Sunday, November 07, 2010

Of travels and travails

I like traveling long distances. I'm very much a homebody, but will quickly jump at the opportunity to travel beyond Greater Vancouver, or outside Metro Manila back when I was in the Philippines.

But I'm not a jet-setter. I don't travel in style. I haven't been on a cruise nor joined a package tour. I often travel on a shoestring budget. Even less.

From early on, during trips to my parents' or clan's hometowns and later through many work-related trips, I got used to roughing it. Many of my travels were actually travails on wheels. But for the love of traveling, I had learned not to complain or be finicky or have many qualms. I enjoyed the adventure. For me, the journey was as exciting as being at the destination. 

The rugged way of traveling, however, is not for everyone or for every trip or for every stage of life. It's not for every traveling companion either. There's no fun traveling with people who'd whine at the least discomfort. In that case, go first class not economy. You will still have a long memory of your journey, as long as it takes you to pay off your credit card bills. And that's a looong time.

In my next posts, I want to share some of the most memorable places in the Philippines that I had the opportunity to visit. This is mainly for my boys who may only get read about them.

Next, Destination: Laguna

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Load rage

A few months ago, I went down to our laundry room in the basement and was greeted by a huge mess. Clothes were everywhere--on the floor, on the dryer, behind the dryer, in baskets and spilling over hampers.  Some were damp, others dry. Others had been there for ages.

That's it. I've had it! I thought to myself. I gathered dry clothes into baskets, perhaps clean and dirty together. I couldn't tell. I was not in the mood to sniff clothes like I sometimes did and often regretted doing.

After putting away the clothes, I got a thick marker and started writing laundry instructions in BIG, RED CAPITAL letters.  To make sure everyone read them, I scribbled them on both our white washing machine and dryer.

I had a LOAD RAGE!

You can tell I was very upset at the time of writing by my long and ugly strokes.

This is what happened to our dryer after my patience dried out.

The washer was filled with writings too. Not satisfied with writing on our appliances, I got a couple sheets of bond paper, wrote on them, then tacked them on the walls.

I can change the door, too, if I have to.

It's been months since that load rage and our laundry room has definitely improved. I haven't erased the writings though. My boys might still need the reminders and the memory of Mom gone hormonal. They know me. Mom gets crazy sometimes. Blame it on menopause and everything else related to being a woman only I can get away with.

Until the next handwriting, just consider these Mom's load letters.


"Mom, would you have been more girlie if you had daughters instead of sons?" Gino, my eldest, has asked me this twice that I can remember of.

He was probably wondering if I would be more into makeup, fashion, shopping, accessories, crafts... typical "girlie" stuff.

Chores aren't girlie. Not in my house. NEVER. Everyone has to do his own laundry, wash the dishes, clean up his room, etc... because this girl ain't doing them all. And neither should their future wives.

"I don't know. Maybe..." I told Gino in response to his question above. But then I wasn't really into those girlie stuff to begin with. I was more into outdoors, adventure, travel, sports, music, fixing (and breaking) things, roughing it... before Gino came into my life. Having four of them just sort of reinforced that.
I enjoyed girlie things too, but they cost a lot of money, don't you agree? For me, this was a deterrent. Just look at the list above. Back then, I had other priorities and I was always very practical with my hard earned money. Having four kids, again, just sort of reinforced that.

Now that the boys are grown and growing, hopefully I will have more disposable money and time to spend on the girlie. I don't believe this would make me a happier woman because, truth be told, I already am.

But it would be nice to surface some of my yet undiscovered abilities in the girlie category. So I've lined up a list of things I will start to learn or re-learn. This is going to be fun and interesting.

You go girl!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

No place like Rome, part 2

(This is final part of this travel series.)

With only two full days in Rome, we decided to follow Rick Steve's suggested 2 - 3 days Rome itinerary to make the most of our stay. We did not strictly adhere to it but we were close.  Here was how our two days went:

Day 1: The Colosseum, The Palatine Hill, The Forum, Capitoline Hill, Trajan's Column, Vittorio Emmanuele Monument, The Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain

Day 2: St Peter's Basilica, Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, Piazza Popolo, Spanish Steps

As I was walking through the ruins, especially from the Colosseum to the Forum, I wished I had taken my history subjects more seriously. I would have gained more by paying attention to my history classes than daydreaming about my crushes which are now all history.

