Tokyo Drift

When one thinks of mega cities, Tokyo always appears near the top of the list. I’ve always been fascinated with this bustling Asian hub because it showcases the best of the best from this side of the world, going head to head with New York, London, Paris, and Sydney in terms of cutting edge technology, style, culture, sophistication, and modernism. Tokyo excels in so many things, from food to fashion, that it’s hard not to feel a bit jealous and overwhelmed when you visit—especially when you’re trying to cover as much as you can in just a few days! I happened to be lucky enough to make a trip there a couple of weeks ago, and here are my absolute favorite things about this Japanese gem of a city:

  1. Food– You can’t leave Tokyo without going to the Tsukiji Fish Market for a super fresh meal. Be there pretty early, like 9-10 am, to line up at the popular restaurants inside the market and so as not run out of food. Prepare to wait in line at least an hour, and for the dishes to spoil you for life–because after this, Jap food at any other restaurant will never taste the same! Another must-try is Ichiran, which I now fondly call ‘antisocial ramen’. You line up, place your order via vending machine, choose your preference for flavor, and sit at a tiny cubicle for one. Then the window opens, your ramen comes out, and that’s that. It’s so efficient and so good! You don’t even need to say a word to anyone the entire time—perfect for hungry travelers.
  2. Shopping– Japan is known for several world-class brands like Onitsuka Tiger, SuperDry, Royce chocolates, Mikimoto pearls, Muji, Seiko, Uniqlo, Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto, and (surprise!) Comme des Garcons. Stock up on your favorites here. And as far as shopping centers go, can anything be better than Takashimaya? If outlet stores for branded items are more your thing, go to Gotemba and shop to your heart’s content, with the majestic Mt. Fuji in the background.
  3. Monuments– Despite the general look and feel of the city being ultra modern, it has plenty of preserved culture and tradition over centuries. Go to the Tokyo railway station, built as early as 1914, and take in its beautiful architecture. A short walk away is the Imperial Palace, and the lush garden that surrounds it. Also check out the Meiji Jingu Shrine, a Shinto shrine lovingly dedicated to the spirits of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. You’ll see barrels and sake and wine offered to these deities, and a line of people waiting to have their turn to worship—with a ceremonial bow, two claps, and another bow. Lastly, if you have more time (because I wasn’t able to), go the the Sensoji temple in Asakusa, Tokyo’s oldest (at 645AD) and most significant Buddhist temple.

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    Tokyo Station

  4. Modern Marvels– You won’t run out of these here. First off, head over to the Shibuya scramble (right outside the Shibuya station where the Hachiko statue is located), where you’ll see massive crowds of people all rushing in several different directions. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen and gives you a real ‘hustle and bustle’ feeling that can only come from a huge city. On a clear, beautiful night, go see the glowing Tokyo Tower peeking over Ropponggi Hills.   For cosplay fans, you must hang out at Harajuku, where all the kooky costume folk make an appearance. The Japanese transportation system is also in itself a modern marvel—arriving on the dot, down to the last minute, and getting you everywhere quickly and super efficiently. You can even cross over to different cities via the Shinkansen bullet train.

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    Tokyo Tower making an appearance

  5. Natural wonders– In my opinion, the very best thing you can do in Tokyo is to go see Mount Fuji. It is absolutely stunning, snow-capped tip and all. If you’re lucky, you can see it from the airplane window shortly before landing in Narita Airport, or from the window of your train ride to and from Tokyo. You’ll need to arrange a guided tour for better convenience, or go on your own via bus or train from Shinjuku station. This mountain can be quite elusive– winter is apparently the best time to go because there is hardly any precipitation to block the view, but be prepared for super chilly weather and very strong winds! I actually lost my glove trying to take a shaky selfie and did not know if I’d make it back inside the building without getting (literally) blown away, but it was so worth it. There are 5 lakes surrounding Mt. Fuji, and all of them can give you a breathtaking vantage point. You can do a cruise on a pirate ship over Lake Ashi, or take a cable car from a viewing station in Hakone– either way it’s bound to be unforgettable.

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    Hello gorgeous.

  6. Nightlife– Oh you’ll have a lot of choices in this department. There are a lot of restaurants and bars around Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ropponggi, and Ginza. My favorite was a little place in Shinjuku called the Golden Gai, where there are clusters of little bars and taverns where locals hang out for a drink after work. Have an Asahi beer or a Suntory whisky highball (what yummy discovery with cola or ginger ale), eat a bunch of takoyaki balls, and chat with new friends.

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    Enjoying a Suntory Highball and some Yakitori sticks

  7. Seasonal activities– There are different things you can do depending on the changing seasons in Japan. In the spring, of course, everybody goes nuts over the cherry blossoms that bloom in full color all over the country. One of the best places to see this in Tokyo is the Shinjuku-Gyoen National Park—and there happened to be a few blossoming trees towards the end of winter! It felt like they came out just for me, and I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. In the fall, parks around Japan transform from green to gorgeous reds, oranges and yellows; it’s quite a sight to behold. In the winter, a popular activity is to go to an onsen, which is a hot spring bath. You can also go ice skating or take a look at the magnificent winter illuminations in Marunouchi, Yoyogi park, Shiodome, etc. These people sure know how to create a winter wonderland!
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    Stunning winter illuminations at Shiodome

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    My little miracle 🙂  Sakura in the winter!

  8. People– The Japanese are consistently the most polite, accommodating, pleasant people I have ever come across, and not in a pushy, fakely warm sort of way. They ensure you are comfortable, they give you the best directions they can manage (and even accompany you to the place sometimes just to make sure you get it), they are quiet and efficient and go the extra mile in their work. And although the average person on the street may have a little trouble speaking English, their smiles more than make up for it.

