Sunday, May 18, 2014

Pahiyas Festival in Lucban, Quezon! Viva San Isidro Labrador!

Quezon celebrates the feast of San Isidro Labrador, patron saint of farmers, on May 15 every year, with colorful festivals. The Pahiyas Festival in Lucban is the most popular and no doubt, the most lively of the festivals! Here's a guide to help you experience the Pahiyas Festival.

The day starts with a Mass at 6 a.m. at the Lucban Church. It is followed by a procession of the images of San Isidro Labrador and his wife, Santa María de la Cabeza (Blessed Maria Torribia), that leaves the church at 7 a.m. It makes its way around Lucban's designated procession route for the year. There are years when a marching band accompanies the procession, announcing its arrival along the route. But there are times that there is none, which unfortunately makes the fiesta atmosphere less lively.

Not all houses in Lucban decorate for the Pahiyas Festival. Only houses along the procession route are decorated. And every year, the procession route changes. It takes about seven years before the procession passes by a house again, giving a household enough time to save resources and prepare for the colorful and ostentatious decorations that are an inherent part of the Pahiyas Festival.

In between the morning procession and the parade in the afternoon, visitors get to walk around town and look at the colorful decorations called pahiyas, thus the name of the festival. You can also go shopping at the many stalls and a tiangge featuring handicrafts from Quezon and Laguna. Some use the time to explore other towns, or visit restaurants and resorts outside Lucban.

At about 3 p.m., a lively parade makes its way around town. Unfortunately, this parade has been invaded by not so subtle commercial advertising. Some people like it. But I don't. So I usually end up in Tayabas to watch the procession and the riotous agawan of suman (glutinous rice cakes).

In the evening, there's a different atmosphere in Lucban. The same decorated homes now compete for the evening pahiyas competition. Lighting becomes an important factor. And the procession route becomes a fantastic display of color and lights.

Traveling to Lucban, Quezon
There are two routes to Lucban, the one via Los Baños and Pagsanjan, and the other via San Pablo City and Maharlika Highway. I recommend the one via Los Baños after experiencing heavy traffic along Maharlika Highway (total standstill for an hour at 4 a.m. due to a truck accident). And since there are so many buses and trucks, the route can get really dangerous.

If you're taking a private car, you have to leave Manila before 4 a.m. if you want to make it to the morning procession. That also means there are more parking slots available outside town when you arrive. It's best to park farther away (for ease when leaving) and then just take a tricycle to the drop-off point.

Those who don't want to drive can join a tour, which is more convenient than taking public transportation, especially since all roads lead to Lucban, Tayabas and Sariaya.

Things to eat in Lucban
Lucban longganisa tops the list of things to eat and take home from Lucban. You can enjoy them deep-fried served with rice and egg in restaurants and stalls, or grilled on a stick along the street.

Pancit habhab is another favorite. While it's available along the parade route and sold in small servings on banana leaves (Php10), I noticed the ones at restaurants tend to have more toppings.

Read more on the Pahiyas Festival, Agawan Festival in Sariaya and Mayohan sa Tayabas.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Scotland: Glasgow's George Square at night

While Edinburgh is Scotland's capital, Glasgow is its largest city. One of the city's main attractions are the lavish Victorian and Edwardian buildings that were constructed during the 19th century and turn of the 20th century.

We arrived late in the afternoon but had a dinner appointment. By the time we were done, it was quite dark. So I got see the city's fine architecture only at night since we were leaving for England early the next day. Most of the buildings were not properly lit though. At least George Square, Glasgow's main square, was fantastic in the evening.

On the east side of the square are the Glasgow City Chambers, inaugurated by Queen Victoria in 1888. It serves as the headquarters of the Glasgow City Council. The south side has the former General Post Office, built in 1878, and other buildings. The city's Cenotaph stands in front of the Glasgow City Chambers. The memorial commemorates Glaswegians who died during the First World War.

At the center of the square is an 80-foot column honoring author Walter Scott. Several other public statues can be found around the square. So that was Scotland!

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.

Scotland: Glencoe, Glenfinnan, spectacular scenery of the Scottish Highlands

For the last leg of our Scottish journey, we traveled from the Isle of Skye to Glasgow, through fantastic snow-covered landscapes of the Scottish Highlands.

We left Skye by ferry at Armadale, arriving at Mallaig in the Scottish mainland thirty minutes later. Our fingers were crossed since the weather was so unpredictable, snow could have caused road closures that would have left us stranded. It could be sunny, cloudy, raining or snowing in a single day!

Our first stop was the Glenfinnan Monument (£3.50 entrance fee). The monument was completed in 1815 to mark the place where Prince Charles Edward Stuart (known as Bonnie Prince Charlie), pretender to the thrones of England, Scotland, and Ireland, raised his standard at the start of the Jacobite Uprising in 1745. The 18-meter monument is set amidst spectacular scenery at Loch Shiel.

