About Me

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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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Sunday, September 24, 2017

Where Do The Titas of Baguio Eat Brunch?

Over the past 5 years, my "Tita" circles have kept on growing. I've got my various PTA groups, my son's therapy center clique, my high school batch mates, and my (insert current or former occupation) bosom buddies. 

It doesn't get anymore "Tita"-ish than to have coffee or brunch. Since I'm banned by my cardio from the latter (also a Tita trait), eating out while catching up is my jam. Here in Baguio, catching up means heading out to the ff. places :

1. Le Chef at The Manor ( 750 PHP / pax)
When you're with your chi-chi Tita friends, no venue is more apropos than this Club John Hay Hotel. It's wide selection of continental and local breakfast food always hits the spot. A mound of bacon with salad on the side? A scoop of fried rice with waffles? Go ahead. Indulge. The buffet warmers are quickly refilled so no one will judge you as you gab and gobble away. The price for the buffet and the distance from town also keeps crowds away, so you can be sure that certain people you don't want to see would remain unseen.

2. The Olive Café at Venus Parkview Hotel ( 210 PHP / pax) 
The menu never stays the same except for the staples like waffles, fresh garden salads, fried and steamed rice and the stuff from the egg station. Everything else are freshly cooked dishes, not all breakfast classics. The ambiance is quite pleasant, the location, extremely accessible and the staff, extremely accommodating. This is perhaps the most favorite place to head down to, as far as my PTA peeps go.

3. Citylight Hotel (220 PHP / pax) 
Right in the heart of the city, Citylight's breakfast buffet has more viands on hand than that of Venus. However, it feels as if everyone is here. Food's actually decent but there are days when you have to wait in line to be accommodated.

4. Station 120 ( 120 / pax)

Probably the cheapest all-day-breakfast buffet I've ever since. I heard it was owned by the folks who own Citylight.

The two establishments are a few minutes walk from each other. Choices at Station 120 are varied but taste-wise, quite "blah" with a capital "B". The place fills up fast though, given its price.

5. Il Padrino ( please see blog here)

6. Good Taste
Let's face it. After a sweaty round of Zumba or a quick round of chikahan, stuffing one's face with freshly cooked Chinese-Filipino food, whilst staying on a budget is nothing to be ashamed of. That's why us Baguio Titas love GT. Portions are huge, everything is fresh, service is quick** and prices are uber reasonable. The place is quite huge, so no need to worry about space when you're with your hungry amigas. 
And if you've managed to use up the time needed to cook food to bring to your kid at school or to feed the folks at home because you were so caught up with the chitchat, GT has a good selection of food that can feed your barangay.

** just not on a weekend when droves of people from here and out of town crowd it's 5 story building and when there are school activities about as it is the go to place for potluck contributions

7. Pizza Volante
A 24 hour place the serves good food AND delivers. It's Phil and I's food destination after we have our quarterly blood work done (such a Tita and spouse thing!). It brings up our sugar levels from pits of oblivion to waaay above hangry in no time. Here's a look at their menu:

There's so many more brunch places that have been popping up here in the city of Pines. We'll try to explore more and feature it in our blog. For now, from TMW, may all your wanderings be better than ours!!

Friday, August 18, 2017

8 Things To Do In Hanoi - The Mediocre Wanderer Way!

I've got my travel essentials right here with me
We've shared with you a typical one day city tour itinerary. Join us in exploring Vietnam's Capital City, The Mediocre Wanderer way:

1. Visit Hoa Lo Prison

The "Cachot" (dungeon's) sole resident
- known sarcastically as the "Hanoi Hilton", this structure served as a prison for political prisoners under the French Indochina rule and after, for the American POWs in the Vietnam war.

Prior to being converted as a museum, it was also used as a modern day prison well into the 1980s. US Senator John McCain was incarcerated in here.

this portion of the prison, as well as the dungeon was quite depressing, and if truth be told, a bit scary

- found at #1 Hoa Lò, Tran Hung Dao, Hoàn Kiem, Maison Centrale (the French Colonists' name for this "hell on Earth", and current signage on it's entrance), it's opened daily from 8 AM to 5 PM. Entrance fee for adults is 30,000 VND (around $1.30 or 66.00 PHP). Children get in for free.

some lovely souvenirs that I picked up from the Hoa Lo Prison Souvenir Shop: lacquered coasters and a beautiful domino set for my Father

- the site of torture, beheadings and death, expect to be a bit unnerved when you see the displays laid out in the museum. It also gives you a thought-provoking look at the Vietnamese's fight for freedom.

