Travel Bites: Luca Cucina Italiana

After leaving our bags with the staff at Amami Beach Resort, Ate Karen, Teloy and I decided to explore more of the quieter side of Puerto Galera – Talipanan Beach. Passing through several beach resorts such as the Infinity Resort and others along the way, we ended up at the far most corner where Luca Cucina Italiana was located.

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Ate Karen and I settled on some seats in the restaurant veranda while Teloy take a dip and socialize with the other kids. The view from the restaurant is quite gorgeous as it faces the sea and the rock formation on the far side of Talipanan. We ordered a chocolate shake for me and Teloy and Ate Karen got herself some beer. We decided to eat there next day for lunch.

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I have read about Luca when I was  still planning for this trip and we were anticipating a delicious treat when we dine. We were in for a big, really big surprise. It is true that Luca Cucina Italiana serves mouthwatering Italian meals, but we were overwhelmed with the serving size! We ordered a pizza and carbonara. It was the first time that we ate carbonara made with egg and we won’t forget how good it tasted.

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Luca Cucina Italiana is great for groups because of the huge serving size of their food. Ate Karen, me and Teloy could not finish the two meals we’ve ordered as we easily became full so we just asked the staff to pack them for us. We have a refrigerator in our room in Amami so we were able to keep it for dinner.

 

Travel Bites: Sweet Treats at Tampuhan Cafe, Taal, Batangas

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After our exploration of the St Martin of Tours Basilica, the largest Catholic Church in the Orient and Our Lady of Casaysay Church, we walked down the cobbled Calle Marcela Agoncilio and admired the Old Hispanic houses we passed by. The sumptuous lunch we had earlier at Feliza Cafe seemed to have vanished and now our throats are feeling parched from the heat.

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While walking, we passed by a lovely street art depicting how life was lived in 19th century. We took pictures but we were mostly enticed by the seemingly cool interiors of the adjacent cafe called, Tampuhan.

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The word “Tampuhan” basically means lover’s quarrel and as unique as it’s name, the cafe has a lot of quirky stuff going on inside. They seem to encourage free-form art and you can find many interesting pieces on display. A freedom board also invites guest to share and leave something significant in this quaint cafe.

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We ordered three cold drinks and a small pizza and took our time scrutinizing the place. They only had four tables though the place is very cozy and inviting. Teloy gamely drew something on a paper so that he can post something on the freedom board. We decided we had enough exploring for that day and that we should leave anytime soon to get back to Sto. Tomas.

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Before leaving the cafe, we noticed the stairs going up and asked if we can check it out. There were more memorabilia and antique pieces upstairs on display, but the kid is getting quiet restless so we decided to move on.

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Taal, Batangas: A Haven for History Buffs

It was scorching hot with the summer sun beating down on us, we look back at Cafe Feliza and longed for it’s cool and comforting interiors. But it is already afternoon and we still haven’t explored the famed heritage town of Taal, Batangas. So we walked on and headed towards the massive St Martin of Tours Basilica.

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St. Martin of Tours Basilica is awe inspiring in real life. It is huge and can accommodate thousand churchgoers in one sitting. We decided to explore more of the church by going up to it’s bell tower which then gave us a bird’s eye view of the town.

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Right outside the church is the Escula Pia which is currently being used for a community meeting. Walked on and the side of the Municipal Building and wondered where we can find Our Lady of Casaysay Shrine. Tricycle drivers seemed hesitant to direct so we just asked them to take us there. I have no idea what we will find there but learning about the story of Our Lady of Casaysay gave us goosebumps!

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After praying at the shrine, we headed at the back of the church and found the St. Lorenzo Ruiz Steps. We decided to ascend, now knowing where we are headed but we were quite surprised that at the top of it was the same spot where we hailed a tricycle and asked for directions to Our Lady of Casaysay. Instead of pointing us to these steps, he told us to ride his tricycle because he can take us there and took a long and winding route to reach our destination.

