San Nicolas, Batangas

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San Nicolas is along Taal Lake and is the smallest town in the province of Batangas. It is so small for it was part of the town of Taal, and only became a separate town in 1955. Inevitably, its history is closely linked to Taal.

 

The largest basilica in Asia which now stands in Taal is actually Taal’s second basilica.

 

TAAL’S FIRST BASILICA

(from WIKIPEDIA) “In 1575, 3 years after the founding of Taal town in its old site near the shores of Taal Lake  work began on the construction of its first church by Father Diego Espinar (O.S.A.) with Saint Martin of Tours as patron saint. The church was rebuilt in 1642 using stronger materials but in 1754, it was destroyed along with the town of Taal in the largest recorded eruption of Taal Volcano This event led to transfer of the town and the church farther away from the volcano to its present site atop an elevated hill facing Balayan Bay. The ruins of the previous church can still be seen in San Nicolas.”

The first basilica is now nothing but ruins, but is the most interesting spot in San Nicolas that draws visitors to this little town. I did a copy paste of the church ruins history posted outside of the ruins.

Noticeably, the structure is principally made of corals, just like how most of the churches in southern Luzon and the Visayas were made.

 

One can not help but visualize how the church stood in its glory days even as there is now nothing except its shell.

 

Today, statues of saints have been erected outside of the walls of the ruins.

 

GATEWAY TO TAAL VOLCANO

While the town of Talisay is the default gateway, loading hundreds of visitors onto boats for a visit to the volcano island, the town of Nicolas lays claim to being the real gateway. They are the closest to the volcano, about 3-4 kilometers away, and a mere 30 minute boat ride.

The promenade that the town has built around the lake draws visitors for a view of the lake, the volcano, and Mt. Maculot on the background.

 

 

 

 

OTHER THINGS TO DO IN SAN NICOLAS

Other than taking a boat ride and trekking Taal, here are two interesting things to do in San Nicolas.

Have lunch at the local restaurant serving the very rare maliputo, a fish species caught only in Taal Lake. On one visit, I had one cooked two ways (a portion was grilled, the other portion made into sinigang). And the famous tawilis. Unfortunately, they do not have these everyday. Try your luck.

(photo taken by my friend Bobby Taron)

 

BIRD SANCTUARY 

(photo taken by my friend Bobby Taron)

I did not experience this myself. But the tourism poster at the maliputo place indicated that this is a special attraction in San Nicolas.

 

 

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Degustacion and Tertulia

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The heritage town of Taal, Batangas, celebrated Philippine Independence Day with a weekend Art, Food and Fashion Festival.

The old homes were decorated with Philippine flags and the atmosphere was festive.

Villa Tortuga

Villa Tortuga

 

An art exhibit was nearby, with artists from UST on a reunion.

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Meanwhile, preparations for a fashion show were were being done at Paradores, the town’s premier hotel. A degustacion at Casa Feliza appealed to me the most so I went, having booked well ahead as there were limited seats.

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Why was it a must-go?

The menu is a mouthwatering version of dishes served during the Malolos Convention, prepared by Chef Giney Villar.

Researched by, and presented by Chef Giney

Researched by, and presented by Chef Giney

 

The event host was Elizabeth Angsioco, resplendent in a gown re-created from old gowns.

Beth with media person Howie Severino

Beth with media person Howie Severino

The town’s historian Dindo regaled the visitors with stories from the past, how Taal was also nominated for inclusion in the UNESCO Heritage list, about the festivals in Taal, all in his interesting Batangueno accent.

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To highlist history and the link to the Malolos Convention, a delegation from that Bulacan town was present, headed by their vice mayor.

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The guests included actors playing guardia civil, General Luna, and then president General Emilio Aguinaldo.

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Casa Feliza was home to Feliza Diokno, then the secretary of President Emilio Aguinaldo. Today, it is open as a taverna at the ground floor, and B&B at the second floor. For the degustacion, the table setting was nothing less than impressive.

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I was lost in the bliss of this culinary experience that I forgot to take photos of the dishes. So I instead took a photo of the dessert corner.

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Towards the end, a friend of the hosts recited a poem in Spanish. His original composition in English that he translated to Filipino and Spanish.

An event to look forward to in 2017.

