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Old Manila, New Eyes

On palm Sunday, I was a tourist in my country’s own capital upon the invitation of one of my best girls, Clarissa. She wanted to show her Romanian friend around, who was in town for the weekend; so through a simple Google search, she found Old Manila Walks and easily booked and paid online. I didn’t know which tour outfit she picked, but when I arrived at the meeting place, I was told to look for a certain Ivan. When I saw the man holding the telltale blue umbrella, I recognized him from a few years ago, when I did the Big Binondo Food Wok that his group also offers. 

The Walls of This Content! was a walking tour around Intramuros that took us through some of the more important landmarks of this “walled city.” I’d been to Intramuros several times before, but nothing beats having someone narrating your journey with stories from 400 years of history. We started at Plaza Roma, and worked our way through the Manila Cathedral, the Intramuros Walls, and the San Agustin Church and monastery. Each stop highlighted different periods and events, which added value to all the physical structures we were surrounded with. 

Gates to the Walled City
Filipiniana Mother Mary
At the Manila Cathedral, captioned Our Lady of the Philippines
Death of Christ
Replica of Michelangelo‘s Pieta made from the same mold

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Stone Structures
The streets to ourselves

It was a hot and humid day, and by the time we reached San Agustin, we welcomed the roof over our heads and the air-conditioning in the museum. The place was lavish, with wide halls and high-ceilinged rooms filled with expensive artifacts that all betrayed the corruption of the Spanish friars. 

Handless saints – the ivory appendages are stored elsewhere for safekeeping
At San Agustin’s courtyard
2-year old Alessi, enjoying the cold marble in San Agustin’s museum

Brick facade

Bike Tours
A baby Bambike (bamboo bike) from the thoughtful owner

The tour ended with a visit to Casa Manila, one of the reconstructed colonial dwellings in Barrio San Luis. As we entered the complex, we bumped into the Bambike Intramuros Experience; and while the tourists were returning their wheels, the owner lent our little girl a tiny version! After allowing her to play for a few minutes, we proceeded inside the casa.

This was my favorite part of the tour for two reasons: 1) it was my first time there, unlike the other places we visited, and 2) there were so many unique items in the house that let me imagine what it was like to live in the start of the century, like betel nut spit bowls, a literal ice-box for refrigeration, and a manually-operated ceiling fan (see in video below).

Turn of the century kitchen with molds, irons, oven

Vintage baking molds
Biscuit molds with religious themes
Love toilet?? Apparently for gossiping in the bathroom!
It was an afternoon well-spent, educational for our foreign guests and a reintroduction for me. Our package cost P7,920 for a maximum of 6 people (and P1,320 for every additional person) and it was worth it.

Candle Dance
Twirling in this exuberant candle dance

Candle Dance
In traditional Filipino fiesta garb

We capped the day at Barbara’s, an iconic restaurant on the cobbled road of Plaza San Luis. The dinner buffet was P699, which already included a cultural show. We arrived at the perfect time, with dinner service starting at 6:30, and the show at 7:15. The menu included squash soup, buttered fresh beans and corn, steamed fish with mushroom, callos madrileños, chicken with peanut sauce, roast beef, baked mashed potato, fried heart of palm lumpia, pasta, paella, and dessert of sesame banana, sweet potato fritters, and fresh tropical fruits. My favorites were the soup, fish, callos, chicken, lumpia, and all the dessert. I came in very hungry, so I managed to eat a lot. I wasn’t expecting much, as with many buffets, but I give it many happy thumbs up! 

On top of that, the performers at the show were young but well-trained. It started with an excellent rondalla ensemble that played Filipino folk songs and Spanish-inspired pieces (like the Prelude to Act I of Carmen), and later the same musicians traded in their strings for gongs and other native instruments. They accompanied the dancers in numbers like the Pandanggo sa Ilaw, Maglalatik, Singkil, and the most popular TiniklingI was entertained from start to finish, even for someone familiar with the craft. I’m adding the place to my go-to balikbayan and foreign visitor musts the next time I need to play tourism ambassador.

What places do you usually bring your guests to? I’d love to have more suggestions.

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