Food tour in Paris with a local

Food tour in Paris with a local

France is for many synonymous with food, so what could be more natural than to experience this part of the culture with a local who knows the food scene as her own pocket?

The website WithLocals has gathered residents in several cities all over the world, offering various excursions, meals in private homes, and as I was now about to try; food tours. I previously had good experience from this service, so I was very eager to repeat the success. To be completely honest, this was the first thing I checked after the plane tickets were booked.

I instantly fell for the trip “Paris Favourite Food tour: the 10 Tastings” and thought that it had to be the perfect way to be acquainted with the Parisian food culture.

A few weeks later the time was suddenly there. One of my weaknesses is to underestimate how long it takes to go from one place to another in big cities, but Maria waited patiently outside a bakery right next to Marche d’Aligre. This was also where she bought the classic long French baguette that would accompany us through the streets. The first time was in symphony with lovely tapenade from one of the stalls of the Marche d’Aligre. The variations were many, so we were having a really hard time determining which one to choose before we decided to rely on Maria’s taste buds and went for her favorite; Tapenade with basil. We did not regret, and consumed pieces of baguette dipped in tapenade while Maria knowledgeable told us about this historical place. Marche d’Aligre is dating back to the 1700 ‘s, but since it is a wooden construction, parts of it has burned many times. The market hall is a historic building, and therefore has to be rebuilt the same way as the original.

Wide selection of tapenade at Marche d'Aligre. Food tour Paris, France. Withlocals

Wide selection of tapenade at Marche d’Aligre.

Marche d’Aligre is the local market in District 12. All districts have their own market, but this is the only one in Paris being open throughout the week. Here you will find all kinds of fresh produce from the countryside, depending on the season.

We went for a walk around and looked at all the delights while working up the appetite. Fortunately, next stop was not far away.

Right across the street from the market, we sat down at Charolais, a popular bar among the people working at the market. It is the only place in Paris open for breakfast as early as 06.00. We were way passed that hour now though, and oysters were next on the menu. According to Maria, are these the best oysters in Paris, and are delivered from the market. I have to admit that oysters are not a part of my everyday food, but we enjoyed a few pieces each with a little bit of lemon squeezed on top. Super fresh and delicious!

Delicious fresh oysters at Charolais. Food tour Paris, France. Withlocals

Delicious fresh oysters at Charolais.

From salty and bitter, we were now heading for sweet. As we walked through the streets, Maria told us about the area. For the small community it is important to maintain the offers available, so if a bakery had to close down, people who want to start up a new bakery has priority. Thanks to this, it had been a bakery at the premises of our next stop for 150 years.

Paris-Brest is a cake that is inspired by the bicycle race that runs between the two cities. Originally, it was formed like a bicycle wheel with a hole in the middle, but is now available in various shapes. With cream of hazelnut and chestnut, and pastry with almonds, this is not something for nut allergic. For us on the other hand, it was lovely.

Paris-Brest cake. Food tour Paris, France. Withlocals

Paris-Brest cake.

French wine was next runner up, pared with cheeses and cured meats. The location was a combined wine shop, bar and gallery, a quiet and comfortable place. They only offer organic wine, so Maria could assure that our teeth would still be white, and we would not get a headache. If consumption was moderate, that is….

Ici Meme, a great place for wine! Food tour Paris, France. Withlocals

Ici Meme, a great place for organic wine!

Wine, charcutterie and cheese planche. Food tour Paris, France. Withlocals

Wine, charcutterie and cheese planche.

The wine was so good that we stayed for a bit longer than planned. Moving on, we continued through narrow passages and around historic sites, and the trendy design- and party area in the 11th District, before we reached a delicate cheese store. It was too much to choose from, so again we relied on Maria’s recommendation; a sharp blue cheese. The baguette that had accompanied us throughout the evening again came to use.

So much nice cheese to choose from! Food tour Paris, France. Withlocals

So much nice cheese to choose from!

From flavorful cheese it was time for sweet dessert again. The selection of macrons at Maison Georges Larnicol were many, but we were able to coordinate by taking two different flavors each and taste from each other. Heavenly!

The large collection of macrons at Georges Larnicol. Food tour Paris, France. Withlocals

The large collection of macrons at Georges Larnicol.

The winners at Georges Larnicol. Food tour Paris, France. Withlocals

The winners at Georges Larnicol.

Georges Larnicol is originally from the region of Brittany, and followed in his father’s footsteps and became the pastry chef and opened his first pastry shop in the 80’s. He quickly made success and opened more stores in the region. In 2010, he started his first one in Paris, but despite his success, he is one of the few pastry chefs and chocolatiers that keep the prices affordable. He believes that quality should be available to all. A nice philosophy.