Reading a travel guide among the ruins.  

It helped to carry around Rick Steve's book on Italy. I appreciated the ruins better. At the Colosseum, I rented an audio guide but didn't find it very useful because sometimes I got distracted by the sights.

It might be more interesting to have a live tour guide, but I think they charge a lot unless you find a free walking tour like the one Gino and I joined in Florence three years ago. I knew there was one Facebook group offering that at the Colosseum. No, I think it was by donation. We could have joined that if the timing was right.

On our second day, we went early to St. Peter's Square in the Vatican before there was a long lineup of people wanting to enter the Basilica. After passing through security, we went inside this magnificent cathedral that is a famous pilgrimage place for the world's Catholics. It wowed me!!

St. Peter's Square

As we toured the basilica, I went inside a sanctuary where people prayed. No picture taking allowed. People went in to kneel, sit or stand quietly and offered prayers. I prayed to Jesus for the people inside. I sensed they were truly seeking to connect with God. Otherwise, they would be outside taking photographs.

After the basilica, we walked around the block to the Vatican Museums. The queue was very long. We were out on the sidewalk under the sun. Thankfully, we had bottled water and hats. Several people walked up and down offering a tour of the museums and promising to get you in more quickly. Hubby and I preferred to stay in line because we didn't want to pay the hefty price they were charging. Fortunately, it didn't take us too long, just 30 minutes maybe, to get to the entrance and buy our tickets (15 € each).

If the basilica wowed us, the museums WOWED us. Grandiose. Opulent. Immense.  Sobra!! (Over!!) ...

One of the highlights of our self-guided tour of the museums was the Sistine Chapel. No picture-taking or noise allowed. Here, we were constantly looking up to appreciate the art on the ceiling. Michaelangelo's painting of the Creation of Adam was not as big as we thought.

Leaving the museums, we had a feeling of being visually overloaded. It was like eating at a feast where you tried everything in a twenty course meal. I think we had sensory indigestion even before the end of the tour. Bob, who was a Fine Arts major, also felt it. Our capacity for appreciation was not enough to hold what the Vatican Museums offered.

It was late afternoon when we left the Vatican. We took the Metro train back to the other side of the Tiber River where we were staying. We spent the rest of the afternoon at the Spanish Steps after a walk through Piazza Popolo. We were too tired to go up the Spanish Steps where many people were sitting and enjoying the sunset and simply stayed at the foot of the steps at the Barcaccia Fountain. Regrets... Oh well, another thing for next time.

Here's a simple slide show of the highlights of our Roman holiday set to the tune of Bach's Cantata #51, "Jauchzet Gott in Allen Landen" (performed by Edward Carroll, Lee Soper, Richard Kapp: New York Philharmonia Virtuosi).

I hope you have enjoyed this series or obtained some travel ideas from it. Till the next one!!

Previous, No place like Rome, part 1

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

No place like Rome, part 1

Leaving Sorrento, Bob and I took a Circumvesuviana train (fare was 4 ) to Naples, where we got off at Napoli Centrale to get another train to Rome. Our original plan was to have a quick visit of the historic center of this major Italian city before proceeding to the Eternal City.

On the train to Naples. Bye Sorrento!

But fatigue had set in. We wanted to focus our remaining energy, time and money--all diminished by this time--on the final leg of our trip. So out of a list of must-dos in Naples that I got from the Internet, we got to do only two: 1) Eat pizza. 2) Eat sfogliatella.

Naples is considered the birthplace of pizza. We had to eat pizza where it originated, and not just any kind but pizza Margherita, first made in Naples in 1889. We already did this at the airport upon our arrival from France going to Sorrento. Now headed to Rome, we wanted sfogliatella, a kind of pastry made from phyllo-like dough and shaped into a cone with some yummy sweet filling. Bob went outside the train terminal to search for it.

Yummy!! (Image from

As soon as he came back with sfogliatella and a MacDonald's combo meal, we hopped onto an Intercity (IC) train to Rome. Compared to Eurostar, IC trains offer a cheaper form of traveling between major destinations. They are slower and less comfortable, but cheaper. For me, that was an easy choice. Or rather, the only choice. We were not in a hurry anyway.

