Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Life-Changing Kobe Beef Adventure

I have been avoiding eating animals since my week-long detox adventure in Ananda Marga. It can be tough, but it is manageable. However, managing my choices becomes really difficult when I travel to different place. 

Kobe is not a place for vegetarian wannabes like me. 

Wagyu is a type of cattle breed which is predisposed to marbling. Marbling results to this nice fat around the lean meat of the cattle. There are a lot "trying hard" restaurants nowadays that pass off their Wagyu meat as the real deal. I've read menus that claim they bred wagyu in Laguna and in Cagayan de Oro. Technically, that may be right. But in terms of taste...? I shelled out money for trying some of these local Wagyu stuff but the real deal can be found in Kobe. 

We travelled to Kobe to try this authentic real genuine Wagyu stuff. We got the 1-Day Hankyu Tourist Pass which costs JPY 700. This allows the holder unlimited travel on Hankyu lines connecting Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe. If we planned it better, we could have gotten a 2-day pass which included a transfer to Osaka airport.

Hankyu 1-day pass + huge brochure of things to do

The journey from Kyoto to Kobe took 1 hour.



Where is the best place to eat Kobe beef in Kobe? I don't like researching about "best places to eat". Sarah was assigned to research about the Kobe beef options. There was a lot of options in the internet and even more when we arrived in Kobe. We went with Steak Land. It was easy to find. It was right in front of Hankyu Kobe-sannomiya station.

Right there. They have a cordon for the lines.

We arrived around 12nn. I think we got lucky because we were in line right before a big group came. Then another group fell in line, then another, and another. It can get really crowded during lunch time.

Lunch hour line


Friday, December 4, 2015

Japan: 4 Days and 4 Nights: Budget and Itinerary

I got a multiple-entry Japan visa two years ago. After two years, I haven't used it. I thought it would be useful when I planned to go to Taiwan but I flushed my promofare Taipei tickets because I got too fed up with China last year.

My amiga Sarah booked her Japan tickets, to make her teenage dream come true. I couldn't join her for her Tokyo adventure (I took a lot of vacations this year - ergo spent my leaves and moolah on those).  I got excited about Kyoto when she started planning her itinerary. I knew left out some sites in the Kansai area in 2012. When Cebu Pacific had their Piso-fare promo, I snatched roundtrip Manila to Kansai tickets for less than Php 3,000 - without baggage. Sweet.

There are some places which will be fun to revisit with a friend!

I was extremely happy how the costs fell below my planned budget. I already spent a huge amount of cash outflow this year because of my international trips. The budget was even below the amount I spent in Korea or Hong Kong

Budget and itinerary:

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Catholic School & Israel 1

February 2017: It is taking me forever to update my Holy Land series. I have no excuse. 
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Our second country in this Holy Land trip is Israel. After we crossed from Jordan, we had a new bus, and a new guide in this leg. His name is Zohar. He used to be part of a paramilitary group, and he has been to the Philippines to a couple of times. He had a handful of Filipino phrases that he used just when needed. He says "walang bibili" whenever we have a limited time in a stop. Mabenta tuloy sya samin.

We had a quick stop at the Mount of Temptation before Zohar herded us to a touristy center. We met the feta cheese and falafels again. Can't really complain though.  

In the bible, there's a story about Zacchaeus, the tax collector. He climbed up a sycamore tree to see Jesus (he was a short man). Now this was not the real sycamore tree (or I think this isn't even a sycamore tree) but just a "symbol" for that tree in the story. 


*click*



From this point, it was almost a one-hour drive going to Nazareth. The weather turned on us...for a time. We entertained by introducing ourselves to the group. There were 20+ of us and since we would be travelling for the rest of the trip, it would be good to know each of their names. (I was the youngest, hihi).



No rains when we arrived in Nazareth. Our first stop: a souvenir shop. We stayed here for AN HOUR. I bought nothing. I stopped my parents from buying a lot - one of my roles as a parent manager for this trip.



We had a manageable uphill walk to the Church of the Annunciation


At the gate

Find this painting from the Philippines
I've seen a handful of pretty churches: the Duomo of Sienna, Sagrada Familia, and the Duomo of Florence (just from the outside).  The Church of Annunciation falls in that same awesomeness level. I cannot explain the inspiration for the artwork nor the architecture. I lack the keywords for art appreciation. All I can say it that it was really very beautiful.

Hotel Review: Geneva Hotel, Jordan



One really really REALLY nice thing in taking this tour is that we got to stay in nice hotels. Staying in a 3-4 star hotel while travelling is nice. I have tita moments too you know. Comfort does make a difference. I can revisit all the places I’ve been to during my golden years, with the difference of staying in four-star hotels instead of four-bed dorms.

