Intramuros Escapade: Casa Manila and Belfry Cafe

I have been to Intramuros many times, and I am still in awe how this walled city manage to keep its beauty. This time, we were there to visit Belfry Cafe, but since we had more time in the afternoon, we decided to check Casa Manila first.

How to Go to Intramuros

The pandemic made it impossible to ride a G-liner bus going directly to Quiapo, so we had to ride a bus that dropped us off at LRT-2 Gilmore Station. Across the road, there are jeepneys to Recto, and in Recto, there are jeepneys that can drop you off at an area near Intramuros. This means the LRT-2 Recto station is also a possible mode of transportation.

You can use Google Maps to walk toward Casa Manila and Belfry Cafe (or just rent a pedicab).

Casa Manila

You need a StaySafePH account or QR code to be able to enter Casa Manila, which is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. This will be your entrance and exit pass to the museum, aside from the ticket worth seventy-five pesos (non-students).

Upon entering, you will have a glimpse of the casa’s office-like area, complete with the antique bookshelf, candleholder, and lamps. By the way, always be mindful and walk on the red carpet. We got scolded because we forgot about this reminder. Hehe.

Next seems to be an area where guests can be entertained. The grand piano and the harp were splendid sights. If my guest room would be this huge, then I’d love to have these.

Rooms with painted self-portraits, canopy beds, and ceilings and walls painted with heavenly creatures are luxurious, don’t you think. Though they look like high-maintenance.

At the end of the Casa Manila tour, we got to see the bathroom, the toilet room (yes, they are two different rooms), and the kitchen. Here, I learned that there is no such thing as “too many pots and pans.”

After Casa Manila, our next destination was supposed to be Belfry Cafe, but we saw the Book Stop Project near the Manila Cathedral, so we stopped by to take photos.

Belfry Cafe

Belfry Cafe (open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.) is just a minute or two away from the Manila Cathedral. It displays huge bells hanging from the ceiling of the cafe. Aside from this feature, they have approachable staff and homely ambience.

I ordered their coffee mocha blended (Php 140) and garlic cream cheese bread (Php 120). The frappe was fine—nothing extraordinary, same as other iced blended drinks. The garlic cream cheese bread, however, gave me a unique experience, as it was my first time.

Check out their updated menu on their Facebook page.

Favorite Picture

Magical Day at Fantasy World and Bearseum

Christmas vacation was going to end soon, and although I didn’t have it since I was self-employed, I still pushed through my plans of going to Fantasy World and Bearseum, in Batangas and Cavite, respectively. There aren’t many activities to do inside, but you can unleash the child inside you and take pictures.

Sample Itinerary

8:45 a.m. Departure from Taft
12:15 p.m. Arrival at Boundary
12:35 p.m. Arrival at Tricycle Terminal to Fantasy World
12:45 p.m. Arrival at Fantasy World
3:00 p.m. Departure from Fantasy World
3:30 p.m. Arrival at Boundary
4:50 p.m. Arrival at Olivarez Plaza to Bearseum
5:15 p.m. Arrival at Bearseum
6:30 p.m. Dinner at Bearseum Kitchen
7:30 p.m. Departure at Bearseum

Expenses

Transportation: Php 800
Food: Php 500
Entrance Fees: Php 350

Total transportation is the maximum rounded-up computation, which comprises the following: MRT train ticket from North Avenue to Taft (~Php 30), Nasugbu bus ticket (Php 210), tricycle fees (~Php 400), bus tickets to Olivarez (~Php 30), and jeepney rides (~Php 70).

Fantasy World

Our country should have owned a Disneyland-like park, but unfortunately, the businessman who was supposed to handle this project had financial dilemmas, causing the abandonment of Fantasy World. It now serves as one of the tourist destinations in Lemery, Batangas, operating from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

How to Go to Fantasy World

  1. Ride the MRT line 3 going to Taft, and then walk toward the area where a McDonald’s restaurant, an RCBC bank, and a SOGO hotel are next to one another.
  2. Enter the narrow pathway beside McDonald’s where buses are mostly likely exiting.
  3. Ride the bus going to Nasugbu and tell the driver to drop you off at Boundary (ticket is Php 110).
  4. There are jeepneys from Boundary going to a street that leads to Fantasy World (remind the driver). The cost should not exceed Php 20 per head.
  5. You need to ride another tricycle going to Fantasy World, which costs Php 60 per ride.

