Monday, May 12, 2014

Scotland: Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, Harry Potter and more from the Scottish capital

Edinburgh Castle, Scotland
A medieval fortress dominates the skyline of Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. Edinburgh Castle stands at the head of Old Town, one of two distinct historic districts of the city. The Old and New Towns of Edinburgh are inscribed in the World Heritage List.

Edinburgh Castle, Scotland
Old Town, with its medieval street plan and Reformation-era buildings, is the oldest part of the city. St. Margaret's Chapel, built in 1130 and the oldest building in the city, can be found in Edinburgh Castle. A visit to Edinburgh will not be complete without a trip to the castle (£16 entrance fee for adults).

Edinburgh Castle, Scotland
View of New Town from Edinburgh Castle
The castle, once a shelter to Scottish royalty, also has several museums, the Scottish National War Memorial, and the Scottish Crown Jewels. The crown, scepter and sword are the oldest in the British Isles. One gets a great view of Old Town and New Town from Edinburgh Castle.

Royal Mile, Edinburgh, Scotland
Royal Mile, Edinburgh, Scotland
From Edinburgh Castle, a road called the Royal Mile (approximately one Scots mile long) leads down to Holyrood Palace. It's actually a succession of streets that include Castlehill at the top, followed by Lawnmarket, the High Street, the Canongate and finally Abbey Strand. Many of Edinburgh's historic landmarks are located on these streets.

Royal Mile, Edinburgh, Scotland
Canongate Tollbooth was built in 1591 as a tollbooth, courthouse, burgh jail and meeting place
Royal Mile, Edinburgh, Scotland
If you are a fan of Harry Potter, make sure to turn right at George IV Bridge, which is between Lawnmarket and High Street, to visit The Elephant House. This café is the birthplace of Harry Potter since it's one of the café's where J.K. Rowling wrote her first Harry Potter novel.

Scottish National Parliament, Edinburgh, Scotland
In front of Holyrood Palace is the Scottish Parliament Building, designed by Catalan architect Enric Miralles, who passed away before it was completed in 2004.

Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh, Scotland
Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh, Scotland
Holyrood Palace is the official residence of Queen Elizabeth II in Scotland, and has been the main residence of the Kings and Queens of Scots since the 16th century.

The ruins of Holyrood Abbey are adjacent to the palace.

Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh, Scotland
Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh, Scotland
The former royal hunting estate is now Holyrood Park, a 260-hectare royal park with many hills, lochs, glens, ridges and basalt cliffs. Arthur's Seat, a 251-meter hill, provides fantastic views of Edinburgh.

Edinburgh, Scotland
View of Old Town from Princes Street in New Town
New Town was built between 1765 and 1850, a showcase of neoclassical and Georgian period architecture. Princes Street is the main shopping street in Edinburgh where you'll find some of the most popular names in fashion. Buildings are located on the north side of the street. The south side is mostly trees and open space, which allows beautiful panoramic views of Old Town and Edinburgh Castle.

Edinburgh, Scotland
Edinburgh is a perfect introduction to Scotland. I had my first taste of haggis, Scotland's national dish, in Edinburgh. Haggis is a savory pudding made from sheep's heart, lungs, and liver minced with onion, oatmeal, suet and spices.

We also had our introduction to bagpipes and traditional Scottish music in Edinburgh. Check out the videos I took.

Part 1: Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, Harry Potter and more from the Scottish capital
Part 2: Eilean Donan Castle and Loch Ness
Part 3: Exploring the Isle of Skye
Part 4: Glencoe, Glenfinnan, spectacular scenery of the Scottish Highlands
Part 5: Glasgow's George Square at night

Also check out my photos of England, Scotland and Wales.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Sorsogon: Bulusan Lake & Volcano, Barcelona Church & heritage houses in Juban

Sorsogon Provincial Capitol
If you're looking for something else to do in Sorsogon after whale watching in Donsol, drive down south! The province has a few interesting sites south of Donsol, particularly in the towns of Barcelona, Bulusan, Juban and Matnog.

