Ten Commandments Building (Baguio City, Benguet)

Dominican Hill in Baguio City is now famous for two things – the century-old, haunted Diplomat Hotel Ruins and the newer, giant Ten Commandments Building. This new tourist attraction in Baguio, right beside the Diplomat Hotel ruins, serves as a symbol that drives away evil spirits.

Check out “Diplomat Hotel Ruins

Front view of building

This A-shaped, 12.19 m. high “prayer building” has two slanting slabs of stone carved with the imposing 152.90 sq. m. (1,645.8 sq. ft.) Bible’s Ten Commandments (a copy of the rules supposedly handed down by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai) that broke the Guinness World Records as the world’s first and tallest facility that features the Ten Commandments.

Concrete slab carved with the Ten Commandments

This PhP5.5-million building was commissioned last February 2011 by Nueva Vizcaya businesswoman Grace Galindez-Gupana, chief executive officer of ABS Gen Herbs International Corp. and founder of  the Kingdom of Jerusalem Halleluyah Foundation International (KOJHF, a religious group), and built by contractors from Nueva Ecija. The Ten Commandments building topped her previous world record, attained in 2009, when she built a similar 65 sq. m. tablet on a hill outside Manila.

It was turned over to the city government in July 2011 and officially unveiled on October 26 in the presence of  Baguio City Mayor Mauricio G. Domogan, Menashe Bar-On (Israeli Ambassador to the Philippines), Minister Abraham Okoliko of the Nigerian embassy and the Guinness representative Vic Fabellana. The Israeli ambassador also led a “tree planting” of an authentic Jerusalem-grown olive tree in front of the Ten Commandments building. It houses an altar and a replica of the Ark of the Covenant.

Gupana, who seems to have a penchant for setting world records, claims her company now holds seven records, including developing the world’s largest national flag (an 18,847-sq. m. Israeli banner which can cover an area of two football fields) unveiled at the Baguio Athletic Bowl; producing the longest banner (composed of giant flags representing the Philippines, Israel and the two Koreas); the longest drawing of the Biblical serpent, dragon and beast mentioned in the Book of Revelations (5 kms. long and 7 m. wide), and the largest blood pressure checkup session that gathered 2,302 people and organizing the largest diabetes screening session for 503 people, the largest blood identification session involving 260 people, and the largest cholesterol test session for 527 people. The authenticity of these world records could not be independently confirmed.

Replica of the Ark of the Covenant

Ten Commandments Building: Dominican Hill Property, Diplomat Road, Brgy. Dominican Hill-Mirador, Baguio City, 2600 Benguet

Diplomat Hotel Ruins (Baguio City, Benguet)

The author outside the Diplomat Hotel Ruins

The Dominican Hill Retreat House, an abandoned structure atop Dominican Hill commonly known as the Diplomat Hotel, is a favorite spot for photography, airsoft tournaments, film making, wedding receptions and photography, cosplay photoshoots and many more. In spite of it being in ruin, almost every tourist that goes to the City of Pines makes it a point to visit this place because it is one of the most panoramic and picturesque spots in the city. However, due to its brutal and grim World War II history, it is considered by paranormal believers to be haunted.

The century-old Diplomat Hotel Ruins. At far right is the Ten Commandments Building

The building had its beginnings in May 1911 when American friars of the Dominican Order (or Order of Preachers), along with a few Spanish members, made plans for the construction of a vacation house for them and the nuns of their order in Baguio. A 17-hectare hill property was first acquired from Americans who reside in Baguio. The hill where the building was to stand was christened as “Dominican Hill.”

Plaque installed by the National Historical Commission

The building was designed by Fr. Roque Ruaño, O.P., a civil engineer and one of the members of the order.  He was the same architect of the main building of the current campus of the University of Santo Tomas.

The cross at the front of the hotel. Below it is a bas relief of a probable Dominican shield with a crown on top and a dangling rosary

Construction, said to have started in 1913, was supervised by Fr. Ruano himself. On May 23, 1915, it was then inaugurated. At the time of its construction, it was considered the grandest and most expensive stone structure in the city.

Prayer Mountain and Tourism Center

On June 1915, to take advantage of tax exemptions, the order set up a seminary named Colegio del Santissimo Rosario.  However, due to the very small enrollment (only 6 students enrolled in 1917), the school closed two years later and the building was reverted to its original use.

Baroque scroll ornamentation at jambs and the top of the main entrance

During World War II, the people fleeing from the Japanese sought refuge within its walls. Because of its commanding view of the city, the Japanese Imperial Army turned the compound into their headquarters and garrison. Within the courtyard and its grounds, the Kempeitai (Japanese secret police) committed barbaric acts such as torture, rape and decapitation of priests and nuns, as well as refugees.

The rehabilitated west wing of the building

On April 1945, during the liberation of the Philippines, the American forces bombed the place, partially hitting the right wing of the building while Japanese forces committed suicide. Between 1945 and 1947, the building underwent restoration.

The east wing of the building

In 1973, Diplomat Hotels, Inc. acquired ownership of the property and thoroughly remodeled the interior into a 33-bedroom hotel, all the while retaining the unique features and Dominican ambiance (the large white cross and the emblem was retained) which were earlier established by the Dominican friars.

Fireplace at hotel lobby. Tony Agpaoa is said to haunt this area

The hotel was managed by Baguio-based entrepreneur Antonio Agapito “Tony” C. Agpaoa, the sensational and controversial faith healer (later branded as a hoax by many) famous for psychic surgery who claimed to perform surgery with his bare hands without anesthetic.  The hotel became the haven of his patients that came mostly from abroad and they stayed here while being healed.

Multi-tiered fountain at Courtyard No. 1. Babies and little children were said to have been murdered here during the war

In the 1980s, Agpaoa suffered a heart attack and was diagnosed with brain hemorrhage. On January 1982, the 42 year old Agpaoa died of his ailments. Since his death, the hotel ceased operations and was abandoned. Following its abandonment, the place was looted and sacked.

