Kismet

[noun] from the Turkish and Arabic word, qisma : fate; destiny; a power that is believed to control what happens in the future.

"My husband is a promise from our Father that I will have a best friend forever."

“My husband is a promise from our Father that I will have a best friend forever.”

Do you believe that destiny plays a hand in how our lives will turn out? That everything happens for a reason and is part of a grand design? Well, I do. Here’s why –

I was born in March of 1974. At the time, my would-be husband Caloy was about to graduate from high school. Between us, there is an almost 17-year age gap.

I was born and raised in Olongapo City. Caloy is a Manila boy through and through.

In 1991, when I was 17 years old, I stayed in a dormitory along Maria Orosa Street in Ermita, Manila. I was a freshman in college. Caloy, who was already a lawyer then, frequently visited the Court of Appeals, which was located in front of my dormitory building. We never met that time, of course.

By some stroke of fate, I got admitted into the College of  Pharmacy in UP Manila. Science was certainly not my strongest subject. I wanted to take up a course in Communications. I struggled through my first 2 semesters and had to take a leave of absence, also due to financial difficulties.

While I was on leave from the university, I was just bumming around at home in Olongapo when I chanced upon the TV program Remembering the Beatles. I watched it about a hundred times and became obsessed with the band and its music.

In 1994, I decided to start working in an office while pursuing my college degree in my hometown. I worked as a secretary in the Seaport Department of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m, then went to school from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. everyday for 3 years.

In 1998, the SBMA had a tumultuous change of administration. Caloy, who disliked traveling outside of Manila, found himself in Subic as the deputy of newly-installed Chairman Felicito Payumo. He would shuttle from Manila to Subic and back every week for the next six years. I had already graduated from college, took the civil service professional examination and passed, so I was already made into a permanent employee.

Caloy was married to his first wife. I was in a long-term relationship. I really thought the guy I was seeing was the one and I had no doubt we will end up together. I’m so glad we didn’t. Fate brought us together for a very important purpose: so we can both become Christians.

In 1999, I applied for a higher office position and was accepted for the job. Caloy — who was the highest official of the Business Group to which I belonged — and I finally met. During one of our conversations, we discovered that we’re both avid fans of the Beatles. There was an instant connection. We became very good friends.

In June of 2001, I flew to Germany for further studies sponsored by the German government. Four months later, Caloy’s wife, Maybelle, passed away after a long bout with cancer. I came back from Germany and back to my old office in July of 2002.

In August of 2003, Caloy took me in as one of his executive assistants and we worked very closely together. A month later, he proposed to me. His exact words were, “You will make me the happiest man if you’ll marry me.”

So you see, if I hadn’t been admitted to the UP College of Pharmacy, I probably wouldn’t have dropped out; if I hadn’t been a bum for a year, I probably wouldn’t have become a Beatles fan; if I didn’t leave UP, I probably never would’ve worked for the SBMA; if I hadn’t worked there, I probably would’ve never met my Caloy, the love of my life. Our paths never would’ve crossed. And the rest, as they say, is destiny working its magic.

Until now, I still could not believe that Caloy chose to marry me — a simple, provincial lass — when he could have picked some sophisticated, beautiful, smart and a far more accomplished woman. And I know for a fact that there were so many women throwing themselves at his feet, widower or not. After all, he’s an accomplished lawyer, a brilliant professor, a responsible father and a very charming, funny guy. He’s someone I never even knew I dreamed of marrying all my life.

And whenever I still wonder why he chose to marry me, I can only think of one answer: kismet.

Categories: From the Heart | 3 Comments

Red Ginger in City of Dreams Manila

The newest luxury casino and leisure complex — City of Dreams Manila [COD] — had its official grand opening last Monday, February 2, just when my friends and I decided to pay a visit. The world-class, billion-dollar project sits on a 6.2-hectare property along Roxas Boulevard. It houses three posh hotels for guests who want to stay longer: Nobu Hotel, Hyatt Hotel and Crown Towers. We were fortunate enough to have a quick guided tour of the entire facility aboard a golf cart driven by Bien, one of the very friendly and highly-trained staff of COD.

