My Christmas travel season in a picture that speaks a thousand words. Happy holidays! Here’s hoping we can all do leisure travel again.
Thanks to the corona virus, travel plans are definitely out this year. Too bad because I was supposed to be in Taiwan for a conference with 3 other colleague-friends I love to travel with. So might as well send my name to Mars courtesy of NASA.
I was utterly exhausted with the past weeks’ school activities by the time I boarded my Cebu Pacific flight for Macau along with a co-professor. We were attending the Asia Pacific Symposium on Music Education Research (APSMER) at the Macau Polytechnic Institute next week and were arriving a few days earlier for a much deserved R&R. This is only my second trip to this tiny Cantonese island and I was quite looking forward to it. The first one was more than thirty years ago with the family when I was still in elementary. It was a day trip from Hong Kong and the sea was quite rough which meant I spent the entire trip in the van, disembarking only at the Ruins of St. Paul and at Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s house. I had a really terrible time as I felt like puking all over the place.
Arriving in Macau is indeed, like being here the first time. I gazed in awe at the skyline as our taxi made its way across the bridge to the other side, away from the glitzy casinos. Our little hotel is in a quiet street just a few minutes walk to Senado Square which meant it is near everything but still far enough from the tourist crowds.
It was past 11 by the time we checked-in and the only dining place open was the Thai restaurant just a few feet away. It was khao kluk krapi (shrimp paste fried rice) rather than yang chow for the night. The servings were generous and the food tasted Thai enough.
We went to Taipa this morning for an old Macau feel, if it is at all possible with the massive tourist development and crowds of Hong Kong and Mainland Chinese on school break.
Walking around, I realized how much nicer Macau really is to Hong Kong with its narrow streets, alleyways, and shop houses.
The village of Taipei was particularly nice with its cobbled alleys.
After having just been to Portugal last April, the more I appreciated Macau’s architectural heritage.
The weather is really sticky though leaving me sweating and exhausted.
Revisited the Ruins of St. Paul but was put-off by the massive crowds.
It felt good though to be revisiting a place I had seen in childhood.
Went to Senado Square in the evening with its mosaic floors reminiscent of that of Praca de Commercio in Lisbon but the crowds and the humidity was just too much.
There’s more than pasteis de nata for a sweet snack or dessert in Lisbon. There are confeiterias everywhere with glass display cases brimming with sweetness overload.
At the Time Out Market are a number of dessert shops including Manteigra (which is a class of its own with its heavenly pasteis de nata) but my favorite was Nos e Mais Bos with its delicious cakes.
With so many cakes on array, choosing what to get without breaking my blood sugar limit was a challenge.
The slices were big and each bite made me swoon. It was worth going to the market just for this.
Another favorite sweets shop was Alcoa which we stumbled into while strolling at busy Rue de Garett after buying some books at Libreria Bertrand. We couldn’t resist the pastries on display at the large window so we stepped inside. Most of Alcoa’s pastries are egg yolk based which makes for a very rich taste and sumptuous texture. Think of smooth yema. Many have won numerous awards and rightly so.
They have a very clean, smooth, and elegant taste. Sweet but not sugary.
There are no tables and chairs, just a counter lining one side of the confeitaria’s walls.
The coffee is good and strong and the staff friendly which makes for a sweet stop after all that shopping.
I have a very sweet tooth and dessert comes at all hours of the day. Lisbon was such a pleasant surprise to me as all I ever expected was pasteis de nata but I got so much more.
Spain is heaven for dessert-lovers like me. There’s a huge variety and they’re always very good. After all, fantastic tapas and tasty main courses need to be polished-off with perfect postres.
We stopped by this small pasteleria along Calle Huertas in Madrid so we can use the toilet. Of course, we had to order something and that was this delicate lemon merengue tart with burnt sugar.
In many places, you’ll see these flaky desserts filled with cream and/or yema. They’re also huge.
The restaurant of the Hotel Palacio del Pilar del Toro where we spent the night in Granada a dessert specialty—- a baklava-like pastry that was served warm. Very very good.
Tocino del Cielo is a thick flan made heavy with loads of egg yolk resulting in a chewy consistency which I absolutely adore.
This one is El Giralda’s in Seville. The bitterness of the burnt sugar was a perfect counterpoint to the flan’s sweetness.
Another tocino del cielo but this time served with ice-cream at Becerrita in Seville. This was really really good.
