Sunday, September 25

Dance Number

Had a blast practicing with colleagues. There will be an acquaintance cum get-together party in the office tomorrow, and the Pinoy group is requested to present a number. Having several great talents in dancing within the group, notwithstanding the fact that we have an excellent choreographer, it's a no-brainer for us to choose a dance number to  be presented. The only catch: we have barely 24 hours to work out a complete dance routine...

We decided to meet and right there decided to have sort of a cha-cha/line dance combination as we cannot afford having more complex routines, the kind not unlike the ones we've done previously in other events.

After about an hour and a half of practice, the number was completed. Not yet perfect, but we're going there...

Let's see what will happen tomorrow :)

Friday, September 23

Climbing the 'Cupola'

Basilica Papale di San Pietro
Cupola from the Vatican Museum
I thought being at the top of the Eiffel Tower gives you the highest 'high'. I was wrong.

The family was able to withstand the heat, the long queue, and a few mood swings to finally got the chance to ‘climb’ the cupola of the Basilica Papale di San Pietro in Vaticano. We sort of cheated, actually, as we paid 7 euros so that we could take the lift up to the roof level of the Basilica (which will give you great views of the Basilica looking downwards, as well as excellent views of frescoes of the dome as it is now very near). If I recall it right, we saved about 200 steps, and are now only 320 steps away from the top of the dome. At the roof level (after the lift ride), one could look at how small tourists are inside the Basilica, just to have an approximation of the height of the structure. The Basilica’s dome is the highest in the world, and is just a little smaller in diameter compared to the Roman Pantheon.

Rain going down
Climbing the cupola
Climbing the dome is, well… exhilarating. It is advisable to have a ready bottle of water. I had several pit stops during the climb to catch my breath (it felt like the air becomes thin as you climb higher… and the spiral staircase is really, really narrow, sloping as you go higher) and rest my thighs. After the 320 or so steps, however, you’ll find that the view of Rome outside of the cupola is unequalled…

You’ll see Castel Sant’ Angelo (remember Angels and Demons?) at a distance… the view of St. Peter’s square is breathtaking... and of course, the Vatican Gardens. You can also see part of the Tiber River and other Rome attractions, which make the experience all the more awesome.

Truly spectacular.

The Cupola viewed from the floor level
It's hot at the top
Ash viewing St. Peter's Square from the Cupola

View from the Cupola
The family at St. Peter's Square

Part of Vatican Gardens

St. Peter's Square

Saturday, September 17

'Under the Tuscan Sun'

Days of summer in Florence, the Renaissance City.

Florence panorama atop Piazzale Michelangelo
We arrived after about two hours of travelling in one of Italy’s fastest, the AltaVelocita Freccioargento. The afternoon ride introduced us to Tuscany’s beautiful countryside with lots of gold and green farmlands, in particular the rolling hills where Florence is perched. We haven’t really started our ‘formal’ exploration of Florence yet, the scene however, is already worth the visit. I silently thanked God for giving us this journey.

Palazzo Vecchio, now a museum
Hotel Pendini and Piazza della Repubblica

After a quick drop off at the Sta. Maria Novella Station (the Tren Italia AV9418, afterall, continues its journey towards Venezia), we hailed a taxi just opposite the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella, which dropped us off at our hotel, Hotel Pendini, at the center of the small city, near the ever-crowded Piazza dela Repubblica. Aside from the vast piazza just beside the hotel, the view from the hotel room shows the top of Florence’s Duomo. Not bad.

Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore
Capella di Medici

 Florence is a small city. On our first night, we visited the Florence Cathedral, the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (locally known as the Duomo, the tallest structure in the city), and marvel at its gothic design (marbled panel in green and pink). We learned later that it was consecrated during the 1400s and it was built by three different designers/engineers starting in late 1200s. The Duomo complex is comprised of three magnificent structures: the Duomo, Giotto’s Bell Tower or the Campanile, and the Baptistery. Later in the night, we visited the Capella di Medici, particularly the Sagrestia Nuova, or the mortuary chapel for the Medici family. It’s interesting to see a blend of old and new in this area, as we see lots of pizzerias and small hotels dotting this area of the city.