Miffed but still enthused about roaming around Taal Town, we headed down the street without much knowledge of what we might find. We passed by Galeria de Taal and Villa Tortuga which are just some of the lovely heritage houses that draw tourists to this charming town. We also passed by the Leon Apacible ancestral house and was quite taken by the story written on it’s marker. But we were not able to see inside because it was closed for some renovations.

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A few more steps brought us to a quaint street art beside a cafe. It did not take a second thought for us to enter and try out Tampuhan Cafe’s cool refreshments. The cafe has a number of artwork on display. It also allowed visitors to leave a bit of something on their freedom board.

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After our meryenda at Tampuhan, we decided it was time for us to head back to Sto Tomas. I find myself and my son very lucky to have visited this Heritage Town and we hope one day we’ll be able to explore and learn more of it’s historical nooks and spots.

Animal Encounters At Baluarte Zoo, Vigan

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It was our last day in Ilocandia and we are to explore Vigan City today. I wasn’t very enthusiastic about visiting a zoo, but Teloyskie had a grand time inspecting all the animals that we saw here.

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Baluarte Zoo in Vigan is own by the famed politician, Chavit Singson. There is no fee for visitors here and they are open from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm. You can find a wide selection birds, deer, camels, ponies, snakes and other rare animals. There are animal shows that visitors can enjoy watching, these are very entertaining and kids like our tot are pretty much amazed.

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Although the sun is blazing, we tried to walk around and cover much of the park as we could. We went to find the tigers and tried really hard to get a picture with him but when I went out to get something from the van, I was surprised that there we tigers in cages near the gate of the park!

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Much to Teloy’s delight, ostriches and some sheep where roaming around the park like it was the most natural thing in the world. He also loved reading the signboards around the cages specially those about the reptiles. Among the places and activities we’ve visited in Ilocos, this is one of the best for him.

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And so I learned to really consider his ideas when I’m working on our travel itinerary. While he’s not the kind that throws tantrums when he’s bored or when he doesn’t like something, his lack of interest in some “grown up things” can really scrape on what could be an amazing travel experience.

Glimpses of Ivory Coast from the Expat Dad, and the Uncle

When Baba announced that he had accepted an offer to work in Ivory Coast in West Africa, in the midst of the the Ebola Outbreak, I was truly horrified. I kept on checking online about the development and improvement on the diseases and kept praying that he will be moved to another project. When we explained to Teloy about his impending departure, he seriously said no.

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Slowly we began to accept it. I began reading more about the country which will be his home for a year and tried to understand more about. Of course I am interested in exploring that side of the world but, at the moment, I relish the spontaneity and misadventures of being a mom to the school kid plus it’s tooooo expensive to go there!

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When asked where Baba is, our friends and family were also horrified that he is going to Africa. I have to convince them that he is going to a safe place and so on, it was tiring but soon their worries faded.

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I have read about Ivory Coast on history books before and most of it were just about the illegal Ivory Trade. Baba would tell me stories about the locals, the places and the things he saw around the Abidjan – the country’s capital. Their building is located near Coco Beach and beside the office of the United Nations. Ivory Coast is still recovering from civil unrest so it is another factor that takes my worries into overdrive.

Baba said that he had always wondered why the UN is always set on having humanitarian missions to Africa and how that he can see the situation he understood. He always thought that the Philippines is so poor and that we also deserve aid from the UN, but nothing has prepared him on the things he saw.

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Slowly, he also become accustomed to the things around him. He and his companions were eager to feed the children whenever they can. They also asked some locals to do their laundry and cleaning, but most of them are hesitant about letting them prepare their food. The locals were more than willing to take on these simple jobs and will sometimes take their children with them while they work so Baba and his flatmates provides food for them.

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Eventually Baba also requested to have his brother hired through his agency, so Jason joined him there last February. Having a familiar face nearby lessens the homesickness that they felt. It was Jason who seemed to have explored much of the neighborhood than Baba.

