Saturday, October 29, 2011

My Birthday Staycation

For my  2xth birthday, Erick and I decided to have a staycation just here in Manila. Staycations have been becoming popular these days especially for urban professionals and families who don't have the luxury of time to get away from work or responsibilities at home.  Staycation is just staying in the comforts of your own home or somewhere close to your home for vacation instead of traveling to a destination.

Last year, we celebrated my birthday in Bangkok. Although I enjoyed my birthday getaway with my girlfriends and the boyfriend, I kept thinking about home. So for this year’s celebration, I had it simple and low-key. It was a simple dinner with the family and a birthday staycation.

I must say that I’m very persistent when chasing great travel deals. We attended the Philippine Travel Mart (see related post here) last September and I was able to book a discounted overnight stay at A.Venue Suites in Makati. Aside from that, during the travel mart we booked our stay with Thunderbird Resort in Poro Point, San Fernando La Union. Read the first and second parts of my Santorini-esque experience. 

Our very suite stay

We arrived at A.Venue Suites a little past 2pm, just in time for check-in. It took awhile for the receptionist to accommodate us. He was the only one in the front desk and there were like five of us waiting for him to attend to us. So anyways, we patiently waited for our turn. I filled out some forms and paid an incidental fee.

After checking their records, he informed us that they ran out of deluxe room which I reserved weeks ago so they’re upgraded us to a two-bedroom family suite. Yey! Good things come to those who wait. What a great birthday treat :D

We immediately proceeded to our room at the 12th floor. And the moment we opened our door, we can help but say that the suite was huge. There was a living room, dining area, and kitchen.

Living and dining areas
The moment I saw how big is our room, I wanted to text all my friends that it was house party tonight care of moi.. haha but of course, it was such late notice so I didn't. 

There was a smaller bedroom with a single-size bed and a study desk.

Bedroom 1 aka the smaller room
The master bedroom was complete with a queen size bed, study desk, wall-mounted flat screen TV, closets, and the bathroom.

chillaxin in the master bedroom
nooks of the master bedroom
The bathroom was small but was equipped with the basic necessities. There was a bath tub which is a + point although it was small. There could have been a view while you soaking in the tub – but the outside was a construction site for another hotel/ condominium complex.
the cozy bathroom
Yes, I brought the whole bathroom with me
Our hotel suite has no view at all. Everywhere you look, it’s all construction site.

There was also a hint of funny smell in the suite. It smelled like cigarette smoke that stayed in the couch and the room. 

Another downside of the whole suite is that the rooms would have to share the bathroom which is inside the master’s bedroom.

But other than that, we are satisfied with the hotel room. As soon as we settled in the room and organized our things, we just watched TV the whole afternoon and went online. The hotel has a wifi service but you have to pay for it. Good thing I brought my very portable Globe Wimax.

It was already 6pm when we prepared for our dinner date.

the maxi dress is a gift from Erick and my koosh sandals is from VNC :)

The birthday dinner

It has been planned long before that we’d have the buffet dinner at the Spirals in Sofitel. But unfortunately, as you all probably know the famed Spirals was closed for renovation after Typhoon Pedring storm surge flooded the ground floor of Sofitel where the restaurant was also located.

It was hard thinking of another alternative since we’ve been dead-set to try Spirals buffet. Oh wells. We decided we’d just have dinner at Serendra in Bonifacio Global City. I’ve been hearing good food reviews about Mamou so we tried our luck to get a table there. We arrived at Mamou around 7pm and the attendant reserved a table for us at 8:30 pm. Okies, not a problem.

We checked the shops at Serendra and BHS and then we landed at Topshop where I bought a cute orange bikini. When I was a bit younger (gosh I feel old now), my hobby was to collect swimsuits since my friends and I love hitting the beach almost every month. It was only recently that I had to stop this addiction and instead buy clothes that would actually cover my whole body :D I didn’t buy it but Erick seemed to see in my eyes that I really wanted that cute bikini. So being a good boyfriend, he bought it for me as another birthday gift. Thanks love <3!

We then received a text message from Mamou’s that we already have a table. So we rushed back to the restaurant.

Mamou is one the best restaurants in Serendra and Bonifacio High Street according to my favorite food blog, OurAwesome Planet. It has one the best steaks in Manila and its other entrée dishes could not be missed too.

Mamou's homey ambiance
The restaurant has a homey ambiance for family dinners and get-togethers which makes it a perfect venue for those special occasions. The place is cozy and has an intimate ambiance. We were seated in small corner near the counter. 

We ordered the following.