2. Eat Where President Obama Broke Bread (rather, shared Bun Cha) with Anthony Bourdain

- Phil and I are big fans of President Obama and celebrity chef/author/tv host Anthony Bourdain. Watching on TV and seeing those two hang out while sampling authentic Vietnamese food at a local eatery was quite a treat.

You may view that in this link. That being said, we just had to go to that Bun Cha place that figured prominently in their talk.

- Huong Lien is a family run, two story local eatery located at #24 Lê Văn Hưu, Phạm Đình Hồ, Hai Bà Trưng,  Hà Noi.

Mai Linh Taxis are clean, the cabbies won't scam you and their meters aren't screwy
If you hop on a cab, just tell the driver that you want to go to "Obama Bun Cha". It's also good to book a ride on a Mai Lin Taxi (green colored taxis that offer trustworthy, no-haggling rides), but then again, I digress.

this is the kind of green thats painted on Mai Linh Taxis
The restaurant is opened daily from 8 AM - 9 PM and can get quite crowded, both by locals and foreign tourists, like us.

- After visiting the Hoa Lo Prison, we headed out to Huong Lien at around 10-10:30 in the morning, and found it to be slightly crowded. An hour later, the place was even more packed, with tourists being dropped off by their tour buses and locals getting off their scooters.

- They offer a lot of local dishes, but to make ordering as easy as pie, they have menus with pictures stuck on the wall. We tried the Combo Obama, yes, the dishes that President Obama ate while there, minus the beer (we had soda instead). I also managed to get take out which was 10 pieces of Nem Hai San (fried Vietnamese seafood rolls). The rolls were supposed to make it back with me via our flight back to Manila the next day but I had a moment of weakness, and ate every.single.one. of these delicious rolls.

- for the Vietnamese food virgins out there, Bun Cha is a sweet and spicy grilled pork (bite sized grilled pork belly slices and pork meatballs) and noodle dish that originated in Hanoi. It tastes like our Pinoy BBQ, just with soup around it.

Aside from the bowl of soup (made with diluted fish sauce, sugar, lemon juice, vinegar, stock, crushed garlic and chili plus pickled vegetables) containing the meat, a plate of bun (cooked rice vermicelli noodles), another plate filled with herbs (basil, mint leaves, Vietnamese balm, cabbage, coriander leaves and perilla leaves), a bowl of chopped fresh chilies and a pot of fresh, finely chopped garlic are served with it.

To eat, you put your desired amount of chili and garlic into the soup. Next, you get some of the bun and dip it in the soup. The herbs are there if you want to get different flavors in the broth. You may add it directly to the soup or just dip them in with your noodles. Absolutely delish!!

3. Watch the Water Puppet Theater Show

- The Thang Long Puppet Theater was a good 3 minute walk from our hotel. It's across a part of the Hoan Kiem Lake, in the Old Quarter with this address: 57 Binh Tiên Hoàng, Lý Thái Tu, Hoàn Kiem, Hoàn Kiem Hanoi. It features wooden lacquered puppets and even some fireworks on a water-filled stage. This traditional puppetry has been traced back to the 11th century.

- Performances are done every day, the whole year round. Performance times are as such:
Summer              16h10  |   17h20 |  18h30 |  20h
Winter                 15h | 16h10 |  17h20 | 18h30 |  20h |  21h15
Sunday Morning 9.30

- Tickets prices are pegged at 100,000VND($4.40 or 220.00 PHP)/ ticket    
   Children under 1.2m: 60,000VND ($2.60 or 130.00 PHP/ticket

- we went on the 6:30 PM show, 5 minutes before it started. Place was packed. Set was beautiful while an orchestra that played traditional Vietnamese instruments provided the background music.