Similar fountain at Courtyard No. 2

The Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, formerly known as the Ministry of Human Settlements, took over the ownership of the hotel. The Presidential Management Staff (PMS) came next.  During the June 16, 1990 Luzon earthquake, the building also sustained significant damage.

Exhibit at west wing

The property on the hill (currently named as Dominican Heritage Hill and Nature Park) was conveyed to the City Government of Baguio in April 2004 and, on April 5, 2005, was declared a National Historical Site through TCT No. T-85948.

Grand stairway leading to second floor

The entire property was declared as a historical site through City Resolution No. 168, series of 2013. The Deed of Conveyance and City Resolutions provided for the rehabilitation of the old building and the development of the property into a park by obligating the city.

One of the 33 hotel rooms

It is now under the maintenance of the City Environment and Parks Management Office (CEPMO). In May 2012, as part of the development of Baguio Dominican Heritage Hill and Nature Park as a preserved heritage site and to promote tourism, two new function halls for weddings, training and workshops in the hotel’s west wing were inaugurated. On September 1, 2014, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines declared it as an Important Cultural Property. 

Still intact bathtub at bathroom of one of the hotel rooms.

This 2-storey building, an example of classic Baroque architectural design with its striking details and admirable design, is a fusion of European church design, blended with local materials and motifs. Its rusticated facade has a porte cochere over a driveway.

The author

The ground floor, with semicircular arched windows, and the second floor, with rectangular windows, are separated by a horizontal cornice. The cornice, at the roof deck level, is located above corbels.

Headless ghosts of nuns and priests are said to haunt these hallways.

Planned out as a castle complete with crenelations, it has a massive fortress-like character. This is also the first hotel in the country, and even in Asia, to have a cross on its gabled main entrance. From this stone crucifix on the roof deck, a panoramic view of the city can be seen. Its roof also has water collecting devices. Inside are two courtyards, both with multi-tiered fountains.

Second floor hallway.  Note the still intact, circa 1970s crazy-cut marble flooring.  Floor beams are supported by decorative coorbels

If ghosts, spirits and the paranormal tickle your fancy, then this so famously haunted, eerie, bleak and abandoned building is definitely for you.  Considered as one of the most haunted places in Baguio City and the Philippines, even since the Diplomat Hotel was open, employees and guests would report hearing strange and eerie noises coming from the building and seeing headless ghosts, with their heads on a platter, constantly roaming the hallways.

Secondary stairway

However, even after the hotel shut down, those sightings would continue.  The people living nearby were often disturbed at night by sounds coming from the Dominican Hill. They would hear banging of doors and windows, clattering of dishes, voices of screaming people who seem to be agonizing, as well as rattling and clanging sounds alternating with total silence.  Adding to the eerie atmosphere is the derelict condition of the hotel.

Fireplace at east wing

As previously mentioned, during the World War II, numerous nuns and priests (forced to serve as helpers for the soldiers) were beheaded here and this is believed to be the reason why headless apparitions are often seen, during the night, inside the hotel. Crying coming from kids and babies, a common noise, are attributed to the massacre of numerous children done at the fountain.

Roof deck

Others say these are the restless spirits of Agpaoa and his patients.  Many years ago, a fire broke out in a portion of the hotel and several guests who were then staying at the hotel were trapped inside and died.  According to one of its caretakers, a woman who used to work there as a nurse committed suicide, for unknown reasons, by jumping from the rooftop where the cross is situated.

Cross seen from the roof deck.  A nurse was said to have jumped to her death at this area

A lot of documentaries have been written about this mysterious hotel.  It was featured on television programs such as Magandang Gabi, Bayan‘s 2004 Halloween Special, AHA! and Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho. Right beside the Diplomat Hotel ruins, is the fairly recent, A-shaped Ten Commandments Building, a “prayer building” which serves as a symbol that drives away evil spirits.

Check out “Ten Commandments Building

 

View of Baguio City from Diplomat Hotel Ruins

Diplomat Hotel: Dominican Hill, Diplomat Road, Brgy. Dominican Hill-Mirador,  Baguio City, 2600 Benguet. Open 6 AM – 6 PM.

New Year Countdown at the Manila InterContinental (Makati City)

Fireworks (12)

For the third time around (the first was in the iconic Manila Hotel, followed by the Dusit Hotel), my family and I decided to spend New Year’s Eve in a hotel and, this time around, we chose to stay at the nearby InterContinental Manila (colloquially Intercon/ICM).  This 5-star InterContinental hotel, part of the longest operating international chain hotel in the Philippines, holds the distinction of being the first 5-star deluxe hotel in Makati and the second InterContinental hotel to open in Asia.

InterContinental Manila Hotel

InterContinental Manila Hotel

Designed by my uncle, the late National Artist Leandro Locsin, this 14-storey landmark hotel opened on April 11, 1969 as part of the overall redevelopment plan for Makati.It is owned by Ayala Land Hotels and Resorts Corp., Ayala Land’s wholly owned subsidiary. Conveniently located within Ayala Center (Makati Commercial Center years before), opposite the Glorietta, it is walking distance to 5 big shopping malls (SM, Rustans, Landmark, etc.), great restaurants, an MRT-3 station (Ayala Station) and cinemas. It still exudes the charm and elegant atmosphere of the old Manila I am familiar with.

Cafe Jeepney

Cafe Jeepney

 This old but well-maintained hotel has won numerous awards such as the “Best Hotel Kikay Festival” for “Festival Gastronomique le Kikay Bleu” in 1982 and 1983; the Green Globe Award for Outstanding Environmental Programs in 1998; “Outstanding in Community Involvement for Southern Asia” among InterContinental hotels in 2002; and the TTG (Travel Trade Gazette) Travel Awards as the “Best City Hotel” in 2010, 2011 and 2013.