Since I don’t know the first thing about casinos, I’m foremost interested in the dining establishments in the area. There are several operational restaurants already aside from the hotel dining outlets, but my friends and I decided to have lunch at Red Ginger on the casino’s upper ground level. Red Ginger is open all day and showcases a variety of popular Southeast Asian dishes on its menu. Plus, I believe this restaurant is the most affordable choice.

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We started with Fragrant Thai Fish Cakes (P220) served with “baby cucumber and house made sweet chili sauce”. I can’t quite agree with the “fragrant” part because the fish cakes smelled, well, fishy. There are 4 pieces per order and since there were 4 of us dining, we only had one fish cake each. It’s good but I’ve had better.

Fragrant Thai Fish Cakes

Next came the Lemongrass and Forty Cloves of Garlic Chicken Wings (P320). It’s no secret that I love chicken wings and this dish easily hit the spot for me. Served with a bowl of steamed jasmine rice and 3 different kinds of sauces, the wings were so tender and tasty with just the right level of spice.

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We also tried Red Ginger‘s take on Popiah (P360) — crispy fried rolls stuffed with barbecued duck and vegetables accompanied by lettuce leaves and chili garlic dip. They’re also nice and flavorful.

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There’s a lovely array of desserts on display aside from the ones listed on the menu, but I had my eyes (and heart) set on this: Lemon Madeleines with Green Tea Spread (P190). Because I’m addicted to all things green tea, I loved it. The marriage of freshly-baked madeleines and the bittersweet flavor of matcha was just so delightful.

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City of Dreams Manila excites me. Unlike Solaire — where there’s not much to explore — COD promises to be a more dynamic entertainment spot for those who like to unwind within the city. I have never set foot in Las Vegas but I think COD gives us a glimpse, a taste of what it’s like to be in the Entertainment Capital of the World. I’m looking forward to the opening of Dreamworks’ DreamPlay in March or April. It’s a wholesome interactive play attraction for kids and fun-loving adults. Surely, it will give me another reason to visit this urban resort called City of Dreams, with my daughter Bea in tow. Can’t wait.

Categories: Cravings | Leave a comment

January 27 is Chocolate Cake Day

Since the start of 2015 I’ve been trying my hardest to avoid eating cake, mainly for two reasons: (1) I’m trying to lose the extra pounds I gained over the holidays; and (2) I’m saving up for another trip. So every time I am tempted to buy a slice of cake and successfully stop myself from actually doing it, I put the same amount of money that I saved from not buying the cake into my “travel fund”. It’s a swell idea, don’t you think? I get to hit two birds with one stone, so to speak.

But in truth, it takes a lot of self-control for me to say “no” to cakes. I mean, seriously. I LOVE CAKES.

Well, today is National Chocolate Cake Day in the United States. Now, normally I do not observe American traditions/holidays like Halloween or Thanksgiving but come on, it’s Chocolate Cake Day! It’s a food holiday, what can I say?

Dark Caraibe

Dark Caraibe

Chocolate cake comes in numerous incarnations: there’s the classic pound cake, fudge cake, devil’s food cake, flourless chocolate cake, lava cake, and so on. For today, I fancy this Dark Caraibe Cake (P220 net) from Cafe Maxims in Resorts World Manila. Caraibe is a variety of cacao beans from small plantations in the Caribbean islands. It produces smooth chocolate with a naturally sweet, fruity taste and a hint of nuts and roasted coffee. Cafe Maxims’ Dark Caraibe creation is actually a lush chocolate mousse glazed with the creamiest dark chocolate topped with fresh berries and garnished with even more chocolate. It’s a masterfully thought-of and perfectly executed confection.

Cafe Maxims' masterpiece

Cafe Maxims’ masterpiece

If you think that’s all there is to it, think again. Inside the chocolate mousse is a surprise center consisting of white cream and a crisp layer of hazelnut crunch to cut the rich chocolatey-ness of the cake.  It’s marvelous!

I’m calling upon all chocolate cake lovers to indulge in some real scrumptious chocolate cake today. Let us all unite and celebrate this special food holiday!

