Saturday, June 30, 2012

Private opera performance tonight in Prague



Even we at Travelife are entitled to a little time off from a never-ending Travelife every now and then. So today, I took it easy in the morning, having a very leisurely breakfast at the Four Seasons Prague while typing out a blog entry on the terrace of the hotel, with a beautiful view of Prague Castle and the river in front of me.



Then I met my friends for lunch in Prague's Old Town, just a few minutes from my hotel, at Cafe-Cafe, a very cool cafe-restaurant that is apparently very popular with the fashionable set. It was decorated in a very eclectic manner and staffed by good-looking young people in green shirts. When I saw what kind of a design-vibe it had, I lowered my expectations about the food immediately; I've seen few cool restaurants that have served truly delicious food.

Salad Nicoise

I'd also been eating a lot lately, and I'd had a very big breakfast. So everything fell into place and I ordered a very simple lunch: salad nicoise and a pot of tea, with a caramel cake for dessert. Wow. What a surprise it was to find that everything was good. The salad nicoise was excellent, as was the caramel cake, which was soft, moist and really tasted of caramel.

Delicious caramel cake


TIME ALONE WITH THE FT WEEKEND

In the afternoon, my friends went shopping while I decided to walk back to the Four Seasons for some truly relaxing time, especially as I'm flying back to Manila tomorrow after a massage and lunch. I returned to my suite, ran a bath, and spent a good part of the afternoon in it reading the rest of the FT Weekend.

If you read this blog, you'll know that the FT Weekend paper is the only paper I really read every page of. It's got all of the hard news plus the weekend specials are excellent.

I like all the sections in the weekend special, but my favorites are the Lunch with FT, which is always interesting and so well-written, and Mrs. Moneypenny. I don't know why, but I can understand what she writes and how she thinks very well -- whoever she is.

I also read the travel and real estate sections with avid interest, although the real estate section always inspires me to think about having my own farmhouse in Umbria or stone house in one of the lavender-filled villages of Provence.

VERY SPECIAL CONCERT

Tonight is our last night in Prague, and it was most fitting that we spent it having a most enjoyable evening in the company of the Philippine ambassador to the Czech Republic and some of her other ambassador colleagues from Asia and Europe, enjoying a very private performance of top Czech artists in the comfort of her living room.

That's Team Travelife with the artists 
behind tonight's special performance


I sat next to the Ambassador of Romania to the Czech Republic and we talked about the parliament building of Bucharest, which is the second largest in the world next to the Pentagon. She told me: "But Bucharest isn't as nice for a visit compared to some of the truly beautiful parts of Romania. When you go, I suggest you head straight for Transylvania."

This mini-concert and dinner were organized in honor of Travelife Magazine, and I can't thank the Philippine Ambassador and her staff, Dan Hostettler and Noema Erba for truly making our last evening in the Czech Republic very special.

Noema and her colleague, a tenor of the Czech National Opera, sang some of my favorite opera pieces, and it just so happened that the ambassador's living room had the perfect accoustics for their voices.

The result was a beautiful, intimate and almost spine-tingling performance that really gave us a feel of the depth of Czech talent.

"How do you like Prague?" Everyone asked us. We're so in love with it. And one of these days -- sooner rather than later, I hope -- we'll be back.

Good night from the Czech Republic for the last time. The next blog entry will be from Asia unless I find something interesting to blog about at breakfast.

An Evening of Classical Music
6 PM, 30 June 2012
Residence of the Philippine Ambassador to the Czech Republic

Performed by Noema Erba
and Miguel Cavalcanti
Soloist of the Czech National Opera

"Quand me'n vo'"
La Boheme

"La ci darem la mano"
Don Giovanni

"Mesicku na nebi hlubokem"
Rusalka

"Madamigella Valery"
La Traviata

"Meine Lippen, sie kussen so heiss"
Giuditta

"Heia in den Bergen"
Die Csardasfurstin

Thank you for making our last evening in the Czech Republic
so very special.