The original tour would have continued on to sample some Galette au fromage (a savory crepe made of buckwheat) but we completely fell for the charm of the restaurants in the archways around the Place des Vosges when we passed by earlier, so we decided to go back there instead. The square was built between 1605 and 1612, and is the oldest in Paris. Originally it was named Place Royale, and was an important meeting place for the nobility. After the revolution, the square was renamed to take the name of the first region in France that did not pay the royal tax.

We found a spot by the heating lamps outside Ma Bourgogne. The warm toned lighting under the archways created a unique ambiance while we enjoyed even more French specialties; snails and beef tartar. And a little more French wine, of course.

Warm atmosphere outside Ma Bourgogne. Food tour Paris, France. Withlocals

Warm atmosphere sitting outside Ma Bourgogne.

Traditional snails at Ma Bourgogne. Food tour Paris, France. Withlocals

Traditional snails at Ma Bourgogne.

Maria was the perfect guide, combining the experience of eating our way through Paris with educational facts. Even if Maria is the one designing the tour, she has taught the route to several others who can give you good experiences in this wonderful food universe if she is not available.

Were you tempted by this wonderful dining experience in Paris? The trip “Paris Favourite Food tour: the 10 Tastings” can also be customized, as we ended up doing. Since we chose a more expensive option, we paid the extra at the last restaurant. You can also plan your own version with the guide in advance.

In addition to the food tour, you can also see other experiences in Paris offered by With Locals.

Staying overnight at YOTELAIR at Schiphol

Premium cabin at YOTELAIR at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol.

Premium cabin at YOTELAIR at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol.

You have probably all experienced it, long connections at the airport between flights. Long layovers can be a pain in the ass, but it does not have to be like that. 

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is a major connecting hub, and for many visitors that means long layovers, often in connection with long and exhausting flights. Make most of the time and get some nice rest by check in at YOTELAIR for a few hours, or even for the night.  

Entering what I named the pink light district, the dimmed light and the absence of sounds gave me an instant feeling I would have a good night sleep. Unlike the red-light district downtown, you come here for rest, not different kinds of entertainment. The room can be rented by the hour, or you can spend the whole night. Just remember to shut the window blinds so you do not become the entertainment…

The room is well exploited, and has everything you need. The bed is made up as a couch when you enter, with a folding table just in front of it. Above that, there is a TV, and several electric sockets including USB, to fit all zones. Genius in case you sent your adapter in the checked luggage…

If you did not send any luggage and have a fair share of carry-on, there is a lot of space for your belongings under the bed. 

The bathroom is surprisingly spacious, with a huge monsoon rain shower, and body wash and shampoo included. The restroom is separated with a glass wall, but there is a curtain to cover it up. If you prefer more privacy, you can send your travel partner to the reception to sit and enjoy the free coffee, tea or hot chocolate that is served 24 hours.

The bathroom in a Premium cabin at YOTELAIR at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. There is also a monsoon rain shower.

The bathroom in a Premium cabin at YOTELAIR at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. There is also a monsoon rain shower.

We arrived around 21.30, and I was honestly surprised that all the shops and restaurants were closed already. We had eaten dinner at the last airport, but if you are hungry, it is good to know that you can order food and drinks at the reception 24/7.

Are you the same as me, always a light sleeper when you know you have to wake up early and do not completely trust your mobile to wake you? The reception provide you an extra alarm clock, just in case.

Then it is time to flatten out the bed by using the electronic buttons on the side, and tuck yourself in for a good night (or some hours) sleep in the comfortable bed.

Just remember to calculate time to exit the passport control in the morning…

How to get there:
If you arrive at A, B, C or D, you have to go through the passport control to get to YOTELAIR. If you arrive late it might seem closed, but there will be a security guard there to let you through. Once you get through, go upstairs, as YOTELAIR is situated more or less just above the passport control.

Are you not flying through Schiphol? Do not despair; you find YOTELAIR at London Heathrow and Gatwick and at Charles de Gaulle in Paris as well.

Book your next comfortable airport stay at www.yotel.com.

Boracay island, The Philippines

Boracay has been voted one of the most beautiful islands in the world, and therefor attract very many tourists. Visiting in high season of course have the disadvantages of even more people.

Boracay island seen from above. Philippines.

Boracay island seen from above.

With that said, it really is a beautiful beach, long stretched, white and powdered. The beach is just perfectly shallow for children, and  the deeper water is just about close enough for adults to reach it without hassle. The thing that bothered me were the lack of authentic charm and the same shops with typical souvenirs you can find at any beach destination all over the world.