Categories: Cravings, Food Holiday | Leave a comment

Hotel Chocolat

The other hotel we stayed at on our last night in London was Ambassadors Bloomsbury Hotel, which was very nice and decent and had a more spacious room. But since we only stayed there for one night, there’s really not much to say about it. So I’m going to feature instead a different kind of “hotel” which Bea and I instantly fell in love with in London: Hotel Chocolat. It’s actually a chocolate shop-cum-cafe, but the company does have a luxury boutique hotel located in its vast cocoa estate in Santa Lucia somewhere in the Caribbean.

the cafe

the cafe

You just know that this empire can only be built with a passion for (or obsession with) chocolate. Hotel Chocolat is slowly revolutionizing British chocolate and has the distinction of being the only chocolatier in the United Kingdom that has its own cocoa plantation to make its finest chocolate creations.

inside Hotel Chocolat

inside Hotel Chocolat

In 2004 — the year my daughter Bea was born — Hotel Chocolat opened its first store in Watford, North London. Today, a full decade later, there are over 70 shops all over the UK and even branches overseas (in the US, Australia and Denmark). With a stroke of luck, our first hotel in London was very near one of Hotel Chocolat‘s cafes, and so Bea and I had breakfast there one chilly morning.

chocolate haven

chocolate haven

We were just absolutely in awe of the entire shop! Our eyes feasted on the rows and rows of unique and innovative chocolate creations on the display shelves. There’s a dizzying selection of all flavors and varieties of chocolate one can imagine. The tough part was choosing which ones to buy.

chocolates in a row

chocolates in a row

But first, breakfast. I chose this chocolate croissant and a cup of Milky Hot Chocolate for Bea. I forgot that she’s not very fond of flaky pastries, and she also found the dark chocolate on the croissant too bitter for her tastebuds so I ended up eating it myself.

chocolate croissant & milky hot chocolate

chocolate croissant & milky hot chocolate

I ordered a chocolate scone for myself but Bea found it more to her liking so we split it. I paired it with a pot of English Breakfast tea  because, well, I was in London. It was a good, light breakfast.

chocolate scone and tea

chocolate scone and tea

Before we left the store, we used the few coins in my pocket to buy these heavenly chocolates: Orange Mousses for Bea and Milk Tiddly Pot for me. Both were so, so delicious. We wished we had more money so we could have bought more, but now at least we can recommend the brand to our friends who will be visiting London.

goodies

goodies

Here’s wishing that Hotel Chocolat will continue to come up with excellent-quality chocolate treats for many, many more years! And hopefully one day, someday, we will find a Hotel Chocolat here in Manila. Now wouldn’t that be wonderful?

Categories: Cravings | 2 Comments

Kensington Close Hotel

In London, my daughter Bea and I stayed in two different hotels. The first one, where we stayed for four nights, is called Kensington Close Hotel [KCH] located on Wrights Lane in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. I booked our standard double room through the online booking site, agoda.com. I got a pretty good deal at just under £100 per night, breakfast not included (bear in mind that it’s London, the most expensive city in the world). Fortunately, we loved our whole experience in KCH. It’s situated in a lovely neighborhood, very near the High Street Kensington tube station (about a 3-minute walk).

Kensington Close Hotel

Kensington Close Hotel

It is said that this 4-star property sits on land that was once co-owned by Sir Isaac Newton almost 300 years ago. The hotel has completed a major renovation and extension project to the tune of £40 million in celebration of its 50th anniversary. Today it has a total of 708 rooms, a restaurant, a lounge bar and a cafe, plus an indoor swimming pool and spa facility. Too bad we didn’t get a glimpse of the pool because we were always out exploring the city. Our assigned room was admittedly small but it was clean and we felt comfortable in it. I was given free wi-fi coupons upon arrival, and the internet service was fast and reliable. The only thing I can complain about, if at all, was that there was no mini-refrigerator and/or complimentary bottles of water for the guests.

