Saturday, December 5, 2015

Bucket list: Bacolod

“Bucket list: Bacolod”
Sun.Star Davao, Dec. 5, 2015

Authentic Ilonggo specialties and unlimited sweets…aahhh…it has always been part of my bucket list to set foot in the sugary soils of Bacolod to indulge in these.

This food trip dream finally came true recently when my family and I had a few days off during the school break.

Upon landing at the New Bacolod Silay Airport, we were met by an energetic group of MassKara dancers who warmly welcomed convention delegates on the same flight. We were elated to take a pose with these colorful MassKara icons even if it was past the staging of the famed festival.

Since the airport was on the way to the heritage sites, our efficient driver, Mang Atoy, suggested that we proceed to our first stop, Balay Negrense, in Silay City.

Silay is the second city in the Philippines to be recognized as a “Museum City”, after Vigan in Ilocos Sur. It has more than thirty heritage houses acknowledged as historical landmarks.

The Balay Negrense is the first museum to be established in the province of Negros Occidental. It was originally the ancestral house of Victor F. Gaston, the son of a prominent French sugarcane plantation owner. Our friendly guide toured us around the different parts of the house which showcased the grand lifestyle of a late 19th-century elite family in Negros.

Next on our heritage tour was the Bernardino-Jalandoni Museum or more popularly known as the “Pink House”; pink being the unconventional color of the structure’s facade.

Here, the engaging tales of our amiable guide made the stories of these wealthy Negrenses alive for my inquisitive kids. The kitchen area with its prinsa de paa and prinsa de mano for pressing clothes; and ice chest which used to contain ice imported all the way from Europe as electricity then was wanting, captivated my daughters.

The amusing anecdote about how one would know if he or she was a welcome guest at the house elicited chuckles from my curious brood. The guide explained that the answer lay in the chocolate drink being offered. If you were served “tsokolate ah”, a watered and thin chocolate drink then you were an “unwanted” visitor for “tsokolate eh”, a thick and rich cocoa concoction, was reserved exclusively for special guests.

After our back-to-back heritage house tour, we dropped by El Ideal Bakery, a Silay institution which began in the 1920s, to have a quick snack of steaming batchoy and puto cheese.

On the way to Victorias Milling Company in Victorias City to see the Church of the Angry Christ, we were amazed by the endless fields of sugarcanes. Even under the intense heat of the sun, sacadas or sugarcane workers, continued to harvest sugarcanes much to the delight and awe of my grade school daughter who just studied the regions in the Visayas for her Social Studies class.  Personally, I was proud to be able to show to her a glimpse of real-life hardworking sacadas from her lesson.

Back in Silay, we were just in time for the Manuel Hofileña Ancestral Museum to open its doors to the public for the afternoon visitors as the master of the house, a direct descendant of the distinguished ilustrado, Mr. Ramon Hofileña, awakened from his siesta. The museum is the very first inhabited house in Silay to be declared a national historical landmark.

We learned that that Mr. Hofileña, who is in his 80s, still personally acts as the house tour guide.  However, during our visit, Mr. Hofileña was tired from his morning activities and turned the task to his staff who was equally fascinating narrating to us in detail the family’s heirloom pieces and remarkable art collection while divulging some interesting trivia on the side.

In Talisay City, we visited The Ruins, the city’s most picturesque landmark. It was once a majestic mansion owned by Don Mariano Lacson and built in honor of his first wife, Maria Braga. Unfortunately, the mansion was burned during World War 2 by guerilla fighters to prevent it from being used as a Japanese headquarters. However, thanks to its oversized steel bars and premium concrete material, the foundation remains standing to this day, becoming a romantic venue for weddings and other memorable occasions.

Still on our first day and pleasantly surprised at how much we covered by 4:30 p.m., we checked in at Avenue Suites along Lacson Street.  After a bit of rest, we headed to 18th St. Palapala for our sumptuous seafood dinner, followed by a sweet splurge at Calea Pastries and Coffee, a venue which we did a double take as will be explained.

The following day, we headed off to Iloilo via a one-hour Supercat ferry ride where we visited Museo Iloilo, Jaro Cathedral, Molo Cathedral, Iloilo River Esplanade, among others. Lunch at Tatoy’s Manokan and Seafoods with its divine baked oysters was one of our best meals during the Negros trip. Before sunset, we went back to the ferry terminal toting De Ocampo’s barquillos and pinasugbo as well as butterscotch bars from Biscocho Haus.

Returning to Bacolod in time for dinner, we had a splendid meal at Bob’s, a well-loved family resto celebrating its 50th year anniversary. My eldest daughter and I capped the night savoring Felicia’s heavenly macarons and moist chocolate cake.

Our third day consisted of visits to the Negros Museum and the Negros Showroom coupled with more eating at Aboy’s Restaurant and Chicken House as well as pasalubong shopping for our loved ones. Highly recommended by Bacolod-based friend Tina Lim-Flores to be brought home were mouthwatering treats such as Virgie’s piaya and caramel and mango tarts; Quan’s napoleones; and Pendy’s half moon.

As the day was about to end, I treated my girls to a relaxing massage at Bacolod Spa, conveniently located at our hotel. Afterwards, my high school daughter hanged out with her Bacolod friends at Calea. I, too, couldn’t resist but have a Calea part deux moment with my hubby. We did not dare say goodbye to Bacolod without another bite of their melt-in-your mouth white chocolate cheesecake with raspberry sauce!

This was my kind of vacation---easy-breezy and with plenty of time to spare for eating and exploring. Oh, Bacolod, my family and I shall be back and hopefully, it will be real soon!

City of Smiles….check!

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