Rediscovering Boracay

 

 

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It has been almost ten years since I’ve been back at Boracay’s White Beach. It wasn’t a deliberate absence. We’ve just been spending more time with long summers in Toronto. I was also under the notion that I had outgrown Boracay. I’d been going there since the early 1990’s. But last month, during my sister’s visit to the Philippines, we planned a four-day stay in Boracay.

We flew to Kalibo, instead of the more convenient Caticlan. I knew there would be extra land travel once we land in Aklan, but I was told that the roads were nice and the drive was pleasant. It was. This time we flew Air Asia. It was my first time to try Air Asia. I was very impressed with their snappy service.

We chose to stay at Discovery Shores Boracay. I knew about their excellent service because we stayed at Discovery Primea in the early spring. What I didn’t know, being a first timer at Discovery Shores, was their excellent location. They’re at the best part of Boracay, the northern tip of White Beach called Station 1, with the whitest and finest sand.

Here’s how our Boracay rediscovery went…

 

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Our journey started in Terminal 4 which, in my opinion, is the more organized terminal than the other three. It’s smaller and more efficient. But there are no tubes and ramps, so you have to walk across the tarmac. On a sunny day, it’s wonderful.

 

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We had five kids with us.

 

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The kids were so impressed with Air Asia’s in-flight menu (pretty pictures and bold graphic design). They ordered a feast!

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Stella’s in-flight meal. I suggest for longer flights, you pre-order your meals online for fancy hot meals.

 

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Stella and her new friends.

 

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Our land transportation to Caticlan from Kalibo was arranged through Discovery Shores Boracay. We had a private van. The trip took 90 minutes. These days there are many options, like shared vehicles or buses. You may arrange it with your hotel or on your own. On board the flight, Air Asia staff was selling land transfers as well.

 

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The Caticlan shore.

 

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Our bunnies excited to just be there already. All my three girls are wearing Gingersnaps and Melissa shoes. Unplanned.

 

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The five-minute boat ride from Caticlan to Boracay was very comfortable. The little boat was air-conditioned. We were given cold towels, cold water, and oatmeal cookies. There were lifejackets for all of us in the seat pockets in front of us. And there was a stewardess!

 

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Our home for four days. Approved by The Lily, my only child who loves doing OOTD shots.

 

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A lot has been said about Boracay’s environmental problems – over-development, algae, flooding, local governance and more. Yet one thing remains, that 8 kilometre stretch of white beach is still so beautiful. As someone who once worked on an environmental planning project there in 1995 (under my Canadian government’s technical assistance program), it alarms me to see the many violations that have been/and are still being committed. But I am also hopeful because there are stakeholders that are trying to do things to improve and preserve Boracay. I think all stakeholders, including tourists, should pause and realize that this small island can only take so much. Technically there is an index called “carrying capacity.” And we can see that for such a small place, perhaps it has been maxed out.

 

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Looking towards Caticlan, there are windmills. It’s good to see sustainable energy choices in the area. Wind power is renewable and non-polluting. By the way, my camera was set on auto. The sky just does crazy things like that during magic hour. Beautiful.

 

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In the shore fronting White Beach, they only allow eco-friendly recreational sports. I’m glad there are no more jet skis allowed there. (Yes, it has been that long since I visited white beach). Sophia and I loved the stand-up paddle board. I suck at every sport, but I’m very comfortable with anything with paddles and scuba diving. But I don’t know how to surf.

 

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David Goldberg is the owner of Heidiland, the Swiss deli located in D-Mall. David is my good old friend. We met in the 90’s when I was managing an environmental management program in the island. We helped set up Boracay Consortium, a group of multi-disciplinary stakeholders who started different programs to ensure the environmental stability of the island. It had lofty goals. Not all were met, obviously. But we started the communications and cooperation between different groups and communities. This eventually became Boracay Foundation.

 

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My family and my sister’s family stayed at Discovery Shores Boracay. More on that experience at a later post.

 

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We loved Discovery Shores. Facilities were beautiful and well-maintained. And the service was impeccable.

 

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As beautiful as our room was, we couldn’t wait to hit the beach every morning.

 

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The whitest and finest sand.

 

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I never got tired of looking out at the water. The light changes quickly. This was just after lunch. I love the silvery tones.

 

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From Discovery Shores, we were able to go anywhere in the island using their shuttle. But honestly we only went as far as D-Mall. Considering we were at the best part of the beach, I didn’t find the need to go to other places.