The beach at Station 3 in Boracay island. The Philippines

The beach at Station 3 in Boracay island, The Philippines

The beach at Station 3.

The beach in Boracay island. The Philippines

The beach in Station 2.

I decided to look past that fact, sit at the beach literally turning my back towards it, and focusing on the magnificent sunset. Colors painted all over the blue canvas backdrop, with some white clouds to make the extra contrasts. Sitting in the sand with drops of salty water slowly running down the chin, the wet hair hanging down at my back, border lining the feeling of cooling down and being too cold. The sight of the sunset still sends waves of happiness through my body (I am crazy about sunsets). Top it with an ice cold beer and good company, it is all you need.

Beautiful sunset at Boracay island, The Philippines. Beautiful sunset at Boracay island, The Philippines.

Staying at Villa Romero at Station 3 was a great location. Close enough to walk to most places, far enough from the party noise to get a good night sleep. To make it clear, we were not at Boracay to party all night, we were there to enjoy the beauty and some drinks along the beach. And the new year’s party with fireworks.

If you come to party, it is a great place with a large variety of venues for every desire. From quiet drinks at the beach, to bar hopping, to heavy mad dancing all night.

Street sellers are everywhere, if you sit at the beach they come to you, but they will leave you alone if you tell them no. If you actually need the things they are selling, you should go ahead and buy it. Supply and demand rocks, and you will not get it cheaper anywhere else (in my experience). If you do not have one already, dry bags will probably come in handy later on. Do not expect them to be 100 % waterproof (read: do not drag them under water), but they absolutely do the trick when you get splashed by a wave or have to wade to/from a boat. Trust me, one of the mentioned will most probably happen during your trip.

It is also a good trick for solo travelers so you can bring your valuables when you go for a dip. Trust is a good thing, but sadly not everyone can be trusted.

Relaxing mood sitting in a bean bag at the beach. Boracay Island, The Philippines

Enjoying pre-dinner drinks and sunset in a bean bag at the beach.

New Years Eve; we wanted to splurge ourselves with a nice and fancy meal. After all, it is only new years once a year, and it has to be fun, right? This is exactly what I try to run away from every year, though. We ended up with a buffet at a hotel by the beach. Not the most expensive, but by far the cheapest. Afterwards I cursed myself for not remembering that buffets are seldom particularly good. They tend to try to please everyone, ending up quite tasteless. In hindsight we could easily have eaten at a much simpler place and had a much better experience. However, if you want a beach setting, sadly they know how to charge you for it.

Nice and relaxing atmosphere at Summers Place. Boracay island, the Philippines

Nice and relaxing atmosphere at Summers Place. Before the party crowd came.

At least we left without being hungry for anything else than drinks. Ending up at a quite easy going bar, feet in the sand and happy people walking by, life was quite good. Time was running by fast, and soon it was midnight and time for fireworks. Stocked up with a large bottle of sparkling wine from the local sari-sari shop to share, we were ready to greet the New Year. Exactly a year ago, I promised myself to be at a beach for the next New Year’s, it was so much better than the cramped city life in KL last year!

The Filipinos do know how to put on a firework show. Standing in a long line, not too cramped, along the white beach, we could all watch the fireworks being send up from rafts in the sea.

Down at the beach watching the fireworks at New Year's Eve in Boracay Island, The Philippines Fireworks at New Year's Eve in Boracay Island, The Philippines

How long you want to continue the party is up to you. You certainly have the option to make it all through the morning.

A new year at Boracay Island. One of the many sand sculptures at the beach.

Anyway, there is more to Boracay than the beach on the west side. Taking a tricycle to Puka beach, showed us a completely different side of the island. The sand is not as nice, and the waves much more harsh, but the vibe is more relaxing. There are a few beach bars with sunbeds scattered around, and they could probably mix up some food if you get hungry. For the active ones, the locals play frisbee and you are more than welcome to join.

Driving through local villages on our way to Puka Beach. Boracay Island, The Philippines.

Driving through local villages on our way to Puka Beach.

Puka beach at Boracay Island, The Philippines

Banka boat at Puka beach, Boracay Island, The Philippines

Banka boat at Puka beach.

Playing frisbee at Puka beach. Boracay Island, The Philippines

Playing frisbee at Puka beach.