 

It is for these reasons, and many other beautiful memories, that I will always love this city. Till next time, Tokyo!

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Kikay Goes Camping

Suffice it to say I am not, nor have I ever been, nor did I ever want to become, an outdoorsy person. My life has been happily and comfortably spent mostly in the confines of my house, the school building, the office building, and shopping malls. Colleagues and friends would tease me for never being up for activities like whitewater rafting, mountain climbing, canyoneering, and whatever else.

I’m not sure if this was caused by a lack of interest or a lack of skill—you see, I never learned how to swim nor skate nor ride a bike, and the last time I went on a treadmill I actually fainted and saw stars (for real). So it kinda made good sense to avoid all sorts of ‘adventures’ that could potentially put my sheltered little life at risk.

And then this year happened, and for some reason the planets aligned and brought forth lots of opportunities to explore new activities. A feng shui master I spoke with told me this is the year to do everything I’ve wanted or wondered about. So my 2016 philosophy is to live in full color, to say yes to stepping out of my comfort zone.

Er… even if that happened to involve camping in the wilderness with no running water, no toilet, no electricity, no signal. All we had was a beautiful beach, a clear starry sky, and a full moon.

So here’s my list of survival tips and must-haves for the hopelessly kikay girl. Hope it inspires you to go on more adventures!

  1. Sunblock. You need sunblock. You cannot live outdoors without it. Get an SPF 70 and up (Banana Boat or VMV Armada have one) for your body and SPF 100 (Neutrogena) for the face, whatever it takes to protect you from those harsh UV rays and dangerously ugly tan lines from shorts or rash guards. Put it on generously on your shoulders and back, don’t forget to include weird places like your ears and feet, and reapply every hour or immediately after taking a dip. Zinka nosecoat is great too for protecting a prominent nose from getting burned.

    vmv-hypoallergenics-armada-sport-70

    Lifesaver!

  2. Rashguard and aquasocks. Yes, you may want to recreate a Sports Illustrated shoot in your favorite bikini, but we’re talking hardcore outdoors now. There are rocks, corals, jellyfish, sea urchins, and God knows what else out there. So make sure you wear a rashguard (plus points if it has UV protection too), and aquasocks to protect yourself. The rash guards by Roxy or Ripcurl may be a bit more pricey, but they are more durable so I’d advise you to get from here.

    ripcurl

    I like zip-up rash guards.  So much sexier!  This one is by Ripcurl.

  3. Insect repellent. It’s you against all the bugs in the universe at this point, so the more insect repellent lotion you slather on, the better. In fact, go the extra mile and bring a citronella candle, wear an insect repellent patch, take garlic capsules, and all that jazz. And should you still find bites all over your body the next day, resist all urges to scratch and apply ice, cold cream (put it in the cooler) and calamine lotion instead. If the bites happened to be from red fire ants, you are in deep trouble because the spots will appear all over your body like chicken pox marks only after a week and you will need hydrocortisone cream, serious steroid tablets, and possibly even a sleeping pill to survive several nights. And the marks will be there for about 2 months. I should know, I learned this the hard way.

    Off-Insect-repellent-coupons

    Mortal Kombat, baby!

  4. Hydration. Bring a jug of drinking water and make sure you take periodic drinks throughout the day. If you can, bring Gatorade, bananas and B-complex tablets too. The unfortunate thing that happened to me was a combination of heatstroke and a really bad hangover (due to chugging various mixures of scotch, wine, and vodka instead of water throughout the day), and I ended up becoming a beached whale washed ashore from 5 pm onwards.   I only recovered by 3 am and felt like Tom Hanks in the movie ‘Castaway’. It wasn’t pretty.

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    So this was me the morning after…

  5. First aid kit. Pack antiseptic (Betadine), gauze, band aids, and medicines for all sorts of maladies such as painkillers, antihistamine, paracetamol, antacids, anti-nausea LBM meds, etc. Bring enough for your friends as well because nothing spoils a trip faster than someone getting sick. Include a flashlight (there are hand crank ones that don’t need batteries), a whistle, a lighter/matches, a swiss knife, and a cellphone power bank too. You just never know, right?  first aid
  6. Extra non-spoil food. So on our way back, the gale winds blew forth from the north and our little banca was tossed around the sea like a toy. I was terrified, seasick, and…well, terrified. And I was thinking…if it so happened we needed to turn back and stay in the island for another day, what would we eat? We had demolished all the food, not to mention all the drinking water. So always carry extra provisions just in case which won’t spoil easily, like granola bars, a few more canned goods, etc. And don’t ever finish all the water!  nature-valley-granola-bars
  7. Travel size toiletries. Since based on #1 to #6 you are already bringing your entire house on the trip, it isn’t worth the effort to carry heavy toiletries around too. Buy small travel sizes or little containers that you can neatly pack in a water repellent kit. And also, carry a bunch of Ziploc plastic bags with you to store all your wet stuff in so they wont bleed into the rest of your clothes.

    muji

    Muji has errthang!

  8. Towel.  This you can’t compromise on. Do you know how many warts you can get from just sharing a towel with people? Do you want to find out? If you can’t deal with bringing a thick terrycloth towel with you, buy an Aquazorb—it’s really light and easy to pack.

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    Best travel towel ever.

