Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Old Town of Prague

Visiting Prague City never crossed my mind until my Romanian work colleague in Africa mentioned to me that it was included in his bucket list during our conversation regarding the places we have visited. It made me wonder why a European guy would dream of visiting another less-known European city. I can understand if he says Paris or Rome, but why Prague?

Then one time while we were at work I asked him about Prague. He started narrating about its old town which was never damaged during Second World War unlike other European cities. The town's medieval structures especially The "Old Town Hall," the "Astronomical Clock," and St. Charles Bridge have been preserved for several centuries. He triggered my explorer instinct so I started googling about the "old town of Prague."

Long story short, the wife and I spent several days in "Old Town" of Prague City during our recent second European trip.

Tough I have been in several famous cities in Europe I could say that Prague City has its own charm. Now I understand why my colleague was hell-bent in visiting this place. Sadly, he left our company; I think I have visited this place ahead of him. Hence, I am truly thankful that he had mentioned this magnificent place to me.

Trams of Prague City

You can easily explore Prague City by Trams; it is a small place with an overlooking hill where you'd find Prague Castle. You can visit many of its tourist spots either by Trams or foot. Fortunately, my wife was able to book our room at the outskirts of the "Old Town Square" so it was pretty easy for us to explore the area. Our hotel is 5 minute walk to the square where you'll also find the "Old Town Hall" and the "Astronomical Clock."

Vintage cars

The place is like a scene in medieval movies

The "Astronomical Clock" behind is under renovation

Free Hugs

There are plenty of Al-Fresco restaurant at the main square while some of them have dining area in the cellar. Several horse drawn classy carriages are parked along its main road waiting for passengers. In case you want to explore the place in style you can hire vintage cars with driver. From this point, the "Old Jewish Town" is just a few blocks away while the famous St. Charles Bridge is also walkable.

Trdelnik being roasted - the bread is rotating like our "Lechon Manok"

After finishing the ice cream you can start eating the bread

The wife visited a famous Belgian chocolate shop and bought several boxes for our kids. Don't bother buying souvenir items here, you'd find the same items at lower price outside the square proper. We enjoyed their local bread called Trdelnik. It is a circular roasted hollowed bread; you can put ice cream inside. It was good.

Early Morning

Afternoon crowds

The perfect time to enjoy this place is early morning. You can have great selfies due to less crowds. Unfortunately, the "Astronomical Clock" was under renovation during our visit. At mid-day until late afternoon, this place is teeming with tourists; it transforms into a huge market place. Probably we were there during peak season.

Given a chane, the wife and I would love to return back to this place.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Le Charme Suites - Subic

We left our house in San Mateo, Rizal at 6 AM and had our breakfast at Petron Station along NLEX. We did some shopping first at Royal Subic Duty Free which is beside Le Charme Suite. At 11 AM we inquired whether we could have an early check-in; we were lucky that our rooms were ready.
Royal Duty Free - view from our room

Upon check-in you'd be given a bunch of coupons aside from your key card. Coupons include breakfast and wifi password and discount coupons for Tai Ichi Spa, Virtual Reality Games and Tepan 101.

The place is perfect for staycation. Plenty of fast foods and specialty restaurants around such as Mr. Taste Halal and Tepan 101. At Mr. Taste, I enjoyed my favorite Chicken Masala with Chapati while the family ordered Chicken Biryani and Chicken Pakora. At Tepan 101 we devoured the juicy medium rare tenderloin steak. If you are a fitness buff like my eldest son then you can have a short work out at their fitness center at ground floor. I was initially planning to rent a bike from the hotel but due to drizzle I forego my plan otherwise it would be a thrilling experience to explore Subic by bike.

Aside from being near with Royal Duty Free you can also stroll up to Puregold Duty Free, Nike and Adidas Outlet Shops. Also, at the ground floor of the hotel is an American Premium Outlet Shop selling US brands clothes; shopping won't be a problem here.