 

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I regret not buying these cute hand-painted creatures. They were made of seeds and husks from mangroves. No two creatures were alike. I am hating myself for not buying at least one.

 

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My daughters don’t stop drawing and painting. They carry their sketchbooks and markers everywhere they go. Scroll back up to the photo of Lily and Stella in the flight. Both had notebooks. At D-Mall, Lily drew some cute anime figures while I had my coffee.

 

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Sophia and sorbetes.

 

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Cheap lunch at D-Mall. I meant this panoramic shot for Facebook 360. Only I knew that I was taking the photo. Sorry Han!

 

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I always made sure we were back in our part of the beach during Happy Hour. This signals the start of the greatest show in Boracay, the sunset.

 

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Wearing my favourite caftan from India.

 

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Our kids created little ecosystems where crabs, snails and other creatures lived.

 

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Another folksy cover up.

 

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Me and my sister Johanna.

 

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Stella kept herself busy shuttling from beach to shore, carrying sand back and forth.

 

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Sunset usually brings down the tide. So the kids can lay down like its a big bathtub.

 

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No need for caption. Sigh.

 

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White beach at magic hour.

 

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Just when you think the sunset is over, the sky does this.

 

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Discovery Shores at night. Kudos to the lighting architects.

 

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On our third night, we took the kids to the busier part of the beach.

 

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Lily found it a bit loud, haha. I had to remind them that Boracay is many things to different people. If we found it serene and relaxing, there are others who come here to party. And that’s ok.

 

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Sophia and that fiery sky.

 

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Lily too.

 

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Stella couldn’t keep still long enough for me to capture her profile though. Here she is running around before it got completely dark.

 

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I was really pleased to see that Boracay is still all that. Yes, many of us look back at the past and think it was much better then. And it was. But Boracay is still really beautiful. I just hope that something will be done about the threats the island is facing. Before it’s too late.

 

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Seriously. No wonder we Filipinos are beach snobs… and sunset snobs. Just look at that! No filter. Oh, Boracay, you are still so beautiful.

 

Transportation:             Air Asia from Manila to Kalibo

Airport transfers:         c/o Discovery Shores Boracay

Accommodations:        Discovery Shores Boracay, Like them on Facebook,

 

 

Shanghai Giveaway

 

 

It has been four years since Patrick and I took that wonderful trip to Shanghai. I dug up some old photos, and sigh, wow, Shanghai is really beautiful. We went during the winter/spring of 2012. We explored Shanghai French Concession, the Bund, the gentrified Tianzifang, our beautiful hotel Waldorf Astoria, the skyscrapers of Pudong, saw a friend who lives there, ate lots of yummy dumplings, and spent an afternoon in the urban planning museum. Shanghai is really a wonderful mix of east and west, old and new.

I’d really love to go back to Shanghai and perhaps bring our kids next time. In a few days on June 16th, the $5.5-billion Shanghai Disney Resort will open. It is Disney’s third theme park resort in Asia, after Tokyo and Hong Kong, located in Shanghai’s bustling Pudong district, home to some of Shanghai’s landmark skyscrapers.

Last week I attended the launch of Air Asia’s newest destination, Shanghai. The launch was held at Niu by Vikings. Air Asia, now my site partner, is the World’s Best Low Cost Carrier for seven consecutive years. Starting June 10, 2016, Air Asia offers direct flights from Manila to Shanghai with an all-in promotional fare starting from as low as P2,888 booking at www.airasia.com now until June 12, 2016. Guests who avail of this promo must travel from June 10, 2016 to October 29, 2016. You may also have this promo via their mobile site.

Here are some of the highlights of our last trip to Shanghai. It is such a chic destination. I really loved our week in Shanghai. And now with Disneyland, it is more family-friendly. Can’t wait to bring the kids soon.

Scroll down to see how you can win one round-trip ticket to Shanghai (from Manila) with Air Asia.

 

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The view of Pudong from our hotel suite at the Waldorf Astoria.

 

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Nanjing Road

 

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The city’s most recognisable landmark is the Oriental Pearl Tower. We didn’t go up anymore, but we went up close. Patrick doesn’t like crowded, touristy places. So in lieu of sightseeing at the Oriental Pearl, we went up to several rooftop bars in some of Shanghai’s tallest skyscrapers.

 

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In one of the traditional market areas. East-meets-west, truly.

 

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In Pudong.

 

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At Flair, Ritz-Carlton.

 

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Blooming jasmine tea

 

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Self-confessed urban planning nerd. I spent a few hours in the Shanghai Urban Planning Museum.

