our bill. When we were there again on our last night, there was this huge group of people who came in, literally filling up all the seats available in the restaurant and the staff were taking orders and bringing food and drinks over to different tables without breaking their rhythm or even showing a slight indication of fatigue, considering it was already a bit late at night. Amazing!  Food-wise, I’ve tried their escargot, la poule, cheese platter, omelette and they were pretty good. Hubby tried le lapin (rabbit) and he was truly happy with it, as well. They have quite a few things on their menu which I’m pretty sure are good to the taste as well.

Île flottante at Cafe Le Libre Change.

Île flottante at Cafe Le Libre Exchange.

Le Saint-André is every inch a typical Parisian brasserie, cozy with soft lighting and abuzz with lively conversations among diners. But what puts it in the same league as those places you’d most likely visit again a few times over is the warm hospitality of the staff. The guy who took our orders and brought our food was certainly very accommodating and friendly. Here, you don’t get that feeling of being hurried to place your order and wolf down your food. This is a good place for winding down with a good meal and a lovely glass of wine after a long day of walking around doing touristy stuff around Paris. I ordered a salmon dish with this delicious sauce (perhaps it was béarnaise?) and a side of fresh veggies. They also have free wifi so you may certainly have a great meal and Instagram it, too.

Café Le St. André

Café Le St. André

Looking back on our wonderful dining experiences in Paris, I was beginning to think the Parisians’ bad rep for customer service might possibly be an embellishment of sorts. Either that, or our timing must have been really splendid in those times!  

Voila, c’est tout. Rendez-vous l’année prochaine, Paris !

La Belle BORDEAUX Part II: Château Roquetaillade


Roquetaillade (meaning, ‘Carved in Rock’) is a French castle dating back from the Middle Ages, one of the seven that were constructed by Pope Clement the Fifth when he became the first French Pope in Avignon. Located on a limestone plateau in the heart of the Graves wine area in the south west region of France, the first wooden “Fort” was believed to have been built by Charlemagne in the 8th century. Overtime, wood was replaced by stone and after several rounds of fortifications and improvements, Roquetaillade has established itself as an important fortified town and castle in 14th century.

Welcome to Château Roquetaillade.

Welcome to Château Roquetaillade.

We visited the Roquetaillade castle one sunny winter afternoon of February 16 and I was struck by how beautiful and solid it still stands despite the centuries that have passed. They say that the castle survives to this today for numerous reasons and perhaps mainly due to the pragmatic diplomacy of the owners – shifting loyalties according to events.

Trip down medieval time at Roquetaillade.

Trip down medieval lane at Roquetaillade.

Interestingly, the estate has never been sold. It’s been passed on to the last of the family, in this case usually the females, who got married and brought the castle in their dowry. Hence, the change in family name of the owners. According to history, five families have held Roquetaillade since the 10th century: The Lamothe (for around 500 years), Lansac (150 years), Labiorie (50 years), Mauvezin (50 years) and the Baritault family who still owns it today (200 years). 

The Roquetaillade design (similar with the other 6 castles commissioned by Clement the Fifth) is said to be at the peak of military defense techniques  before the arrival of gunpowder and canons.

The Roquetaillade design (similar with the other 6 castles commissioned by Clement the Fifth) is said to be at the peak of military defense techniques before the arrival of gunpowder and canons.

This day, you can still see parts of the old castle – the 11th century keep, the lord’s housing, the gate tower and the village chapel which is still being used by the family today. You will notice that the ceiling of the chapel adapts an oriental style because at the time of restoration in 1875, Orientalism was in.

In the ‘new castle’, French architect and theorist Viollet le Duc (VLD) who was commissioned for the transformation of Roquetaillade, transformed the medieval postern or hidden door to the secret passage into a draw-bridge that leads to the dining room. Other parts of the new castle to take note of when you do do the tour are the family coat of arms, drop bridge, defensive toilets (in case of siege), murder hole to drop stones and hot water, the courtyard without windows or doors (just arrow slits), and many many more.

All openings in the castle that have been put by VLD were stylised to resemble the original 14th century windows on the keep with 2 gargoyles underneath, similar to those that he put on Notre Dame of Paris, which he also designed.

All openings in the castle that have been put by VLD were stylised to resemble the original 14th century windows on the keep with 2 gargoyles underneath, similar to those that he put on Notre Dame of Paris, which he also designed.

Visitors are not allowed to take photos inside the castle so you really have to soak in the beautiful elements that were incorporated by VLD such as paintings, sculptures, a 350kg oil lamp mounted from the13th century vaulted ceiling (love this one!), 16th century chimneys, family furniture and artefacts, Louis 13th armchairs, and plenty of other VLD’s creations, without getting distracted by people whipping out their cameras and phones to snap photos of everything. 

My favourites are the Pink Room, which is the guest room in the castle that is fully-equipped with bathroom, toilets and water reservoirs; and the kitchen which was designed by VLD to have the stove in the middle of the room, with a 360-degree work surface. The kitchen is also equipped with a 17th century barbecue system, an ice cream maker and beautiful copper pots and utensils which apparently are being cleaned by the family members once a year – to this day.