Much lighter is the Catalan flan. It’s just like our leche flan.
These slices of bread soaking in milk and cinnamon is served everywhere.
Of course, when in Madrid, go get some turrones.
I have always enjoyed Spanish food with its hearty meals. That being said, one of the goals of this trip to Spain was to taste all the Spanish dishes my sister and I have grown fond of after countless dinners at Señor Alba’s, Señor Terry’s, and Las Paellas, three of Manila’s legitimate Spanish digs.Jamon The beautiful and delicate Spanish ham. I could live off this. My first bite into this delicacy was at breakfast at a cafeteria at the Chamartin Train Station in Madrid after an 11- hour trip from Lisbon. Biting into my bocadillo filled with jamon Iberico, I wondered, if a bocadillo at a train station could be this good, what more if it would be in a proper cafe?Taking a walk at the Puerto del Sol, after dropping our luggages at the hotel, we were delighted with all the jamon shops with tantalizing displays of bocadillos which proved too tempting to resist. Thus, in less than 2 hours, we had our 2nd jamon.Jamon is everywhere and compared to prices at delicatessens back home, are quite cheap. Bought about 180 grams at 2.34€ at a small grocery.It’s often served as a sandwhich (tostada or bocadillo) or as an appetizer.One thing we learned with eating jamon in tostada is they use crusty round breads in which you spread some olive oil and tomato puree. Life changing. Sopa de Ajo This garlic soup was one of my mom’s specialties. Hers was a clear soup loaded with garlic and croutons fried in butter. Our experiences with all the sopa de ajo we had in Spain totally blew our minds away. It was so flavorful and had a delicious homey feel. Nothing could be better than taking a table at the Plaza Mayor and taking spoonfuls of the soup to ward off the cold. Museo de Jamon’s soup had achuete which accounted for the reddish color.More savory was La Turcha’s which was brownish and had morsels of ham. Totally different from what we had been having at home, the sopa de ajo had thick slices of crusty bread much like French onion soup.Callos MadrileñoWhere else to have this than Madrid? I was warned by Rhoda that the original Spanish version was of pure tripe, something I was too fond of. Not if it was melt-in-your-mouth the way it was served to us at El Hylogui. It was perfect with crusty bread to mop up the sauce.GambasAgain at El Hylogui. Large succulent shrimps in olive oil and garlic. According to the restaurant manager, a little brandy is added which explained its slightly sweetish taste. La Dispensa in Seville had smaller shrimps and much more oil. Paella and Arroz A Valencia original, this heart rice dish is truly iconic of Spain. This mixed paella at a restaurant by the Teatro Nacional Madrid had chicken, seafood, and yummy chorizos.At El Giralda in Seville, the menu indicated this oxtail rice dish (22 €) and black rice dish (22 €) as arroz rather than paella. I wonder what makes one different from the other? Both were delicious, though. The black rice was flavored with squid ink and served with aoili.When ordering paella, the prices indicated are per person and restaurants require a minimum of 2 orders (about 16-19 € per person). However, at El Giralda, the two arroz we ordered were single serve.The paellas were served steaming hot and as it cools, it gets even better as the arboreto rice absorbs the sauce. At Mercadero de Barrera in Seville, you can see the paella being cooked.Asador An asador is a restaurant that specializes in roasts. The pollo asador at El Aguador in Granada was the tastiest and most tender roast chicken I’ve every had. The meat just falls off the bones. It’s a really large chicken, too.The cochinillo at Las Despensa in Seville according to Trip Advisor reviews was tops. Originating in Segovia, we wanted to see how Alba’s roast in Manila compares to the one here. The cochinillo was meatier and tastier. Unfortunately, the skin wasn’t crispy. I think it’s because we arrived quite early. The old man running the restaurant hesitated when we ordered it.Aside from the roasts are the grilled meats. The salted Iberian pork shoulder at El Gradual in Granada was perfection personified. The meat was just the right thickness. It was grilled lightly and very juicy. It was salted perfectly.A hearty stew of rabo del toro (oxtail) is perfect for cold weather. Huge chunks that fall off the bone in a tomato-based sauce at La Turcha in Madrid.Fried Food. When in Spain, be sure to order the starters as they’re very good and if you’re ordering a salad, go really well with it. They also help keep your tummy happy as it waits for 20 minutes for the paella to be served.Trust the Spanish chefs to turn an orherwise mundane dish such as fried food into something extra