SDCC 2018: Preview Night
For those interested in my commercial work, check out pointblankstudios.net and follow us at @pointblankmnl in IG.
Tokyo Game Show
So yeah, the following week I find myself in Japan again. This time it’s for the Tokyo Game Show. It was one of those “research” trips I had to do for my creative consultancy job. And what a research trip this turned to be. Though I’m not a newbie in the cons circuit, this is my first TGS. And boy this event certainly didn’t disappoint.
Now this is something you don’t see in local conventions: and organized way of shooting cosplayers. Somehow the Japanese follow a collective courtesy when it comes to asking cosplayers for a shot. TGS placed a good portion of cosplayers in the adjacent parking lot, but in effect the slots made it easy for them to take up a spot at the end of the parking curb, and use the lines as guide for photographers to line up.
As for the open areas, photographers don’t get to circle around a particular model either. There’s natural line that forms the moment one person asks for a photo.
This Sephiroth cosplay is on point. He just needs the Masamune.
The line to this booth in insane. As much as I wanted grab my hands on one.. it’s physically impossible without wasting a few hours of your time in line — no matter how organized this place is.
VR is such a big thing this year. One hall was dedicated to VR game and experiences.
Because I just had to ask a picture from random group cosplaying Japanese.
If I could only take the floating moogle home.
Mandatory image near the signage. Good thing were lots of nice people to ask pictures from. Cheezu!
After walking 11 halls of this place, my feet were killing me! But I can’t wait to go back next year!
For the rest of the images (and photo dump), you can check this out.
If you guys can stand my ramblings… here’s a hodge-podged clip of my adventure here as well!
For those interested in my commercial work, check out pointblankstudios.net and follow us at @pointblankmnl in IG.
Tokyo Trip 2017
As usual, we make that yearly trip to Tokyo for the Asian Open. I didn’t get to bring home the bacon this year, but it was all fun competing either way. So here’s a photo dump of all the stuff we’ve done in Tokyo that weekend. I know it’s a late post.. but better late than never right?
We usually stay in my favorite district in Tokyo.. Akihabara.. for obvious reasons. But this time around, we thought of changing it up a bit and staying in the Roppongi area. Of course the first thing people get when they say Roppongi is, Roppongi Hills, the expensive area… but not all of Roppongi is expensive. Luckily, we booked a room with REMM Hotel, which had their latest branch in Roppongi.
Of course, don’t forget to order your portable Wi-Fi before leaving for Japan. I know you can still get those at the airport, but they’re more expensive if you get them last minute. So I order mine, and it gets shipped to the hotel on the day of your arrival. Very convenient.
One of our major highlights is getting to visit Mori Art Museum, which had several exhibits running. There was the ASEAN exhibit going on which featured artists from the SEA region..Pinoys represent!
And you know what makes Japan even cooler? Manga and anime is considered high brow art. Shonen Jump is celebrating their anniversary with an art exhibit of all of their characters.
Too bad the Shonen Jump exhibit was strict with cameras. This was the only section where you could have shots taken is towards the end. It was just a photowall. Boo. Hahaha. But I assure you, the rest of the exhibit was worth it. You get to see first issue and plates for Dragon Ball, Fist of the North Star, etc…
So for the rest of the photo dump, here they are. I will make another entry on Tokyo Game Show since that happened the following week after this.youtube channel for your regular glimpse behind the scenes! While you’re at it, drop buy the online store and get goodies from your favorite models!
Baguio Bandwagon Part 2
We went up to Baguio again some time ago, and decided to stay in a more central part of the city. In theory this would’ve been great. But the reality is a far cry. I guess the charm of going back up was dampened by our first impression of the hotel we stayed in. During our previous trip, we got this AirBnB-ish type of accommodations through booking.com. I didn’t realize they started doing such until that time we booked. We got intrigued with Hill Station since we enjoyed Mount Cloud, and hanging out in the restaurant. So we booked Casa Vallejo.
Casa Vallejo would’ve been the perfect place to stay in by location alone. I guess if we rewind back time to about 100++ years ago, this WAS the awesome spot. But given progress, population and pollution, the charm slowly divested between expectation and reality. The hotel itself isn’t bad, it’s just how its location evolved against it. Hotel rooms were in plain view of the street. Passersby can literally see you go about your business if you accidentally leave the windows open. Privacy is something sorely lacking. In line with that, there ain’t much security to speak of either.