Taal Basilica

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The basilica is officially called the Basilica of St. Martin de Tours. It is the largest Catholic place of worship in Asia.

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The basilica as it presently stands is not the original Taal Basilica, no matter that it is very old. The first was actually built in the old town of Taal by the banks of the Taal Lake. A volcanic eruption ruined the basilica and the whole town had to be relocated to the present day Taal, and the basilica was built on this “new” location. The former Taal town is in a barangay called San Nicolas, now a town on its own, independent from Taal. A visit to San Nicols, therefore, is a necessary trip for travelers who want to understand better the history of Taal and its basilica.

the ruins of the original Taal Basilica in the nearby  town of San Nicolas

the ruins of the original Taal Basilica in the nearby town of San Nicolas

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San Nicolas is a lakeside town, and was the first Taal town

San Nicolas is  a lakeside town, and was the first location of Taal

local fishermen bring their catch of fresh tilapia, maliputo, and tawilis to the market, or to the restaurants in this small town

local fishermen bring their catch of fresh tilapia, maliputo, and tawilis to the market, or to the restaurants in this small town. On lazy days, the boats become the local boys’ playgrounds

The Taal Basilica is gigantic and so beautiful. A friend of mine from Masbate remarked that 10 of their town’s church could fit into the basilica.

Let me show the photos to better present how grand this church is.

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the huge ceiling has many chambers and makes one wonder how long it took to design and paint them

the huge ceiling has many chambers and makes one wonder how long it took to design and paint them

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the baptistry

the baptistry

I felt like I was a wedding photographer on one visit

I felt like I was a wedding photographer on one visit

also one of the largest church bells in the country

also one of the largest church bells in the country

one of my favorite shots of the basilica, a worm's eye view

one of my favorite shots of the basilica, a worm’s eye view

Our Lady of Caysasay

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The Shrine of Our Lady of Caysasay is always my first stop when I get to Taal. First of all, it is a feel good church. Small enough that I feel like I can have a heart to heart talk with the Lord.

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It is beautiful. The ornate design on the ceiling is rather unexpected for a church of this size. Structurally, the church is not imposing. Neither is it impressive. Yet, it is beautiful, The facade looks like it has been sprayed with a fresh coat of paint, but the sides tell the story of how old the church is.

I did not expect such ornate design in a church of this modest size

I did not expect such ornate design in a church of this modest size

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I like this church since most of the kids here who act as “guides” have become sort of friends. I say ‘sort of” because I hardly remember their names, but I remember some of the faces. Yes, I have visited many times that my face has become familiar to these kids.

I will never forget this boy who once sat in front of my pwe as I prayed. Maybe a Sto Nino?

I will never forget this boy who once sat in front of my pew as I prayed. Maybe a Sto Nino?

The kids offer to guide visitors to the wishing well towards the back of the church, a few steps up the Lorenzo Ruiz steps. Any visitor going there for the first time will be impressed with the kids who narrate the story of how the statue of the Lady of Caysasay was found on the well, complete with dates. They will also sell candles and your purchase of the candles for offering at the altar near the well is like the “guide fee”. Be prepared to be peppered with requests from the other kids for you to also buy candles from them. You can refuse, or offer to give them small amounts as “consuelo” for keeping you informed, and entertained. If you refuse, the kids do not press too hard enough to annoy. In fact most of them will say “next time”, hoping you remember their faces so you can buy candles from them next time. And you will be pleasantly surprised they will even say they will pray for you. These kids are nice.

the kids act as guides

the kids act as guides

The prayer and candles offerings at the altar, and the effect of the water are said to bring good results, and good luck. It has been said that some sickly pilgrims have been cured.

buy candles from the kids and offer a prayer and make your wish at the altar

buy candles from the kids and offer a prayer and make your wish at the altar

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and finally, go to the wishing well and sprinkle/pour yourself with the water believed to be miraculous

and finally, go to the wishing well and sprinkle/pour yourself with the water believed to be miraculous

Truly, the virgin at the church is said to be miraculous. But if one does not believe in miracles, the beauty of the place is enough reason to go, and say a prayer.

When one goes to Taal,  Batangas, it is easy to find the church. Everyone knows where is, and there is ample parking space in the church yard.

