I'm just a small fish in a small corner of this big Laguna, and this is how I've been swimming it

26 June, 2012

One road to Taal town...passes a fantasy world

     I'm sorry but the castle just looks better to me with its faded paint versus the way I remember it over ten years ago, being constructed and with new, bright colors.

    I do remember how my generation, with new salaries in our early twenties, was pursued to purchase membership in what was touted as a "Disneyland" in Batangas.  There were incredibly attractive rates, and controversies surrounding it conception then.  I heard a few who actually thought it a good investment, and lost. I wonder what has happened to it.  Is it used for television and film locations? Perhaps a fantasy wedding venue?  It seems to be a photo-opp stop now.
Dad would freak seeing this flag with a small rip at the corner. They had a dozen lining their fence.

   I thank it for exciting my child, she who is in the age of fantasy and magic.  Love the stone dragon close to the highway.  Continuing the trip down to the heritage town of Taal, she talked nonstop about going back to see the castle. She kept saying the dragon was human and turned to stone. (real and turned to stone). She was satisfied assuming we couldn't enter the castle because it is full of stone anyway.  Ah, I can't wait till she gets to Disneyland, or Europe!  In the meantime, it's Laurel, Batangas.

   Surprisingly, on the trip up from Taal, she viewed the castle again but was less excited.  Apparently the heritage houses, the Taal basilica, and of course, the incredibly glittery children's gowns in the barong capital overtook her imagination more.
Taal town across the embroidery and barong market

     More on Taal town next.

Puzzle Mansion

     You will easily spot the signs saying "Puzzle Mansion bed and breakfast".  It is home to a large collection of jigsaw puzzles assembled by its proprietress over 25 years. The signs are just beside Antonio's signs, in barangay Asisan (hope I got that right).  You will be curious. If you have children you will be even more curious. If you like puzzles, you will be curious-er.  You will stop by--it is not too far from the Tagaytay national highway.  You will turn into the access road, drive down its steep, pretty flower-lined driveway:

       You will wonder, what with blue and white signages and buildings, if they serve Greek food.  You admire the two horses grazing.

       You will be met by the very amiable manager, who shows you the puzzle exhibit, and talks cheerfully about the puzzles, the place and what they offer, hopes and dreams for it.  I suspect he is actually closely related to the owner, as he speaks of the place with such passion, like he built it himself.

       You will ooh and ahh at the puzzles you will see. 

       However, not everyone can be pleased all the time, and so...I admired the structure of the building, its airy open hall facing a green yard full of various flowers, but the interior decoration was not for me.  I was calmed by the deep blue of the simple swimming pool, I loved it.  Most of all, I like how this lady has moved her passion for puzzles into a venue for relaxation.  I admire the patience and passion and sincerely hope she meets her goal of making it to the Guinness book even though I'm not a fan of making certain world records in it.  I like how she has displayed a variety of puzzles, including those of cartoon characters for children. 

     Personally I feel the place is conducive to putting puzzles pieces together, going for a swim, eating.  So I would suggest tables and puzzles for guest activity. However unless I have loads of time and money to spare, I am not sure I would really like to spend a weekend in it, except maybe to be able to wake up at dawn or stay at sunset to birdwatch.  As we listened to amiable manager, we caught a flash of black in the background beyond the pool.  The big black bird zoomed so fast we couldn't tell what it was. It was not a crow. There is a creek, and when there is a creek and lush growth, there are birds. He confirmed their presence.  We thus hope nobody builds anything on the pineapple hill above the creek.  

     Apparently, Metro Manila offices have enjoyed team-building or planning sessions here.  The air is cool, and the banks and companies that came vowed to make it a regular venue.  There is a spacious function hall by the pool, which I'm sure, engaged couples who do jigsaw puzzles together may be interested in for their weddings.

    So anyway, you will see the signs, just turn and go. It won't take thirty minutes. There is an entrance fee of Php 75 to view the puzzles in the room. That's fine. If you're curious.

24 June, 2012

Mer-Nel's of Los Banos Laguna

     Outside the Rizal home, in the structure meant for more exhibits, stand huge posters of the SM series "My City My Home" featuring a descendant of Dr. Rizal, Ms. Barbara Gonzales, and another of a Calamba artist.  The man raved about the scrumptious chocolate cakes of Mer-Nel.  There was a photo of the heart-shaped chocolate cake with what looks like boiled icing? marshmallow?  Perhaps it was because we ended our tour of the shrine at exactly noon, but for other reasons I was curious about this cake.  For one, it seemed to be a town favorite.  I love chocolate and chocolate cake (an understatement, really) so when I hear about ''the best'' then I have to try it.  The attraction too, is that it's homegrown (from Los Banos, but this is their first branch out in SM Calamba).  Bacolod has Caleya's, and for macarons Felicia's. I've already posted about missing Metro Manila's Polly's, Gourmet's Palate, Becky's Kitchen, et al. (newsflash, Purple Oven is coming very soon to Nuvali!).  Since we were already in Calamba, Mer-Nel's was a must-try.

    A quick inquiry with the shrine officer and we were on our way to SM Calamba.  I was hoping it would be a bakeshop just around the city center, to add to its charm. But I suppose having it in SM is actually more convenient. A bit of a turn-off were directions to the cake shop though..."sa 2nd floor katabi ng CR". For the non-Pinoy, CR is "Comfort Room" or the restroom.  And accurate directions are, this cake shop is "next to the restroom". Having been to SM Calamba once before, I knew exactly where the CR's were. They were on the side facing Mt. Makiling.  Right by the window with the nice view of the mountain.  I wasn't fazed though, as the nice lady raved about their cakes---masarap ang cakes nila punta kayo! So we went, thinking maybe the man who mentioned the cake in the advert wasn't paid to rave about it after all (or didn't own the shop). My apologies to you sir, this was just a thought.