If you're observant, you will notice the Glenfinnan Viaduct a distance away. It is featured in the 2002 film Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Lunch was at Fort William where it started to snow!

The highlight of the day was our stop at Glencoe Village to see the spectacular mountain scenery of Glen Coe (a glen is a deep valley). This was also featured in another Harry Potter film Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. If you're not there to hike to the glen, you can enjoy the view at the Glencoe Visitors Centre (£6.25 entrance fee), which also has interactive displays that introduce Glen Coe to visitors.

Pass of Glencoe looking towards Loch Achtriochtan
We drove through more of Glen Coe, part of the National Scenic Area of Ben Nevis and Glen Coe, on the way to Glasgow. It was difficult to take a nap since you'd miss the spectacular scenery!

Because the views were too stunning, we made several stops to take photos and enjoy the views while dealing with strong winds. But it was well worth it!

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.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Scotland: Exploring the Isle of Skye

If you're still craving for more of the Scottish Highlands, then a visit to the islands is in order! Just a few kilometers from Eilean Donan is the Isle of Skye, the largest island of the Inner Hebrides, connected by a bridge to the Scottish mainland.

Skye is stunning! Too bad though we arrived too early in the year. Winter had barely said goodbye. So it was gloomy and at times rainy as we explored the island. But the scenery was still fantastic, although the sun and spring or summer blooms would have made the experience all the more pleasant.

The drive from the Kyle of Lochlash on mainland Scotland to the village of Kyleakin is about ten kilometers, crossing the Skye Bridge. There is a train service to Kyle of Lochalsh from Inverness. Then a bus will take you to the island. We stayed in Kyleakin for two nights. There are a good number of inns and hostels in the village.

In Kyleakin, we walked to Castle Moil (Caisteal Maol), a ruined 15th century castle and ancient seat of Clan Mackinnon. You can actually explore this picturesque fishing village in under an hour.

The next day, we drove around the island, stopping briefly at one of the barbed fences to catch a glimpse of Highland cattle, a Scottish breed of cattle with long horns and wavy coats.

We drove past Broadford, a village spread around a large bay, on the way to the Isle of Skye Brewing Co. where we sampled the local beer.

In Trotternish, the northernmost peninsula of the island, are restored blackhouses, traditional houses common in the Scottish Highlands. It also has stunning rock formations like the Old Man of Storr. We also visited Kilt Rock and Falls.

All the way, we enjoyed quaint view of small villages or isolated homes in the middle of nowhere. Even the iconic British red telephone box calls attention in the sparse landscape.

For lunch, we went to Portree, the largest town and capital of Skye. It has a small town square called Somerled Square. And there's Portree Harbour, another iconic image of Skye, with its colorful houses by the pier.

Driving around Skye, you won't miss the Cuillin, a mountain range that dominates the Skye landscape.

On our last day, we drove to Armadale to catch the ferry to Mallaig. This ferry crossing is another way to get to Skye. There is a train service from Glasgow to Mallaig with a convenient connection to the ferry service to Armadale.

Unfortunately, Dunvegan Castle, the ancestral home of the Clan MacLeod, had not yet opened for the year (it's closed during winter). So we missed visiting the castle, the oldest continuously inhabited castle in the whole of Scotland. Hopefully I get to visit Skye again at the height of spring or summer!

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.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Scotland: Eilean Donan Castle and Loch Ness

Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland
Eilean Donan Castle is an iconic landmark of Scotland. The castle is one of the most visited attractions in the Scottish Highlands.

Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland
Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland
It's actually an early 20th century reconstruction of an older castle, with fortifications that date back to the 13th century. The original castle was destroyed in 1719 during the Jacobite Uprising. A stronghold of the Clan Mackenzie and Clan Macrae, it lay in ruins for 200 years and was rebuilt between 1919 to 1932 as a war memorial to members of the Macrae clan who died during the First World War.

Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland
No doubt, it is one of the most photographed landmarks in Scotland. But much of our visit to Scotland was in cold gloomy weather. So we didn't get to see the picturesque castle as seen in postcards. The castle is open from February to December (£6.50 entrance free). And the best time to visit is during late spring or summer. Unless you have your own transport, it's best to join a tour from Edinburgh, Glasgow, or Inverness.

Fort Augustus, Scotland
On the way to Eilean Donan from Edinburgh, we stopped by Fort Augustus, at the southwestern end of Loch Ness. The town has a Loch Ness View Point and maybe you might just see the Loch Ness monster. Another attraction is the Caledonian Canal which joins various lochs from Fort William to Inverness. We literally had a few minutes to explore since we needed to be in the castle before 5 p.m. The distance from Edinburgh to Eilean Donan is a little over 300 kilometers which is a four-hour trip.

From Eilean Donan, we proceed to the Isle of Skye, about 15 kilometers away.

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.
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