Day trip to Lucca

After spending most of our recent Tuscan trip in charming little towns, doing a day trip to Lucca was a refreshing change. It’s a city, but nothing as big and complex as Florence, making it manageable for families like ours, who are traveling with a baby. Renaissance-era walls enclose the Cittadella, the historic heart of Lucca, marking an easy target for day-trippers and reminding me strongly of Manila’s own Intramuros.

The real highlight for us was getting to take a walk along Lucca’s city walls. If you imagine treading carefully along a narrow, crumbling brick wall, take a look at this picture and think again.

Lucca city walls park

Lucca’s formidable walls have been transformed into a wide, tree-lined city park for walking, running, cycling, and just relaxing in the Tuscan sun.

Lucca rooftops from city park

Taking a long afternoon stroll with Tala here made me feel as if we had slipped into the real, day-to-day life of the city—even for just a little while. It’s also a unique vantage point from which to see Lucca—peering into gardens, walking by laundry lines, looking out over rooftops.

Lucca Torre Guinigi

Speaking of rooftop views, all the guide books will tell you to climb Torre Guinigi for the best city views. But we discovered something better…

Lucca rooftops from Sant’Alessandro Maggiore

… which is to climb the tower of the Chiesa e Battistero de San Giovanni e Santa Reparata. (Try saying that 10 times fast.) With 110 steps, it’s an easier climb than the Torre Guinigi’s 230 steps. Plus, you actually get to see the Torre Guinigi from here. Kinda like going to the Top of the Rock, not the Empire State Building, for the best views of New York.

Lucca Sant’Alessandro Maggiore archaeological site

San Giovanni also has ornate ceilings, a small chapel to St Ignatius (of interest if you’re Jesuit-educated, like myself) and a multilayered history. This 12th century church was built on top of a church from the earliest days of Christianity, which was then built on top of a Roman temple, which was then built on top of even older Roman houses. Still with me? The entire archaeological excavation is on display for your viewing pleasure.

Here are a few other highlights from our day in Lucca, the walled city.

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Jurmala: Summer by the Baltic Sea

Jurmala Latvia sunset at Majori

For my summer as a choir groupie, I had the choice of watching my friends from the Ateneo Chamber Singers compete in either Latvia or Spain. I always jump at the chance to scratch a new country off our scratch map, so we picked Latvia. My research led me to the resort town of Jurmala, which boasted an 11-kilometer stretch of white, sandy beach just 20 minutes from Riga. I thought: “Perfect!”

Okay, the Baltic coast isn’t quite the same as the Costa Blanca. And maybe I did feel a twinge of envy seeing my friends living it up on the blindingly sunny beaches of Spain. But I have no reason to regret our visit to Jurmala.

I found Jurmala quiet, lovely, and relaxed—a formula for the kind of vacation that doesn’t make you need another vacation just to recover from it. (When school holidays begin in August, maybe not so much.) Beautiful soft golden sand, plenty of space to share, liquid gold sunsets and cocktails on the beach? Meets my basic requirements for a beach. I’ll take it.

Jurmala Latvia grand old wooden house by the beach

The most unique thing about Jurmala are its 19th-century wooden houses. From grand old mansions to weather-beaten cottages, they add a touch of old charm to the seaside atmosphere.

Jurmala Latvia charming wooden house

To attract its wealthy Russian neighbors, Jurmala is seeing an upswing in luxury boutique hotels and low-rise residential condominiums. Many of the old houses have also been turned into tourist accommodation.

Jurmala Latvia wooden house window

But plenty of families still live here, especially outside the main town of Majori, and because of a strong local community, there’s much authenticity to be found.

Jurmala Latvia old wooden house

These cutout panels remind me of the callado details in old Filipino colonial homes. Love.

In this relaxed little town, we enjoyed a wonderful three days of family time in the sun. These are the moments you treasure.

Jurmala Latvia Gingersnaps

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sisterMAG Blogger Feature: Urban Island

Oh hey look, I’m in sisterMAG! What a great way to start the week.

Issue #14 of “the journal for the digital lady” is all about Islands this summer, and celebrates the Urban Island for those who spend their summer holidays in the city. I’m part of a sisterMag blogger feature that highlights what summer is like in the “urban islands” of Barcelona, Hamburg, Essen, Munich, Vienna and of course, Amsterdam.

