Asahikawa

Hokkaido’s second largest city is a good base for those exploring the nearby Daisetsu mountain range and the picturesque Biei-Furano. But because we were there in the dead of winter and we don’t ski, we had other things in mind. We were there for the 58th Asahikawa Winter Festival, its zoo, and ramen.

The Asahikawa Fuyu Matsui

Also known as the Asahikawa Winter Festival, it is an enjoyable fusion of lights, music,


A popular stall to warm the body and soul.

ice and snow sculptures, fireworks, kids activities, and food found in 2 venues.

While it may not have the scale of Sapporo’s festival, it can boast of having the largest snow sculpture in the world in the way of its stage, where all performances are held. The massive sculpture can be found overlooking the Ishikari at the Tokiwa Park near the Asahibashi bridge, where the opening and closing ceremonies are held. To build its main snow sculpture for the festival, the town enlisted the help of their country’s Self Defense Force.

Aside from the Asahibashi site, the Heiwa Dori showcases the ice sculpture competition, where teams from all over the world compete for the best ice sculpture.

Asahiyama Zoo

If truth be told, the videos of the penguin parade were enough to get me to Asahikawa. More of them on my next post because not only does the zoo boast of the Penguins, it is a zoological garden that allows visitors to see the animals from various angles.

Highlights include a glass tunnel through the penguin pool that allows the birds to be seen underwater, many arctic animals such as polar bears, seals and a lot more.

Asahikawa Eats

And of course, a visit to this part of Hokkaido will never be complete without enjoying a bowl of its famous ramen. You’ll find this all over Asahikawa, but we had ours at the Ramen Village on our way back to town from the zoo.

It was a perfect cap to the freezing day at the zoo.

And the freezing weather shouldn’t stop you from enjoying this melon flavored soft served ice cream.

Asahikawa is beautiful during the winter providing an excellent base to bask in all things winter. You will not be disappointed.

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A Piece of Heaven

Magical, massive, magnificent—endless terraces in a sea of clouds is a sight to behold. Not foreign to rice terraces, I found myself awed by the vastness and intricacy of the Yuanyang terraces, now the 45th World Heritage Site in China. Breathtaking after breathtaking scenes came before us as we drew closer to the center.

terraces-by-the-road-2

Regarded as the core of the Hani Terraces, where its ancestors settled 2,500 years ago.

hani-people

In its steep mountains and challenging terrain, the Hani people struggled and succeeded in growing rice. Their creativity turned this mountain into one artistic beauty that has placed Yuanyang on the map for impressive rice paddy terracing.

duoyishu-terracesDuoyishu Rice Terraces

With an area of 28,000 acres, it is similar to the Banaue terraces of my country but on a grander scale.

laohuzui-waiting-for-sunset

Three major scenic spots is a must. Scattered in different places, the terraces exhibit different tones and hues depending on the season and time of day. When we were there (in April), the terraces, still filled with water, glows from the sun’s ray.

laohuzui-sunsetLaohuzui Rice Terraces

So different from the one I am familiar with. It is stunning.

Laohuzui. The biggest Hani rice terraces listed in the World Cultural Heritage Site and ideal for sunset shots.

laohuzui-different-view-deck

It has 2 viewing areas, the higher deck closer to the road and a lower one closer to the terraces. Both views are lovely depending on how you want to capture its grandiosity.

laohizui-sunset-2

Bada. It has one of the biggest collections of terraces, and any angle is snap-worthy.

bada-terraces

From top to bottom, the terraces is said to be 3,900 steps.