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On several occasions, Baba was also able to visit the city which he said looked like Makati or Ortigas. His contract is almost over but he has yet to visit the Basilica he said because it’s too far from their place. Ivory Coast is a French Speaking country and he is worried that he might get lost and not communicate effectively on his own.

Food and commodities in Ivory Coast are also very expensive even for expats like him. He would compare prices of the same items here in the Ph and there and find them 2x or 3x more expensive, so no wonder many locals can hardly afford basic food and clothing.

Lately I’ve been urging him to explore Abidjan and maybe Yamoussoukro, but he declined. Talk about fellow working being robbed and mobbed by locals gangs made him weary. According to some of his Ivorian friends, hold-ups and even a scenario like the Pinoy “Hulidap” is common in the country.

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Africa brings up diverse images from safaris and wild jungle adventures, to scary diseases and malnutrition, to civil unrest and continuous need for humanitarian intervention. But Africa is a continent and it has many different countries -each with their own government, culture, climate and terrain. Like many other countries around the world, they have their own struggles and issues. My dream of exploring the continent does not diminish with the discoveries of Baba or the things I’ve read about it.

Quitinday Greenhills in Camalig, Albay

The lush, verdant green hills of Quitinday, Camalig, Albay alongside the majestic beauty of Mt Mayon has recently conquered my Facebook newsfeeds. Tagged as the “chocolate hills of Bicol,” these green hills is easily accessible by travelers and tourist visiting the province of Albay.

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Camalig is our neighboring municipality and its local government has been very active in promoting and developing tourism hotspot around the area. Back then, Camalig is known for their “Pinangat” (Bicol Delicacy) and Hoyop Hoyopan Cave. These days, local and foreign tourists alike are having a grand time exploring more of Camalig town. Aside from Hoyop Hoyopan, nature trippers will surely love Sumlang Lake and Quitinday Green Hills.

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My chance to visit the much raved about trekking spot in Camalig came as a sidetrip. After a hot (literally) discussion of our advocacy to more or less 800 NSTP students of BU Polangui Campus, our little group decided to look for Quitinday. Kuya Bob, suggested we take the back roads and pass through Guinobatan. We drove around asking for directions, until finally we discovered that we cannot pass through because the roads are still under construction at this end.

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We decided to explore another way and luckily we found the marker that showed us where to go. The jump off is a small clearing with huts, a wide parking space and a clean, well-maintained toilet. A lady let us log on the record book and we paid P20 each for registration. She advised us to avoid the cave on one side and to come down when there are lighting because of the thunderstorm.

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The trek was relatively easy but the weather was so humid so we were profusely sweating when we reached the first hut on top of the hill. A thunderstorm is happening and we can see fingers of lightning strike on the far end of the rolling hills. The view was truly refreshing from the top and you can see vibrant green hills all around you. Too bad Mt Mayon was not visible because of the dark clouds, otherwise, every picture would have been perfect.

We ascended to the connecting hill to get a higher vantage point. And after several more minutes we decided to descend seeing and feeling the rains and lightning coming at us. And like her playful self, Mayon showed her full glory when we are already on the road home.

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It was already four when we reached the main road and we were all eager to go home. Exploring Quitinday was indeed a refreshing break from our usual hectic schedule and we were thankful for the opportunity that we took to find it.

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At the moment, the best way to reach Quitinday is via the Ilawod-Cotmon Road. Then take the Baligang-Caguiba Road until you reach Quitinday, which is the very last Barangay of Camalig.

The Long Road to Taal and the Comforting Interiors of Feliza Cafe y Taverna

It wasn’t near, really. We’ve always been curious about the largest Catholic Church in the Orient so when we were in Batangas last summer, we decided to take the high road that led to Taal as part of our Visistas Iglesias for the Holy Week. We asked around for directions, and decided to take jeepneys to get there. It was not easy, it took us three long jeepney rides to finally get there and more or less 1.5 hours amid the hot summer morning of April. When we finally alighted from the Lipa-Lemery jeep, it was almost 1 in the afternoon. We checked out the very first cafe/establishment that caught our attention, and was immediately thankful that we did – the Feliza Cafe y Taverna.