ordinary. Whether fish, seafood, or meat, it’s always perfectly seasoned and battered and fried just at the right temperature to seal in the juices while keeping the meat cooked and tender.A plateful of El Aguador’s delicate fried baby squid.El Giralada’s pan of fried mixed seafood.Fried lamb at La Turcha.Where to EatWe mostly ate at restaurants as we wanted main courses rather than just tapas. These were always well-appointed places with table settings and well-dressed wait staff. That’s why it’s always good to be dressed well all the time. For breakfast (desayuno) we headed to one of the many cafes for some sandwhiches and coffee. Some are self-service (remember to bring your utensils and plates to the counters before you leave) while others have table service. These places were also perfect for Spain’s famous sweets.We ate so well in Spain. The food was of very high quality and the portions were generous. It would be difficult to taste the main courses when dining alone as you won’t be able to finish all of it. Best to stick to the tapas. What to Order We always ordered a salad, meat, and fish. Sometimes, we had starters too.Bread was also always served before meals.There are also free starters.How much? Main courses are about 15€ to 25 € while tapas are 3.5€ to 8 €. The set meal for the day (menu del dia) is abour 10€ to 11€.What time to eat?Breakfast can be early but lunch is 1:30 to about 4pm and dinner at around 8pm-12 md. Some even OEM at 9pm. There are some restaurants with a sign that says “kitchen all day” which means they don’t close. Perfect for people who can’t adjust their eating times. We stuck to the Spanish way which worked for us as it gave us more time to tour.
Our last stop in Spain before heading back to Lisbon in a few days. Another Alsa bus ride but this time on Supra Economy rather than Premium. The difference is that the former doesn’t have an electrical charger, no attendant, and no snacks. Same 1+2 seat configuration, though. It was an easy 3-hour trip through the lovely countryside.
We dropped our luggages at our beautiful hotel, Hostal Atenas at the Barrio Sta. Cruz neighborhood then went in search for some tostada with jamon Iberico.
Back at our hotel, the lovely girl at the reception allowed us to check-in early. Since arriving in Spain, I’ve noticed how the people working at the hotel industry are so overly friendly. Our hotel is very homey with tiled walls and plants and was built in traditional style. It doesn’t have an elevator which wasn’t really much of a problem even if it means lugging our bags 2 floors. At least, we get to work-off our calories from all the good Spanish food we’d been having.
We couldn’t get a taxi to bring us to Plaza de España so we decided to walk in the rain to the Catedral de Seville hoping there would be lots of taxis there. None. It was past 3pm already and our entrance time to the Real Alcazar was at 4pm so we headed there instead which, thanks to Google Maps, turned out to be just one minute walk away. The line for those who have bookings was a bit long but it took us less than 20 minutes to get past security and walk into the complex. The rain had stopped by then lending a fresh sheen on the palace grounds.
The buildings are beautiful with their ornate carvings and colorful tiles.
Very reminiscent of the Alhambra. Just like the other sites we’ve been to previously, it was easy to take nice pictures without anyone crowding your frame.
This painting of the Virgin Mary is so beautiful.
From the palace, we just walked around as there weren’t any taxis.
We have only been in Seville less than day but I already love it from what I have barely seen of this place.
The narrow cobbled streets are lined with beautiful houses with small balconies and grilled windows. There is beautiful architecture everywhere.
Also, there are ornate churches and leafy plazas at almost every turn.
The Lusitania train which departs nightly from Lisbon for the overnight trip to Madrid is one of the most popular means to cross the border from Portugal to Spain. We ended up with turista class (reclining seats) as familia cabins were all booked out and we didn’t want to take the sex-segregated tourist cabins. We figured, if we lasted on flights strapped to a seat, what difference would it make on a train?
True enough, the seats were comfortable enough. Our coach had only less than 10 people so it was quiet.
The train was ready for boarding by 8:30pm and departed promptly at 9:25pm.
The ride was comfortable as the train didn’t shake much and it was relatively quiet. The toilet was also very clean and the water strong. I woke up at around 5am as the train pulled in to Salamanca. Didn’t get much sleep anymore and just counted the few stops until we reached the Chamartin Station in Madrid at 8:35am as scheduled.