Standard Double Room 308

Standard Double Room

Room 308

Room 308

Aside from its great location, I also loved the warm and friendly service by the staff — from the uniformed doorman to the front desk personnel — everyone was nice and very accommodating. I’d like to give a special mention to Emilie at the front desk and Sri at the concierge, both of whom were very pleasant and helpful. Sri took care of our tourist-y stuff: I bought our Big Bus Tour tickets from him, as well as our Charlie and the Chocolate Factory tickets. He also lent me an outlet adapter for my chargers. He made a lot of things so much easier for me.

The Lounge Bar

The Lounge Bar

Originally, I booked a different accommodation for our London vacation. What made me switch to KCH was the absence of an elevator in the other hotel. Since we had a huge luggage, it would have been torturous if we had stayed there. I was relieved when I got a view of that hotel because it was in a dead-quiet, very dark and creepy neighborhood. I’m glad I changed my original plan and booked KCH instead. I made the right decision because Kensington Close Hotel is one of the things that made our stay in London so delightful.

just outside the hotel

just outside the hotel

Categories: Hotels, Wanderlust | 3 Comments

Lost in Paris

From London-St. Pancras International Station, we took a Eurostar train to Paris Gare du Nord. Eurostar is a quick and most convenient way of shuttling between London and Paris. Travel time is about 2 hours, but we got to avoid the inconveniences of going through airport procedures and, more importantly, we got off in the heart of the city and not in an airport miles and miles away. We checked in about 15 minutes before our scheduled trip and going through baggage check and immigration was fast and hassle-free. The train fares are quite steep, but advance purchases can get a little discount. Our return tickets cost £293 (or roughly P21,880) for one adult and one child on a regular coach.

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The moment we stepped out of the train, my little girl already noted the glaring differences between London and Paris. The temperature was milder but the people were definitely colder. Whereas the English are generally polite, the French are very unfriendly and rude. It’s quite hard to put it in words but you will definitely feel it when you visit Paris. It’s my second time in what is known as the most romantic city in the world. I first visited it in 2001 and I was hoping that my first impression of it will be completely changed on this trip. But it’s pretty much the same as I remember it 13 years ago: it’s unwelcoming, filthy and, in many parts, it reeked of urine.

I can sum up our 4-night stay in Paris in one word: LOST. We took the Metro (subway train) from Gare du Nord to our base for our first 3 nights, Republique. When we asked for help regarding the location of our hotel, each person pointed us to a different direction. So after asking about 8 different persons, all the while lugging around our heavy luggage, we decided to just take a cab to the hotel. Turns out, the hotel was just right there all along. The driver just went around the street and charged us 10 euros for the very short trip. Aaarggh.

My daughter Bea couldn’t conceal her disappointment with our hotel called Grand Hotel de L’Avenue on Rue Rampon. There was nothing grand about it; it’s the most affordable hotel I could find when I was searching online (and by “most affordable” I mean P5,000 per night). Our room was alright for me — it was very basic but it was clean. There was no airconditioner, no mini-refrigerator, no hair-dryer but at least there was an electronic safe (this is a bit important as I will narrate later) in the closet. There was also no light in the corridor so we had to grope in the dark to reach our room.  And as for the service, well, don’t expect to get any from the front desk. The most that we got from the guy at the front desk was a shrug.

Grand Hotel de L'Avenue

Grand Hotel de L’Avenue

On our second day in Paris, I decided to take Bea to Disneyland to get her all excited and happy. We learned that Disneyland is located in Marne-la-Vallée, a town about 20 miles away from Paris. We left our hotel at around 9:00 a.m., had breakfast while on-the-go, bought our train tickets to Marne-la-Vallée and back (total of 30 euros) and proceeded to ride the train all the way to Disneyland with just one transfer. We reached our destination at around 10:30 a.m. and as I was about to buy our park tickets, I realized that my wallet was gone. LOST. This is where my horror story really began. The last time I held my wallet was at the Republique train station where I bought our two-way tickets. Somewhere along the trip, a pickpocket found his hand in my bag and got what he wanted/needed. My wallet contained a large amount of cash (enough for the rest of our stay in Paris), all my credit cards, ATM cards, membership cards and even our train tickets for going back to Paris. Needless to say, I was devastated. Bea was heartbroken as well, her tears flowed out like rain. We didn’t know what to do, being in a strange land with a language that’s alien to us. LOST. We didn’t have any money for food nor for a train ride back to our hotel. It was very traumatic. Even now it hurts to write about it. We walked all the way to the nearest police station, which, of course, was quite a distance. My intention was just to ask for help to transport us back to Paris. But the police officers couldn’t even converse in English; they kept addressing us in French, which I know zilch about. Finally, they called someone who can understand English and all she could come up with is to call a taxi that can take us back to Paris and that I can just pay the driver when we get there. But I argued that it’s a long trip and it might cost me hundreds of euros. So the police weren’t able to help us at all. We left the police station and I decided to go to the train station. With tears in my eyes, I mustered the courage to beg the train personnel to let us ride for free given our situation, and she was kind enough to give us 2 train tickets.