  9. Rosary.  In the midst of my vertigo nightmare hangover from hell, my red fire ant attack, and the Noah’s ark experience in the banca heading back to the main land, I was clutching my rosary and am 100% convinced I could not have made it out alive without it. Enough said.

    angel

    Heehee!

  10. Your dermatologist and family doctor on speed dial. The moment you get signal, call them!

    CRB

    I have the same dermatologist as Miss Universe! Here she is– Dr. Cecilia Bernad (or Dr. CRB)

 

So that about sums up my list of outdoor essentials. Was it a big production? Pretty much. Was it a hassle? A little bit. Was it worth it? One look at that beautiful sunset or the glorious full moon reflecting on the sea, and I would say most definitely. Would I do it again? Oh yes!

Tag me (#kikaycebu) in your fashion and fun pursuits!   Cheers to living #lifeincolor.

*Special thanks go out to my friends who were with me in this adventure– including trying to drag my ass into the tent after I passed out on the beach, taking the most horrible photos, chattering about senseless matters on the boat so we wouldn’t think we were about to capsize and drown, and making me the butt of their jokes for the last month.  Wootwoot!

 

 

A Bite Of the Big Apple

I would like to start off the year by telling you about my biggest and best adventure of 2015.

I decided to make my own dreams come true and finally visit New York City. It was always a blinking bucket list item: to head off to the Big Apple, not just to visit for a few days but to actually ‘live’ in arguably the greatest city in the world. Life kept getting in the way, until at some point a little voice in my heart told me it was time. So off I went on a month long trip, to learn something new at NYU and to explore as much as I could of one of my dream cities. Here are some highlights and must sees:

  1. Metropolitan Museum of Art– Located at the Upper East Side of Manhattan, this mammoth structure is probably the biggest and best museum I have ever seen. I came in at 10:00 am, and left at 4:00 pm—forgetting to eat or drink in my excitement. There was just so much to see! Ancient Buddhist wall murals and Greek sculptures, masterpieces of everyone you’ve ever heard of (Monet, Manet, Degas, Goya, Picasso, Sargent, what have you), free classes on Impressionist Paintings, and even a course on Fashion in Art. Don’t forget to check out the Costume Institute as well, which has a marvelous collection of famous clothing through the years. Then end your visit with an afternoon high tea at the Petrie Café (inside the museum) facing gorgeous Central Park.
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    The mammoth Metropolitan Museum of Art

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    One of my favorites, ‘Madame X’ by John Sargent

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    A golden sculpture of Artemis

     

  2. Central Park– Oh my goodness. There are not enough words in my vocabulary to describe how beautiful this park is in the fall. The trees turn into bursts of yellow, fiery orange and bright red, and the sunlight peeks through the foliage like a golden glow. There are awe-inspiring fountains and lakes, bridges, and even a large ice skating rink in the late autumn/winter.   It’s so pretty that you can just sit there for hours, soaking in the magic.
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    A beautiful autumn day featuring the famous Bow Bridge

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    Bethesda Fountain on a crisp sunny morning at Central Park

  3. Broadway/Times Square– In the Midtown area of New York City, that’s where you’ll see all the hustle and bustle, all the bells and whistles, and the ginormous lights and billboards of Times Square. Yes, the place is awfully touristy, quite congested, and at times slightly seedy, but hey, this is the heart of the city. All the Broadway theaters are located in the area—to ensure you get good seats, book ahead online. Or you can hang out waiting to score dirt cheap tickets so you can watch as many shows as you can! Highly recommended are ‘Book of Mormon’, ‘Matilda’, ‘An American in Paris’, ‘Allegiance’ (go see Lea Salonga live!), and ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime’. And the classics too, of course.
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    Watching ‘The Book of Mormon’

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    Giddy at Times Square

     

  4. Grand Central Terminal- Jaw dropping architecture and design, especially if you like beaux-arts architecture. This is the iconic, 19-hectare train station located in midtown Manhattan, built in 1871. You are immediately dwarfed as soon as you step in, by the massive marble pillars, the high ceiling featuring constellations, the cavernous main hall. It also has a dining concourse below which includes cult favorites like Shake Shack and the Magnolia Bakery. IMG_2102

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    Ain’t she a beauty?

  5. St. Patrick’s Cathedral– I found myself sitting here quite often, popping in an out for several days because the place gave me a wonderful sense of peace.   Yes, lots of tourists come to visit and take photos of this place of worship right smack in the midst of all the skyscrapers, but it still remains quite solemn and comfortable. It’s nice to know that a ‘hardened’, ultra modern city like New York still needs this sanctuary—and has jam packed Sunday masses to boot. The Cathedral was dedicated in 1879, and its altars were designed by a Medici and a Borgia. Restoration was just completed in time for Pope Francis’ visit last September.
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    Saying a prayer at St. Patrick’s Cathedral

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  6. Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall- If you want to see the best view of NYC, go to Top of the Rock instead of the Empire State Building—so that you can see the Empire State Building from up there. Rockefeller center has a lot of shops, dining places, and is the site of the famous giant Christmas tree lighting of the city. It also has a skating rink in the winter, and faces the luxe shopping mecca Saks Fifth Avenue, while nearby Radio City Music Hall hosts concerts and holiday performances by the Rockettes. I was lucky enough to be there when they lit up the tree, amidst the happy revelers, the cool, crisp air, and live performances by Sting, Andrea Bocelli, and Michael Buble. It felt like a dream.
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    The Saks Fifth Avenue facade

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    Rockefeller Center

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    About to catch the Rockettes in action!