Hotel Lobby

Hotel Lobby

In 1997, the hotel also placed first in Asia Pacific and third in the world in the D’Richey Report and, in 2007, it was voted by readers of Business Traveler Magazine Asia Pacific as one of the three top hotels in the Philippines.

Cafe Jeepney (1)

Cafe Jeepney (2)

Cafe Jeepney dining area

We all checked in at a spacious and comfortable 2-bed De Luxe room (Suite 839), one of 332 guest rooms that were updated in 2006. Incorporating traditional and modern Filipino design infused with a refined European touch, each room had warm earth tones and rich, walnut wood finish. it features individually-controlled airconditioning, flat-screen LCD cable TV, work desk with lamp, in-room safe, IDD/NDD phone, coffee/tea making facility, mini fridge, private bathroom with bathtub and free high-speed wireless internet.

Double Bed De Luxe Suite (Suite 839)

Double Bed De Luxe Suite (Suite 839)

The staff was polite, efficient and attentive to our needs.  The presence of pretty Ambassador ladies greeting guests at the entrance was a nice touch.  They also offer valet, airport transfers, currency exchange, tours, concierge, car rental, laundry and room service.  InterContinental Manila has 4 restaurants and bars that offer a wide selection of food and wines to suit every taste and to match the occasion.

Gambrinus Bar

Gambrinus Bar

The Prince Albert Rotisserie, a fine dining restaurant, offers gourmet French and Continental fare, classic wines and is best known for its tableside preparation of US prime rib and Crepe Suzette. In addition to the main dining section, the restaurant boasts of three dining salons for guests desiring more privacy. During our stay, they offered a special New Year’s Eve set dinner menu (PhP2,990++ per person) which included veal, duckling, and morel terrine and roast prime rib of Aberdeen Angus beef with baked potato, buttered garden vegetables and red wine sauce. A special à la carte menu was likewise be offered. Its impeccable service has reaped prestigious awards and numerous citations including Ordre Mondial des Gourmets Gustateurs ‘Trés Belle Carte” (Best Wine List) Award.

Sol y Sombra

Sol y Sombra

Café Jeepney, a favorite meeting place and watering hole for people in the news and those who write about them, was where we had our breakfast.  The evening of our stay, they offered a buffet for PhP2,000++ per person. Themed around the world famous Filipino jeepney, it features a mouth-watering spread of Filipino and international fare, a la carte and buffet style, including live cooking and carving stations.

Function Room

Function Room

The ground floor Gambrinus Bar, a venue to meet family and friends amongst the view of the poolside garden, offers an appetizing selection of a la carte dishes, bar chows and cocktails while listening to live music in the evening.  Sol y Sombra offers savory snacks, tropical thirst quenchers and cocktails by the poolside or inside one of the “bahay kubos” (nipa huts).

Club Lounge

Club Lounge

The Club Lounge, where we had access, offered breakfast and snacks throughout the day as well as happy hour in the evening.  It had a stunning view of the Makati skyline.  The hotel also has an outdoor swimming pool (said to be the largest in Makati), an 800-1,000-pax grand ballroom, 7 meeting rooms (Bahia, San Lorenzo, etc.), business center, full-service spa (Suriya), sauna, gift shop, beauty salon and a gym (Gold’s Gym)..

Swimming Pool

Swimming Pool

Our room package (PhP9,888 net) also included a New Year’s Countdown for two, which started  8 PM onwards, at its Grand Ballroom, with free-flowing red and white wine, champagne, soda, iced tea, and a buffet spread of holiday favorites.

New Year Countdown (Grand Ballroom) (1)

 

New Year Countdown at the Grand Ballroom

New Year Countdown at the Grand Ballroom

Performing live music on stage was the all-girl (AJ Salvado, Jen Manalac, and Pia Diamante) Silk Band who rendered rhythm & blues and the best of OPM, from the 1970s to the present.  Right after the countdown, we watched the fireworks outside.

Family bonding at the InterContinental Manila

Family bonding at the InterContinental Manila

InterContinental Manila: 1 Ayala Ave., Ayala Center, Makati City, 1226 Metro Manila.  Tel: (632) 793-7000. Website: www.intercontinental.com/Manila.

A Walking Tour of Shota Rustaveli Avenue (Tbilisi, Georgia)

Shota Rustaveli Avenue

Shota Rustaveli Avenue

Shota Rustaveli Avenue, the central avenue in Tbilisi formerly known as Golovin Street, was built in the 19th century when M. S. Vorontsov was ruler of Georgia, was divided into two parts – Palace Street and the Golovin Avenue. In 1918, it named after medieval  Georgian poet Shota Rustaveli, author of the immortal poem “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin.”

The author (in blue jacket) walking among sea of Georgians all in dark-colored jackets

The author (in blue jacket) walking among a sea of Georgians, all in dark-colored jackets and overcoats (photo: Ms. Riva Galveztan)

A popular place for walking, I strolled along Rustaveli to soak up the bustling, cosmopolitan atmosphere of Tbilisi’s main thoroughfare which is lined with Oriental plane trees  (Platanus orientalis) and strung with a handsome mix of modern and 20th-century architecture, with a contrasting European/Russian (Neo-Classical) look, such as important governmental, public, cultural, and business buildings as well as various cafes, shops, restaurants and other entertainment places.

Oriental plane trees lining the sidewalks

Oriental plane trees lining the sidewalks

This fine, stately avenue, which leads off to the northwest, is one of the best architectural and tourist centers of Tbilisi.  However, it is spoilt by the amount of traffic roaring up and down it these days. There are a number of pedestrian underpasses, but people here also cross the road with great nonchalance, waiting on the centre line until there’s a gap.

Freedom Square

Freedom Square

Rustaveli Avenue (Rustavelis Gamziri in Georgian or Rustaveli Prospekt in Russian) starts at Freedom Square and extends for about 1.5 kms. before it turns into an extension of Kostavas Kucha (Kostava Street).  Also branching out from this square are five other streets – Pushkin Street, Leselidze Street, Shalva Dadiani Street, Galaktion Street, and Leonidze Street. At its far end is the Freedom Square Metro Station at Rustaveli 6 where I alighted and started my stroll.

