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Three days in Istanbul, Turkey

In my previous post, I wrote an overview of my experience in Istanbul, a city that’s so much more than what the headlines say. (Read why here!) We only stayed there for three full days—hardly enough to exhaust all it had to offer. It left me wanting to go back, and I will someday. After all, I still have to ride a hot air balloon over Cappadocia.

I’ve never been one to keep tabs on my daily expenses, but I do try to keep track of the places I visit. Here, I share our DIY tour of Turkey’s historical, religious, and cultural center. Check out my travel maps as well as some tips and photos. For a detailed list of my stops per day, click the leftmost icon on each map’s title bar.

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Day One – Walking up and down the streets of Sultanahmet

 

 

One of my favorite things about Istanbul is how many of its landmarks are within walking distance of each other—particularly in Sultanahmet, its old city. We’d chosen an Airbnb right in the area, which is perfect for both sightseeing and eating. After breakfast and coffee at Cigdem (good food and service!), we explored Sultanahmet Square, where we found the German Fountain, Obelisk of Theodosius, Serpent Column, and Walled Obelisk. *Tip: Look for the plaques and signposts marking each monument. They have descriptions in English. 

From there, we were supposed to visit the Blue Mosque, also known as the Sultanahmet Camii. Since it was closed for prayer time, we went ahead to Hagia Sophia—the great church-turned-mosque-turned-museum that put Istanbul on my bucket list. We spent about two hours following our audio guide, which isn’t included in the ticket price but is highly recommended. Don’t miss the climb up the ancient ramp to the Upper Gallery! *Tip: Entry costs 40TL, but if you plan to visit several stops over 5 days, you may want to get the Museum Pass for 85TL, which will give you access to the Topkapi Palace and Harem, Chora Church, and a number of other museums.

Since we were low on battery gadget-wise and energy-wise, we headed to Divan Yolu Street, their main boulevard. My target? DÖNER. We ended up at Antik Büfe, which sadly didn’t live up to my expectation. As per our brother’s advice, we had dessert at Grande Cafe, which offered beautiful views of the Sultanahmet area.

After we had our fill, we walked up the street to the Basilica Cistern, Istanbul’s most famous underground water reservoir—unfortunately not covered by the Museum Pass. I first saw this in Dan Brown’s Inferno movie, and while it was quite impressive (the Medusa heads especially), I would’ve appreciated it more had there been an audio guide or more information.  *Tip: Entry costs 20TL, but it might be better to visit when there’s a concert going on.

Finally, we got to enter the Blue Mosque, which turned out to be my favorite stop. It’s gorgeous from the outside alone, but inside, it’s very intricate, ethereal. It gets its name from its 20,000 blue tiles, and I’d say this is a must-see in addition to the Hagia Sophia. *Tip: Entry is free, but you’ll have to take off your shoes. Women are required to cover their heads, shoulders, and legs with the wrap provided for free.

Still tired from our flights, we capped off day one with dinner at Ortaklar Kebap Lahmacun and grabbed ice cream on the walk home. *Tip: Try their lahmacun, or Turkish pizza. Portions are huge!

Day Two – Seeking different views of the city

 

We kicked off day two with breakfast at Mado. It has several branches, but the one along Divan Yolu offers a nice view—ask to eat at the upper levels. Rain was forecast for the day, and we got our first taste of it as we walked to the Topkapi Palace, the Ottoman Empire’s imperial palace. There were several groups of students touring the area, so we ditched the recommended route and went to the Harem first. With its elaborate walls and ceilings, it’s a feast for the eyes. Tip: Cost: 30TL + 15TL for the Harem, but both are included in the Museum Pass. The entire Topkapi Palace is quite big, so allot a few hours for this if you want to maximize your visit.

All that exploration got us so hungry that we didn’t want to venture further than Divan Yolu. We ordered our own plates of köfte (meatballs—yum!) at Tarihi Sultanahmet Köftecisi. They served it with a basket of bread, from which I assembled a meatball sandwich to eat later. Since traveling with my sister means eating dessert, we went next door to Hafiz Mustafa, where she sampled different baklavas and I drank my Turkish coffee.

To work off those calories, we walked to the Grand Bazaar, known as the oldest shopping mall in the world. Shoppers are spoiled for choice here, but we just had some money exchanged and headed on to the Suleymaniye Mosque. It’s a bit of an uphill trek as it’s perched on one of Istanbul’s seven hills, but it makes for a nice, more peaceful visit. Tip: Entry is free, with the same restrictions as the Blue Mosque. Head on to the terrace behind the mosque for a different view of the city. 

