Having been born in Manila and lived in Manila all my life, I thought I've seen all of its historical landmarks and have heard all of its stories. I was proven wrong when I joined the inaugural launch of Manila Hotel's latest offering, in partnership with the Department of Tourism and in support of DOT's new campaign 'It's More FUN in the Philippines.'
Dubbed Manila Revisited, this is Manila Hotel's way of inviting everyone to relive the past, reminisce historical moments in our time, re-trace the paths of heroes and re-discover the stories inside the walled city of Intramuros. A special room package, Manila Revisited will give everyone the royal treatment from the lavish rooms and amenities -- rejuvenate at the Manila Hotel Health Club and enjoy the pool and garden area or relax inside the room and stay connected with the 24-hour WiFi connection -- plus enjoy delicious food from the breakfast buffet.
Included in the package is a two and a half hours guided tour that will take guests to Intramuros and Rizal Park on horse-drawn carriages from the Castillan Carriage and Tour Services -- a visit to Fort Santiago, Rizal's Execution Site in Rizal Park (Luneta), Casa Manila, Palacio del Gobernador, Manila Cathedral, San Agustin Church, and the former headquarters of General Douglas MacArthur.
While waiting for the rides to arrive, I was already reminiscing my calesa experience back in Kindergarten. As I stepped out the Manila Hotel lobby, I was amazed at the variety of Victorian horse-drawn carriages, Spanish carjuaes, and Filipino calesas lined up the driveway. As the other guests picked out their rides, the "princess" in me chose the only one that looked like Cinderella's carriage -- an all-open pumpkin-shaped carriage made of white wrought iron, with no covering whatsoever, no doors and windows. At first, I regretted the choice because the sun was still high and the winds were strong but as I went on with the tour, I enjoyed the 360 degrees view of the sites as I can look up and see the trees and buildings, I can look sideways, front and back to see everything else. It helped that Manong Kutsero took care to bring an umbrella which was temporarily tied to the carriage to give shade from the sun.
First stop was Fort Santiago, the place where Jose Rizal and other heroes were held captive during the Spanish era. Fort Santiago was a part of my grade school field trips but that was so long ago that I no longer have a clear memory of the details of the place. With a fresh mind and perspective plus the excitement of a child, I savored the sights and learning that I got that day.
But also like a child, I got distracted and enamored by what I was seeing that I wandered off a bit from my tour group and when I saw them (or thought it was them), I realized soon after that I mistakenly joined another group that was headed by Carlos Celdran. OMG! Retracing the steps, I was able to go back to the entrance of Fort Santiago where I missed my carriage and was thankful to have caught the last ride just as it was about to leave.
Inside Fort Santiago is the Rizal Shrine which houses authentic memorabilia: photos of Rizal, his parents and of Leonor Rivera; his sculptures/works of art; first print of Noli Me Tangere; some of Rizal's old vests; and even a preserved bone of Rizal, among others.
Next stop was Casa Manila, a "colonial lifestyle" museum which I am visiting for the first time. The museum showcases what a house looked like in the olden days from the receiving area, the bedrooms, the dining room, the kitchen and even the comfort room. The place is full of authentic antique furnitures (or muebles) and the "house" is teeming with gorgeous interior details. Stepping out the museum, I was glad to have found my "Cinderella" carriage and rode it all the way to the last destination, passing by Manila Cathedral, San Agustin Church, and Palacios del Gobernador.
As the tour group's long line of carriages and tramvia crossed the streets of Manila to reach Luneta, I felt like part of the tourist attraction as locals and foreigners alike watched and took photos of us in our carriages. But once we reached Rizal Park, I was back to feeling like the tourist. It was almost twilight and wind was colder when we reached the Rizal monument and was brought to the actual site of Rizal's execution, which is located a little to the right when you are facing the back of the monument. I have vivid memories of my childhood visits to Rizal park -- the flower clock, the floating map, the Chinese and Japanese gardens, among others -- but I can't seem to remember seeing the execution site. I may have just forgotten this part of the park but I could have sworn that this is my first time to set foot on this part of Luneta.
Back at Manila Hotel, after sadly bidding our carriages goodbye, I went home with a smile on my face brought about by the fun experience that afternoon. Thank you for opportunities like this that truly makes one say that it is fun in Manila, fun in the Philippines.