Thursday, February 8, 2018

Basilica du Sacre-Coeur de Monmartre, Paris City

If there is one place that you have to visit while in Paris, of course aside from Eiffel Tower and after having an art overload in Louvre, that place is Monmartre.

Fascinating is an understatement for this place because you'd find here not only Moulin Rouge, old windmills, “I Love You Wall” but also Basilica of Sacre-Coeur nestled on the summit of Monmartre hill; the highest point in Paris City.

Vintage Mtero Station

Coming here is no easy task because of the sloping roads and lack of road signs directing you to the basilica. Since the wife and I have trekked for a couple of kilometres from Monmartre Metro Station we opted to ride the funicular in going up and coming down from the basilica. You have to buy a ticket before you can use the funicular.


Actually, there is nothing especial about the basilica; it is the location that makes it a must visit in Paris City. You can enjoy magnificent views of Paris City from this place. In fact, a few days earlier, we were at the viewing deck of Arc de Triomphe and the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur was easily distinguishable from there.

After enjoying the summit we decided to have some rest and a cup of coffee at one of the cafes at the foot of the basilica. Later on we searched for the famous Moulin Rouge; the wife wasn’t interested to watch the show due to plenty of reviews on the net stating this place as tourist trap. Hence we decided to locate the old windmills and the famous “I Love You Wall."

The "I Love You Wall"

Now you know why it is called "I Love You Wall"

A lonely love lock at "I Love You Wall"

Iniibig Kita

While searching for this “I Love You Wall” and due to sloping roads the wife took some rest in one of the public benches near a small garden without knowing that this famous wall is in that garden. We were curious first why there were crowds gathering in that small garden; upon checking we found the our "wall."

We spent the whole morning in Monmartre. It was a pleasant experience for the wife and me to find the “I Love You Wall” since we were in Paris to celebrate our silver wedding anniversary."

Saw these guys at the basilica

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Why do you need pocket wifi in Japan?

Five reasons why I rented a pocket wifi in Japan.

1. You save on transportation cost.

I remember our trip to Paris last year, upon disembarking from Metro train we didn't know how to locate our hotel even with printed/saved maps on hand so we ended up taking a taxi and paying 10 Euro for a 3 minute, 2 block trip.

In our Osaka trip a few weeks back, our plane landed at around 8 PM. We reached the nearest subway station to our hotel at 10 PM. With the help of Google Maps it took us a couple of minutes to find our hotel. In addition, we have avoided several subways trips in Osaka City because we knew the exact location and how long it would take us to walk up to the place we were searching.

2. Most locals don't understand English.

In our previous trip to Tokyo several years back, it took us some time to locate Meiji Shrine because all the locals we had asked for direction didn't understand what we were saying tough they were obviously trying their best to assist us. The same thing in Paris.

3. You save time.

When the wife and daughter decided to shop at Shinsaibashi, my two sons and I opted to leave them and proceed to the nearest Mandarake Grand Chaos, a toy and hobby shop near that place. We found the Mandarake and everybody enjoyed shopping.

Also, while at Nippombashi, Osaka, the wife and daughter decided to wait in a coffee shop while the boys went toy hunting. We were able to communicate in real time; the ladies eventually followed us in "Animate" shop.

Without the pocket wifi, wherever one of us goes, the rest would follow especially if all of us are new in that place.

4. Real time communication to your home.

Aside from CCTV, I installed internet webcam in my house since only my in-laws are left behind whenever the family goes out of the country. Anytime we can check on them and have peace of mind while enjoying our trip.

Our kids were able to communicate as well to their friends in real time and post "ATM" photos on their Instagram and Facebook accounts.

5. Finally, you avoid upsetting the wife, lol.

In our previous trips, the wife couldn't avoid getting upset from time to time especially if we keep on losing our way to a certain tourist spot or going back to our hotel. One time while in Ho Chi Minh, it took us almost an hour locating the Reunification Palace and we couldn't find any taxi. The wife was furious since she was sweating really hard and her legs were sore.