The Church is still being used by the family today.

The Church is still being used by the family today.

The tour is conducted by volunteers and more often in French. I got by because my mother-in-law and husband were there to translate what the tour guide was explaining as we moved from section to section of the castle. Otherwise, they do have a pamphlet which you can get from the information centre where they also sell souvenirs, and it’s written in English.

I give the Roquetaillade tour five brilliant stars and a handstand.:)

I give the Roquetaillade tour five brilliant stars and a handstand.:)

In the brochure, it says that Roquetaillade needs over 1.8 million Euros to save VLD’s unique creations. With no direct public support, the entrance fee to the castle (around 10 euros per person) form part of the repair funding. Donations are welcome and so is the purchase of bottles of their own Château Fort wine. And please don’t hesitate to tip the volunteer guide on your way out.

Château Roquetaillade had served as a location in films like Fantômas contre Scotland Yard (French) and some parts of the Hollywood film Brotherhood of the Wolf.

Five Things to Consider When Going On a Holiday


Wouldn't you want to just lose yourself in THIS magnificence?

Wouldn’t you want to just lose yourself in THIS magnificence?

Going away on a holiday is a necessity for most of us who are deeply entrenched in the brutal corporate and (even) domestic jungles, primarily to relax and recharge our batteries, to get lost in the moment and rediscover our fun self (remember that time when you used to be fun?), meet new romantic partners or recapture excitement with current beau, or perhaps to disengage ourselves away from the maddening demands of our daily lives. Also, going on a holiday takes us to that state of natural mindfulness, where we pay complete attention to our life experiences and evaluate them with a fresh pair of eyes as we try to look to the future.

But now that we are bombarded by travel options, it becomes increasingly important to make wise travel decisions without having to kill the thrill of spontaneity and intoxicating randomness, in order for us to fully maximize the perks of our trip. Consider these tips when planning your next travel adventure:

  1. Traveling on a budget is NOT (always) synonymous to bad travel experience, and it shouldn’t be. What it does is simply help you manage your resources efficiently and encourage you to experience some aspects of traveling without having to go expensive all the time.
  2. Be an explorer! Now is your chance to absorb all the colors, sights, sounds, tastes and emotions your body can contain, so don’t waste it by being cooped-up in your hotel room the whole day. If in a safe neighborhood, you can take a walk, rent a bike, or run at your own pace. This is also a good way for you to keep fit while on vacation. Go out there and live life like you mean it!
  3. Direct your own travel documentary. Capture moments and places as much and as often as you can. These will give you enough materials to create your own travel videos which you can revisit each time you feel the need to escape but just can’t.
  4. Make one or two friends for each day of your trip and by that I mean, make it your mission to know more than just their name and what sort of work they do. Have engaging conversations on books, movies, sports and of course, your travel adventures.
  5. Be a student – learn. Discover more about the place, its history and culture, and the people, by watching, observing, listening, and asking questions. Make each travel an enriching experience for you and you will be surprised by the great number of things you will soon learn about yourself.

Vicky’s Guide To Moving On


Nine years, three months and I have finally moved on. And the journey is, surprisingly, not at all painful. It’s as easy and smooth as you would have wished all your breakups in the past had been. But perhaps I should start by explaining what it is, or was, that I have moved on from.

So here it is.

Three weeks ago, I left my job. Or more to the point, (my) life for almost a decade. You know how sometimes you develop an intense affection for something or someone (the latter being more relatable, I guess) that you think the romance is never going to wane, but then you wake up and bam! It’s. just. not. there. anymore. However, in my case, it was more gradual rather than abrupt. No drama, no tears, no gut-wrenching pain or guilt. Except when I finally had that chat with my former Boss, whom I have always respected and I reckon, always will, and not only because of our working relationship but because he’s just a genuinely awesome person, that I got a wee bit emotional. A really good man, that one. And then of course, I have a few (so few) colleagues whom I really liked talking to and collaborating with. Let’s not forget the fun memories of the good old days when people were a lot closer, less calculating, more genuine, more fun. When you’ve had your fair share of breakups, you know that often, even when you know the relationship is heading south, you try to delay the inevitable by allowing yourself to be swayed by memories which are really no more than just dying embers. And these things (do) die, eventually. But I remain loyal to people, good memories and experience spanning nine years and the learnings that came with it. Otherwise, if I forget all of that, those years would have been all for naught. And they weren’t. I just…needed a good change.

Which brings us to here and now. Since I tendered, I found myself planning and doing all sorts of really fun stuff which admittedly made the transition so much easier, like I said. So here it is, Vicky’s guide to moving on:

1. Buy a MacBook Air. I mean, I wish Apple had just given me one for no reason but in my case, Apple came in the form of my doting husband. Merci beaucoup mon mari for my early Christmas gift! With my new job, I intend to pick up blogging again so Macquette and I are certainly going to have a LOT of crazy fun adventures together!