Arrived at past 1 in the morning after an 8 hour and half flight from Manila (which was seriously delayed for almost 2 hours due to air traffic) on board Emirates for my connecting flight to Lisbon. The airport was really bus but at past 2, when many flights were leaving, the gates where we were (A) quieted down. Found this sweet lounge with reclining chairs and charging sockets. Didn’t need to purchase a Dragon pass anymore just to be able to lie down a bit before heading to gate A16 at 6am for the flight.
My paper was accepted for presentation at a conference in Lisbon in April. It was the perfect opportunity to apply for my first ever Schengen visa. Unfortunately, applying for one is challenging. Just like a US visa application, it’s another step to travel adulthood.
Having previously been granted visas to the US, Azerbaijan, and Turkey (the last 2 just given last year), I was a bit emboldened to snagging a Schengen and Portugal seemed like a perfect entry point.
So here’s how to apply for a Portuguese Schengen visa in Manila.
First, do know that there no Portuguese Embassy in the Philippines. Visa applications are handled by the Greek Embassy in Makati.
Step 1. Request for an appointment.
Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org at least 2 months before your preferred appointment date which should 2-3 months before your intended departure. In my case, I emailed them on Nov 16, 2018 to request an appointment for Jan 18, 2019 with an intended departure on Apr 2.
Write the following info on the email using this format:
If you are applying as a group, put the same information for each person in the same email.
The embassy responded after a few days and gave me a date and time: Feb 19 at 11:00 am. The email stated that considering my departure date, this was the appropriate appointment date. So I guess, 1.5 – 2 months before departure date is enough time for the application process.
You will also be asked to reply back confirming the appointment. I simply responded that I was confirming our appointment on the scheduled date.
2. Prepare the requirements.
Download the list of requirements from the Greek Embassy website at https://www.mfa.gr/en/visas/schengen-visas/application-form.html
Make sure you present as many appropriate documents depending on your purpose for travel. Since I was going to a conference (listed under cultural events), I presented the official letter of invitation from the conference organizer. I also presented the printed program which showed my name in the schedule as well as my abstract to further bolster my claim to attending a conference.
My sister and aunt who were joining me as tourists simply presented the standard requirements:
- Hotel reservations
- Flight bookings (courtesy of a travel agency; confirmed for but not yet paid)
- Bank certificates
- Photocopies of bank book pages showing transactions for the past 6 months
- Photocopies of credit card statements of the past 6 months
- Certificate of Employment
- Letter of Official Leave from my university (in my case)
- Business permit (in my aunt’s case as she was not employed and she had to show proof of income). Photocopy this.
- You will also need the following:
- 1. Application form (download from the website and type in the info. It’s in Word format so just type it in. Do not handwrite it.)
- 2. ID picture (follow the required size) to be pasted on the application form.
- 3. Travel insurance specific for Schengen countries. Check the list of approved insurance providers at the website. I always use Malayan whenever I travel as you do everything online and receive your insurance policy in your email immediately. Quick and easy.
Also photocopy your past visas if you have any to save you the trouble of going across the photocopy shop across the embassy building should they ask for it. This is not in the list of requirements but everyone else during the time we were applying brought their old passports with them. In the case of one of our 2 family friends who had a different appointment date, she was asked to photocopy stamped pages of her passport.
Put all of the documents following the order prescribed in the official list of requirements inside a long brown envelope. On the back, upper left corner, write down your name (Surname, First Name) and your contact number beanethe it.
Step 3. Show-up at your appointment.
Head to SEDCO 1 building at Rada St in Legaspi Village, Makati. No sense arriving early as the guard will only let you in the building lobby 10 minutes before your appointment. So be there 20 minutes before and check that your name is on the guard’s list. Wait outside the entrance. He will then announce the appointment time and you all line up and sign the log book and leave an ID. Head to the 6th floor.
Inside the Greek Embassy.
Step 4. Sign-in at the log sheet at the counter. Submit your documents. Remember to put your current and old passports inside.
Step 5. Wait. Take a seat and wait to be called.
Step 6. Pay. You will be called. If your documents are in order and have been verified, you will be given 3 BDO deposit slips. Fill these up with the bank and payment details posted on the bullettin board on the left side of the room. Our visa fee was Php 3,600.
Go to the BDO across the building and pay. No need to surrender your ID or log out at the building lobby.
If some of your documents need to be photocopied, you will be told to do so. There’s a photocopying shop that also sells office supplies across, beside Mini Stop.