Puka beach, Boracay Island, The Philippines

Relaxing at Puka Beach. Boracay Island, The Philippines

We joined forces with some guys we met there, and continued exploring the island. Arriving at Ilig-Iligan beach, we did not intend to stay too long. Just go for a dip and a quick lunch. There was nothing quick about the lunch though. But, in island paradise there is no rush (except when you have a plane to catch…). When we thought we had waited far too long and started to make jokes among ourselves that they probably had to slaughter the chicken (adobo), they came over and said that they would start cooking. The food was on the table two hours after we ordered, but it was absolutely nice and tasty, and worth waiting for.

Ilig-Iligan beach at Boracay Island, The Philippines

Ilig-Iligan beach.

Time to relax at Ilig-Iligan beach at Boracay Island, The Philippines Care for a coconut? Ilig-Iligan beach at Boracay Island, The Philippines Coconut at Ilig-Iligan beach at Boracay Island, The Philippines

Despite the fact that we were running late, we still went through with our plan to go via Mt. Luhu for a great view of the island. The tricycle had a real struggle working it’s way up the steep hill, but the view was rewarding.

View of Boracay from Mount Luhu viewpoint. Boracay Island, The Philippines

View of Boracay from Mount Luhu viewpoint.

The tricycle waited for us and got us back to our hotel just in time for our pick up for the airport…

How to get to Boracay
Boracay is a relatively small island, with no airport. You can either fly into Caticlan (MPH) (sometimes mentioned as Boracay Airport) or to Kalibo (KLO). Flights to Caticlan tend to be a bit more expensive than Kalibo, but from Kalibo to Boracay it takes about 2 hours extra so you can decide yourself how much your time is worth.

Arriving at Caticlan, we were offered a door-to-door package for 600PHP per person. You can also walk right past the mini vans to get a tricycle to the boat terminal and buy the boat ticket and terminal fee there, and then get another tricycle to your accommodation on the other side. We decided time was more worth than money, and went for the easy package. In the end we were waiting quite some time to be picked up, so it probably would have been just as effective to arrange everything by ourselves.

The banka boat going to Boracay island. The Philippines.

The banka boat going to Boracay island.

From Boracay to Kalibo we did the same (paying 650PHP per person), but you can easily get a tricycle to the pier and buy the boat+van from there for 250PHP per person operated by CBTMPC Budget Tours. I have no idea about their schedule as it does not say on the web site, but if you need to know in order to plan flight etc, you can contact them. If it is not that crucial, you can ask when you arrive to the quay in Boracay, so you know the details for going back.

Where to eat
Honestly, I was not too impressed with the food I experienced in Boracay. The only place worth mentioning was Smoke. They have good local Filipino cuisine to an affordable price. They have one restaurant inside D-Mall, and one at Bulabog Beach at the other side. As their restaurant in D-Mall was full, they offered to take us for free to Bulabog Beach. We thought it would be great to see a bit more of the island anyway, so it was a win-win. As the weather turned bad and the wind was crazy, we ended up not seeing anything except the restaurant, but still it was enjoyable and we at least got to see some of the back streets along the way.

Walking around inside D Mall. Boracay Island, The Philippines

Walking around inside D Mall, Smoke restaurant on the right side.

Where to sleep
We stayed at Villa Romero in Station 3. The rooms were quite small, but clean, and as we spent minimum time there, it was ok.

Room at Villa Romero at Station 3 at Boracay island. The Philippines.

Locals and tourists enjoying the last of the day before the sun sets. Boracay Island, The Philippines.

24 hours in Manila

Manila is for many just a stopover on the way to the many beach destinations or to the north of the Philippines. Here are some suggestions how to make the most of 24 hours in Manila.

Morning
Start with a breakfast of your choice, either at the hotel or one of the cafes or bakeries. If you are within walking distance to the LRT1 line, I recommend taking a stroll there while witnessing the daily life of the locals along the way. Kids on their way to school, workers in the shops and repairs, and even the younger kids doing their morning bath outside the house. They are all smiling and wishing you a good morning.

Once you get on the LRT1, take it to Abad Santos, the station closest to the south entrance for the Chinese Cemetery. I seem to have a thing for cemeteries these days. At least the more unusual ones, like the Merry Cemetery in Romania and now also the Chinese Cemetery in Manila.

By the entrance gate, there are several guides you can hire to take you to the best mausoleums, and even inside some of them. They started with 300PHP per person for a little more than an hour, but you can try to bargain.

We decided to just walk around by ourselves and ended up getting a small tour of our own by a local family that were visiting the grandparents and great grandparents, the latter being the ones immigrating to the Philippines from China. The mausoleums near the entrance are the same height, being the newest and most modern. Many of them are decorated almost as apartments, including hot and cold running water, bathrooms and air-condition!
Chinese Cemetery. Manila, Philippines
The older ones vary in height, and the richer the deceased were, the higher the houses and monuments were built. It felt like walking through a ghost town, quite literally. Like a deserted version of Wisteria Lane. The calm and quiet atmosphere felt like a very welcome break after walking around the busy streets of Manila.

