Sunrise hike at Batur volcano

There is a reason why I have seen far more sunsets than sunrises, but that makes them even more special. Hearing about the Sunrise hike to Batur volcano, I decided I could sleep when I got back home, and signed up for the tour.

At 02.02 in the morning, just a couple minutes late, I was ready outside the hotel to be picked up. The intense heat I had experienced the day before was definitely not present, and I was almost shivering. It was probably a combination of absence of sun and lack of sleep, giving a coldness from the inside that cannot immediately get warmer by putting on more clothes. As it was pitch black and not much to see outside, I took a power nap in the car. After about an hour drive we stopped for a quick breakfast; banana pancakes and hot drinks. I must admit that the warm tea helped a little bit getting my temperature up.

The drive continued in the dark, and I dozed off several times. Arriving at the parking lot at the foot of the volcano, we teamed up with the guide. After a short briefing we were, in a friendly but firm tone, ordered to visit the bathroom before we got started.

With our headlights on, we strolled through the fields before the ascent. The hike went zigzagging upwards and upwards in the pale lights from the headlights, while hearing encouraging voices from the dark. The gravel made the trail slippery, and it sometimes felt we slipped back two steps for every one we made forward. Still we suddenly arrived at the first stop for some rest.

The cold draft quickly cooled down the sweat, so after a short break and some sips of water, we were back at our feet. About two hours after we started the hike, we arrived at the top of Batur, 1717 meters above sea level. It was about to get lighter, but the sun was still nowhere to be seen.

Sitting down with our second breakfast, we were gazing at the horizon but at the same time constantly keeping an eye out for the monkeys that took every chance they got to steel from the ones that were not paying attention.

The damp weather and the steam from the volcano made our clothes quite moist. Fortunately, I had brought enough clothes to keep warm, but the sarong I lent to one of the others felt wetter than after a day at the beach. Luckily, it did not take long before the sun broke through the clouds, and we could see the outline of the volcanic mountain in the horizon on the orange backdrop.

Sunrise at Batur Volcano. Bali, Indonesia. Watching the sunrise at Batur Volcano. Bali, Indonesia.

While multiple sunrise photos were taken, the guides made us eggs cooked on the steam from the volcano. It is strange how food cooked outdoors always taste a little better. A rain shower creating a rainbow as a cupola over the crater, brought our cameras back out.

Egg cooked by volcano steam. Batur Volcano. Bali, Indonesia. Rainbow over Batur Volcano. Bali, Indonesia.

Making our way back down, we walked around the lush green crater. Even though we could now see the surface better, it was easy to underestimate the cruelty and speed of the sliding pebbles… Controlling the speed on the other hand, was fun.

View from Batur Volcano. Bali, Indonesia. Green crater of Batur Volcano. Bali, Indonesia.

Batur Volcano. You can clearly see the traces of the lava streams along the side of the volcano. The past 200 years, Batur has erupted 26 times. Bali, Indonesia.

You can clearly see the traces of the lava streams along the side of the volcano. The past 200 years, Batur has erupted 26 times; the most devastating was in 1926.

Back at the car we decided to go straight back to Ubud, skipping the visit at the coffee plantation that was included in the tour. The drive went fast through the lush green landscape, and I made it back at the hotel just in time for the third breakfast that morning. Climbing a volcano sure made me hungry…

 

What to bring: A small backpack with more clothes and a bottle of water. Make sure to bring something warm and dry that you can change to at the top. It can also be wise to keep your clothes in a waterproof bag, to avoid the moist.

Food tour in Budapest

Food tour in Budapest

The first Hungarian food that comes to mind is the Goulash, but I knew there was much more to it, so I decided to book a food tour with a local to get the best idea.

I searched online and found the company Taste Hungary, that runs several different food tours. I had a hard time deciding, but eventually ended up with the Buda Food Walk, so I could explore the lesser known areas of Budapest.

The food tour started at 10, and as the description promised I would not be hungry after, I decided to skip breakfast. By experience, I have never left a food tour hungry…

Getting on the tram, crossing the bridge from the Pest- to the Buda-side, I quickly got to the meeting place. When the group was complete, we got a sweet start at Auguszt, a very traditional family run pastry shop. I must admit that sweets in the morning is not my favorite, but a girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do, right?

The display was full of delicious looking pastry, and the guide described them all. I was struggling making up my mind, but ended up with Eszterhazy (taste that word….), with almond meringue, buttercream, and chocolate. It tasted good, but as I said, sweets are not my style in the morning. Luckily, the others in the group were of different caliber.