The train trip from Naples to Rome cost about 21  per person and took more than 2 hours. We got off at the Roma Termini Station past 4 pm. According to our hotel information, we could reach it from Roma Termini by taking the Metro Line A train and getting off at Vittorio Emanuelle, the next station about 5 minutes away. We could also take the bus, or walk 15 minutes. We chose the Metro subway train. Wrong choice!

We didn't realize that Roma Termini, located in the heart of the city and serving almost half a million people daily, was HUGE! Just following the signs to the correct Line A platform underground took us, I’d say, 30 minutes. Up, down, around and around…

What a relief when we finally found our hotel on Via Giusti. It was actually a convent called Albergo Giusti operated by Suore di Sant’ Anna, but they accepted paying guests. From the street, the place was unimpressive, just one in a row of buildings that stood closely side by side. But inside, it was very neat and quiet. The nuns were friendly and helpful. I felt safe in Rome already.

At 90 € a night for a double bedroom, including breakfast and a private bathroom, this was our priciest accommodation on this vacation. But compared to other hotels in Rome, it was still cheaper or at par. Hostels cost less, but our primary concern, based on several articles we had read on visiting Rome, was safety. Hostels give you less privacy. Besides, I thought we deserved a comfortable last two nights after two weeks of non-stop traveling.

That same afternoon, we went out to see the Colosseum, just a few blocks away. It was awesome to see for the very first time this iconic symbol of the Roman Empire and one of the greatest Roman architecture.

The Colosseum is located near a busy intersection.

I wondered how it looked like like in its heyday. It seemed so far removed from the time of gladiatorial games and other barbaric events that took place in the arena leaving thousands upon thousands of men and beasts bleeding to death.

Uri, vinciri, verberari, ferroque necari (“I will endure to be burned, to be bound, to be beaten, and to be killed by the sword”), gladiators made a solemn oath those days. The "gladiators" at the Colosseum today might probably swear, "I will endure to wear this costume, to be be photographed and to pose with suckers for an exorbitant fee."

It was near closing time at the Colosseum but there was still a lineup of people wanting to go in. Tour organizers were giving their last call. We decided to come back early next morning to beat the crowd.

The Colosseum from another angle

Meanwhile, the sky grew dark and within minutes there was a thunderstorm like we don't experience in British Columbia. We sought shelter behind one of the stone pillars together with a "Roman gladiator" until the rains died down.

Back at the hotel, I went to bed early. Bob went out again to see the Colosseum and surrounding areas at night. I needed to recharge.

The Colosseum at night

(To be continued)

Next, No place like Rome, part 2
Previous, Amalfi Coast in three days, part 2

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Amalfi Coast in three days, part 2

Day, 3, took a day tour to the Isle of Capri. We had reserved a boat, with a boatman, for the whole day for 300 . This was the cheapest I found online. You can probably rent one upon arrival in Capri then negotiate the price right there.

Different kinds of boats for rent
As soon as we got into the boat, the young ones excitedly proceeded to the bow and sat there. The oldies cautiously followed. 

Daughters of my three sisters-in-law

We pretended to be people from the upper echelon of society, those who owned boats and yachts, maybe even islands... Ahh, the life of the rich and famous. 

Bob looks good at the wheel. Photo op! Photo op!

We posed like camera-hogging celebrities, and waved at passing boats of tourists as if we knew each other from Beverly Hill(y billie)s. What a blast! 

Hey there!

After about 20 minutes, however, Nikki started to feel seasick. Poor Nikki. The rough waters badly nauseated her. She was mostly lying on her belly or sitting on the floor and holding a plastic bag. 

Seasick :-(

It took us only about two hours to go around the island. On better weather, we could have stopped at a cove to take a dip in the water, or have lunch, or see the famous Blue Grotto, which was closed that day for safety reasons. Even so, we, with the exception of Nikki, were thoroughly mesmerized by the beauty of the island.

About to go through the Faraglione

Back at the marina, the boat operator charged us only for the time we used the boat. Thus, we saved some money and had spare time to explore the town which we discovered was up the mountain.

While Nikki was recovering on a bench outside a store, Bob and I, as well as April and Warren, hiked up to town on a narrow concrete path and steps passing through residential areas. We did not know how far it was. It was tiring. But the view got better and better. 

View of the marina from Capri town
Finally, we reached the town square. Tourists crowded the piazza, and it wasn't even the peak tourist season. I wondered how this looked like in the summer.

