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Did you know that there is such a thing as a Pony Express Museum? The Little Mail Carriers heard about it and wouldn’t stop badgering us to go… so when Duane (aka DuaneThePhilatelist) offered to take them for a visit, they jumped on an envelope and off they went. Here they are, to tell you all the story of that adventure.

Pony Express cancellation mark

Hello from a sunny St. Joseph, Missouri! We’re super excited to be taking a special tour of the Pony Express Museum today, and hopefully will learn a lot about this unique way mail was delivered back in 1860. The museum is actually inside a part of the Pike’s Peak Stables, from which westbound Pony Express riders set out on their journey — how cool!

The Pony Express was a short-lived mail service that delivered newspapers, letters, telegrams as well as government and commercial mail using riders on horses across the United States, between St. Joseph in Missouri and Sacramento in California. Here is a superb map of their route, which you can see in great detail on Wikipedia:

Pony Express Map William Henry Jackson

Why was there a need for this service though? Well, back in 1848, gold was found in California, and a lot of people rushed there in search of the opportunities it brought. California was a new state at the time, and its population was growing fast, so there was a lot of demand to connect the west coast with the rest of the country.

At the time, the Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company ran a stagecoach service between Kansas and Missouri, and they thought that starting an express service could perhaps earn them a more lucrative contract with the United States government. So the Pony Express was launched on April 3, 1860, when two riders left from the opposite ends of the route, and completed their journeys of 1800 miles (or 2896 kms) in 10 days — an amazing feat that many thought would not be possible!

First Pony Express ride

The Pony Express recruitment announcements were infamous for asking for young, skinny men, and stating that orphans were preferred. Although the payment was high for the time, the journey through the country was perilous, as there were often ambushes and raids. Some riders were killed and many horses stolen or driven off in the Pauite War with the Pauite Indian tribe, whose territory the route crossed. The Pony Express was forced to temporarily suspend its services due to the conflict, and some mail was lost.

Recruitment ad from Pony Express

Because this was an express service and the journey had to be super fast, riders could not carry a lot of mail with them. To make changing horses quick at relay stations, a special saddle cover (called a mochila) was crafted, which had four mail pouches (or cantinas) on each corner. Mail had to fit in these small pouches, so that the riders could be quick!

Cantinas and mochila

One of the most famous Pony Express riders was William Cody… aka Buffalo Bill! He began working for the Pony Express at age 15 and is said to have completed the longest ride, covering 322 miles (518 km) in 21 hours and 40 minutes, using 21 horses. His adventures were immortalised (and are said to have been greatly exaggerated) in a novel that launched him into the spotlight. Many more books and movies were made about his adventures, in which he often wore a “cowboy” hat.

Buffalo Bill's hat

Mail carried by the Pony Express riders had its own cancellation mark, and in the museum you get the opportunity to sort the mail yourself. Postal work is hard, and we were exhausted…

Sorting the mail of the Pony Express

The Pony Express never managed to secure that government contract their founders had hoped for, and became bankrupt after 18 months, closing on October 26, 1861 — just 2 days after the first transcontinental telegraph started its operations. Despite having run for only a short period of time, the service is immortalised in the tales of the American West, and the original route is even a national historical trail that crosses 8 states.

Pony Express centennial stamp

And that’s it for our wonderful visit to the Pony Express Museum — we are off to explore a bit more, and hope you all have the opportunity to visit someday!

Pony Express sign

And a big thank you to Duane, for hosting the Little Mail Carriers and showing them around the museum! 😀 Who knows where the little ones are off to next… keep an eye on the blog for their future adventures!

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Back in 2017, we were in London to visit friends and took the Little Mail Carriers along for the ride. At the time, the newly revamped Postal Museum had just re-opened, and so we were super excited to check it out! Now that the museum has a new temporary exhibition all about postcards, this seems like a good time to fish those photos from the archives and show you a bit of what you can see there as part of their permanent exhibition. Here are the little guys, to tell you all about it! 🙂

The Little Mail Carriers sit atop a red British postbox

Hi everyone! We’re back in London, the city of Big Ben and Buckingham Palace… though we don’t much care for those — we were promised a tour of the fantastic Postal Museum, and we’re super excited to discover the treasures and stories hiding inside.