MacBookAir

2. Go to a baking class with newfound friends. Making friends is always encouraged but I prefer my connections to be more than just the perfunctory follows, likes and comments on social media. I want to be in the company of beautiful people (hi Mae!) who are just as passionate about learning new stuff as I am. Plus, baking is totes fun yo! And c’est bon, says Hubby.

BakingClass

3. Indulge your inner fat kid. Met up with a dear friend (hi Madie!) and discovered Market Grill and its famous Mangalica Pork Chop and swooped down on Dean and Deluca’s top-rated rainbow cake for dessert. Before the night was over, we made semi-concrete plans to hit foodie haunts we’ve never been to before in Singapore and just let ourselves go. Anyway, there’s always running and yoga to turn to when things get a little bit out of hand.

RainbowCakeDeanandDeluca

4. Go to a Mariah Carey concert. Okay, this one was not random. I bought the tickets months before but it was just fortuitous that the concert happened during my period of transition. Mariah can still sing and she performed beautifully last night! So haters and trolls, you can all give it a rest now. Give the lady a break. She’s been through a lot.

TheElusiveChanteuse2014

5. Go to a yoga and music festival on the beach! What can be better than these three things – beach, yoga and music -combined? Them three plus a lifetime supply of Ben & Jerry’s! Jest aside, I’m glad that I signed up for SoulScape SG where  I met a lot of likeminded yoga and fitness enthusiasts and got to do some fun things right on the beach! Never mind that the sight of their yoga-toned and taut bodies made me feel overweight.

SoulScapeSG

6. Repurpose old clothes. I started with a major spring cleaning session and, tadaaah, found clothes I have not worn in ages which I am now in the thick of repurposing so they don’t go to waste. While repurposing ex-lovers is a big no-no, I cannot say the same thing for, you know, things.

7. Reorganise stuff. Books, clothes, bags, shoes, kitchen items, digital photo albums, etc. Basically, anything messy that I can get my hands on, I will eventually reorganise.

8. Plan for winter holiday… (or any other holiday because now I have 20 plus paid vacation leaves a year to use whenever and however which way I want!) Planning is actually more of Hubby’s hard skill but I do get involved occasionally by scouring Instagram and Pinterest for places I want to visit and haranguing him nonstop to consider plugging it into the itinerary.

So there you go. Bottomline, we all have different ways of dealing with a major transition in life and mine just happened to have come together to form this beautiful pattern, for which I am truly grateful. And now that I have put the past behind me, it’s time to plan, nay, just BE awesome in life everyday.

TRAVEL: Marvelous MALDIVES (Part II)


We were up early on our second day, brimming with excitement for our trip to ClubMed Kani in another nearby atoll – organised for us by the lovely staff of Dream Inn. After a quick breakfast, we made our way to Thulusdhoo jetty where our small speedboat is waiting to take us on the 20-minute trip to Kani atoll. The speedboat rate was US $125 roundtrip (if i’m not mistaken). On the boat, all three of us were ooohing and aaahing nonstop and almost in cadence while looking at the impossibly gorgeous blue waters. There’s the turquoise shade which reminded Chris and I so much of our Bali wedding theme color; there’s the pale blue color; and then, the dark royal blue tone which (probably) indicates the deeper side of the ocean compared with the other two.
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Endless blue.

ClubMed Kani

ClubMed’s very own private atoll featuring suites on stilts perched right on the turquoise waters, a garden path, swimming pool, beautiful white sand beach and of course, the French resort group’s all-inclusive travel package. Though we were only there on a day pass (usually until 5pm), we thought the US $108 per person fee is so worth it! Imagine this: Open bar for most cocktail drinks (the Mojito I got was bland to the taste but the mocktails were pretty good), beer, and house wine (I opted for the white variety and had about 4 or 5 glasses), an amazing buffet selection at lunch with a gourmet menu especially prepared by the Chef-on-duty, snorkeling, use of the pool and fun sports activities. They even had pool Zumba and yoga in the afternoon which we could have joined but didn’t because we were in our element taking photos (lots and lots of ’em!), tanning on the beach, swimming, checking out hotties (or ‘Tibets’ as Eric would call them), and getting deliciously wined up (in my case, that is).

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No-filter beauty.

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Suites on stilts at ClubMed Kani.

Swimming in the turquoise water of ClubMed Kani is as out-of-this-world as you probably imagined it would be – if not more. The water is pleasantly cool on the skin and it’s just the perfect backdrop for nearly all obligatory Maldives photos you could think of. Chris and I swam a bit before finding our sunbathing spots, fronting the beach – because, really, you don’t waste a fabulous view like that by being somewhere else. Meanwhile, Eric got busy doing his photowalk and taking hundreds of selfies before going into the water as well.

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Happy campers at ClubMed.

Spending a day in ClubMed Kani was one of the best calls we’ve made during this trip. It was the closest we could have gone to a five-star treatment close to Thulusdhoo without selling one of our kidneys in the black market. haha. Maldives was the cover story of this month’s Tiger Air inflight magazine and according to the article, some top-grade luxurious resorts in Maldives would charge around US $15,000 a nightC’est incroyable! But when you’re there and you see what Maldives is all about, a part of you would probably understand why incredibly rich people are willing to blow that kind of money for a few days of pure, unadulterated pleasure in one of God’s greatest island creations.