What to Expect in Fantasy World

No wonder that Majika, starring Angel Locsin, was filmed here. Fantasy World featured red-bricked castles that looked like the ones in London and Germany. Tourists were allowed to take pictures on the higher floors before, but it was under renovation during our visit.

It also features a tree house, some nonworking rides, and an unmaintained bamboo maze. If you get hungry, they have a small cafeteria that serves chips, canned soda, bottled drinks, hot dogs, and fries.

Bearseum

For all teddy bear lovers out there, you may want to check out Bearseum in Tagaytay, which operates from 9:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Not only do they have instagrammable spots that spotlight cute, fluffy teddy bears, but they also offer delicious, healthy food in their Bearseum Kitchen (reminds me of Goldilocks) and a place to stay at Bearseum suites. For booking and more information, check out their website.

How to Go to Bearseum

  1. From Fantasy World, ride a tricycle going to Boundary. I suggest you wait for company, as one ride costs Php 200.
  2. There are buses going to Manila along the highway. Tell the driver to drop you off at Olivarez Plaza (fare is Php 28).
  3. You can either ride a jeep to Tagaytay Market or, if you are in a hurry, you can hire a yellow tricycle that will directly accompany you to the museum (Php 120).

What to Expect in Bearseum

You will be welcomed by a polka-dotted building upon entering the compound. This is their Bearseum Suites, which you may consider staying in if you want to tour around Tagaytay more.

Their entrance fee costs Php 240 during weekends, Php 190 on weekdays, but don’t let the “you can roam around the whole museum for 15 minutes” rule worry you, as we were there for more than the allotted time. Besides, the museum is just small, and you can take pictures at every corner within that range. I guess this fifteen-minute rule only applies during the days where many visitors are in line to go in.

There are eight small areas and one large room to see. Motivating words are written on walls, but the teddy bears that come in different colors and sizes are, of course, the center of attention.

They also have a gift shop located at the back of the museum, in front of their Bearseum Kitchen.

What to Eat in Bearseum

During the time we were done taking pictures in the museum, we were already hungry since we only had snacks in Fantasy World. Luckily, Bearseum Kitchen offers a variety of healthy, organic food, which was perfect for my diet.

The dishes in their menu are all made from fresh, organic ingredients. The basil pesto pasta (Php 230) that I ordered had corn and quinoa gluten-free spaghetti, while their chocolate smoothie (Php 195) contained protein-rich ingredients. I wish I had taken pictures of their rice meals, which are served with red or brown rice (it looked really delicious).

Favorite Pictures

Twelve Places for Two Days and One Night in Baguio

There are so many places to explore and activities to do in Baguio that a week wouldn’t be enough. I’ve been there last 2017 to attend a wedding, and I was only able to visit BenCab Museum, Burnham Park, Rancho House in Ketchup Food Community (now closed), Mines View Park, Session Road, and Good Shepherd. That seemed a lot, not until I found out about other tourist spots in Baguio that I would want to pay a visit. Last December 2019, I managed to make an itinerary that included some of these places.

How to Go to Baguio

Going to Baguio has been a lot easier now, thanks to the highways that connect Metro Manila to other provinces. Using your own car will be more convenient, but there are also Victory Liner buses going to Baguio that are available in Cubao. Be prepared with at least Php 500 to ride regular-aircon buses, and a few more hundreds for premium buses. The holidays and weekends can be busier, so if online tickets run out, be there as early as 7:00 p.m. for a higher possibility of getting in as a chance passenger.

Where to Stay in Baguio

I highly recommend booking a month prior to your scheduled dates because well-known hotels (e.g., Kamiseta Hotel) and transient homes are often fully booked. But a place to stay in Baguio is the least of your concern if you know the right place to ask. There are Facebook groups (like this and this) where you can post and ask for available transient homes in a budget you can afford. Just make sure you are specific when detailing what you are looking for (e.g., “Any rooms available right now, good for three people? Preferably walking distance near Session Road.”) Some areas like Lower Lourdes offer more venues to stay as low as Php 2,300 for two nights, complete with hot bath and WiFi, although you have to hail for taxis to get to the city proper.

