Puerto Rico: From Sun to Salsa

Some of best travel experiences happen when you throw itineraries out the window and go with the flow. On our girls trip to Puerto Rico a few weeks ago, we had the good fortune of having Juan as our host, so we said to hell with the rain forests and forts (we have them in the Philippines, too, and the same guys built them). We'd rather kick it island-style with the locals.

We spent a breezy afternoon at Cafe la Plage in Isla Verde, where the sand was powder-fine, the waters blue and dotted with daring kite surfers, and the mojitos flowing like a river. Tropical paradise at its best.

Afterward, showers bedamned, our hosts Juan and Eduardo took us straight to La Placita, an outdoor market that turns into a block party of sorts on the weekend. We tried a local favorite tipple at El Coco de Luis: scotch on the rocks with coconut water. Then we sat down for dinner at El Pescador, where we were served a dish that haunts my foodie dreams to this day: angulas—tiny silvery eels sauteed in oil and garlic. Sublime.

In between servings of mofongo and bacalao, we danced salsa—as did the locals who easily partnered up around the market and on the streets each time the live band started an irresistible song. Dancing salsa to my heart's content had to be one of my favorite things about this trip.

After La Placita, we had some more drinks in Piñones, a stretch of beach lined with rustic and very local bars. It truly felt like being in another world.

We ended the night with a foray into Old San Juan, where the streets were bustling and the atmosphere was electric. I may have taken a dip in a town fountain. Shhh.

We went from sun to salsa wearing our saltwater soaked clothes and sand-dusted flip-flops, and it was the best day of our trip in Puerto Rico. It's definitely left me with a craving for more.

Washington's Wine Trail

Hitting the wine trail is probably not the first thing people think of when planning a trip to Washington State but it's become one of my favorite things to do when I visit my family during the summer. Woodinville Wine Country is a quick drive from where most of my clan lives, so our wine-loving group of cousins made good use of a sun-drenched Saturday by getting a taste of what Washington's wineries had to offer.

After sneaking in a quick taste and ogling the "Age Your Own Whiskey Kit" at Woodinville Whiskey Co., we officially began Wino Saturday at Tefft Cellars. The service was warm and friendly though, in all honestly, not the most knowledgeable. While we weren't blown away by any of the wines, the wine tasting was a fun way to use $5.

With raging appetites, we stopped at Novelty Hill Januik next to sample both their fine wines and brick oven flatbread pizzas. There's a lot to love about this winery: the sleek modern architecture (see some pictures that do this winery justice here), the pizzas that perfectly balance a satisfying layer of fresh toppings with a crisp crust, and some truly gorgeous red wines. I really loved the Januik Reserve Red, a lush blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc produced in a very limited quantity of 74 cases. My only qualm was that the staff seemed overwhelmed by the crowd; we had to circle the bar at one point as our efforts to get a pour seemed futile. Still, I really enjoyed our tasting and would highly recommend it.

Our next stop was DeLILLE Cellars, a lovely outdoor spot with the most attentive and highly knowledgeable service we received that day. Unfortunately, the excellent service was a bit of waste at times on our group, which was pretty tipsy all around by then. At one point, our server came back and asked, "What did you think of that last one?" and I blurted out the first adjective that came to mind ("Complex!") without any recollection of what I'd just swallowed. For this, I'm truly sorry, and I resolve to pay them a proper visit again in the future.

Our final stop was Chateau Ste. Michelle for a picnic on their lovely grounds with the rest of the family. This was my second visit to Chateau Ste. Michelle so I skipped the wine tasting, but I am a loyal buyer of their very drinkable and affordable Reisling. I quite love this winery and wish I could someday catch one of the concerts they have on their grounds (Pink Martini performs on September 3 and Chris Botti on September 2, if you happen to be in the area).

Some wine connoisseurs could probably go without ever stepping foot in Woodinville but I wouldn't trade these wine excursions with my family for any other in the world. For me, a sun-drenched summer day spent doubled over in tipsy laughter with the cousins, feeding ducks with the young ones, and picnicking with my family in an intimate vineyard is nothing short of pure bliss.   

Images: Top: Chateau Ste. Michelle. Bottom, left: Wine tasting at Tefft Cellars. Bottom, right: Brick oven flatbread pizza topped with ricotta and zucchini at Novelty Hill Januik.

Once upon a time, I wanted to be Carrie Bradshaw ...

Many years ago in a city far, far away, there lived a girl who longed to trade in a cushy life in the tropics for the drama of Carrie Bradshaw's in New York. 
Back in Manila, it all seemed fabulously surreal: this life of Manolo Blahniks, cosmopolitans and scandal-filled brunches with the girls.
It's been five years since I uprooted myself from Manila and started a new life in New York and every now and then, I stop in amazement at how many moments I've had that make me think, "You really need to be careful what you wish for! You wanted to be Carrie? Well, that's what you got!" It has little to do with Manolos and cosmopolitans (neither of which I've purchased since coming to New York), and everything to do with the unique people this city has ushered through my life in the five years I've been here.

I used to think that the dating world Carrie and friends described so vividly had to be a wild exaggeration but I've found that it isn't. Starving artists and flush bankers, the French-cuffed and the tattoo-sleeved, creepy stalkers and dumbfounding Houdinis ... oh yes, the city's filled with them—and before I knew it, so were the chronicles of my single life.

But the upside of having the world's most frustrating men seemingly corralled into the city I call home is that it makes for infinitely intriguing conversations with your most trusted confidantes. What New York seems to, at times, lack in quality men, it more than makes up for with consistently fantastic friends. As in Carrie's life, the men may come and go but the jaw-dropping cocktail hours and facepalm-inducing salacious brunch talk remains.

And really, wasn't that what was so fascinating about Carrie's life? It wasn't so much the parade of New York men that was so captivating but the rehashing and overanalyzing of every confounding romp through the dating labyrinth over mimosas and eggs Benedict that drew me in. And of course, the fact that the stage for all of this is that city of mad tough love, New York.

Living a life that feels like an episode of Sex and the City? It's not for everyone but for better or worse, right now, it's my happily ever after.