For appetizer..

Truffle-flavored Vegetable Mushroom Dip with Whole Wheat Melba Chips (Php 195)
We both  loved this appetizer especially the mushroom dip. We kept on munching it until we realized it was gone. That's how we liked it so much. It's also very light on the stomach.

They also gave us complimentary white and wheat bread and butter placed in a small woven basket. The bread was very soft.

Complimentary appetizer
And for our entrées...

I wasn't very happy when they served my plate. First off, it wasn't the look of the Asian Duck I saw from other pictures. Where's the duck?? Look and dig till you find it. It was actually cut into strips instead of a quarter serving of duck.

What it lacked in presentation, it compensated for its taste. Although I did not taste the duck in my meal, the chorizo rice is already good by itself.
Asian Duck with Red Chorizo Rice (Php395)
The Roast Pork and Chicken is Mamou's version of citrus rubbed pork and chicken , buttered onions, red or white Cuban rice (Erick had the red rice), cinnamon saba, and black beans.
Roast Pork and Chicken (Php345)
I think this plate is one of those food where you get the best of everything. There's pork, chicken, vegetable, rice, and even a fruit. Their taste complemented each other. I surely loved this entrée although this wasn't my order.

And lastly for dessert.. It is always the favorite part of my meal.

Whew.. I love their Dark Chocolate Sans Rival! I can be so shallow when it comes to sweets, so please bear my indulgence for the Sans Rival.
Dark Chocolate Sans Rival (Php180)
By the time, we were having our dessert I was feeling very sleepy which Erick noticed. I don’t know if the food was such a comfy food that evoked my feeling to sleep. I felt very bloated after our meal. We finished dinner around 10pm and since I wasn’t feeling very lively that night, we went home to our hotel.

I was feeling a bit guilty because I dozed off to sleep as soon as we got back to our hotel. I was such a lousy birthday girl that night. Me thinks.

Things always get better in the morning as they say… I woke up with a slight fever and I can’t seem to move my body normally. Every step is an effort for me. I was officially SICK. Boo.

But since I am still mobile, we went down Azzuro Bar in the 4th floor to have our breakfast, I wasn’ hungry to eat but I needed to get something in my stomach. The breakfast spread was limited with soup, fried rice, adobo, scrambled eggs, breads, pastries, and cereals.

We checked out the pool after our breakfast. Erick went for a swim while I stayed in the pool bed.

Pool area

There are two pools - one for adults and the other one for kids. There wasn't any other guests that time so the place was all to ourselves.  I learned that the upper floors of A.Venue is actually a residential condominium based from what I read in the pool policy.

They also have a small gym in the hotel but we weren't able to check that out.

We went back to our room and prepared for check-out at 12nn.

I loved the whole idea of staycation so I guess I'll be having more of these vacations. It's self-paced, relaxed, inexpensive, and fun. Who says you have to travel far to have a vacation?
Our very suite staycation

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Spa bonding session at Tocarre Spa, Antel Spa Suites

I promised my bestfriend Yana that I would treat her to a relaxing massage when she comes from Dubai for her 2-week vacation. I’ve been hearing good reviews of Tocarre Spa so I decided that we’d probably have our spa bonding there. But as luck was on my side, I spotted a deal for Tocarre Spa from Deal Dozen

The deal included a relaxing 60-min massage plus foot ritual and delicacies at Toccare Spa plus use of spa amenities like sauna, jacuzzi, and steam room  for only Php699. The original value of the spa package is Php1790. So I didn't think twice to buy two vouchers for me and my bff. 

Fast forward to our spa bonding…

My bestfriend and I decided to use it the day after we had our La Union and Baguio trip since knew that we were gonna be tired and need some relaxing after our 3-day trip. I called up a week ago for our preferred date and schedule which is at 10pm. 

Earlier that night, we met with first our high school friends and we had dinner at Greenbelt 3. After our dinner, we waited for a cab to bring us to the spa but it was raining hard that night and everyone’s just all waiting for a cab. I texted them that we were on our way already just to ensure we don't lose our reservation. 

Tocarre Spa is located in the fourth floor of Antel Spa Suites in Makati Avenue. It is just beside A.Venue Suites. Tocarre prides itself as the spa having personalized treatment from the massage oil to the music, themed rooms, complimentary beverages and all.

We arrived in the spa just in time for our appointment. We then presented our vouchers and was asked to choose a scent for our massage oil and music. I chose lavender while Yana chose peppermint. We agreed that we both wanted classical music to listen to while we were having our massage. We were offered an upgrade to VIP room with additional Php250 charge but we declined since we noticed there aren’t any customers at that time, only us.