Sample Baguio Itinerary

Day 1
9:00 p.m. Departure from Victory Liner Cubao
3:00 a.m. Arrival at Victory Liner Baguio
4:30 a.m. Arrival at Transient Home/Hotel and Rest
9:00 a.m. Departure from Transient Home/Hotel
10:00 a.m.. Arrival and Breakfast at SM Baguio
11:30 a.m. Departure from SM Baguio
12:00 p.m. Arrival at Loakan Jeepney Terminal to Camp John Hay (Php 10 Fare)
12:10 p.m. Arrival at Camp John Hay (Tour and Eat)
4:15 p.m. Merienda at Choco-Late de Batirol
5:15 p.m. Departure from Choco-Late de Batirol
5:30 p.m. Arrival at Christmas Village
6:45 p.m. Departure from Christmas Village (Walk Back to Camp John Hay)
7:35 p.m. Departure from Camp John Hay (Take a Taxi to Glenn’s 50s Diner for ~Php 65)
7:50 p.m. Dinner at Glenn’s 50s Dinner
9:00 p.m. Departure from Glenns 50s Diner (Take a Taxi to Night Market for ~Php 60)
9:10 p.m. Arrival at Night Market (Shopping)
11:00 p.m. Departure at Night Market

Day 2
8:30 a.m. Departure from Transient Home/Hotel
8:40 a.m. Breakfast at Cafe by the Ruins Chuntug (with Waiting Time)
10:00 a.m. Departure from Cafe by the Ruins Chuntug (Take a Taxi to Old Diplomat Hotel for ~Php 86)
10:25 a.m. Arrival at Old Diplomat Hotel
11:45 a.m. Departure at Old Diplomat Hotel (Take a Taxi to Tam-awan Village for ~Php 106)
12:05 p.m. Arrival at Tam-awan Village (12:30 Dance Performance)
1:20 p.m. Departure from Tam-awan Village (Take a Taxi to Bell Church for ~Php 92)
1:40 p.m. Arrival at Bell Church
2:10 p.m. Departure from Bell Church (Walk toward Stobosa Houses)
2:30 p.m. Departure from Stobosa Homes (Walk toward Sinner or Saint Cafe)
3:30 p.m. Departure from Sinner or Saint Cafe (Take a Taxi to Mt. Cloud Bookshop for ~Php 117)
3:50 p.m. Arrival at Mt. Cloud Bookshop
4:30 p.m. Departure from Mt. Cloud Bookshop (Walk toward Ili-Likha Artist Village)
5:00 p.m. Arrival at Ili-Likha Artist Village
6:40 p.m. Departure from Ili-Likha Artist Village (Walk toward Wet and Dry Market)
7:00 p.m. Buy Pasaluong at Wet and Dry Market
7:40 p.m. Departure from Wet and Dry Market (Take a Taxi to Transient Home/Hotel)
10:00 p.m. Departure from Transient Home/Hotel
10:15 p.m. Arrival at Victory Liner Baguio
10:45 p.m. Departure from Victory Liner Baguio
4:00 a.m. Arrival at Victory Liner Cubao

Estimated Expenses (1 pax)

Food: Php 2,500
Transportation: Php 2,000 (including bus and taxis)
Entrance Fees: Php 180 (Php 120 for Baguio Christmas Village and Php 60 for Tam-awan Village)
Pasalubong and Misc: Php 1,000 (not including books from Mt. Cloud Bookshop)
Rent: Php 2,300 (but can be divided up to four people)

Of course, the total will vary depending on your spending habits. The more people you are with, the lesser your total expenses will be. Take advantage of restaurants serving dishes good for two to three people, and avoid ukay-ukay from the night market if you want to save money for food.

Places to Visit in Baguio

Camp John Hay

I have underestimated Camp John Hay, good thing I reserved one entire day for this place. Since you cannot stop your vehicle at any point you just wish to, you will be forced to walk and enjoy the beauty of the forest trails (which is even better).

Other tourist attractions inside Camp John Hay include The Manor (although nonoccupants are not allowed to take pictures inside), Cemetery of Negativism (with entrance fee), Butterfly Sanctuary (with entrance fee), and Mile Hi Center where you can shop inside designer outlets. If you are feeling adventurous, you can try the following activities in their Treetop Adventure: superman ride, silver surfer ride, canopy ride, skywalk and trekking, and tree drop—each less than Php 300.

Baguio Country Club Christmas Village

A five-minute walk from Choco-late De Batirol is Baguio Country Club Christmas Village. Since it was the holiday season when we visited Baguio, we decided to give it a try.

The entrance fee for adults during weekends was Php 120. They prohibit slippers because it can get slippery inside the area, so make sure you wear closed shoes. The tourist spot was crowded during our visit since it was a weekend, but I still managed to enjoy the fake snow from detergent bubbles.