Ponte Vecchio at the back
Santa Trinita
Like any other typical European city, Florence’s streets are narrow, and its lanes, cobbled. Walking early to cover more areas, we felt a slight chill, not unlike that when we were in Paris. Autumn is now slowly making its way towards the continent. Alice had a grand time exploring the city’s streets. With all the branded stores just a stone's throw away from the hotel, and Florence’s other small shops selling authentic Italian leather bags and shoes, what more can a wife wish? Anyways, on our second day, we set our path towards Ponte Vecchio ("The Old Bridge"), and after just about a 10-minute walk from the hotel, reached the Arno River, near the Ponte Santa Trinita. We first visited the Church of Santa Trinita and admired such works as Madonna and Saints and Annunciation, which are housed there. We then moved towards Ponte Vecchio.

Santa Croce
After taking several photos of the family at the Ponte Vecchio, we proceeded to the Basilica di Santa Croce. Although the church is being reconstructed inside, there’s no denying the beauty of its pure gothic structure, with its porticos and cloisters. Along with its campanile, the church of Santa Croce is a huge, imposing white structure. We bought tickets so that we could proceed inside, and there we saw the tombs of, among others, Galileo Galilei, Dante Alighieri, Michaelangelo, and Niccolo Machiavelli.

After our time at the Santa Croce, we proceeded to the crowded Piazza della Signoria, where you can find both the famous Uffizi Gallery and Palazzo Vecchio. Outside, we took photos of famous statues (copies only, originals inside the museums) such as that of ‘David’ (Michaelangelo) and ‘Hercules and Cacus’ (Bandinelli).

having a taste of Florence's gelato
at Belvedere Fort
We took a rest in one of the pizzerias dotting the area, and of course, we did not pass the opportunity to have a taste of Firenze’s gelato, considered the best in the world. (In fact, during our stay in the city, we always grab a gelato everytime there’s a chance.)

Piazza della Independencia
sign at the Academia Museum

On our last day, we visited the Belvedere Fort, which we learned was built by the Medici family to protect them from rebels. We also passed by Piazza dela Independencia, which covers both sides of the road in a symmetrical fashion, and the Piazza San Marco one of the oldest and most popular squares in Florence among the locals. Of course, we have to go to the Academia where you can see Michaelangelo’s original of ‘David’. We even passed by the Philippine Consulate in Florence along the way. The square of the Basilica della Santissima Annunziata is huge and old, and Alice and the kids spent some time praying inside the church. We then spent the afternoon exploring many of the shops, as well as the local market, and spending a short time at the Basilica di Santa Maria del Santo Spirito and the PalazzoPitti.


The most memorable evening in Firenze (Florence) however, was spent by the family resting above a hill where Piazzale Michelangelo is perched, marveling at the romantic panoramic view of the Renaissance City. It was really a night to remember for all times: the family just whiling away time, savoring gelato and listening to classic Florentine music on guitar by a local artist, while looking at the Arno River and the medieval structures at a distance as the sun sets.


Friday, September 16

A tour along the River Seine

We visited most of Paris' top attractions on foot. It's good to have companions who are willing to 'walk' that 'extra mile' from one tourist spot to another in exchange of the usual kebab sandwich and coca cola smoothy dotting the streets of the "City of Lights".

Nevertheless, having splendid experience viewing Paris' top attractions walking through the city's beautiful cobblestone streets did not deter the family from experiencing other means of exploring the city, especially those near the banks of that beautiful river, Seine. Thus, the family took it to task to also enjoy these attractions by coasting along the river through the BatoBus Tour ( We purchased our BatoBus tickets online, and we bought one that will alow us a 48-hour ride on BatoBus boats. It allowed us to hop on and hop off on different BatoBus stations (scattered along the river) for two days, which gave us enough time to appreciate many of the top attractions, as well as those near them.

Having a tour along the River Seine allowed us to view the Eiffel Tower, the Pont Alexander, Notre Dame, Musee D' Orsay, and many other places in a different angle. Views of the Eiffel Tower and the Notre Dame Cathedral from the River Seine at night are magnificent, indeed!

one of the many kebab sandwiches we ate during our visit in Paris
It doesn't harm, really, to try other means of exploring top sites of new places when you visit them. It gives you that alternative 'high', so they say.

Here are some of our pics.

Sommet de Tour Eiffel


I heard this from a father describing the scene on top of the Eiffel Tower to his companions just before we took the lift to the summit. Judging from the faces of the two pretty little toddlers he held on each hand that time, I thought the view at the top will really be an experience for us...