The puppet's skits were based on local tales and legends, mostly centering around rural life. Tired as he was, our MAX enjoyed the show, expressing shock and outrage at a scene where a monkey was stealing a farmer's ducks and laughing when a henpecked husband was "punished" by his wife.

- it's truly a sight to behold. Amazing puppetry indeed!

4. Visit the Lotte Observation Tower

- located at Lotte, 54 Lieu Giai, Cong Vu, Ba Dình, Hà Noi, (just tell the cab driver to bring you to the Lotte Center), the observation tower is opened from 9 AM to 10:30 PM.

- Admission Rates
                                                                             Day                    Night
Adult (Over 20 Years)    230,000($10.00/500 PHP)                    130,000 VND
Student (8 ~19 Years)    170,000($7.50/380 PHP)                       110,000 VND
Senior (Over 65 Years)   110,000($4.80/248 PHP)                       90,000  VND
Child (3 ~ 7 Years)

- from the 65th floor, one can see the entire city of Hanoi.

After paying the entrance fee, two high speed elevators(360m/min) will take visitors from B1 to the 65th floor in 50 seconds. You can seriously feel your ears pop once you get somewhere close to the top.

- This is the first-ever built Sky Walk in Southeast Asia that also has food and beverage concessionaires at the top as well as a souvenir shop and multimedia center, should you want to document your "walk in the clouds".

- Visiting the Lotte Center is a good day one activity - you could "stock up" on snacks and drinks from the Lotte Mart and you could make ATM withdrawals at the Shin Han ATM, fronting the Lotte Observatory entrance.

That particular ATM can dispense 5,000,000 VND in one transaction for 20,000 VND, compared to other banks with a maximum withdrawable amount of 2,000,000 VND at anywhere from 22,000 VND (Agri Bank) to 60,000 VND ( Vietin Bank).

5. Go Dine, Shop and Play At Royal City

- a large shopping mall with an indoor water park, ice skating rink and a bowling alley, there's quite a lot of space and activities to do at Royal City.

Shop for stuff, visit the art gallery, do your grocery at the Vincom Mart at the lower level of the mall,

dine in the many restaurants in the mall or just simply take Instagrammable photos of the mall's interiors and European looking exteriors (above ground), there's A LOT of everything for everyone.

- Royal City is located at 72A Nguyen Trai, Thanh Xuan, Hanoi

6. Walk Around Hanoi's Old Quarter and the Hoan Kiem Lake

- serene, cool and peaceful as well as alive, bustling and worth exploring are contradictory, yet apt statements when describing the Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake.

Going around the perimeter of the lake gives you a great look at Hanoi's Old Quarter. Mind you, the French architecture dotting the area may be old, but a lot of them house trendy restos, coffee shops, international luxury stores, souvenir shops and so much more!

- the lake in itself provides a cool respite to it's surrounding area and is both scenic and somewhat soothing to the soul.

7. Do Your Grocery Shopping at Lotte Mart

- If you're somewhat like me, and would love to buy food to bring to your home country, Lotte Mart has a good selection of Vietnamese food items that will surely interest you. Dried fruits, spices, local seasonings, sausages, nuts and a wide selection of ready-to-cook Vietnamese food. I was able to get an assortment of ingredients for Bahn Mi, Pho, Bun Cha and even frozen uncooked spring rolls!

 a little over 30 kgs of groceries, all packed for home

- this grocery has almost everything you'd want and need. It also offers better selections than the local grocery chain, Vincom Mart.

- FYI: don't be surprised if supermarkets require you to deposit your bags at the baggage counter. It's a free service  and your bag/s are kept safe in lockers.

- Some of the favorite grocery items that we bought were lotus seeds (yum!), beef rope (sort of like beef Jerky), shrimp salt and the sesame shrimp crackers!

8. Indulge In Some Local Street food

- What Hanoi did not lack for was good, inexpensive street food. Ask your hotel's staff and they'll surely point out that a lot of Hanoi's streets are named for the items/food that's sold in their streets.

- Be adventurous but always ask the locals where it's safe to eat and where it's great to indulge and expand your waistline!

That's it for our quick 8 things to do in Hanoi - The Mediocre Wanderer Style!

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