  7. Brooklyn Bridge– Manhattan isn’t the only area worth seeing in the Empire State. You’ve got to go to Brooklyn too for some of the best views and the best eats the city has to offer! First of all, the bridge itself is a must-see. You can cross it on foot and take some amazing photos (it faces Manhattan bridge directly), or you can join a bike tour as well. When you get to Brooklyn, go to the park for some drinks by the river, or see the skyline right in front of you from Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Then visit the Dumbo area for the best New York style pizza.
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    Bagel, coffee and this view of Manhattan. Oh New York you’ve spoiled me for good.

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    This moment took my breath away.

  8. Greenwich Village– The areas surrounding New York University on the lower West and lower East sides are very interesting too. There’s the Washington Square monument and park, which gives you a nice sense of calm in between classes. I also loved the Strand bookstore, which sells new, used, rare and out-of-print books. If you’re a fan of jazz music, some of the very best jazz clubs, like Village Vanguard (since 1935!) are located here as well. Oh, and do not miss Amelie, facing the Washington Square monument, for tapas and cocktails!

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    The Washington Square monument (and park) by night.

  9. Staten Island– You can’t go to New York without meeting Lady Liberty herself. Hop on the Staten Island ferry for a free ride and you’ll see the majestic Statue of Liberty on the way. Then you can opt to go on an actual tour of the place, and even climb all the way up to the Statue of Liberty’s crown.
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    All aboard!

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    Well hello there Lady Liberty!

  10. Flatiron district– Another very enjoyable spot to visit is the Flatiron building, which looks, like, uhm, a flatiron. It’s probably the most interesting building I’ve seen, and it’s hard to believe it was completed way back in 1902. Notable landmarks are the Gershwin hotel, which is a tribute to the artist Andy Warhol. Celebrated chef Mario Batali’s ‘Eataly’ food emporium is also located there.

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    Flatiron Building

  11. Lincoln Center of Performing Arts– It’s very important to soak up as much culture, art and performances as you can in New York, and you won’t run out of choices. The Lincoln Center features ballet and other forms of dance, theater, film, and it is the home of the New York Metropolitan Opera, New York City Ballet, and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. The complex itself is a sight to behold, especially at night. During the late fall season, they showcase the Nutcracker—and you can literally watch a 13 foot Christmas tree grow to over 40 feet right before your eyes.  IMG_3363
  12. Side trips to nearby states- One of the best things about New York is it is such a hub to get to other beautiful states like New Jersey, Philadelphia, Connecticut, Boston, Rhode Island, and Washington DC. You can visit famous universities like Princeton (in New Jersey), Yale (in Connecticut), Harvard (in Boston), or scope out The Breakers, a Vanderbilt mansion (in Rhode Island), the Liberty Bell (in Philadelphia), and the White House (in DC).
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    Sunset at Jersey Shore

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    Philadelphia

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    At Harvard University

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Boston Harbor

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Autumn foliage in Rhode Island

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Princeton University

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One month was certainly not enough, and I hope someday I will be blessed with another opportunity to go back—but from hereon, I will always think of New York City as my happy place. And I hope that if anything, this article will inspire you to chase after your dreams.

Cheers to all your adventures in 2016, darlings.

Ready, Jet Set, Go!

Let me tell you guys something a little personal about myself—I am a fearful flyer.  Whenever I board an aircraft I get clammy hands and become short of breath, and by the time the engine starts and the plane is about to take off, I am clutching the arm rests in a deathgrip and all my knuckles have turned white.  I shriek when there is turbulence and have had to hold hands with whomever I am travelling with to feel a little more secure.  Needless to say it is sheer torture, every single time, and it is not something rational nor controllable.

But do I allow this fear to keep me from traveling?  Never.  For one, my job takes me to different places around the country, and occasionally even abroad for learning opportunities.  Also, ironically, I hate flying but traveling is one of my deepest passions.  I live for experiences, and there is nothing quite like the experience of being in a completely different land, seeing the world with brand new eyes.  It is a wonderful feeling to surprise yourself by doing things you never thought you could- like eating frog legs in China, camping in a Sri Lankan forest, or getting on a zipline up in the mountains.  You learn to get over your prejudices and witness first hand the kindness of others- like the courteous Japanese folks who not only help you with directions but accompany you there just to make sure you don’t get lost, or the dashing French who carry the luggage you are struggling with at the train station, or the kind Spanish who laughingly buy you an ice cream sundae because the waiter cannot understand your gibberish and gestures.  You also appreciate the snippets of a country’s culture that they are known for and proudest of, like watching a flamenco dance in Spain, having an authentic Balinese massage, seeing the Collosseum in Rome or climbing up Angkor Wat in Siem Reap.  All of these moments are priceless and you carry the experience in your heart forevermore.

So now that I’ve hopefully convinced all of you to pack your bags and travel the world, not only for the OOTDs and the Instagram posts but for the actual experience, here are some travel essentials you must collect to be a savvy jetsetter:

  1. Cabin friendly luggage, locks and packing cubes–  The first rule is to travel light, or at least as light as possible.  So edit your trip wardrobe and pack versatile items that can be mixed and matched, played up or dressed down.  You must own one cabin-friendly piece of luggage that can hold essentials like one change of clothes, toiletries and other items you cannot entrust to be checked in.  Pack using packing cubes which help you categorize items and save you lots of space.  Lastly, be sure all your suitcases have padlocks or dial locks that cannot be easily broken.  If you have the means to invest in really good luggage, especially one that has a built in GPS so that you can locate the bag’s whereabouts anywhere in the world, do it.

    Pink packing cubes!  Look how neat your suitcase can be!