Back in our hotel room, I still praised and thanked God that my husband gave me more than enough pocket money for our entire trip and that I left a substantial portion of it along with our passports in the electronic safe. Bea and I were traumatized so we didn’t want to go out anymore, but then we had to eat for we were starving. It was already 3:00 p.m. and we hadn’t eaten lunch yet. Not only did we lose a lot of money but we also lost one day in Paris. LOST. I was terrified of breaking the sad news to my husband but I knew I had to because I couldn’t contact the banks/credit card companies from where I was. My husband is such as huge blessing because when he learned about the unfortunate incident, he simply told me not to think about it anymore so it won’t ruin our entire vacation. He immediately called up the banks to block my accounts and took care of requesting the replacement cards for me.

That same day, I told some of my friends about the tragic loss of my wallet and all its contents. My friends from different corners of the world readily commiserated with me and offered words of comfort and even financial help to tide us over. I would like to give a special shout-out to my grade school friends Olive (from Manchester, UK) and Mildred (from Boston, Massachusetts); my high school batchmate Rhoda (from Zurich, Switzerland); and my online buddy Gizelle (from Vienna, Austria) whom I just met up with in London. I was deeply touched by their concern and their willingness to help. All four of them made me realize that, while there are so many evil creatures in the world, there are still many good people around. I thank God for all of you.

I would also like to thank a beautiful and kind lady from Crowne Plaza Hotel in Paris who let me use the hotel’s business center — even though I was not a hotel guest — so I can get in touch with my husband and so that he can report the incident to the banks. My heartfelt thanks to Sarah at the front desk. I will never forget you and the kindness you extended to me.

But most of all, I thank God for my husband Caloy. He never blamed me for what happened because, really, it’s never the fault of the victim. Caloy never said anything to hurt my feelings; all he said was that we should keep our mind off it and try to move on. He only wanted us to enjoy the rest of our trip.

And so we heeded his advice. The next day, October 31, Bea and I attempted to go to Disneyland again. I was more mindful of my belongings to the point of being paranoid (I checked my money pouch every 5 minutes). I would have to admit that we had way too much fun in Disneyland Paris; it’s almost like nothing bad happened the day before. It was a bright and sunny day, but the temperature was  comfortably cool.

a magical and happy place

a magical and happy place

On our 4th and last day in Paris, we moved to an apart-hotel in Montparnasse. The Citadines Didot Montparnasse is managed by the Ascott group of serviced residences and is therefore a more pleasant accommodation for us. Though its rate is a bit higher (at almost P7,000 for one night), you actually get your money’s worth. The studio unit is so spacious and comfortable, with all the conveniences of a small home: there’s a small kitchen with all the basic kitchen appliances and utensils; there’s a separate toilet and bath; and yes, a hair-dryer!

Citadines Didot Montparnasse

Citadines Didot Montparnasse

However, we were out most of the day to take in all the breathtaking sights of Paris. No doubt, the city is awe-inspiring but I’m not sure if I’d ever want to go back. Lost on the streets. Lost in translation. Lost big money. Lost one day. How can I ever say Paris is love?pizap.com14162849027321The unfortunate incident last October 30 was the only thing that marred our ten-day trip to London and Paris. I’m still grateful because Bea and I got back home safe and okay. We shared a lot of fun moments together despite a bump on our journey. I’ve learned a valuable lesson the hard way and I know I’m a better person because of it.

