Monday, 30 December 2013

Pinas#1: Old Manila is Beautiful

2013 is my year of travelling incessantly. In twelve months, I visited The Netherlands (Rotterdam, Amsterdam), Hungary (Budapest), Austria (Vienna), Portugal (Lisbon), Belgium (Brussels), France (Lyon and Paris), Italy (Bologna, Verona, Milan) and Morocco (Fes, Casablanca, Tangiers). In addition, I also travelled within Spain on weekend breaks to Toledo, Avila, Segovia, Palma Mallorca, Granada, Cordoba, Valencia, Salamanca, Alicante, Benidorm and Barcelona. That's eight countries and eleven Spanish cities, not including my base in Madrid, Spain. I am not enumerating these places to boast about my travels, instead, I hope to show that it is not from my biased Pinoy pride but from a mostly objective appreciation, having travelled to cities and places renowned for their beauty, that I shall state my case: Our country is beautiful and though we have shortcomings in infrastructure and ease of travel, our dear Pinas deserves to be part of every traveler's list of must visit destination.

My last weekend break for 2013 was an overnighter in Old Manila with my college best friends. We chose to stay at The Bayleaf Hotel because it is within the walls of Intramuros and the hotel's rooftop terrace promised a 360 degree view of Manila.

The Bayleaf Hotel Facade

A gingerbread house and a Christmas Tree welcome guests at the small lobby of the hotel

The hotel, opened in 2011, is right next to the murallas (walls) of the walled city of Intramuros, so it was a perfect base for our planned DIY walking tours around Intramuros and Chinatown. There are only 87 rooms so it is a small hotel. But what it lacks in size, it makes up with very friendly and attentive staff.

The view from the rooftop terrace by day is splendid

The rooftop terrace doubles as a bar-restaurant at night. With a nightscape of Manila, fresh cool air, and a live band playing mellow music, a drink or two at the Skydeck Bar was our way of unwinding after a day of walking around Manila.

The hotel conveniently provides a map of Intramuros highlighting the noteworthy places to visit. All the attractions in Intramuros are within walking distance from the hotel.

Beautiful Spanish-style buildings

A beautiful and touching Memorare for the victims of the 2nd World War.

There are a number of Spanish-era churches around Intramuros, but the grandest of them all is still the Manila Cathedral.

Originally built in 1571, the cathedral is on its eight incarnation, having been toppled by fires, earthquakes and bombings. Though the cathedral is currently closed for earthquake retrofitting, visitors can still appreciate the grandeur of the Cathedral's facade. One of the BFFs, who is a longtime resident of Holland, remarked how our Manila Cathedral can rival the old churches that are much celebrated in Europe. I agree, it took me this trip to appreciate how majestic the Manila Cathedral is.

We dropped by Casa Manila in Intramuros with the intent of visiting the museum, but we found the entrance fee to be a bit steep and not good value. Luckily we were informed that one can still roam around the courtyard of Casa Manila for free.

Casa Manila

One of the several courtyards in Casa Manila

There are a number of Inns and restaurants inside the Casa Manila complex. Because we were tired of walking, we decided to get some refreshments at the White Knight Hotel's restaurant located inside the Casa Manila complex.

A tall glass of ice-cold Halo-Halo and views of rustic Spanish-Filipino architecture in a shaded and tree-cooled inner courtyard equals ultimate refreshment!

Now that I think of it, I almost feel like going full circle: I went off to visit far flung places all throughout the year then capped it with a rediscovery trip to Old Manila. A year's worth of travels to Europe and Africa only reinforced my belief that although Old Manila has issues with dirty streets, squatters and lack of reliable transportation other than taxis, it is still pretty special. You see, other touristy cities have these issues too: I cannot begin to tell you how dirty and smog-like the air in Casablanca is. And Fes, Bologna, and even Budapest have rundown buildings in stark need of repairs too; some areas in Paris are swarming with beggars/pickpockets and their local trains are, too put it mildly, not too clean. Thing is, not one of these famous cities are without issues, and yet they are able to rise above their "downside" enough so that travelers are able to appreciate their unique offerings, despite the inherent hassles of visiting these places. Walking through Intramuros both during daytime and at night, unwinding at the end of the day in a roof deck with a bird's eye view of Manila's night scape, I could not help but sigh on how beautiful Manila's old historical section is. My hope is that more travelers, local Pinoys and foreigners alike, will discover how uniquely wonderful Old Manila is.

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