Archive for the travel Category

Bayleaf Hotel has laurel leaves

Posted in travel on November 17, 2011 by gohelpyourself

The entrance to Bayleaf Hotel.

By Anthony O. Alcantara

When you don’t cook, you don’t really care about ingredients. I learned something about a popular cooking ingredient when I was introduced to bay leaf, which, I learned recently, is just another name for laurel leaf. Don’t laugh. Maybe I came from another planet.

I learned this lesson recently after staying at the Bayleaf Hotel in Intramuros. My wife told me about the connection with the owners, too. Yes, the Hotel is owned by the Laurels. They also happen to own Lyceum University.

And there is the Lyceum Culinary Institute at one wing of the hotel. The Laurel family, Bayleaf Hotel, and cooking school. Now it makes sense to an ignoramus like me.

The hotel only has 10 floors, including the Skydeck.

In any case, I just love new hotels. They tend to offer huge discounts. Yes, I’m a newly minted bargain hunter. So when Ensogo offered a huge discount, I grabbed the opportunity by the balls and booked myself a room.

I really don’t know how Ensogo is making money. Groupon, a pioneer in the business, is having trouble. Some are questioning its business model, which I thought resembled that of a charitable institution.

But who am I to complain? When Ensogo sent me an email alert advertising a 50% discount for Bayleaf Hotel I quickly computed the risk-reward ratio — 50% discount on the P6,600 per night price tag for a room.

I concluded that the reward of untold happiness to be derived with my wife and 1-year-old baby there at the hotel greatly exceeded the risk of paying interest for this purchase.

Bayleaf Hotel is a boutique hotel. It has only 10 floors, including the skydeck, and 57 rooms. At the lobby, one wall has images of bay leaves etched into it. The architecture blends well with the buildings nearby and the walls of Intramuros. Just cross the street and you’ll immediately bump into the walls.

The view from our room.

This is our room. Baby not included.

Nice LED TV.

My wife Em enjoys the fast WiFi access.

Tickle time with Aria.

There is a spectacular view from our room: a stretch of the walls of Intramuros, the calming green grass of the golf course, the majestic bell tower of Manila City Hall, and a colorful swath of Manila. You can begin your walk along the walls of Intramuros from the hotel, if that is to your liking.

The hotel, which was opened only in September this year, has a lobby with an ascetic and modern feel. There is also a brand new Yamaha grand piano, on which my wife was able to play Für Elise, along with my baby Aria, who embellished her mom’s playing with random discordant notes.

Delicious churros from Cioccolata.

9 Spoons World Bistro at the 9th floor penthouse.

There is the 9 Spoons World Bistro at the 9th floor penthouse, where you can have an almost 360-degree view of Manila. The buffet breakfast has a limited menu, though. But it can satisfy most people’s hunger.

Consider this: Orange juice, cereals, fruits, pastries, arroz caldo, rice, corned beef with potatoes, sweet and sour fish fillet, pancit canton, and omelette an egg station.

I can’t say anything about the buffet lunch since we ate outside.

The skydeck is still under construction. Even part of the staircase at the ground floor is still unfinished. The staff said there will be a bigger and grander opening for the hotel soon.

There is also the Cioccolata café at the first floor of the hotel, near the culinary school. We liked the grilled ensaymada with queso de bola, worth P100. Even Aria, my baby, liked it.

The original churros with Spanish chocolate is good, too. Five churros loops for one order worth P75. The Dulce de Leche frappucino for P120 and the Cappucino for P100 are just as good as those of Starbucks in my opinion.

As for our room, all I can say is that I’m happy with it. There is a Sharp 32-inch LED TV, nice interior design with white and purple as the dominant colors, and a soft, nice bed that the porter said is the same type used in five-star hotels such as Sofitel. You can also surf the internet all you want with the WiFi access, which  is included in the room fee.

So if you’re looking for a nice hotel with a great view of Intramuros, the Bayleaf Hotel is it. Just don’t expect a swimming pool and a gym there.



A View of Bahay Pari

Posted in travel on October 2, 2011 by gohelpyourself

By Anthony O. Alcantara

Just until recently, I never thought much about the Bahay Pari. All I know is that it’s a good place for retreats. I didn’t even know where it was.

For Catholics and for the curious, I present to you a few of the photos I took during my recent visit there a few months ago. Some of the areas are restricted, so these are all I have.