Geneva Hotel Jordan rates, October 2015
View from hotel room

We didn’t have a hand in choosing the hotels, the tour group selected them. That’s one thing left off our plate. We stayed in Geneva Hotel in Amman, Jordan. The hotel is located in a street where there are a lot of hotels too. I really didn’t know if there was a “city center” in Amman because we didn’t really have a lot of free time during the trip. Well, even if we did, I’ll probably just doze off in my bed if I were not doing my laundry in the hotel sink.

Double bed room, for parents


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Treasure Hunting in Petra



If there was one site I was most excited about for this trip, it was Petra.

Petra, also known as the Rose City, is the 2,000 year old Nabatean (Arabs in that region) capital accidentally rediscovered in 1812.

The travel agency suggested that we bring a face mask for Petra because the walk could be dusty. I brought them, but didn’t use them.

It was almost a three-hour drive from Amman to Petra. Our day began with a mass in a nearby church in Amman. We went back to the hotel for breakfast before getting into the bus for our drive to Petra. We also stopped for lunch before proceeding to Petra. It was early afternoon when we got there.




Another benefit of going with a tour group is that they take care of queing up to buy the tickets. The list wasn’t long, but it still saved us the hassle.

Museum.




The ticket price includes the horse ride going to the entrance of the Siq. The Siq is a half-mile long gorge going to the Treasury. You’ll can walk to the Siq, or rent a carriage going to the Treasury. I suggest just walk.





It was a fun walk. We took our time enjoying the place and taking photos.



The beauty of the place is found in the narrow gorgeous path took up a lot of my space in my memory card. For the handicapped or the elderly, the carriage may be an option (no idea how much though).

Make sure that you have your camera settings in place. I forgot to set-up mine in vivid colors so we had to redo some of the photos when I realized I had the setting wrong. No problem with me posing for the camera again.  

Those riding a carriage.

Do watch out for the horse poop. There's a lot of them.  

Jordan to Israel: Where Did Moses Go?

This trip is mainly my dad's idea. It is his dream to be in a Holy Land Tour. I am the daughter-turned-personal-assistant for this trip.

We joined a Catholic pilgrimage type of tour. Pilgrimage tours trace the steps in sacred sites. We did the Jordan-Israel and Dubai route. Dubai is not part of the Holy Land Tour. Another Holy Land loop is Jordan-Israel and Egypt.

I've had three years of Catholic schooling so I do have some knowledge about the Bible. Plus, I've read the children's bible when I was a kid. It pays to have some sort of idea of what happened in the bible before joining such trip.
Emirates stopover at DXB

We arrived in Queen Alia International Airport in Amman, Jordan at around 10AM. I was tired but I powered through. Sleeping in long flights in always a challenge for me. I guess that's also because I've always travelled in economy. Nyuhuhuhu. 

The group lined up near the immigration area where an officer collected all our passports. Generally, Filipinos need to secure a visa before travelling to Jordan. If you travel with an accredited travel/tour agency, there's no need to obtain a visa prior to travelling. [These were the rules during the time of our travel (October 2015) so check if this rule changed.] 

We went to the concourse to get our luggage. We waited for our passports to be handed back to us which took about 20-30 minutes. 

Suitcases with Mama. I wasn't backpacking this time so I packed freely (read: not lightly).

The tour started immediately as we got out of the airport and piled our stuff in the tour bus for the next 3 days. Wala nang ligo-ligo. We knew this. The trip preps tips from our travel agency indicated that the tour starts immediately when we land in Jordan. So I took time to brush my teeth when we stopped over in DXB.

Papa trying out the selfie shot

We had Jillian for our guide. She was really an amazing guide for the trip. She was Catholic and also studying to get ther PhD. That's quite a rare profile in Jordan. While on the bus, she taught us some useful Arabic phrases and facts & figures about Jordan. We headed to the mosaic city of Madaba.

Not the best weather. It was raining. But i had this frame all to myself

I confess, I don't recall the name of every church or every site that we visited. I can recall some of the stories and some of its history though. But I didn't know where I was at all times. All I knew is that if I was with the tour group, I was good. Anyway, I don't want to tell you every detail I learned because it would be better if you see so for yourself (naks, lusot daw oh).

A Greek Orthodox Church

Friday, November 13, 2015

Holy Land Tour with Dubai: Itinerary, Budget and Planning



I am the family researcher on travel related stuff.
My parent’s dream vacation is to do a Holy Land Tour. 
That means I am assigned to do the research on this.

During the first quarter of this year, I started researching about group tours that offer this. Now I am not fond of group tours. I am used to doing the planning all by myself. I like having control over my time. BUT, this is not my trip. This is for my parents. So, a pilgrimage tour it is.