Time to head over to the other side of the Bosphorus. We crossed the Galata Bridge on foot to the tune of different languages and the scent of fish, then hiked up a narrow, winding road with artsy stores to the Galata Tower. We were supposed to visit just in time for sunset, but upon seeing the line snaking in front of it, decided to go ahead with it. The wait was much longer than our actual visit. The views were nice though cloudy—honestly, I could’ve skipped this. Tip: Entry is 18.50TL. As an alternative, eat at its restaurant or any other restaurant/bar with a view.

Speaking of a restaurant with a view, my sister’s Google search led us to the nearby Leb-i Derya. We managed to get in without a reservation and found that it did live up to its high ratings. The view, and the restaurant itself, was gorgeous and the food was delicious…and pricey. We split our orders then walked to Karakoy Gulluoglu, which had been recommended to us for its desserts. Tip: GO. It’s baklava heaven. Expect a crowd and remember to pay at the cashier first before placing your order.

We ate our baklavas by the riverside then, too tired to make the trek home, tried their public transport for the first time. It was a struggle to buy our tram ticket—thankfully, the next guy in line offered to help us!

Day Three – Across and crossing the Bosphorus River

For our final day in Istanbul, we woke up bright and early to catch a tram to Dolmabahce Palace, which served as the home of the Sultan after Topkapi Palace. It was our farthest stop but was well worth going the distance for. With its mix of Baroque, Rococo, Neoclassical, and Ottoman style, this palace is magnificent and the largest in Turkey. Unfortunately, photos inside its buildings aren’t allowed. Tip: Entry costs 40TL—not included in the Museum Pass—but is worth the price considering your tours inside the buildings will be guided. Check for the schedule of tours in your language.

We’d planned to catch the 2:30pm Bosphorus Cruise, so we took a tram back to Eminönü, from which the ferry would depart. Famished, we ate at the first restaurant we found interesting—Tatseven Restoran. This was a stroke of genius, as their döner turned out to be the best I tried in the city. Just nearby was Coffeetopia, a specialty coffee shop that I would gladly go back to. The joe was great, and so was the ambiance.

Just before 2pm, we walked to the Sehir Hatlari office to buy our tickets for their Short Bosphorus Cruise. The ferry was free seating, so we settled in at the outdoor area of the second level. For around two hours, we sailed peacefully from Eminönü to Istinye and back, stopping at Üsküdar and Ortaköy to let people off. Tip: The short cruise costs 12TL, while the full cruise costs 25TL. Bring a sweater or scarf as it can get really cold—and keep an eye out for dolphins!

It was a day for different kinds of public transportation, as we decided to take the underground railway Tünel up to Istiklal instead of walking up as we had the day before. That gave us enough time to visit the Galata Mevlevi Lodge, the city’s first Mawlawi house. Since we missed the whirling dervish ceremony, our visit was pretty quick. Tip: Entry costs 10TL and is included in the Museum Pass. Check their site for the schedule of ceremonies.

We stopped at Ozsut for snacks and a toilet break before going to Santa Maria Draperis for Sunday mass. It was a small Catholic church tucked away between shops and restaurants along Istiklal street. There were only 14 of us, each from our different part of the world, all coming together for the same purpose. The mass was in Spanish, but the priest translated his homily for us English speakers. He spoke of being based in Manila for 5 years, and I was amazed at how our paths crossed. Definitely one of my most memorable experiences in Istanbul.

For dinner, we followed Anthony Bourdain to Dürümzade, where we found delicious dürüm (Turkish wrap) sold cheap. Tip: It’s open 24 hours! Dessert was künefe, a cheese phyllo pastry, from Taksim Sutis. One tram ride later, and it was a wrap for my first visit to Istanbul. ♥♥♥

Up next? Cappadocia!

 

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A taste of Turkish delight

“You’re going to Istanbul? Is it safe there?”

Of the places I’ve traveled to, none have elicited as alarming a response as Istanbul has. From tales of small-street hustling to deadly bombings, I heard enough to make me think that I might just make it out of the city penniless, limbless, or not at all.

Yet on the flip side, I heard of beautiful architecture detailed with glorious tiles and carvings, of food bursting with flavor and spices and coffee dark as chocolate, of cats that roam busy streets, always with satisfied stomachs.

When you hear so many different things, how do you decide which way to go?

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I go with what I know. In this case, it was these:

  1. Istanbul is a city where East and West meet. Rich with history, it’s a melting pot of people, culture, and religion.
  2. It has had more than its fair share of tragedies in the last couple of years, including bombings in some of its popular areas.
  3. It’s a place I wanted to visit while I still could.

