Friday, May 27, 2011

Taiwan: Visit to China Airlines Headquarters in Taoyuan Airport

China Airlines has continuously provided Filipinos one of the best options for air travel options not just to Taiwan, but onwards to the United States, Canada and Europe as well. Founded in 1959, China Airlines has become an airline of choice for many of our countrymen who look for value for money and great service. Today, the airline flies to 98 destinations in 29 countries.

During our visit to Taiwan, we had the chance to visit the newly-inaugurated China Airlines headquarters at the Taoyuan International Airport and tour its maintenance and training facilities.

Our first stop was Base Maintenance, which offers aircraft maintenance services including airframe, components, composites, cabin interior refurbishment, and painting & stripping. Several planes were actually being serviced while we were there.

We then visited China Airlines’ Engine Maintenance, which is actually one of Asia's advanced engine maintenance plants. It offers a comprehensive range of engine maintenance services.

Finally, we were toured around the Training Department which takes “an aggressive yet well-grounded approach to training to meet the requirements of international airline practices and operations.” The pilots and crew get intensive training for various aspects of the flights with state of the art simulators and facilities to help mimic actual flight situations and emergencies, including fires and water landings.

With all that attention to detail, it’s no surprise that China Airlines has strengthened its safety record, receiving the prestigious IATA IOSA Safety Certificate in 2005.

According to China Airlines Country Manager in the Philippines Michael Wu, “China Airlines continuously promotes a Corporate Safety Concept and has implemented a “Safety First” policy as the company core value. To achieve this core company value, China Airlines has implemented a companywide Safety Management System to promote safety and emphasize the safety responsibilities of each employee. Efforts have been made to build a three-dimensional safety net covering China Airlines operations both in the air and on the ground. Pilots and crew are given regular training in safety concepts, threat assessment methods, response techniques and ground safety. A series of regular safety activities have been arranged as a way of raising awareness about core values of safety and quality. China Airlines has passed the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) to become an IOSA certified operator from 2005, and passed the re-certificated audit to get the renewal IOSA certificate in 2011.”

And the great service has not gone unnoticed. In 2007, China Airlines was awarded highest ever rankings in Economy, Business and First Class service by Skytrax. As Mr. Wu shares, “The core value of our cabin service is that we treasure every moment with the passenger. We understand that for China Airlines to grow and remain strong & healthy, we have to focus on maintaining a base of loyal passengers. So passenger satisfaction is always the goal we pursue.”

In the past years, China Airlines marked some major milestones. In 2009, it celebrated its 50th anniversary. Just recently, China Airlines joined the SkyTeam Alliance, which thus firmly strengthened its Asia-Pacific network by welcoming its fifth carrier from the region. China Airlines leads the way as the preferred carrier for Filipinos to Taiwan and beyond.

Entries from Familiarization Tour
Kang Qing Long District in Taipei
Xiaolongbao 鼎泰豐 at Din Tai Fung 鼎泰豐
Taipei 101 Observatory
2010 Taipei International Flora Expo
Raohe Street Night Market 饒河街觀光夜市 in Taipei
Treasures of the National Palace Museum 國立故宮博物院
Taiwanese food at Wan Lin & Chi Chia Chuang Restaurant
Longshan Temple 艋舺龍山寺 & Huaxi Street Night Market 華西街夜市 in Taipei's Wanhua District 萬華區
Around Taipei's Beitou Hot Springs
Danshuei Old Street, Fort Santo Domingo & Danshui River cruise in Tamsui District 淡水區

Note: This familiarization tour of Taipei, Taiwan was organized by China Airlines. Book online at the China Airlines website.

Monday, May 23, 2011

McDonald's drive-thru and delivery for convenience when you travel

Driving has been an integral part of my travel around Luzon. The longest I've driven recently was the North Philippines route from Manila to Ilocos and back to Manila via Cagayan. Part of the trip involved driving at night. And it was a good thing there were 24-hour McDonald's stores open in the north. Twister Fries was part of my staple then when it was available. Too bad it's not available the whole year!

But even without the Twister Fries, I still look forward to my favorite McChicken Sandwich and Chicken McNuggets when I get hungry along the way. It's easy to plan a road trip since I know there are a lot of food options along the way. And for me, Chicken McNuggets is a really good option since it's easy to munch on along the way.

I don't remember how many times I stopped at McDonald's for Twister Fries during that really long road trip, especially when there was one open 24-hours. It was a lot definitely and it literally served as energy food for me along the way. I wonder why they don't keep it as part of the regular menu.

