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 daily askinging 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 mistake. In addition, May 1 is holiday in Spain so it is incredibly 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? The clients could be religiously monitoring its 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 their clients, if I may say so.

I googled Isango reviewand 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

Pantheon


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.

Gelato

Pizza

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.



 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Karaksa Hotel Shinsaibashi 1 - Osaka City

If you are searching for bang for the buck hotel in Osaka then I highly recommend Karaksa Hotel Shinsaibashi 1.

To make it simple I'd just enumerate the reasons why we chose this hotel:

1. First reason is the "The Filipino Channel" (TFC). In our previous trips abroad, this is the first time we have stayed in a hotel with TFC. This is one of the main reasons why the wife, an avid "Teleserye" fan, selected this hotel among other hotels in Osaka. We learned later that Karaksa Hotel is affiliated with our Go Hotels in Philippines.

2. Free shuttle bus to and from Kansai Airport. Obviously there is no need to explain the convenience of having your private transport awaiting for you outside the airport or hotel; you have to coordinate with the reception if you want to avail this service.

3. Convenience stores and authentic Japanese restaurants abound in the area. In fact we had enjoyed Tempuras and Ramens several times in these restaurants. By the way, there is also a Mc Donald's in the area.

4. Hotel's location is a few hundred meters away from a Metro Station giving you a pleasant experience to stroll back to the hotel at night time.


5. Aside from western breakfast you can also enjoy authentic Japanese breakfast buffet in their restaurant; we learned that Japanese love sticky rice.

6. Plenty of vending machines inside the hotel including beers, cup noodles and snacks.

7. Drop coins massage chairs at the lounge area in second floor.

8. You can have snacks and meals in the lounge area anytime since it is open 24 hours. Aside from microwave and vending machines, utensils and hot/cold water are readily available.

9. Laid back atmosphere. What is more enticing for a tourist after a whole day of sightseeing than to have a nice, comfy and restful sleep? The hotel is located in a residential area thus assuring its guests of quiet atmosphere during night time.

10. Last but not the least is the hotel's staff. Though we know that Japanese are normally polite and courteous people you can still feel their warm accommodation and hospitality they show to their guests. We wouldn't forget the time we left Karaksa Hotel; their staff bowed to us when our bus was about to leave for the airport.

According to the wife but not a big deal for me, the main drawback aside from lack of wardrobe cabinet, was the separate bathroom and toilet.

As expected, strong wifi signal in the room; you can also rent a pocket wifi from the reception. Rental fee is a lot cheaper compared with packaged pocket wifi in the airport.

Sorry, no walk-in cabinet

Small room

The Lounge


Vending Machines in the Lounge area

Restaurant


Restaurant

We stayed for 5 nights and occupied two rooms, one double and one triple.

You can take toiletry items such as shower cap and razors from a cabinet drawer in the reception area.

Separate Toilet

Hidden Bathroom

If you intend to avail the free shuttle to the airport you have to reserve your seat at least one day before your departure.


They asked us to choose between two types of daily housekeeping. The first one is green type housekeeping where we can have free bottled water but towels and pajamas would not be replaced daily. The second one is the normal type which replaces the towels and pajamas daily but no free bottled water. We chose the normal type housekeeping.

 

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.