This was the only form of “security” you have on the window. Most of the rooms in the lower ground floor facing the street only had a ditch and a hedge of plants as camouflage. If someone was desperate and daring enough, they could just jump down and cut through the screen to get into the rooms. The other annoying part was also noise pollution; (the physical pollution is a given with its proximity to the street). Session Road is one of the busiest streets in Baguio, so you’d have cars, trucks, jeeps and pedestrians wrecking your sleep until wee hours in the night, only for it to repeat itself the following morning.
Now from the aesthetics, Casa Vallejo and Hill Station Restaurant is an approximate preservation of how Baguio looked like back in the day.
We spent the following day going around town and went back to OMG (Oh My Gulay), which was the only available place we found tables in for lunch. Food was ok, decent for a cafe, but don’t expect huge servings. Price isn’t bad either. You’d be there for the rather eclectic interiors and the view of the city. We took our time there, eventually creeping into afternoon coffee and tea.
We also found out that weekend that the hotel (Casa Vallejo) and the restaurant (Hill Station) are of different management. On the morning we were supposed to leave, the restaurant arranged for a wedding reception, but somehow didn’t inform the hotel. Guests got irritated since breakfast was expected. The hotel did their best to accommodate by having them served in the rooms, but the rooms themselves weren’t designed to have a meal in.
We caught sight of the restaurant owner and one of the front desk staff having a discussion (which is somewhat a one-way argument if you ask me) on how to handle the irate guests. I was just a bit turned off with the restaurant manager / owner, as he sounded a bit condescending. We didn’t let that bother our experience though and ventured out into nearby cafes. We found one in an adjacent hotel, and made it in good time for a yoga session afterwards.
I don’t mind coming up to Baguio again, since generally the experience was quite positive. What I do suggest next time around is to stay somewhat away from the city center and just enjoy the down town area in sporadic morsels.
For the rest of our trip, you can check out the gallery below.youtube channel for your regular glimpse behind the scenes! While you’re at it, drop buy the online store and get goodies from your favorite models!
Travel Bug: Hanoi and Halong Bay (Vietnam)
Getting Out of the Airport
Our flight arrived at the airport a bit past midnight. We managed get out of the arrival gate by 1AM, and nothing was open, except for a few foreign exchange places. We quickly changed our money into Vietnamese Dong. Now due to hyperinflation in the country some years ago, the denomination asides from taking out the decimal places, had extra zeros. Which was quite confusing if you’re encountering this kind of money for the first time personally. Expect having bills as high as 500,000. But despite the seemingly millionaire-ish feeling, don’t take it at face value as most commodities would be priced relative to those. But don’t worry, everything in Vietnam is cheap, if not cheaper than the Philippines. You can get away with as much as P 10,000.00 equivalent of pocket money living like a king for a week more or less.
At this time of night (or morning), don’t expect the usual metered taxis to be coming out from arrival hall. Instead they have been replaced with shady looking dudes offering you “taxis” into the city. Out of our desperation to get to the hotel, we bit what they had to offer. The driver and his barker ended up riding in front for the entire trip. Several red flags were already raising themselves the during the ride
- No taxi meter
- Never mentions how much the ride is, despite asking them
- Suddenly asks us to fork out money to pay of the toll high way they decided to pass through
Now that last item was quite the hair raiser. It was dark in the car and the barker dude (for the lack of a better term), asked us to fan out the money we had and he would pick out the bill to pay for the toll. At this point we started to semi panic in the car, but the guy did just get one bill and paid for it. We spent the rest of the ride, thinking of desperate measures just in case we got robbed or something. The mere fact I’m writing this meant we did make it out in one piece. Moral of the story (for this leg): try to get an earlier flight if you can.
Day 1: Hanoi
We didn’t do much of our homework this time around and just winged it the moment we got into town. We stayed in the better part of the Old Quarter near Hoam Kiem Lake, so we’re assured of walking distance to some attractions at least. Alot this part of the city reminds you of Binondo and Divisoria all rolled in one. Peppered between high end establishments are sidewalk pho eateries. You really sit on the sidewalk and enjoy your bowl of Pho. Now the foodie in you would certainly enjoy the numerous cafes and Pho bowls (ranging from sit down places to sidewalk vendors). The walk around town would help you burn the calories for the next meal.