On the way to the airport for my recent trip to North America, we made sure to pass by McDonald's for a quick dinner. My niece always orders the Chicken McDo which is her favorite. At least we know we could manage our time when driving-thru at a McDonald's store.

We all know about the 8-MCDO deliveries in Metro Manila. But in some areas in the provinces, McDonald's delivery is also available. So if you suddenly get hungry and don't want to leave your hotel, you might want to try that option. Here is a list of all McDonald's stores for your conveniece.

Mexico: Bus ride to the Pre-Hispanic City of Teotihuacán

The Pre-Hispanic City of Teotihuacán is the UNESCO-inscribed archaeological site closest to Mexico City. The city was probably founded around 150 B.C. Its two main pyramids, the Pirámide del Sol and Pirámide de la Luna, are among the largest built in the pre-Columbian Americas.

From Mexico City, we took a bus from the Potrero Metro Station (another option would be from outside the Autobuses del Norte), which was MX$35 one-way. The bus ride takes about an hour. If you take the bus, make sure the bus stops in front of the Pirámides and not just the town of San Juan Teotihuacán. The bus ride takes about an hour.

There are several entrances. But the buses drop you off close to the Pirámide del Sol. Entrance fee to the zona arqueológica of Teotihuacán is MX$51 which seems to be the standard rate at sites and museums managed by Mexico's Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH).

Since it was getting a bit hot, we decided not to climb the Pirámide del Sol (63 meters high), said to be the second largest in the New World after the one in Chulola. So we walked along the Avenida de los Muertos or Avenue of the Dead, a central street with ceremonial buildings on either side.

At the northern end of the avenue is the Pirámide de la Luna. From the top of the pyramid, we were afforded a grand view of the Avenida de los Muertos and the rest of the city.

Near the southern end of the avenue is the Temple of the Feathered Serpent or Temple of Quetzalcoatl, the third highest structure in Teotihuacán. Although we missed this one, it's arguably the most interesting, with levels decorated with feathered serpent heads alternating with those of Tlaloc, a god of rain, fertility, and water.

Before proceeding back to Mexico City, we had lunch in one of the restaurants right in front of the park gates. We had Carne Asada con Ensalda, Papas, Arroz y FrijolesTacos de Barbacua, Quesadillas and Tlacoyos (oval-shaped fried cakes made of masa or corndmeal dough).

Taking the bus back was no problem since they passed by the park entrance at regular intervals. This time, after another hour on the bus, we found ourselves at the Autobuses del Norte. From there, we took the Metro to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. For more photos of Teotihuacán, check out the Teotihuacán album in Facebook.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Mexico: Around Mexico City's Centro Historico

Mexico is a country that many get to see only on TV, especially for fans of those Mexican telenovelas. This Central American nation is very rich in cultural heritage. In fact, it's one of the countries with the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites. So Mexico was on top of my list of places to visit.

I told Ivan Man Dy of Old Manila Walks about my summer travel plans late last year. And the next thing I knew, he was on board. Good thing since traveling with others helps bring down the costs. Traveling to Mexico was also made easy since those with valid U.S. visas can enter Mexico visa-free.

We arrived late in the evening on separate flights from the U.S. After getting several warnings about using ordinary taxis in Mexico City, we made sure to take the airport taxi to our hostel in the Centro Historico. It wasn't cheap (MX$205), but it's the price you have to pay for safety. The hostel we were going to was right smack in the Centro Historico, with a grand view of the Catedral Metropolitano. It was a good first impression that didn't last though. Our peace and quiet was shattered in the next few nights since the top floor of the hostel, which was just a floor above us, doubled as a bar or party venue in the evenings.

The next morning, we took it slow. Ciudad de México, México, D.F. or D.F. (pronounced de efe) to the locals, is 2240 meters above sea level. And they say it's best to rest and take it slow during the first day to adjust to the high altitude. The Historic Centre of Mexico City and Xochimilco, which we would visit a few days later, are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. So we spent the afternoon walking around the Zocalo and areas around it.

Our first stop was of course the towering Catedral y Sagrario Metropolitano de la Ciudad de México. It's said to be the largest cathedral in the Americas and was built on the ruins of the Templo Mayor of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, which the Spanish conquistadores had destroyed to strengthen their rule over the newly-conquered domain. Ruins of the Templo Mayor were discovered right beside the Cathedral in 1978 when an electric company was conducting some diggings in the area. And like in any country which knows the value of heritage, the site was scientifically excavated, studied and preserved.

The Metropolitan Cathedral is actually two churches, the main cathedral and the adjacent sagrario or tabernacle. Needless to say, the interior of the Cathedral is very impressive. Unfortunately, we had a difficult time getting really nice photos of the Cathedral and the Zocalo in front of it since Mexico City's main plaza had been converted into a makeshift camp site. With a presidential election looming in several months, the role of the Zócalo or the Plaza de la Constitución as a political hub and popular place for protests was even more evident with different interest groups erecting tents and banners there.