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Love and the Four Seasons in Prague



Good morning from the Four Seasons Prague, the favorite hotel of Russian presidents, the choice for most heads of state, and our home away from home in the Czech Republic. It's a Saturday here and I'm typing this out from the breakfast terrace with a view of the river and Prague Castle in front of me, and an uncharacteristically large breakfast is in front of me as well.

I usually don't order the "works" for breakfast as it's usually just a mix of juices for me in the morning; but for some reason, I felt like having a bit of everything today.

So in front of me is a big plate of cold breakfast fare consisting of smoked salmon, cheeses, capers and tomatoes; and I've ordered an omelette with fresh buffalo mozarrella as well, and added an extra order of crispy bacon for good measure. And of course I have my standard carafe of carrot juice and hot chocolate as well.



ANYTHING BUT BORING

It's a very extraordinary breakfast, I know, but as you probably are guessing by now, Travelife is anything but ordinary. Call as anything you like, but we're never in the middle, average or boring. And to complete my Saturday morning here in this most picturesque of cities, I have a copy of the FT Weekend in front of me as well. This weekend edition is the only newspaper I read from cover to cover, and it really makes my day.



Yesterday was our "relax day" in Prague. We decided to take it easy and just go with the flow of the city -- this most beautiful under-the-radar city in Europe. We spent the morning walking around Prague castle on top of the hill, and I even passed one of the old ancestral homes of the Hon. Karel Von Schwarzenberg, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic and scion of one of Europe's grandest aristocratic families.

I had a one-on-one afternoon tea with him during his very short visit to Manila a few months ago, and he'd then regaled me with stories of his family and his life during the Communist regime, when he lived in Vienna but was nevertheless trying to help out friends and associates stuck in Prague.

LUNCH ON A ROOFTOP



Then we made our way down the hill via the palace gardens to have lunch on the rooftop terrace of one of Prague's nicest boutique hotels. This was a short stop from a vintage boutique I'd chanced upon on my first day in the Czech Republic a week ago, so I decided to visit the boutique again to see a couple of things I wanted to re-try.

Well, I must be a Prague local by now, because a Czech lady I'd met on my first visit here last week was there again. She didn't even live in Prague but about two hours away, and on that first visit we'd struck up a conversation about some very interesting shoes that she thought I should definitely get. She'd told me then: "You'll never see them anywhere else."

And yesterday, there she was again, and there I was again. What are the odds of that happening?

DINNER BY THE RIVER



For dinner last night, my two friends and I dined at a fancy restaurant by the river here in Prague, with the most beautiful view of the Old Town. It's become our favorite place so far, and last night, we enjoyed wine, food and the scenery, as well as a couple of incredible laughs that so made my stomach ache afterwards. It was such fun and rather surreal actually, to sit back, relax and laugh so much amidst such breathtaking beauty.





THEATER IN THE DARK



Afterwards, I decided to watch a Black Light performance in the Old Town. This is basically an entertaining show of music and special effects using black lighting to mask how everything is done, and  it's become a tourist attraction in Prague. I got the idea the other night when we'd had dinner with other friends from Manila who'd happened to be in Prague at the same time, and one of them had wanted to watch a Black Light performance but there hadn't been any time.



There were lots of things I wanted to see in Prague as well but we didn't have any free evenings either. But last night, there was a Black Light show at 930 PM and so it was a chance to see this on my one free evening in Prague after dinner. My friends were tired out -- we'd walked the whole city in the morning after all -- so I went by myself. It was very enjoyable, and I still have to discover how on earth they did some of those special effects.

SOLO WALK AT MIDNIGHT

I took this last night while walking on the bridge...
The show ended at 11 PM and I wasn't too tired yet, so I decided to take a walk by myself along the Charles Bridge, from the Old Town to the Lesser Town and back, listening to music on my iPod and enjoying the marvelous view of Prague all lighted up at night. I've seen this view a hundred times by now but I never get tired of it. Last night, I even got a little breathless looking at the view for the nth time.

What a romantic city Prague is. Everywhere you look gives you a lump in your throat, especially on a beautiful June evening with clear skies and fine weather, and everything is lighted up just like in the fairy tales.