The capital of the province is also named Sorsogon. Sorsogon City is actually two towns that were merged when the city was created: Sorsogon and Bacon. Drop by the Sorsogon Provincial Capitol which has a really elegant park with centuries-old trees still standing. Taste seems to be a missing element among many local governments. But Sorsogon proves that it still exists.

Barcelona Church, Sorsorgon
A few kilometers from Sorsogon City is the town of Barcelona. The Barcelona Church is the best preserved Spanish colonial church in the province. But the altar has been altered. In front of the church are ruins of the Old Barcelona Presidencia. We noticed construction going on beside the ruins of large letters which spell "Barcelona, Sorsogon." By now, it should be finished and I'm sure this will be a popular photo spot for visitors.

Bulusan Lake, Sorsogon
Further down is the Bulusan Volcano Natural Park where Lake Bulusan is located. The lake, on the southern slope of Bulusan Volcano, is quite small at 28 hectares. There are facilities for rowing and kayaking. You can also walk around the shore which is a little over two kilometers, or hike up to Bulusan Volcano.

The town of Bulusan used to have a fortress church. The church is no longer there. But the walls and belfry, which must have doubled as a watchtower against Moro pirates, are still standing.

Bulusan Volcano, Sorsogon
Bulusan Volcano towers over the towns in the southern end of Sorsogon. We got a really nice view of the volcano from Irosin Church.

Grajo Heritage House, Juban, Sorsogon
On the way back to Sorsogon City, we passed by Juban which has five elegant heritage houses namely Alindogan, Alindogan-Gorospe, Grajo, Lasala, and Olondriz.

Anyway, you can visit all of these sites in a day. At the southern end of Sorosogon is Matnog, the jump-off point for Samar. The town has the best beaches in the province, particularly Subic Beach on Calintaan Island. That's my next target.

Here's something for you. Saw this quite a lot around Sorsogon. How many people are in this tricycle?

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Albay: Pinangat in Camalig and pinangat pizza & pasta in Legazpi

Mayon Volcano, Albay
I had a pinangat overload in Albay last week! Who doesn't love pinangat or laing? Pinangat is a Bicolano dish made from taro (gabi) leaves, chili (siling labuyo), meat or dried fish and coconut milk. Camalig is very popular for pinangat especially since there are so many stores along the National Highway selling freshly-cooked or frozen pinangat to take home.

Pinangat from Camalig, Albay
We stopped by Dad's Pinangat where a serving costs Php40 each. There are two types, one with chili and one without. I tried the freshly-cooked pinangat which was really good. I noticed though when I tried the frozen one at home that it wasn't as flavorful. This pinangat version has dried fish, maybe daing.

Camalig Church, Albay
While in Camalig, make sure to visit the centuries-old Camalig Church.

Laing Pizza at Small Talk Cafe, Legazpi City, Albay
Back in Legazpi, I made sure to visit Small Talk Cafe to try out their laing pizza. Order the Bicolana, which is pizza topped with pinangat, pineapple chunks, mushrooms and mozarella. The crust was thin and crunchy, and the combination worked well. The flavor of the laing was quite subtle. At Php225, it's a steal!

Laing Pasta at Small Talk Cafe, Legazpi City, Albay
Bicol Express Pasta at Small Talk Cafe, Legazpi City, Albay
They also have Pasta Mayon (pinangat ravioli in red tuna sauce), Pasta Pinangat (pinangat and coconut milk in white sauce with pasta), and Bicol Express Pasta (alamang, sili and gata sautéed in garlic and pasta) which I all got to try since the prices were quite affordable (Php105 to Php110 per serving). They also have Pili Basil Pasta (Php120).