How is it possible too choose from these. At Auguszt pastry shop. Taste Hungary food tour. Budapest, Hungary.

How is it possible too choose from these?

Cake for breakfast at Auguszt pastry shop. Taste Hungary food tour. Budapest, Hungary.

Cake for breakfast. A childhood dream?

Just crossing the street for the market, we aimed for the Langos. If you do not know what that is already, you certainly will know after visiting Hungary. I am absolutely convinced that it is impossible to not see any Langos during your stay. They are found many places, except when I was craving it as a last meal before leaving the country…

Langos are often eaten as a snack between breakfast and lunch. We joined the club, only we were eating all the meals in a short period of time. According to our guide, the particular place she took us, was the best in town. Their secret is to use cabbage in the dough as well. The traditional way to serve the Langos is with sour cream, garlic and cheese. Heavy and super good! Bear in mind you can easily share one with a friend or two…

Langos in the making at the market in Buda. Taste Hungary food tour. Budapest, Hungary.

Langos in the making at the market in Buda.

Yummy Langos at the market in Buda. Taste Hungary food tour. Budapest, Hungary.

Walking along the permanent market shops, we were introduced to another specialty – Mangalica meat. It is a Hungarian breed furry pig with a special textured meat with lard. Ok, it may not sound particularly good, but I promise you, the cold cuts we tasted were magical!

Meat shop at the market in Buda. Taste Hungary food tour. Budapest, Hungary.

Standing in line for the cold cuts of Mangalica. Taste Hungary food tour. Budapest, Hungary.

Standing in line for the cold cuts of Mangalica.

Delicious cold cuts of Mangalica. Taste Hungary food tour. Budapest, Hungary.

On the ground floor in the middle, vendors sell local produce from the surrounding area. Others sell cheese or spices. Many ingredients originally came to Hungary with the Turks, with paprika being just one of them, so many of the words for the vegetables are actually more or less the same in Turkish and Hungarian.

Local producers selling everything you need. Including paprika. Taste Hungary food tour. Budapest, Hungary.

Back to the cheese; During communism, all farmers had to send all their produce to the state, so the artisan production was lost for a long time. Some have recently started again making a small production, selling their goods from a little stall in one of the corners.

Local cheese produce sold at the market in Buda. Taste Hungary food tour. Budapest, Hungary.

It was time to walk off the breakfast and snacks before the real lunch. Strolling the streets and parks of Buda, then heading up Rose Hill. Arriving at the top, we were rewarded with a magnificent view of Budapest.

Beautiful view from Rose Hill. Taste Hungary food tour. Budapest, Hungary.

Beautiful view from Rose Hill.

But it is also a historical place, hosting the memorial of Péter Mansfeld, one of the heroes of the Hungarian Revolution and freedom fight of 1956. Sadly he was arrested and sentenced to death.

Walking down the uneven and charming Gül Baba street, we could clearly see the restoration work in progress of the area around his tomb. By the looks of the project sketches, it will become an even nicer area to visit.

The charming Gül Baba street. Taste Hungary food tour. Budapest, Hungary.

The charming Gül Baba street.

Behind a pale green wall, we entered a grandma-style restaurant. Old dark wooden furniture’s, off-white lace curtains and wallpaper. And lots of trinkets all around to look at while the elderly woman prepared our food. Lunch is the main meal in Hungary, so we were prepared it would be a lot.

Our restaurant for lunch. Taste Hungary food tour. Budapest, Hungary.

Stepping into our lunch restaurant felt like visiting grandma. Taste Hungary food tour. Budapest, Hungary.

Stepping into our lunch restaurant felt like visiting grandma.

Hot broth soup with a large dumpling came first. Then multiple dishes with paprika and sour cream – one served with cabbage, one with chicken, and one with the local pasta. It would be an understatement to say we were full when we left. We were stuffed!

Broth soup. Taste Hungary food tour. Budapest, Hungary. Cabbage with paprika sauce and sour cream. Taste Hungary food tour. Budapest, Hungary. Local pasta with paprika sauce and sour cream. Taste Hungary food tour. Budapest, Hungary.

Good thing then that at our next (and last) stop, the communist style café Bambi eszpres, we got to taste Unikum. Or maybe I should not say that as a good thing – this black herbal drink tasted even more awful than the German equivalent Underberg, but at least it serves as a digestive, and we sure needed that!