It all boiled down to number 3.

Luckily, my sister decided she wanted to go too, so that eased my parents’ worries somewhat. Since I had just renewed my US visa, getting a Turkish visa online was a breeze. Ate and I drafted our itinerary, booked our flights and accommodations, and agreed to meet up at the Istanbul airport in the morning of May 5th. Ready, steady, go.

“It’s just a four-hour wait. How bad could it be?”

IMG_20170505_053044_675After nearly 18 hours of travel, I arrived in Istanbul at past one in the morning. My sister’s flight was due at 5:30 am. Perfect opportunity to experience a first: sleeping in the airport.

I’ve napped in airports before, usually with my family or friends as we waited for our flight. But never before had I actually slept sprawled across several seats—thankfully, not on the floor!

As early as it was, I was able to snag a full row of seats with a view of the arrival board. I set my alarm, lay my head on my big backpack, hugged my small backpack to my chest. And I tried to sleep the wait away.

I managed maybe two hours. The first thing I checked upon waking was the board.

Singapore: DELAYED.

The wait drew out to five hours. I caught snatches of sleep in between, but mostly, I spent it daydreaming about the city.

Finally, my sister messaged me that she’d just landed and told me to look for our pick up while she lined up at passport control.

I saw the sign with my sister’s name, and stood in wait with my bags growing heavier.

Five hours stretched to six. Our pick up, a slender guy with dark features, kept asking me how much longer she would take, as though I could sense the speed at which she’d go through immigration and baggage claim. I wanted to tell him I’d been waiting there longer than he had, so if anything, I should be the impatient one. But time, and waiting, is relative.

One moment, I’m staring at a man by the doors, a bouquet of flowers in hand. The next, there’s my sister, and we’re off to see Istanbul.

“The Turkish delight is free. A gift from me.”

 

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Narrow streets rolling up and curving down, lined with buildings tall and stately. Take a corner and then—a mosque with a minaret rising high. Over the horizon, there it is, the Bosphorous River, dividing and joining two continents. And everywhere, pigeons, circling and swooping and soaring above all else.

It didn’t take me long to discover the draw of Istanbul—nor did it take me long to get breathless. Literally. My sister and I knew our Airbnb was within walking distance of the Old City’s main attractions. What Google Maps failed to tell us was that the walk would be mostly uphill.

We dropped off our bags, paid for our tour, then went in search of breakfast. By the time we found Cigdem, I was tired, hungry, and running low on battery. I needed coffee, stat.

Thus, my introduction to Turkish coffee—thick, dark, sweetened to taste, and served warm, as warm as the people themselves.

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From my friends’ stories, I’d been made to be wary of Turks, but I quickly learned how friendly and generous they are. We were surprised when the waiters at Cigdem gave us free Turkish delights and cake. It turned out that many do give complimentary treats, whether it’s Turkish delight, bread, or tea. On the ferry across the Bosphorous, a woman and her daughter sat beside us, opened their snacks, and offered them to us. More than once, waiters and tour guides chatted us up, genuinely curious about where we’d come from and happy to tell us what they could about their hometown.

You could play cynic and say they did it for the tip, but I honestly felt they just wanted to share their amazing culture, food and all.

They were proud of their city, as they should be. From the famed Hagia Sofia to the bustling Grand Bazaar to the unexpectedly stunning Dolmabahce Palace, and the charming streets in between, Istanbul made me thankful I’d dared to follow that dream. If I heard that anxious voice in my head wondering why there were way more men than women, it was quieted by the fact that they let us be. And if I thought the presence of police everywhere concerning at first, it soon became comforting.

My sister and I walked up and down the city, stopping at cafes for our caffeine (and baklava) fix, and catching the tram when we were too tired to make the trek home. Snuggled warmly in my bed, I heard the same hums and chants through the window as I did down the street. Soon, I got used to it, finding comfort in its routine. But soon after, it was time to pack up and move on.

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On all three days of our stay in Istanbul, we walked along Divan Yolu, the Old City’s main street. Every time, we’d see the blue-gray minarets of the Blue Mosque. I’d find my feet slowing, my eyes lingering. I’d caught my first glimpse of it that Friday when we went out for breakfast, and it had me utterly enamored. I’d felt that same breathless wonder each time since.

Really, the Turks know what it means to delight.

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Stay tuned for more photos + recommended places to see in Istanbul!

‘Til next time, happy wanders!