On the east side of the Zócalo is the Palacio Nacional, built on the site of the palace of Aztec ruler Moctezuma II. Once the palace of Spanish viceroys, a presidential residence and center of government, it now houses offices of the Federal Treasury and the National Archives. The materials used to build the palace were said to come from the palace of Moctezuma II.

The streets to the east of the Zócalo are one big marketplace which is very reminiscent of Divisoria, but amidst grand colonial buildings, especially along Calle Moneda. I could in fact hear the sounds of commerce from the top of my hostel building, vendors calling out to people to buy their wares. And just like in Divisoria, vendors pack up and run like scared rats, once the warning whistle is sounded. It's actually a good place to scout for some souvenirs.

To the west of the Zócalo is a chic pedestrian mall along Calle Madero which reminded me of Las Ramblas in Barcelona, complete with the human statues. It has a lot of cafes, restaurants, book shops, monumental old buildings and exquisite churches, among other structures.

At the opposite end of Madero is the Palacio de Bellas Artes, another grand structure that has become an icon of Mexico City. It's situated next to the Alameda Central Park. The exterior of the building is a mix of Neoclassical and Art Nouveau architecture. But the interior will no doubt make any Art Deco enthusiast go loco over Deco!

Since we were hungry, we wanted to look for some Mexican street food. We thought the Alameda was a good candidate. But we found a really interesting taco and torta stall close to the churches of Veracruz and San Juan de Dios opposite the Alameda. The stall was called Carbajal and we had bistec and suadero tacos plus torta with chorizo, hamon and salchicha, thus comprising our initial encounter with real Mexican food! Traditional Mexican Cuisine was inscribed in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010.

The meats were continuously cooking in their own juices adding flavor to this delightful Mexican snack. Plus you had a choice of various salsas to add to your taco. Note that a good Mexican taco is not complete without the chopped onions, cilantro, limon, salsa rojo and salsa verde as condiments. For more photos, check out the Ivan About Town FB album on Mexico City.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Europe: Portugal, Spain, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany & Netherlands 2010

Last year, I spent three weeks in Europe, visiting seven countries by train on a Eurail Pass namely Portugal, Spain, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and the Netherlands. I realized that I had not yet written about my trip. So in the meantime, here are photos from that equally memorable three weeks in Europe last year that have been uploaded to the Ivan About Town FB page.

June 17-21 - Porto & Douro Valley, Portugal
June 22 - Lisbon, Portugal
June 23 - Madrid, Spain
June 24-25 - Bordeaux, France
June 26 - Bruges & Brussels, Belgium
June 27 - Luxembourg
June 27-30 - Paris, France
June 28 - Provins, France
June 30 - Reims & Strasbourg, France
July 1 - Heidelberg, Germany
July 2 - Bremen, Germany
July 3 - Berlin & Potsdam, Germany
July 4-5 - Amsterdam, Netherlands

Central America: Mexico, Guatemala & Honduras 2011

After three weeks exploring Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras with Ivan Man Dy of Old Manila Walks, I'm finally at the Benito Juárez International Airport in Mexico City, waiting for my flight back to Washington, D.C.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be featuring this very memorable trip. In the meantime, I invite you to view photos from the trip which are now uploaded in the Ivan About Town FB page.

April 19 - Mexico City, Mexico
April 20 - Teotihuacán & Guadalupe, Mexico
April 21 - Taxco, Mexico
April 22 - Puebla, Mexico
April 23 - Mexico City, Mexico
April 24 - Chapultepec & Xochimilco, Mexico
April 25 - Zacatecas, Mexico
April 26 - Guanajuato, Mexico
April 27 - San Miguel de Allende & Querétaro, Mexico
April 28 - Morelia, Mexico
April 29 - Monte Albán, Oaxaca, Mexico
April 30 - Oaxaca, Mexico
May 1 - Palenque, Mexico
May 2 - Mexico-Guatemala Border & Flores, Guatemala
May 3 - Tikal, El Petén, Guatemala
May 4 - Antigua, Guatemala
May 5 - Copán, Honduras and Guatemala City, Guatemala
May 6 - Guatemala-Mexico Border & San Cristobal, Mexico
May 7 - Campeche, Mexico and Mérida & Uxmal, Mexico
May 8 - Chichén Itzá, Mexico
May 10 - Cuernavaca, Xochicalco & Tepoztlán, Mexico

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Taiwan: Danshuei Old Street, Fort Santo Domingo & Danshui River cruise in Tamsui District 淡水區

Danshuei 淡水區, also spelled Danshui or Tamsui, is one of the oldest colonial settlements in Taiwan. In 1629, the Spanish established the town and mission of Santo Domingo in the area.