Categories: Wanderlust | 2 Comments

The Magical Mystery Tour

If you’re dreaming about going on a trip to London on a small budget, well, just dream on. The UK capital has once again been declared as the “most expensive city to live and work in” according to a September 2014 report. As a tourist, I’ve also had a first-hand experience with the high cost of staying in London even if only for a few days. London ranks number one as the most expensive city in Europe, with Paris and Oslo trailing behind. (source: hotel.info)

The foregoing information notwithstanding, my daughter Bea and I thoroughly enjoyed our very recent London vacation. It was the first time for both of us to visit the UK — it was intimidating and exhilarating at the same time. I’ve previously mentioned that London is right there on top of my list of dream travel destinations, and it certainly did not disappoint. It’s as lovely as I’ve always imagined it to be.

Houses of Parliament (or the Palace of Westminster)

Houses of Parliament (or the Palace of Westminster)

During our brief stay, we encountered so many nice, very proper and polite Londoners: from the airport immigration officer to the money changer, from taxi drivers to hotel personnel and even just random people on the street. The weather was also very cooperative. Prior to our trip, I’ve read so much about London’s weather being very unpredictable: some people say that it rains almost half of the year in London. But we only experienced rain during our last day, so it was the perfect opportunity to buy a folding umbrella with a Union Jack design that also makes for a great souvenir. Since it’s autumn, we expected the temperature to be chilly — ranging from 6 to 14 degrees Celsius. It was so cold but I loved it, because how often do I get to experience that biting cold weather?

Trafalgar Square, Kensington Gardens, Grosvenor Park

Trafalgar Square, Kensington Gardens, Grosvenor Park

As is always the case, there were so many things to do and so many places to explore but we had very limited time (and budget). We didn’t get to see a lot of the popular tourist attractions and historic landmarks, but we did get to tick off many items on our priority list. For instance, I simply cannot miss making a pilgrimage to Abbey Road. As a devoted Beatles fan, crossing Abbey Road was a “goosebumps” kind of moment for me. And I did it! With the help of a kababayan (a fellow Filipino) who offered to take this shot, this photo captured that moment in my life that I will never ever forget:

We crossed Abbey Road!!!

We crossed Abbey Road!!!

For five days, I got to fulfill my dream of exploring London. We were able to enjoy going around the mega-city on our own time — riding the tube (underground train), buses and taxis. We even rode something like a pedicab late one night. We were not part of a tour group because I didn’t think it was possible to stick to a strict schedule when one is traveling with a 10-year-old. Still, we got to visit the places that Bea wanted to see and experience. We roamed around Notting Hill; went to see “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” the musical at Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London’s West End; got starstruck at Madame Tussauds London, where we had our photos taken with the wax figures of the British singing sensation, One Direction; queued up for a photo opportunity at Platform 9 and 3/4 in King’s Cross Station; and even took a short trip outside of London to Leavesden for the Warner Bros. Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter.  When Bea was 8 years old, she read the Harry Potter books — all 7 volumes — and she was hooked, probably for life. So of course, our London trip won’t be complete without doing the Harry Potter stuff. My little Bea got to fulfill her fantasies, too.

Madame Tussauds, King's Cross Station, West End, Warner Bros. Studio Tour

Madame Tussauds, King’s Cross Station, West End, Warner Bros. Studio Tour

I waited more than half of my life for this London sojourn. It’s so worth the long wait.

Categories: Wanderlust | 1 Comment

How to Apply for a Schengen Visa via the French Embassy

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My daughter Bea and I recently obtained our Schengen Visa - Short Stay (Visit/Tourism) from the Ambassade de France aux Philippines. It is located on the 16th Floor of the Pacific Star Building on the corner of Sen. Gil Puyat and Makati Avenues in Makati. I observed the following steps when I applied for our visas:

  • First is to set an appointment via the French Embassy’s designated Call Center. Appointments may only be made within three months from the date of departure. The number to call is 1 (909) 101-3333. Be sure to have all your passport details and trip itinerary ready because it’s a toll number and the phone call costs P32++ per minute.
  • Once an appointment is set, you may start completing the requirements for submission:
  1. Signed Schengen visa application form with photo (35mm x 45mm – white background) — application form may be downloaded from www.ambafrance-ph.org
  2. Valid passport (3 months’ validity from the end of intended stay) and a photocopy of the first page of said passport
  3. Photocopies of valid and former visas (when applicable)
  4. Cover letter explaining the purpose of your trip including day-to-day itinerary
  5. Proof of accommodations (hotel vouchers or, if staying with a French resident, original copy of Attestation d’accueil delivered by the City Hall where the host is residing)
  6. Round-trip flight booking
  7. Proof of employment (such as Certificate of Employment stating monthly salary and approved leave of absence; for self-employed – official business registration for current and previous year)
  8. Proof of income or financial capability (e.g., latest income tax return, recent bank certification, photocopy of last 3 months statement of account of the same bank account) — this is the most important of all the requirements, I heard one of the agents tell the applicants
  9. Identity/marital status: for single applicants – photocopy of birth certificate; for married applicants – photocopy of marriage contract and birth certificate)
  10. International travel insurance covering medical expenses and repatriation for the entire period of intended stay and valid for all Schengen states (minimum coverage should be €30,000)
  11. Visa fee payable in cash at the Embassy (€60 for adults; €35 for children 6 to 12 years old; fee is waived for children below 6 years old) and may be paid in its equivalent in Philippine peso based on the prevailing exchange rate
  • On the appointed date and time, you will get a number stub at the reception. Wait for your number to be called and proceed to the designated counter. An agent will ask you all sorts of question regarding your personal information (e.g., What is your job? How long have you been in your profession? What is your husband’s job? Is this your first time in Europe?) and your intended trip.

The agents can somehow be very intimidating because of their thick French accents and straight faces, so just be very honest and upfront with your replies. I think it also helps to be extra-courteous to them (I smiled a  lot and addressed them as “Ma’am” all the time). After the submissions and question-and-answer part, you will be asked to have your biometrics taken (digital photo and fingerprinting) at the counter.

You will be given a date and time to come back for your passport/s. Processing of the visa application takes 5 to 7 working days, unless additional documents are required and further verification is needed. The whole process is not so difficult after all, as long as you submit all the necessary documents. Bon chance!!!

Categories: Wanderlust | Leave a comment

How to Apply for a UK Visa

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If you’re a Philippine passport holder like myself, the journey to the United Kingdom begins with the visa application. There are different types of visas such as Work Visa, Student Visa, Family Visa, but I will only be discussing about the General Visitor Visa, which my daughter Bea and I applied for.

The first step involved finalizing all our travel plans including the dates and arrangements for our accommodations during our short visit to the UK. Once we’ve decided on the dates, I started filling out the online application form. As a rule, one can apply for a UK visa up to three months before the proposed date of travel.

The following is the simple step-by-step process of applying online for a UK visa:

  • Sign up at Visa4UK.
  • Once you’ve registered, completely fill out the application form.
  • After completing the form, it will prompt you to sign the declaration.
  • Next step is to choose your appointment date. (This is the day you will submit all the documentary requirements in person.)
  • Make an online payment. The visa fee is GBP 83 or USD 142 (roughly PHP 6,400+ depending on the prevailing exchange rate) per application. This amount is non-refundable whether your visa is granted or not.
  • Print your application.

The following are the documents you need to submit on your appointment:

  • current and valid Philippine passport
  • two (2) pieces passport-size colored photos (with white or cream background)
  • all previous passports
  • evidence of your marital status (this can be a marriage certificate, civil partnership certificate, divorce certificate or death certificate)
  • evidence of current employment or studies (when applicable)
  • proof of financial capability (this can be in the form of bank statements or bank books, bank certificates, pay slips, income tax returns, business permits/bank account statements, property deeds, and the like)
  • airline booking confirmation
  • hotel booking confirmation
  • a planned itinerary (can be travel agent bookings)
  • supporting letter from friends or family in the UK who will be your host family (when applicable)
  • completed visa application form (printed)

***Important reminders:

(1) The UK Visa Application Centre is managed by VFS Global Services Philippines Private Inc. in partnership with the British Embassy Manila.