From cryptic Victorian Valentine cards, to pirates or a mischievous lioness that attacked a mail coach, the whole visit was lots of fun… but let’s start at the beginning.

The Little Mail Carriers look at a museum display of old letters and an illustration of a letter carrier

Check out these really old letters in their permanent exhibition! Through them, you can learn more about how there came to be a need for the uniform penny postage. Before the postal reform that Sir Rowland Hill brought about, postage was paid by the recipient according to the number of sheets in it, and the distance it traveled… which wasn’t very practical!

To save space, some letters were written in a particular style called “crossed writing”, which makes them extra hard to read.

Paulo pulls a display featuring the history of the ship SS Garisoppa

You know how sometimes big ships sometimes have the prefix RMS on their name, like the RMS Titanic or RMS Queen Mary? RMS stands for “Royal Mail Ship”, as these vessels were used to transport not just passengers but also mail. This wasn’t always an easy task though, and there are stories of captains fighting pirates to defend the mail, or ships torpedoed in wars. This was the case of the SS Gairsoppa, sunk in 1941 and found only in 2011. Some 700 pieces of mail from this ship have been recovered, and they offer a unique insight into the lives of ordinary people, living in extraordinary circumstances during the Second World War.

A Little Mail Carrier peeks into the hole of a green letter box

This green pillar box is from 1853, from the Channel islands — the first place where postboxes were trialed before being brought over to the UK. This first trial was a success, so postboxes started appearing around the British mainland soon after. Although these boxes were first painted red, their color was later standardised as green… but it was quickly discovered that the green color blended too much with the background, so, after many complaints by people who couldn’t seem to find mailboxes anywhere, their color was changed back to red again, to make them more conspicuous!

The Little Mail Carriers look at a display featuring a complete sheet of Penny Blacks, the first postage stamp.

Having heard so much about them, we were super excited to check out the only full sheet of the most famous stamp in the world, the Penny Black, which the museum shows in their exhibition! Before looking at them like this, we hadn’t realized that all the stamps in a single sheet are different — for extra security, they all bear a combination of two letters, with one changing from stamp to stamp. There are 240 stamps in each sheet, to make a total of £1 per sheet.

Paulo dressed as a mail coach guard, with a top hat and a heavy red felt coat Ana dressed as a postwoman, with a round hat and heavy blue felt coat

One of our favourite parts of the exhibition is that it is interactive! You can dress up and be like James Moses Nobbs, who was the longest serving (55 years!) and the last of the Mail Coach Guards in the Royal Mail. Or, you can don the postwoman uniform and try to deliver some secret pneumatic messages on their tube system! We were obviously a little too small for the clothes, but the real Paulo and Ana had fun instead. 😀

A display of several posters about the post office A poster with two crossed pens reads Think ahead, write instead

There are also lots of posters and other printed materials to peruse in the permanent exhibition, and we couldn’t help but admire the graphic design on them. The posters came about when Stephen Tallents was appointed Public Relations Officer to the General Post Office in 1933. He had extensive experience in PR, and set out on a radical programme to change the way in which the General Post Office communicated with its customers. One of these changes was to start using posters made by talented designers for marketing, and also to display in schools and post offices. Reproductions of many of these are available as postcards in the gift shop!

A yellow and red postbus

There’s even a 1983 Post Bus on display! These cute vehicles could once be seen throughout rural Britain, and they were a convenient hybrid between a normal bus for ferrying passengers and a mail van to deliver mail to those areas.

A display of illustrated envelopes, part of the Tolhurst envelopes collection

One of our favourite parts of the exhibition was looking through the Tolhurst envelopes — a collection of correspondence from Frederick Charles Tolhurst to his children. Each letter was posted in a carefully decorated envelope with hand-drawn images – some happy, some sad, but all gorgeous. It’s mailart from the early 20th century, and an illustrated slice of the events that were taking place at the time.