Old Diplomat Hotel

Rich in history, the Old Diplomat Hotel was actually constructed in 1913 as a vacation house for the Dominicans and then was transformed into a school in 1915. During the Japanese occupation, it became a shelter for the Dominican priests and their families, but was later on bombed by American soldiers in 1945. It was renovated to a hotel, but it has been abandoned after the death of its manager Antonio Agapito Agpaoa. Now the building is under the care of the City Government of Baguio.

Tam-awan Village

This tourist attraction showcases indigenous beauty and Cordilleran arts and crafts, and they have performances demonstrating several Igorot dances. I was a bit uncomfortable upon entering because there were numerous lizard illustrations, but it was here where I fell in love for the first time with a woman in a painting.

Bell Church

The Chinese temples inside the compound are important to the Chinese-Filipino community in Baguio. Its interior and exterior designs are guided by “the saints” and good Feng Shui. Photographs are allowed, but remember to follow the rules posted in the entryway. Bell Church reminded me of Macho Temple in La Union.

Stobosa Houses

This our own version of Choi Hung Estate in Hong Kong, featuring colorful-painted houses. (I wonder if the back side of their properties are also painted though.)

Mt. Cloud Bookshop

Due to time constraints, I was not able to visit Mt. Cloud Bookshop in 2016. But this year, I made it a point to include this in my Baguio intinerary. More than its aesthetic interiors, Mt. Cloud Bookshop offers numerous Philippine books, including graphic novels and children’s literature (they have the complete Trese series). I bought Ugh (Php 450), Mga Nilalang na Kagila-gilalas (Php 300), and Puki Usap (Php 395). I wanted to buy more, but maybe next time.

Where to Eat in Baguio

Choco-late De Batirol

Exiting Camp John Hay and going toward Baguio Country Club will lead you first to Choco-late De Batirol. They are known for their thick chocolate drinks (and I regretted not trying them) and their rainforest-like aesthetic.

I wasn’t a fan of their cold choco mocha (7/10), but their sinigang sa boneless bangus definitely warmed my stomach. This set, with two cups of rice, cost Php 625.

Glenn’s 50s Diner

As one of the popular restaurants in Baguio, I expected so much from Glenn’s 50s Diner. Unfortunately, it didn’t exceed my expectations, probably because I have tried numerous restaurants serving American food in Metro Manila.

Their chicken pesto pasta (Php 165) was almost just pasta and no chicken, while the salad that went with the beef tenderloin meal (no picture, not my order) was just lettuce with Lady’s Choice thousand island. I’m not sure if I’ll give this another chance if I visit Baguio again, but if you can recommend set meals in Glenn’s 50s Diner, let me know.

Glenn’s 50s Diner, however, taught me a lesson: Ordering ice cream in Baguio, especially in a December night, is a bad idea (unless freezing is your thing).

Cafe by the Ruins

There are two branches of Cafe by the Ruins. We visited the one in Chuntug since it was nearer; the other one is in Upper Session Road (Dua is the Ilocano of “two,” so Cafe by the Ruins Dua just means the second branch of Cafe by the Ruins).

The food I ordered was superb, and I was glad I gave Mt. Data Tapa (Php 380) and Rizal’s Tsokolate-e (Php 145), two of their bestsellers, a try.

Sinner or Saint Cafe

Walking from Stobosa Houses toward the Bell Church helped me discover Sinner or Saint Cafe.

It had good reviews on Google, so we gave it a go. Their name passively presents their menu: “sinner” for guilty pleasures (i.e., cakes) and “saint” for guilt-free dishes (e.g., organic meals).

I ordered roasted pork marinated with lingbeng (Php 199) and strawberry cake (Php 89). I wanted to order their Benguet-style shawarma after noticing that most of their customers had this on their tables, but I was already full.

Ili-Likha Artist Village

This might have been the most breathtaking food hub I’ve been to, and I vow to keep on recommending Ili-Likha Artist Village every time someone asks where to eat in Baguio.

Ili-Lika Artist Village was designed by national artist Kidlat Tahimik. The whole place seemed magical, like Doraemon’s pocket or Mary Poppin’s bag or the closet in The Chronicles of Narnia. Numerous small establishments, of which their designs are reminiscent of Baguio’s culture, are constructed around thick, sturdy branches. If you will look closely, colorful stones, recycled materials, and mosaic tiles mostly cover its walls and floors.

There were so many food hubs inside that I tried Lihim ni Maria just because they offered their menu first. Their beef and mushroom (Php 99) did not disappoint. I wanted to have seconds, only if I was not mindful of diet that day.

Favorite Pictures