As for Eric, Chris, and I, we got all the fun and exhilaration we set out to achieve with our short trip to ClubMed Kani. Though it pained us to leave the island shortly before nightfall, we consoled ourselves with the thought of returning to Maldives someday. I have a feeling that Chris and I will be back, but probably not so soon as we still have more destinations to tick-off on our travel bucket list which seems to be getting longer and longer. And longer still. So here’s to us, mon amour, and the many adventures and wonderful memories we still have to make. Je t’adore!

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Mon amour.

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Yoga anywhere.

End of Part II.

TRAVEL: Marvelous MALDIVES (Part I)


The idea of Maldives came to me one morning in November last year while I was checking my personal email and got an alert from Tiger Air announcing its maiden voyage to Maldives from Singapore beginning January 2014. Not too long before that, I remember asking the Emperor if he had already plotted his 2014 travel schedules, in case I would be able to join him in one of (possibly) many trips this year. As you know, the Emperor and I have been to a few international and local travels together and knowing how he can be very flexible with his schedule (if he wants to!), I thought I’d mention Maldives when I saw him go online on FB. Et voila, in less than an hour, I had already booked Chris and I on a flight and Eric had done the same!

Knowing that Maldives requires no visa application (it’s VOA for a lot of countries, including Philippines!) made decision-making a no-brainer. Of course, the impossibly turquoise water surrounding the atolls and the promise of earthbound paradise go without saying. I mean, we would’ve gone still even if there was visa required. Maldives is just something you never say no to. What followed after that was a fun hotel hunting/booking. We had a reasonable budget to work with which, the three of us agreed, need not require us to smash our piggybanks open or you know, rob a bank.

After going through a long list of hotels and reading a lot of reviews on Trip Advisor, we opted to book our stay at Dream Inn Thulusdhoo for 3 nights and then spend our last night in Malé so we can explore the city and not be worried about missing our flight the following day (it takes an hour and a half from Thulusdhoo to Malé on the public ferry).

Finally, Maldives!

And so on the 12th of March, the three of us boarded Tiger Air bound for Malé, the urbanized capital city of Maldives. The flight was about 4 hours and 20 minutes long and by the way, Maldives is three hours behind Singapore. Soon as we exited the arrival hall, the first thing we saw was the exquisite turquoise waters dotted only by a few speed boats loading and unloading tourists. We had to physically restrain ourselves from jumping right into the water given the scorching heat outside. Gorgeous (easily three shades of) blue ocean water everywhere you look – and it’s unlike anything we’ve seen before! It took a while for our airport pick-up to reach us and we were starving so Eric and my husband decided to get us some takeout meals from Burger King. An idea which we all would come to regret IMMEDIATELY as one meal costs a minimum of US $10! (The chicken sandwich meal Chris got me was $15!) Definitely one of the most expensive junk food we have ever ingested and I wouldn’t recommend that you try it. Unless you’re even more famished than we were at that time, or just plain addicted to junk. Ewww.

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Welcome to Thulusdhoo

It takes an hour and a half to get to Thulusdhoo atoll from Malé. I will not give you the wikipedia description of this charming little atoll but instead, I will try to paint a picture of Thulusdhoo based on what we have seen, heard, and tasted of the island. First of all, Thulusdhoo is also known as the Coca Cola island because of the presence of a Coke plant which is supposedly the only one in the world that uses aerated water to manufacture the carbonated drink for Maldivian consumption (Please feel free to verify that as I am rather lazy to Google it up). It is no surprise then that there is a hostel called ‘Cokes Surf’ in the island that specifically caters to surfers and backpackers. And in case you’re wondering why, it’s because Thulusdhoo is said to have the best waves in all of Maldives during surf season. Tim, the-hot-Aussie-surfing-instructor-with-six-pack- abs-that-won’t-quit at Cokes Surf, confirmed that when we all had dinner on our last night on the island.

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The cozy little inn we called ‘home’ for three days, Dream Inn Thulusdhoo, is such a great find! At first, we were disappointed when Shaheem (awesome travel organiser!) told us two days before we were to depart SG for Maldives that he had to transfer the three of us to Askani Villa because they have about 20 youngsters from Denmark arriving the same day. But Askani proved to be just what we needed because it only had four very spacious rooms and we only had to share the whole place with a nice Russian couple. We had good wifi connection in our villa – at least for my iPhone but my Samsung phone totally crapped out on me during this trip so I was struggling a bit doing some work while traveling. 100 points for iPhone, negative 100 points for Samsung S4! – which made it quite convenient for the social media junkies in us to post occasional updates on FB and Instagram. The hotel staff were very amiable and always ready to help make arrangements for our island hopping adventures. And I love how their English is almost impeccable – and how beautifully they enunciate words!