And just as I was standing right in the middle of the Charles Bridge taking my 1000th photo of Prague at night, I decided: I'm so happy that my two friends joined me on this trip to the Czech Republic and they truly are the best and most enjoyable company in the world. But the next time I come here, I'm going with someone I love.

Good morning from Prague, and best wishes for a wonderful weekend from all of us at Travelife Magazine.




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Friday, June 29, 2012

Smoked beef tongue eaten with bread fried in bacon fat

The UNESCO World Heritage town of Olomouc
Two nights ago, we arrived at about 730 PM in the town of Olomouc in the Czech Republic, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It's in the region of Moravia and it's so much closer to the Polish border than to Prague itself: Poland is about an hour's drive away while Prague is about 3.5 hours away from Olomouc.

It had been a relaxing day that began with a leisurely breakfast in the town of Brno, Czech's second largest city and a veritable treasure trove of Bauhaus architecture, followed by a walkabout around the town.

I didn't plan on liking Brno, especially after the precious picture-pretty towns we visited like Kutna Hora, Cesky Krumlov and Ceske Budejovice; but in the end I found Brno beautiful and a center of surprisingly cool new Czech.

GROUND CENTRAL FOR HIP & COOL



In Brno, we stayed in a very hip design hotel right on the town square that had previously been a bank, and then for dinner we'd tried out the city's other cool hotel, the Hotel Barcelo, where we'd had one of our best meals on this trip in the hotel's red restaurant lined with interesting lamps and mirrors.

The restaurant of our hotel in Brno


A typical Czech cold buffet breakfast at a luxury hotel
Even breakfast in Brno was cool. Our hotel's restaurant was modern and casual in a very Sydney sort of way: edgy, but fun and friendly. There was a nice buffet of cold foods including the usual Czech breakfast fare of assorted cheeses and cold cuts, fruits and yoghurt. Then we had a choice of additional hot food from an a la carte menu, and I chose scrambled eggs with salmon, and asked that it be topped with fresh mozzarella.

The best scrambled eggs with smoked salmon
that I've ever tasted -- topped with fresh mozzarella cheese

Look at what arrived. Isn't it a work of art? I was just wondering how they got those salmon slices so nicely done up around the scrambled eggs.

CLASSICAL DESIGN + MODERN ART

There was a beach in the town square...

Walking around Brno, as well, I was struck by the lovely juxtaposition of modern art, quirky art, classic architecture, modern architecture and even Communist-era buildings. How could all these co-exist together and still have a result that was pleasingly and intriguingly pretty? Brno is not just a pretty place but one with a depth that makes you want to know more about it.

Modern art in Brno


A FOUR-HOUR LUNCH

And then it was on to a very leisurely lunch in the restaurant Octarna in the city of Kromeriz, about an hour's drive away from Brno on the road to Olomouc. Like everywhere else in this part of the Czech Republic, it's charming and picturesque.

The charming Octarna inn where we had lunch


The Octarna is a four-star inn that had a restaurant (and WiFi!) and here we ordered a whole lot of food and sat eating for about four hours. Or at least it felt that long, because when we finally stood up from the table, it was 530 PM and we had about 30 minutes to get to the our next destination: the lovely classical French gardens of Kromeriz, that are the main reason for the town's UNESCO World Heritage status.

The beautiful gardens of Kromeriz
WHAT TIME IS IT??

Summer in Europe can be quite confusing. The sun doesn't set until 9 PM in many places -- and in fact, it hardly sets at all, the more North you go -- so the sunlight at 530 PM can seem like 2 PM. It never helped our internal clocks either that we were always eating so late and so long. And for that lunch in Ocarna, when we finally finished, we had no idea that it was already so late.

Over our four-hour lunch, we'd ordered so many local specialties just so we could sample everything: assorted Czech cheeses, boiled beef soup, cold beef tongue with horse radish, roast duck with red cabbage, and then Czech-style apple strudel for dessert. Over the past few days, I thought I'd already sampled everything possible, but apparently that wasn't the case. The smoked beef tongue and boiled beef soup were certainly new to me.