    Pink packing cubes! Look how neat your suitcase can be!

  2. Luggage scale–  Biggest pet peeve in the airport, especially when it’s some unholy hour and everyone is frazzled and cranky:  people who realize they have gone over the luggage weight limit and therefore proceed to re-pack all their things right there at the counter to avoid paying the required fees.  I mean—que horror!!!  Please invest in a digital luggage scale, it is not very expensive and can go a long way in ensuring your peace of mind and cost savings too.  It’s usually 7 kilos for carry-on luggage, and either 10 or 15 kilos for checked-in luggage.

    I swear by this.

    I swear by this.

  3. Travel size kits and containers–  I’ve made the big mistake of trying to carry big bottles of lotion, shampoo, tubes of toothpaste, and perfume—all to disastrous results.  You surely do not want to open your suitcase to find that the lotion or face cream has exploded all over your clothes, ruining all your planned outfits for the trip.  Yes it can be annoying to have to transfer cosmetics into smaller containers but it is well worth the effort.  If you want to go the extra mile, seal everything with masking tape and put all toiletries in a separate kit so that they cannot have direct contact with your clothes, bags or shoes.  Also, buy a ‘travel size’ makeup kit like the ones of Bobbi Brown, Clinique or Estee Lauder which have a palette for the eyes, blush and lipstick all in one so you don’t need to carry an entire arsenal of makeup.

    The Bobbi Brown travel palette.  You don't need much more to look fabulous on a trip!

    The Bobbi Brown travel palette. You don’t need much more to look fabulous on a trip!

  4. Universal adaptors and power bank– It is very difficult to make do with only one provided adaptor in a hotel room when you are travelling with friends and everyone has more than one phone/iPad/hair dryer/some sort of gadget.  Make sure you bring a universal adaptor that can work with different outlets all over the world, and get more than one if you have a lot of devices you think you can’t live without.  Also, it is most annoying to have your phone die right in the middle of a packed itinerary so a power bank is definitely essential.  Get one that can go for 3 rounds of charging so you are worry free the whole day and can keep communicating for work updates, be able to make emergency calls, or capture a picture perfect moment.

    Don't forget this!

    Don’t forget this!

  5. Foldable shopping tote– If you intend to do any shopping on the trip (and I’m guessing you are), bring a foldable bag that can serve as an additional piece of luggage later on.  It can be tucked in one of your suitcases and the unfolded, filled up with loot, zipped and locked on your way home.  The best one for this purpose of course are the large size Longchamp Le Pliage bags– such a classic, and nothing ever happens to them despite rain, beverage spillage, and other such potential mishaps.

    One in every color please!!

    One in every color please!!

  6. Sling bag– It is very tiring to be carrying a big tote bag all over town, not to mention damaging to your posture too.  You can bring a big shoulder bag on the flight, but make sure you have a small sling bag for sightseeing.  All you really need are your passport, cash, a face powder compact or oil blotter sheet, lipstick and a small bottle of alcohol or a small pack of wet wipes.  The rest of your stuff you can leave at the vault in your hotel room or safely padlocked in your suitcase.  That way your hands are free to move around and you won’t feel so loaded all day.  Please make sure though that you watch your bag closely in case pick pockets attempt to take your things!

    The Givenchy Obsedia.  I loooveee....

    The Givenchy Obsedia. I loooveee….

  7. Travel apps– Oh the endless wonders of apps and the internet!  There’s Trip Advisor that can give you all the information you need on places to visit, hotels, restaurants and other activities.  There are language apps that can translate and even speak so you can ask basic questions and important words, currency converters that can do all your calculating, and maps that can help you find places of interest.  Plus all of these at the tip of your fingers, for as long as there is working Wifi or a cellular data connection!  I love living in 2015, don’t you?

    App and away!

    App and away!

  8. First aid kit–  You definitely do not want to be sick on a trip not knowing where to find the nearest pharmacy and what the local medicine names are.  Therefore never forget to bring a small first aid kit that has medicine for fever, cough and colds, hyperacidity, stomach problems, vitamins, painkillers, band aids, antiseptic, and any other maintenance medicine you need to carry.  If you have high blood sugar or hypertension, make sure you have a blood pressure indicator or a blood sugar lancet in case there are emergencies.
  9. Extra copies of travel documents–  Ok worst case scenario:  your sling bag gets stolen containing your passport , hotel vouchers and flight information.  This is my biggest fear and as such, I never travel without making several copies of all these travel documents and placing them in different places:  one inside my shoulder bag, one inside the luggage, one with my companion/s, and screenshots on my phone.  Memorize your passport number, date and place of issue, and other supporting IDs like your SSS number.  Also, make sure you know where the Philippine embassy is or the nearest tourist assistance center.

    My Kate Spade passport cover says 'Ready for Departure'.

    My Kate Spade passport cover says ‘Ready for Departure’.

  10. Dual timepieces and wallets– Though phones now have this feature, you have to admit it’s pretty neat to own a timepiece that can display the time in your country and the country you are visiting…that way you’ll always know when to call up your loved ones.  As for wallets, it also helps to have one that has dual compartments so you don’t mix bills and coins from different countries.

    Such a classic.

    Such a classic.

  11. Flipflops or foldable flats– It is fabulous to wear your knee high boots or sexy heels on a trip but let’s face it, after a few hours it feels like the ninth gate of hell. Always pack a pair of flip flops or foldable ballet flats in your bag, you will be extremely grateful for them.  So you can switch footwear when you need to do some walking, then switch again when the weather or a photo op strikes.  As much as possible, wear comfy shoes all the way!  There are plenty of choices from Aerosole, Geox, etc or the hip athletic brands like Onitsuka Tiger, the new Nikes and the neon Adidas ones.

