Saturday, January 31, 2015

Intramuros and the Ramparts of a Walled City (Manila, Philippines)

The day before a foreign guest comes for a visit, I decided to check out Intramuros, Old Manila's famed wall city. I've been to Intramuros several times before, but only to Manila Cathedral and San Agustin Church to attend weddings and to sing songs for a couple of friends and a relative. I haven't done anything touristy, thus most of what the Lonely Planet mentions, I am a blank. This was why I decided to see the area. Otherwise, how can I be a guide if I haven't partaken the role of a tourist myself.

My destination wasn't the cathedral so I had to take the entrance that leads to the walls of Intramuros; the one near Manila City Hall. I of course was clueless. I didn't read up or google away. I decided I could wing it, like I sometimes do on a foreign land. I walked through one of the entrances near the golf course and found my way to a bevy of esquinitas. There was a school, Lyceum, then the walkways that lead to several ramparts (broad elevations serving as bulwark or defense) on top of the walls.

These ramparts weren't narrow crests but wide open spaces that mainly function these days as a park or a square with nothing  else but cannons and cobbled open spaces. The gates and walls span 4.5 kilometers so there's a lot to cover all the way to Fort Santiago.

Lonely Planet describes thee ramparts as "weedy and seedy". I am not exactly sure for the latter description. The area is after all part of old Manila and thus must cover a bit of urban decay. There are schools nearby. Young people - and lovers - populate the surroundings. There are guards that roam the towers, all decked in katipunero garbs which reminds one that this is still considered a tourist area, though most of the tourists concentrate their meanderings from the side of Fort Santiago. This area is mostly ignored by them.

Elsewhere, there are derelict buildings and horse-drawn carts. There are heritage restaurants and shops near San Agustin Church along General Luna and well preserved establishments along Anda Street. Likewise, there are several museums in the vicinity.

Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi chose to build this fortress where remnants of an Islamic settlement was - by the banks of the Pasig River. It was 1571. Can you imagine what life was like in those incipient epochal years of colonization? Intramuros' cloistered sprawled on an area of 64 hectares. There must have been thousands of untold, albeit colorful tales from hundreds of years spanning its history. The area itself was constantly invaded by Chinese pirates, Dutch forces, British troops, American regimen, Japanese colonizers, etc. Intramuros stood strong and proud until the Battle of Manila.

I was glad to have given this area a visit. Intramuros includes Fort Santiago, Manila Cathedral, Chinese Filipino Museum (Bahay Tsinoy), the shops along the streets of Anda and General Luna, and San Agustin Church. Do they even constitute half of the 64 hectares?

This is the Eye in the Sky!

The way to one of the ramparts.

This is what's above those walls - the ramparts.

Cannons surround the ramparts.

National Hero Dr. Jose P. Rizal

Manila City Hall

A kalesa, horse-drawn cart.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

San Agustin Church - Philippines' Oldest Church (Intramuros, Manila)

Situated in the heart of walled Intramuros is the Philippines' oldest church, the only building left intact in Intramuros after the destruction caused by World War II. Construction began 1587 and took 19 years to complete (Manila Cathedral was erected in 1951). The church is run by the Augustinian friars and the present structure is the 3rd to rise on the same site after it has weathered several earthquakes and wars. It has also been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.

This photo only courtesy of wikipedia.
The church is home to the remains of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi (the first governor-general of the Spanish regime in the Philippines), Juan de Salcedo and Martin de Goiti (both were Spanish conquistadors who in 1567 led an army of 900 to conquer then-Islamic Manila, under the occupation of the Sultanate of Brunei).

At the contiguous building to its left is a museum which houses fascinating ecclesiastical and historical relics, as well as devotional images that underline the devout religiosity of the Filipinos.