The Bahay Pari was supposed to be a place for retired priests, where they can spend their final years, or days. A new place was built for that purpose, however. And Bahay Pari has become a renewal center and recreational house for priests.

This is the Bahay Pari inside the San Carlos Seminary in Guadalupe, Makati. The white car that you see here is the car from which Bishop Ted Bacani emerged. Too bad it didn’t occur to me to have my picture taken with him.

The Bahay Pari has a swimming pool and a Jacuzzi, which I’ve seen. The website says it also has a steam and a sauna bath, air-conditioned TV and audio room, and sports and gym equipment.

It also has 60 single-occupancy rooms. About half of them are air-conditioned, and the rest have electric fans. At least, all rooms have their own toilets and baths.

Isn’t this beautiful? I imagine one dive will probably bring me straight to heaven. Too bad I didn’t bring my swimming outfit.

Images of Jesus, Mary and the saints can be seen around the place. I think the room here is one of the meeting rooms or lecture rooms.

This Jacuzzi beckons. But I must control myself.

This statue of the Virgin Mary is one of the most prominent ones inside the Bahay Pari.

This exquisite painting of Mama Mary greets guests as they enter Bahay Pari.

Ahhh, the trellis. A nice spot for having coffee and a good conversation.

There are several huge bird cages in the facility. Maybe it’s because of the symbolism? There are many saints who like to be seen with birds. Saint Francis, for example.

I guess bird watching is a hobby here. These will help in the identification.

In any case, Bahay Pari is not just a quiet place for spiritual renewal and recreation. It’s a place for birds, too, and all that they symbolize.


Cultural Center of the Philippines: A fitness center for all

Posted in health and fitness, travel on August 7, 2010 by gohelpyourself

It's a different kind of show at the CCP in the morning.

By Anthony O. Alcantara

Emil Alvarez executes a lunge-like move and bends his torso, making it parallel to the ground. At the same time, he stretches out his arms in front of him, like Superman flying.

He then curls his fingers, forms two fists and pulls his hands toward his body. He tucks his chin towards his chest and then gradually looks up to the sky, his back arching and stretching upwards.

“This is the turtle move,” he says. I almost expect his eyeballs to pop out as he holds his pose. Then I finally see it. He does look like a turtle looking up.

“Interesting,” I reply. “I really want to learn Tai Chi.”

“No. That’s Wa Teng Kong,” he says. “It’s not Tai Chi but it’s also good for you.”

Emil goes on to lecture me about Wa Teng Kong and Tai Chi and turtles and how it all involves deep breathing and curling up your tongue when you do all the movements.

He is one of those who have found a perfect spot at the 88-hectare Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) complex, a spot with verdant trees and chirping birds, a spot where he can exercise in peace, except when there’s the occasional nosy guy who can’t recognize a human turtle right in front of his nose.

Mecca for the Arts

CCP is indeed a very different place in the morning. Opened in 1969 during the heydays of President Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda, CCP aimed to be the consummate impresario for everything beautiful and edifying.

Its vision? To become a mecca for Asian arts and culture.

World-renowned performers such as those from the Bolshoi, Kirov and Royal Danish ballets, and actors and singers in musicals such as Miss Saigon and Cats, and other revered musicians and visual artists have showcased their world-class talents there.

The Tanghalang Pambansa, or CCP Main Building, a colossal and stark edifice with a grand fountain in front, has been a witness to all of them.

Every morning, however, especially on Saturdays and Sundays, the CCP Main Building turns into a public gym. The majestic driveway becomes a running oval where people of all weight classes, body shapes, income brackets and nationalities run or walk.

The marble steps in front of the main doors of the CCP Main Building is where people like to do push-ups, sit-ups, squats and lunges. And on the wide spaces to the left and right of the building, some do stretching and shadow-boxing.

Dogs frolic there

Even dogs–from pugs, dobermans, chihuahuas and Labradors, to name a few–find the manicured-grass area in front of the building an ideal place for sniffing around, marking their territory, and catching Frisbees.

Asked why he’s at the CCP on a Saturday morning, Jojo, who’s in his late 20s, simply says it has become a habit.

“I came from Makati, Dian Street. I run from my house to this place to exercise,” he says as he wipes the sweat off his face.

“Have you ever watched a show here at CCP?” I ask.