My pocket wifi rented from Ninja Wifi

So, for the first time in our numerous out of the country trips, I rented a pocket wife upon arrival at Kansai Airport in Osaka. I found Ninja Wifi counter at the arrival area and purchased a 7 day package for 7 GB.

For LTE the price is 900 Yen daily for unlimited data while for 3G the price is 700 Yen daily for a maximum of 7 GB data. Aside from that I paid another 200 Yen daily for the unit insurance. By the way, don't forget to bring power bank too.

Later on, I learned that it was a bit pricey since our hotel in Osaka offers 500 Yen daily for pocket wife.

Anyway, if you have time, you can always search for a better price among the pocket wifi counters at the arrival area in any airports in Japan.

At the end, I can say that our recent trip to Osaka was flawless due to pocket wifi.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Casa Villavicencio - Taal, Batangas

For the longest time I’ve been hearing about the old houses in Taal, Batanggas. Having visited Vigan City, it dawned on me that Taal could be another Vigan where century old houses abound thus, on last year's Labor Day I brought the family to Taal.

We stayed in one of the old houses converted into a hotel. Admittedly, we were impressed with our abode since aside from having personal and prompt services from their caretaker the whole structure was obviously dated.

On our second day and while driving around Taal town proper, we noticed that unlike in Vigan where the old houses are concentrated along Calle Crisologo, in Taal they are scattered. The family was a bit disappointed since you have to hike along several streets in order to visit the old houses.

On our way back to our hotel, we noticed a massive old two-storey structure with an “open” sign outside. Curiously, we knocked and welcomed by a young lad. The structure is Casa Villavicencio.

All of us were not aware about the important roles the owners of Casa Villavicencio played in Philippine history. Emilio Aguinaldo even bestowed the title “Grandmother of Revolution” to the matriarch, Gricella Marella Villavicencio. She was motivated to help the revolution because of her undying love to her husband, Eulalio Vilavicencio, who was imprisoned by the Spanish authority.

Letter to Jose Rizal
Many prominent “katipuneros” have visited and stayed in that mansion or casa including Andres Bonifacio. Not only that, a letter addressed to our national hero has been preserved and on display on one of its wooden walls. Almost everything you’ll see inside this house is connected to our history one way or another. Hence, Casa Villavicencio can rival some of famous old houses in the Philippines when it comes to historical past. More so, seeing those old Coca Cola bottles, cooking pots, wall mirrors and other knick-knack reminded me of my childhood since I used to see similar items inside my grandmother’s house in the province. Our knowledgeable tour guide did his best in narrating the different events that transpired inside that house.

Master Bedroom

Hidden entrance to the secret meeting room for 'Katipuneros" underneath the dining area
Antique cupboards, closet, beds, furniture and so on and so forth adorn every nook and corner of the house. A massive dining table loaded with antique cutlery and ceramic plates would make any antique lovers and collectors drool. It was our first time to see those countless antiques concentrated in one place; it was simply an overwhelming experience.

Wow. A working vintage Plymouth
We paid 100 pesos entrance fee which includes local snacks served alfresco in the garden. A video presentation was initially shown so as to introduce to the viewers the role played by the owners of Casa Villavicencio during the revolution against the Spanish authority.

When you set foot in Taal, Batanggas don’t leave without visiting Casa Villavicencio. An untold love story and heroic struggle for freedom awaits you.

Lastly, upon seeing the trailer of the movie "Ang Larawan" shown last MMFF, I told my wife that the house where they shot this film looked like Casa Villavicencio. I was correct.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Hotel Le Petit - Paris

On our recent trip to Europe, since our point of entry and exit was Paris, we need to fly back to Paris from Rome and stayed at Hotel Le Petit for a couple of days before returning back to Philippines.

Although this hotel boasts good reviews on net the wife had overlooked one small thing. The toilet is separate from the bathroom. Aside from that, everything else was fine. We loved the chic wallpaper and massive bed with plenty of pillows.