For a city of roughly 7 million, there are 5 million mopeds going about. What that means for traffic is having to avoid zig-zaging motorbikes as you cross each road (with hardly any stoplights insight). But you quickly learn the art of not giving a fuck as you cross. They have this uncanny skill of avoiding pedestrians no matter what the road conditions are. The more you’re scared, the more chaos you would ensue. In terms of variety outside of the branded establishments, there’s nothing
Day 2: Halong Bay
Now, picking the right tour operator who would bring you around Halong Bay is a crucial factor. Since we arrived in Hanoi with no definite plans, we were pretty much up for anything. So going around town on Day 1, we stumbled upon a tour operator in some small hotel. There is something that subliminally associates small dingy alleyways to shady businesses, so the stereotype stuck as our first impression. We were at that YOLO moment, so we decided to take a last-minute cruise to Halong Bay. Word of advice (and/or caution), don’t get enamored by the beauty of the brochure. It borderlines false advertising. We would find that one out the hard way later.
Anyhow, the wife and I decided since we don’t really know where else to go in Hanoi, we jumped on any opportunity at any open cabin. We left the tour office that afternoon excited for our upcoming cruise all thanks to that brochure. We left for Halong Bay on time the following morning. The trip it pretty much uneventful except for a brief bathroom break in some tourist center halfway. They were selling textiles, gemstones and snacks in this nondescript building. The place reminded me of those old (but well kept malls) of 80s yore.
We got into the port area by lunch time. After passing by several shuttered buildings and half-empty shopping arcades, we were greeted with an armada of cruise ships peppered about this U-shaped port / cove. My thoughts of this romantic getaway was already put into heavy doubt upon seeing the movement of humanity coming on and off the transport boats. Our tour guide quickly accosted us off the bus and endorsed logistics to another colleague of his, who never bothered looking at the guest list. “I cannot remember how you guys look like, so just remember how I look like!” he blurted out in broken English.
After checking in the boat, we cruised to Sung Sot Cave.
We were crammed with the rest of the other tourists coming up the cave. After the sardines of an entrance, the attraction proved to be quite enjoyable to say the least. After that was a 30-minute kayaking ride around the some of the coves. That was fun.
There was also a cultural show in the evening, but we didn’t bother leaving our cabin for that anymore. That night it was hard getting some sleep since our cabin was right beside the engine room. The shower’s handle didn’t work at first, and the door’s lock was already too old.. it didn’t lock at all! I was already considering jamming my luggage against the door. Good thing one of the crew managed to make both things work for us after calling for our guide / translator.
Before we left the following morning, I just had to take a shot of the “made up” room. It wasn’t even a mile close to the one they had on the website.
We had that notion that this could be like a romantic getaway to sit and chill on the boat. Much to our surprise (and dismay), it was one tourist trap after another. I guess this is what you get from joining the bandwagon. Any hope of relaxing on the boat was out of the question. If you wanted some peace and quiet, you had to opt out of the side trips. We checked out of our cabins in the morning, and made it back to shore around lunch time. The journey back to the city was quite tiring and uneventful. For some slight side adventure, due to the traffic and supposed road closures (which hasn’t happened at the time), we were dropped off several blocks from our original hotel. We didn’t mind walking, though one would expect to be brought up in front of the hotel at least.
Every weekend, the main circular road of Hoan Kiem Lake (and some adjacent roads) are closed to vehicular traffic. The general public would fill up the streets until late night, giving you a glimpse of contemporary Hanoi culture. Bands would play in the corner, and kids would ride these remote-controlled cars. Prenup shoots were at every corner. It felt like Luneta, except it had a large lake and it was Vietnamese. This was the best part of the trip for me: enjoying and soaking up the local scene.
Our Hanoi trip did end in a good note that day. Here’s my full gallery below the rest of my Hanoi shots.
Travel Bug: Bencab Art Gallery
It was one of those weekends when we just thought of spending it in Baguio. On our way back down, we decided to stop by the Bencab Museum. It was down this twisty road, and with the fog so thick, you’d start to think twice of continuing down. But the side trip was worth it as you would see in the gallery below.
Several exhibits were going on as well as permanent ones from Ben Cab. Raech and I have been avid art fans, often dreaming of buying art to decorate our humble home. Someday we would be able to afford art. For now it’s nice to oogle at art museums.