Musical Review: Disney NEWSIES by Globe Live x 9 Works Theatrical

Last month, I wrote a post on 6 reasons to watch Globe Live and 9 Works Theatrical’s local production of Disney’s NEWSIES. This past Sunday, I went to see for myself if the show truly lived up to the hype. I was running on half my usual hours of sleep and had just come from a two-day retreat. As I sat waiting for the show to start, I nearly drifted off.

And then the music started.

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Newsies tells of a group of delivery boys who go on strike when newspaper publishers raise the price of their newspapers, making it more expensive for the newsboys to earn a living. Many of them are orphans who live on the streets. Every morning, they would buy their stacks of “papes” up front then go around hawking them in New York City. What they don’t sell, they can’t refund. For the newsies, it’s sold out or bust.

The theme of injustice is relevant on its own, but what really made Newsies relatable and engaging were the characters. As the main character and the leader of the newsboys, Jack Kelly captured my interest from the start. In front of his crew, he’s the tough, street smart captain. But with his closest friends and on his own, he’s a vulnerable, talented boy who dreams of escaping the streets to live a peaceful life in a small town.

I loved the contrast between Jack and newcomer Davey—who, unlike the rest of the boys, still had a family to come home to at the end of the day. While Jack has the authority and swagger, Davey has the knowledge and words. Together, they make a great team as they rouse and bring together newsboys from different districts for a single cause.

As the story progressed, I enjoyed seeing how the characters grew—Jack moving from dreaming about a different life to making a better one of what he had, Davey gaining confidence in his own skills, Katherine Plumber getting her break as a reporter. Newsies is about these disadvantaged kids finding their voice collectively, but it’s also about them finding their place as individuals.

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I raved about the characters, but without the proper cast to bring them to life, they fall flat. That was not the case here. From his first appearance singing “Santa Fe,” Gian Magdangal positively owned the stage. It was my first time to watch him, and I was impressed by how he slipped into the skin of Jack Kelly. He wore Jack’s swagger as well as he did his vulnerability, and he attacked the songs with power and grit.

Jef Flores was the perfect counterpart to Gian as Davey. He transitioned from a boy unfamiliar with the rules of the street to one who stepped up in Jack’s absence as smoothly as his voice navigated his lyrics.

Playing the part of Katherine Plumber, budding reporter and Jack’s love interest, was Danielle Chopin. I could relate all too well with the image of an unsure yet passionate reporter that Danielle painted. There were a couple of big notes that Danielle struggled with, but I think it was more of her voice getting tired than anything else.

Speaking of big notes, veteran performer Pinky Marquez nailed them as theater owner Medda Larkin. She was simply captivating as she strutted onstage in her solo “That’s Rich.” She had minimal stage time, but boy, did she milk it for all it’s worth.

Of course, I have to give major props to all the Newsies. Singing, dancing, and acting are challenging on their own—do them together, and that’s epic. I was in awe of how they kept track of their choreography, blocking, lyrics, and characterization. The performers were at different levels of dancing and maybe also singing, but they remained strong as a whole. The cast went through weeks of intense training under award-winning choreographer PJ Rebullida, and it showed. Their energy was infectious and unflagging, and I enjoyed every minute that they filled the stage.

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Before the show started, Globe Live’s Joe Caliro shared that the folks from Disney flew in for the gala performance and gave them their seal of approval. That announcement had me setting my expectations high. To my delight, they delivered—and then some.

The casting was on point, and so was the production. I’d wondered what the acoustics would be like, given that it was an open-air venue, but the sounds were clear, crisp, and immersive. The set was designed to perfectly situate each scene. I loved how dynamic it was and how the changing of the sets were worked into the choreography such that they moved the action forward. And that huge printing press near the end? Genius.

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Earlier, I said that I was sleepy and tired heading into Newsies. But as the music swelled and the feet kicked, I found myself getting a fresh burst of energy. From the sweeping notes of “Santa Fe” to the marching beat of “The World Will Know” to the high-powered rhythms of “Seize the Day,” Newsies pulled me into the heart of the story and its characters.

I joined the audience in whooping and clapping for the cast, orchestra, and crew—and thanks to the open venue, we could be as enthusiastic as we wanted to be! It was a great way to cap off my week.

Those 6 reasons I mentioned here? Definitely legit. In the words of the Newsies, seize the day, and book your tickets now!

Scroll down for a few more photos of the musical. 🙂

 

Don’t miss your chance to watch NEWSIES for yourself! It runs every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of July, so you have six shows to choose from: July 21, 22, 23, 28, 29, and 30. The show starts at 8 PM at the Globe Iconic Store Bonifacio High Street Amphitheater, Bonifacio Global City.

