Sunday, July 8, 2018

Kyoto Imperial Palace, Japan

We left our hotel in Osaka at 7:30 am and proceeded to Umeda Station. We found Rapid Express Train at second floor platform 2. Don't take the Semi-Exp on platform 3; it will take more time to reach Kawaramachi Station.

From here we boarded the Hankyu Line to Kawaramachi Station in Kyoto. The trip lasted for around 45 minutes. We disembarked at Karasuma Station and transfer to Karasuma Line. We get off at Imadegawa Station. The chilly weather was perfect since we have to walk for 10 minutes from the station up to the palace.

The entire trip was pretty easy and convenient since we used our ICOCA card for Hankyu line; fare was 800 Yen each.

Upon arriving at the palace, it seemed we were transported to the past. The palace is enclosed with long walls with several huge gates. And as expected, the gardens inside the palace are truly amazing and indescribable.

After security check we were asked to wear a lanyard while inside the compound. We immediately explored the place on our own though we noticed some guided and group tours.

Be aware though that you cannot enter any wooden structures or buildings. Nevertheless, the old and massive wooden structures were a sight to behold for any foreigners.

The ground is mostly covered with gravel so avoid any fancy footwear. Since there were less crowds during our visit, we had good opportunity for selfies while having a peaceful stroll.

We stayed for a couple of hours. .

Admission is free.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Hostal Alexis - Madrid, Spain

The hostel is 2 blocks away from Anton Martin Metro Station; it is beside Plaza Sta. Ana.

It occupies the 4th floor of an old building with a tiny old school elevator, the one you manually open and close the metal door. Be aware though that there is no huge outdoor sign or mark stating Hostal Alexis. Fortunately, we found a small Hostal Alexis marking at the entrance wall of the building.

Upon check-in you'll be given an electronic card as access to the small reception area and to your room while PIN number code for the main door at the ground floor. Like any other small hostels in Europe, there is no reception staff during night time; the staff usually reports at 8 am. Thus on our second day we heard an early guest knocking at the reception door.

The wife and I love this towel arrangement. In fact, we didn't touch it until our evening bath time.

Flat screen location is not ideal

Spacious T&B

Inside the spacious room is an electronic safe, flat screen - without English Channel, electric kettle for tea/coffee and basic toiletries. The wifi signal is strong inside the room. There is also a small fridge with complimentary 2 bottle of water upon arrival; sadly, they don't replenish the bottled water.

We met their two male housekeeping staff who are "kabayans" or fellow Filipinos. Had a small chat with them whenever we see them working.

The hostel has no dining facilities but since it is beside a plaza, there are plenty of cafes, restaurants and bars around. Don't leave the place without indulging on different types of authentic Spanish Paella; there is one Paella restaurant nearby.

A few blocks away is the center of Madrid City, Plaza del Sol. We walk to and fro this plaza daily. Nearby are small shops, Chinese Dimsum eatery and lots of pizza and sandwich counters.

On our last day, the reception staff assisted us in booking an airport transfer. Surprisingly, we got a lady Uber driver.


Monday, May 28, 2018

Mingling with deers at Nara Park, Japan

As a golden boy, I could never have imagine that I would be able to physically mingle with deer. I am not talking about some caged deer, the one you normally see in zoos.

I am talking about actual patting, feeding and teasing these adorable creatures. What made the experience memorable, the family enjoyed this momentous event with me.
That's me

The wife enjoys feeding the deer

Deer are spread out in the park

More than a thousand of freely roaming deer around the place waiting to be fed is the main attraction in Nara Park. I asked my daughter to buy some crackers and divided these among us so all of us can experience feeding the deer. You can buy these crackers for 150 Yen at some vendors in the area.

Himuro Jinja Shrine

We came here from Kyoto by Keihan Line. The park is around 20-minute walk from Nara Station. A temple and shrine is located within the vicinity but the main attractions are the sweet and gentle deer.

Give me crackers please...

It can smell the crackers

Be aware though that sometimes these guys can detect the crackers even if it inside your pocket. They'd follow and coerced you to give them your crackers. A few of them have learned the arts of hypnotism by looking directly at your eyes as if forcing you to bring out the crackers, lol.

I heard that when you bow in front of these animals they'd imitate you. Tried doing that but got some inquisitive looks from these animals. The only time I've seen them bow was when some crackers fell on the ground.

Fortunately, the weather on first week of January was ideal in visiting this place just don't expect to see any cherry blossom. Chilly but dry so it won't be arduous to explore the area while enjoying the company of these tamed animals.

I highly recommend visiting this place when you are in Kyoto especially if you have kids with you. Trust me, they will love the experience.