A worker of the Postal Museum signals the start of a trip on the Mail Rail, the train journey through London's underground postal network, which is now open to the public

The Mail Rail has opened to visitors since the last time we were in London, and so, as part of the museum tour, now you can discover the tunnels below London that used to carry the mail swiftly across the city. It was the first electric railway with driverless trains in the world, and it worked from 1927 until 2003, carrying 4 million letters every day at its peak. If you’re a little bit claustrophobic like big Ana, you can take a peek at the Mail Rail experience on this virtual tour.

Wish you were here — 151 years of the British postcard exhibition poster

Right now, the Museum has a brand new exhibition titled Wish You Were Here: 151 Years of the British Postcard, which looks amazing and right up our alley! Here’s a sneak peak:

You can explore postcards throughout history, reflect on their future and even mail one of four unique postcards by artist Peter Liversidge, especially created for the Postal Museum. Bonus points if you spot Postcrossing in the exhibition and send us a photo of the display! 😍

PS – If you’re planning to check out the museum, let other postcrossers know on the forum (maybe you can go as a group and get a discount!).

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We have a super special treat for you today! The Little Mail Carriers have visited the Postal History Foundation in Arizona (USA), and are here to show the important work they do there, bringing stamps (and excitement!) to classrooms. Let’s go!

The Postal History Foundation (PHF for short) is located just west of the University of Arizona, in a residential neighborhood in central Tucson. It’s a non-profit organization with a dual mission of research and education: they provide stamps and lessons to students across the country and the world! We were excited to hear about this cool initiative… so we invited ourselves over for a visit. 😊

The Little Mail Carriers visit the Postal History Foundation

The building was a church many decades ago but now holds a workroom, a contract US Postal Service station, a museum area, the philatelic sales area, and the education department… as well as millions of postage stamps! We were going to deliver some mail to the postmaster, but were immediately distracted by the beautiful old post office in their museum section of the building, which is located just straight ahead across the lobby.

The Old Naco Post Office

This old post office is from the town of Naco, Arizona, which is on the southern border of Arizona and Mexico. It was originally ordered as a kit and set up in a building in Naco in the 1890s. All the wood, glass, and metal parts are the original ones! Normally, the Old Naco Post Office is very popular during tours and also with the students in their field trips, but sadly these are suspended because of the pandemic.

Inside the Old Naco Post Office Inside the Old Naco Post Office

We got to see their old hand cancelling machines, self-serve stamp dispensers and even an old letter sorting box (the wooden structure that looks like a grid) from the town of Casa Grande. Above in the mail sorting box are some scales for weighing mail. Below you can see a collection of hand stamps from around the state, such as “Special Delivery” or “Return to Sender.”

Special rubber stamps and cancellation marks

After looking at all of the cool machines in the Old Naco Post Office we decided to go to the current USPS contract station, which is in a little room off of the lobby. When going into the post office, we walked past more post office boxes from Naco that were preserved for viewing in the lobby. Here, you’ll also find a vintage pedestal USPS postal box — we put a donation in there to help with the kids educational program. We delivered our mail and looked at all the current US stamps for sale. The colorful stamps at our feet are the new Lunar New Year stamps. Did you know that 2021 is the year of the ox?

Post office and stamps at the PHF Stamp Discovery program

The kids program at the PHF is called Stamp Discovery. Every year it supports over 13,000 students and teachers across the United States and other countries with stamps, and lessons using stamps. Of course, this year has been a little different because of the pandemic, but it was still interesting to see the variety of lessons that teachers and parents can order for their students. In the education file room, they are stacked on top of the files, in shelves at the left and the right of us. These boxes contain lessons and stamp packets for students. If a teacher orders a lesson, for example, “Three Branches of US Government”, the teacher receives a worksheet that they can copy for their students, and stamp packets for each student to use with the lesson.

Lesson plans and stamp cabinets

Above you can see the filing cabinets that line the room and continue into another room. They contain US stamps filed by Scott number and also foreign stamps sorted by topics. If a child wants “dogs” to add to their stamp collection, they can write a letter or fill out the order form online, and the people who work and/or volunteer here will send her/him some dogs on stamps. The volunteers who work here are super heroes — they are what enables the education program to function and support so many children and teachers! During a normal year, students would visit the museum for field trips and the director of Stamp Discovery would visit classrooms in the city and suburbs of Tucson. Several of the libraries in Tucson have stamp treasure chests, which inspire kids that visit the library to learn about stamps and the topics on them by checking out books connected with stamp topics.