    Walking buddy

    Walking buddy

  12. An open mind– The most important travel essential of all. When you’re on a trip, listen well, observe, experience, savor.  Leave your worries at home and don’t make taking photographs the whole point of every stop.  Talk to locals, make new friends, try their street food, check out their art and music, watch their shows, take strolls, smile a lot, and be a good representative of the Philippines, because that’s what we all truly are whenever we step out of local soil—we carry our flag with us, we are the face of our country.  Remember that, and do your job well.

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    Enjoying gelato with new friends in Florence 🙂

Jetsetting in Style

 

Just as the monsoon rains are starting in this part of the world, it’s the beginning of summer in the US and Europe, while winter is approaching in Australia.  So for those who haven’t gotten a break within that scorching summer season here in Asia, you could still chase the sun and go on vacation elsewhere!

Speaking of vacations, I have just arrived from a week and a half long sojourn, and was reminded yet again of important tips all travellers should abide by to keep flying an enjoyable experience for everyone.  Sharing them with you for your next adventure.

  1.  Dress comfortably.  When I see girls in stilettos, platform heels or some tight sexy outfit  at the airport, I can’t help but roll my eyes.  Really?  The most important thing you should be thinking of when choosing your travel attire is your comfort.  You will, after all, be lugging bags, lining up at the check in counter (yes, even on business class if it’s a full flight), then going through airport screening, not to mention the hours in the air and the waiting for luggage and transportation to the hotel upon arrival.  That’s a pretty long time to be teetering in high heels or sucking in your gut in your body-con dress or skintight jeans.  For summer trips, wear shorts and sandals or ballet flats/loafers, or a comfy dress and cardigan.  For longer haul trips you can wear leggings with a jersey wraparound cardigan or a stylish boyfriend pullover—oh, and don’t forget the large Hollywood sunglasses.  Yes, it is possible to look stylish while you are comfortable.  No need to try so hard. 

    From whowhatwear.com:  Star sightings at the airport

    From whowhatwear.com: Star sightings at the airport

  2. Weigh your luggage.  The worst thing is when there’s a long queue at check-in, and some passenger holds up the line because they need to repack their stuff into the carry-on bag to avoid excess baggage charges.  Geez!  Buy a portable luggage scale and weigh your bags before leaving your house to make sure you are within the allowed limit.  And please, easy on the pasalubong.  I once saw someone pay 300 Australian dollars in excess luggage for chocolates to bring for extended family and basically the entire barangay.  That’s just crazy.  Also, make use of the airport carts provided and walk in a relaxed manner instead of looking like a carabao/other beast of burden trying to carry 10 bags all at once.  While we’re on that subject…
  3. Take only one carry-on bag.  Many international airlines only allow one handbag and one carry-on bag (usually a duffel or small trolley bag) to be taken in the cabin.  It is, after all, utterly unglamorous to be bringing so many bags, scattering things all over the place, using your fingers as hooks just so the bags don’t tumble over, breaking a nail in the process…you get the picture.  Invest in a large, medium and small suitcase so you can use either one depending on how long the trip will be.  Then use a small trolley bag to house all your carry-on items like an extra shirt, toiletries for freshening up, a pair of socks, little things bought at duty free, etc.  That way, you can walk around the airport in peace, much more comfortably and with no hassle.  Ladies should never have to break a sweat! 

    Extra glamour with the Tumi python carry-on

    Extra glamour with the Tumi python carry-on

  4. Bring good reading material.  In this day and age, you should always have value adding reading material stored in your iPad or Kindle.  I don’t understand how people kill time by playing Candy Crush or Temple Run for hours while waiting for the flight to board or worse, during delays or long layovers.  Can’t you feel your brain cells wasting away?  Why not use the time to get updated in current events, or brush up on art history (or some other topic you’re interested in), or read an inspiring story?  In other words—use whatever free time you have to expand your horizons and make you a better version of yourself. 
    Here's a good read while waiting for your flight!

    Here’s a good read while waiting for your flight!

     

  5. Hydrate on board.  You don’t realize it, but a long flight breathing stale cabin air and cruising at high altitudes take a huge toll on your skin.  So drink lots and lots of water (never mind if you have to go to the lavatory every couple hours), use a hydrating masque and elixirs, and use hand cream every so often.  Avoid putting on perfume inside the plane—for one, it will annoy other passengers, and also it will just merge will all others odors, from food to whatever else.  So wait until after you step off the plane to spritz on your cologne. 

    Gotta take her advice!

    Gotta take her advice!

  6. Don’t be a pest.  Seriously–those flight attendants have enough stuff to do, and here are passengers who ring them for every conceivable thing, from borrowing a ballpen or whatever trivial matter.  Sure, you should ask when you need something, but please be sensitive as well.  Same goes for complying with airport requirements and stuff.  You don’t need to roll your eyes and mutter if airport officials want to search your bag or have you undergo a  random frisk search or ask you to answer a survey (yes, they do this at international airports).  We are all anxious to get somewhere, to get something done, and to do it as quickly, as efficiently and as pain-free as possible.  So let’s all just cooperate so that things will go smoothly along.  There’s no place for arrogance and impatience when everyone’s so frazzled already as it is. 
  7. Bring travel essentials.  Planning your outfits is one thing but don’t miss out on the all-important things:  a universal adaptor for example, otherwise you won’t be able to charge the gadgets to which your life is connected (i.e. iPhone, camera, hair iron).  Also take with you a spare shopping bag, the portable luggage scale we were talking about earlier, maintenance medication, vitamins, ‘common disease’ meds like Paracetamol (for fever), Mefenamic Acid (for pain), Loperamide (for bad tummy) and a first aid kit.  Pack a razor, tweezer, and nail cutter as well for grooming needs. 