The streets in the Chinese Cemetery can look like any other street. Manila, Philippines

The streets in the Chinese Cemetery can look like any other suburbia street.

Monument inside the Chinese Cemetery. Manila, Philippines Family mausoleum at the Chinese Cemetery. Manila, Philippines

The mausoleums are very expensive to maintain, so sadly many cannot afford to keep them. Instead, they remove the stone coffins with their loved ones, and cremate them instead.

A deserted grave at the Chinese Cemetery. Manila, Philippines

A deserted grave at the Chinese Cemetery.

Walking past some of the graves, I reacted that the names did not seem very Chinese. I heard several different explanations. The most obvious reason is that Chinese married Filipinos, but we were also told that many of the Chinese immigrants changed to Filipino names to blend in and get better social status. Another explanation is that by law 60 % of a business must be owned by a Filipino. However, the Filipino government made an exception for the Chinese entrepreneurs so they could start their own business, but in exchange they had to change their names to at least have the business registered in a Filipino name.

In the back there is a whole street with smaller chambered graves. Getting closer, I realized they were children’s graves. Some of them died in young age, others even the day they were born. Children were not allowed to be buried at the Chinese Cemetery, so they were cremated and their ashes were placed in this row.

The graves for children at the Chinese Cemetery. Manila, Philippines

The graves for children.

We could have walked around for hours, but our hunger told us to get going.

Afternoon
From the Chinese Cemetery we got on a tricycle to Chinatown for lunch. The spot where our driver let us off did not resemble Chinatown at all, but he pointed us in the direction of Ongpin street. Here it was definitely more bustling, with well-known Chinese symbols hanging all over.

Chinatown in Manila, Philippines

We located Mei Sum Tea House and asked the waiter to pick a few different dishes to share. She did well, and we left the restaurant full and satisfied.

Busy streets in Manila, Philippines

Walking down to Intramuros, a walled city area considered as the old town of Manila. The citadel was funded by the Spanish Colonials in 1571, and include Fort Santiago as the main tourist attraction. It is a beautiful area with lots of green space for recreation as well as the historical buildings. This is also where José Rizal imprisoned while awaiting execution in 1896. Don’t know who he is? You should absolutely look him up before you go, but you will also learn about his many achievement through his young age of 35 at the Razal Shrine. To give you a brief summary, he is considered a national hero in the Philippines fighting for freedom from Spain. He was sentenced to death for that reason, but it served as a catalyst for the struggle for Philippine independence and the birth of the Filipino nation. As if that in itself was not enough, he was also an author of novels, poems and comics, and while in exile in Dapitan, he discovered two species of frog and lizard. Among very many other things. I must admit, it felt a bit special to walk around and peak into his cell where he spent his last full day on earth, exactly 120 years ago.

Nice and green areas inside Fort Santiago. The fort is a part of Intramuros, the old town of Manila, Philippines Fort Santiago inside the old town of Manila, Intramuros. Philippines Jose Rizal. Manila, Philippines

Walking in his footsteps while exiting the fortress, we were happy we could continue to Manila House instead of following the rest of his path…

The footsteps of José Rizal. Manila, Philippines

The footsteps of José Rizal.

Entering the impressive Manila House was like stepping back to the colonial time. Room by room you witness the grand wooden furniture and artifacts along with interesting small facts. The dining room had a large dark green velvet cloth hanging above the table. Convenient both as a manual fan and to keep the flies away.

The master bedroom inside the Manila House in Intramuros. Manila, Philippines

The master bedroom inside the Manila House.

The dining room inside the Manila House in Intramuros. Manila, PhilippinesA street in Intramuros, the old walled city in Manila, PhilippinesStreet in Intramuros, the old walled city in Manila, Philippines

Sunset time
Time flies, and it was time to decide whether to enjoy the sunset in the area we were and go home to change after, or to rush back to dress up before sunset drinks and dinner. We went for the latter option. Missing the sunset was not an option, even though it easily could have ended that way. The first obstacle was the traffic jam. Most people have heard about the terrible traffic conditions in Manila, but so far we had been really lucky. Until now. We had pinned 71 Gramercy as the place to be when day turned to night. Passing Greenbelt it should be an easy drive straight ahead on Makati Avenue. Problem was that as it is one of the main roads, everybody else wanted to be on it as well. Just when I was about to realize we would not make it, the traffic went smooth, and suddenly we were there. Just in time for the second obstacle; 71 Gramercy was closed for renovation! Luckily I had observed another potential rooftop right next door (to be honest I thought it was 71 Gramercy), so we hurried over to City Garden Grand Hotel. The sun was already setting, but we made it just in time to sit down with a cold drink as the sky was painted yellow, red and purple.