We walked into the big room off of the lobby and saw all the desks where the sorting and processing of donations happen. The PHF receives philatelic donations almost daily in the mail or by people who drop them off. Volunteers sort through and distribute stamps to the education department for the kids and some of the higher value stamps are put in the sales department for collectors to buy.

Owney the mail dog!

Proceeds from the sale of stamps in our philatelic sales department are used to pay for the running of the facility and the education program. Stamps, postcards, and collectible covers are sold there. People donate to PHF because it is a non-profit that inspires kids to learn with stamps and start a collection, thus growing the hobby of stamp collecting, called philately.

Also, we were allowed to go into a display case and visit Owney the famous Mail Dog in US history. There are special pictures, statues, and covers about Owney in the case. It is near the Old Naco Post office so that when the kids tour the old post office they can say hello to Owney, the stuffed dog, and learn about his history from the 1890s. Many books have been written about Owney and the education program has lessons about him. His books are also in the library, which is our next stop!

Sales department at the PHF

After talking to volunteers and looking at the processing room, we went out the side door to the patio. The PHF also includes a second building which is the Slusser Memorial Library. This is a modern building dedicated to Peggy Slusser, a lady who lived and worked in Tucson. This building contains a basement full of archives, a reading room, and the stacks of books. Behind the doors to the right are over 30,000 books and journals about philatelic history and the US Civil War. This library is used by researchers, collectors, authors, and of course, school children during field trips. On the walls of the library are paintings commissioned for the library about western adventures in postal history and an exhibit case. You can learn more about the library exhibits and paintings on the museum section of their website.

Slusser Memorial Library

Well, our visit has come to an end. We were amazed at all of the stamps, donations, and the children’s program. The Old Naco PO is a little unique gem of postal history and the library is first class. Exploring around the world is fun, and if you can’t physically travel, you can explore the world through stamp collecting. We’re glad the Postal History Foundation is around to help children everywhere do just that!

Goodbye, Postal History Foundation!

Our huge thank you to Lisa Dembowski, PHF’s Director of Education who graciously took the time to show the Little Mail Carriers around. That was a really cool trip, and we can’t wait to see where they’ll go next!

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Where were we? When we last heard from the Little Mail Carriers, they were exploring colorful Manila… but there’s still so much to see from the Philippines! So today they’re back with the second and final report of their adventures in this fascinating country. Enjoy!

Our host Jom (aka jugatmos) had told us about the Grand Marian Procession in Intramuros, and we were really looking forward to it! Hundreds of thousands of Marian devotees and more than a hundred images of the Blessed Virgin Mary from different parts of the Philippines are paraded around the old city of Manila, in honor of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The procession has been taking place since 1619, so for over 400 years — that first year, it lasted 15 days. The procession of beautifully and elaborately-adorned floats (called carrozas) bearing the images of the Blessed Virgin Mary starts at 4pm in front of Manila Cathedral and slowly makes its way through the streets of the Walled City.Have a look!

 The Little Mail Carriers check out the Grand Marian Procession
Note: these photos and videos were taken in December 2019 — the procession was cancelled in 2020.

On the left above, Nuestra Señora de Aranzazu accompanied by the parishioners from San Mateo, Rizal presented to the late Don Ado Escudero, patron of Intramuros and creative master of Villa Escudero with Cofradia de la Inmaculada Conception, Inc. Chairman and 2020 Gawad CCP (Cultural Center of the Philippines) awardee Danny Dolor.

On the right, the image displayed in front of the cathedral, a 19th century Philippine-made reproduction of the lost centuries-old La Purisma Concepcion of the old San Francisco Church in Intramuros that was destroyed during the Second World War.

Below you can see the Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de Turumba (Birhen ng Hapis), carried by the parishioners of Saint Peter of Alcantara Parish Church in front of the cathedral landing. The Laguna town of Pakil celebrates the September fiesta of their image, which is a small painting of the Sorrowful Virgin, with a frenzied dance procession that is believed to be another relic of pre-Christian times. The word “turumba” is from the Tagalog phrase “natumba sa laki ng tuwa” or ‘falling over in great joy’. You can see some of their dance here.