    I love their shop! It's small, it IS next to the CR, and it's just a small nook, with one chiller. In the chiller, a small variety of cakes. It includes pandan, ube and other variations on the classic chocolate.  Pressed for time I was quick, choosing their signature heart-shaped chocolate cake.

   And when there is a queue, isn't it a bit more enticing (the first time at least)?  Doesn't it mean, pag pinipilahan, there's a reason?  Love their operation. A simple walk through, order, write your 'message'', maybe sit on one of two stools, and listen for your name. Watch your box being ribboned and you're out.

  Now for the cake itself.  Well, at first, I thought, nothing special...they are actually huge caterers after all, and this tastes like your usual cake found on the regular caterer's buffet.  A chiffon with boiled icing.  BUT, after a few bites...the cake grew on me. I enjoyed it...and realized it reminded me of ...childhood in Manila! It was tasty after all.  I'm not a fan of the cake itself, but in combination with the chocolate frosting, it was yummy and addictive.  I would buy this again and maybe try their other cakes.  Prices are good, too. This medium heart was Php 195, a smaller one Php 125.    

Jose Rizal would have been 151

...on June 19.  Here are snapshots of his shrine in his hometown of Calamba, just about three toll exits away from the Eton exit, through a mess of tricycles and jeepneys, past the SM Calamba and sticking to the right side of the road, over a railroad track you can easily miss (because of the shanties, carts, people, vendors right ON the tracks); a dangerous crossing. 

I should have but didn't have the heart to capture the mess in photos.  It's a sorry range of emotions, feeling inspired by, proud of, and interested in Jose Rizal's life while wondering what exactly he would write about the town now.  On the way, there are interesting old structures still well-maintained, like the Farmacia Lina, but generally, a drive through this Burgos st. is...I have no words.

Inside the house, one of the first exhibits describes the place as all ricefields.
There is also a photo of the railroad track as it appeared in his day or a little past his time...with the backdrop of Mt. Makiling, the tracks are on bare land.

One of the highlights of showing children replicas of bahay-na-bato like this one, is when they see the wooden-benches of the toilet.  Just before that, usually the stone stove or adobe ovens elicit oohs, but the toilets always win the most ahhs.  And then of course, the kid loved the bucket and well.

I came here when I was young but only now have I learned that the  original house was destroyed and this is a replica. It doesn't matter.   Rizal's spirit is here and inspires me to read the Noli and Fili again, out-of-school.


18 June, 2012

sunny in Sta. Rosa

     Sorry to hear about flooding in Quezon City today, and suspension of classes.  The news says it is due to rains brought by the tropical storm Butchoy, which coincided with a high tide.

    The sun is shining over here and I am trying to see about visiting Jose Rizal's house in Calamba. It's his birthday tomorrow.

09 June, 2012

Nuvali Weekend Market

    The day before getting the flu and disappearing for the entire May, I checked out the first day of the weekend Fiesta market at the terminal.  I had not been interested to visit it, uncertain about its offerings.  Nuvali has held markets in the 'tiangge' in the past, and so I wasn't sure if this was one of those very interesting ones with unique finds, perhaps flea market goods, organically-grown vegetables, and local delicacies.  I've ranted in a past post (or have I) about how funny/sad it is to not find many things one expects from this province, such as kesong puti (Mr. Moo has since opened in South Supermarket, as Hacienda Macalauan supplies the grocery).

    Anyway, I agreed to check it out with an expat friend who was excited.  She was just eager as she likes fairs and markets. I reminded her that the concept might not be the same as the fairs in her continent (Europe).  She was aware of this, after having lived here a year and not seeing such a fair as she had hoped to see with more native, traditional goods.

   There were native, traditional goods, but not as much as we hoped.  We are positive people though, and know with time this might grow. I haven't visited it since, so I can't testify.  All I know is I wasn't too thrilled.  I had a chat with plant vendors whose plants I thought were from Bay, or Calamba, Laguna.  They were from Paranaque City! Their actual stores are in Market!Market! where they presumably do well. So the Ayala people had them come over to test this market. I've noted the lack of plant stores in the area and dreamed of having my own nursery here, but then I realize it's because people here simply go to Silang, Tagaytay or Calamba for plants! So I find it kind of funny for me to purchase something grown in Manila.  The vendors were very nice and helpful, too, but again, knowing most of the people who choose to live here are more aware of and into herbs, plants, vegetables, it was kind of funny having them lecture me about their benefits and uses.  I'm being facetious.

   The bayongs and other woven bags were from Tagaytay at least.  Generally, the vendors did not look to happy. It was midday and customers were few.  

   I have to mention the heat...it was probably due to the rain the later fell, but mostly owing to the concrete of the terminal and the Robinson's concrete wall. 

    It wasn't exciting, nothing I'd go to at 6a.m. for but I guess the heat and subsequent flu just turned me off. Well, maybe if it was nice enough to have breakfast in after an early morning jog, maybe...

   I miss the SIDCOR weekend market along EDSA in the '90s, in Quezon City. Everything was there.  There was also one in FTI Taguig, which also had the same vendors in Magallanes Village.  I remember the beginnings of Cream Dory in that market. Back then, Dory was not found in the groceries. There were things like homemade yogurt, also not found anywhere else, and grilled fish, meat, good corn.  Herbs, fruits, plants, everything.

   Well, here's a clip of the Nuvali Fiesta Market. The electric shuttle took customers to the other side of the commercial area (Solenad).