    My lifesaving digital luggage scale!

    My lifesaving digital luggage scale!

  8. Be prepared.  For any trip, it’s best to be prepared- read up on the country, plan your itinerary (but leave room for spontaneous adventures), and try everything from exotic food to learning a new dance to riding an elephant or hugging a koala, that sort of thing.  The whole point is for the experience to giveyou a wealth of memories to take home with you and to make your world a lot more colourful and vibrant.  So take it all in and be grateful for such a great opportunity!

 

Possibly my favorite travel photo ever.  Paris, 2012.

Possibly my favorite travel photo ever. Paris, 2012.

Cheers to many more adventures, girls.

 

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Best Dining Spots in Cebu

There’s always such magic about being ‘grown up’. When I was little, I used to wonder when my parents would get all dressed up to go out—where do these people go? What do they do? What happens at ‘dinner parties’ or ‘cocktails’ or a ‘date’? Why did they like to ‘eat out’? I mean, isn’t food the same wherever it is you choose to eat?
Of course, years passed and the kiddie parties which were the only social functions I knew turned into big noisy lunches, and then disco visits, then coffee dates with groups of friends, then sophisticated dinners. Of course, the more friends and colleagues you build up over the years, the more you start going out for all sorts of reasons—be it to celebrate special occasions like birthdays or promotions, or just random days where you want to meet up and talk the night away. And luckily, our city’s best and most beautiful spots certainly do not disappoint when it comes to providing the perfect setting for all such affairs. From breathtaking views of the sea to a blanket of twinkling lights, gorgeous interiors and sumptuous food, we’ve got it all. Here’s my list of the top five spots in Cebu:
 1. The Observatory– Imagine sitting in a private gazebo facing the sea, watching the sunset. The sky turns different shades of orange, pink and purple. A strong, balmy breeze and the sound of waves rushing to the shore surround you. All this with a glass of white wine in your hand, a plateful of lobsters and prawns, and a beautiful, juicy steak. If this isn’t bliss, I don’t know what is! That’s the feeling that you get when you dine with your special someone at the Observatory, Shangri-la’s Mactan Island Resort’s gem. It used to be known as Cowrie Cove’s Table 54—now re-launched in superb style. It’s truly unforgettable and probably one of the best dinners you could ever treat yourself (and a special someone) to. And boys, if you’re planning to propose to your lady love anytime soon…this place has a fantastic batting average, I don’t think any girl could possibly say no!

The Observatory by night. Breathtaking!

 2. Blu Bar and Grill– Here’s another scenario. You’re sitting at a table, awash with tiny blue and white lights. The atmosphere is cool and mountains provide a scenic backdrop. Laid out in front of you is a spectacular view of the city lights, and above you is a starry sky. Yep, that’s got to be the Blu Bar and Grill, at the top of the Marco Polo Plaza Hotel in Nivel Hills. The food and cocktails are great (try their Amaretto sour, it’s the best I’ve had yet), and if you’re lucky you can even catch their bartenders performing stunts sometime after dinner. Definitely one of my favourite spots in the city.

Cool ambiance at Blu Bar and Grill

 3. Anzani and Bellini– If you have discriminating taste buds and are looking for a true fine dining experience, go to Anzani. It features new Mediterranean cuisine prepared in such a unique and creative manner, you are left bewitched. That plus the luxe interiors, an amazing wine cellar, a terrace with a romantic view (since the place is perched on a hill), and outdoor couches nestled comfortably with the trees, and you’ve got yourself one of the country’s best restaurants (even the Philippine Tatler says so!). Anzani is in the Miele guide for Southeast Asia and is nominated for a Michelin star rating for Southeast Asia as well.  Try the Degustacion dinner if you’re feeling adventurous. And afterwards, cross over to the Bellini champagne bar, have a Kir Royale and chill out on one of the couches while listening to a live acoustic band. Now that’s what I’d call a great night.

Fine dining at Anzani

 4. La Tegola Busay– I’m sure pretty much everyone is enthralled with Tops and its fantastic view, the mountain air and catching shooting stars while sitting there just taking everything in. The thing is, you can’t exactly dine there. Imagine having that view to go with sumptuous Italian food and an intimate, romantic setting—that’s why La Tegola in Busay is so perfect. Try the Quattro formaggi pizza, the roast beef and the seafood pasta. Delicious!
 5. Abaca– An exclusive boutique resort and private hideaway, Abaca houses one of the Philippines’ finest restaurants as well. It boasts world class cuisine, from duck confit to artisan cheese tasting, divine flatbread pizzas, truffled larganelle, seafood and steaks, all packaged in a California-Mediterranean setting– with candles glowing, an infinity pool in view, and lush gardens. It’s such a dream you can almost hear Bobby Darin singing in the background. It’s no wonder people fly in just to experience it.