The Little Mail Carriers check out the Grand Marian Procession
Note: these photos and videos were taken in December 2019 — the procession was cancelled in 2020.

It is super impressive, and it goes on for hours! Our host Jom has been designing the event’s souvenir book for the past 10 years, and he usually comes in very early to Intramuros to deliver hundreds of copies to the committee. These are then distributed amongst the carroza owners.

Marian Procession and booklet
Nuestra Señora de la O, said to be a gift from King Carlos III of Spain, is presented among the Cofradia members and guests.

Recovered from all the excitement, we set off to explore Makati city, which felt super fancy! The 350-year-old city is busy with life — from shopping malls, restaurants and business hubs, it’s no wonder that the city holds the most coveted zip code. Indeed, Makati is known to be the classiest city of the Philippines most notably for the residents’ perpetually bustling, busy and ultra-modern lifestyle.

Views of Makati city

Makati got its name from an old tagalog word, “makati”, meaning receding tide. The city was bought for the hefty sum of 52,800 Philippine pesos in 1851 by an ancestor of Zobel de Ayala. Since then, the development of Makati has remained linked with the Ayala family, who has continued to develop the area over the years and as a result, continues to exert influence within the city. Colonised by the Spaniards and the Americans, Makati today is considered as somewhat of a Christian melting pot with so many of its denominations finding its home here.

Views of Makati city

Makati’s population fluctuates at various points of the day. By nighttime, the city has more than half a million residents, but the population can easily balloon up to five million during the daytime as people from neighbouring cities converge in Makati for either work or leisure!

But… how does one get around such a busy place? Turns out, pedicabs and jeepneys are never far away, and they’re super convenient to use!

Jeepneys and Pedicabs

The jeepney (on the left) is a favorite mode of public transportation in the Philippines, also known as “king of the road”. It was made from the surplus jeeps by the Americans left behind during the second World War. The lack of transportation at that time forced the Filipinos to get creative: they gutted and expanded the passenger seats into two rows. The real ones are usually adorned with decorations — we spotted some.

As iconic as the jeepney can be, on the other hand, the pedicab is a small road wonder, an ordinary bicycle that maneuvers a small carriage attached to it. It may look small and primitive but the job it accomplishes in the Pinoy’s everyday routine is enormous. It can ferry about four people to places where access to other public transportation is scarce. The pedicab is one of the most peculiar symbols of the Filipino culture, one that represents ingenuity and spiritedness. And, bonus points: they match the colors of our uniforms! 😍

Ayala Triangle Gardens

Using our jeepney and pedicab, we drove to Ayala Triangle, a park shaped like a triangle that sits right in the center of Makati city. Until the 1950s, this was the Nielsen field, Manila’s pre-World War II airport. After the airfield was closed, it remained a barren open space until it was developed more recently. Two old runways became new avenues framing a calming and beautiful contemporary oasis at the center of the Philippine business community.

This area is brimming with art sculptures, statues and important memorials. We briefly joined the revolution with General Pio del Pilar, who led a group of independentists when the Philippine Revolution broke out in the 1890s. Pio del Pilar was then a resident of an area called Culi-Culi, and as a result of his revolutionary efforts, the general has a barangay (a small district) in Makati named after him.

General Pio del Pilar and Narra tree

We took a rest on the trunk of a narra tree, Philippine’s national tree. The narra symbolises the Filipino people’s indomitable spirit and strength of character, thus the narra’s characteristics of sturdiness and durability.

Did you know that Makati is the selfie capital of the world? We tried taking a few, but it’s not our strong suit.😅 We’re at the Peninsula Manila, a hotel nicknamed “The Pen”. Built in 1976, its lobby quickly became the place “to see and be seen” of Manila’s who’s who, even military tanks have been seen coming through the front door, creating unforgettable memories and witnessed the variety of life in all its drama and excitement.