Group Souvenir Photo

I restrain myself to taking crossing-timezone trips to once a year. After all, I am not fond of jet lag. AND, crossing time-zones means the airfare will be expensive.

I scouted for packages from travel agencies in Manila, and read Tripadvisor recommendations. My parents made the decision to go with Tourworld Corporation (tourworld@tourworldph.com).

Here’s their package:

Package Tour (26-30 pax)
$  2,879.00
Ticket Taxes
$    185.00
Departure Tax at Jordan
$       30.00
Dubai Tourism Fee
$         6.00
Border Taxes
$       55.00
Gratuities
$     170.00
Subtotal, USD
$ 3,325.00
Subtotal, PHP
  152,950.00
Travel Insurance
      1,500.00
Total Tour Package, PHP
 ₱154,450.00
Note: A non-refundable deposit of $400 is required upon reservation. Read the terms and conditions of the agency beforehand.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Shopping and Hoarding in LA

I had phase of being addicted to online shopping. Multiply was still around back then. Checking Ebay was part of my daily routine. I filled-up balikbayan boxes with goodies such as shoes, lotion, perfume and accessories. It didn't make me broke, but it did fill up my room with trash. I learned how to give away a lot of my stuff over time. I'm more careful buying stuff just because they are on sale or they fit me. I changed.

LA challenged my changed self. There are a lot of shops.

Well, not in Rodeo Drive. I don't know if I can buy anything within my credit card limit there.
Jaguars parked under the heat. They are really used.

There's a weekend market near USA Hostels Hollywood. I checked it out and thankfully walked away empty handed. Bad idea to start the trip buying stuff. I have luggage limits.


A couple of blocks away from the hostel is Trader Joe's. This is very dangerous to your budget and extremely dangerous to your luggage limit. Trader Joe's became popular because of the Cookie Butter that once became a craze in Manila. They sell "artisanal", "organic" and *insert-swanky-sounding-adjective-here* products here. But I confess, I went here thrice and went out with goodies every single time.


Interesting meat section. "Uncured"

I bought pasalubongs from here. I bought my share of Cookie Butter. The girl at the counter commented that people who buy loads of those are usually headed to some tropical island. She was right. Told her I was from the Philippines. "There you go!", she said.

Cats cookies, anyone?

More of LA: Swanky Stuff

Another 8-hour flight from LIM and I was back to the land with stable Wifi. 
I had three more days to utilize in Los Angeles before I go home.

A friend from high school generously offered the spare room in their home in Norwalk. It would be good to spend some time with her again, and save some money too. I took a shuttle from LAX to Norwalk for $40. 


Family dog bubba. A huge cuddly dog they got at the shelter. 


Once settled in my room (for the next three days), I took inventory of myself. I needed to cut my nails, my hair needs conditioning, my lips were cracking and my heels were cracked. Ugh. Cracked heels. Disgusting. 

When I arrived, I had the feeling of wanting to rest coupled with restlessness. I didn’t want to go to any theme parks. No major activities for the day, just going around, shopping and eating unhealthy stuff. Typical American day, don’t you think? Zyra generously offered to drive me around. Our first stop was Citadel. 



Since it was the 4th of July, we had parking problems. We got lucky we found a spot in a open parking: $5. 

The strip is filled with brands that you are probably aware of. I suggest you take a photo of the maps and then conquer the place one store at a time. There were a lot of sales when we were there because it was the 4th of July. I had fun in Kate Spade (I'll take about that in another blog post). 

Likin the date trees

The plan for the night: watch the Phantom of the Opera. We got tickets at the Pantages Theater for $55. I got lucky that the group was performing in LA at that time. It tooka  while to find parking. And when we did, it cost $10

Capital Records near Pantages theater

Well, I did feel sleepy in some of the parts because of my very tiring journey from Uyuni to Los Angeles. Also, Phantom of the Opera is not the play that has an energetic fun ring to it (unlike Avenue Q or Legally Blonde).


Next day was shopping day. We started out late. #titasofManila mode in LA. 

Friday, July 31, 2015

Bring Out The Potatoes (Food in Bolivia)

I didn't know what to expect from Bolivian cuisine. There wasn't a lot of familiar fastfood chains when I wandered around the streets of La Paz. It took me a while to find an ATM that accepts my card so that I could get more Bolivianos. I was hungry and I picked up the delicious scent of friend chicken. Sold!

Pollos Copacabana

With my hand gestures and limited Spanish, I ordered a meal set with a sad chicken leg, sad plantains, soda and some fries. It was a sad meal for BOB 27. That dang fried chicken scent!

Sad chicken meal.