The reception and service as expected from any Paris hotels is simply wonderful if I may say so. It was pretty obvious that they wanted us to enjoy our stay in their hotel aside from being helpful and approachable.

The hotel is just two blocks away from the nearest Metro Station of Luxembourg Garden. Paris University and Pantheon are also walkable from the hotel while there is also a small grocery nearby and plenty of cafes and bars around the area. Since we didn’t include breakfast on our booking we were elated to learn that there is a Mc Donald’s near Luxembourg Garden. To add, if weather permits, you can also stroll up to Notre Dame.

Although the temperature has started dropping when we were there, it was already end of summer season, the room remains cozy and warm.

No problem with wifi signal, amenities, hot water and flat screen but don’t expect any English movies. The only drawback like in most hotels in Paris is the size of the room. As long as you don’t open your luggage then you’re good. Check in and check out are flawless too.


We booked this hotel through Agoda and paid city tax per person upon arrival.


Monday, January 15, 2018

Diecast Corner: Jungle and Mandarake - Haven for toy collectors in Osaka, Japan

Forty years back in Philippines, it was a golden era for Japanese Robots cartoon. I used to watch Voltes V, Daimos, and Mazinger Z to name a few. Presently, Bandai is producing these yesteryear cartoon robots as high end line of collectible diecast robots under the “Soul of Chogokin” (SOC) or “Soul of Super Alloy” series. Each authentic SOC robot has a corresponding model number in SOC series.

I admit I am a late bloomer when it comes in collecting SOC robots thus I am familiar only with a few of them. With my three kids about to graduate from college and has achieved financial stability I have decided to unleash the kid in me.

A couple of weeks back the family was in Osaka for my advance golden birth anniversary. Yup, in a few days I’ll be a “Golden Boy.”

Having purchased two non SOC series but diecast Mazinger Z robots in Philippines my memory of my younger years started to come back especially when I joined “SOC Philippines” FB group.

Long story short, with my 2 sons who are both Gundams robots collectors too, we searched for hobby/toy shops in Osaka. Based on our research on net these shops abound in Nippombashi. We found two Joshin shops but they offer limited SOC robots thus I was a bit disappointed tough they were treasure troves for any Gundams and diecast cars collectors.

Jungle Shop

Fortunately, while strolling, the wife saw a massive Grendizer robot outside a corner shop. It is JUNGLE Hobby Shop. The shop’s name sounds familiar thus I told my family to just go on their way and come back for me after an hour. I didn’t realize that was the recommended shop by some members of "SOC Philippines" FB group.

Upon entering, at the left side near the entrance I immediately saw numerous SOC robots. I almost cried in happiness upon seeing those yesteryear robots in front of me. I explored the hobby shop – it has 2 floors – it took me almost an hour before I decided to purchase my first authentic SOC diecast robot. I bought Com-Battler V (Black Edition) and Danguard Ace. By the way, this shop sells BIB (Back in Box) and MISB (Mint in Sealed Box) toys. There were several Danguard Ace robots with different price tags. I bought the MISB or what the shop says as “Factory Sealed” box for 17,000 Yen. The Combatller V robot is a BIB or second hand with a price tag of 12,000 Yen; they allowed me to inspect it physically first before paying. Yes, if the item is a BIB (second hand) they would allow you to inspect it but for MISB (Factory Sealed) they won’t.

Added bonus is the tax-free privilege for foreigners. Upon presenting my passport they reduced the total price from 29,000 Yen to 27,000 Yen. Wohooo.

Unfortunately, they don’t have Voltes V, Daimos and Voltron at that time. It is understandable since these three robots are considered as the most in demand of SOC series. Any SOC collectors would search first for these three before thinking of buying the other SOC robots. Nevertheless, I have acquired Com-Battler V, a member of "Nagahama Robot Romance Trilogy."

