Saturday, January 30, 2010

Alexandre: French Cafe and Bakery

It was almost 4 months ago when I first stepped into a newly opened French cafe and bakery for a meeting with a client. The place was called Alexandre located at the ground floor of the Grand Hamptons condominium in Fort Bonifacio.

Ever since, I have been retreating to this sophisticated yet surprisingly comfy cafe for an afternoon of catching up with work. One time, I decided to take pictures of the place, but at night, after a hearty dinner at Eat Well in Net Cube.

The place is owned by a french guy I guess, or a Belgian, who is always there. The staff are pleasant and very accommodating, probably because most of their guests are foreigners. I have never been to this place without seeing foreigners buy some bread, sip coffee, or enjoy their pastries. It really seems that they have marketed well to expats living nearby.

Their selection of pastries and bread is not extensive. Around a dozen kinds of pastries are displayed in a glass shelf, all looking so appetizing. For some reason, I never cared what the bestseller was. I usually come here to order my iced latte, and whatever I feel like eating on their menu, may it be crepe, croissant, quiches, or sandwiches.

I like their croque monsieur, though I find it a bit expensive. In fact, their quiches cost P390 - way expensive I think. Their food is not that excellent as well, but you wouldn't be disappointed.

So what makes me come back again and again? Well, obviously, it's the ambience. This place is a case where the atmosphere succeeds in making people feel they are paying more for the ambience than for the food. Don't get me wrong, the food is not bad as I've said. I actually like their plain crepes and egg tarts. The sophisticated interior rakes in a beautiful crowd as well, and lounging here is a joy.

Alexandre tranforms when night falls, and the place can get packed with party goers waiting for the stroke of midnight before hitting the clubs. All in all, Alexandre is also a great place where friends can chill out. I've been here more times in the afternoon though, where the people are more quiet, reading a book, surfing the internet, or just passing a lazy day by. That's why it's the best place for me to work. Free internet, cozy place, good coffee, and peaceful.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Malapascua Revisit

The first time I was in Malapascua, I had my first dive lessons. It was just an introductory dive. I remember seeing nothing but the mating of two mandarin fishes, which were said to be rare in this world. The dive wasn't deep, but the current was strong, and since we were diving at sunset, I managed to have my first night dive as well. Yes, all in one go.

Now, I am back, three years after. Malapascua is an idyllic island off the northern coast of Cebu. Bantayan Island is an hour away by boat. Most people mistake Bantayan for Malapascua. Malapascua is actually further north, and east, leaning towards Leyte. The island is known for thresher shark diving.

We took a pump boat from Maya Port in Daanbantayan (again, not Bantayan). The port for Bantayan is in Hagnaya in Bogo I think. We paid P100 each for a special one-way trip to Malapascua. The waters were rough then, so it took us 45 minutes. On smoother days, the ride takes less than 30 minutes.

Malapascua is actually famous amongst backpackers, since the Lonely Planet recommends going here. So, there are a lot of foreigners in the island, more than local tourists even. And they are not Koreans, nor Chinese and Japanese. Most are Westerners who are there to dive as well.

We stayed at Blue Water Resort, which was along Bounty Beach, the main beach in Malapascua. In this beach, a dozen resorts offers various kinds of accommodation. I have witnessed the development in the island. There are more resorts, and there is now a pathway, similar to that of Boracay along the beach. It actually reminded me of Boracay, only 10x less busy and laid back.

Rooms at Blue Water Resort ranges from P1,000 to P3,500 for the suite. The fan rooms near the beach front are perfect if you do not need A/C. I also stayed here in my last visit. There are other options, like Copacobana, which is more expensive.

I was happy that most of the restaurants and bars are still there. Sunsplash expanded to the beach front, and set-up a cozy lounge. We had a nice time drinking here in the afternoon till sunset. Sunplash also has rooms, and their restaurant/bar has a wonderful island design.

There's a pathway at the Southern end of Bounty Beach leading to another beach, which I thought had better sand quality (closer to the fineness of Boracay's). However, it is fronting a local village and the place where the ferry docks.

At one end though, one can find restaurants, such as Maldito, the first disco bar in the island and still the biggest and most happening I guess, and La Dolce Vita, a great Italian restaurant where I once had the best panacotta I have tasted.