For tickets and more information, visit go.globe.com.ph/newsies, or call Ticketworld at 891-9999.

 

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Turkey All Greeced Up and Then Some

Witty hashtags aren’t exactly my thing, so whenever I try to think of one for my trip, it’s a minor struggle. Case in point, last year’s #CUrope2016, which I meant to be a shortcut for “See Europe.” My friend thought it was pronounced “Cure-ope.”

Hashtag fail.

I wanted this year to be better. In multiple airports,I mulled over it as I was killing time waiting for my connecting flights. I finally decided on two.

First, the generic #JustGo2017, because it seems that my year’s all about making moves (more about that in a separate post). So much of this past trip was about moving forward. No matter how uncertain things were or how unready I felt, just go was my mantra. Whatever happened, I’d wing it, I told myself. Just go. And I did.

Then the second, more complicated one: #TurkeyAllGreecedUpAndThenSome. Turkey and Greece were the bookends of my trip, with Hungary and Serbia in between. The first two were my longest stops, and though they had more similarities than I thought they would—food, products, ruins—my experiences in the two places were completely different. (Read more about that in my previous post.)

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Before I write about each of the places I explored, let me give you a glimpse of them. This is my first real attempt at making a travel video, and many of the clips are quite shaky. That aside, I hope you’ll enjoy it!

Shoutout to The Ransom Collective, whose song Run (2017 version) provided the perfect soundtrack to my trip.

‘Til next time, happy wanders!

How my backpacking trip became a journey of faith

Last May 4, about a year after my first solo trip around Europe, I once again loaded my backpack, headed to the airport, and traveled across the world. It’s been two weeks since I came home, and I’ve been asked many times how my trip went. I hadn’t known exactly what to answer. Great doesn’t quite fit the bill, because there were parts of it that weren’t great. Okay is too ho-hum. Amazing is too “woo hoo!”

Blessed. I’d say it was blessed.

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Istanbul’s Blue Mosque, also called Sultan Ahmed Mosque—a sight I kept going back to

When I think of my trip, I classify it in two parts—Turkey, and everything after.

Turkey was where I met up with my sister, whom I traveled with for 10 days. We explored Istanbul by ourselves then flew to Kayseri for a tour that took us to the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia, the travertine terraces of Pamukkale, and the ancient ruins of Ephesus.

Each place was something new to marvel at, something different to learn about. Though we booked our accommodations and traveled between cities on our own, the tour agency we hired made sure that we were picked up and properly shown around.

Organized, comfortable, and secure—that’s how the first part of my trip was.

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My sister and I gazing at the houses of Ortahisar in Cappadocia, Turkey

Then, it was time to go solo. Goodbye, hotel rooms and private tours. Hello, dorms and free walking tours. Goodbye, order. Hello, whatever goes.

“There is a problem with your visa. We need to talk to the international police for passport control.”

Of all the things I’d worried about, this was one thing I never expected—to have trouble leaving Turkey. My chest was tight, heart pounding heavily as I followed an airport officer and two guards to passport control, where they cut in front of the line. Those minutes of not knowing whether I’d be able to get on my flight were some of the most nerve-wracking of my life. There was nothing I could do but pray.

At the start of the line, a stranger looks at me and gives me a thumbs up. The guard walks back to me. Smiles. “No problem,” he says.

I could breathe normally again.

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Second time around, and Budapest still remains to be my favorite city

Last year’s trip was about learning to be independent. This time around, it was about learning to just let go and have faith.

From the beginning, so many things were beyond my control. There was my Schengen visa, which didn’t arrive until five days before my trip. The next days saw me booking last-minute flights and running last-minute errands.

After the passport fiasco in Turkey, I grew anxious about my shuttle ride from Budapest to Belgrade. My worries were twofold—passing border control and my safety in a country I hardly knew about.

Then came my flight to Santorini. I fell asleep expecting to wake up in one of the most beautiful islands in the world. Instead, I woke up to the pilot saying, “Welcome to Athens.” There was an emergency at the runway, so the Santorini airport was closed until further notice.

We waited in line at the Skyserv desk for hours, only to be told that we could either file for a refund online or get on the next available flight with RyanAir. Guess what? Flights were fully booked until two days after—the day I was scheduled to fly back to Athens.

I decided to take my chances with a different airline and apply for a refund (which apparently will not happen). I waited in the airport until my 11:55 PM flight, not knowing if it would actually push through.

Rains delayed the flights ahead of mine, but they pushed through. So did mine.

And like everything else, all turned out well.