We were ushered to the ladies locker room and we changed into our robes. We took a quick shower and Yana and I met at the jacuzzi area.

Ladies locker room
I love that we were the only ones in the spa at that time. We get to maximize the amenities. We stayed at the jacuzzi for about 20 miniutes and had chit-chats about each other's lives. We used to live together in the same apartment and had our pajama talks before bedtime. We'd talk about our work, boys, love life, dreams, and other girly stuff. Nowadays, we only get to send messages thru Facebook and YM. In the middle of our conversation, a kind attendant offered us cold water. 

Dipping in the warm jacuzzi was very relaxing as it was been raining hard outside. After that, we slipped into the sauna room. I always loved staying in the sauna room especially after a good workout in the gym. So getting in the sauna was a treat for me. I poured some water into the hot volcanic stone to increase the temperature in the sauna room. I love that their sauna room looks well-maintained and clean. We stayed there for 20 minutes I guess and then we transferred to the steam room which was just next door. If I love staying in the sauna room, the steam room is my least favorite. Because the steam always dries my contact lenses. Plus I feel scared, you never know who’s hiding in the steam. Hehe

Photo taken from Tocarre Spa's website
We took another shower and then we’re ready for our classic massage finally!

In the massage room, there were around 4-5 beds but we were the only clients at that time. I was really looking forward to the massage since my body is screaming of tiredness and ache from surfing in La Union and the bus travel we took. My therapist put a good hard pressure especially on my upper back. I kinda twitched when she pressed my upper back but I didn’t not complain although she asked me if the she's using the right pressure. I felt that my back has lots of “lamig” that’s why she kept on kneading it.  During the massage, I dozed off for a couple of minutes until the therapist told me to change my position. For me the best part of the massage was when the therapist massaged  my calves. I always feel strain in those part of my legs and the massage actually relieved my tired leg muscles. After the massage, I felt I had just waken up from a good sleep.

After our massage, we were led to the foot massage area where there are comfy couches and an LCD TV. We had our foot paraffin where our feet were dipped in a hot water. A wax was formed in our feet and they were wrapped in a clear plastic bag. 

Photo taken from Tocarre Spa's website
As we waited for our  feet's cooling time, our snacks were served. They served us iced tea, empanada, and  an ensaymada. I wasn’t feeling hungry so I just munched the empanada. I like the fact that Tocarre Spa actually serve snacks after the massage. 

At 12 midnight, our spa session ended. Overall, I was satisfied with the services and the massage I had at Tocarre Spa. The attendants and therapists are courteous and see to it that you are well taken cared of. I especially loved their amenities which you can use – jacuzzi, steam and sauna rooms. The spa is not that big compared to those I’ve gone to but it just means that you have more privacy since lesser clients are being accomodated. Just one thing I noticed, they didn’t have any music in the common areas like the reception and foot massage sections. It’d be nice if they set the mood of the spa all throughout the place – not just in the massage rooms.

I will probably come back next time to try their other massage offerings like the half-day spa experience :)

Two thumbs up for Tocarre Spa!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Short but sweet Baguio stopover

Straight from Thunderbird Resort in Poro Point, we ascended to Baguio. It took us 1 ½ hours of travel. We were greeted by a foggy weather and drizzle as we made our way to the country’s summer capital.

We are not Baguio first timers so we skipped the more touristy activities in the city. We just wanted to spend a few hours in Baguio and catch up with what’s new in the city.

Our itinerary was: eat + ukay and pasalubong shopping + chill. That’s the most relaxed itinerary ever.

We arrived past 2pm in Baguio. I noticed that the streets in Baguio seem smaller now or there was too many people walking? We had to walk sideways sometimes to make sure that we don’t bump people walking towards our direction. I must say Baguio is crowded these days. It was just 2pm and it wasn’t the rush hour yet and people are all out on the streets.
We had our late lunch at Jack’s Restaurant in Session Road. As recommended by JB, we tried Jack’s Rice. It consisted of a quarter roast chicken, chop suey, egg, and a piece of lechon, fried rice. It was a big serving for Php75. Definitelty not bad!!

After our lunch, we went to JB’s house to drop off our things and went back to the city for pasalubong shopping.

I just bought the usuals like peanut brittle, choco flakes, lengua de gato, choco mallows. Although my mom would appreciate bringing a ‘walis tambo’ from Baguio, I hesitated. Hehe I’m just too shy to carry that back home and we’re taking the bus.