(2) The Centre is located at the Mezzanine Floor Unit M01, Ecoplaza Building, 2305 Pasong Tamo Extension Makati City.
 
(3) Please arrive 15 minutes before your appointed time. Get a number from the reception desk. Proceed to the specified room and wait for your number to be called.
 

(4) Bringing of bags and cellphones is not allowed inside the UK Visa Application Centre. There is, however, a cloaking service for a flat rate of one hundred pesos.

(5) If you are in a rush to get a visa, you may opt for the priority service and pay the extra fee (about USD 100). This will get your visa application processed in 2 to 3 days.

Once your number is called, you need to submit all the required documents to the person at the counter, who will then issue a claim stub that you will need when you return to get your passport. Before leaving the premises, you will have to wait for your turn for the Biometric Enrollment. This is where you will have your fingerprints and digital photo taken.

My personal experience was very satisfactory. It took me about 45 minutes from the time I arrived at the Centre to the time I finished the biometrics. I did not avail myself of the priority service and was told that I can come back to get our passports after 15 working days. I submitted all our documents on August 26, 2014 and I was expecting to get the result on September 17th. However, I received an email dated September 2, 2014 that our visas will be ready for dispatch shortly. So I picked up our passports with our 6-month multiple entry visas on September 8th.

To be honest, I was a little proud of myself for having obtained our visas on my own. Previously I had sought the help of travel agents and/or other government agencies for my other visas (US Visa, Schengen Visa via the German Embassy and Chinese Visa) but now I know that I can do it myself. A clean, decent travel history coupled with a lot of prayers can really help in obtaining a UK Visa.

I am so grateful beyond words.

Categories: Wanderlust | Leave a comment

Puto Bumbong Season

When I was a kid (that means ages ago), the sight of puto bumbong being sold on the streets heralded the beginning of the Yuletide. This Filipino delicacy used to be a seasonal treat as it was traditionally enjoyed only around Christmas time, but nowadays it’s not hard to find it all year round. Made from a special variety of ground glutinous rice — dried and colored a distinct purple — puto bumbong is cooked inside bamboo tubes in a special Pinoy-style steamer. It is then slathered with butter or margarine and served with muscovado sugar and grated coconut.

I’ve rounded up 4 restaurants where one can savor puto bumbong in the metro, but I counted out hotel dining outlets that serve this Pinoy favorite:

1. Cafe Via Mare can be relied upon to serve puto bumbong any time of the year in all of its branches. For P65 for two pieces, it’s a perfect afternoon snack treat that can already satisfy a purple craving.

puto bumbong from Cafe Via Mare

puto bumbong from Cafe Via Mare

2. Mangan, the Kapampangan specialty restaurant, also offers this delicacy and is very generous with its serving. One order of puto bumbong has 5 chewy pieces at only P95.

puto bumbong from Mangan

puto bumbong from Mangan

 3. DADS World Buffet has people lining up for its puto bumbong as part of its Filipino dessert spread as well as its Merienda Buffet selection. The person in charge of cooking it couldn’t seem to keep up with the demand for this beloved delicacy — his tray always runs out of puto bumbong in the blink of an eye. I actually waited about 10 minutes to get my portion and, yes, it was worth waiting for.

DADS puto bumbong

puto bumbong from DADS World Buffet

4. Dekada Historic Filipino Cuisine in Glorietta proudly lists puto bumbong on its menu. However, it took me 4 attempts to order it before I could finally taste it. The first 3 attempts were met with “Sorry, Ma’am, not available po.” The fourth time was the charm… or was it? My friend Steffi and I had to wait for almost an hour with constant follow-ups before this plate of puto bumbong was served on our table. For the price of P148 for 4 pieces, I really wouldn’t recommend it. It’s served with cheese, by the way, but I still don’t think it’s worth the long wait.

puto bumbong from Dekada

puto bumbong from Dekada

I believe puto bumbong is something that we don’t really crave for its taste but for the nostalgia it brings: the innocent years, going to early-morning mass at Christmas, the cool December breeze. I bet the younger generation can’t fully appreciate it. Only the oldies like me can understand what I’m talking about.

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