Marcela Agoncillo Historical Landmark

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The house of Marcela Agoncillo is probably the oldest of the Taal heritage gouse, built in the 17oos by her grandfather. It is in this house where Marcela sewed the first Philippine flag, but not to be mistaken with the flag of the first philippine Republic which she sewed while in exile in Hongkong with her husband Felipe, the first Filipino diplomat and patriot.

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As one enters the house, tidbits on history can be read. At the bottom of the stairs is a diorama that shows Marcela sewing the flag. The Agoncillo family has kept their furniture and other memorabilia in this house, including laminated certificates of commendation for the illustrious members of the family, mostly in the library at the entresuleo.

The entresuleo. During those days, the farmhands and commoners were limited to the entresuelo.

The entresuleo. During those days, the farmhands and commoners were limited to the entresuelo.

the living room

the living room

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The house is being maintained by the Department of Tourism – – no entrance fee is stipulated but donations are welcome.

Villa Tortuga Taal, Batangas

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Villa Tortuga is a very special destination in Taal. I must admit I skipped it on my very first trip. But when I learned of their studio and the period clothes available for hire, I have kept coming back. I have brought my family twice, and three sets of friends on many different occasions. Each time, we were there for a single purpose: photography while wearing those clothes that made us look like we lived in those days. Especially when we finish the photos in sepia, even as we took them in full color using dslr camera. That is going ahead of the story, so I will post some of those sepia photos last.

Stairs to the living and dining, bedrooms. Downstairs is the studio

Stairs to the living and dining, bedrooms. Downstairs is the studio

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The house is right at the corner when coming from Caysasay Shrine as visitors head to the Heritage Village. Parking is available on an empty lot at the back, on the right side if you are facing Villa Tortuga. Entrance fee is P50, but another P200 will allow you to live in the past wearing clothes you can pick from a wide selection.

The Studio downstairs

The Studio downstairs

we took photographs in color

we took photographs in color

But our most loved photos were those we finished in sepia, like this one. The colored photo above was also rendered in sepia, making the subjets happier with the output.

But our most loved photos were those we finished in sepia, like this one. The colored photo above was also rendered in sepia, making the subjets happier with the output.

after setting up the camera on a tripod, I also took a "selfie", making sure I wasn't smiling - - - to be in character with the setting and the shirt I was wearing.

after setting up the camera on a tripod, I also took a “selfie”, making sure I wasn’t smiling – – – to be in character with the setting and the shirt I was wearing.

Like the other heritage homes, the house is furnished with old furniture. Guests can pre-book and arrange lunch within the villa. Enjoy the past while living in the present.

Agoncillo Mansion, Taal, Batangas

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Not as grand as Casa Villavicencio, but nevertheless as interesting. Some will argue it is probably more interesting. That is because the mansion has a lot of antique items, including a huge mirror that the caretaker, Mang Domeng, said has been the object of desire of a wealthy female politician from the north, making offers to buy this antiquity.

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everything old, including the chandeliers

everything old, including the chandeliers

the coveted huge mirror is NOT for sale

the coveted huge mirror is NOT for sale

This is the house of Gregorio Agoncillo, the same house where Felipe Agoncillo was born. Felipe’s bust  is prominent on the garden in front of the house. Gregorio Agoncillo married a daughter of Gliceria Villavicencio, the recipient of the “wedding gift house” now known as Casa Villavicencio. Gregorio’s sister is the second wife of General Emilio Aguinaldo. Thus, more than the old furniture, a trip to the Agoncillo White House (and the casa Villavicencio) is actually a lesson in Philippine history.

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the bedroom - - I hope to stay here one time

the bedroom – – I hope to stay here one time

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The caretaker Mang Domeng has become a personal friend. After my first visit when my friends and I donated P70 each for the tour, he has given me free access and exempt from the donation/fee – – – thinking I was probably a tourist guide since I take friends to Taal a lot, and to the Agoncillo mansion in particular. But even after I told him I just love Taal and so I bring friends, he still exempts me from the visit fee. And asks me to park my car inside the property. Thus, I am developing affinity for this house. One day, I could take him up on his offer for me to actually stay overnight for a longer experience of traveling back in time.

I love to sit in this rocking chair and just watch people go by.

I love to sit in this rocking chair and just watch people go by. My wife probably felt she was a modern day Maria Clara

It is easy to find the White House. You can walk to this mansion from the Taal Basilica.