Ru, who frequents Baguio, went back to his suki shop where he bought a cardigan. It was really nicely knitted at Php300.

After that, we went to a building of ukay shops. And guess what? I wasn’t able to buy anything. I love thrift shopping. When I’m in the mood to shop but just don’t have the moolah, I go to my favorite ukay shops. It gives me less guilt feeling rather than by swiping my credit card. So, you see it was really surprise I didn’t buy anything even just a 30 pesos top. Haha I may been overwhelmed with all the ukay stuff but honestly most of the stores do not sell cheaper clothes. I can surely buy them in Manila in much cheaper prices. Maybe that ukay complex was priced for tourists since it was in the city center and near other tourist spots.

After my failed ukay experience, we went to SM Baguio just to check the mall. It was dinner time by them and we thought it'd be a shame if we have dinner at SM Baguio. After all, this city has a lot to offer in terms of dining experience.  We debated where to have our dinner. Few suggestions: Forrest House – pricey, Café by the Ruin- not so much reaction from the six of us, and PNKY Café –which is the closest from where we were.

And so it was PNKY Café. We took a cab from SM and paid Php110 for the fare.

PNKY Café is a travel coffee shop with a travel theme and artsy-fartsy restaurant/coffee shop ambiance. It serves gourment coffee and home-made dishes. Acually PNKY is a bed and breakfast which offers homey accommodations as well as well as home-cooked food.

Fortunately, we were the only dining customers that night and we liked how much we felt so at home.

Every nook is gorgeous.

PNKY Cafe's menu is very quirky and unique. The food are named after famous landmarks, cities, and countries. 

We ordered the following. 

Chicken Spinach Riviera
This entree is made of chicken strips, spinach, mushrooms and tofu in white sauce and served with vegetables and rice

Beef a la Seine
This sliced beef dish sautéed with mushrooms, red bell pepper and strawberry is served with vegetable and rice. We highly- recommend this. I liked the way the beef was cooked with mushrooms. It had the right beefy flavor and mushroom taste. For me, this is the best food in our dining experience at PNKY Cafe. 

Le Louvre
This entree is basically cooked with highland spinach, mushrooms, and tofu topped over with rice and drizzled with sunflower seeds. This was my food and I can say that the vegetables are very fresh. I'm not really into vegetables or salads but Le Louvre awed me by the freshness and crispness of the vegetables. 

And for our refreshments, I had their Lemon Slush while my friends had the Strawberry Slush. I love the very refreshing taste of the Lemon Slush which doesn’t dissolve after a while. I tried Erick’s Strawberry Slush and no doubt it was good as well. 

We stayed in the café until late evening and then decided it’s time to go back to JB’s house and pack up and go home to Manila. Maybe next time, we could probably have at least a night stay in Baguio to fully enjoy our time. Time flies fast when you're having fun!

Ru and Yana decided to stay for a few more hours and would catch the bus back home early next morning. Erick and I went ahead since we have to be in the office in the morning.

It was a short but sweet stay in Baguio and definitely worth our time :D

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Piece of Santorini in the North (Part 2)

Good morning! It was  a lovely morning at Thunderbird and I was awakened with a bad headache and feeling of parchness. I threw up all I’ve eaten a night before and my growling stomach woke me up.

Breakfast was served at the Olives Restaurant. We hit the breakfast table at 730 am. There was enough selection but not too many including soup, breads, chicken and pork viands, and some deli.But generally, we enjoyed what’s on the buffet breakfast table..

I love their breakfast food and enjoyed it more than the dinner we had. We enjoyed it so much that we left the breakfast table around 9:30am :D

With less than three hours to go before check out, we rushed to see the beach. Yes, we haven’t gone to the beach actually.

Good thing that despite the really hot weather that day, we dragged ourselves to see the beach. I fell in love with this.

The beach is rocky and is not really conducive for swimming. But lo and behold, the beach is charming and everything is picturesque. 

There are almost many small details that added charm to this place like the gazebo facing the beach. I think this is where Thunderbird weddings are mostly held. Ho-hum. 

The white painted stairs with square-shaped opening was one the small features which added the Santorini touch to the whole place.

We peeked in one of the two villas and I wish I could stay here one day with my family and closest friends. There’s a place where you can have barbecue parties and watch the sunset. Ahhhh, I want this life!

Plus there was  pool. I’m beginning to feel an attachment to this side of Poro Point already.

We still have more than an hour to spare and so we headed back to the hotel building. We took a quick dip in the pool and savored our last moments in this Santorini-esque paradise.

We checked out past 12pm and we're off to our next destination..