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Ending a free walking tour around Belgrade at the Church of Saint Sava

“God meets you where you are,” I was told.

And He did. He met me at the Izmir airport as that reassuring stranger. In Budapest as Kyana, a girl I met on a free tour whom I had lunch and evening drinks with. In Belgrade as Jules. She had problems with her credit cards, so I paid for our dinner. We met up again in Athens, where she surprised me by treating me for my last dinner in Europe.

In Athens, I met God in Chris, a fellow Pinoy at my hostel who just happened to be traveling to Santorini the following day, like I was. We explored that incredible island together, making me feel a bit more at home in a foreign country.

In Santorini, God was everywhere. In the white churches that peppered the skyline with crosses. In the restaurant we found somewhere between Fira and Oia, which served the best cheeseburger I’ve tried—and had a much-needed toilet. In the breathtaking sunset that greeted us after our 5.5+ hours of hiking.

But I found God especially in a nameless woman on a motorcycle. I’d taken the wrong bus, which dropped me off at a dark, abandoned street on the other side of the island from my hostel. It was about 9:30 at night. Cold. I heard an engine and saw a woman driving my way. I called her. She stopped. I told her I was lost, and she called my hostel, then a taxi company. When she learned that all cabs were busy, she told me to hop on.

“Come with me. I’ll take you to Karterados.”

No questions asked, no payment demanded.

Oia’s sunsets are so amazing, people clap after the show

These encounters, and many more, reminded me over and over again that God is real. He does love me.

On this trip, I was blessed to have been able to visit some of my dream destinations. Istanbul, Cappadocia. Athens, Santorini. My favorite Budapest, the wildcard Belgrade. But of all the sights I enjoyed and the things I experienced, what I remember the most is God’s presence.

And I know I’m truly blessed.

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6 Reasons You Shouldn’t Miss Globe Live x 9 Works Theatrical’s NEWSIES

I’m always excited to watch a new musical, especially when it involves homegrown talent. So when I heard that Globe Live and 9 Works Theatrical were bringing Disney’s Newsies to the local stage, I jumped at the chance to learn more about it. Before last week, all I knew was that it was a musical about newspaper delivery boys. At the press event held in the swanky Ibiza Beach Club BGC, I got a taste of the dance musical extravaganza that is Disney’s Newsies. I have to say, I ended up “extra, extra” stoked to watch the real thing.

Read on to find out why you should book a date with the Newsies this July!

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1. It’s the first local production of Disney’s Newsies in the Philippines.

Fun fact – Joe Caliro of Globe Live and Santi Santamaria of 9 Works Theatrical knew they wanted to produce a Disney show, but Newsies wasn’t it. The suggestion came from Disney Theatrical Productions themselves, who saw the Globe Iconic Store in Bonifacio High Street and told the duo that they had the perfect show in mind. A trip to Chicago to watch the musical convinced Joe and Santi they were on to something.

Originally released in a film starring Christian Bale back in 1992, Newsies was adapted for the stage in 2011. A year later, Disney Theatrical brought the show to Broadway, where it ran for two years and was nominated for eight Tony Awards.

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2. It’s based on a real story that’s socially relevant…

Loosely based on the 1899 newsboy strike in New York City, Newsies tells the story of a group of newspaper delivery boys who take a stand against the two publisher giants of their time. They know what they deserve and they’re out to get it, even if they have to take their cause to the streets and stop traffic. Social injustice, worker exploitation, and youth activism. Sound a bit familiar?

It may not seem like the fairy tales we’ve grown used to when it comes to Disney, but that’s not to say there isn’t a happy ending in sight. AND I’ve got it on record that there’s a pretty romantic love story thrown into the mix too!

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3. …But it’s far from boring.

Remember its Tony Award nominations? Well, Newsies won two, including Best Original Score for Alan Menken and Jack Feldman. If the name Alan Menken rings a bell, that’s because he scored many Disney films including Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Hercules, and the recent Tangled, among others.

The second Tony went to Christopher Gattelli for Best Choreography – a high bar for choreographer PJ Rebullida to reach. With a Gawad Buhay award under his belt, PJ’s more than up for the challenge. “When I listen to the music, the music will tell me to jump. It’s Alan Menken. I can hear the jumps and the pirouettes,” he said.

Choreography is one thing; the actual execution is another. Which brings me to my fourth point –

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4. The cast went through six intense weeks of training.

From the beginning, Joe and Santi along with director Robbie Guevara knew that the demanding dance sequences would make Newsies their most challenging show to mount. They needed more time to prepare, and they needed 21 talents who were – or had the potential to be – triple threats: actors, singers, and dancers, all in one.