Back in our hotel, I opened immediately the “Factory Sealed” Danguard Ace to remove my doubt.  I found the robot in mint condition and with complete accessories. I felt sad because the clear tape seal has been broken; my Danguard Ace cannot be considered “Factory Sealed” anymore. I should have not opened it and rather left it in its original condition. Anyway, on the positive side, it now emboldens me to play with my Danguard Ace.

The following day, not to be outdone, the two ladies in our family opted to do their shopping in Shinsaibashi where there are rows and rows of shops for clothes, shoes, bags and so on and so forth. Cleverly, my two sons had searched the net again for any toy shops in the area. They found Mandarake near Amemura (American Mura) area. Leaving the ladies we trekked to Mandarake guided by Google Maps.

Me, Glicoman and our Mandarake hauls

The kid in me rejoiced again upon setting foot in Mandarake; my two sons were elated as well due to cheap (BIB and MISB) Gundams.

my Getter Robot

I bought two more SOC robots. UFO Grendizer and Getter. I have now four authentic and mint SOC robots in my possession. It is only a matter of time before completing the “Nagahama Trilogy.”

The following day again, after visiting Nara, we returned back to Osaka at around 4 PM. With plenty of time before dinner the three boys have outvoted the two ladies again. So we ended up making another round in Nippombashi.

I paid another visit to Jungle Hobby Shop. To my surprise, they have a newly displayed SOC (BIB) Mazinger Z’s 20th year anniversary edition. I hurriedly asked the staff to take it from the glass cabinet for visual inspection. Mazinger Z was mint and with complete accessories and manual. Its price was 17,000 Yen but I paid 1,000 Yen less for tax.

Mazinger Z 20th year anniversary SOC edition

I was extremely delighted to have Mazinger Z since I am an avid fan of the cartoon series. I used to draw Mazinger Z on my notebook when I was about ten years old.

My Osaka haul
I have now five authentic SOC robots in my toy collections. If I have been exposed to "SOC Philippines" group four years earlier I could have completed the “SOC Nagahama Robot Romance Trilogy” since we have visited Tokyo several years back and Akihibara in Tokyo won’t disappoint any toy collectors. Thus, Com-Battler V would be waiting for Voltes V and Daimos.

However, not every day is Christmas Day as they say. On January 8 at 2 AM we arrived in our house in San Mateo back from Japan. At 4 PM on the same day I have to leave our house to fly back to my work in Africa.

Any kids could relate with my longing for my brand new toys. I always look on their pictures every day; I had the same feeling when I bought my car. Of course, family comes first before anything else but the joy of seeing your toys that remind you of your childhood is simply priceless.

Update as of January 17, 2018

Today I made a pre-order of Icarus Unite Gokin Voltron Lion Force (Colored) for 12,900 pesos from Great Toys Online. Though it is not a SOC series it is licensed and authentic reissue of Voltron (GoLion). Woho! I can see Voltes V and Daimos on the horizon! What a great way to celebrate my golden birth anniversary!




Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy

Eons of years back, when I was still in my elementary days, I heard about this peculiar tower from my father. He is a retired seafarer and has visited this leaning tower in one of his journeys.

Fast forward to present, I never thought that I would see with my own eyes the same tower that my father has told me. What made the event more memorable was that the wife and I were celebrating our silver wedding anniversary when I saw the famous “Leaning Tower of Pisa.

From Florence we booked a local train to Pisa Centrale Station. The trip lasted for around 45 minutes. Along the way we observed and enjoyed the laid back atmosphere of rural Italy.

From the train station it took us another 30 min of fast paced walk to reach the tower. We couldn’t afford to lose precious time since we have to return back to Florence to catch our train trip back to Rome in the evening.

Flea market. I bought vintage diecast model cars from here at 5 Euro each

On our way to the tower we crossed Arno River through Ponte di Mezzo; this is the same river that extends up to Florence. We passed at Church of Saint Michael, Largo Parlascio and other historical buildings and ruins. Cafes, bars, resto and lodging houses abound in this side of the river. We are not surprised anymore since a few hundred meters away is the leaning tower of Pisa.