The place goes several floors down as it is situated against the mountainside. It has somewhat become semi-touristy, but the crowd seemed to be mannered enough not to touch the artwork. The art ranges from the quirky to the adult-themed.. so an open mind is required.
Too bad we didn’t have enough time to try out the cafe at the basement since Baguio was still a 3-4 hours trip and it was getting late. Would be back again to try it out.Check out my youtube channel for your regular glimpse behind the scenes! While you’re at it, drop buy the online store and get goodies from your favorite models!
San Diego Comic Con 2016: In Retrospect
Every summer (in the US) marks a special time among geeks. This is when the select ones make this pilgrimage to San Diego for biggest geek orgy of pop culture. Ironically despite being labeled as Comic Con, it has mutated beyond its namesake over the years covering from TV, movies, toys, games, cosplay and everything else. In a sense, we owe comics the window for our imagination to run wild and enjoy these franchises in other mediums.
This has been my third year of attending the con, and it never fails to still leave me in awe. The pavilions of Marvel and DC among others are the mainstays, with a couple of relatively newer exhibitors to check out like the Adult Swim, Nickelodeon and Funko. Alex Ross’s “booth” is now full blown pop-up gallery with mezzanine level for VIP guests. The Walking Dead exhibit never fails to scare people with their camping ground zombie apocalypse scene.
The size of the con has been forcing it to explore other locations beyond the convention center such as the adjacent partner hotels, and the immediate Gaslamp Quarter. Nintendo has sequestered an entire ballroom in the Marriott just for their gaming center. You can’t miss the huge Kirby at the entrance. Square Enix has an outdoor games arena on Fifth Ave., and there was even a roving Ecto-1 around the neighborhood. The highlight of my con experience was the Final Symphony concert, held in the Copley Theater. That left me in goosebumps and tears.
DC let go of alot of trailers for their upcoming DCEU lineup. Most of which you can already see online. My friends who braved the crowds of Hall H, had the chance to experience them in IMAX-like screens surrounding the walls. Marvel of course had Dr. Strange, which isn’t really much of a surprise at this point. I’m not really a Hall H nor a Ballroom 20 kind of guy. I’m already happy attending those nondescript panels veering more into the technicals of things.
Well, here’s the hodge podge of stuff I saw during this year’s con. Enjoy guys!
Update 08.18.16: Finally installed Cardboard, so I can upload 360 images! Hooray!
Travel Bug: Tokyo 2016 Visual Diary
Going to Japan has always been a creative pilgrimage for me every year and I never get tired taking pictures of this city. So this is a visual diary of my latest trip to Tokyo last March. We did the Nakasendo Highway in Kisu Valley as a highlight of this trip, but those images came before this entry. Of course this was all shot with my trusty Canon M3.
What I thought was the start of spring, turned out to be the tail end of winter. We weren’t prepared for the weather. Ended up having to buy the end-of-season sales from Uniqlo since it was already entering Spring. But coming from a tropical country, even spring would come off as cold.
We went back to Sarashina Horii, a heritage restaurant sandwiched between the Azabujuban and Roppongi Hills stations. A “Heritage Restaurant” is a title the Japanese government awards if you’ve been in business for more than 100 years. Apparently, this place has been around for more than two centuries. I found out about this restaurant after Anthony Bourdain visited it in an episode of No Reservations.
The usual soba I get to experience in Manila are the brown pre-packed ones like pasta. What makes this soba different asides that it’s freshly made every morning, is the texture and color. It’s whiter than usual even if it’s labeled as the “brown” variant.
We spent the rest of the trip going back to the usual places we visited in Tokyo like Omoide Yokocho and Akihabara. There is just so much to soak up doing street photography in Japan. Next time around, I should take the Yamanote line and go down every station and shoot for an hour and hop back.
Travel Tip: Between the two (2) airport servicing Tokyo, it would be best to land in Haneda which is closer to the city. Not only is the train ride shorter to Shinjuku, but the fare is cheaper as well (Y 650 vs. Y 4,000.00 on a reserved seat on the NEX). The number of transfer is just the same, though the ride isn’t a comfy as NEX.