Another note-worthy feature of the church is the intricate trompe l'oueil frescoes on the vaulted ceilings. Trompe L'Oueil is an art technique that uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects exist in three dimensions. Photography isn't allowed inside the church, and one can enter the church when there's mass. The museum, on the other hand, has an entry fee of PhP100 per person. Photos from this post were mostly taken from the museum, though the heart of the whole complex is the grandiose church. The museum is open daily between 8AM to 12 noon and 1PM to 6PM. 

If you're baffled to find "fu dragons" or Buddhist/Taoist figures on display at the gates of the surroundings, these are relics influenced by the Chinese artistry of the masons and artisans who helped build Intramuros and the colonial establishments of Manila during those bygone days of strife.

These days, the church is busy hosting weddings. In fact it prides itself as the "Wedding Capital of the Philippines", and for a good reason. After all, it is already 428 years old, and much of its old world grandeur is preserved within its walls. Wouldn't it be such a romantic idea to become a part of its 428 year legacy?

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Trompe l'oueil frescoes at the church's ceiling.

For more information, visit their website @ The church is located a couple of blocks at the back of Manila Cathedral, along General Luna Street in Intramuros. Call them at  +632-527-2746 or +632-5274052.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Kettle @ SM Aura: Drool-Worthy!

Once a year every December, I would meet up with a dear friend and we'd have dinner in a special place. Last year, it was at Cafe 1228 of Makati's New World Hotel. The year before, it was Ramen Nagi. But we'd pick the place based on an atmosphere that's welcoming, convenient and significantly memorable. We were there to chat and have fun, with good food on the side.

This photo only courtesy of their FB page.
She ordered salad that was tasty, "crunchy"(the best arugulas do that), fresh and delectable, I took several bites. Kettle House Salad. I am not a salad eater but yeah, I could enjoy that served in front of me. Dang, I could still taste the toffee walnut and the manchego cheese (Don Quixote's own brand of cheese) just thinking about it. When my order came, I realized this was a special place for the "regular" gourmand (is there such thing?)

Served before me was "Buttermilk Fried Chicken": two big pieces of chicken that has been marinated 24 hours and spiced with paprika. Cooked southern style, you can taste a dash of sweetness in it, that's Cajun honey on gravy. It has this singular gustatory sensation: crunchy, tangy, flavorful, tender meat served in two big pieces. I thought I was in heaven's little kitchen. My friend then ordered her cake that we devoured mercilessly: just the right kind of sweetness for me. And if I were to use this adjective again, it's simply because it's the most appropriate - "delicious".

Lucy Torres-Gomez tweeted about this restaurant. Jessica Soho featured it. Food guru Erwan Heussaff wrote about it. Their Buttermilk Fried Chicken, their most popular dish aside from the "crunchy pork belly with fried potato strips", has been shortlisted as "one of the 6 fried chicken to try in Manila" by ABS-CBN's online reviews. Little did I realize that their SM Aura branch just opened last December, the same month I visited the place with my friend.

If it's good food you're after, come visit.

This is the Eye in the Sky!
That's manchego cheese, the Spanish cheese from La Mancha, with bits of toffee nuts and bacon.

SM Aura's Kettle is located at the Sky Park, Level 5, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig. For more information call them at (63-2) 887-3564. No reservations needed, but the place fills up fast especially on weekends, after 6 PM.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Memories of the Fallen in Taukkyan (Myanmar)

From Yangon (Myanmar), on your way to Bagan up north, you can get off your ride and check out this memorial cemetery where 2,700 British soldiers perished during World War II. The inclusive period of deaths was placed between 1939 and 1945. Between each grave were plants (like roses) beautifully maintained. Some unnamed graves were marked with "A soldier from the 1939-1945 war" written on their tombs. In front of all these wrote: "Their names (sic) liveth for evermore."

If you like almost-deserted spaces, pillars, and reminders of the follies of war, then Allied War Memorial Cemetery is worth a short detour. The cemetery is located in Taukkyan, in the township of Mingaladon, about 35 kilometers from Yangon.

This is the Eye in the Sky.

This photo only courtesy of