Town square

We walked further and saw many ritzy boutiques and restaurants. We kept walking, stopping often to take photos, until we reached the Punta Tragara Hotel overlooking the Faraglione, This hotel was the American command centre during WWII. 

It must be wonderful to stay here in Punta Tragara especially at peace time.

I was so awed by the natural and man-made beauty of the island. I kept telling hubby I could spend a month  there. I think I would be inspired to do something creative on the island, write a book perhaps, or take to painting. No wonder famous people, writers, and artists have stayed in Capri. It will release your creative juices.

How would you like to have a patio like that?
"OK, so which house do you want to live in?" I  kidded Bob. We started daydreaming. Finally, he said, "Hindi tayo bagay dito (We don't belong here)." Back to reality. Yeah, we can only mountain climb--not social climb--to Capri. For now, I was happy to visit and savour its rich ambiance.

After a delicious lunch of seafood and salad greens back at the marina, we rejoined our group who were already at a pebbly beach. Nikki seemed to have recovered. Michelle, April and Warren were in the cold water.  Brrr...ave!

Now they can say they've swam in the Mediterranean.

Later that afternoon, we rode a ferry ride back to Sorrento. This was our last night together as a group. Warren and April were leaving for Naples Airport to spend the night before their early morning flight to the US. Bob and I were leaving the next day for Rome where we would spend the next 2.5 days before flying back to Vancouver. Noemi and Michelle were spending a few more days in Sorrento with Nikki before going home to the Philippines. Nikki would then go back solo to Paris, where we started from together.

It was parting time again. Thanks, everyone, for a wonderful holiday.

On to our next adventure. Rome!

Next, No place like Rome, part 1 
Previous, Amalfi Coast in three days, part 1

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Amalfi Coast in three days, part 1

If there was any place Bob and I wanted to visit together in Italy, it was the Amalfi Coast. It had been on our bucket list for the last few years. The stunning coastline, picturesque villages clinging to cliffs overlooking the azure waters of the Mediterranean.... Ahhh, breaththtaking!

When our group was deciding on whether to go to Italy or Spain after our time in France, Bob pushed for the Amalfi Coast. Thankfully, the others were easy to convince. Spain would have to be for another time--hopefully.

Amalfi Coast is located in Campania, Southern Italy in the Sorrentine Peninsula. We decided to make Sorrento our base as it was recommended by several online articles and discussions. We were glad we did. Sorrento, although not along the same coast, had a lot to offer in terms of natural beauty, shops, food, transport and accommodations. It was also less expensive to stay there than in the resort towns of Amalfi Coast, and provided easy access to the region.

Amalfi Coast Map by James Martin, ( Italy Travel)

With only three days together in Campania, we planned an itinerary that allowed us to experience the Amalfi Coast and surrounding areas by both land and water:

Day 1, explored Sorrento. Our original plan was to go boating around the Isle of Capri on the first day, but due to rough waters brought about by the rains, we stayed in Sorrento instead. Sorrento had many interesting shops along narrow alleys and on main roads. I think Bob and I did the most shopping for souvenirs and pasalubong (presents) here of all the places we visited. We found a good pizza place there too called Franco's, and had good gelato.


Day 2, took a day tour of the Amalfi Coast by land. We made a prior reservation with a rental company that provided us with a Mercedes Benz van and a driver for 350 . Split among the seven of us, the price seemed reasonable, considering that it took us to three towns--Positano, Amalfi and Ravello--and a couple of stopovers along the way.

Taking the public bus would have been a lot cheaper, but it could be very crowded at peak seasons or hours. We wanted to see a lot of places in a short time and renting a van was the more efficient way to go. Driving on very narrow winding roads along the coast was quite an experience in itself. You gotta respect those drivers.

Ceramics galore!


Amalfi Coast, at last we've seen you with our own eyes and you did not disappoint. Now we can take you off our bucket list.


(To be continued)
Previous, To Sorrento!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

To Sorrento!

If you are planning on a France-Italy trip without the aid of a travel agent or outside of a package tour, compare prices. I was surprised to know it was cheaper to fly out of Paris to Naples than to take the train between these two cities. Our Paris-Naples flight on EasyJet cost us $155 US each for a flight that took a couple of hours. The train ride would have cost us $210 US each and 18 hours of travel with a change of train in Rome.