The inviting feel at Abaca

So that’s why we ‘grown-ups’ love going out! 🙂

Kikay Travel Tips

Ahh…summer vacation!  These are the days when everyone is eager to go on trips anywhere around the country because the sun is shining bright and it’s the perfect time to hole up in beach resorts to relax, or out of the country to escape this infernal heat and have an excuse to wear those trench coats, boots and scarves in your closet.   Whichever the case, it can only mean airports and are jam-packed especially towards the weekend…and with the queues upon check-in, the x-ray machines, the luggage restrictions, the screaming kids, immigration, customs and other such pains in the derriere, it’s going to take a lot more than a strong shot of alcohol to calm the nerves for a smooth trip.  I was fortunate enough to go on a long-awaited and highly anticipated vacation abroad with two of my closest friends, and we had a fantastic time thanks to all the reminders and tips everyone sent us in preparation.  Happy to share these with you in the hope they can help diminish frazzled nerves when travelling with family or friends.

  1.  Pack light.  Nothing is worse than having to lug 30 kilos of luggage up and down staircases in metro stops with no escalators or elevators.  So just bring pieces you can wear multiple times and match with other things-mostly neutral colors dressed up by a colorful scarf, jeans, a good jacket and comfortable, sturdy footwear.  I can’t stress the footwear part enough, because you’ll be walking quite a bit and ballet flats won’t cut it on cobblestones and other such uneven terrain.  Painful feet will most definitely ruin your day, it’s not worth the vanity (only in this case!).  Try wedge boots, Aerosoles or the new Fitflop sneakers, they should make quite a difference while still looking cute.  
  2. Bring the essentials.  It’s tempting to forego some ‘boring’ stuff so you can stuff in more clothes in your suitcase.  Don’t underestimate the powers of a small foldable umbrella that can not only ward off rain but also sun (and resulting sunspots and wrinkles!).  Use a universal adaptor to be sure, since you can’t always predict what types of electrical outlets other countries use.  Bring a small portable luggage scale that can help you gauge whether your shopping spree is still within the airline luggage allotment coming back, otherwise you’ll end up having to buy a second suitcase (which I’ve had to do a couple of times before!).  Use a light carry-on bag (7 kilos or less) to put some toiletries and one change of clothes and undies in just in case your luggage gets lost in transit.  Make sure there’s enough room in the bag to put in some of the souvenirs and trinkets you’ve picked up along the way.  And don’t forget your new best friends- A lot of Sky Flakes, Berocca (works like a charm), vitamins, Bactidol (to ward off the beginnings of tonsillitis), Diatabs for a troublesome tummy, Eficascent oil or Salonpas spray for aching muscles after walking up a storm, and my ever trusty Bonamine for motion sickness and to get you to sleep throughout the plane ride.

    Soo cute! 🙂

  3. Always get travel insurance.  Oh this isn’t an option, anything can happen and you’ll never know   when you’ll really need it.  You luggage could get lost or stolen, you could get sick or get into a vehicular accident on the trip, you could even get bitten by a dog.  Trust me, I’ve seen it.  So don’t scrimp on this and stay safe.
  4. Check weather forecasts of your destination a day before leaving.  Sometimes weather forecasts sent out a weeks before the actual date of travel could be wrong.  For instance, you could have packed for 17 degree weather only to arrive and discover that the winds have changed and it’s a chilly 5 degrees out, you have no gloves, muffs or hat, your nose is starting to resemble Rudolf’s and your fingers have frozen up.  Or you could be expecting a cooler temperature and brought bulky clothes only to find out that it’s actually scorching and you could have packed much lighter and smaller clothes.

    And that is how we should look running errands in the fall

  5. Get your finances in order.  Clear your credit card balance off first before leaving, and make sure to call the bank to advise your whereabouts as well as possible big ticket items you plan to buy so that you will not have to go through blocked transactions when you’re trying to pay for your purchases.  You could ask for a temporary increase in your credit limit in advance, or better yet bring another credit card as a spare.  It is preferable if your ATM can be used internationally to dispense cash in the local currency for emergencies, but if not then conserve your cash for last minute stuff like cab fare for the airport, food, etc and use your card instead where possible.  It’s not fun to realize you’ve run out of cash and some necessary extra expense came up from outside your budget.  Then again think twice before swiping because bank conversion rates are pretty steep.  So unless you can’t live without it, don’t buy it!

    Better think through that dream purchase…

  6. Be practical.  Think through your itinerary clearly and do a lot of research to find the best deals for everything, from getting to and from the airport (cab, bus or airport express), finding reasonable places to stay (without sacrificing comfort, cleanliness and safety), planning your route, getting pre-booked tickets to concerts and events, etc.  That way you can keep expenses at bay and you’ll have more moolah left over to enjoy little luxuries—better food, better shopping, etc.  That’s how you travel smart!
  7. Get up early.  From the beginning till the end of your trip, train yourself to get up early to get more things done—early check-in could mean better and more comfortable seats on the plane, waking up early means you can get ready at a relaxed pace, fix your hair and eat a good meal without the crazy rush; plus you’ll get to cover more items off your itinerary.  Of course allow for the occasional night out and lazy morning, but in general the early bird always catches the worm.
  8. Look for things of value.  It’s easy to get distracted and buy trivial things like clothes, makeup, cosmetics and whatnot, but try to curb the temptation to hoard quantity just because it’s cheaper abroad.  Instead, if you want to buy something, look for things of value like art, jewelry, or other investment pieces that you can keep for a longer time and will always remind you of that adventure.

    My favorite find at London’s Portobello market- vintage cameo earrings!

Of course, the last and best travel tip is to enjoy!  Life is too short to waste it away getting upset over trivial things.  So things didn’t work out exactly as you planned—so what?  Make the most out of every situation, be a little more flexible and allow yourself to have fun.  After all, it’s a blessing in itself to be able to see the world.  Au revoir darlings and catch you again next week!