Sunday, November 11, 2007

Serendra, High Street & some Fiddling on the Roof

There was a time not a few years ago where I'd have a mental checklist of the restaurants in Greenbelt 2 & 3; even of Eastwood's row of specialty food nooks. I'm no party boy but I pretty much loved having intimate dinners with dear friends.

Well... i haven't been to Fort Bonifacio's High Street and Serendra. It's a bit out of the way, but, what the heck, might as well re-visit a place where I once had dinners when there was just a dozen restaurants there, and Market Market was still a figment of someone's imagination.

I was amazed of the sprawling rows of high-end restaurants, cafes, shops and hobby nooks, etc. We picked a restaurant whose waiters shouted
"Mahalo!" as we entered the door. Yeah, a Hawaiian restaurant called Polu Kai Grill which had a cozy ambiance. We were the only one there. It was too early for the dining crowd, although much later, the place started to fill.

What surprised me was the very affordable price of what was on the menu. Fried Calamari @ PhP180, a hearty serving of Fish and Chips @ PhP300, bottomless lemonade @ PhP 90 each. I picked Roasted Kalua Pork Rice, which turned out to be something like an adobo flakes served with rice, vegetable salad and slightly grilled slice of fresh pineapple - @ PhP290. I also had to order wedges. I miss the british Fish & Chips - cod fish dipped in batter, with vinegar. I was able to taste a slice of the fish - it wasn't bad, but it wasn't the London fish-&-chips anyway. Service charge was PhP104.50. They were attentive without being cloyingly annoying (read: unobtrussive).

With just my phone-cam, I doubt if i will do justice to a place like
Serendra (pics below). But it is an amazing place to visit. Haven't seen a local place with so much dog-walking around; not since my Cricklewood days in London's Gladstone Park anyway.

I am so glad to have gone there before I watched a musical later that night which, though it had a great set, was a huge letdown. I couldnt wait for the whole Act One to end. My lids fluttered and drooped at several scenes. Funny thing really, coz I had a restful nap that afternoon. I wasn't supposed to get drowsy. Moreover, i was familiar with many of the songs, including Tevye's
"Sunrise Sunset" - a favorite of my dear father. The same wistful song also became a piano piece back when I was a teeny weeny child, and mom was closely keeping watch as i hammered on with the piano piece, "Where is the little girl I carried..." Lalala!

In the midst of "
Sunrise Sunset", a jubilant Miguel Faustman had an assured earnest vocal performance; but as they started dancing, "Matchmaker!!!"... I got lost in the revelry of the 40-cast musical. It just didn't draw me. I was a detached audience who would probably be thankful to Faustman for singing "Sunrise Sunset" again. I miss my dad. Just for that number, my Php1,500 had found its worth. I am not sure though if this would suffice for others with no emotional baggage to any of its songs.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Grande Island Resort Getaway - Subic

A few months back, we visited a friend in Olongapo City and decided to revisit Grande Island which, some 10 years back, was just a patch of nipa huts with hardly any amenities to speak of. It was rustic, just basic facilities, although I remembered the wild blossom of fire trees and a sumptuous meal.

The highlight was the array of hills with fortifications just under its mounds. These were hiding cells and batteries used by the American and Filipino soldiers during the Japanese invasion. These days, the island has been transformed into a resort with a swimming pool, a fine-dining restaurant, a souvenir shop, several cottages, billiard hall, a coffee shop, and some diving facilities, among other things.

The first 3 sets of photos are from their website.

A day visit departs from the Subic port via a ferry (at 8 AM and 10AM respectively). Each person pays P750 (or thereabouts) which already includes sea transfer (air-conditioned boat), welcome drinks,
lunch buffet, 2 free rounds of banana-boat ride pulled by a speedboat. For in-house guests, a cluster of chalets are situated at the right wing of the island – complete with verandas and an internet access. There are diving gears available and some Buggy Carts (see pic immediately below) and ATV’s are up for rent BUT the rate is rather steep - $200/ person which is good for 3 hours. Other activities available: snorkelling, parasailing, gyro, sumo, flying-fish, banana boats, jetskis, canoes, mambo duos and horseback riding.

Grande’s distance from Manila and the ease of reservations make this venue a cinch! Conveniently accessible and affordable!

Having no one else there, the place feels a little eerie at times. ;->

My personal favorite – solitary hiking up the nature trails around the island and visiting the nearby Chiquita Island, which can is a comfortable walk aduring low tide. You have to be on the lookout though for falling insects and creepy crawlies, one of which dropped right in front of my trail. And there is a lagoon in the middle of the island!!! This is an exciting sanctuary of sun and sand, island adventure; one more thing, there isn’t a crazy crowd populating the area – the perfect place for introspection.

And how is the beach? It has crystal clear blue waters with the mildest of waves – and teems with sea creatures; infact, we caught (and released) a
seahorse! Moreover, there are plenty of deserted strips of beaches around the island.

At PhP 750, I have never had anything so cheap (dinner at several Greenbelt restaurants cost more), and it’s just a 2-hour car ride (or 3-hour bus) from Manila. Be sure though to be at the wharf at 7AM to purchase your ticket; or reserve your tickets via phone. For overnighters, the rate is on the pricey side – P8,000++ (single/double bed). For day visitors, it is cheap! For anyone who wants to get away from it all but with limited budget or time, Grande Island is highly recommended.

On a personal note, I was more grateful with the company of a dear friend Cel and the hospitality of her whole clan. I will always take delight remembering our midnight chat, talking about people, past and present experiences, catching up on stuff.

Chiquita Island

Email - Or call (632)6887300. I suggest the latter.

Blogger perpetual malcontent emailed for the rates and was told that the buggy carts cost P1,200 for locals. A friend who emailed from Antwerp said she found the shedless walk from the cottages to the pool cumbersome. She wrote that by the time you get back to your cottage from your swim, you're once again bathed in sweat. My take on this: Grande is still worth more than what it's charging us.
P.S. We would appreciate updates or feedback from your Grande Island visits, so that others might benefit from your insight. Thank you.