They found their cast (more on them later!), and they put them in Training Ground. Six hours, five days a week, the mixed-level cast trained in ballet, jazz, gymnastics, and tap, along with singing, dancing, and scene work. Talk about a full-time job!

Joe shared that they initially thought they’d need to get actor-dancers even if they couldn’t sing, but they ended up with a group of talents who will all be miked come opening night. We got a sneak peek of one of their numbers – check it out below.

5. There are bonafide Disney alumni in the multitalented cast.

 

Playing leading man Jack Kelly is Gian Magdangal, who’s fresh from a stint at Hong Kong Disneyland’s The Golden Mickeys. Franz Imperial, who was part of the opening team of Hong Kong Disneyland, chases after Jack as Snyder. Then there’s Bowery Beauty Melissa Bell, formerly with Tokyo Disney Sea and Hong Kong Disney.

Danielle Chopin (My Fair Lady – US) makes her Philippine theater debut as reporter Katherine Plumber, while Greg Dulcie (The Lion King – US) plays Joseph Pulitzer. Local theater fans will recognize Pinky Marquez (Beaty and the Beast) as Medda Larkin, and Raymund Concepcion (The King and I) and Ariel Reonal (Miss Saigon), both of whom will take on multiple roles.

Joining Gian as Newsies are Jef Flores (Tick, Tick…BOOM!), Daniel Drilon (Fun Home), Tory Cortez (A Christmas Carol), Luis Marcelo (Little Shops of Horrors), Alex Diaz (Star Magic Circle), Anton Posadas (The Sound of Music), Ian Ocampo (The Nutcracker), Erick Arenas (We Will Rock You), Stephen Viñas (Titus Andronicus), Ronelson Yadao (Ulaging), Jim Ferrer (Annie), Jourdan Bartolome (UP Filipiniana Dance Group), Mark Anthony Grantos (Masterpieces), Chesko Rodriguez (Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady), Jon Abella (William), Kendrick Ibasco (A Christmas Carol), Vyen Villanueva (Company of Ateneo Dancers), Jan Mayo (Orosman at Zafira), MC dela Cruz (Mula sa Buwan), and Clark dela Riva (Alice in Wonderland).

Finally, Joni Galeste (A Christmas Carol) rounds up the cast as one of the Bowery Beauties.

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6. It’ll run at the Globe Iconic Store Bonifacio High Street Amphitheater all weekends of July.

It’s the perfect way to add extra flavor to your gimmick nights. Gather your family and friends for an early dinner in BGC, or catch the show and then go out to party. The show runs at 8PM all Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights of July – that’s July 7-9, 14-16, 21-23, and 28-30, 2017. That’s twelve schedules to choose from!

For tickets and more information, check out go.globe.com.ph/newsies or call Ticketworld at 891-9999. See you there? 🙂

Córdoba, Spain: The Land of Flowers and Friends

I bought two tickets for a single bus ride out of Seville. It wasn’t because I had picked up a surprise companion – much to my disappointment. Rather, I’d booked a seat online to avoid being bumped off my preferred travel time, only to be told at the station that they couldn’t find my reservation on their system. The credit card charge had gone through, the actual ticket hadn’t. Since the attendants couldn’t understand much English and my knowledge of Spanish was limited to baño, gracias, and some random words I’d picked up from Duolingo, I bit the bullet and coughed up another 14 euros – this time in cash.

For the budget-conscious traveler that I am, that sucked. But as they say, charge it to experience. Let go and move on. And I did – on to the flowery city of Córdoba.

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I’ll let you in on a secret. Whenever I travel alone, I’m torn between hoping I end up without a seatmate (that’s the introvert in me talking) and hoping I have an attractive one (I know, I know. Apologies). While neither of that usually turns out to be the case, I’ve come to appreciate another kind of seatmate – an interesting one. That’s exactly whom I found on that nearly 2-hour bus ride.

Here’s another secret: I suck at names. I’m pretty sure his name was Juan Miguel, though. He was probably in his late 30s, slight in frame, with a gentle voice and quite good English. He was nice. I’d been paranoid about leaving my backpack in the luggage compartment, and it was too big and heavy for me to cram into the overhead storage, so it ended up on my lap. He never complained. Instead, he told me how he was traveling to Córdoba particularly for its Fiesta de los Patios. As was I.