We stopped at Mercato Lanza during the walking tour. has a lot of stalls that serve fruit salad, fruit juices, fruit shakes and fruit sandwiches. There were also stalls that serves meals but we didn't go there. I learned that Bolivia grew 600 different types of potatoes. For someone like me who loves fries...that...is...awesome.


Fruits fruits fruits

Hostel Review in Uyuni: Hostel Oro Blanco


I was looking for a place to stay on the day of my flight from La Paz to Uyuni, and the night when I return from the Salt Flats tour. I though it would be good to catch some rest when I arrive and before I leave Uyuni. Somewhere with heat: hot water, heater rooms and hot breakfast.

Hostel reviews in the Uyuni area are mixed - some sing praises while throw curses in their reviews. I went with Hostal Oro Blanco. Booked 2 nights in Booking.com ($29/BOB 200 per night).  This is quite expensive for a backpacker like me but I've been travelling for a while so comfort and warmth are a must as this point - I'm not 21 and backpacking for 8 months, ya know. ;P . The hostel is just a couple minutes away from the small Uyuni airport. Taxi fare from Uyuni airport to Uyuni town costs 10 BOB.

The frontdesk staff spoke limited English but we managed. There was one helpful guy who spoke above average English and he came to the rescue when I ran out of hand gestures.



I had the room facing the street during my first night. While I could hear jeeps during the day, there were no noise at night. Anyway, jeeps in Uyuni are not a lot, so there are no "city sounds".



The selling point to me was the existence of heating in the rooms. I suffered nights in Cuzco and La Paz and some warmth would be nice before I head off to a 3-day tour of the Salt Flats.

The bed was comfy

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Salt Flats Part 3: A Steam, A Pool and More Rocks

I had another restless night. I fell asleep because I tried to lull myself to sleep while reading. I tossed and turned around because I has wearing four layers of top and two comforter blankets. And I was in a winter sleeping bag. Brrrrrrr.

Our third and last morning started as cold, as expected. With chattering teeth, we brushed our teeth, had a quick breakfast then packed our stuff to the ever reliable Toyota Land Cruiser. Seriously, I have a whole new respect for Land Cruisers nowadays. That vehicle has a lot of traction that can withstand the terrain of Uyuni. 

After an hour of driving (wherein I spent my time sleeping), we arrived in the geyser area. We were warned to be careful because we might slip and end up in the geyser. You don't want to end up in the geyser because the nearest medical facility is miles and miles away. 

Geyser in Uyuni

Not a lot to do there. We were still sluggish and it was freezing cold even with all that geyser smoke. I took some photos but none were notable. So back in the warmth of the Land Cruiser. We arrived at my favorite destination that day: the hot springs. (Cost: BOB 3)

The from the hot springs

I skipped bathing for just a day but I felt I've accumulated enough dirt and grime for 3 days. Ewwwww. I tested the water's temperature with my hand - it was just so-so warm. But when I got in, it was nicely hot. My jeepmates and I happily soaked in the hot water. My Filipino blood was relieved that I got to bathe. *sigh*

There was a small (and damp) changing room for males and females. There was a girl who was collecting a fee for the usage (I think, from what I grasp of her Spanish). But we were not sure. Anyway, we already paid the BOB 3 to an older girl before. I'm glad we were ones of the first to arrive. The crowd grew as the morning passed. 

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to take shots of the pool because I was so excited to jump in. For the group photos, I didn't get my copies. That is the problem when photos are not taken in your camera. Boooooo.  

Brrrrrr....wet hair in the cold

After that very satisfying dip, we drove to this frozen lake with a mountain background. We were supposed to spend some time here but I think everyone was still high and hungover from the warmth of the hot spring, we didn't feel like hanging out here. A couple of photos and we were back on the road. 

Not interested in the frozen lake. Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns on frozen lakes, probably?

Salt Flats Part 2: Pink Flamingoes, Arbol de Piedra, Laguna Colorado (I Froze in Bolivia)

I woke up early.
I was able to sleep but I was not able to rest.
After a quick breakfast and toilet time, we hauled our now salty bags back to the vehicle. Here comes Day 2 (here's Day 1). 

We were miles and miles away from the Uyuni (Funny how I use miles and miles as an expression but I have a better idea of what a kilometer is vs. a mile. It is not nice to say kilometers and kilometers away).


Good morning Uyuni view.


We drove so early in the morning and stopped in these tracks.

Our driver told us to get down from the vehicle because he had to get over this train track and we were heavy (He said that in Spanish)

It was a beautiful sunny and cold morning in Uyuni.

Here's my lying-down-in-the-tracks pose. I should've ditched the bag.

We drove for almost an hour to our next time. The landscape in Uyuni reminded me of the Savannah in Indonesia, but it is emptier. And definitely colder. 



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