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A group was finishing lunch when we arrived so we curiously checked out the antiqueties displayed around the restuarant first. The cafe has a cool and comforting ambiance and sitting in one of the tables will give you an impression that you are dining in another century.

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Although we’ve read that it is best and more affordable to try Taal food in the public market, we are already too hungry to search for the market. Food in Cafe Feliza is not that affordable but they are not too expensive either. I ordered Tapang Taal for me and Teloy and Ate Karen choose the Sinaing na Tulingan. Teloyskie ordered San Rival Cake and I asked for Suman Taal for dessert.

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Tapang Taal

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After attacking our food with much gusto, our waitress offered to tour us around the cafe and upstairs. The name Feliza came from the owner of the house, Feliza Diokno. She was the secretary our country’s very first president – Pres. Emilio Aguinaldo. History buffs will surely fall inlove with this cafe. The larger dining area keeps a circa 1900 typewriter, copper pans and pots and a Flag of the revolution.

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The second floor of the cafe-resturant showcases memorabilia of the late Feliza. Her office table, steel cabinets and other items which will easily give you that late 1800’s feel. Our waitress/tour guide offered 2 available rooms for Php2000 if we are to stay overnight. There was also grand dining area and a door opens to a balcony in the second floor area.

The original desk and caja de yero of then Secretary Feliza Diokno.

 

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2nd floor area of the cafe is a B&B and lots of interesting stuff.

We took a lot of pictures with the help of our tour before we decide it’s time to start exploring more of the historic town of Taal. She was very nice to offer us to try their coffee after our tour.

Hotel Review: Amami Beach Resort, Talipanan Puerto Galera

Puerto Galera is a famous destination for people craving a dose of “Vitamin Sea” yet have limited time to travel away from the metro. Galera’s proximity to Metro Manila makes it a favorite weekend vacay thus, one can easily find accommodation options for every budget and taste.

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Amami Beach Resort in Talipanan was a welcome respite from the chaos we’ve experienced when we landed in White Beach. Yes it was far from the action and happening, but it was pure restfulness and peace that we’ve experienced during our stay here.

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We arrived at 9:00 which was clearly too early for check in, so when the owner Favio told us that we might want to check the “playa” first, we did. We left our bags at the resort restaurant and made our way towards the farthest end of Talipanan were there were rocks and the famed Cucina Luca was located. After spending several hours sipping shake while Teloy play in the water, we decided to spend the remaining two hours at the resort.

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Fabio seems to be having a fit when we arrived back at the resort. He saw us and exclaimed, “Where have you been? I’ve been waiting for you all day! Your room is ready since 10:00 AM!” Oopps sorry we really wasn’t expecting that. But it was really a nice gesture for them to prepare the rooms so that we can check in early. He carried our bags, gave us the wifi password and gave us some tips and pointers for our vacation.

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Amami Beach Resort is a well-acclaimed family resort in area. Agoda users will find nothing but praises for this native-themed resort in the quieter side of  Puerto Galera. Baba’s sister was quite impressed to see that we were the only local guest in the area. Most of the other guests were foreigner families looking for some amazing R&R.

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The staff were friendly and truly accommodating. I asked for something that’s not in the menu and they said they’ll see what they can do about it, and they made it for me! So whatever you need or want, you just have to ask them and they will work wonders for you. I have originally booked for a night in the resort and we decided to extend our stay.

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The resort has limited number of rooms so they get fully-booked and overbooked sometimes. We stayed in a De Luxed Room which has a double bed and a single bed. The rooms have comfortable beds with canopy, wooden floors, nipa roof and abaca mats. These rooms face the garden and the sea beyond it so Ate Karen and I have spent a lot of time on our own veranda too.

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They have dogs, puppies, cats and kittens which young guest can pet and play with making them feel like they’re just at home in the resort.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne thing that I did not enjoy much though is the pricey meals. Although we got free breakfasts and unlimited coffee and tea, we had most of our meals in nearby restaurants because we didn’t think we can afford the food in our resort! Other than that, our stay at Amami was pure bliss!