Dusk in in Manila, Philippines Sunset in Manila, Philippines

Evening
Heading back to Greenbelt for a little bit of shopping with a stop in a bar for a drink and some snacks to keep us going a bit longer. Shopping done, more drinks (and snacking dinner) awaited. I have a thing for secret bars when I travel, so we went to try out a few of them, starting with Exit Bar.

Exit bar. Speakeasy bar in Manila, Philippines

Exit Bar is a speakeasy bar located inside the Corinta Plaza. If you enter from the backside, the entrance is through the first exit door in the hall leading to Plaza Café. If you enter through the Plaza Café, the exit door is at the far end of the hall in the back. Walking through that exit door is like entering a time machine. The room is dimly lit, with a cohesive leather sofa along the dark brown paneled walls, accompanied with round tables of imitated marble. The only sources of light are the illuminations behind the bar shelves, and the yellow and black retro lamp, acknowledging both the purpose and time period of these secret bars.

Depending on how long you want to stretch the 24 hours in Manila, try the other secret bars I recommend in Manila.

Sleeping
The two areas Makati and Bonifical are considered the safest. We decided to stay in Makati as it also has a reputation of good nightlife. Gervasia Hotel Makati is a simple but ok budget hotel conveniently situated near the toll way, taking us less than 15 minutes both from and to the airport. At the same time it is within walking distance to the Greenbelt area, and also many of the speakeasy bars in Manila if you are heading for the nightlife. Personally I love just walking around to explore, so if you consider the 30 min walk to the LRT a part of that, it is perfect.

 

Secret bars in Manila

The concept of speakeasy bars comes from the years of prohibition when it was illegal to sell alcohol. Manila has many of these secret bars spread out in the city. They are obviously not that secret, you will find most of them on Google Maps, but it is still exciting to walk around looking for them, and then see whatever they have come up with as a cover.

Exit Bar
This speakeasy bar is located inside the Corinta Plaza. If you enter from the backside, the entrance is through the first exit door in the hall leading to Plaza Café. If you enter through the Plaza Café, the exit door is at the far end of the hall in the back. Walking through that exit door is like entering a time machine. The room is dimly lit, with a cohesive leather sofa along the dark brown paneled walls, accompanied with round tables of imitated marble. The only sources of light are the illuminations behind the bar shelves, and the yellow and black retro lamp, acknowledging both the purpose and time period of these secret bars.
Exit bar. Speakeasy bar in Manila, Philippines

Blind Pig
Located in the quiet side street Salcedo, nothing gives away the location before you are right outside the door. I am not going to tell you how you know, but you will absolutely get the point once you are there. Knocking on the black door, one of the bar keepers let you in and guide you to one of the booths. The lighting was of course dimmed here as well, and the large chandelier hanging from the ceiling was off. The walls were lighter here though, with metallic tiles covering parts of it. The atmosphere was peaceful with calm music from the 20’s in the background. We could almost hear the crackle from the gramophone even though it obviously was played from more modern equipment.
Oh, by the way. The location on Google Maps is slightly wrong, just to let you know.
The Blind Pig. Speakeasy bar in Manila, Philippines

Bank Bar
Your clue is the 7/11 in the RCBC Bank building on 26th street. Enter the white door on the left by the counter. It leads to a small storeroom with articles like cups of noodles, tin cans and bottles of sauces. Walk through the dark curtain, and the bar will be revealed.
Bank bar has a bit different vibe then the two previous. It is a bit lighter and has a more modern feel with the open industrial style ceiling and a DJ. The marble floor tiles and the seating areas with plush chairs in soft colors soak you right back to the earlier decades again, though. The name comes from being inside a bank building, and the barkeepers wear bulletproof vests as a part of the uniform.
Do not leave without checking out the bathroom.
Bank Bar. Speakeasy bar in Manila, Philippines Drinks at Bank Bar. Speakeasy bar in Manila, Philippines

ABV
Lazy Bastard burgers at the corner of Jupiter st. and Galaxy host the secret bar ABV. Once you get down the stairs, turn right through the large wooded door. You will then find yourself inside a replica of an old elevator. Follow the chess tiles to the other end. This bar was more lively than the others were (could also be the fact that it was getting later), and the chatting almost drowned the contemporary music from the prohibition period.
The entrance to ABV through an elevator. Speakeasy bar in Manila, Philippines ABV. Speakeasy bar in Manila, Philippines