Amsterdam canals Instagram

Spring with the famous Dutch tulips in full bloom is great for visiting Amsterdam. But for me, summer is the best time to actually be living in Amsterdam. Because Tala doesn’t go to school yet, Marlon and I like to travel off-peak, during the months of April to June and early September.

That leaves the summer for discovering my adopted city: fighting for tables on packed terraces (and discovering new ones), feeling more like myself by wearing sandals and skirts, biking in the sunshine, seeing the canals by boat. I actually feel cheated when we’re away during the summer and I find out that Amsterdam’s been having awesome weather. When the sun’s out in this city, I often feel thankful for my life here, and feel that there’s no place I’d rather be.

I’m happy to be celebrating my favorite season in Amsterdam by being part of this issue of sisterMAG. You can read Issue #14 right here—skip ahead to page 195 for the Urban Island section, or take your time and savor the whole magazine. It’s fab summer reading. Enjoy!

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Amsterdam with kids: Westerpark kinderbadje

You know what’s a godsend for people in Amsterdam with kids? The kinderbadje at Westerpark, that’s what!

Westerpark kinderbadje Amsterdam with kids

Thanks to last weekend’s spectacular sunshine, we’ve practically been living at the Westerpark kinderbadje, or paddling pool, these last few days. It’s a wonder we haven’t grown webbing between our toes. Now that many of my friends and I have kids, it’s harder to get together for a picnic on a sunny day. I blame the paddling pools—it’s almost impossible to tear friends away from their neighborhood kinderbadje.

Amsterdam with kids kinderbadje Westerpark

Naturally, I think the one in our neighborhood is the coolest. A few reasons why:

  • Water is changed daily, and contains no chemicals because it’s recycled to irrigate the greenery in the park. Clean and green!
  • A grassy, sunny slope right next to the pool is perfect for sunbathing and picnics.
  • Right around the corner from cakewood-fired pizzaquality coffee (they have flat whites!), even mussels and gin & tonics. Not that babies should have coffee or gin and tonics, but hey, we parents need to get through the day somehow.
  • Ice cream! How can you not end a summer day at the pool with ice cream? Just steps away, Ijscuypje also makes sorbet milkshakes with rum—strictly for Mama and Papa, of course.

It was Tala’s first time at the pool last Friday, and this certified water baby is hooked. She loves crawling on her hands and feet in the shallows…

Tala crawling in the pool Westerpark

then taking great shaky strides with one hand with a death grip on Mama, the other splashing in the water.

Amsterdam with kids Tala at the baby pool Westerpark

She’s most fascinated by older kids, squealing in delight (perhaps even envy) when she sees them swim, splash and run. I’m hoping it inspires her to get up on her own two feet and run after them… or am I?

Amsterdam with kids after paddling Westerpark

These pictures of Tala at the kinderbadje were enough to get Papa to pack up and leave the office at 3:30 p.m. on a Friday. Thankfully, this is the Netherlands, where doing so is considered totally normal on a warm day. Marlon wasn’t the only dad in his office clothes at the pool, I can tell you that.

Amsterdam with kids bike ride in Westerpark

Having Tala is making me rediscover my city in a whole new way—call it Amsterdam 2.0, or Amsterdam with kids. With her chubby little hand in mine and the sun on our faces, I can’t wait to experience more.

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The beautiful beaches of Naxos

After pregnancy and childbirth, I was exhausted, yearning for the sun, and wanted to treat myself to something special. So Marlon and I agreed that this year’s Big Trip would be to a place that had long been on both our travel wishlists: Greece.

Since we planned this trip when Tala was barely two months old, we made a lot of newbie parent mistakes (more on those later) and paid for them big time. We barely crawled to our hotel that first day, exhausted after nearly 12 long hours of travel (!!) with a baby.

The only thing that wasn’t a mistake? Choosing to go to Naxos.

Greece has so many stunning islands, that it can be overwhelming to choose one. As the travel planner of the household, I was stumped. We wanted an island that was baby-friendly, with beautiful beaches and great food. Elena of Olive Tomato came to our rescue by suggesting Naxos. Thank you Elena!

Naxos Agios Prokopios beach

The long golden stretch of Agios Prokopios was where Marlon, Tala and I spent most of our time in Naxos. Our hotel was closer to the quiet end of this beach, away from town with its restaurants and bars. Most of the people around us were Greek families, with teenagers taking selfies, babies playing in the sand, and mothers and grandmothers squealing over Tala. And that was just how I liked it.

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