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Thulusdhoo residents take pride in their ‘Sunrise Beach’ and ‘Sunset Beach’ and by right, they should, because these two places certainly give you an awesome sunrise and sunset views. Look!

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Sunrise at 5:50am.

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Sunrise Beach at 6am.

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Sunset Beach at 6pm.

But if you ask me, the real treasure Thulusdhoo has is its charming people. Easily among the friendliest, accommodating, and well-mannered people you will ever meet, the residents of Thulusdhoo will make you feel welcome at any time of the day. Always smiling and often ready to greet you ‘good morning’ or ‘good afternoon’, some will even inquire about your day/health. On our first night at Dream Inn, we were lucky to have been treated to a lively cultural song and dance production by the young men of Thulusdhoo and we were impressed by the passion and energy they put into their craft. The Danish group, as well as the young lady from Kosovo, had a great time jumping around and gyrating to the infectious beat of the drums. Being an old boring fart, I just sat and watched the revelry. Kidding! We had to turn in early that night because we were off to ClubMed Kani the following morning and didn’t want to be sporting eyebags to go with our lovehandles. Not at all great for selfies, haha.

Oh, one more thing that we noticed in Thulusdhoo are the colorful doors and walls in every home which truly fascinated us. But apparently, this love for bold colors is typically Maldivian as we would see more and more of these colorful doors around Malé.

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One great thing about living literally next to the ocean is that you get to enjoy fresh catch for your daily meals. Being just a tiny dot of an island (with only a little above 1,000++ inhabitants), Thulusdhoo does not have restaurants (though we saw one or two bars near the jetty) so we were only eating mostly at our resort and on our last night, at Cokes Surf Villas. There’s not much of variety here but the grilled fish we were served a few times was truly divine! It’s so fresh and tasty you don’t even need condiments to enjoy it!

If you are looking for some sun, surf and sand adventure with a little splash of culture, you can’t go wrong with a trip to this charming North Malé atoll called Thulusdhoo. And oh, good news to the ladies who might be wondering if swimsuit is allowed in the beaches of Thulusdhoo at all – the answer is yes, my sweetpea, you can wear your swimsuit on the beach! But please don’t go around the village in those tiny stringy cloths as you are definitely bound to offend the residents’ sensibilities and conservative ideals. Keep in mind that Maldives is an Islamic nation and all tourists must respect that.

End of Part One

Thirty Three.


There comes a time in your life when you stop thinking about your birthday and I think I ceased obsessing about mine a long time ago. In fact, my birthday is the last occasion I would look forward to with excitement – not even a speck of it. Last year, though, was different. It was romantic and special because at one point after our dinner, C got down on one knee and with tears glistening in his eyes, asked me to be his wife…and I said yes!

Before that, my birthdays have all just been a haze of billowing cigarette smoke, fun, sidestitch-inducing moments of hilarity, and fifty shades of drunkenness – but there was no singular moment that really stood out. I think, perhaps, age has a lot to do with it: this mellowing out. The wanting to just be with a few people you feel most comfortable with. People who allow you to just be.

And that’s how I celebrated my 33rd, cruising Palawan’s famous subterranean river national park (aka Palawan Underground River), named as one of the New 7 Natural Wonders of Nature early this year, with Atche Noel, Jay, and C. We had to wait for hours on end to get on the boat that would take us on a 1.2 kilometer river ride inside the cavernous cave, but it was well worth it! I told C that in a way, we’re truly blessed to have traveled to a few places together despite living miles apart and having individual careers to manage. C and I may be poles apart in a lot of ways (and I’m obviously not just talking about our complexion, accent, and passports), but if there’s one thing we both love to do, traveling would be it.

After our Underground River adventure, we wanted to see more of Puerto Princesa and so the four of us decided to go to Isla Pandan and just chill before boarding the 5:30pm flight back to Manila on Sunday. At this point, we were ever so glad that the sun actually came out after a gloomy Saturday on account of tropical depression Ferdie that submerged some parts of the country in floodwaters, so we happily sunbathed until it started drizzling again shortly after noon. I had wanted to try stand-up paddling but there were only two boards and they were unavailable at the time of my asking.

Once back in Manila, I immediately threw myself into work as there are about a million and one things to be done still before  we fly to Jakarta for our biggest annual event on September.

Palawan for my birthday wasn’t such a bad idea. I wish I were more relaxed, though, but it was quite tough because my mind was just running at top-speed, almost nonstop, thinking about work and projects still sitting on my plate. In any case, that doesn’t take away from the fact that I had great Palawan memories – Kalui’ being one of them. Food and ambience are top-notch in this famous Puerto Princesa restaurant, you’d be crazy not to pay a visit when you’re in town. Meanwhile, those looking for fun live band entertainment can opt to hie off to Tiki Bar, where incidentally I spent the eve of my birthday sipping red wine and trying to make sense of one of the showband girl’s bad singing.

So this is it. I’m 33, all-woman, and soon-to-be bride/wife to the most loving, patient, understanding, (and a few more things) man I have ever known. And oh, incidentally, with zits the size of Jupiter I would put any acne-sporting 13-year-old to shame. I’m surprised that C can still look at me adoringly and call me mon amour even with these unsightly marks on my face. This really must be love.