Photo of Tour Eiffel taken from its base
Going to the top of the Eiffel Tower, the 'Sommet' as they call it there, was the event the whole family looked forward to during our recent trip to Paris. We bought our tickets online ( prior to our trip, as we read that it normally takes hours to get your tickets if you follow the normally very long queue at the base of the tower. There are actually two types of tickets: one brings you up until the 2nd floor by lift, wherein you have the option to buy another ticket to the summit (using the stairs), and the other brings you to the top using the lift. We opted for the second one, planning to savor the 360 degree view of Paris on the summit first, before descending to the second floor (there are actually three floors, the summit is the third floor) for another 360 degree view on a different angle. Another advantage of buying your tickets online is that you don't need to wait on the very long queue anymore, as you will have direct access to the lift that will bring you up.

base of the tower's second floor
 As we climb from second floor to the top, the kids start to giggle, as the views keep getting better and better (you need to change lifts between the 2nd and 3rd floors, the lift to the 3rd floor (top) allows you to see the surroundings while going up)... after a few short minutes, we reached the summit.
It was awesome! Even surreal, one might say.

We had been on top of several towers already, the Petronas Twin Towers and the Burj Khalifa among others, but the feeling cannot be compared to this. Maybe it's the thought of viewing the panorama of one of the most romantic places on Earth, and the reality that one is finally in Europe and in Paris at that, finally sinks in... maybe it's the appreciation of the city's careful (and aesthetic) planning of its 'arrondisements' and the beautiful architecture of its perfectly preserved structures... maybe it's just one of those things that come and go on a spark. Whatever it is, the feeling is different... and wonderful.

I could see from my wife's and my children's eyes that they feel the same way.  I could only hope that someday, somehow the family gets the opportunity to capture that same feeling all over again.

Friday, September 9

Kids' Art Class

The kids had been busy in their art class. They had been into the ceramic painting class, and during the last Ramadan, they completed a series of classes in Basic Drawing. We're now communicating with their art teachers for them to continue their drawing classes, so that they could also attend classes in other drawing techniques, such as the use of pastel tools and other color drawing techniques.

The kids like attending these classes. We feel that through these, the kids feel that they achieve something every time they complete a certain work, and we feel that activities such as this complement their work in homeschool.

 We plan to continue giving them these classes, so that they could develop their talents in this area.

Riding Trains and Buses in Rome

Rome, they say, is best explored on foot. And they're right. We managed to visit Castel Sant' Angelo (of the Angels and Demons fame), Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, the Fontana de Trevi, Quirinale, and a few other popular sights and churches, and back to the Colosseo one evening, after spending almost the whole day at the Vatican. The only downside to this is after a few hours of walking, small voices (read: children) keep nagging at you every so often, asking you to rest, find a drinking fountain where you can refill your empty bottled water, and much more, take a short detour at that gelato counter or pizza shop for a quick fill-in.

At Rome Termini: Metro
For other times, however, it is best to use the train... or the metro, as it is fondly called in different places around the world.

As we're billeted just a block off the Colosseo, it was fairly easy for us to reach the Colosseo station, which is just two stops away from the Central Termini station using the "Blue" line. (Rome's Metro is fairly straightforward, as it only has two lines crisscrossed across the city: the Blue and Red lines. A third line is currently being built, causing chaos and "very" long queues in some stations when we were there.) We actually spent one of our days in Rome hopping from one Metro station to another to reach fairly "distant" popular attractions. We actually initially bought a 3-day tourist travel pass for the whole family (costing 11 Euro each, except for our youngest kid), however, we had seldom use for it as we normally did our exploration of Rome on foot. As the time to leave Rome nears, attractions tended to be farther from the center as well, and thus came our day of exploration through the Metro.

It was fairly easy.

Rome Termini: Rail
Having accustomed to riding MRTs and LRTs in Philippines and Singapore, the kids had actually been very comfortable using Rome's Metro. Our eldest guided us where the maps/stations are located so that we'll easily see which line we need to catch going from one station to another. And thus, we're able to see other attractions such as the "Twin Churches" of the Piazza del Popolo, the Basilica of Sta. Maria Maggiore, the Spanish Steps, Piazza dela Repubblica, and a few others.

By the way, the family found it odd that in Rome, you just need to hop on and hop off the bus, no need to validate your ticket every time. (Our friend's only advice: always make sure to keep your validated ticket with you.) Well, this I think is a more efficient way of doing it.

Italy's "Bullet Train"

The "Alta Velocita"
Riding the AV9418 to Florence
We also rode a train moving from Rome to Florence. This time, we used the Alta Velocita, Italy's version of the Bullet Train. It costed all of us about 80 Euros (second class coach), and the train ride lasted for about 1 hour and 45 minutes. The best thing: it was another first for the kids. They were excited to experience the long-haul train ride and had a grand time savoring Italy's countryside during the short trip. It was another memorable experience for them.