Assorted local Czech cheeses with raw vegetables and olives

Boiled beef soup

Apple strudel for dessert.
I didn't have any but S said it was very good.

At this lunch place, my friend S said she'd had the best meal yet so far: it was cold beef tongue with horseradish, which we ate with bread fried in bacon fat. Boy, was that so bad for us and yet so good for us.

Beef tongue with bread fried in bacon fat. Yum.

PERFECT MESSAGING TIME

As we were driving to Olomouc finally, my Blackberry pings again and it's my friend J, sending me a pretty confident message from some airport lounge where he was stuck for a couple of hours on the way home to Manila: "You can BBM and email me all you want from now as I have hours and hours of time here."

I was so tempted to reply: "What makes you think I'd actually want to do that?"

We always talk like this so it's just in good fun. But it just so happened I was stuck in a van going down a highway, so it was pretty good BBM time for me as well. So instead I replied: "You're in luck. I just got back into the van for the long drive to Olomouc."

We talked for a while about the usual things. And then because he was stuck in an airport lounge for so long, I suggested that he finally write a blog entry instead. He'd been threatening to do a blog entry with a working title called "J tells his side of the story" for a couple of days now, so I told him to just go ahead and write a blog entry while he was killing time in an airport lounge. He told me: "I'll write one as long as you won't edit it."

A MASTERPIECE IN 20 MINUTES

I didn't say anything in reply then, but to my surprise he emailed me his first guest blog entry in something like 20 minutes. He must've been working very fast in that airport lounge. By then I was already on my computer in my hotel room and when I next checked my email, there was his "masterpiece" in my In Box. It was so funny that I burst out laughing when I read it.



I wish I could share it with you all as he really is a witty writer with a dry sense of humor -- whether it's texting or writing a blog entry. (Now he should work on incorporating these very attractive traits into his real personality...) But I realized that I just can't print what he wrote as is. Not until he revises a couple of things in it anyway...

And just now, from Manila to Prague, he's sent me a message threatening to revise our prospective blog entry and actually make it worse than it already is. I'm waiting with bated breath, and I'm almost afraid to check my email when I wake up tomorrow morning here in Prague.

In the meantime, good night from the Czech Republic. We're off to have dinner at one of Prague's best restaurants -- the same restaurant Hillary Clinton had dinner at when she was last here -- and then I'm going to watch a very special performance in the dark.



And tomorrow, for our last evening in the Czech Republic, a beautiful private opera performance has been prepared for us to be followed by dinner at the residence of the Philippine ambassador. A wonderful way to end our stay in a country and a city that have captured my heart.

Just another day in a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.




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Don't miss Travel Madness Expo at SMX





“Travel Providers, Partners and Consumers - Hitting It High On Low” is the theme for this year’s Travel Madness Expo at the SMX Convention Center Halls 3 and 4, starting this July 20 – 22, 2012 with a grand opening ceremony at 2:00 pm, Mardi-Gras style to liven up the entrance event.

Organized by Travel Innovators Inc. (TII), it seeks to revive tourisms’ low seasonality into a productive and cost-efficient season also aimed by the Philippine travel sector to aspire a smooth flow of productivity and eliminate low season events within the traveling business.

THE WORLD AS ONE

Any country's tourism is in defeat substantially when lean months take over. Business profit probability schemes are also affected due to uncertainties of natural disasters, health issues and other improbable events in a country.

But for traveling enthusiasts, business people and frequent fliers, it all boils down to the cost and marketing strategy of a country to invest and express likelihood of travel and trade.

Travel agencies can now also anticipate lower rates and discounts for large group tours and advanced vacation bookings -- certainly great news for those planning to travel the world in 80 days much like Jackie Chan, Steve Coogan and Jim Broadbent less the action.

This also brightens up any company as it exclaims more team building jaunts (locally or abroad) just like families who dreams of spending their vacation in Paris, Rome or Japan. Scroll down to read more...