 

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French Concession

 

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View of The Bund from Pudong.

 

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View of Pudong skyscrapers from Flair, the bar at the rooftop of the Ritz Carlton.

 

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Cloud 9 at the Grand Hyatt at Jin Mao in Pudong. When it was built in 1998 it was the tallest building in China. I find this building really elegant with all it’s lines. The exterior curtain wall is made of glass, stainless steel, aluminium, and granite.

 

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But by 2007, Jin Mao was surpassed by the Shanghai World Financial Center right beside it – the one with the blue lines.

 

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The Bund, all lit up at night.

 

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Street food.

 

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Our fancy dinner at Jean Georges in one of the buildings at The Bund.

 

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The glamorous bathroom of our suite in Waldorf Astoria.

 

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Xiao Long Bao in Din Tai Fung.

 

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Shopping and dining areas in Xintiandi.

 

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We loved Tianzifang because unlike Xintiandi, it had more local colour — lots of hipster shops, vintage finds, designer studios, quaint restaurants.

 

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A shop in Tianzifang.

 

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Beautiful sycamore trees at Xintiandi.

 

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Monumental commercial buildings in the Beaux Arts style that date back to the 20th century, when the Bund was developed into a major financial center of east Asia.

 

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At the lobby of our hotel, Waldorf Astoria.

 

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Butter with the most perfect font!

 

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A fishing village about an hour away from Shanghai.

 

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It was a lovely contrast, seeing this traditional fishing village in the rural part of the outskirts of Shanghai.

 

My Air Asia Giveaway –

You can win – One roundtrip ticket Manila-Shanghai-Manila. Valid travel period is from June 10 to July 1, 2016.

All you have to do –

1. Upload any of your photos in Instagram. Tell me why you want to go to Shanghai. Tag 5 friends and my IG account @DaphneOP. Use hashtag #WhereinShanghai, #AirAsiainShanghai #DaphneOP

2. I will choose the winner based on your answer, so make it interesting. Winner will be notified by IG direct message.

3. This giveaway runs from now June 6, 2016 to June 9, 2016 5pm. Winner will be announced on June 9th before 7pm Manila time.

4. Winner is responsible for processing his/her own Chinese visa. See requirements below. By joining this contest, I assume you have a valid passport and are able to apply for a Chinese visa.

 

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The Terazi Spa at Discovery Primea

 

 

TERAZI SPA

 

Our long weekend staycation at Discovery Primea was even made more special because of our couples massage experience at Terazi Spa. We hardly ever have a couples massage because frankly, who has the time? And when we are staying in hotels, it’s usually logistically impossible because who will watch the kids? This time was different because my mom and dad also had their own Business Flat room just beside our Primea Suite. So they babysat the three girls for a couple of hours.

I have never been to Turkey so I don’t know what an authentic Turkish bath is like. But I’ve been to a 5-star, 5-diamond waters spa in the US. And I can imagine that in Istanbul, Turkish baths are more exotic. Patrick and I were in for a surprise when we stepped into the Terazi Spa on the 3rd floor of Discovery Primea. The decor was warm and modern. Lots of wood panels and indirect lighting. There was nothing ethnic or exotic, just a quiet elegance. Here’s a rundown of what we experienced.

 

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The lobby foyer of Terazi Spa.

 

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I filled out a few forms.

 

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They asked about our health situation. There are some medical conditions that contradict the treatments. So if you have some health concerns, please check with your physicians first as the Hammam involves steam and heat.

 

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After filling out the forms, we sat in a little lounge where we were given a really refreshing cold tamarind drink.

 

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Our shoes were taken away and we were given white rubber flip-flops.

 

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Upon entering our therapy room, I see my new Melissa slides in this basket. I love these slides they are perfect for the summer and for pedicure days. This is from the newest Take Me To Rio collection.

 

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And this is the Hammam. This traditional, marble-lined Turkish bath is the only one of its kind in Metro Manila.

 

The room was heated with steam. At one point I couldn’t see past my arms. Patrick and I were in opposite sides of the room. We were given cold citrus water and an ice pack in case we felt faint and dehydrated. We sat for 10 minutes soaking in all the steam. Then we were occasionally doused with water.

Then we were made to lie face down on the heated marble bed. Terazi’s therapist started us with a deep body exfoliation using a traditional ‘chess’ mitt and castile soap. This is where it gets TMI. But you have to just surrender. The therapist will scrub every nook and cranny of your body. (We kept our undies on, haha). And here is the most incredible part, when the therapist covers your body in a cloud of soap suds or bubbles to wash away dead skin cells. Imagine how that feels. The bubbles pop and slide down your skin. It’s a very gentle sensation. It was the most relaxed I’ve ever felt. I didn’t want it to end.