Waiting for AV9418, Rome Termini
Tip: If you have several hours to spare before your train ride, you can go to the Baggage Deposit section of the Rome Termini Station located near Bay 24 (signs abound, look for Deposito Baggali signs all around the station). They charge a minimal 5 Euro per luggage for the first five hours, which is a very cheap compromise than tugging your bags from one tourist site to another prior to checking in or after checking out of your hotel.

Thursday, September 8

From Paris to Florence: An Awesome Summer!

15 days. 6 cities. 1 family.

It was an awesome summer indeed. Exhilarating, yet each moment brought memories for keeps, especially for the kids, I believe. It was a tightly scheduled two weeks, starting from Paris, then Versailles, and then flying to Rome and the Vatican City, and finally riding the Alta Velocita to Florence and Pisa.

Alice and I felt we need not take guided tours (primarily to save budget), and so, we planned the family's summer holiday on our own: doing and re-doing the itinerary, reserving flights and booking hotels. We even bought tickets to sightseeing areas and museums online prior to our travel and downloaded iPhone travel apps to assist us when we arrive. Such is the beauty of technology.
To top it all, everything went according to plan... not a single hiccup along the way. And thus, we learned a very good lesson on our first venture to Europe as a family: everything is to be done online.

We stayed in France for 6 days, in Italy for another 7 days. The remaining 2 days we spent in flights to and from Europe. 'Twas a good time really, for all of us.

We're already planning to go back...

Wednesday, September 7

Again, 'Time of Our Lives'

We've really come a long way as a family.
The family relaxing under the Tour Eiffel after a day's roam...
I'm talking of the quintessential family bonding, the kind like the family going out of town, spending countless hours with each other doing different activities (in this case, long walks and tours), and not of the serious stuff. More specifically, I'm talking of the two weeks the family recently spent in Europe, hopping from one selected city to another, most notably Paris (follow link for photos) and Rome (click link for photos). Sharing these moments, and the whole experience with your wife and kids  indeed produce overwhelming emotions. It was, I would say, an opportunity of a lifetime, one which I wouldn't have second thoughts of repeating given another chance. Our experience was an opportunity for more time together, for sharing more happy moments together, even for testing the "limits" of each other (especially the long walks in long hours in the heat of summer), which added spice to the already beautiful story we're weaving. It was indeed time for memorable moments, interesting individual and collective accounts, great experiences, even lessons (which hopefully could find their own stories in this blog in the coming days).

It was, again... the 'time of our lives'.

Tuesday, September 6

Inch by inch

Tony D' Amato's inspirational speech from "Any Given Sunday"...

I don’t know what to say really.
Three minutes to the biggest battle of our professional lives all comes down to today.
Either we heal as a team or we are going to crumble.

Inch by inch, play by play, till we’re finished.

We are in hell right now, gentlemen...believe me... and we can stay here
and get the shit kicked out of us, or...
we can fight our way back into the light.

We can climb out of hell, one inch at a time.
Now I can’t do it for you. I’m too old.

I look around and I see these young faces and I think, I mean
I made every wrong choice a middle age man could make.
I, uh…. I pissed away all my money, believe it or not...
I chased off anyone who has ever loved me.
And lately, I can’t even stand the face I see in the mirror.

You know when you get old in life things get taken from you.
That’s, that’s part of life.
But, you only learn that when you start losing stuff.
You find out that life is just a game of inches.
So is football.

Because in either game, life or football, the margin for error is so small.
I mean, one half step too late or too early, you don’t quite make it.
One half second too slow or too fast, and you don’t quite catch it.
The inches we need are everywhere around us.
They are in every break of the game...every minute, every second.

On this team, we fight for that inch.
On this team, we tear ourselves, and everyone around us, to pieces for that inch.
We CLAW with our finger nails for that inch.
'Cause we know when we add up all those inches,
that’s going to make the fucking difference between WINNING and LOSING,
between LIVING and DYING.

I’ll tell you this...
in any fight, it is the guy who is willing to die who is going to win that inch.
And I know if I am going to have any life anymore,
it is because I am still willing to fight, and die for that inch
because that is what LIVING is...the six inches in front of your face.

Now I can’t make you do it, you gotta look at the guy next to you.
Look into his eyes...
Now I think you are going to see a guy who will go that inch with you.
You are going to see a guy who will sacrifice himself for this team...
Because he knows when it comes down to it, you are gonna do the same thing for him.

That’s a team gentlemen... and either we heal now as a team,
or we will die as individuals.
That’s football guys.
That’s all it is.

Now, what are you gonna do?