Little Mail Carriers selfies

Time magazine once categorised the Pen’s special dessert, Halo-Halo Harana (above, on the right), as the world’s “Best Legal High”, so of course we had to give it a try under the iconic ‘Sunburst’ sculpture by National Artist for Sculpture and Father of Modern Philippine Sculpture Napoleon Abueva. Halo-Halo Harana is a mouthwatering mix of macapuno, jackfruit, kaong, nata de coco, sweet beans, garbanzos, pinipig (pounded rice flakes) and ube topped with shaved ice topped with leche flan and ube royal ice cream; a type of Filipino ice cream, is typically made with creamy buffalo milk and purple yam. It’s an amazingly delicious yet complex dish, which seems to reflect in itself the nation’s complex history.

Meeting with Lulu Tesoro Castañeda

We jumped at the opportunity to meet and chat with Atty. Lulu Tesoro Castañeda, who told us about her mother, the late Doña Salud S. Tesoro. Doña Salud was the “Mother of Philippine Handicrafts”, a souvenir trade pioneer and a patron of local crafts. She was so influential that postage stamps were issued to celebrate her centenary, in 2015.

A visit to the Philippines would not be complete without a visit to the Tesoros shop, so we took our time browsing the lovely souvenirs!

Visiting the Tesoros shop

It’s almost time leave, and we’re a little sad at the prospect. To cheer us up, our host has been preparing a balikbayan box, so we can enjoy a little bit of the Philippines when we’re back home. 😊 Also called “repatriation box”, it’s a normal cardboard box containing all sorts of items sent by Filipinos overseas (also known as balikbayans) to their loved ones, returning back home. Oftentimes it is carried with their luggage or they send it to couriers that specialise in sending these boxes. The word itself “balikbayan” means ‘returning to one’s country’.

Packing the balikbayan box

Finally, we went to Makati Central Post Office, where Ms. Natz stamped our passport and declared us ready to leave the country. Sigh… Time for that last slice of buko pie (aka coconut pie) and off we go to new adventures!

Enjoying a last slice of buko pie

Thank you so much to Jom for this amazing report, and for taking good care of the little guys during the lockdown. Off they go… who knows where they’ll pop up next? 😊

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We’ve just received an unexpected report from the Little Mail Carriers, all the way from the Philippines! We don’t know exactly when they were there as mail has been slow to leave the country in the past year… but we’re definitely not complaining — there’s so much to see in this amazing country, and it’s a treat to get a glimpse of it through the eyes of our little intrepid wanderers. Join us for another fantastic report of their travels!

Our host Jom (aka jugatmos) told us that the late Carlos Celdran (a popular cultural activist and performance artist) used to say: “If you can’t find beauty and poetry in Manila, you’ll never find it anywhere.”

Manila is commonly used to refer to the whole metropolitan area (Metro Manila), which includes not just Manila City itself but also Makati, Quezon City and 14 other cities, merged together in a huge metropolitan area. Today we’re focusing on the City of Manila itself, the place with most of the historical and iconic landmarks in the Philippines.

Little P waves in front of the National Museum of Anthropology

In order to learn more about the history and culture of the country, we’ll make a stop at the National Museum of the Philippines, which is actually a group of different museums housing the nation’s treasures. First on our list is the National Museum of Anthropology, formerly known as the Museum of the Filipino People, located in the Rizal Park.

Laguna Copperplate inscription

Here we can see the Laguna Copperplate, a document that shows the use of mathematics, inscribed in the Shaka year 822 (corresponding to Monday, April 21, 900 AD) and the earliest known calendar-dated document used within the Philippines Islands. This document is demonstrative of pre-Hispanic literacy and culture, and is considered to be a national treasure.

Baybayin writing script

Baybayin can be seen on the windows of the museum! Have you heard of it before? This is one of the Philippines many ancient writing systems, used before the popularization of Latin characters in the archipelago.

Filipino traditional dresses Filipino traditional dresses

And look at that these traditional attires — they’re made of piña, which are the fibers from pineapple leaves. Early Filipino clothing used several different fibers, including piña, jusi and abaca. The Maria Clara gown on the right, sometimes referred to as Filipiniana dress or traje de mestiza, is a traditional dress worn by women in the Philippines. It is composed of four different parts: a blouse, a long skirt, a cloth to wear over the shoulders, and a knee-length over-skirt.