“No, I haven’t ever been into that building.”

Indeed many people who go to CCP in the morning don’t even know what goes on inside this mecca for the arts.

And while some people look for peace and quiet among trees, or a good place to run and do push-ups, others like loud music and frenetic exercise moves. I’ve seen the perfect place for that.


The area to the right of the CCP Main Building, where an iridescent glass, stainless steel and concrete sculpture by Ramon Orlina stands, is a small park for people who seem to worship the artist’s masterpiece every Saturday and Sunday morning.

Instead of sipping wine and munching canapés as they marvel at Orlina’s eight-meter high sculpture called Oneness, the folks there sip from their water bottles in between sessions of vigorous aerobics accompanied by loud dance music.

It is there, too, that I discover that aerobics is a spectator sport. I see a line of people, mostly men, ogle at some 200 weekend aerobics enthusiasts, many of them lithe young women, as they sweat it out. They seem to be enjoying the show so much that I feel like buying them popcorn and giving them some comfortable chairs.

Further along the park behind Orlina’s work of art, are three more aerobics classes. While most of these aerobics classes charge P20 per person, one class collects monthly fees, and they all wear a certain color for the day’s session.

Something fishy

Walking along the quay, you’ll also find fishing enthusiasts with their colorful fishing rods and cans of worms.

“I started fishing two years ago,” says Jose while hooking two small squirming worms into two separate hooks on his line. “I just got bored with running and thought of using the fishing rod someone gave me.”

After flinging his line toward the murky waters of Manila Bay and waiting two minutes, he feels a tug and quickly reels in his line to see if his worms are okay.

One is still there helpless and bored, but the other has been gulped by a small tilapia, who’s now struggling to get off the fishing hook. Jose unhooks the fish and places it in a small cage with a net covering.

He says he will give it to his friend who makes daing, or dried fish, out of their catch.

“Sometimes I catch three kilos of fish on a good day,” says Jose, who usually goes for his weekend fishing trips at 5am and goes home at noon. He sometimes catches bangus, or milkfish, as big as his leg.

Fishing at the quay is free. You just bring your own fishing rod, which, according to Jose, you can get for as cheap as P300 or as expensive as P30,000. Worms, which you can buy from peddlers nearby, cost P10 per small cup.

Rackets for rent

In the parking lots all over the CCP complex, you’ll also find people playing badminton, tennis, and Frisbee. Some bring their own gear, but some prefer to rent. Enterprising homeless people there have made it a stable and thriving business.

So you see a lot of people hitting tennis balls and shuttle cocks and catching Frisbees.

Further along the quay are the rowers. Most have their body suits on and toting their paddle bags. You see them doing warm-up stretching early in the morning. I’ve never seen their boats, though.

Near the Folk Arts Theater, where religious groups usually worship in the morning, are the swimmers. Despite the often-murky waters and the noisome smell of decay, some people attest to its curative powers.

Ernesto, one of the habitués there, brings his family to the area to bathe and swim. Sometimes he hires a boat for a short trip near SM Mall of Asia and Baseco, where they can enjoy cleaner air and calm their fraught nerves with the gentle waves of the sea.

Biggest public toilet

One part of the quay, though, is slowly crumbling as waves wash away the rocks and concrete beneath.

“That’s where some (homeless) people do their thing. They’ve turned it into their toilet,” says Ernesto. Bathing, fresh air, good health, an open bathroom, and people happily swimming nearby. It doesn’t make sense to me, but Ernesto doesn’t pause to explain.

These folks will surely make very interesting subjects on the study of cognitive dissonance.

We continue to watch the bathers. Babies and children clinging to their parents are dipped into the water. Ernesto says they rarely get sick.

There are other areas for other sports, too. Cyclists whiz past the CCP Main Theater, Folk Arts Theater, Philippine International Convention Center, Star City, and the Coconut Palace as they travel along the CCP complex’s wide streets.

Some runners and walkers who find the CCP main building oval too crowded find these streets inviting, too. With the increasing popularity of running, the CCP complex has become an even busier venue for many marathons.

Everybody seems to be fit and happy at the CCP complex. I’m sure you can find your own suitable spot there. And perhaps, like me, you’ll learn something about turtles, too.


Sky Experience Adventure: Definitely not for acrophobes

Posted in travel on March 25, 2010 by gohelpyourself

For a few seconds, I forgot my panic.