Depending on your itinerary, the France-Italy rail pass might suit you better if you plan to take a lot of train rides. This is what my son Gino and I did in 2007, but this time, it was not the practical or cheaper way. Compare, compare, compare.

The only downside in taking a small plane was that it had a smaller baggage limitation than regular international flights. Our airline was very strict with the one carry-on policy. We tried to fit smaller bags into bigger ones, but hubby and I still ended up paying €22 for an extra bag because my bulky shoulder bag couldn't fit anywhere. Even with that additional cost, the plane ride to Naples was still cheaper than the train ride.

Napoli Airport is the closest major airport to Sorrento, which we planned to make our base in Southern Italy. From the airport, you can take the public bus, commuter train or hydrofoil to Sorrento unless you are renting your own car. We took the bus that was conveniently stationed just in front of the airport and paid €10 per person. It was a comfortable drive on a winding road that passed through several coastal towns. We were in Sorrento in about 1.5 hours.

Piazza Tasso, Sorrento city centre

We got off at the Sorrento train terminal near the city square and took a cab to our hotel. The cab driver charged us €5 per person, or €35 for all 7 of us, which we thought was a good deal. We learned later from the hotel manager it was overpriced. She could get us a taxi for €20. Oh well... Next time, tell the driver to use the metre. 

Finally we were at our hotel about a 10-minute drive from the city centre. It was on a mountainside overlooking the Gulf of Sorrento, and from our hotel room balcony, we could see the tranquil water, mountains, greenery, limestone rocks, and the city. Lovely!  Even if our hotel was an old villa that could use some sprucing up, I think the view made up for it.

Our room had an awesome view. The skies were gray at this time.

With only three full days in Sorrento, we were eager to have a head start that evening and immediately go sightseeing. Alas, the light rains we had been experiencing since arriving in Naples suddenly turned into a strong downpour. It felt like a tropical storm reminiscent of typhoons in the Philippines. The young ones, Nikki, April and Warren, braved the wind and rain and went to the city anyway.

The oldies went back to the hotel.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Let the shopper beware

I'd like to share the most important shopping lesson I learned in France: READ THE FRENCH PRINT. They’re not even the fine kind. At least try to understand the words whenever you see them and save yourself some moolah or embarrassment. As the saying goes, buyer beware.

This is a no-brainer, but in the midst of the excitement of seeing nice things, and mentally converting from euro to Canadian dollars, and agonizing whether to buy or not, the brain can suddenly go on holiday.

Here are my two shopping blunders:

Blunder #1

As Bob and I were strolling around the historic town of Rennes, we passed by a shop that had a rack of colourful bags on the sidewalk. I instantly liked them. They looked exotic to South America.

“8 €!” I exclaimed. Even at 1.3 exchange rate, I thought that was a very good deal. I love cheap and I love exotic, never mind if they were sold in France where I should be thinking Louis Vuitton (not!).

After mulling about this for several minutes I told Bob I wanted to get the 8 €-bag. We turned around and walked back.

I saw a similar bag hanging inside the store, unhooked it, and brought it to the cash register.

“17 €,” the cashier curtly told me.

“Oh, sorry,” I replied and returned the merchandise. “I’m getting the one outside.”

Hubby and I went to the rack where it said 8 €. He yanked a bag from where it was securely tied. I went back to the cashier.

“17 €,” she said again. I spoke out this time.

“It says there 8 €. Isn’t this 8 €?” I said. The tag indeed said 17 € but the sign said 8 €.

She said something in French that I didn’t understand. Realizing we were not communicating, she left the counter and quickly walked to the rack. She pulled out a tiny purse that said 8 €. That was the 8 € one. The rest were what it said on the tag. Oh I get it, but no, I won't get that.

“Sorry, I thought everything was 8 €.” Hubby and I read the sign again. À partir de 8 €. So that’s what it meant! Starting from 8 €. We left the store a bit embarrassed, but at least I kept my 17 €.

If I wanted to buy something that looked as exotic as that, I’d buy it in Ecuador or Peru. Or from the flea market.

Blunder # 2.

In Saint-Malo, another shopper’s paradise, hubby and I entered a clothes store. “10 €!” I exclaimed upon seeing a rack of dresses with the big 10 € sign. I thought the dress was somewhat youngish, or what 20-somethings might wear. But for 10 €? I'd wear it.