Daraga Church, Albay
I had written something on the Mayon Volcano, Cagsawa Ruins and Daraga Church previously. My favorite views of the Mayon Volcano are from Lignon Hill, Cagsawa Ruins (which is the iconic view of the volcano) and Daraga Church (especially if you take a photo of the church with the volcano behind it). But waking up to a beautiful morning with a clear view of Mayon Volcano was another great experience. The photo at the top was taken from my room balcony at the Oriental Hotel Legazpi.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

India: Lake Ashtamudi lunch cruise & Kollam Beach in Kerala

Lake Ashtamudi, Kollam, Kerala, India
Great explorers such as Marco Polo and Ibn Batuta set foot in Kollam, the gateway to the backwaters of Kerala, India. It was a major port of the international spice trade. And it's a major destination in Kerala for those who want to immerse even deeper in the backwaters.

Lake Ashtamudi, Kollam, Kerala, India
From Varkala, we proceeded to Lake Ashtamudi for a lunch cruise around the lake and more views of the famous backwaters of Kerala. We saw some traditional fishing villages along the way.

Lake Ashtamudi, Kollam, Kerala, India
Our lunch cruise was hosted by WelcomHotel Raviz Kollam, a fantastic resort by the shores of the lake. We were welcomed upon our arrival by drums, Kathakali performers and an elephant! Our boat was a larger version of the kettuvallam boat with an air-conditioned function room plus an upper deck for beautiful views of Lake Ashtamudi and the local color and culture.

Lake Ashtamudi, Kollam, Kerala, India
Waiting for us on the upper deck was a sumptuous spread of local dishes which they served with Indian beers and wines. Yes, India has its own red and white wine.

Lake Ashtamudi, Kollam, Kerala, India
Lake Ashtamudi, Kollam, Kerala, India
The backwaters are a cultural landscape filled with coconut trees. Every now and then, colorful fishing boats jump out of the continuous fabric of trees, sky and water.

Lake Ashtamudi, Kollam, Kerala, India
Lake Ashtamudi, Kollam, Kerala, India
As our boat moved around the lake, we were also introduced to cheena vala or Chinese fishing nets brought in by Chinese merchants. They were all over the place and are a common sight in Kerala.

Lake Ashtamudi, Kollam, Kerala, India
Different species of birds are also seen around the lake.

Lake Ashtamudi, Kollam, Kerala, India
Lake Ashtamudi, Kollam, Kerala, India
We made our way back at the resort to catch a Vallam Kali, a traditional Kerala boat race that was happening right in front of the hotel.

Quilon Beach, Kollam, Kerala, India
Quilon Beach, Kollam, Kerala, India
From the lake, we proceeded to Kollam Beach. We spent the night at the Quilon Beach Hotel. The next morning, I was too tired to get up to take photos of the fishermen pulling their nets. But I got a great view from my room anyway.

WelcomHotel Raviz, Kollam, Kerala, India
WelcomHotel Raviz Resort and Ayurveda Spa Kollam
Thevally, Mathilil P.O., Kollam
Kerala, India 691601
Telephone No.: +91 (474) 2751111
Fax No.: +91 (474) 2741111

The Quilon Beach Hotel and Convention Centre
Beach, Kollam
Kerala, India 691006
Telephone No.: +91 (474) 2769999
Fax No.: +91 (474) 2749009
Reservations: +91 (944) 6004251 or 6004252
E-mail: or

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

India: Varkala Beach in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala

Varkala Beach in Kerala, India is not just paradise for those who love beaches. It is also called Papanasam Beach, a popular pilgrimage beach. Papanasam literally means wash away sins. And many Hindus come here for purification.

The best views of the beach are from the top of red laterite cliffs that tower over the golden sand and blue waters of the Arabian Sea. Unfortunately, we did not have time to walk down and enjoy the water.

We had high tea at The Gateway Hotel, a Taj resort in Varkala, quite close to the beach. I would have wanted to stay overnight, but we were off to Kollam for the afternoon. Varkala Beach is 45 kilometers away, about two hours from Trivandrum. It's quite close if you plan to land in Trivandrum and are looking for a really nice beach nearby.

The Gateway Hotel Janardhanapuram Varkala 
Near Government Guest House
Varkala - 695 141, Kerala, India
Telephone No.: 91 470 6673300
Fax No.: 91 470 6673333
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