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An occasionally belligerent mother of five and an autism parent / advocate who believes that traveling, good food and good company are vital to keep one sane. I've worked as a news writer/newscaster, a quality systems auditor, a ISO9001 consultant, an FM radio DJ, a Filipino tutor, TOEFL reviewer and have gone into the food industry both as an entrepreneur and as a mommy chef, giving a sponsored demo on healthy cooking in a mall and on local TV. My favorite job however, is being a mom and a wife.

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Saturday, June 16, 2012

VIEW-tiful Vigan

With summer getting ready to pack up and go, another road trip was in the works for MAX, Phee and yours truly. This time, The Mediocre Wanderer was headed off to Vigan.

Vigan, that time-capsule of a place, was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO due to the fact that it is one of the few towns in the Philippines that has managed to retain its centuries old colonial European architecture, complete with cobblestone streets and 16th century structures.

Situated north, about 408 kilometers away from Metro Manila, expect o see gentle hills, plains, and coastal areas on your way to this city.

Because of its cultural and historical features, a lot  has been written about the Ilocos Sur capital. Nonetheless, here are our two cents for those travelling up north:
bless this mess
inside the comforts of Ciudad Fernandina Hotel
Get A Room!:
While booking a room ahead of time could save you a lot of grief, especially for big groups, you may want to keep this rule optional. As this is a city that prides itself in keeping with the old, accommodations and facilities may not always be to your liking. Tying yourself down to a room opens you up to a series of potential problems if, upon arriving at your destination, you find the place to be unacceptable.
the bathroom was clean, modern and new.
pictured above: handmade lavender soap and choco mint shampoo
plus cotton buds and balls among the basic toiletries provided

Though staying at a 100 year old house may sound like a fab experience, the thought of no a/c, decent indoor plumbing, odd smells and a hard mattress might spoil things for you. If you're used to roughing, book anywhere and enjoy :)
after that last hotel we checked out,
I could've sworn there were "God" rays emanating from this place
when we got here on a rainy Friday night
Here's what we did: we arrived late in the afternoon at Vigan (after making a short stop at Paraiso ni Juan on the way to the city). 
Paraiso Ni Juan (Juan's Paradise) at Narvacan
quick photo op
and bathroom break (don't expect much as far as bathrooms are concerned)

A strong, sudden cloudburst cut our planned hotel to hotel inspection (we had 6 choices written down). Hotel #1 on the list turned out to be quite charming. An old wooden house that had it's own parking lot (most hotels here offer street parking). It was the only place that had a fridge in the room as well. The first room shown to us had 2 single beds (which wouldn't fit the 3 of us) and the 2nd room reeked of stale urine.
imagine this scene with heavy rains :p
By then, it was pretty dark outside, inspite of the numerous streetlights. The one way streets going to and from the plaza was no picnic either, specially in the dark.

though it may look brand spanking new, the original structure of
Ciudad Fernandina Hotel was built in 1758.
extensive renovations were done, 
and the hotel was relaunched this March 2012
We skipped to hotel #6, which was Ciudad Fernandina. It was the the most comfy and decent looking one in the list, but was the priciest of the six. The hotel receptionist was kind enough to send one of their staff on a motorbike to guide us through the roads. Here's our blog on our wonderful stay at Ciudad Fernandina.

Grab Some Grub:
Here's a rundown of food places you might want to check out:
1. Empanadahan: located at the eastern part of Plaza Burgos, deep fried rice flour dough pockets stuffed with the perfect blend of meat and veggies(empanada) are sold together with battered whole shrimps (okoy). 

empanadas and okoy + Ilocos vinegar with lots of red onions
Some stalls have more food offerings such as the sinanglao (a local dish of beef innards and tamarind broth), pinakbet ( low land veggies and pork, cooked in fermented fish paste) and other grilled delights. 
Check out Evelyn's stall. Man! Her empanadas are these thin and crispy shelled goodies stuffed with a whole egg yoke, lots of sausage meat and the right amount of veggies that are so fresh and lightly cooked that you actually taste the inherent sweetness of the cabbages, onions and whatever it is she threw in the mix, before sealing the dough. 
Irene's along Calle Crisologo
2. Irene's: she's got 2 branches, one right along the historic Calle Crisologo. She also sells empanadas. Special, pork, beef, double or 2 in 1. I've experienced having to wait for my turn to order a box to bring home after 60+ orders of empanada

3. Cafe Leona: named after Leona Florentino, Vigan's foremost Ilocano poettess, this place within the Heritage Village was packed during our weekend in Vigan. 