Kaya ko ‘tong dalhin (literally, I can carry this, meaning, I can wear this without humiliating myself),” I bragged to hubby. He agreed. He liked it for me.

I grabbed a dress and at least two other sale items, and tried them on in the fitting room. Knowing this would take a while, Bob went elsewhere.

The 10 € dress fit me. It looked kinda different from what I’d normally wear, but I convinced myself it was a good buy. When I went to pay for my new dress, the till showed 22 €.

Wha—? I reacted quietly. I couldn’t say anything because there were people waiting in line. Besides, I couldn’t speak French and the lady may not know English. I paid for the dress and left.

“22 €! It’s not 10 €!” I complained to Bob as soon as I saw him. We checked the sign again and tried to decipher it.  "Oh, I think it means 'less 10 €'". The tag price was 32 €. That figures.

“Should I return it?” I kept asking. “Magpapaka-bagets bagets na sana ‘ko for 10 €… Soli ko na lang kaya? (I was willing to look youngish for 10 €. What if I just returned it?)”. I kept looking back to the store. Finally hubby said let it go, nakakahiya (it's embarrassing), just swallow it.

I felt so bad about paying 22 € for something I wouldn’t buy for $22 CAD. I wasn't even 22 years old. But I just swallowed it like Bob said. “Don’t tell the others,” I told him. Good hubby that he was, he didn’t tell anyone--until he blogged about it here and told the world, haha.

I kept the dress hidden from our group because I was embarrassed to show a bagets dress I bought simply because I thought it cost 10 €. I wore it only after our group had parted ways in Italy and I had almost nothing clean to wear in Rome.

Maganda sa ‘yo! (It's nice on you)” Bob said when he saw me wearing it. I felt much better because I know he tells me like it is when it comes to outfit.

I think I became a smarter shopper in France. But by then it was time to read Italian.


Next, To Sorrento
Previous, Saint-Malo

Monday, July 19, 2010


(This is hubby's third and last write up in this series on France.)

Our day trip to Saint Malo was pleasant and unhurried. The bus ride was quite interesting because we had a bunch of noisy teenagers tormenting the passengers with their repertoire of French and English songs half-sung and half-screeched. One could be easily annoyed but I chose not to sweat it because after all, I'm on holiday. No need to get stressed out. My companions didn't seem to mind them either; they were all fast asleep. They missed the scenery but they also missed the caterwauling. Well, most of it, anyway.

Saint Malo is the most visited place in Brittany according to We were lucky then not to have experienced the oppressive influx of summer tourists. It wasn't so bad when we were there mid-May. The heat wasn't so oppressive either.

Getting off the bus and seeing the walls of Saint Malo reminded us right away of Intramuros, a 16th century fortified city which was the birthplace of Manila. Saint Malo however, is older; it's literally medieval, having been founded in the Middle Ages. Since then, through the centuries it had been a monastic settlement, a pirate headquarters and even a self-declared republic. In a plaza atop the ramparts stands a monument to its famous resident, Jacques Cartier who colonized Canada. No wonder that name sounded familiar.

The fort city is surrounded by beaches, which adds to its attractiveness to tourists. The young 'uns did explore the beaches a bit, later in the day, while wifey and I exhausted ourselves window-shopping. I guess I would describe modern Saint Malo as a huge shopping centre cum food court. The theme is very nautical: striped sailor-inspired apparel, marina-inspired souvenirs, home decor, ad nauseum.

The highlight for me was lunch, which we had at Timothy's on their sidewalk patio. The cakes in the window display were ginormous—that's what caught the girls' eyes.

We scanned the menu, the mussels sounded like a great idea, so we sat ourselves down for a hearty meal. Nikki ordered for us, in flowing French of course—so nice to watch and listen to her ease with the language. Wish I could speak French. Or Italian. Or something other than English and Tagalog. Anyway, the mussels were delicious, cooked in different ways, not overwhelmingly sea-salty. As usual, we freely sampled and shared each others' dishes and took pictures of everything. Where are all these pictures gonna go???

It was off to more window-shopping and general wandering about for the rest of the afternoon. My wife actually bought something, and true to form, she went for the bargain dress, which was very young looking and I thought it would look good on her. Not bad for 10 Euro, we thought. So I left her browsing at this particular store, and watched the throngs of tourists leisurely flowing by.