Happy birthday, psychogirl.:)

MERRELL Adventure Run 2012


Between a trail and a road race, I would go for trail – in a heartbeat. That I have always known since I had the opportunity to try out trail running at the first Merrell Adventure Run held at the Wawa Dam in Montalban, Rizal back in 2010. I only did 5k at that time and even though we got lost and ended up wandering aimlessly for a good hour before we would be able to find our way back, it did not diminish the exhilaration one bit. It sure was fun taking photos of the ducks, rocks, and the dam itself.

So when I was invited by Agatep Associates (Thank you Agatep!) to be part of the third Merrell Adventure Run last 2 June, this time at Timberland Heights in San Mateo, Rizal, not only did I say ‘hell, yeah!’, I also signed up for 21k for maximum mountainside adventure experience!

The night before the race, it started to rain and the downpour came cold and steady I struggled mightily to get out of bed at 3am – enough time to shower and get prepped-up for the 4am pick-up. In the car, Lai and I were speculating whether or not the race will happen given that it still hasn’t stopped drizzling. We passed by Philcoa to pick-up runner bloggers Running Atom and Allan of Run Free Manila, both of whom I know and have run several races with in the Metro.

It was still dark and chilly by the time we reached Timberland Heights, but there were already a lot of cars parked and runners milling around, some doing stretching exercises and others are happily playing catch-up with fellow runners.

With Running Atom (in black) and Allan aka RFM (red)

Ten minutes before gun start, Running Atom and I made our way to the starting line to join the rest of the 21k runners. Looking around, everyone seems to me is in great trail running shape. Extreme adventure athlete Thumbie Remigio, the brains and brawn behind this year’s more physically and emotionally demanding Merrell Adventure Run course, gave a few reminders to the runners before sending us off to what awaits us at Timberland Heights — a dunk in a mud pit, a few kilometers of slick uneven rocky pathways, and was punctuated with an endless string of uphill climbs.

The downpour had turned the already rigorous uphill off-road course into a slippery path.  We found ourselves sliding down muddied inclines, groping for handholds at slippery slopes, and splashing across natural streams.  I slipped twice while trying to cross the boulders that dotted the stream. One particular ‘vertical split’ (imagine one foot slipping fast down the side of the rock while my other foot was still lodged above) gave my inner thighs/crotch a nasty stretch, I would feel the tingle for a few more hours after the race. I also collected a number of cuts and scratches on my thighs, legs, and arms, from coming into contact with blades of tall grass and tree branches.

I didn’t have my watch with me so I couldn’t tell how long I had been running out there for but I was having so much fun  I was practically oblivious to anything but. I passed Reebok teammate Beep Beep at some point and would not see him and our other friends after that. Most of the time I would be on my own, occasionally overtaking a few runners, but would also be overtaken by a good number of runners as well.

There was enough water and Pocari sweat in all the well-placed hydration stations (Pocari was, of course, limited) to keep me hydrated all throughout the race. Before the race, I had planned on bringing my hydration belt with me but decided against it when I learned about the mud pit. A wise decision as I would not have been able to save it from getting dunked into a pool of mud.

Thankfully, I did not suffer cramps or knee injuries that would have made running uphill and downhill such a painful task. Before I knew it, I was already approaching the finish line and Running Atom (boy was he fast in this one!) and Alan (RFM) were already there waiting to snap some photos of me crossing it. Chip time says I finished 21k of the challenging Merrell Adventure course in 4 hours, 19 minutes, and 27 seconds.

Merrell Adventure Run 2012 certainly ranks high on my list of all-time favorite races!  A fantastic upgrade from its maiden attempt in 2010. I enjoyed the race so much I am now on the lookout for more trail runs I could join. Thank you Merrell and Agatep!

TRAVEL: BOHOL, beautiful!


So, thanks, in no small part, to my current state of preoccupation I have not exactly been livin’ it up in many areas of my life. Well, apart from super fun trip to Bohol with C for his birthday, I haven’t done anything exciting or sexy lately. Unless you are just like me, someone who thinks work is sexy. At least I consider mine to be. Maybe because I am passionate about what I do and the many opportunities that are still to come. Just this afternoon, Kas and I were having a private conversation on Twitter about how our respective social lives have ceased to become social, so to speak. Mainly because we have not been doing any form of socialization unless it involves work. Like I said, the only places I ever see now are the interior of our office, the mall close by where I would often have my lunch, and my shoebox apartment. And lately, I have been going home late nights because of so many projects we need to deliver by September. And most of these projects are simply too big to fail, so there’s very little room for F-ups.

So anyway, Bohol. Perhaps one of our best trips together. Well, come to think of it, all of our travels have been nothing if not fantastic. It’s just that I realized that apart from the two trips we made to Boracay in 2010 and 2011, C has seen very little of our country. We travelled to Banaue and Baguio once with friends but it was one disastrous trip it hardly counts as an adventure.  In fact, he would always remind me of it whenever the subject my ‘travel planning skills’ would come up. Now I can safely say that Bohol became my redemption. It was also my first trip to the island so it was double fun for us!