Cafe Leona patrons eating Al fresco on a cool, starry night

Quite popular with both the locals and the tourists, they serve both TASTErrific continental and ethnic dishes at reasonable prices. 
Vigan goodies: daing na bangus (milkfish marinated in garlic and vinegar then pan fried),
Vigan longganisa (local sausage) and bagnet (seasoned and deep fried pork belly)
Must eat: Vigan Longganisa pizzas! All their pizzas are created with homemade thin crusts. cooked in a wood fire oven. Fab stuff. 
TDF!!!! and they DID NOT skimp on the mozzarella!
Service is fast, place is authentically old and the staff are quite friendly.
the Vigan longganisa meat on the pizza
Cafe Leona's kitschy yet somehow appropriately pleasant interiors
4. The Heritage bakery : freshly baked bread...crusty on the outside, yet soft and delectable on the inside. Try their pan de sal! Great even without anything in it (says the girl who eats butter slices).

horsing around: riding around town old school
Get Lost!!!: ...in the charms of  colonial Philippines. Hire a calesa (horse drawn carriage)  for 150/hour. The coachman doubles as a guide to the famous tourist destinations in the area (and there are quite a lot!).  

You may also drop by the tourism office, right beside Cafe Leona for a map of Vigan and a list of places to visit. They're very helpful, knowledgeable and accommodating, so don't hesitate to ask for their free assistance. Some points of interest:

when you wish upon a....

...church (?)

1. The calesa driver brought us first to the Bantay Bell Tower, located 5 minutes outside the town proper. Built  by the Augustinian missionaries in 1591, the tower belongs to the St. Augustine Parish Church.

going up the hill, climbing up the steps then climbing up the tower
 during midday can make a person lightheaded
 Locals urge you to make a wish on your first visit to the church, based on the romanticized belief that it will come true.

engravings on the bell's surface
At the top of the tower, you get a fab 360 view of the area as well as a good look at the old bricked interior surrounding the bell.

the view from above

The garden behind Fr. Burgos' home
2. We were brought next to the Burgos Museum, ancestral home and birthplace of Father Jose Burgos, one of the three martyred Filipino priests at Bagumbayan (GOMBURZA). 

Aside from being a perfect example of houses from that time period, the museum houses both ethnic Tinggian and Ilocano artifacts. 
Father Burgos' bedroom (so felt like an intruder)

3. Baluarte:  (click on name for website). We went here as soon as we had breakfast. Added to the late morning heat shining on this mostly outdoor venue, tour bus after tour bus flock to get a glimpse or hold the exotic animals in here.
where the not-so-wild things are....

the tiburin: felt sorry for the lil guys that we
 didn't bother to line up for the free ride
the governor's very own yellow submarine
and ancient war cannons
Owned by Ilocos governor Chavit Singson, this free, interactive wild life sanctuary is a must see. Catch a ride on the "tiburin"  or mini horse drawn carts, pet the resident python, get up close and personal with the camels, deer, tigers and many more birds, mammals and reptiles.
wide, well maintained open spaces on top of the ample
food and care given keep the animals happy and healthy

apparently, I passed on my mild case of
ornithophobia to my youngest :P
Food and refreshments are sold inside. Just don't forget to wear something light as this area can get mondo hot even before 10 in the a.m. 

4. Before reaching Baluarte, you would come across a sign on the left side of the road, directing you to the Vigan Heritage River Cruise along the Mestizo River. For 100 php/person, you get a refreshing boat ride as well as an informative insight on the river's historic significance as well a chronological narration of Vigan's origins. This, by the way, is run by the city government.

on our way!
life jackets are both provided and required
for safety purposes
fish pens abound in the Mestizo River
one of the many historical scenes you may encounter on the cruise

Unlike the boar ride we had in Thailand, this was sooooo much better. The water was clean, albeit the muddy appearance due to the strong rains they've been having.
try some of the local produce from the local market
above: sweet and sours fruits such as duhat (purple) and the sinegwelas

There are so many more places to see such as the Hidden Garden, the native jar making facility known as the Paburnayan as well as both Plaza Salcedo and Burgos, the old churches and religious institutions that dot the area, as well as museums/homes of prominent politicians, including that of President Elpidio Quirino. 

The Vigan Cathedral
 (from here on, a lot of the tourist destinations are a 3minute walk in any  direction)
shots from Plaza Burgos

@ the Paburnayan
For  food pasalubongs or yummy goodies to bring home, the one name we got from everyone we asked was Tongson's, located right in front of Plaza Salcedo. 
Tongson's Royal Bibingka

Their front store sells small packs of chichacorn (local white corn deep fried and flavored. Comes in garlic, bbq, adobo, sweet, cheese, sweet and spicy and spicy) as well as what they're famous for, the royal bibingka (a Filipino rice cake typically eaten during Christmas. The second entrance tthat they have behind this shop sells Vigan longganisa, bagnet, sukang iloko (cane vinegar), dried miki (way different from our typical Pinoy miki, this one's are thicker and tastier egg noodles), various sweet cookies and more chichacorn.

souvenirs for sale

Of course, for dry goods, there are always those shops at Calle Crisologo for those who don't want to make a trip to the local market. As always, don't forget to haggle.

A trip to the North is rarely wasted. Head out further to Laoag or all the way to the white sand beaches of Pagudpod after seeing Vigan, if you've got time to spare.

From TMW, may all your wanderings be better than ours!!!

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