Communist style café Bambi eszpres. Taste Hungary food tour. Budapest, Hungary.

Communist style café Bambi eszpres.

Unikum, a local liquor with 42 different herbs. Taste Hungary food tour. Budapest, Hungary.

Unikum, a local liquor with 42 different herbs.

The guide saw us of with some restaurant tips, and pointed us in the direction of Kira’ly – a small local thermal bath just right around the corner. It is actually the oldest Turkish baths, and the only that is still original. A nice and relaxing activity while digesting both the food and impressions.

Next time I go to Budapest, I will certainly try one of the other food tours they offer, like the culinary walk ending with wine tasting…

Expedition from El Nido to Coron

Getting from El Nido to Coron, we decided to go for the three day expedition instead of the direct “fast” ferry. The trip included stops along the way and overnight in tents at deserted beaches. And food. What’s not to like about that?

No one can predict the weather, but it so happened that the night before I reached the Philippine islands, a typhoon swept by. It calmed down for a while, before it was picking up again.

Some of the day tours from El Nido were cancelled, but the most popular ones, like Tour A was still running.

We started to get a bit worried, as our El Nido to Coron expedition would include open water areas that most probably would be effected. Our worries seemed to be without cause. Early morning we were picked up and taken to the harbour for the start of our adventure. Divided in two groups we were taken to the boats that would be our companion the next three days.

Getting acquainted with our fellow passengers, we enjoyed the start of the journey up on the sunny deck. Cruising in comfortable speed, we got to know the Germans from the day before, as well as a new German girl and both a Lithuanian and Dutch solo traveler.

Anchoring up at Nacpan beach it seemed like the perfect paradise, and we enjoyed the peace and quiet at the beach before swimming back to our boat for delicious lunch. The chefs had prepared several dishes with meat and vegetables for all our desires.

Nacpan beach, a real paradise. Three day expedition with El Nido Paradise from El Nido to Coron. Philippines. Nacpan beach a real paradise. Three day expedition with El Nido Paradise from El Nido to Coron. Philippines. Relaxing life at Napcan beach. Three day expedition with El Nido Paradise from El Nido to Coron. Philippines. Looking out for the stormy clouds. Three day expedition with El Nido Paradise from El Nido to Coron. Philippines.

Moving on, the wind picked up, and while we as passengers relaxed in the sun on deck, the responsible person for the expedition paid close attention to the weather conditions. Sunny blue skies turned grey, and as without warning for the non-trimmed eye, the lovely sunny day turned pouring down. Our sun cover on the upper deck luckily also served as rain cover, and we all became a bit closer friends all of a sudden.

Safety first

The captain set anchor in a bay all the way north of Palawan while waiting for the other boat. After a while in uncertainty the message came; we are staying here for the night.

Our home the first night. Three day expedition with El Nido Paradise from El Nido to Coron. Philippines.

Stormy sky ahead. Three day expedition with El Nido Paradise from El Nido to Coron. Philippines.

The crew made all the arrangements, and our tents were set up at the beach alongside the local fishing boats. It was not the deserted beach I had fantasized about, but still an authentic experience. Curious local children first shy, then boldly walking around the campsite.

Tenting at the beach by a village north on Palawan. Three day expedition with El Nido Paradise from El Nido to Coron. Philippines.

Helping the locals to get the boat to sea. Three day expedition with El Nido Paradise from El Nido to Coron. Philippines.

Helping the locals to get the boat to sea.

The closest house agreed to open their doors for us, and served as our bathroom. Along came also a big bonus; since the family was usually nearby to let us in to their home, we talked with them about family values and living conditions, getting to know more about the local culture.

After the buffet dinner was set up at long tables at the beach, the night slowly appeared. The tents were already up, and the tired ones could retreat, while the rest enjoyed the late evening around the warm bonfire.

Dinner is served! Three day expedition with El Nido Paradise from El Nido to Coron. Philippines.

Dinner coming up!

Lovely evening around the bonfire at the beach. Three day expedition with El Nido Paradise from El Nido to Coron. Philippines.

Lovely evening around the bonfire at the beach.

A new day, new adventures

Morning came with more curious kids as well as adults. The kids were curious about us, while we, first of all were concerned about our next move. Wind had picked up more, and the chief was debating either to turn back to El Nido or to find alternative transport. All of us needed to go to Coron to continue our journeys, but safety first. The chief left us for a few hour. In the meantime, the weather on shore was not too bad, so we played with the local kids, walked along the beach, relaxed a bit in the tents, and played some more.