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Diecast Corner - Macchinine, a diecast model cars collectors' haven in Madrid, Spain

As diecast model cars and toy collector, wherever I go I always search for shops that sell diecast cars or toys that are not being sold in Philippines or considered as rare. Even during layover in airports, I spend my spare time searching for that special toy/car.

While having a noontime break in our hotel in Madrid, Spain during our recent holiday, the wife mentioned that there is a famous diecast cars shop nearby; it was a 20 minute walk actually. Surprisingly, the wife who prefers Metro and Trams while visiting touristy places in Europe suddenly finds strength to accompany me in searching that shop. By the way, I have the best wife in the galaxy, lol.

We hurriedly trekked to locate Macchinine.

From afar you can easily distinguish the shop due to a large tin toy car in front of it.

Upon entering the place I knew right there and then that I would be needing the support of my visa card since I am reserving our cash for our holiday expenses and Macchinine is not included in our itinerary.

When the shop owner noticed that I was scanning the place thoroughly and lifting some of the cars for close-up inspection, he knew that his customer is a collector. He asked me what model of cars I was looking for. I replied that I'm searching for "JDM" cars or in layman's terms, Japanese brand cars.

He brought out some of his model cars stored inside his special drawers. Long story short, I got some Ebbro "JDM" in 1/43 scale, those were my first Ebbro brand diecast cars. I laid my hands on a couple of rally cars as well but American brand. All of them were second hand but in mint and near-mint condition. Knowing how delicate loose diecast cars are, I was worried how my items would be packed. To my surprise, the owner had small boxes ready as packaging and protection too. After discount, my visa card was billed 235 Euro.

Vintage Matchboxes

When I posted Macchinine pictures on our diecast collectors Philippine FB group page, many were in awe on massive display of vintage and rare models while other drooled on vintage Matchbox cars; unfortunately it wasn't included on my collection line so I didn't buy any of them.

Bigger scale


Newer models

I regret not buying these vintages - anyway there is always next time (crossing my fingers)


One of my hauls. Taken at Montjuic Castle, Barcelona

Nissan Rally Car

Ford Focus Rally Car

The owner at the back

Undoubtedly, the place is haven for diecast model cars collectors. You'd find plenty of rare and hard to find diecast cars especially European brands and models making me remember some of my vintage diecast cars I bought at a flea market in Pisa, Italy.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Dad's Review - Beware of Isango or Local Barcelona Tours

In preparation for our European trip in third quarter of last year, I booked a Paris Disneyland ticket through "LocalParisTours" powered by Isango. I received the booking reference immediately with a link to our entry tickets or vouchers. Surprisingly, the link to our entry vouchers wasn't working. Hence, I kept on sending emails everyday asking them about our vouchers. Finally, I got fed up and mentioned to them about my travel blog; I sent them my blog link as well. After this, I received the vouchers together with other promotional discount coupons. The vouchers were sent after more than 72 hours the receipt was issued, Philippine time.

I was damn lucky that we were still in preparation stage of our trip otherwise our Paris Disneyland trip would have gone haywire.

Isango is incredibly fast in charging your credit card and sending receipt but turtle-slow in providing the vouchers. Because of that I kept away from Isango on our following trips outside the Philippines.

Fast forward.

A few weeks ago, the wife and I returned to Europe. While in Barcelona, on April 30, I booked online "skip-the-line" ticket for Sagrada Familia  for May 3 through a local tour company, as I thought, because the name "LocalBarcelonaTours" seemed native. Unbeknownst to me, this online tour agent is powered by Isango. I learned it upon receiving the receipt with booking reference the following day on my email. As expected, they promised to send the tickets/vouchers within 72 hours.

Long story short, we never received any tickets or vouchers from them even after several emails and inquiries. We couldn't call their hotline since we didn't have local sim. We tried to enter Sagrada Familia using the receipt they have provided but we were refused entry. We tried to buy our own ticket but there were no more available tickets for that day. Instead they asked us to buy a ticket for next day entry but it was our flight back to Madrid.

I demanded a full refund and apology but Isango replied that refund wasn't possible since they have sent our tickets/vouchers on May 1, the same day they've sent the receipt. Nevertheless, they apologized for replying late to my emails. Yup, they replied after our supposed entry to Sagrada Familia has elapsed - great customer service isn't it? I explained to them that I have received the receipt only on May 1 - no entry tickets or vouchers.

Eventually, their customer support agent, Jenny, forwarded to me the "supposed" May 1 email stating that the tickets/vouchers were attached. However, they've forwarded only the email without the actual tickets/vouchers that were supposed to be attached. That is strange, isn't it, considering you wanted to prove to your clients that the actual tickets/vouchers have been sent?