By Anthony O. Alcantara

“You just push this switch up if you want to get it back to normal position,” said the guide. He was referring to the switch at the middle of the handle that secured me to the seat of the Edge Coaster.

After almost a decade when I last tried to cure my acrophobia, I thought now would be a good time to make another attempt. The last one was at the Ferris wheel in Enchanted Kingdom in Laguna. I hugged the center pole of the Ferris wheel car during the whole ride. I remembered praying. But the saints were having a break. I consoled myself thinking that maybe many others were praying, too.

This time around I just had to try this Sky Experience Adventure at the Crown Regency Hotel and Towers in Cebu. I’ve heard about it last year. Judging from the faces of the people in the photos I’ve seen, it looked exciting.

At the 38th floor of the hotel was a coaster ride that the hotel management said was the first in the world. They call it the Edge Coaster, a deceptively harmless name, I should say. It was a stripped down roller coaster seat, that is, without the enclosure of the usual roller coaster car. It’s just a seat or, in this case, two seats per coaster.

The Edge Coaster just goes around the edge of the building so you can enjoy the beautiful panoramic view of the city. But there’s a twist. The Edge Coaster is tilted 53 degrees so you can also get a good view of death 38 stories below.

The guide was telling me and my companion, Jude–no, not that “companion”–that we can control the tilting by pressing the button at the handle that secured us to our seats. Jude and I were in Cebu to conduct a writing workshop for some PLDT Group employees. We had nothing else to do that night so we decided to have a little adventure.

Anyway, I wasn’t paying much attention to the guide. It was around 7pm and I was enjoying the colorful lights of the city.

Before I could clarify what the guide was telling us, our coaster started to move. Too late.

Seconds later, our coaster was tilting. As we reached the edge, our coaster was already 53 degrees tilting toward the ground. The sudden view of the concrete down below hit my amygdala, that seat of emotion in the brain, like a left hook from Manny Pacquiao. I saw the death incarnate right before me.

It was pure panic. I couldn’t scream. Then there was a burst of expletives. I was talking to Jude. He told me to shut up. He was panicking too.

I was trying to recall what the guide said. “Push the button to control the tilt.” I pushed it twice. Nothing happened. I was already looking up at the sky because I couldn’t bear to look down or even at the horizon.

As fear started to build up, a photographer called our attention so he could take our pics. I was distracted. And, like Piolo Pascual in a photo shoot, I smiled for the camera. For a few seconds, my panic disappeared.

After we made another turn, however, the dread started to build up again. I pushed the button. But this time, I steadily held it in the up position. Our coaster started to tilt back. Thank God, my brain worked this time.

Finally our coaster was back at the level position. Jude asked me if I was the one who pushed the switch. I said yes. “Can we just tilt it a little?”

“No way!” I protested. Good thing he never insisted or tried to push the button himself. I could have delivered a nasty back fist strike.

After 2 or 3 minutes, no more than that, we got back to the starting point. But it seemed like forever. I was so relieved.

I let out a few more expletives and got out of the coaster.

“I won’t do this ever again,” I told the guide.

When we got back to the reception area and got back our things, a lady asked us if we wanted to have our picture. I asked how much. She said P230.

Wow, I told myself. These people know how to make money. Whoever thought of having this Edge Coaster to attract tourists is a genius.

What the heck. I might as well have a souvenir from this experience, even if it almost killed me. The picture showed us on the fully-tilted coaster smiling. What a lie. I don’t know what would’ve happened if the photographer didn’t distract me for that shot.

There was also a free Edge Coaster certificate that we can show to people who may think that we just made this up.

I have proof.

It was now time to eat. The P600 we paid earlier was for the Edge Coaster ride and a buffet dinner. So we proceeded to the Sparkz Restobar at the 37th floor to celebrate our triumph over death, repent for our sins and reform our lives.

But first we had to savor and stuff ourselves with delectable Filipino, Chinese, Italian and Japanese food.

Earlier we thought of trying out the Sky Walk, where people get to walk around the edge of the building with a harness. But one ride was enough for me.

For some, the Edge Coaster was 53 degrees of bliss. But for me, it was 53 degrees of terror, and it should be called Terror Coaster instead. I’m not complaining, though. A little excitement, after all, was what I was looking for. That night I felt alive and I’m glad I still am.