Bronze statue of St. George slaying the Dragon

Bronze statue of St. George slaying the Dragon (photo: Ms. Riva Galveztan)

Freedom Square, first called Yerevan Square was, later in the Soviet period, renamed after Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beria and then after Vladimir Lenin. In the center of Freedom Square (once occupied by a monument to Lenin which was symbolically torn down in August 1991) is the Monument of Freedom and Victory, a fountain with a very tall 40 m. high column topped by a bronze statue of St. George slaying the Dragon, a gift, unveiled on November 23, 2006, of famous Georgian sculptor Zurab Tsereteli to his native city.

Tbilisi Sakrebulo (City Assembly)

Tbilisi Sakrebulo (City Assembly)

The entire southern line of the square is occupied by the main Pseudo Moorish-style facade of Tbilisi Sakrebulo (City Assembly), a former town council building built in 1880 by German architect Peter Stern.  Its third storey, with a clock tower, was built between 1910 and 1912. This attractive building, with stripes of sandy green and white and mauresque stucco, now houses, at the eastern side of the ground floor, a well- equipped tourist information office, with plenty of free booklets, maps and helpful English-speaking staff, plus outlets of Burberry, Chronograph and Chopard.

Tbilisi National Youth Palace

Tbilisi National Youth Palace

The Tbilisi National Youth Palace, erected n 1802, was rebuilt many times, the last time from 1865-1868 when the building was enlarged by architect O. Simenson who added an arcade in front. From 1844 to 1917, the building was the residence of the Russian vice-regent in the Caucasus.  On May 26, 1918, during the meeting of the Transcaucasian Seim, the Georgian delegation left the hall and, in the adjacent White Hall, proclaimed Georgia a sovereign country.

Plaque commemorating the May 26, 1918 declaration of state independence

Plaque commemorating the May 26, 1918 declaration of state independence

At one time, Josef Stalin installed his mother here.  On May 2, 1941, during the Soviet period, it served as the Pioneers’ Palace, housing the Soviet youth organization and a Museum of Children’s Toys. Still used for youth activities, it is the best place to find classes and displays of Georgian folk dance and the like.  Around the palace is a well-kept garden, the back part of which faces Ingorokva Street. Aleksey Yermolov, the former Caucasian commander-in-chief, paid special attention to this garden, planting two large plane trees. In the past, the garden belonged to a princess of the Orbeliani family.

Old Parliarment Building

Old Parliarment Building (photo: Ms. Riva Galveztan)

Beyond the National Youth Palace is the Parliament Building, easily the most dominating building along Rustaveli Avenue.  Designed by architects Victor Kokorin and Giorgi Lezhava, it was built as a U-shaped block in 1938 (on the site of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, built in the 19th century for the Russian army), it’s very solid portico of tuff was built by German prisoners-of- war and the building was opened in 1953. Its 16 columns symbolize the 16 Soviet republics.

National Gallery

National Picture Gallery

The National Picture Gallery (Blue Gallery), built in 1885,  was erected by the German architect Zalzman as the “Temple of Glory” to commemorate the victory of the Russian troops over the Persians. The trophy cannons recaptured from the Persian army, stood in front of the building in the last century.

School No. 1

School No. 1

Immediately beyond the Parliament Building is the High School No. 1, founded in 1802 as the first European-style high school in Transcaucasia.  It educated many of the leading figures of recent Georgian history, including Merab Kostava, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Tengiz Sigua and Tengiz Kitovani.

Plaque commemorating the March 9, 1956 massacre at the former Communications Building

Plaque commemorating the March 9, 1956 massacre at the former Communications Building

A good example of Russian Neo-Classicism, it has statues of Ilia Chavchavadze and Akaki Tsereteli (1958) in front.  It houses the Museum of Education. A plaque here commemorates those killed by the Soviet security forces on March 9, 1956.

Tblisi Marriot Hotel

Tblisi Marriot Hotel

Past the school, Rustaveli Avenue bends to the left and I found myself in front of the Tbilisi Marriott Hotel (No. 13), one of the massive constructions of the 20th century.  Elegantly emphasizing the avenue’s bend, this building, opposite the Ministry of Transport and Communications, was designed by ethnic Armenian architect Gavriil Ter-Mikelov in 1915 as the Hotel Majestic.

Lobby of the Tblisi Marriot Hotel

Lobby of the Tblisi Marriot Hotel (photo: Ms. Riva Galveztan)

Later, it was renamed as Hotel Tbilisi.  During the 1991-1992 Civil War, the hotel was burned and was later restored and reopened in 2002 as the luxurious Marriott Hotel.

Rustaveli State Academic Theater

Rustaveli State Academic Theater

Next to the hotel is the famous, splendid Rustaveli State Academic Theater (No. 17), one of the most beautiful buildings along the avenue. Designed by architects K. Tatishev and Alexandre Shimkevich in the French Neo-Classical style from 1899 to 1901, in the past it housed the Actors’ Society Club.

Rustaveli State Academic Theater - facade detail

Rustaveli State Academic Theater – facade detail

Its ornate architecture involves the forms and motives of the Late Baroque Period, with mirror windows and a large portal. The theater was refurbished from 1920 to 1921, for the new Rustaveli Theatre Company, and was refurbished again from 2002 to 2005. Since 1921, the theater has carried the name of Shota Rustaveli, Georgia’s national poet.  In 2006, a Hollywood-style “Walk of the Stars” was begun in front.