Travel Bug: Nakasendo Highway (Japan 2016)
Nakasendo is one of the old foot highways that connected Kyoto to Tokyo during the Edo Period (Tokugawa). While the rest of the known highways modernized into Shinkansen and/or highway routes, certain parts of Nakasendo was preserved and became a popular walking trail for locals and tourists. The notable section is between Magome and Tsumago, which is the bulk of this blog post. I would touch on others sections of the trail (e.g. Nagiso, Ochiai, and Nakatsugawa), but it would be best to research them outside of this.
Given my knack of anything Japanese (from history to anime), it was quite a shame that I’ve never heard of Magome until I came across this article in Philippine Star published some time ago. It recounts the adventures of the author backpacking in Japan (with their schedules wrecked because of a typhoon), and then arriving in Magome only to find the town closed early for the night. Bottomline, they were saved by Ate Cheng, a pinay running a local ryokan with her Japanese husband. Now as much as it was an interesting anecdote to read, I quickly dismissed it as one would skim through several of these stories along your Facebook feed.
My decision to visit the Nakasendo Highway came from a totally unrelated source. In all of the things it (FB feed) has been spewing out, articles ranging from what kind of person you are based how to tie your shoes to cats going crazy over cucumber placed on their side, a gem comes up every now and then. I got fascinated by his photos and told myself that my next trip to Japan should cover this route. Since the Holy Week break was coming up, it was an opportune time to travel with the wife again. When I started booking for accommodations, one of the postal towns we’re slated to stay in was Magome. A booking website described languages spoken by the host, alongside English and Japanese was Filipino. That piqued my curiosity, since it was quite a rarity having Filpino as a spoken language in the middle of rural Japan. That’s how I eventually made the connection between Ate Cheng’s place and the Nakasendo Highway.
Travel Tip: We arrived via Tokyo, and took the Shinkansen to Nagoya. In hindsight, we could’ve just taken a straight flight to Nagoya, but we have plans to see stuff in Tokyo after this hike anyways. So if you’re just going for Nakasendo (or other parts in Nagoya), it would be best to land in Nagoya to save yourself of the Shinkansen costs.
- First things you purchase off the airport are the following:
- An IC card (Toica for Nagoya / Suica for Narita) and round-trip tickets to the express trains servicing the airports (SKY Limited Express for Nagoya / NEX for Narita).
- A disposable data SIM. It’s quite a chore to configure at first, but it’s convenient since you wouldn’t rely on another powered device for your internet needs.
- Portable Wi-Fi router. We got this as a back-up just in case the SIM option didn’t work. Both worked.
- When buying the Shinkansen tickets, make sure to present your IC card or your ticket. It negates the entrance swipe when you first enter the train system, since the Shinkansen is on a different platform than regular trains.
Our adventure began after leaving Nagoya for Nakatsugawa station. You can take either JR Shinano (more expensive but faster) or the Chuo Line (longer, but cheaper). We ended up using the Chuo line out of an impulsive decision seeing Nakatsugawa as the stated terminal station on the overhead display. It was a pleasant ride nonetheless, and the seats were configured for longer trips. We arrived at Nakatsugawa station a bit before 10AM, and hung around the nearby convenience store for the next bus to Magome to arrive. A local bus leaving off Curb #3) would take you up along a winding mountain-side road, past several stops to the terminal station at lower entrance of Magome town proper.
Magome (as compared to Tsumago) seems to be the more receiving point for tourists, as souvenir shops and a convenience store are lined up near the parking lot the moment you get down. A steep incline bending twice is the first thing greeting you past the initial tourist trappy shops. This is probably the best preview of what the trail is going to be like. Since we were searching for our inn, we wasted no time dashing up the pavement along the with the luggage. The hotel was right smack in the middle of the main road, which was about 400m up the hill from where we were. We were soon catching our breath and wondered why we had to do that in the first place.
After checking in, the first order of the day was lunch and supplies for the following day’s hike. The convenience store at the bottom entrance is standard issue, but at least they got fresh produce you wouldn’t find in city konbini. Make sure you buy things before 5PM, as everything else closes down for the night. The town gets eerie quiet after that. Hence, dinner has to be reserved with the ryokan if you do want to eat there.
Photo Gallery (Magome Chaya)
Magome is 43rd of the several postal towns that dot along the Nakasendo Highway. There are sixty nine (69) in all according to history, but some towns have gone to disrepair and sections of the highway are now lost to time and modernity. Among the popular ones remaining is this stretch in Kiso Valley from Nakatsugawa to Nagiso. The most common hiking trail is the 7.7km span between Magome and Tsumago. The restored paved road is the same path used for centuries as regular citizens and nobility alike went through the Magome Mountain pass towards Nagiso and eventually the capital. There are several rest points along the trail which have automated toilets and free wifi.