We only spent a night in Malapascua, and it was of course not enough. I recommend Malapascua for those who want to escape crowds. Here, you get doses of Boracay, without the crowds, hawkers and madness. You can commune with nature, explore the great underwater and chill out the rest of the day.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Top Travel Experiences of 2009

2009 was a great year for local travel for me. Ironically, from my wish list for the year, I only set foot in one spot. Nevertheless, 2009 made me a live on my trusty backpack. I have taken a spectacular and unforgettable trip to Southwest China, and discovered how much Siem Reap in Cambodia has changed. I finally got to travel outside of Ho Chi Minh, particularly in Mui Ne, and experienced the villa life in Bali. However, since we're all about promoting local tourism, this list will cover only my top local travel experiences. I can't wait to experience what 2010 has in store for me.

10. Baler, Aurora
Finally, after 3 years of not being able to go on trips to Aurora, I was able to drive all the way to Baler. Passing through the majestic mountains of Sierra Madre and parts of isolated Nueva Vizcaya, I witnessed dams that looked like seas on top of mountains. Baler proved to be one of the most laid back towns I have ever been to. It's like the place forgets about time. Though I wasn't able to surf, seeing the powerful waves was enough to take my breath away.

9. Malapascua, Cebu
Back to one of my favorite islands in Cebu, Malapascua. Home of the thresher sharks, Malapascua has that island vibe that Boracay has, only 10x less busy. A lot of foreigners put Malapascua on their maps, as it is promoted in Lonely Planet. Hence, there are more foreigners than locals here.

8. Waniban Island, Mati, Davao Oriental
Mati is a peninsula in Davao Oriental around 3 hours from Davao City. It is touted to be the next big thing in Mindanao tourism. We explored Dahican Beach and Cinco Massau. However, what sealed the deal was a trip to Waniban Island, a small island near Cinco Massau. You can ride one of the outrigger boats from Cinco Massau and arrive in Waniban after 20 minutes. Waniban is best when you are the only visitors. It is a popular place for snorkeling and having a picnic.

7. Dakak Beach, Zamboanga del Norte
Dakak surprised me, and I was happy. I never expected this old resort to be as well-maintained. Having a wide white sand beach made me fall in love with it even more. You can trek up to the top of one of the rocky peaks that sandwich Dakak, and experience a breathtaking view of the coastline and the hills behind it. Dakak has just so much to offer.

6. Moalboal, Cebu
Probably the best Cebu City escape, Moalboal is only 2 hours South of the queen city. Moalboal has a lot of attractions, but people go here primarily for the diving. For beach bums, you can opt to stay in Bas Daku, where the fine white sands and sand bars will keep you burnt the whole day. Stay in Ravenala Beach Resort, for a more relaxing experience.

5. Bohol
It's also my fist time to go to Bohol. Catching a modern Supercat fastcraft from Cebu City, we conveniently arrived in Tagbilaran, before heading off to a super speed tour of the Chocolate Hills, Loboc River, a tarsier pen, and the man made forest. We stayed for one night in Alona Tropical Beach Resort in laid back Alona beach in Panglao Island. I need to go back to Bohol.
4. Bellaroca, Marinduque
Imagine Santorini in the Philippines. Bellaroca will transport you to luxurious heaven. Though very expensive, I got to experience THE life in one of the country's most beautiful resorts with great friends, 18 of them to be exact. With all the company and partying, Bellaroca will remain etched in my mind as a gift from the gods.

3. Sulu/Tawi-Tawi
This trip gave me my most unforgettable travel experience. Getting to Sulu and Tawi-Tawi was an accomplishment in itself, but seeing first hand the tumultuous town of Jolo was an experience that can never be replicated. Experiencing a kidnap threat was enough to make me realize how much I could go just to travel. Bongao was more secure, so I had the time of my life there, seeing the houses on stilts and watching the sun set behind Bud Bongao. I wish to go back to Tawi-Tawi again. Sulu? Well, as soon as it becomes safe, I will be the first to go back.

2. Siargao
Siargao is one of my dream destinations, so when I was in Surigao City, I immediately hopped on a ferry to the popular surfer's paradise island. Siargao is more than just surfing though. There are several beautiful islands that can rival those of Palawan. In fact, the entire Surigao provinces can be developed into a world-class tourist spot if the government gets their act together. A surprise in Siargao was Magpopongco in Pilar, around an hour from General Luna, the main beach town. Magpopongco has one of the most dazzling coastlines in the country, as it forms lagoons during low tide.
1. Tambobong, Dasol, Pangasinan
Finally, the best travel experience of 2009. I have to give it to Tambobong in Pangasinan. Getting here is amazing in itself. We had to drive through rough roads for an hour amidst a backdrop of rolling hills with rocks jutting out of the fields. And when you arrive in Tambobong, you will be rewarded with the best beach in mainland Luzon (only 5 hours from Manila). Powder white sand and clear blue waters (to think that Tambobong is a bustling village). Make your way to idyllic Snake Island (Colibra Island) or explore the hidden coves and caves around the area. Again, and as always, I can't wait to go back.