Rustaveli State Academic Theater - facade detail

Rustaveli State Academic Theater – facade detail

It now houses a first-class theater, a large concert hall, a large and small ballroom, a small foyer, marble staircases, classical statues and a number of big and small rooms for the Actors’ Society Club. It has three stages – a main stage (about 800 seats), a smaller stage (300 seats) and a Black Box Theater (182 seats) for experimental performances. The Kimerioni (Chimera) Cafe-Bar, at the lower floor of the theater, has  frescoes  painted in 1919 by prominent Georgian painters Lado Gudiashvili and  David Kakabadze, theater set designer Serge Sudeikin as well as Sigizmund Valishevski (he was called Ziga in Tbilisi) and Moise and Iracly Toidze.  Nearby is the Theatrical Institute.

Opera and Ballet Theater

Paliashvili Opera and Ballet Theater

Not far from the Rustaveli State Academic Theater, along the north side of Rustaveli, is the elegant Paliashvili Opera and Ballet Theater (No. 25).   Formerly the Public Theater, it was first built in 1851 but burned down on October 11, 1874.  The present Moorish-Eastern style building was designed by architect Viktor Schroter and built from 1880 to 1896.

Z.Paliashvili Opera and Ballet Theatre

Z.Paliashvili Opera and Ballet Theater – intricate molding

In 1937, the theater was renamed in honor of Zakaria Paliashvili, one of Georgia’s greatest composers. It too burned down in 1973 but was rebuilt in 1977. Its towers, arches, turrets, stained glass windows, ornaments and intricate molding at the front entrance were all laboriously and meticulously made with special care.

Z.Paliashvili Opera and Ballet Theater - window ornamentation

Z.Paliashvili Opera and Ballet Theater – window ornamentation

The theater hosted, at different times, opera singers such as Fedor Shaliapin (who said “I was born twice: for life – in Kazan, for music – in Tbilisi”), Sergei Lemeshev, Vano Sarajishvili, Zurab Sotkilava, Paata Burchuladze, Jose Carreras and  Montserrat Caballe; and ballet dancer Vakhtang Chabukiani.

Kempinski Hotel

Kempinski Hotel

Nearing the end of Rustaveli Avenue, I espied another monumental building – the former Georgian branch of Marxism-Leninism Institute. Designed by architect A. Shukin and built in 1938, its frieze is decorated with bas reliefs made by Iakob Nikoladze. Since 1993, the Constitutional Court has had its sittings there. Today, it is now home to a 200-room hotel, 50 apartments and 8 penthouses designed by Alexey Shuyev and managed by Kempinski Hotels. The new building, incorporating the historic main façade, features a domed hotel lobby and an octagonal courtyard.

Georgian National Academy of Sciences Building

Georgian National Academy of Sciences Building

Just at the end of Rustaveli is the Georgian National Academy of Sciences, a pompous building designed by architects K. Chkheidze and M. Chkhikvadze in 1953.  It has a beautiful, low Italian-style colonnade; a solemn, angular tower revetted with Bolnisi tuff.

Tower of the Georgian National Academy of Sciences Building

Tower of the Georgian National Academy of Sciences Building

Between its columns is a through arcade where you can go to the lower station (which has an oval design) of the cableway leading to the upper plateau of Mtatsminda. On the steps of the academy artists and craftsmen sell their works.

Statue of Shota Rustaveli

Statue of Shota Rustaveli

My walking tour of Rustaveli Avenue was completed upon reaching the monument to the poet Shota Rustaveli, made by a sculptor K. Merabishvili.

Overnight at Borjomi (Georgia)

Likani Guesthouse Borjomi

Likani Guesthouse Borjomi

After our tour of Borjomi Park, Riva, Ruby and I had dinner at the town center and, after that, hired a taxi to take us to Likani Guesthouse.  Its landmark is the famous Tsqarostan, a water source with free clean drinking water. Located 3 kms. from the town center and easily accessible by road, we were to stay overnight at one of this homey, 2-storey guesthouse’s 4 rooms which can accommodate a total of 12 persons (25 GEL per bed or 75 GEL per room of 3 beds).

The ground floor room where we spent the night

The ground floor room where we spent the night

We were all welcomed by owner Ms. Lamara Tomashvili. Later in the evening, we met up with the owner’s son Iosebi “Soso” Tomashvili who speaks good English aside from Georgian and Russian.  He brought along a jug of homemade Georgian wine and chacha (Georgian pomace brandy) and assumed the role of tamada (Georgian toastmaster).

Riva, the author, Ruby and Soso making a toast

Riva, the author, Ruby and Soso making a toast

Soso proposed a toast to everyone at the table and we also followed his lead. I somehow was able to consume my share of the Georgian wine but the clear and strong chacha was something else, it being 75 proof.  I was just about drunk when I retired for the night.

Our breakfast. Behind are jugs of leftover Georgian wine and chacha

Our breakfast. Behind are jugs of leftover Georgian wine and chacha

Breakfast the next day, which was included in the overnight rate, consisted of sliced bread, jam, butter, cheese and hard-boiled egg plus coffee or tea.

Still used to make homemade Georgian wine

Still used to make homemade Georgian wine

Owner Ms. Lamina Tomashvili, Ruby Bebita and the author

Owner Ms. Lamina Tomashvili, Ruby Bebita and the author

Likani Guesthouse Borjomi: 85 Meskheti St., Tsqarostan, Likani, 1200 Borjomi.  Tel: + 995597005282  and + 995577382120.

Qatar Airways has daily flights from Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (Clark, Pampanga) to Tbilisi (Republic of Georgia) with stopovers at Hamad International Airport (Doha, Qatar, 15 hrs.) and Heydar Aliyev International Airport (Baku, Azerbaijan, 1 hr.). Website: www.qatarairways.com.

An Unusual Hot Bath (Tibiao, Antique)

From Bugtong Bato Falls, we all took a different foot trail, this time making a 20-min. hike to Bugtong Bato Falls Inn where we were to have our lunch, on an outdoor bamboo picnic table, of fried fish, pork adobo and steamed rice plus delicious, homemade coconut and mango flavored ice cream for dessert.