It began drizzling almost at the same time the bells started tolling 2:00pm. Finally, wifey emerged from the store clutching her plastic bag, with a funny expression on her face. The dress, it turned out was not 10 Euro, but something less 10 Euro. She was too embarrassed to back out from the cashier, so she was forced to buy it. So I chided her, "That's what you get for being such a tightwad!" She's used to my needling so we both laughed it off. "Don't tell the others, okay?" My lips are sealed.

The trip back to Rennes was uneventful and we made it back to our hotel tired and weary from the day's foray. It was our last night in Rennes so the rest of the evening was spent packing and watching more French TV. For dinner, I bought snacks from the cornerstone for wifey and me, and the jovial owner offered me everything in his shop including, of all things, cocaine. "You want cocaine? I have cocaine." Just like that. Uh, no thanks. I guess Rennes does have a reputation for being a party town.

(Thanks to Warren and Mich for some of the photos above.)

Next, Let the buyer beware
Previous, Le Mont Saint-Michel, 2

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Le Mont Saint-Michel, 2

(This is the continuation of hubby's write-up on Mont Saint-Michel. Thanks to Warren and Michelle for photos.)

As I push my way through the crowd of wide-eyed visitors, I try to imagine medieval life in the abbey-fortress-village and imagine away the tourists and the numerous shops and restaurants that line the narrow streets that lead up to the summit, the abbey of Saint Michael.

The Gothic style abbey is built on granite and made mostly of granite, and has withstood centuries of climate change, invasions, wars and tourists.

It is said that in the eighth century, the archangel Michael had repeatedly told a certain Bishop Aubert to build the abbey but the stubborn bishop would not, until the angel burned a hole in his skull. Ouch! So if an angel appears to you and tells you to build a castle or a mall or a tourist trap, you better obey or else...!

The original chapel has long been destroyed and the Romanesque church that now stands on the mount was built in the 15th century. A golden statue of St Michael with his sword stands atop the tallest spire, ready to burn a hole into the skull of any wayward friar or tourist.

I liked the narrow streets, the stone ramparts, the moss, the architecture of the houses, and the view of course. Breathtaking. Awe-inspiring. Every so often you’d hear the bells tolling.

Up in the abbey, the Benedictine monks and nuns prepare for mass as tourists gather to witness ancient ritual unfold. One of the monks pulls the rope to ring the bell as another preps the communion stuff on the altar and nuns rush about, oh for whatever reason and settle finally, kneeling on the floor in front of the altar.

I would have stayed but I lost track of time and was afraid I wouldn’t find my group. I wanted to explore some more. Turns out my posse :-) had done more exploring than I did as evidenced by the numerous pictures they took of the abbey and its nooks and crannies that I never saw.

My three crazy nieces—April, Nikki and Michelle—and one taciturn but nonetheless willing accomplice, nephew Warren and designated mother hen, my sister Noemi, did their usual antics, mimicking the statues’ poses and jumping about (they love to jump). I actually envy them; I’m too old and too self-conscious to do these crazy, fun stuff.

From the main chapel, a door leads to the cloister, a squarish courtyard with numerous skinny pillars surrounding a nondescript garden. From there you get a view of the village down below and the shallow waters of the bay of St Malo.

I wander down to the village, trying a different path which led me to a tiny cemetery, the backs of convents and village houses, and a tiny chapel with a statue of St Michael slaying a demon underfoot.

The sun, thankfully, showed up and made the tour more pleasant. I reunited with my wife without the aid of a cellphone. At one point when it got lonely, I started looking for her and soon enough, quite by accident, we bumped into each other. All is well in the world again. :-)

We shared a gelato and decided to explore the town outside the mount, beyond the sandbar.

We rejoined the crazies back at the mount and yes, we found them snacking again, and now loaded with souvenirs too. Wifey and I explored the sandy beach surrounding the islet until it was time to go.

It had been an enjoyable day in a medieval village and now I was looking forward to St Malo, a fortified city just a few miles from Mont St Michel. But that’s tomorrow yet. Back in Rennes, I’m not sure now but I think we just ate inside our room at the hotel and watched French TV until we fell asleep.

Next, Saint Malo
Previous, Le Mont Saint-Michel, 1