If there’s something wrong with your documents, you will be informed and you might not be asked to proceed to the next steps. One woman didn’t have any flight nor hotel reservations for Portugal only for Spain. She was told that she needed to apply at the Spanish Embassy even if Portugal was part of her IT.
Step 7. Submit your deposit slip.
Just give it at the counter. Take a seat and wait to be called.
Step 8. Photo and Biometrics. You will be called to have your photo taken and your fingerprints scanned. Wait again.
Step 9. Get your claim stub. You will be called and given a sheet of paper which you should bring with you to claim your passport.
Does this mean you get a visa?
Apparantly not. When we were called, we were told that there would be no interview that day. Should it be needed or additional documents were required, we would be called. In the meantime, they will process our visa application.
After 10 business days…
Step 10. Get your passport back. Passports are released between 2:30-3:30pm. Just simply show up on the day of releasing. Log-in at the lobby and head up to the embassy.
I was unable to join my sister and aunt so I sent my claim sheet along with an authorization letter and a photocopy of my ID. The visa should be in your passport if you were granted one. In the case of our 2 family friends who were denied, there was a letter explaining the reason why they weren’t granted a visa.
Other Things to Consider:
1. Is there an interview?
The next morning, my sister received a phone call from the Greek consul (my sis gave our house landline as contact number). She was interviewed about our itinerary, etc. The concern was that while my sister had been granted a Schengen visa years before, my aunt and I had nevet had one. The consul, however, recognized that “one had to start somewhere.” My sister assured her that we will surely come back and would even show ourselves at the embassy on our return, to which the consul replied that indeed it was a requirement for first-timers. As my sister narrated it, the consul was very nice and she even said, “So it was your brother who instigated this trip. I wish him good luck in his presentation. ”
I guess, what’s really important is that your able to convince the embassy of the intent of your visit.
In our 2 friends’ case, they never received a phone call. When they were called to get their claim sheet, it was simply given to them, no instructions about a probable interview.
2. So what’s in the visa?
We were given the requested 15-day visa that was valid for 30 days starting April 1 (our date of entry as stipulated in the IT and flights). That means we could enter Portugal anytime from April 1-30 and stay 15 days.
Our visa also stated that it was “multiple entry” and alid for “Schengen states.” We could exit Schengen countries and re-enter any number of times. Suddenly made me think of crossing from Seville to Tangiers in Morocco (visa-free for Filipinos). In our visa application, we checked “single entry” as we were only traveling to Portugal and Spain.
There was also a small stamp at the bottom of the passport page saying that we needed to show ourselves at the embassy on our return.
3. Why were our friends rejected?
The letter said that the information given to support their intended travel was deemed unreliable. Hmmm… what does it mean? I guess they didn’t believe that they would join just to listen to me at the conference. Among their documents was letter from me saying they were close friends and that they will be listening to me at the conference. I should have showed proof that we had previously traveled together.
Also, they could have had a better chance if they hadthe same appointment date as ours. I had already made an appointment for my sister, my aunt, and myself when the 2 of them decided to join. Though I did request for their appointment and asked to put them in the same appointment as ours as we were traveling together, they were give a different date, about a week later than us.
Also, one of the ladies at the counter replaced Portugal with Spain as their entry point and asked them to sign the correction Perhaps she got confused with the flight which had Madrid as a stop over enroute to Lisbon. They, however, did not protest about the mistake. Perhaps, the embassy noticed that it did not coincide with the IT.
Tips on applying for a visa
1. I guess, the lesson to be learned here is to really prepare strong documents that would convince the embassy that your travel intentions are what you say they are. So take time to prepare and understand your documents and the application form. Try to give all the documents required.
2. Have other visas. The consul mentioned in her phone interview with my sister that though my aunt and I had never had a Schengen visa, we both had previous visas. My aunt had US and Canadian visas issued more than a decade ago while I had a US visa that expired 2018 (placed in an expired passport) and an Azerbaijan, Turkish, and Nepalese visas in my current one. They must have some sort of data base as my aunt didn’t show her US and Canadian visas. Neither did I with my US visa. In addition, my sister didn’t also submit her old Schengen visa in an expired passport. In the visa application form, since her Schengen was issued about 15 years ago, she ticked the box that said she had not been issued a Schengen before. The consul, however, mentioned that my sister had a previous visa which was to her advantage.