Our picnic area

Our picnic area

After this filling repast, an unusual treat awaited us – an exotic and soothing hot bath in a kawa, a huge wok (fryer) that was transformed into a jungle hot tub (PhP200), an idea similar to Japanese ofuro hot baths which use rectangular wooden tubs.

The row of baths being prepared

The row of baths being prepared

The kawa with "ingredients" added in

The heated kawa with “ingredients” added in

We were supposed to have this at Kayak Inn, an upland riverside resort operated by Tribal Adventure Tours, an adventure outfit, but there was no supply of spring water needed to fill the kawa.  Luckily for us, Bugtong Bato Falls Inn also offered these unusual hot baths – with spring water available.

Meditating inside the fryer

Contemplating the fate that awaits me inside the fryer

The five big, recycled kawas, cauldrons used for cooking muscovado (raw brown sugar) and taken from abandoned sugar mills, are filled with natural flowing spring water fed from a pipe.  Then, a real fire, fuelled by chopped wood, rice hulls, charcoal and dried palms, is placed underneath the kawa to heat the water Guyabano and guava leaves, said to cure skin disorders and add aroma, are then added as “ingredients” to the now heated water, together with ginger slices and flower petals.

Jandy's turn at the cooker

Jandy’s turn at the cooker

Once the water temperature was right, I took the first shot at experiencing the feeling of being “cooked alive,” the wooden ladle adding a nice touch. While having my hot dip, I felt my muscles, tired and tense after a morning of strenuous hiking, being relieved as the heat permeated my skin. As the kawa can fit two, Jandy joined me after a few minutes.  During the session, an attendant controls the fire so that it does not become too hot.  The thickness of the kawa prevents the fire from scalding our skin.

Father and son bonding moment in a kawa

Father and son bonding moment in a kawa

All the while, I enjoyed the sights and sound of the nearby forest.  It is recommended to just stay there for 20 to 30 mins., otherwise you’ll end up like a prune.  Truly, a “must do” while in Tibiao.

Peter's Lodge

Peter’s Lodge

For those, who want to stay overnight, you can stay at Peter’s Lodge, just beside the baths.  The 2-storey nipa and bamboo lodge, which could be rented overnight for PhP1,500, has a fan-cooled bedroom on the second floor, a 6-pax ground floor dining area, and a bathroom.

Fan-cooled bedroom

Fan-cooled bedroom

6-pax dining area

6-pax dining area

Peter’s Lodge: Brgy. Tuno, Tibiao, Antique. Mobile numbers (0920) 499-6903 and (0939) 492-8554.

Katahum Tours: Tibiao, Antique.  Mobile numbers: (0919) 813-9893 and (0917) 631-5777. E-mail: flord@tibiaofishspa.com. Website: www.katahum.com.

How To Get There: Tibiao is located 73 kms. from San Jose de Buenavista, 12.6 kms. from Barbaza, 17 kms. from Culasi and 89 kms. from Brgy. Caticlan (Malay, Aklan).

Orientation at Zipline Inn (Tibiao, Antique)

From UA Hometel, we were again driven to Tibiao Fish Spa where we had breakfast.  After this, we again boarded our van to the poblacion where we paid a courtesy call on Mayor Gil B. Bandoja at the municipal hall.  Day 3 was to be the start of our Tibiao Eco-Adventure Tour and, right after our courtesy call, we proceeded to Zipline Inn  where we will have our orientation over cups of coffee.  Here, we were warmly welcomed by owners Leslie and Ofelia Gaal.

Check out “Hotel and Inn Feature: Zipline Inn

Zipline Inn

Zipline Inn

The now-retired Leslie, a Canadian citizen of Hungarian ancestry, was a former serviceman and marathon runner.   His wife Ofelia (nee Cumla), a native of Tibiao and a cousin of Flord and Leah, convinced Leslie to retire here and build an inn on their 1,800 sq. m. lot.

From the road, steps lead down to the inn

From the road, steps lead down to the inn

Both philanthropists, they also financed the hanging bridge over the Tibiao River that connects Sitio Malakagat with the rest of the town.  Before the hanging bridge was built, flooding along the river, during the rainy season, prevented the townspeople from selling their produce or children from going to school. The couple also own the 4.7-hectare property that includes Bugtong Bato Falls, Peter’s Lodge and Bugtong Bato Falls Inn.

Ofelia and Leslie Gaal

Ofelia and Leslie Gaal

Zipline Inn is named as such because of the adjacent zipline facility of Tibiao Eco-Adventure Park. The inn is also the gateway to Tibiao’s many eco-adventure activities – hiking to the aforementioned Bugtong Bato Falls; kayaking at the Tibiao River; zipling and wall climbing at Tibiao Eco-Adventure Park; and popular kawa hot bath at Kayak Inn as well as in Bugtong Bato Falls Inn.

Zipline Inn: Brgy. Tuno, Tibiao, Antique.  Mobile numbers: (0920) 499-6903 and (0919) 579-5436.

How To Get There: Tibiao is located 73 kms. from San Jose de Buenavista, 12.6 kms. from Barbaza, 17 kms. from Culasi and 89 kms. from Brgy. Caticlan (Malay, Aklan).

New Year at the Dusit Thani Manila

After a one-year hiatus, we returned to our new tradition of spending New Years Eve at a hotel, away from the noise (and the smoke pollution associated with it) of firecrackers and fireworks.  More so now as I have my one year grandson Kyle with me.  This time we spent it at the Dusit Thani Manila, right in the heart of Makati’s financial district.

Dusit Thani Manila

Dusit Thani Manila

Surrounded by malls (SM Dept. Store is right across), restaurants, bars and boutiques, its location, aside from its affordability (it was the most reasonably priced of the 8 hotels I checked out), is the hotel’s most outstanding feature, it being along EDSA, one of Metro Manila’s major thoroughfares, which abounds with buses, taxicabs and what have you. The hotel is also located about 200 meters from the Ayala MRT station.