Duoyishu. Surrounded by mountains on 3 sides and a valley on the east, it makes for a beautiful sunrise scene.

duoyishu-sunrise

The terraces, still filled with water, unveils the reflection of the soft golden sky just coming to light underneath a sea of clouds.

duoyishu-viewing-deck

From our beautiful guesthouse, Flower Residence, it was just t a 20-minute walk to the viewing deck.

pugao-village

And speaking or our guesthouse, we stayed in a charming boutique hotel in a village called Pugao Laozhai.

flower-residence

flower-residence-2

flower-residenceview-from-our-room

flower-residence-meals

Large glass windows to enjoy the fantastic view, wood everywhere, good food, combined with wonderful hosts CC and his uncle (who cooked fabulous meals)

with-hosts-cc

—is a formula sure to impress me, no doubt. A place where one can be happy to just hang out, I wish I had booked more than just a night.

Yuanyang is 2 more hours south from Jianshiu and definitely worth the road trip. A little piece of heaven with spectacular rice terraces so grand it almost guarantees poster-worthy shots at any angle.

duoyishu-terraces-upclose

terraces-by-the-road

laohuzui-changing-season

photograhers-haven-at-laohuzui

Begnas: A Ritual for Good Harvest

Happy and contented with finally being able to see up close the Panag-apoy, witnessing another festival is, what I would like to think of as, a bonus.

a-few-days-ago-2Walking to town from Ex-Mayor Killip’s house, which we rented for our stay, we saw these men in traditional Igorot clothes.

Former Sagada Mayor Tom Killip invited us to watch their ritual for a good harvest if we have time before heading down. Of course, we have time, we will make time.

dancing-2

Deeply rooted in culture and tradition, the Kankanaey community of Sagada celebrate a Rice Thanksgiving ritual that follows the cultural calendar of the Igorot. The dates of the Begnas are usually decided by the tribal leaders via age-old omen and signs and, therefore, have no fixed dates.elder

It is generally held to mark the different agricultural cycle—pre- planting or land preparation, planting and harvest—and apparently happens three times a year, loosely in March, June and November.

We were advised to be there early so not to disturb their celebration. Being early has its advantages.vantage-point

From our vantage point, we were able to watch the celebration up close without being in the way.gathering-in-the-dapay

Arriving in traditional clothes, men and women from different barangays gather in the hosting dap-ay.to-the-patpatayan

It starts with a group of men in a single file going off to the rice fields to sacrifice a pig on sacred ground the community calls patpatayan.practicing

Meanwhile, the men left in the dap-ay started to perform their traditional dances, not to entertain us (but perhaps themselves) but that we were.   After a half an hour perhaps, they came back, still in single file, to the dap-ay with the pig divided into pieces. The ceremony ends with everyone participating in the dance and the pieces distributed to each community.

dancing-3

pig-distribution

I am honored to have seen this tradition and was well worth setting our trip back for a few hours.

I leave you with more photos of the celebration:

a-few-days-ago

dancing-4

dancing

Panag-apoy: A Sagada Ritual

In Sagada like the rest of the country, All Saint’s Day is the day they gather together and remember the departed. families-gather

But while it is common to light a candle or two, the indigenous community of Sagada, instead burn wood from old pine, locally known as “saeng”.

lighting-the-saeng

The Panag-apoy, as the Kankanays call this ritual, was an event I had wanted to witness since I learned of it many, many years ago.   Not for lack of trying but victorious, I never was until two years ago. The threat of rains, I thought, would once again thwart the gathering as it did in my previous attempts.

sun-showing

But lo and behold, the sun came out on that 1st day of November and finally allowed this curious spectator a glimpse of this unusual ritual.

A ritual that’s been practiced since the 1900s and is not purely indigenous. It is a combination of Anglican rites, influenced by the teachings of American missionaries, and the Igorot culture. St.-Mary's

It starts with a liturgical service at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin.

priest-blessings

Followed by the blessing of the saeng and the tombs. And as the priest moves around, one by one the saeng gets lighted and laid by the tomb.

bonfire

ablaze

By day’s end, the Sagada cemetery behind St. Mary glows in the dark. And truth be told, it is a surreal sight to behold.  
glowing-in-the-dark

Like me, many go to witness, document or to just experience this amazing tradition unique to the northern Kankanays.