We took the afternoon slow and walked around town just to get ourselves familiarized with the place. Most of the shops in Magome were already slanted for the tourists, but you would encounter local wooden crafts and delicacies stores occasionally in between.
We left Magome around 10AM after sorting out our food and supplies. It was mostly a down hill path with some ups as you cross the Magome Mountain pass.
Oh yeah, not sure how cautious you would want to be, but there are warning signs for bear encounters along the trail. To ward them off, you can borrow a bear bell from the local tourist office for a deposit of Y 1,200.00. You’d get your money back once you return the bell.
Alternatively, you can start your hike from Nakatsugawa and end up in Nagiso if you have more time in your hands. There are several baggage forwarding services that bring your luggage to the next town you’re visiting. I’m not sure if works on the Nakatsugawa-Ochiai legs, but I’ve seen posters about it on the Magome-Tsumago route. You leave your bags with the tourist information center in the morning until 11AM, and expect it to be in the next town by 1PM. Either way, you can also use a door-to-door luggage delivery service, Takuhaibin.
We reached Tsumago roughly around 1PM and walked around town. It’s like traveling back in time, but looked a bit too picturesque for my taste. Where were the people? Apparently most of the townsfolk travel to the city for work and go back by the afternoon. The ones left were mostly shop keepers with tourist-trappy wares. This side of town only had tourists walking by, and hardly any of the residents.
After a snack break, we didn’t stay that long in Tsumago and decided to walk it back to Magome. Having seen most of the features on the way, we already powered back knowing the 5PM deadline. It was mostly uphill going back so the ante the raised a bit. You would work up a good sweat despite the cold weather as long as you kept on walking. If you do stop, the cold would immediately get to you.
Since we didn’t stop for pictures on the return trip, we made it back within reasonable time. Reasonable meaning before the shops closed for the day. We rewarded ourselves with some soba and anmitsu at the shops nearby the ryokan.
The hike left us exhausted and we were knocked out early in the evening. We left the following morning to catch an early train back to Nagoya. Luckily we caught Ate Jeng on the way out.
If you’re planning to do this same walk, we highly suggest staying at Magomechaya. They
Travel Bug: Pico de Loro Cruise
When you say you went on a cruise, most would imagine riding this big ocean liner for weeks around the Caribbean. This trip may not be feeding to the grandeur of the stereotyped imagination, but this beats out such trips out of the poignant charm and sheer novelty. It came as a random idea from a good friend, who just wanted sail on a yacht out of the blue. After some research over the net, we found a fluke listing in AirBnB. The wife decided to get in touch with the boat owner (whom we fondly call Tito by the time the trip ended). I would say fluke since he was the only sailboat listed so far in Manila, but I think this would grow given the popularity of his sailing trips as other boat owners might follow suit.
Our basic itinerary was Manila to Pico de Loro, use the beach and sleep in the boat, then back to Manila the following morning. It was pretty straight forward, but the journey there made for good natural entertainment. We left Manila Yacht Club around 630AM. The sailing time to Hamilo Coast took about six (6) hours, and we were just along the coast most of the time. There was a brief lesson as we passed this fortified rock, Fort Drum. From afar it looked like a cement battleship. The American forces during the colonial period (1909) thought of putting cannons and guns around this tiny piece of land thinking that along with Corregidor, this would serve as a line of defense for any invaders coming from the sea. This proved quite futile come World War 2 though, when the Japanese attacked by air, which left both fortified islands like sitting ducks.
Funny how you could notice the demarcation line of Manila Bay’s polluted water from the odor to the color. By the time we passed Corregidor island, the welcoming smell of the open sea started to take over. It was just fresh air and blue water from that point on. I would suggest sitting on the deck instead of going below the cabin for most of the trip. Not only for the relaxing view but it also helps with sea sickness. Seeing a horizon gives you a reference point from all the bouncing happening on the boat. We had a couple of hitches along the way like sea plants getting stuck in the propeller (it still has a motor even though it runs mostly on sails), which was normal. It was quite entertaining seeing the crew go about their jobs too raising the main sails, and even diving behind the boat during those seaweed encounters.