View of EDSA, Ayala MRT Station and Ayala Center from our room

View of EDSA, Ayala MRT Station and SM from our room

Formerly the Manila Garden Hotel and, later, the Japan Airlines (JAL)-owned Nikko Hotel Manila, it was acquired by the Dusit group (one of over 22 properties owned in Thailand and overseas) in 1995 and was renamed Dusit Hotel Nikko. On April 2008, it was renamed Dusit Thani Manila.  The hotel underwent an extensive US$20 million renovation which included  a state-of-the-art monochromatic beige-colored repainting of its facade. In 2011, it won 15 prestigious trophies (including “Hotel of the Year”) from the Singapore-based Hospitality Asia Platinum Awards (HAPA).

The impressive lobby with its gold leaf-covered columns

The impressive lobby with its gold leaf-covered columns

As I approached the hotel’s driveway, what first comes into sight is its Patrick Blanc-inspired vertical garden, with its 5-piece, 8-meter high green wall.  While bringing an aesthetic beauty to the surroundings of the hotel, it also has a significant impact on environment and atmosphere as it specifically lowers the temperature at the driveway, especially when the afternoon sun rays hit the entrance. Its water feature also helps cool the air that passes through the open spaces between walls. In recognition of these efforts, the hotel received a 2012 Silver certification by Earth Check, a globally renowned organization that grades environmental standards.

Room 1153

Room 1153

Our twin beds

Our twin beds

Upon entering the hotel’s spacious, impressive and tastefully decorated lobby (with its tall, decorated Christmas tree),  I noticed the lobby’s columns which were covered in real, elegant gold leaf, just like temples in Thailand.  While checking in (ultra fast to say the least), i was given a cold, herb-infused towel that refreshed me with its subtle fragrance.

My family

My family

We stayed in an luxurious de luxe room with 2 comfortable double beds (Rm. 1153).  Our room, like all the others (the hotel has 538 rooms) at Dusit Thani Manila, are equipped with state-of-the-art facilities such as LCD flat screen TVs with satellite channels, a work desk, minibar, mini fridge; in-room safe; coffee and tea making facility, air conditioning and free (and surprisingly fast) wi-fi. Our ensuite bath had a bathtub.  They even offered, free of charge, a Disney-inspired baby cot for Kyle. Some of the other rooms benefit from Executive Club lounge access which offers complimentary drinks and snacks.

The pyrotechnic spectacle seen from our window

The pyrotechnic spectacle seen from our window

Come 8 PM, we attended a New Year’s Eve anticipated mass at the Molave Room at the mezzanine floor. Though we didn’t avail of the the hotel’s New Year Countdown Package, we  were still regaled by the fireworks display from our hotel room window which faced EDSA.  As I enjoyed the pyrotechnic spectacle with my family, I thank God for bonding moments such as these and I also prayed that others would also experienced what I felt.

Breakfast at Basix Coffee Shop

Breakfast at Basix Coffee Shop

The next day, we had breakfast at Basix, the hotel’s ground floor, 24-hour coffee shop.  As the hotel was fully booked, tables and chairs were set up at the hotel lobby to accommodate the guests queuing up for a breakfast buffet of delectable international options.  It included cold cuts, ham, bacon, cheese, bread, pancakes, fruits, etc..

Benjarong Royal Thai Restaurant

Benjarong Royal Thai Restaurant

Dusit Thani also has 3 international restaurants.Western Tosca Restaurant, awarded “Most Exquisite Dining Experience” in 2011, offers Italian cuisine. UMU Japanese Sake Bar & Restaurant, awarded the  “Most Cosmopolitan Bar and Restaurant” in 2011 by HAPA, serves Japanese food and its private rooms offer views over the hotel’s highly-maintained and beautifully manicured  Japanese Garden and koi pond. The second level Benjarong Royal Thai Restaurant, awarded “Most Authentic Asian Cuisine Restaurant” in 2012 by HAPA, serves authentic Thai dishes.

The Japanese Garden and Koi Pond

The Japanese Garden and Koi Pond

The hotel also has  meeting and banquet facilities; an outdoor swimming pool; spa (Devarana – awarded “Signature Spa Experience” in 2011 by HAPA); business center; VIP room facilities; flower shop; 24-hour front desk; barber shop; beauty parlor;  24-hour medical clinic; souvenir/gift shop; and wellness center (DFit).

Posing in front of the lobby's huge Christmas tree prior to leaving

Posing in front of the lobby’s huge Christmas tree prior to leaving

They offer express check-in/check-out; luggage storage, 24-hour room service; airport shuttle; laundry; dry cleaning; ironing service, currency exchange; shoe shine, car rental; tours; safety deposit box, massage and fax/photocopying service.

Kyle in his Disney-inspired baby cot

Kyle in his Disney-inspired baby cot

Dusit Thani Manila: Ayala Center, Makati City.  Tel: (632) 238-8888. Fax: (632) 238-8800. E-mail: dtmn@dusit.com.  Website: www.dusit.com.

Alapo’s View Inn & Cafe (Sagada, Mountain Province)

After our lunch at Tchayapan Restaurant, we again boarded our jeepney and traveled the remaining 19 kms. from Bontoc to Sagada.  Upon arrival at Sagada’s town proper, I was surprised at the huge volume of out-of-town vehicles parked along the town’s narrow roads.  We all checked in at the 2-storey Alapo’s View Inn & Cafe.   We were to stay 2 nights here.  The inn is located about 300 m. from the municipal road, along the now concreted road leading to the next town of Besao.

Alapo’s View Inn & Cafe

Like most inns in Sagada, Alapo’s is also a no-frills place to stay.  Our simple, spartan room, where Jocie (our tour coordinator), Jandy and I stayed, had just 2 beds (with an extra mattress on the floor), a table, a monobloc hair and a small wall-hung mirror.  Evening lighting was provided by a dim, low-wattage energy-saving light bulb.  Truly, no place for the luxury-minded tourist.  However, unlike many inns in Banaue, it had a power outlet where we could charge our electronic gadgets.  