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more-spectators

 

Segovia: An immersion in Architecture and Historic Treasures

SegoviaCredits:  Elements by Haynay Designs, Plum Dumpling Designs, Pri Rocha, Sahlin Studio, Trixie Scarp Designs, Wimpy Chompers; Paper by Wimpy Chompers; Alpha by MissBehaving 2011

A visit to picturesque old city Segovia was an excellent way to cap off this month-long West Mediterranean trip. We spent the day exploring a castle, devouring a roasted suckling pig, taking lots of photographs and people watching.

tourists

This once sleepy Castilian town had a lot to offer and had us in awe at every turn, suffice it to say that we had a fun stroll.

wandering

A UNESCO World Heritage City, visitors fill the twisting alleyways wandering around a multitude of historic buildings, churches, and monuments.

Located just 80 kilometers from Madrid, it is only a 30-minute high-speed train ride away. If you have the time, seize the opportunity and take a trip to the walled old town of Segovia.

town

It is a good way to travel back in time, explore the fascinating UNESCO World Heritage-listed city by foot.

The Aqueduct

aqueduct-2

An impressive aqueduct built sometime in the 1st or 2nd century supplied water to the small town of Segovia, perched on a steep isolated hill and joined by two rivers.

aqueduct

The magnificent aqueduct bridge carried water from the Fuente Frio River traversing about 15km before entering this town.

Aqueduct-4Today its boasts of being one of the most significant and best-preserved works of Roman engineering on the Iberico Peninsula.

Segovia Cathedral

Cathedral

On the highest point in the old town, fronting the historic Plaza Mayor (Segovia’s main square) stands the Cathedral of Segovia, one of the last Gothic Cathedral built in Spain and Europe.

Plaza-Mayor-and-cathedral

The construction began in the early 16th century to replace an earlier cathedral destroyed during the war of the comuneros, a revolt against the King. I am awed by the details of this church.

cathedral-up-close

Alcazar

alcazar-2

Now, this looks like a castle straight out of a Disney fairytale.

alcazar-4

The castle rises out on a rock between the confluence of the Eresma and Clamores Rivers, a testament to its original military status. Being the favorite residence for Kings of Castile, the Alcazar was transformed from a small castle into an extraordinary palace.

alcazar-3

It played a crucial role in Spanish history because it was used in various ways throughout history.

alcazar-interior-2

Originally built as a fortress, it had served as home to royals before it became a state prison, a Royal Artillery College, and a military academy. Currently, it is a museum and home to the Spanish General Military Archive.

Lunch at the Meson de Candido Restaurant

Plaza de Azoguejo 5, 40001  +34 921 425911

Meson-de-Candido

An attraction in itself, the restaurant was declared a national monument in 1941. Set in a delightful 18th-century building next to the aqueduct, it is most famous today for its wood-fire roasted suckling pig, cochinillo.

cochinillo-ritual

Served with a short speech and a ceremonial cutting of the pig with a plate,

cochinillo-ritual-2

this famous dish was a delight—crispy skin and flavorful and fork tender meat is hard to beat. Also, worth noting is their Sepulveda-Style Roasted Lamb.

Rich in architecture treasures, it was a joy to wander through this town. Presenting below a few more photos to delight in.

Segovia-CathedralThe Cathedral from afar.
alcazar-interiorStained Glass wall at the Alcazar
view-from-the-alcazarA view from the Alcazar
Aqueduct-3The Aqueduct up close
plaza-medina-del-campoPlaza Medina del Campo
Azoguejo-Square-2The Azoguejo Square with the Aqueduct as backdrop
Plaza-MayorPlaza Mayor of Segovia
from-the-castleA view from the castle
peddlersPeddlers line the periphery of the aqueduct
Iglesia-de-San-Martin-2Iglesia de San Martin
narrow-roadNarrow winding road of Segovia
Iglesia-de-San-MartinIglesia de San Martin
Juan-BravoA statue of Juan Bravo: a leader of the rebel Comuneros in the Castilian Revolt of the Comuneros.