BOOTHS OF POSSIBILITIES 


The following companies are participating in Travel Madness Expo:


Philippine Airlines

Airphil ExpressSEAIR
Cebu Pacific
Zest Air
Along with international airline carriers: Air China
All Nippon Airways Co. Ltd
Cathay Pacific Airways
China Airlines
Delta Air Lines
Emirates
Etihad Airways
Eva Air
Hawaiian Air
Hong Kong Dragon Airlines
Jetstar Asia
Jeju Air
Malaysia Airlines
Qatar Airways
Singapore Airlines
Vietnam Airlines





OTHER PARTICIPANTS

Cruises: 
Princess Cruises/Cunard Lines
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd
Star Cruises Pte. Ltd,

National Tourism Boards and Embassies: 
Indonesia Galore
Embassy of Japan
Ocean Park Hong Kong
Kingdom of Bhutan
Malaysian Tourism Board
Resorts World Singapore
Surabaya Tourism
Syria Consulate
Tourism Authority of Thailand 
Twin Kingdoms Thailand-Cambodia. 

Hong Kong Disneyland is heading this side of Asia, and this marks another chapter for the Philippine travel and tourism industry, as this is their first-ever official on-site participation in an event in our country.


Travel Agencies: 
Adams Express Travel, Corp
Ark Travel Express
Bridges Travel & Tours
Golden Sky Travel and Tours
Horizon Travel & Tours, Inc.
Las Palmas Tours and Travel
Multi Destinations, Inc.
Rakso Air Travel & Tours, Inc.
Rail Europe
Reli Tours & Travel Agency
SIA Holidays
Sparkle Holidays & Travel Corporation
Tradewings Tours and Travel Corporation
Travelplus International, Inc.
Triplestar Travel and Tours
Travel Specialist Ventures
Triple Eight Int'l Travel & Tours, Inc.
Triplestar Travel and Tours
Uni Orient Travel, Inc.
Universal Holidays, Inc 
AITI

NON-IATA TRAVEL PROVIDERS
AND CONSUMER MERCHANTS:

3M Pizza and Yakitori Q, 888 Ethnic Home Furnishing Corp., Airasia Travel & Service Center, Albergus Catering, Assist Card Insurance, Avilon Zoo, Bayview Park Hotel, Manila, Blue Cross Insurance, Conrey Specialty Foods, Dive Link Resort, Duty Free Philippines, Dynamic Sports, Eva-Pinto, Mesa, atbp., Golden Bay Restaurant, IRC (Island Resort Club), Lucky Rainbow Restaurant, MiLi Mobile Power Solutions, Paramount Insurance, Polland Hopia, Potdog Yummy Yes Delights, Shaolin Siomai, Shroff International Travel Care, Inc., Skynet Travel Corporation, Sta. Lucia Land, TIEZA, Travel Warehouse, and Worldwide Travel Insurance.

Don’t miss out on this three-day travel mayhem sale of Travel Madness Expo at the SMX Convention Center Halls 3 and 4, this July 20 – 22, 2012.




For more information, please contact (63) 311-75-00
Visit www.travelmadness.ph

 Facebook facebook.com/TravelMadness
Twitter Twitter.com/Travel_Madness








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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Falling in love with Prague


Sorry but my blog entry is late today. I was up till 230 AM in Prague having a most enjoyable dinner with Manila friends who also happened to be in Prague at the same time. We had a great table by the river and we sat talking till midnight. And then we walked back to our hotels under a beautiful starry night, with Prague all ablaze with dramatic lights just like in a fairytale.

It was truly magical.



EVEN THE JADED WILL FALL IN LOVE

I've seen beautiful scenery everywhere in the world. But walking through the old town of Prague on such a beautiful evening, after hours of discussing life and politics over a bottle of wine, simply took my breath away. This hardly ever happens, but it happened last night.



I fell in love with Prague, one of Europe's best-kept secrets, for its intact Old World feeling and its relatively reasonable prices. There's music, life, architecture, culture and history in every corner -- you just need a little imagination to make everything come alive. Go while you can.

And we can recommend either Turkish Airlines via Hong Kong or KLM from Manila via Taipei. We did our research and these are two of the best ways to get to Prague in comfort, style and convenience.

Better blog entry in a couple of hours. For now, let the photos do the talking.






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