Roof Deck Swimming Pool

Spacious room with large cabinet

One of coziest tubs I have used

Great views

We stayed here for one night and booked two rooms, one double and one triple. Albeit the rain that prevented us from night swimming at their roof deck swimming pool I could say that we truly enjoyed our stay. The family availed the 50% discount for whole body massage and foot reflexology at Tai Ichi Spa; I even had my foot nails cut and cleaned before the foot reflexology. For me, the foot reflexology here is more enjoyable than the foot massage I had at Khao san Road, Bangkok City.

Breakfast is mostly local dishes such as "Daing na Bangus," "Longanisa," fried rice and breads. Nothing special, actually. I noticed that there were limited seats available at their restaurant.

Hotel Entrance - outside is my son loading our things during check out


Play area for kids

Le Charme offers one of the biggest and highest ceilings among all the hotel rooms we have stayed in and out of the country. Moreover, the amenities are comparable to some 5 star hotels. We have bathrobes, disposable slippers, complete toiletries, electronic vault, full size tub, plenty of massive mirrors, study table, free minibar non-alcoholic drinks, portable hair blower and fast wifi.

The hotel doesn't have an exclusive parking so you end up leaving your car at the open area in front of the hotel. No worries since a 24 hours security staff is available at the entrance. Night time, before retiring to our room, I inquired with the security staff about my car, he asked me to move my car directly in front of the hotel's entrance.

After checking out we drove to nearby Harbor Point Mall, explored the place and took our lunch at Kuya J restaurant before travelling back to Manila

About the staff, they are simply awesome.


Tuesday, November 27, 2018

St. Vitus Cathedral and Prague Castle

First things first - St. Vitus Cathedral is located inside Prague Castle and this is the most visited tourist attractions in Prague.

Prague Castle looks modern in contrast with the Gothic style cathedral; for some visitors, the cathedral could be the main attraction in this place. My wife and I initially had the same impression. Don’t get me wrong, St. Vitus Cathedral is a magnificent place of worship. In fact, we stayed inside for some time to appreciate and adore those religious ornaments, artefacts and stained glass windows. But coming from Philippines where we have many gothic style churches my expectation is not that high.

We availed the complete tour package - without tour guide - from the business office. After payment, we received a map that shows the different locations that are open for visitors. Actually, we were early so we waited for almost an hour before the business office opens; thus we had ample time to explore the open areas without the perennial crowds.

The castle complex opens at 6 AM but the historical buildings open a couple of hours later.

Though the castle seems modern from outside it was completely different when you explore the entire place.

Part of the castle

The cathedral at the back

The Cathedral

Inside the cathedral
It looks like this is entirely made of silver

Stained glass

Pre-nup shots in front of the cathedral

St. George's Basilica


Those small houses are like museum inside
Preserved rooms that serve as museum
At the Soutern part of the castle complex is a massive garden overlooking the city

Prague City

It was our first time to see so much medieval armours and weaponries in one place. It was like those worn by knights fighting dragons in movies. Aside from that we were able to see the different medieval torture equipment.

One of the perks of being an "early bird"

Torture equipment

"Wishing Toilet"

There is a peculiar place that used to be a medieval toilet. But due to coins thrown by visitors the toilet now looks like a wishing fountain, lol. Unfortunately, vandalism is also present here.

We visited this place by Tram. It was pretty easy to locate this place since the castle is on top of the hill overlooking the city. We were early birds so we took the opportunity to fully enjoy the place minus the crowds.

If you are in Prague, you must visit this place otherwise you lose half of your life, haha.


Monday, November 12, 2018

Dad's Review - SONY 1000XM3 Noise Cancelling Headphone

After more than two years my Bose QC25 left speaker eventually went "kaput" without any reasons at all. In reality, I have used this headphone for around two months only if I would count the actual hours it has been in use. I bought it for 20,000 pesos in the Philippines hence I was extremely disappointed as if I have thrown my hard earned money down the drain considering that this unit was refused for repair by Eleksis marketing, the distributor of Bose products in Philippines.