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The month of May means plenty of festivities in Córdoba

He was a local of Salamanca, and when he learned that I was backpacking around parts of Spain, he gave me tips. “Book your ticket to the Alhambra online,” he said. “Do you have an old student ID? Use that to get a discount. Entry to Sagrada Familia is expensive.” We exchanged stories about our travels until the conversation tapered off to companionable silence. I didn’t see him again after we parted ways at the bus station.

That’s one of the wonders of traveling I’ve discovered, particularly while doing it solo – how it brings my path to cross someone else’s. In that space in time, I feel in tune with that person. Whether that meeting spans a bus ride or lasts a week across multiple cities, that person leaves me richer and wiser than I was before. And yes, that holds true even when the encounter isn’t the good kind.

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Formerly witness to bullfights and the Roman Circus, the Plaza de la Corredera is a popular place to just hang out

I could say a lot about Córdoba – how its people welcomed me into their homes with warm smiles; how its patios positively bloomed with flowers, scents, and character; how its buildings spoke of its colorful, varied history. More than that though, let me tell you how Córdoba came to feel a bit like home. A foreign storybook kind of home, for sure, but home all the same. Part of it’s because my hostel was so awesome (shout-out to the folks of Córdoba Bed and Be – more about them when I get to my post on hostels). But really, it boils down to the company.

Joining the hostel’s night out was a spur-of-the-moment decision for me, and it was one of the best ones I made the entire trip. At first, I stuck close to one of my roommates as we had a round of tapas at a nearby bar, but as we walked down the streets of Córdoba – with our host Jose sharing some trivia along the way – I slowly got to know the rest of the crew. We did the usual “what’s your name, where are you from” round of introductions, then compared travel itineraries, swapped tips, joked over accents, and talked about our different cultures. We went from a brightly lit mercado packed with rugby fans, their eyes glued to the TV screens, to the nearly abandoned Roman Bridge, which glowed a soft yellow in the dark night.

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With Rebecca from the US, Ye Seul from S. Korea, Wu from Singapore, and Paolo from Italy

The next day, a bunch of us headed to the Mezquita first thing in the morning to get in for free, then met up with the others for a free walking tour.  That was the most company I’ve had since I started my #CUrope2016 trip – and it was a blast. Though we came from different parts of the world, spoke with different accents, and carried different beliefs, we shared that same love of travel. That same hunger to experience as much of the world as we could. We’ve gone our separate ways, but I know our paths might just cross again. In fact, I met up with my French hostelmate Quentin during his recent trip to Manila. Thank God for Facebook.

Córdoba may not be the grandest or most popular city I’ve traveled to, but I’ll remember it as the one that blossomed with flowers and friends.

So if something as annoying as getting double-charged happens to you during your travels, take it with a grain of salt. It might just lead to amazing things.

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I have a thing for doors (as you’ll see on my Instagram!)

Recommended things to see in Córdoba:

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1. La Mezquita

The Mezquita put Córdoba on my list, and truly, its immense walls only hint at the wonder within. With row after row of peppermint-striped arches, a jaw-dropping gilded mihrab, and wooden screen windows, this mosque turned cathedral is a stunning tribute to Córdoba’s strong Islamic roots. Enter for free between 8:30-9:30AM on Mondays to Saturdays, otherwise pay €8 for an adult ticket. Note that if you go for the free entrance, you’ll be asked to clear out by 10AM, when they open for paying visitors.

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2. The Patios

Córdoba’s famous for its Fiesta de los Patios held every May, the timing of which I took into account while mapping out my travel route. Originally built for natural cooling given the city’s hot climate, these central patios have taken on a life of their own. Take advantage of this once-a-year opportunity to explore these private patios, which enchant and amaze with their bounty of flowers, fragrances, decorations, and water features.

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3. Calle de las Flores

If you aren’t in town for the annual Patios Festival, get a taste of the city’s floral flavor at this narrow yet charming street. The Calle de las Flores offers a lovely peekaboo view of the Mezquita’s tower, as seen above.

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4. Roman Bridge

Remember how I spoke of Córdoba’s rich history? You’ve seen its Islamic influence in the Mezquita, but its Roman roots are undeniably present as well – particularly in the Old City. Here you’ll find the picturesque Roman Bridge, along with the Roman temple, Colonial Forum, and more. Explore the area on foot or bike!

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5. La Sinagoga

I can’t talk about Córdoba without mentioning its Jewish tradition. After the Mezquita, the Synagogue seems very small, yet peaceful and meaningful still – especially as it’s one of Spain’s three preserved synagogues. Its stuccoed walls feature Hebrew verses mixed with floral and geometric patterns. If you’re lucky, you might meet the attendant who takes great photos!

Check out more of my favorite shots!