Interestingly enough, the forwarded email that was supposed to have our vouchers as attachment indicates that the sender isn't "LocalBarcelonaTours" where we booked our Sagrada Familia ticket but their "support" email; see screenshot below.

Come on, any computer literate person can easily detects the fraud. They have committed a terrible blunder. In addition, May 1 is holiday in Spain so it is unbelievable for them to state that they have sent to us the tickets/vouchers right after sending our booking receipt. They have no direct access to Sagrada Familia database or system; they are merely 3rd or fourth party in tour booking.

As reference, see the screen shot below of "LocalParisTOur" email to me last year regarding our Paris Disneyland vouchers. Did you notice the sender's email address? That is authentic.

Obviously, Isango wanted to cover its ass by making it appear that their clients are stupid enough not to notice the fraud. Are they out of their mind? It never dawned on their mind that their clients could be religiously monitoring their email on those days since they could be expecting other trip vouchers from other tour agents online. Thus, when they made it appear that vouchers have been sent they are actually rubbing salts to the wounds they have inflicted to us, if I may say so.

I googled Isango review and realised that this company has countless of complaints not only on "Tripadvisor" sites but in other travel sites and forums as well.

So guys, there you have it, my story supported with evidence and attested by numerous complaints against their made up story that won't stand a chance when scrutinized.

Isango or Local Barcelona Tour has conned me 36 Euro aside from ruining our vacation. Imagine traveling from as far as Philippines just to see Gaudi's greatest achievement but on the last minute being denied entry.

You can transact with Isango at your own risk. Remember the saying "an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure."

Finally, to be on the safe side, I suggest you avoid any Isango powered tour sites such as Local Barcelona Tour, Local Paris Tour or any other supposed to be "Local" tour sites. You have been forewarned.


Friday, April 6, 2018

Good news when renewing your driver's license at SM North EDSA

A few years back, my driver's license ID card was released after two years due to some legal wrangling of the ID cards supplier. Thus I had only a year to enjoy my driver's license ID card before it expires.

Read my old post about driver's license renewal: Dad's Review - Driver's License Renewal

Surprisingly, nowadays one can easily renew his driver's license and receive his ID card on the same day.

I opted to renew my driver's license again at LTO's satellite office in SM North EDSA. The new office is now located at The Annex Building basement level; the same level with ACE Hardware and just beside SM Bowling Center.

Below are the steps to follow in renewing your driver's license at SM North EDSA.

1. Upon entering the hallway, locate the Health Clinic at the right side for your medical clearance. Pay the medical cost, if my memory serves me right medical examination fee is 350 pesos, take a queue number and wait for your number to be called.

2. After the medical examination you may now proceed to the main hallway and search for the LTO counter. You'll find many government agencies satellite counters here such as SSS and Pag-Ibig.

3. Another queuing number will be given to you after you have submitted your medical examination result to LTO counter; wait for your number to be called.

4. Pay the renewal cost at SM cashier in the area. I paid more than 700 pesos inclusive of 75 pesos late renewal penalty.

5. When your number is called, approach the LTO counter for data encoding.

6. After your data has been encoded do not leave yet! You would be asked to go to the room at the back of LTO counter for ID card printing.

7. Prior to printing of your ID card your picture will be taken and your signature will be encoded. Your ID card will be printed in only a matter of minutes.

Congratulations! You have acquired your new driver's license ID card valid for five years!


Saturday, March 24, 2018

Rome is truly an Eternal City

Rome has been called the Eternal City because ancient Romans believed that no matter what happened to the world, no matter how many empires would rise and fall, Rome would go on forever.

This belief is reflected on the structures built by them.

Rome is a small city compared to other European cities such as Paris, if I may say so. Though smaller than Paris, Rome boasts of countless ancient structures that incrediblly withstood the test of time.

If in Paris the wife and I suffered art overload, in Rome we felt we were transported back in the past.

Fontana De Trevi
Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona


Spanish Steps

Piazza di Spagna

Palatine Hill

Arch of Constantine

The Colloseum

We stayed within Plaza di Spagna area and from here we strolled to several Piazas and touristic spots. However, the wife find it hard to walk for long distances so we opted to take taxi in going to the Colloseum but if you have sturdy legs, trust me, it is walkable from our area.



Notice the extra large pasta
Going back to our restaurant-less hotel, we usually bring Gelatos and pizzas as snacks.

Upon seeing those marvellous and massive structures built many centuries back I can say that I am now one of the believers that Rome is truly an eternal city.