So I started scouting for a new and sturdier noise cancelling headphone in the net, Bose was definitely out of the picture though I must admit that I was quite happy with the sound reproduction and the noise cancelling function of my previous QC25.

Read my post about my Bose QC25: Avoid Bose Quiet Comfort 25

It was pretty easy to find several techreview sites that give a list of 2018 best noise cancelling headphone and unexpectedly I found SONY 1000XM3 at the top of the list. Several years back, all the lists were dominated by Bose QC25 and SONY was relegated further down but this year it is a completely different story. Almost if not all tech reviewers are in one in saying that SONY 1000XM3 is the best noise cancelling headphone while Bose latest product QC 35II is far behind; yes folks, far behind. Aside from that, SONY's price is comparable to other headphone brands latest products.

As for me, I bought this unit because of two main reasons:

1. Obviously because of good reviews.
2. Bang for the buck because for the same price with its nearest competitor Bose QC35II, I got extra features such as touch control functions, more battery juice, better active noise cancelling, better sound and mobile app.

So now we go to my actual experience but I won't delve on technical aspects since you'll easily find them in many tech review sites.

I used my new headgear on my way back to my work in Africa. I am very picky in selecting a noise cancelling headphone in order to have a comfortable trip to my work site in Africa otherwise I would be reporting for duty like shit.

From Manila, my first flight to Bangkok lasts almost 4 hours. My second flight to Addis Ababa is around 8 hours while travelling to N'djamena City will consume more than 3 hours and finally another hour of local flight. I have to add another two hours land travel by bus. Lay overs at different airports are not included.

During those times, I find it annoying using the touch control. When I wanted to manipulate the volume, by mistake I was pressing the next song and vice versa. You need time and practice to familiarize yourself with this feature but once you have perfected the "techie move" then you'll be thankful that such feature has been added to your gear. However, this feature works only in Bluetooth. By the way, when the flight stewardess asks you "chicken or beef?" You don't need to remove you gear, just cover your right ear cup with your hand allowing you to have a conversation since the music will tone down while the external mic will pick up the ambient sound.

On my trip to Addis Ababa, I noticed that my old Bose QC25 was a bit comfy than my SONY, I mean the ear pad of Bose is slightly softer and thicker or probably because I have been accustomed with my previous Bose since I've been using during my travel for the past two years. Also, SONY's speakers housing is a finger print magnet compared with Bose; it's like comparing a glossy finish against matte and to be honest I prefer matte, even with my car decals. However, this is understandable due to touch sensor imbeded in the housing.

When I tried my new SONY headgear at home, intially I wasn't too satisfied since when I connected it to my Walkman, the original equalizer setting "Heavy" which was perfect for my Bose became "bassy" so I need to modify it. But when I downloaded the mobile app and fine-tuned all parameters including the noise cancelling optimizer it became a blissful experience to listen to my favorite songs. I am not an audiophile but I know when my favorite songs from the 80s can fully satisfy my senses or not. And I am telling you guys, SONY's bass is definitely better and with a lot of oomph compared with my old QC25.

It is normal that when you have a new toy you play with it whenever possible so while on-duty in Africa, I used my new head gear before I go to sleep. I noticed that without playing any music my gear was producing a slight pressure or a a very minimal but distinguishable hissing sound. I didn't remember hearing this before while using it inside a plane. Using the mobile app I optimized the noise cancelling function. That was it! The slight pressure or hissing sound disappeared. Like magic, lol. More so, while listening to music and decided to play some video, my track automatically goes to pause mode and continue after I stopped watching the video.