Side note: As it turns out, his boat has been popular for quick night cruises around Manila Bay, usually for engagement announcements and fireworks viewing.
Hospitality was more than what we expected. We were prepared to rough it out given the circumstances, but the service we got was veering towards subtle luxury. They have a set menu for the entire trip, but they ask for your preferences too. We also brought snacks to nibble on, and board games to pass the time while anchored in Pico de Loro for the night. Just imagine playing Jenga here. But Boggle, Exploding Kittens and Werewolf were the blockbuster hits until we got too sleepy to play.
Bring a jacket for the evening as the sea breeze can get chilly. We tried sleeping on the upper deck but since the wind got too cold for us, the beds were more than welcome. The following morning was spent with breakfast and freshening up back at the beach before leaving for Manila. The trip going back took longer because of the head wind, so we had to rely on the motor more. The waves were choppier too, so our trip wasn’t complete without getting wet from the ocean spray.
We arrived back at the Manila Yacht Club around 4PM, which was more than enough time to settle back to normalcy when we got home.
Highly recommended and a great way to spend the long weekends instead of the clogging the usual vacation spots. Check out Victor Roman’s AirBNB listing if you want to take your own personal cruise around nearby beaches and coves.
Cafe Crawl: Starbucks (Twin Lakes)
It’s cliche to review a Starbucks store given they’ve sprouted around town like mushrooms (and everybody knows the menu), but this particular one in Twin Lakes caught my attention for its unique interiors. So I’m not really going to talk about the coffee. I just took fancy at their designs and did some snaps with my trusty Canon M3.
It has that modern Filipino feel to it thanks to the hanging wicker basket lamps fused with some Asian influences. The small store frontage disguises a much larger space since the commercial complex situates along a hill. The view outside is of course refreshing, save for the current construction progress happening as of writing.
Travel Bug: Balay Celina (Batangas)
If you’re looking for a house to rent in Punta Fuego (Batangas), this place is highly recommended. Great for big families and even small-scale team building outings for some companies. This three storey beach house comes complete with all the creature comforts you need, and has a videoke set to boot! Maximum occupancy is about 15 people. Had the chance to stay here with friends several times and did a shoot for editorials here as well. I highly suggest bringing a jacket since the breeze from the sea can make things chilly even for a summer night. There’s the occasional Jurassic-sized mosquito visit, but that’s a norm especially in out of town places like these. Bring a handly bottle of bug spray to be on the safe side.
They have a very attentive house staff headed by their caretaker Josie. They do the usual housekeeping chores, but having them market and prepare food for guests entail an extra fee of P 2,000.00 for an overnight stay. For the piece of mind (and convenience), I would suggest taking the service.
Going to the main beach / clubhouse is a 1 minute drive or 5 minute walk depending on your preference. That comes with a guest rate of P 1,000.00 / head (consumable). The food in the club house is of the usual American / continental menu, so you can expect the usual fare of burgers, pizza and all-day breakfast items. Nothing totally fancy, but ain’t shabby either.
You can get there either by passing through Cavite (Tarnate-Nasugbu Highway). For a more scenic route, take the SLEX-Sta. Rosa-Tagaytay City connection instead.
For more details, you can check out their blog / website here.
- Location: Il Terrazas de Punta Fuego, Batangas
- Contact: Marlyn (0917-8133731)
Cafe Crawl: Bag of Beans (Twin Lakes)
Okay, so this is not your typical Cafe Crawl since you would have to trek about 1.5 hours (on good traffic conditions) out of Manila for this. I know Bag of Beans has become synonymous to Tagaytay, but this particular branch was interesting enough to visit. It was also the stopover we took coming from a shoot in Batangas. It’s way past Tagaytay City and already in the Laurel vicinity so don’t bother looking for any landmarks anytime within the city limits.
The interiors of these newer branches is a bit more manicured from the original one most of us know. The original Bag of Beans was an eccentric motley of extended areas seemingly to have mutated out from a simpler makeshift home / restaurant. Don’t get me wrong, that place has a character of its own, and still worth to eat in if the waiting time is still bearable. This country theme befits places like these pretty well, though gets more faux the longer you stare at them. It’s not something that bothers me though. The bakery / country store + cafe combination has been the staple formula for most if not all places in Tagaytay too. If you’re satisfied with your meal, there’s a big chance you might just swig off knick knacks from their store on the way out.