Barkada Trip Series: Cape Bojeador Lighthouse, Ilocos Norte

After exploring Laoag, our team of weary explorers pushed forward to Pagudpud. Baba, though a major complainer of long trips seem to be enjoying the opportunity of being somewhere really far from where we came from.

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Pagudpud is located in Ilocos Norte and it is very very far from Legazpi. It faces the South China Sea and is known for its wonderful beaches. Well, our tour operator booked us in a beach front property with a very forgettable beach with really overpriced room rates.

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Anyway, we snoozed off most of the trip and woke up somewhere near the lighthouse. The sun was glaring hot and there was already a surge of tourists in the area. We hesitated knowing that there will be another fiesta like atmosphere and thongs of people trying to take the perfect picture of the light house.

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Lighthouses always seem haunting yet they are very intriguing. I’ve seen several lighthouses and each one of them has it’s own mystique and charm. Like many lighthouses, Cape Bojeador was built atop a hill overlooking the West Philippine Sea. It was built in the Spanish Era thus it has that signature red brick material for the most of the structure. The lighthouse is still considered as an active lighthouse that guides and keep our marine trade safe to this date.

Cape Bojeador Lighthouse is situated in the municipality of Burgos, Ilocos Norte. It has become a landmark that one shouldn’t miss when visiting Ilocos Norte.

Puerto Galera, Mindoro: A Quick Dose Vitamin Sea

Summer of 2015 came in a rush. As early as February, I’ve been planning for a getaway with Teloyskie soon as school days are out. We wanted a relaxing beach stay and the kid wanted to see the Boracay that was mentioned in his books. But because we kept on stalling, fares soon started to mount so we settled for our second option – somewhere nearer and cheaper. We headed to Puerto Galera.

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Puerto Galera is a popular beach bummer’s option because of it’s proximity to the metro. It is located in Oriental Mindoro and has three major beach options – White Beach, Sabang and Talipanan. Travel time can take, 2-3 hours by bus from Manila to Batangas Port and 1 to 1.5 hours by boat. But for us traveling from Legazpi, it took us more or less 10 hours to arrive in Turbina and another hours to get to Batangas port.

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Just a couple of days before heading to Batangas, I checked out several hotel booking sites and found a long list of accommodations in Puerto Galera. Based on blogs I’ve read, Talipanan is the best beach for people who want to relax and unwind. Among the hotels suggested in Talipanan, Amami Beach Resort got a fantastic rating and this made me decide to book for one night.

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We met Baba’s older sis in Turbina before we headed to Batangas Port. Teloy and I are tired and weary from the overnight bus ride from Legazpi when we arrived in Batangas and the throng of travelers and assist-you-pay-me-dudes in the port made me a bit irritable. We rode the Gallerian en route to Puerto Galera, and we will not ride it again for the very lousy customer service.

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Finally arrived in Amami at 9:00 AM got our welcome cold drinks and met with the “Fabio.” He advised us that check-in time is at 2:00 PM but we are welcome to leave our stuff if we want to explore the beach which is fine with us of course. After finishing our brekkie, we headed towards the beach and explored Talipanan. Teloyskie wanted to play in the water already so we allowed him to enjoy while Ate Karen and I enjoyed the shade, the view and some cold drinks at the famed Luca’s Cucina Italia.

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We’ll talk about the lovely, lovely Amami Beach Resort in the oncoming post. Anyway, Talipanan Beach was indeed a quiet strip of white sand and clear blue waters. Most guest around this area are couples and families who want to relax and unwind. The beach here is not as white as “White Beach” and some portion have rocks and corals. There are bars and restaurants in the resorts in the area but they are not the noisy kind that you can find in White Beach. Our resort  has a very restful and relaxing ambiance, it is also very near the snorkeling area but we hardly explored that and enjoyed beach bumming to the fullest!