After the hammam we were escorted back to our massage room. They led us to the shower. And gave us another glass of cold drink.

 

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The shower area.

 

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And here is where we had our massages. There were three choices of oils. I chose the one with eucalyptus.

 

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It was an amazing massage. I sort of fell asleep but not deeply. I don’t want to actually sleep for fear of missing the massage sensation. Patrick on the other hand totally conked out. Again, the service and ability of the the therapists were excellent.

 

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After all the treatments, we sat at the little lounge up in front again. We were given another drink, warm ginger tea this time.

 

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It was just so, so, lovely. I miss it already. That hammam experience was incredible. It’s definitely something to try. I’m already thinking of when I can go again next. It was that good!

 

Our couples massage was sponsored by Discovery Primea in partnership with Melissa Philippines. Watch this space for a chance to win a weekend staycation at Discovery Primea.

For inquiries about the Hammam Treatment and other spa treatments at Terazi Spa, call Discovery Primea at +632 955-8888 local 7310, or email dp.rsvn@discovery.com.ph for reservations.

 

 

Staycation at Discovery Primea

 

 

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One of the activities we love to do as a family is go on a staycation. Often when we travel, we do not get enough time to enjoy the hotel rooms. It’s usually just a place to crash in after a day of walking. But staycations let us enjoy the amenities and luxurious details. And it really becomes a relaxing vacation.

This weekend we were at Discovery Primea in Makati. This is a special staycation not only because it is the Chinese new year long weekend but also because it’s Sophia’s birthday. Plus, we have with us my parents who are visiting from Toronto.

 

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I received a warm welcome from Discovery Primea’s Director of Marketing Communications, Mildred Amon.

 

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Our suite was perfect for a family. I love that kitchen. It’s complete.

 

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Sophia’s birthday surprise — chocolate cake and balloons. And yay, we finally gave her an iPhone. It’s an iPhone 6s, but she actually would prefer the smaller iPhone 4s. (The same one she lost in France last August.) Oh well. She is happy.

 

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More surprises from Discovery Primea — our names in chocolate scrabble.

 

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My closet was filled with the new collection of Melissa shoes, my site partners.

 

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Sophia also got a present from Melissa.

 

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I was tempted to just have fun. But the truth is I have so much writing to catch up on. This was where I hung out most of the time.

 

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We loved the two-bedroom Primea Suite. (Lily had issues with her mouth so she couldn’t smile. She’s totally ok though.)

 

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Stella would have stayed in the bathtub watching TV all day. But I had to be the party pooper.

 

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My parents had a Business Suite just next door to ours.

 

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On our first night, we had a special dinner at Restaurant Tapenade.

 

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The celebration for Sophia’s birthday continued.

 

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Our special menu.

 

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The Salad Room at Tapenade is amazing. I had to pace myself because we had a lot of food coming…

 

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That’s Sophia, Patrick, and my dad. They enjoyed the oysters.

 

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Details matter.

 

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Stone-baked feta cheese.

 

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This ribeye was perfect!

 

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Salumi pizza

 

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I blinked, and she grew up. My Stelly-belly looks so grown up here.

 

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Wearing K&Company and Melissa shoes at Gilarmi Lounge.

 

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When we got back to our room, we found movies, popcorn, french fries and other snacks. The kids were thrilled at the idea of movie night.

 

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Our movie choices. Guess what we watched?

 

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More memories were made with Lolo and Lola.

 

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The pool was gorgeous at night.

 

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And so is my mother.

 

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Lily loved the details from turndown service.

 

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Good night.

 

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The next morning — somewhere in there was Stella who snuck into our bed in the middle of the night. I love when my babies do that.

 

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We had room service for breakfast.

 

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Good morning, Stella.

 

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Brioche French toast with fresh strawberries and chantilly cream is so delicious.

 

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I was so delighted to see this beautiful chapel. When commercial establishments make room for spirituality, it’s a good sign. They had Sunday Mass with a lovely male chorale group.

 

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There’s so much beauty in simplicity.

 

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I can’t emphasise enough how wonderful their pool is. First of all it has that fantastic view of the city skyline. And secondly, it’s heated. .

 

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Lolo and Stella.

 

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Wearing my Melissa slides.

 

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Spot the Lily.