Mandalay
Do not let the hordes and loud noise at The Belle&Dragon scare you away. Embrace yourself and swift your way past them, heading for the bathrooms. In the hall just outside stands a large wardrobe like the one known from The Chronicles of Narnia. And the resemblance continues; ones you open the wardrobe and enter, you pass through hanging clothes and enter at the other side. It is in fact quite cold in there, but instead of snow and winter, you find exotic interior, including a large world globe and two giant stone lions guarding the bar!
While the guests relax in the Chesterfield inspired furniture, the barkeepers serve whiskey from all corners of the world. A nice and quiet oasis!
Mandalay. Speakeasy bar in Manila, Philippines

Have you been to any of these or other speakeasy bars in Manila?

 

Gili Meno – a relaxing paradise

Gili Meno instantly gave a completely different impression than the neighboring island Gili Trawangan. Even though I found Gili T less chaotic than expected, Gili Meno was a whole different story. Jumping onto the horse-and-carriage at the pier, slowly trotting our way on the narrow dusty paths towards the northwestern side, I swear I could feel inner peace.

Horse transport at Gili Meno island, Indonesia

Alternative accommodation
As it is more convenient to have a place booked before arrival, we found Balenta Bungalow Gili Meno online. It looked nice on the photos, but what met us did unfortunately not live up to the expectations. The bungalow was nice, but the restaurant and beach area had a dark feel to it, and the staff were a bit unprofessional, making inappropriate comments. Luckily, we had only booked one night, so I went to have a look at Sunset Beach Bungalows right next door. It was a totally different vibe, both with the people and the look of the area. The restaurant at the beach was cozy with bamboo tables and chairs painted white, with a small picket fence and a few lush green bushes towards the beachfront.  For relaxing in the shade, there were “cottages” in the back, half a meter above the ground, providing the little extra breeze.

The nice restaurant and beach area at Sunset Beach Bungalows. Gili Meno island, Indonesia

The nice restaurant and beach area at Sunset Beach Bungalows.

Relaxing beach life. Sunset Beach Bungalows. Gili Meno island, Indonesia

Blackout with a thousand stars
The Gili islands quite frequently experience power outages. One of the advantages when the power goes out, is that the thousands of stars pop out on the sky above. There is something special about sitting down at the beach, looking up at the stars, listening to the waves roll against the shore. A really calming sensation.

Exploring in the mornings
Waking up with the roosters, we decided to go for a walk around the island before it got too hot. In oppose to Gili T, where the accommodations were tightly packed along the beach, they were more scattered here. They come in all shapes and comforts, from fancy boutique hotels to dodgy rundown bungalows (some could barely even be called that). And all in between, of course!

One morning walking around the island, the next exploring the inner parts. Being awake even before the wind, we were rewarded by a mirroring surface at the island lake. And the early-bird mosquitoes found their reward in me, unfortunately resulting in a shorter stay by the peaceful lake than wanted.

Moving on through the silence, I caught myself being surprised how lush green the island is, even though the rainy season just ended. The grazing kettle looked happy, fishermen were repairing their boats, and a cat sleeping in the sun after washing the dishes.

Nice walking paths at Gili Meno island, Indonesia

Boat life at Gili Meno island, Indonesia

Boat repair. Gili Meno island, IndonesiaLush green at Gili Meno island, Indonesia Reflecting lake at Gili Meno island, Indonesia Happy cow at Gili Meno island, Indonesia

Goats who stare at men (or woman in this case). Gili Meno island, Indonesia

Goats who stare at men (or woman in this case).

Nice door. Gili Meno island, Indonesia
Lazy cat in the sun. Gili Meno island, Indonesia

Local fishermen. Gili Meno island, Indonesia
Under the surface
When in Gili, you simply just have to go snorkeling. You can either go on one of the tours, or go by yourself. We went for the latter option, and later also found out that the tours go to three spots that we could easily swim to our self from where we were staying. Sadly, there is a rather thick belt of dead corals just off the beachfront, obviously with not much to see. Time for a little serious talk; do not stand up on the corals, they will break under your weight, leaving even larger areas broken…

Continuing a bit further out, the underwater landscape change, the corals stand out with different shapes, and fishes of all sizes and colours swimming between them. It feels like laying in the surface of a giant aquarium, just observing the life. Which was more or less what we actually were doing, if you skip the aquarium part. After wading in the surface for a while, I was eager to go for the big fish (read: the giant sea turtles)! Several people had pointed out the north of the island to be a good place to spot them, so we got our legs kicking, slowly drifting through the tempered water. We were almost about to give up when my friend got all winded up, frenetic pointing at something. She had done the same with some colorful fishes in the start as well, but the enthusiasm was slightly different this time. There it was; silently sliding along the bottom. A small kick with its feet sent it graciously forward. What a beautiful peacefulness! Heading back, sliding over the large belt of dead corals was yet another reminder of people’s recklessness (and maybe even unawareness) of the consequences, so please be careful.

