Manila, is great! It is humid and hot, but I lucked out and didn’t have to deal with any rainstorms where I was. It’s a big city that isn’t the easiest to get around unless you know it like the locals. There aren’t any major bus routes that are easy to use, and the light rail service only has three lines. Jeepneys seem to go everywhere, but how to really use them I have no idea. Also, they let off the worst exhaust and are packed like sardine tins.
Anyway, my first day I spent wandering around the old city called Intramuros. This is the oldest part of the city where the Spanish settled. Unfortunately, most of the colonial era buildings were destroyed during WWII. Some parts of the wall, part of the old fort, and a single old church remain of the old Spanish architecture. They have done a lot of rebuilding since and have made it look similar to the original buildings, but it isn’t quite the same.
They highlight of what I saw in Intramuros were the churches. The Philippines are extremely Catholic. There are big churches everywhere. The Jeepneys have religious slogans and icons painted on them, and many people go to mass once or twice a day.
The most special of these is San Agustin, a UNESCO World Heritage site. With Chinese lions flanking the doors, It is the only surviving colonial-era building in Manila at almost 500 years old. During WWII, it housed the Japanese and some of their prisoners. Then the emancipating Americans used it for a bit before moving operations to the old fort. Over the centuries, the treasures of the church have been looted and destroyed by different invading forces including the British, Americans, Japanese, and Americans again (taking it back from the Japanese at the end of the war).
The church is attached to a monastery and convent. Today, many of the large rooms of these historic spaces display different aspects of the church’s and its adherents’ lives. This gave a fascinating look into the art and ceremonies of the church. The sanctuary has beautiful trompe l’oeil paintings on the ceiling adding a rich detail. Otherwise, it is very simple.
Nearby is the Manila Cathedral. The site has been home to many, many other iterations of this building. The most recent is post-war construction, but still carries character of the older colonial style. The inside is rather plain, but the stained glass is beautiful.
Barbara’s Heritage Restaurant
Before my short trip to Manila, I asked a Filipino friend if she recommended anything to do or eat. One thing she said I should try is Barbara’s, one of a handful of heritage restaurants in Intramuros. Being right across the street from San Agustin and having arrived at the church right at the beginning of the noon lunch break, I enjoyed the lunch buffet at Barbara’s. It was delicious!
The food is a bit fusion with influences from Spanish and Chinese cuisine. Of course, it had its own island flare to it. In addition to the yummy lunch in the charming atmosphere, a small band wandered and serenaded as they would in Spain or Mexico. They played songs in three languages I heard. It was a nice addition to already very good food.
I also visited Fort Santiago, which is pretty much ruins today. However, it holds a special place in the heart of the Filipinos because of their hero Rizal. He was a revolutionary at the end of the 19th century, just before America beat Spain and took over. He was imprisoned at the fort and led to his execution from there. So, today, it is a shrine to him and his story.
Outside the Walls
San Lorenzo Cathedral
However, my other favorite of the churches I saw was San Lorenzo in nearby Chinatown. The murals there are beautiful including a series of diamond-shaped paintings up the center depicting simply the life of Christ. There are other beautiful paintings around the rest of the sanctuary. The altar piece is also lovely.
The whole of Manila radiates out from Rizal Park. Similar to the Washington Mall or Tiananmen Square, this public space is surrounded by museums and government buildings. At the north end is a map of the Philippine Islands. There is a monumental statue to the people, lovely fountains and plantings, and other small gardens.
My highlight in Manila was the LDS temple in Quezon City. Monday night I had a taxi driver take me to the temple to see it at night. Then, from my hotel window, I could see it at the top of the hill. Tuesday, I spent the morning doing service there before heading to the airport. It was wonderful!