Pangasinan wins this year's list. Aside from Tambobong, the province has Patar Beach in Bolinao, the Hundred Islands in Alaminos and Tondol Beach in Anda. Because Pangasinan is huge, I'm sure there are still more undiscovered places waiting to be explored. Till then, happy traveling!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Top Movies of 2009

I must admit, I haven't been to the movies this year. In fact, I've only watched a dozen films in the theater this year. Seeing the line-up also, this year's offerings were not as great as last year's. I've been catching up with movies I've missed at home, and still, nothing has made an impact to me. Compared from last year, when Slumdog, Revolutionary Road, Benjamin Button, Juno, Doubt, and the rest of the gang wowed me. It was even difficult to make a top 10 list with all the nice movies. Now, I'm complaining there's no good movie yet. So, as plain as it is, here are my top movies for 2009.

10. Inglorius Basterds
It's a Quentin film on the Nazi occupation, so it must be interesting. I can't help but be reminded of Kill Bill, which I thought was better. Despite the long dialogues, Basterds was suspenseful, and kept me impatient on what's to happen next.

9. Star Trek
One of the first good movies of the year, Star Trek received high grades from the critics. There was never a dull moment in Star Trek, and the movie even made me interested in the entire epic. I'm not a Star Trek fan, but seeing the growing years of Spock and Kirk felt like I was watching them since the 80s.

8. 2012
Ok, I am a fan of disaster films, so when i heard about 2012, it became my most anticipated film of the year. This time, I didn't care how impossible the limo survived a massive earthquake and how stereotypical the characters were. 2012 satisfied my craving for disaster porn. It also fed me with overflowing curiosity on how much of the events in the movie could be true.

7. Julie & Julia
At first, I thought it was a chick flick or a period film. Little did I know that it was both, but Julie and Julia was more than that. The movie was all about the joys of cooking, and how goals do change lives. It made me smile all throughout, seeing butter, poached eggs, lobsters, and beef bourguignon. I pigged out afterwards.

6. Avatar
The movie that set the standards in animation and visual effects. You have to see it on 3D, or better yet in IMAX to experience the full force of Avatar. Though the training scenes were too long (they could have shortened everything to one scene), Avatar's amazing animation kept me breathless for 2.5 hours.

5. The Hangover
The comedy of the year. Nuff said. Seriously, the movie made you forget what happened the night before, and instead, made you focus on the bogus incidents that happened the day after. And when the credits roll, the movie just drops the bomb to reveal the mystery of the night before. Brilliant.

4. Where The Wild Things Are
I downloaded the soundtrack after hearing Heads Up. If the soundtrack was great, the movie must be also. Music plays a big part in movies. And so, even with some script flaws, Where Wild Things Are gifts us with its wild emotions, then hurls us back to reality.

3. Up in the Air
This recession tale starring George Clooney tells us the story of a man who doesn't believe in commitments. Of course, the movie shows the realization that he is wrong, and after falling for a woman who doesn't seem to care about relationships as well. The movie was well written and directed by Jason Reitman, who also directed Juno and Thank You for Smoking. It has quirky dialogues and an ending that will leave you stumped and thinking what you really have in your backpack.

2. District 9
There was abuzz when it came out, some liked it, but more people were appalled by it. So, I had to find where I stand. I watched the film and found it quite good. I liked the documentary style, and the surprisingly simple plot.
1. The Hurt Locker
Easily the only film that has made an impact on me. The direction was superb. It really made me feel the unfortunate circumstances of these bomb detonators. It was gripping, moving and concise. Definitely one of the best war movies I've seen as well.

I am finishing this article after the Oscar nominations have been announced. I am against 10 nominations for best picture. It just degrades the category by letting a lot of movies into that prestigious list. I really don't know why this was done. Anyway, my vote goes out to The Hurt Locker of course, but I wouldn't mind if Avatar becomes king of the world.


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