We first had lunch in Red Castle Restaurant, a colonial residence converted into a restaurant, before exploring the historical buildings of the district.

One of their specialties is the Brass Pot which is their version of hot pot or steamboat 火鍋. From the top of the restaurant, one gets a really nice view of the Tamsui River and Taiwan Strait.

Fort Santo Domingo is one of the major attractions here, where you could find Fort Anthonio, built by the Dutch after they expelled the Spaniards, and the British Consulate Residence. So from Danshuei Old Street, we motored to Fort Santo Domingo. There are actually more old buildings in Danshuei that are worth exploring if you have the time.

But the main attraction of the district is actually Danshuei Old Street itself, which is actually a network of streets that form a very popular shopping area, noted for its massive array of Taiwanese snacks and seafood restaurants along the banks of the beautiful Danshui River.

Instead of proceeding back to Danshuei Old Street by land, our hosts decided to bring us there via a ferry ride to show us the Danshuei District from the Tamsui River which made the community an important port in the olden days. So we proceeded to Tamshui Fisherman's Wharf 淡水漁人碼頭 to take a ferry back to Danshui Old Street.

One of the distinct features of Tamshui Fisherman's Wharf is the Lover Bridge of Tamsui which got its name from the fact that construction commenced on February 14, 2003. You basically cross this pedestrian bridge to get the the row of seafood restaurants.

We spent an hour or two just walking along the street looking for some souvenirs to take home. I actually noticed that many souvenir items are cheaper here, especially if you buy them from the street stalls on the way to the Metro Station. Danshui also has it's own Longshan Temple 龍山寺.

One of the stores we visited is a bakery called San Xie Cheng. It's easy to miss since the signs are all in Chinese. But if you notice the sign, you'll see Chez Jean depuis 1935. The bakery is known for its dragon and phoenix cakes. And the good thing is they offer free tastes to visitors who are curious about the cakes. So if you are in Tamshui, try to visit San Xie Cheng.

On the way back to the Metro, our host from China Airlines made sure we tried the grilled stinky tofu at one of the food stalls. Danshuei also has a lot of hawker stalls so the area is also good for a street food adventure. More photos of day 3 in Ivan About Town FB page.

Note: This familiarization tour of Taipei, Taiwan was organized by China Airlines. Book online at the China Airlines website.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Taiwan: Around Taipei's Beitou Hot Springs

Beitou District in Taipei is most known for its sulfuric hot springs. In fact, as soon as you step out of the Xinbeitou Taipei Metro Station, you can already smell the sulfur. For our third day in Taipei, we visited the different attractions of Beitou.

Our first stop was the Beitou Thermal Valley, sometimes referred to as Hell Valley because of the large amount of steam in the area. A natural sulfur gas geyser, the water in Thermal Valley is between 80 to 100 degrees Celsius and contains melanterite or green sulfur. It was quite an experience walking around Thermal Valley. Even the streams around the area were so rich in sulfur, the water was white and steaming!

After exploring Thermal Valley, we briefly stopped by the public baths (which I noticed was very popular to senior citizens) before proceeding to the Beitou Hot Spring Museum which was once a public bath itself.

The Beitou Public Baths were built by the Japanese Colonial Government in 1913 based on the design of the Mount Izu Hot Spring Bath in Japan. The biggest public baths in East Asia during its heyday, it has been adaptively reused into a museum showcasing the history of the area.

We also visited the Taiwan Folk Arts Museum, another old structure that has been transformed into a museum. Built in 1921, the two-story Japanese building was originally a hot springs inn called Kayama. It was later used as a dormitory for the families of soldiers, and later as a country house, before it became a museum in 1984, dedicated to preserving and exhibiting Taiwanese folk art.

For the afternoon, we trooped to the Danshuei District but returned to Beitou in the evening for dinner and an overnight stay at Sweetme Hot Spring Resort. After all those sumptuous meals, our last dinner was at a vegetarian restaurant called Su where we ordered from a menu of set meals.

I actually looked forward to staying at Sweetme Hot Spring Resort since every room had its own sulfuric bath! That dip in the tub of warm sulfuric water was a perfect way to end a really jam-packed trip around Taipei. More photos of day 3 in Ivan About Town FB page.

Note: This familiarization tour of Taipei, Taiwan was organized by China Airlines. Book online at the China Airlines website.
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