 

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Here she is. Coincidentally the name of the shop in Discovery Primea is Lily.

 

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My parents were reminiscing about Makati and how this used to be the Gilarmi Apartments, the first serviced apartment in Asia. It was originally owned by Virgilio Hilario in 1962 who named the hotel after son, Gil and his wife, Armi Kuusela, the first Miss Universe. This is now owned and operated by  The Discovery Leisure Company.

 

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Incredible view. Heated pool. I love it.

 

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The family who wears Melissa together …

 

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Another surprise on our second night. Happy Year of the Monkey!

 

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For all the beautiful personal touches, thank you Discovery Primea for sponsoring our long weekend staycation.

 

For more information, visit www.discoveryprimea.com or Discovery Primea on Facebook. Check out their current Valentine weekend package here. Read about our couples massage and Turkish bath at Terazi Spa here.

Also, you my readers are first to know that you may also get a chance to win a staycation at Discovery Primea through a special promo at Melissa shoe stores. Details will be up in my blog next weekend.

 

Barcelona Christmas

 

 

Excactly a year ago,  I was in Barcelona filming DAPHNE Diaries for Lifestyle Network. You can watch some of the videos here.

Barcelona is one of my favourite cities for the simple reasons that it is so walkable and things are on a human scale. You won’t see massive architecture – well, except for the La Sagrada Familia. The city is multilayered – you see great architecture from different periods. And the food is not expensive and very accessible.

I had the most significant December 8th last year. It may have been coincidental that we were at the Our Lady of Montserrat Monastery exactly on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. I must have been really meant to be there.

But this story is about Christmas in Barcelona. We were lucky that when we were there, they had Christmas markets in the city. Our guide told us that the seasonal night markets only took place for a few days in December – around this time! I particularly liked the one just out side La Sagrada Familia. It had pretty clay sculpted miniatures.

 

 

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Our hotel was just off of La Rambla.

 

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It’s a must for every tourist. So yes there are a lot of souvenir stalls if you’re into that. I just liked walking up and down it.

 

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This is how the Catalans do Christmas nativity scenes. This was set up in the square outside the town hall. It had a rustic Roman theme.

 

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The little diorama had elements of rustic life when the Catalan region was still part of the Roman empire  — farming, traveling by boat and donkey, details of a Roman home. There is Mary and Joseph with baby Jesus by the waterfront. It isn’t your typical Holy Night scene.

 

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There’s an aqueduct. And look further. There’s a figure of a man who appears to be squatting.

 

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He is what is known as a Caganer – a figure of a defacating person. This has been part of Catalan tradition for two centuries now. Nowadays, Caganers come in all forms – Sponge Bob, Queen Elizabeth, David Beckham. I had to get one for myself! In Catalan culture, kids take turns looking for the hidden caganer.

 

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Just outside La Sagrada Familia, there happened to be a lovely Christmas night market.

 

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It was very rustic and crafty. There were no commercial products, no brands, no fakes from China. They had artisans and farmers from the region selling traditional Catalan Christmas goodies.

 

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Pine trees

 

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It is also part of their tradition to give pine bouquets as gifts.

 

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Our guide Fabio gave me a pine bouquet.

 

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These are Christmas logs known as Caga Tios. And just like the caganer, the cage tios also defacate. When the tail end of the log opens, out flows lots of candies for children.

 

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She is the artisan who made the miniature Catalan nativity (belen) that I bought. Top row shows traditional caganer in the white shirt and red hat, and beside it are soccer players in caganer form.

 

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Each little diorama element is made of terracotta clay. You can customize your nativity scene. All are inspired by a Roman village.

 

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More figurines for the nativity scene.

 

PC091622More contemporary caganer doing the poopie act. These caganers are placed in the nativity scene, usually behind the cottage where baby Jesus was born. Never in front, that would be disrespectful. Usually kids make it a game to find the caganer every day.

 

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Cartoon caganers. I found out that all this fascination with pooping is really part of Catalan tradition. It is believed that defacation is the greatest equalizer. It is something everybody does whether rich or poor.

 

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The holy family in miniature.

 

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My growing collection of Christmas nativity. I bought a the smallest sets.

 

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And just to give you an idea of how small my lovely nativity scene is.

 

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My gift to self – Antoni Gaudi as a caganer.

 

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Mr Gaudi and his La Sagrada Familia

 

I’m not a fan of souvenirs. But I had to make an exception for these caganers because they tell such an interesting story of Catalan culture. And how adorable is the Sagrada Familia in clay pottery?!