Passing Through Faro

marina-4

It was a beautiful, balmy day. Blue skies, gorgeous clouds, splendid sunshine.

planning-the-route

We sat outdoors, right beside the marina. We ordered our beer and then planned our day. First agenda was deciding on lunch.

Not particularly known as a tourist destination with little to boast in terms of tourist attractions.

quiet-plaza

The gateway to Portugal from Southern Spain is a quiet town in the Algarve region.  Quiet relative to all the places we’ve visited on this trip.  Tourists more like pass through Faro on their way to a beach resort or a fairway nearby. But I love it for the quietness.

graffiti

If you look beyond the graffiti walls, Faro is charming. Small enough to cover by foot and without an agenda, we went with the flow, stopping for beer or sweets when tired or just felt like it.

The journey by bus from Seville took about 2 hours.  We arrived mid-morning and it took about 10 minutes from the bus station to our cozy B&B, comfortable enough for one night (read: tiny room).

azothea

“What can we do for the day?” we asked the young lady in charge. “Here?” she thought for a second. “Nothing much” she replied. We could go to Lagos for the day if we wish. Her advice.

We didn’t.  Into our third week of traveling, we felt like doing nothing.  We needed to recharge so we stayed put.  Never mind that we didn’t get see the fort up in Lagos.  So after a few beers at the marina, we followed the map to Adega Nova along Rua Francisco Barreto.

Adega-Nova

Beautiful lunch and a superb dessert—a place I highly recommend when in the area.

Then we walked towards Cidade Velha (the old town) through shops and cafes along the city’s pedestrianised shopping center.

pedestrian-shopping-street

We entered the old town through Vila Adentro and was magically transported to another world.

old-town

Streets cobbled and lined with whitewashed houses maintaining the Portuguese character,

cobbled-street

a large section of this old walled city is still surrounded by walls built by the Muslim conquerors.

wall

This medieval walled city survived two earthquakes, they say.

Palacio-BelmarcoThe Palacio Belmarco

The hodgepodge of Baroque, Gothic, and Moorish architecture provides a fascinating insight into its past.

Linked by medieval gates or arches, the Arco do Repouso is the most impressive section of the walled city,

arco-do-repouso

 and the Arco do Porta Nova or the Portes do Mar (doors of the sea) near the water, is usually where many would end their walk, us included.

jardim-manuel-bivar

Walking at the water’s edge heading back to Jardim Manuel Bivar near the marina, many offered us a trip to Ria Formosa Natural Park, a marshland supposedly teeming with birdlife.

We declined. Instead, we headed to Clube Naval.

clube-naval

We read that this harbor-side bar offers good views of the park and the city from the top floor,

beer and ice cream

but they were closed for the day so we settled for a cafe nearby, spending the rest of the day admiring the harbor and the city until we were ready for dinner.

boardwalkWhere one take the trip to Ria Formosa.

harbour marina-2 marina-3

Contrary to the lady’s (from the B&B) enlightenment or lack thereof, Faro is a delightful destination in its own right.  The charming old town had impressed and makes for a wonderful, unforgettable break.  I wonder why she thought otherwise? Perhaps we need to start seeing beyond our ordinary. I too am guilty of that in many ways.  We tend to take for granted the (what we think are) ordinary things.

Here are more photos of our wonderfully surprising day well-spent.

Capuchin-conventCapuchin Convent close to the guesthouse

charming-city   estatua-d-afonso-III

At the Largo do Don Afonso III, named after the 13th century king whose statue dominates the square.
governo-civilGoverno Civil
igreja-de-sao-pedroIgreja de Sao Pedro

museu-municipal

The Municipal Museum, Faro’s cultural highlight, is in a former convent built around a Renaissance cloister containing exhibits related to the city’s Roman and Islāmic heritage.