Fabric weaving demonstration

Live demonstrations of fabric weaving from the Maranao and Maguindanao people were taking place on the day of our visit, to a really interested crowd — look at how colorful those fabrics are!

After the National Museum of Anthropology, we took a detour to the National Museum of Fine Arts, to marvel at its architecture and take a peek at some famous paintings…

National Museum of Fine Arts — architectural details National Museum of Fine Arts — architectural details

…like the “Parisian Life” by Filipino painter and revolutionary activist Juan Luna, or “The Progress of Medicine in the Philippines” by visual artist Carlos “Botong” Francisco. This mural was specially commissioned for the entrance of Philippine General Hospital and was later declared a national cultural treasure.

The Parisian Life The Progress of Medicine in the Philippines

The last stop on our Museum tour is the Museum of Natural History, a building with striking architecture where we met Lolong, the world’s largest crocodile to ever be measured. After he died in captivity in 2013, he was brought to the museum, where his remains were taxidermied.

Natural History Museum in Manila Natural History Museum in Manila - skeleton of Lolong

No visit to Manila would be complete without a stroll in Intramuros, the walled city within the city of Manila (intra = inside, muros = walls) which today remains rich and intact in its cultural significant. It was considered to be the educational and religious center in colonial times, where original campuses of the University of Santo Tomas (the oldest university in Asia) were once located. As Filipino writer Nick Joaquin would say, “Intramuros! The Old Manila. The original Manila. The noble and ever loyal city…”

Casa Manila in Intramuros Historical Café Barbara's

Inside the walls of Intramuros we stumbled on Casa Manila, a museum depicting colonial lifestyle during the Spanish colonization, which is a copy of an 1850s San Nicolas House that was once located in Calle Jaboneros. We took a rest at the packed heritage café Barbara’s nearby, before gearing up to visit the magnificent Manila cathedral as well as the San Agustin Church, the oldest stone church in the country and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Manila Cathedral San Agustin Church

Below you can see the gates of Fort Santiago. Built in 1590, it remains as one of the most important historical sites in Manila, as many significant events took place in it throughout the years.

Fort Santiago gates

One of these was the imprisonment of national hero Jose Rizal. Rizal’s writings partly inspired the Philippine Revolution, although he was not involved in its planning. He was held in Fort Santiago before being executed by the Spanish colonial government in 1896 for the crime of rebellion, and did not get to see his home country gain independence just 2 years later.

Jose Rizal cell at Fort Santiago Jose Rizal memorial steps

Rizal spent his last 24 hours in a chapel converted into a prison, before marching to his execution in Bagumbayan (now Rizal Park). There’s a memorial trail that traces his steps to the park, which we followed as night fell. There we found Rizal Monument, the final resting place of this martyr.

Jose Rizal National Monument

Entitled "Motto Stella” (Guiding Star), the monument by Swiss sculptor Richard Kissling is composed of a standing bronze sculpture of Rizal in overcoat holding a book that represents his novels Noli Me Tángere and El Filibusterismo, with an obelisk commonly understood as Rizal’s masonic background with its three stars standing for Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao (the three main island groups), set on a granite stone base inside of which his remains are interred.

There are at least 118 Rizal monuments in the Philippines with an exact replica in Madrid, Spain. Other similar monuments can be found in Wilhelmsfeld (Germany), Jinjiang, Fujian (China), Cherry Hill Township (New Jersey), San Diego (California), and Seattle (Washington), Reforma Avenue in Mexico City (Mexico), La Molina in Lima (Peru), Litomerice (Czech Republic), and Singapore to name a few.

We were told the monument has a “photo bomber”, an ugly residential building that peeks out on the right side, spoiling a lot of the photos… So we’re glad we decided to take our selfie there at night! 😜

This report is getting long already, but there’s still so much more we have to show you, so much to discover in the Philippines… So stay tuned for further broadcasts!

PS – Our huge thank you to jugatmos for this fantastic report, and for taking the time to show the little guys around so many interesting places!

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