Our spartan room

Bathrooms were shared and we often had to wait in line to do our morning or evening rituals.  The showers had no water heaters but, luckily, Jocie brought along a portable water heater.  The inn had a coffee shop, where we had our Filipino breakfast (choice of corned beef, longganisa or tocino  with rice and fried egg plus coffee) and could watch cable TV, and a grocery where we could buy some of our basic necessities.

Breakfast at the coffee shop 

When we felt like snacking, we just went down to the front desk where lemon or apple pie (PhP30/slice) and 3-in-1 coffee (PhP15/cup) where offered.  These we partook of while seated along the balcony which has great views of the town and the surrounding pine-clad mountains.   These views, plus its central location, made it ideal as a base for exploring Sagada’s natural and man-made wonders.  

Our view of the town from the balcony

Alapo’s View Inn & Cafe: Ato, Patay, Sagada, Mountain Province.  Mobile number (Ms. Juliet B. Medina): (0921) 327-9055 and (0918) 332-3331.

New Year’s Countdown at Manila Hotel

Last New Year, my family and I tried tried something new and different, spending the start of the year outside the country, firecracker-free in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a first for all of us.  We just watched the fireworks at the Petronas Towers.  This year, we still had the same mindset, opting again to spend it outside our home (but not outside the country), this time a New Year’s countdown at the prestigious Manila Hotel for an incomparable evening of feast and festivities in a manner worthy of the country’s oldest bastion of hospitality.

Manila  Hotel – the Grande Dame of Manila

The Manila Hotel was opened for the first time to the public on July 4, 1912.  The original US$700,000 hotel, also the country’s first air-conditioned building, was designed in the California Missionary-style by American architect William E. Parsons in 1910.  At the time, this magnificent, white, green-tile-roofed edifice had 149 spacious, high-ceiling rooms. Its fifth floor penthouse, designed by Arch. Andres Luna de San Pedro (son of painter Juan Luna), was, from 1935 to 1941, the home of Gen. Douglas MacArthur (its first chairman of the board), his wife Jean and son Arthur.

The hotel’s beautiful lobby

The hotel played host to author Ernest Hemingway (who said “Its a good story if it’s like Manila Hotel”), actor Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Edward (Prince of Wales), playwright Claire Boothe Luceand, during the Japanese Occupation,  Prime Minister Hideki Tojo and Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita.  During the liberation of Manila, it was severely damaged by room-to-room fighting.  Reopened on July 4, 1946, it hosted author James A. Michener; actors Bob Hope, Marlon Brando, Charlton Heston, John Wayne, Tyrone Power and Burgess Meredith; U.S. Secretary John Foster Dulles; Sen. Robert F. Kennedy; British Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden, the Rockefeller brothers, Publisher Henry R. Luce, rock star Michael Jackson; U.S. Vice-Pres. Richard M. Nixon, U.S. Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Lyndon B. Johnson, the Beatles and other notable personalities.

The lobby dressed up for the New Year countdown

In 1977, the hotel underwent a US$30,000,000 renovation with an 18-storey tower designed by the late National Artist Architect Leandro V. Locsin built behind the old building.  The lavish interiors were done by American Patricia and Dale Keller and the renovated hotel reopened on October 6, 1977.

The Sunset Suite

We made our own grand entrance at the hotel’s main lobby on the afternoon of the 31st of December.  The 125 ft. (38 m.) long by 25 ft. (7.6 m) wide main lobby, lined with white Doric columns, was designed, not only for making grand entrances, but for sitting as well, its furniture carved with Philippine mahogany.  The lobby floors were made with Philippine marble while the ceiling is lined with chandeliers made of brass, crystal and seashells. Traditional Filipino art also adorns its walls.

Cafe Ilang-Ilang’s Dessert Station

The hotel that day was 90% booked for the countdown, with a long queue at the check-in counter, and it took some time before we finally checked into our fourth floor Sunset Suite, one of 570  traditionally decorated and elegantly furnished rooms that reflect the hotel’s storied past blended with the conveniences of a modern luxury hotel. Our suite had 2 bedrooms, a dining area and a living area.  Amenities here include individually controlled central air conditioning, remote-control TV with cable channels, minibars, separate bath and toilet with extension phone, and secure in-room safes.

Grace, Cheska, the author and Jandy at Cafe Ilang-Ilang

Once settled in, we then went down for our crossover buffet dinner (6 PM to 9 PM) which extends through all the hotel’s celebrated food and beverage outlets: Cafe Ilang-Ilang, Champagne Room, Mabuhay Palace (an impeccable Chinese restaurant), Tap Room Bar and Lobby Lounge.  That night, it was not a choice of which restaurant to go to, but, rather, which restaurant to visit first.  We chose the famous Cafe Ilang-Ilang which was recently renovated and launched as a 3-period meal buffet restaurant. It opens to the newly renovated Pool and Garden areas and boasts of 9 live cooking stations.

The Tap Room Bar

Here, we faced a stunning and wide array of Filipino and international (Korean, Japanese, Indian, etc.) cuisine, tried-and-true dishes prepared by Filipino and foreign chefs, all backed by years of professional experience in acclaimed restaurants around the world.  To fully enjoy the cafe’s  stellar main courses, we ate small portions of everything.

The countdown begins …..

After our filling buffet dinner, we moved on to the Tap Room Bar for dessert and brewed coffee. We capped our evening with the New Year’s Countdown at the Lobby where, prior to bidding farewell to 2011 and counting the seconds to 2012, we enjoyed live entertainment, with music and dancing provided by the Filipinas Band.

The Filipinas Band
Manila Hotel: 1 Rizal Park, Ermita, Manila: Tel: 527-0011. Fax: 527-0022-24 & 527-1124.  Domestic Toll Free: 1-800-9-1888-0011.  Email: sales@manila-hotel.com.ph and reservations@manila-hotel.com.ph.  Website: www.manilahotel.com.ph.