Useful Info:

Adega Nova
Rua Francisco Barreto
+351 289 813 433
www.restauranteadeganova.com
 
Azothea
Rua Baptista Lopes, 40
+351 289 802 536
www.facebook.com/Azotheabnb

A Glimpse of Granada

Glimpse-of-GranadaCredits: Papers by Scrapmuss Design; label and border element by Splendid Fiins; Suede Alpha by MissBhaving

Outside of (the little I know of) the Alhambra, I know close to nothing about Granada. After all, I didn’t plan to venture out this far from Seville. So expectation was kept to a minimum.

calle-puerta-realThe NH Hotel at Puerta Real, the crossroad of the city’s shopping zone.

Crossing Calle Puerto Real on our way to lunch, the beautiful bourgeois architecture instantly left an impression.

desolate

Although we passed some streets that seemed desolate, we soon found ourselves in the heart of the city where the Cathedral and the Alcaiceria, the Moorish Silk market of way back, impressed once more.

cathedral

Lunch, arranged by the Noval brothers (our guide and driver), was at the Restaurante Sevilla—a stone throw away from the Cathedral, at the fringe of the Alcaiceria.

restaurante-sevilla

In a small, old style Spanish bar, we were served yet another excellent meal of tapas.

tapas

Quite in keeping with the cuisine’s good repute. Andalusian cuisine has yet to disappoint.

The best way to experience the city’s old yet vibrant center is to walk it.

Alcaiceria

So after that fulfilling lunch, we inched our way out of the Alcaiceria to the busy Plaza Nueva, which despite the name, is the oldest square.

busy-plaza-nueva

Lively cafes and bars, along with Moorish and Renaissance monuments and landmarks scatter around here.

A short distance on the east, right where the Carrera de Darro begins, the Rio Darro emerges from underground.

Iglesia-de-San-Gil-y-Santa-Ana

Here too lies one of the best remaining churches of Mudejar architecture, the 16th century Iglesia de San Gil y Santa Ana.

cafes-along-carrera-del-darro

It was strolling along the Carrera de Darro that Granada called to me. “One day,” I told Anton, “we will sit and absorb the pulse of the city in one of these cafes.”

artists

To assimilate with the carefree students and free-spirited artists that fill the streets for even just a few days would be pretty cool.

Follow the river and you will come across Paseo de los Tristes.

Alhambra

A picturesque street with a river running along it, the Alhambra keeping watch from atop.

Granada has an unmistakable Moorish soul, most likely because it was the last city to be reconquered by the Catholic Monarchs.

darro-river

Lying at the confluence of 4 rivers—the Beiro, Darro, Genil, and the Monachit, separated by the gorge of the Rio Darro. The city is set between 2 outlying hills, the Alhambra hill on the south and the Albaicin, on the north.

Albaicin, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is the old Moorish quarter of Granada.

cobbled-streets

Walking through its narrow and winding cobbled streets will take you back over 1500 years. It holds a vast amount of Granada’s historic buildings and plazas.

residential-district

Although a residential district on the whole, it is host to many restaurants, bars as well as guesthouses oozing with classic Andalusian charm.

andalusian-charm

Above all, this beautiful residential neighborhood delivers some incredible view of the Alhambra and much of the city.

view-of-the-city-from-AlbaicinView of the city from Albaicin
alhambra-from-albaicinAlhambra from Albaicin

More of Granada through my lens:

albaicin-restaurantsA Plaza in Albaicin
calle-caldereria-nuevaCalle Calderreria Nueva–a narrow street close to Plaza Nueva, holding tourist shops, a few restaurant and a few merchants typical of the old Moorish quarter.  Not quite similar but oftentimes referred to the medina found in Morocco.
carmen-es-2The Carmen es—rows of beautiful houses—line the streets of Albaicin.
real-chancilleriaThe Real Chancilleria at Plaza Nueva
cathedral-surroundingsSteps of the Cathedral where people hang out
narrow-streetsNarrow streets of Albaicin
musiciansMusicians found in every corner — Alcaiceria
GranadaA glimpse of the city from the Alhambra

Useful Info:

Restaurante Seville
Calle Oficios, 12
+34 958 221 223