Almost there

It was a terrific moment seeing the leaning tower from afar. The wife and I were speechless as we approach the cathedral Square where the tower is located.

Cathedral Square



We loitered around the Baptistery, Campo Santo and Duomo di Pisa. We forego the idea of climbing the tower since I didn’t want to have another panic attack like the one I experienced while climbing up Arc de Triomphe; the wife was tired too.

Don't push it boy!

As expected, hordes of visitors are trying their best to appear on their shots supporting the Pisa from further tilting. The whole place is like a huge park minus the picnics.

After an hour we opted to leave the place and searched for gelato. Famished and tired we devour our gelato mixed with fresh fruits in no time at all. The wife went online and communicated with the kids.

If not for the leaning tower this place could be like any other ordinary European parks dotted with historical churches and structures. A few hours of stay is enough to enjoy the scenery and the place.

Feeling rested, we trekked back to Pisa Centrale train station and bought souvenirs from small shops that we passed by. Fortunately, our train tickets allowed us to take any train back to Florence within a couple of hours thus we embark on the first train that stopped in Pisa on its way back to Florence; we had enough time to have our dinner at Florence train station before our trip back to Rome.

I hope that our kids will be able to visit this place too in the future.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Chic & Town Luxury Rooms - Rome

The wife booked a double occupancy room due to plenty of good reviews on the net. Unbeknownst to us, we would be able to set foot in Florence and Pisa, which were not included in our itinerary because of their staff.

Days before our Paris trip, we received an email from Chic and Town inquiring about our arrival. It was a pleasant surprise since for the longest time that the wife and I have been travelling, that was the first time we received an inquiry directly from the hotel’s staff. Upon learning that we would arrive at Porta Tiburtina Station in Rome by train, their reception desk sent an instruction on how to reach their hotel coming from this station.

On our arrival, we were greeted cheerfully by Renato, a “kabayan,” and led us to the reception. It was a welcome respite to talk with a kabayan after spending a week in Paris. At the reception, the Italian guy, Pietro, obviously wanted us to enjoy our stay in Rome. He even provided us maps and clear instructions on how to explore Rome by foot.

The following day, a couple of housekeepers knocked on our door. To our surprise, they are also kabayans! We had a chat with them in the afternoon and upon learning that we were free on our last day in Rome, one of them convinced us to visit Florence and a side trip to Pisa; he gave us detailed instructions on how we can reach these places by train. So I immediately booked online a RT train ticket between Rome and Florence. Our tickets were sent to my email and printed by Pietro for free.

It was terrific! The wife and I were able to visit these two amazing places as a result of having a nice chat with our kabayan.

Free snacks

Chic and Town is located at the second floor. No worries since usually there is no queue for the elevator. We're given two keys upon check-in. One is for our room while the other is for the main door in case we'd be coming back late at night. On the day we travelled to Florence, we left early so we're the one who opened the main door.

The place offers basic amenities plus free snacks. We have a cooler inside the room filled with colas, juices and bottled water. Breads, biscuits and fruits are also provided and replenished daily.

The main drawback for this hotel is the lack of wardrobe though there is long frame where you can hang your clothes; hangers are provided. Since the place doesn't have any dining facilities we used to buy and bring pizzas to our room for midnight snack and breakfast.

Psychedelic bathroom

The bathroom has an LED bulb that changes color rhythmically though you can set it in your favorite color. Isn’t it interesting taking a bath in glowing red light? Or brushing your teeth under a green light? LOL.

Check-out was flawless too. The reception even arranged for a taxi that brought us to the airport.

All told, aside from having a competitive price and having warm and great staffs this hotel is strategically located at the center of Rome. Some of the places we visited by foot are:

- Fontana De Trevi
- Pantheon
- Piazza Navonna
- Piazza Del Popolo
- Piazza De Spagna
The only place we visited by taxi is The Colosseum. Aside from that, small food store, souvenir shops and a supermarket are nearby; don’t leave Rome without trying “Gelato."