Curious local children. Three day expedition with El Nido Paradise from El Nido to Coron. Philippines.

Yoga at the beach. Three day expedition with El Nido Paradise from El Nido to Coron. Philippines.

Yoga at the beach.

When he returned, we gathered for information. He had arranged a larger boat to take us all to Coron the next day, so we were staying at the spot for one more night, but he had also arranged for us to stay inside the community house.

Lunch was prepared, and when we had finished eating, new information was given; the wind had quiet down, so everything was packed on the boats and we got going. Nice and slow.

More food, and more kids! Three day expedition with El Nido Paradise from El Nido to Coron. Philippines.

Waves were still large, so it took us more than double the time to reach the safe deserted beach for the night.

Arriving in almost sunshine and calm sea, we packed the things we needed for the night in plastic bags and left them for the crew to paddle to shore while we had a nice swim. With nobody else around it felt a bit like “Cast Away”. The tents were lined up along the beach and dinner was prepared around the bonfire.

Food delivery at our deserted beach. Three day expedition with El Nido Paradise from El Nido to Coron. Philippines.

Food delivery at our deserted beach.

Our boats. Three day expedition with El Nido Paradise from El Nido to Coron. Philippines.

From time to time some heavy rain showers came around, chasing us to seek shelter in an unfinished gazebo. Once it stopped, we went back to the beach. And the commuting continued, back and forth.

Along with the rain came also the wind. Stronger each time. At one point we went to check on the tents, and found that we urgently had to move them. We found a spot for ours a bit more sheltered by a tree, and decided to call it a night. The rule of no sand in the tent was broken, and I felt I woke up rolling around in a broken sand castle. The disadvantage of tenting at a deserted beach.

Bright, shiny day

Waking up to a bright sunny day was a pleasant surprise. After our pancake breakfast with eggs on the side, we packed out things together and swam back to the ship. Two ships had become one, as the smaller one had to return to El Nido. By now the group had grown quite close after spending two days together, so we had more than enough space.

Waking up to a nice sunny day. Three day expedition with El Nido Paradise from El Nido to Coron. Philippines. Time to say goodbye to our beach home. Three day expedition with El Nido Paradise from El Nido to Coron. Philippines.

Sunbathing on deck, we were enjoying the slow moving life as we continued towards Coron. Stopping along the way to cool down swimming in the coral blue ocean, we had perfect breaks from the life on the boat. I will not lie to you; as we had to do the sailing distance of two days in one, it sure was a long day. I sometimes felt being back in time to my childhood, driving long distances by car with my parents, constantly asking “are we there yet?”. Only now, I was just asking myself, not out loud.

Locals passing by. Three day expedition with El Nido Paradise from El Nido to Coron. Philippines. Beautiful beach for snorkeling. Three day expedition with El Nido Paradise from El Nido to Coron. Philippines. Passing by a remote village. Three day expedition with El Nido Paradise from El Nido to Coron. Philippines. Sunset behind us on our way to Coron. Three day expedition with El Nido Paradise from El Nido to Coron. Philippines.

Sunny day turned to pitch black night, and we could see the lights of Coron in the far distance. Sitting together on deck, we finished the supply of rum and coke, sharing brotherly. Even though we were all tired and wanted to get to our destination, we kept the spirit up; after all, we were all in the same boat… (sorry, just could not resist…)

Arriving Coron many hours after planned turned out to be a bit of a headache for the ones not booking the accommodation ahead. Including us. We found a tricycle to take us around looking for a place to stay. As I had a local sim-card I had done a little bit of research along the boat ride when we were lucky enough to have coverage, but the connection was quite bad so it was impossible to book anything. At least we had a backup plan, even though it was quite far from the center.

We decided to try our luck with the driver first. He was super helpful, and when we had given up, he still came up with another place to try. That was a fail as well as all places were fully booked, but our luck changed, and the place next door had an opening. The ones that had booked did not show up. Two lessons learned; book ahead in high season if you are picky with your accommodation, and absolutely notify your place to stay if you check in late….. We were lucky getting a very nice room to a decent price, and at a great location.

Going to bed more or less right away after a long journey, we were dreaming about our past adventure while considering our next; exploring the islands around Coron in the morning….

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.