There are several sound enhancement modes that can be utilized using the mobile app such as the surround mode, equalizer and so on. I am not a fan of Spotify since its downloadable music produces a so-so quality especially when transmitted wirelessly but now with my SONY's head gear plus the mobile app I started to download my favorite songs; my ever reliable SONY Walkman is now accumulating dust inside my locker. What more if you're listening to high resolution tracks? You would simply feel fantastic. Moreover, I am now a new believer of Bluetooth connectivity because of my new headphone. It is perfect with my Iphone 6S Plus.

In one instance when I was traveling in Africa by bus, I noticed that the "adaptive control" function was constantly shifting from "Bus" to "Walk" thus I could hear faint ambient sound. For safety reasons, when you are in "walk" mode, you can hear faint but audible ambient sound to be aware about your surrounding. I just simply turned off the "ambient control" function to avoid external sounds from disturbing me.

During my flight, I run the optimizer first before playing my playlist in order to adapt to cabin pressure. Trust me, this little guy can accurately measure the cabin pressure and adjust the speaker output. It was able to measure 0.8 Atm inside my long haul flight while for my domestic flight it was able to measure a 0.9 Atm. Doing this, the pressure build-up inside the headphone will compensate on the surrounding pressure to ensure a comfy listening atmosphere; there is a technical explanation about this aspect but I won't delve into that.

To shorten this, SONY 1000XM3 is definitely bang for the buck if you compare its price to other brands. You get loads of extra features while enjoying a superb sound reproduction and enhancement using the mobile app.

Updated on January 03, 2019

Updated on November 23.

Updated on December 05


Sunday, November 4, 2018

Visiting the medieval city of Toledo, Spain

Imagine visiting an entire hill top city that has been declared as World Heritage Site due to extensive historical landmarks and monuments dating back to the Roman Empire period giving you the eerie feeling that you have been transported back in medieval time. It would be an experience of a lifetime, isn’t it?
My wife and I were lucky to learn about this place during our preparation for our second European trip. I learned about this place from my Half Brazilian and Half Spanish colleague in my work site in Africa. He specifically mentioned two places that we need to visit when we are in Barcelona and Madrid; we have to see Montserrat Monastery while in Barcelona and when we are in Madrid we need to visit Toledo. I am really thankful to him.
Hence, while spending several days in Madrid, we made a DIY day trip to Toledo City. It is quite easy; just buy a train or bus ticket then off you go.


Toledo on top of the hill

View from the top


Inside Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca

We arrived here by train from Atocha Station; it took us half an hour to reach Toledo Railway Station which is by the way an attraction in itself due to its Moorish design and walls covered with ceramic tiles and plaster mouldings. We rode a waiting taxi cab at the station and after a few minutes disembarked at Plaza Zodocover avoiding the escalator on our way to the top. We just followed the throngs of tourists and road signs of different monuments and landmarks such as ”Catedral de Toledo” and “Alcazar.” In so doing, we were totally amazed while exploring the entire place as if we were in the middle of “Assassin’s Creed” movie, lol.
Puente de Alcantara
Puente de Alcantara

Surprisingly, we find the entire place walkable or maybe we haven’t visited all those numerous and magnificent landmarks. The wife and I returned back to train station by foot, we followed the rocky stairs down to the Roman bridge “Puente de Alcantara” and had coffee and snacks outside the railway station while waiting for the train.
Notice the crusader at the back, lol

We never bothered to enter all those museums or religious landmarks though they were open for tourists because by simply exploring the city itself we were overwhelmed by the medieval structures, buildings and religious monuments. The three great religions, Christianity, Islam and Jews co-exist here in Toledo in the olden times. In addition, unbeknownst to us, Toledo has been a traditional sword making center even during the time of the Roman Empire thus my eyes feasted on numerous shops selling knives and swords. 

At that time, there were less tourists so we fully enjoyed the place while having leisurely stroll along its narrow and winding streets.
So when you are in Madrid find time to visit this medieval city.
I tried feasting on Paella too in Toledo.