We stayed at the beautiful Bohol Beach Club and I could not have chosen better, if you ask me. The resort was just perfect for what C and I needed – some privacy, good food, fun amenities, and a long stretch of white sand where we can run barefoot on. The resort staff were very nice and accommodating and everywhere you look there’s always someone sweeping the ground or picking up dried leaves. Bohol Beach Club is such an amazing place I recommend that you make it your first choice when planning a trip to Bohol.

Now one of my favorite places in the country, Bohol Beach Club!

We were only there for the weekend but we managed to do a lot of things and visit a lot of places. Thanks to our local guide recommended by Atche Noel. For 2,000, our local guide took us to the touristy places in Bohol and all things considered, I’d say it was well worth it!

1. Blood compact. Our first stop during the tour. This is supposedly the site where the then-Captain General Miguel Lopez de Legazpi entered into a blood compact with Datu Sikatuna to crystallize the friendly relations between the Spanish conquistadores and the natives sometime in the 1500’s. The site itself is really not much to look at as it was just there by the roadside and one could hardly call it a marvel. But I guess it’s what the stone sculpture of the Spaniards and Datu Sikatuna represents that merit some form of acknowledgment in this case. So, hooray for friendship and alliance! Much good it did us, ‘no?

The Blood Compact.

2. Baclayon ChurchAnother colonial religious architecture dating back middle of the 16th century. The church interior has that kind of ornamentation that’s similar with a few other old stone churches still found in the Philippines. Although I think some of them failed to withstand the test of time and natural calamities but Baclayon Church, thankfully, is not one of those. There is a museum attached to the church but we did not go anymore because we rather pressed for time. I heard the museum itself is loaded with antiques and other beautiful art pieces, so looking back, it would have been nice if we made a pitstop there as well.

The interior is actually fascinating…and a bit sad. It carries a lot of history in it, for sure.

So there you go. I guess C and I have not ‘really’ been to Baclayon…

3. XZOOTIC Animal Park. For only P20 entrance fee, you get too see a few exotic animals such as the ostrich, civet cat, asian leopard, bear cat, monkey, porcupine, and the main attraction: the two pythons each weighing over 200kgs! If you’re feeling brave, you can have your photos taken with them inside the cage. Don’t worry, they’re fed well enough (two live chickens we were told) that they’re usually asleep or digesting during the day. Looking at those animals though, you’d somehow feel distressed because they are kept in such tiny cages you just know they feel very restricted and unhappy.

Norio the ginormous reptile. Caretaker told us he weighs about 203kgs. And no, i’m NOT that brave at all. It’s just that he’s sleeping, as you can see. If he were awake and hungry, I will be in another city or country, that’s for sure. LOL.

With Milo the Ostrich.

4. Loboc River Cruise. In truth, there was nothing exceptional about this part. Sure, it was relaxing to be on board a mid-sized boat while enjoying your lunch. Well, it would have been if only fellow passengers were not moving around too much taking photos of each other every two seconds and blocking your view in the process. Food was okay and for Php300 per head for the one hour river cruise with buffet, you could say it’s not that steep. At some point during the cruise, we made a pitstop so the young Boholanos can serenade us with folk songs and wow us with their folk dancing skills and dexterity. Oh, watch out for the waterfalls, too. And I mean REALLY keep your eyes peeled because it’s so tiny you’d miss it if you just blink.

Cruisin’ for Bruisin’

The Tinikling. I performed this once before in a school program back in the province where I came from. Ako na ang katutubo. LOL.

Dig in!

5. The TARSIER Conservation Area. Definitely one of the two highlights of our tour. Oh just to see those cute primates is already a fulfilling experience in itself! Too bad we are no longer allowed to get too close to them, much less pet them, because I really would have wanted to put them in my palm and just nuzzle their furry little bodies with my nose! The place itself is about three acres (according to the watchers) and it is home to 129 tarsiers, each one of them watched very closely by the caretakers – all of whom are ready to pounce on unruly visitors who would insist on taking photos with their camera flash on and/or touching the sleeping tarsiers. They’re nocturnal animals, by the way, so they’re sound asleep during the day. Although we saw one who was struggling mightily to sleep and he kept blinking his very big eyes until he finally tuned out the world. C was especially enamored by the tiny primates he wouldn’t stop gushing about the until after we left Bohol!

Home of the Tarsier.

Oh hello there, cutie!

The obligatory couple photo with the tarsier.:p

6. Man-made forest. What else can I say about this site except that it’s a forest made by, well, men. But seriously, the trees actually look pretty, slightly bent forward as they face each other so when you look at them from afar, they seem to form an umbrella giving shade to motorists and vehicles passing through. Nice place for photo op, too.

Man-made forest.