I was simply happy that I got to experience a liitle piece of Santorini in the North. It’d be no wonder if I come back! 

Read the first part of my Thunderbird Resort, Poro Point experience here

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Piece of Santorini in the North (Part 1)

When I first learned about Thunderbird Resort in Poro Point, I know this little piece of paradise must be included in my travel list for this year. Traveling to La Union for surfing has always been in my yearly travel itinerary, so it would be a shame if I don’t get to see the other gem in La Union - Thunderbird Resort.

Thunderbird Resort in Poro Point is a 65-hectare resort property with a Mediterranean architecture inspired by the Santorini Islands in Greece. The resort is nestled in a cliff overlooking the South China Sea. Its Santorini-inspired architecture is evident in its white hotel building with touches of blue. The dome ceiling and the painting on the lobby is a sight you will never surely miss.
Room rate

I’ve inquired about the resort’s rate months before our travel but I actually found a good deal at the Philippine Travel Mart last September. See related blog entry. We got deluxe rooms for Php5390/night. The rate is 10% cheaper than their standard rates. They only allow a maximum of four persons in the room so we had to pay for the extra persons at Php1000/head and that included buffet breakfast already.

The Santorini-esque experience

As soon as we stepped in Thunderbird Resort’s lobby, I instantly felt that I am in for a grand vacation. The ambiance of the hotel is welcoming and very refreshing. On the reception area, you can already see the blue waters from the sea. The cool breeze blowing makes me feel that it was summer but in October.

I love the interior of the hotel. The hotel furniture are made of rattan and other native products and it complemented the simple yet elegant hotel interiors. The design is minimalist but when put together, it exudes simple elegance.

Checking in was swift. I just had to fill out a couple of forms and pay the incidental fee. After that, we were ushered to our room.
Now the rooms..

As we entered our room, I felt a certain excitement in my bones. First off, there were two huge queen size beds. Weeee! And the bed, sheets, and duvets are just so soft and refreshingly clean that I wouldn’t mind sleeping on it all day.

I couldn’t help but test how soft and firm the bed I jumped and bounced on it. I miss jumping in the bed, I used to do that when I was little.

The room has a 32-inch flat screen LCD TV, DVD player, a JVC surround media system where you can plug your USB or portable hard drive.

There’s a mini fridge and a small bar for the goodies which are for sale.
Our room also has a study table and coffee table near the veranda. This little nook is perfect while sipping your coffee and having a small talk with your friends.

The veranda completes the whole room. Here, you can lose yourself by staring at the blue sea or the pool area of the resort. I already love it here!

The bathroom is immaculately clean and huge. I tell you, it’s one of the biggest bathrooms I’ve seen in a hotel. Too bad, they didn’t put a bathtub on it. It could fit with all the extra space.

And the toiletries, oh em gee.. I love Thunderbird Resort really!
There’s also free wifi within the resort. So no hassle if you wanna be online – whether in your lappie or phone.
Before sunset, we decided to lounge in the pool area. There are two pools – for adults and kids.

Plus, there’s a pool bar where you can order your favorite cocktail drink or just fresh fruit shake. The adult pool is only 4 feet deep all throughout.
We passed our time there and decided it was time to change clothes for dinner.

On our way to our room, the fully lit dome at the dark could not be missed. It made me wish I am really in Santorini. I know that sometimes they allow guests to go near the dome and do photo shoots. And hmmm that just gives me an idea ;P
We had dinner at Olives Restaurant where the ambiance is casual dining.
On our table

Seafood Ravioli. The pasta pillows are not that firm. The pasta was kinda sticky although the seafood is freshly cooked.
Seafood Alfredo Spaghetti
Spicy Sausage pizza and Ilokano pizza

These pizzas baked in wood-fired stone oven were highly recommended by our server so we went ahead and tried it. I liked the Ilokano pizza more than the other. The spicy sausage pizza just tasted just like normal pepperoni pizza.
After dinner, we had our drinking session in our room. We weren’t able to drink the night before since we were all dead tired. We played a game “I never had” which is more like ‘truth or dare’ but with a twist. Each of us has to tell something that we have never done and the others who’s done that thing will then drink the shots.

It was a fun and quirky game! We came to know more about one another and each one’s dirty dark secrets.. :D
The game led us to drunkenness and more crazy antics and of course a bad hangover the next day…
That's it for our first day. It was a long and fun day --from surfing in San Juan La Union to R&R in Thunderbird Resort in Poro Point. The fun never stops!
Read the second part of my Thunderbird Resort Poro Point experience here.