Gili Meno is the perfect place for total relaxation. Slow walks in the mornings, beach life and water cooling during the day, and beautiful sunsets at the beach in the evening. A true relaxing paradise!

Bali volcano view. Gili Meno island, Indonesia

The perfect ending of the day. Sunset and beer at the beach. Gili Meno island, Indonesia

Gili Trawangan – a complex island

Dozing off to the sound of the waves gently rolling against the beach, occasionally waking up to the sound of the horses with carriage passing by. Even though it sounds like the intro to “Jingle bells”, that is the only resemblance to Christmas. No cold snow here. The only white is the burning sand.

The only way to cool down is either by jumping (or more softly sliding) in the sea, or have a cold drink. I know, it sounds horrible…. 😉

Nice and relaxing view from the sunbed. Gili Trawangan, Indonesia

Nice and relaxing view from the sunbed.

Gili Trawangan is known to be the party island of the three Gili islands. Walking along the beach road, I can absolutely see why, but at the same time, it does not rule out the aspect of total relaxation. Yes, there are many places where you can party all night if that is what you are after, but many of the beach bars have a more chill ambiance.

To be honest, I was actually a little surprised that it did not feel more busy. But hey, I don’t complain, that was just perfect!

Staying at Casus Dream Hotel only a (strong) stone throw away from the beach, but yet in a quiet back street, was pleasant. They have a pool as well, but we never used it, so quite frankly, we might as well have stayed at Gili Breeze that was our other alternative. Or one of the many other places around.

Taking a swing while exploring Gili Trawangan. Indonesia

Taking a swing while exploring Gili Trawangan.

All along the beach there are sun beds. Some are for the accommodation guests only, while others allow outside guests. Some charge a daily rent for the sunbed (typically 100′), others let you stay for free as long as you eat and drink there. We found the latter option to be the absolute best, and found our place at Villa Unggul.

You might as well drink nice ice cold beers for the price of the sunbed. Gili Trawangan, Indonesia

You might as well drink nice ice cold beers for the price of the sunbed.

Beach front at Gili Trawangan. Indonesia

Biking for sunset
To get the feel of the island, we rented bikes to explore. Our first goal was the “ring road” around the island, but there is also a network of roads crisscrossing the inner part. Plenty of places offer bikes for rent, and we went for the first (but not the best….), paid 50′ each for 24 hour rental, and got going. Most of the way along the sea is bikeable, except for a part of the north tip where you have to get off. The sun was still strong, so we figured it would be nice to have a beer break, cooling down in the shade at Coral Beach.

Gili Trawangan, Indonesia Easy life at Gili Trawangan. Indonesia

Time to get going again, pedalling onward, passing both fancy resorts and more down-to-earth relaxed places. Horses were passing, and goats were relaxing under the shade of the trees.

Arriving at Gili Sunset Bar, we decided to settle down on one of the platforms overlooking the ocean. They got me already by combining sunset and bar…

The water was calming down, nicely reflecting the still burning hot sun. My eyes found rest on the peaky volcanoes in the dimmed horizon.

Sunset view towards Bali. Gili Trawangan, Indonesia

Sunset view towards Bali.

Sunset view towards Bali. Gili Trawangan, Indonesia

As we found our peace there until the sun had set, we did the shortcut across the island on one of the smaller roads to get back before it was completely dark.

Social local dinner
“Central” is the local food market, and a perfect place for dinner. A few stalls were spread out, and made different types of food. After a look around, we decided on the BBQ place, and ordered different skewers to share. Along with that, we got to choose some side dishes. After ordering, we were told to come back after 15 minutes, so we sat down by one of the tables with a cooling beer, and started chatting with some locals. An experience of my taste!

Food stall at Central. Gili Trawangan, Indonesia

Food stall at Central. Gili Trawangan, Indonesia

After dinner there are several options, whether you prefer a relaxing massage, hanging around at the beach, time-out with a movie at the outdoor cinema, or step it up with a party. The choice is yours.