7. Chocolate Hills. Our second favorite part of the tour, next to the tarsier. What we found fascinating was the fact that these hills had actually been carved out from thin layers of corals and shell fragments as they were once submerged in water. As to why the nearly 1,300 mounds of earth were formed and shaped essentially the same is I suppose a happy accident. There’s also a wishing well at the viewing deck to which C and I made a coin donation each for our, uhrrrm, individual wishes. Oh, by the way, there’s some 200 steps you have to climb to get to the viewing deck, so I suggest you work on your cardio a little bit before you take the stairs.

The hills are alive with the sound of music…

Make a wish, baby…And our love will make it come true…

The two things we failed to do while there were (1.) Visit and dine at the Bee Farm, and; (2.) See the dolphins. C’est dommage! We actually made arrangements for a boat ride to Virgin Island, a known sanctuary for the dolphins, on our last day in Bohol, but on that particular morning it rained heavily we decided not to risk it. Seeing the dolphins would have been a perfect way to cap our trip. Instead, we decided to run barefoot on the beach for half an hour once the sky cleared; avail of our complimentary kayak ride; and get one last massage by the beach before finally leaving the resort.

Bye Bohol Beach Club!

All in all, it was an awesome awesome awesome adventure and we loved every single moment of it! I guess we will just have to go to Apo island one day to see the dolphins. But that won’t be anytime soon because we have Palawan lined up…

TOTAL FITNESS: Fun Activities To Tick-off Your List Before Summer Ends


Grab your own copy TODAY!

In a tropical country like ours where you don’t exactly have a choice when it comes to seasons, it’s fairly easy to mark summer as your default favorite. And why not? Here, we have some of the best beaches in the world and a few other interesting travel destinations, if donning short shorts and bikinis aren’t exactly your thing. But for those of you who can ill-afford to travel so much because of family and work restrictions, there are a lot of other activities you can do before summer is chased away by torrential rains.

1. Check out new dining places once a week and make your recommendations to friends and social media followers. Summer shouldn’t be just a treat for your (bronzed) skin. You must find ways to lavish your taste buds as well – without having to spend your entire life savings away. To make your gastronomic adventure even more exciting, try incorporating a theme into it.

2. Do a weekend movie marathon with friends. Start with your common favorite romcom or art film and then work your way through other movie genres. Don’t forget to serve up reduced-fat popcorn and healthy snacks so you can store up energy for a lively discussion during and after the screening.

3. Check out bazaars, flea markets, and ukay-ukay. Fashion need not be expensive and you can certainly look like a million bucks with a unique piece from ukay-ukay if you pull it off.

4. Travel locally. Whether by plane, bus, train, or boat, traveling has always been a panacea for all ills – except maybe that of your wallet. While it’s always enriching to travel abroad and getting exposed to foreign cultures, it is also equally important to discover pockets of beauty in our own shores.

5. Enroll in a language class. French, Mandarin, and Spanish are among the favorites and by the time summer is over, you just might surprise yourself – and your friends – with your multilingual dexterity.

6. Launch a garage sale. Rid your closet of clothes and accessories you haven’t worn in ages and make a bit of money you can spend on updating your wardrobe after. Now that’s a smart fashionista!

7. Visit a museum or check out the local art scene. Museums are one of the best places to learn about so many different topics ranging from space, to art, to natural history, and everything in between.  What makes museums so special is their ability to transport us to different times and places – at minimal cost.

8. Go to a basketball game or the local boxing match. Or any sporting event you’re a fan of. There is some wicked pleasure to be had in being part of a live action/crowd, and if you’re up for it, sign yourself up for some pre-game or half time festivities.

9. Sign up for a self-defense class. These days, it’s becoming increasingly important to learn the ways of defending oneself against criminal-minded people and dangerous situations. Take your pick from taekwondo, muay thai, or jiu jitsu and avoid looking like an easy prey.

10. Let your hair breathe. Before you know it, the humidity will cease and you’ll no longer have an excuse to not heat-style your hair when going out. Save time (and sweat) by using some texturizing spray in your hair before heading out the door.

11. Watch the sunset and take photos. Always beautifully dramatic, the sunset evokes a cornucopia of wonderment and emotions so much so that even if you don’t take good photos, you can always count on one or two of your captures coming out real good.

12. Stock up on fresh fruits. Make sure to put peaches, watermelon, cantaloupe and mango at the top of your grocery list, and keep them there as long as possible.  Suring summer, our skin tends to gets so dry especially when not cared for by moisturizers, so make sure to indulge in Vitamin A and E-rich foods and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

13. Sign up for a summer-savvy mani/pedi and spa treatment. Treat tortured tootsies and whole body to an extravagant TLC with a spa treatment finished off with a quintessentially summer shade like mint green or tangerine nail polish.

14. Have a fling. Whether it’s a guy with great surf moves or the girl down the hall with a shared love of long island iced tea, invest in the type of connection that runs on sun and laughter, and make sure to remain Facebook friends when the day gets shorter – for who knows what the following summer might bring?

15. Visit an amusement park. Pay tribute to your twelve your old self by hitting up all of the roller coasters at the local theme park. If living far from one, you might want to consider paying Tom’s World or World of Fun a day visit.