Food is above average, and servings are good for two (2) people. It also came out fast, which is a big factor to me. Though the waiter who serviced us wasn’t that knowledgeable of the menu offerings and had to go down the kitchen just to ask for the soup of the day. It’s a slight pet peeve of mine, and I tend to look for these nuances. Not a deal-breaker though; maybe it’s this OC side of me kicking in every now and then. Asides from that, service was quite attentive.
Price-wise though, it has become more expensive in exchange for the ambiance.
It’s something I don’t mind going out of town for, time and traffic notwithstanding.Check out my youtube channel for your regular glimpse behind the scenes! While you’re at it, drop buy the online store and get goodies from your favorite models!
Travel photography has always been therapeutic and a great source of inspiration. You get to explore new places, meet new people and create a unique sense of reality through the images you shoot. People who are native to the places you visit take their surroundings for granted because that’s the reality they are familiarized with. Much the same way can be said when foreigners take novelty at things that make our country the way it is.
Would just like to share some images I took in previous trips over the years. This set was mostly taken in China (Tibet) and Japan.
Travel Bug: Estancia, Tagaytay
Every now and then I would write stuff on food and travel when I feel like it, so this is one of those articles.
It was one of those sudden clutch trips friends decide to take over the weekend. Surprisingly alot of the usual hotels were booked, but good thing we found this one having a vacancy. Estancia has been that one of those hotels with an interesting facade along the highway. It seemed to be a long-time fixture on every Tagaytay trip, but I never bothered checking the place out until now.
The facade (which I didn’t get the chance to take a picture) has that Greek vibe to it, but such motif only lasts until the lobby. The rest of the place though was decent-looking but totally off-design with the architecture that greets you when you first arrive. Not a deal-breaker especially if you’re just after a good night’s sleep. It was just a bit weird seeing Swiss (?) chalet exteriors in the lower floors.
We arrived rather late, and their restaurant seemed like ghost town. Famished from the trip, we took the chance of still ordering. Unfortunate for me, the food they served was half-cooked, though it was quickly replaced with another full set of the meal I ordered this time a bit on the burnt side. It’d gladly take the latter over something raw any day. Food in the restaurant was something you’d find in any typical Filipino grillery place. I was a bit disappointed expecting something that matches the facade at least.
One thing noticeable though is that the staff don’t seem to be well-trained enough in the finer points of hospitality. They go about their assigned tasks and are quite pleasant, but you wouldn’t see anybody going out of their way to please guests. A simple gesture of asking the bill in their restaurant, one waiter would tell you nicely that it’s not his job to give you the bill. He then gingerly points his hand towards a co-worker.
The property is actually sprawling down the mountain side and passes through several properties through the back. It is big, and you have the option to take a golf cart to your room. Too bad it was only until 10PM, and we didn’t make it by the time we finished late dinner.
The rooms were spacious and toiletries were abundant I would have to say. It’s enough to fit in six (6) people if you’re really pushing it. But everything in the minibar has a charge, even the water. I was tempted to walk on the highway and stumble upon the nearest 7Eleven, but I was too tired to even bother. The chips on the minibar would suffice.
If there was one thing about accommodations for me, breakfast must not suck. Breakfast was their saving grace fortunately. Food was mostly a mix of typical Continental and Filipino dishes. I sort of gave up looking for anything Greek-related at this point, and I don’t really mind if it’s not in theme. The omelettes and French toast eventually outweighed my disappointing experience with their grilled salmon the night we arrived.
If you don’t mind ignoring the finer points of hospitality then this place is pretty decent. I would recommend this to a younger crowd coming for a swim, get plastered in their rooms and wake up to recovery food the following morning.Check out my youtube channel for your regular glimpse behind the scenes! While you’re at it, drop buy the online store and get goodies from your favorite models!
Travel Bug: Osaka and Kyoto
Traveling from Manila
PAL and Cebu Pacific unfortunately have afternoon flights. You’d end up in Kansai around 7-8PM. You would have already lost a day just getting into Japan. A good alternative is taking Cathay Pacific which gets you there by 3PM, but you’d have to leave early from Manila, and go through a 3-hour lay-over in HK. The main airport serving both cities is Kansai International, that man-made island-airport they constructed off the coast. It’s immediately connected to the train station that can take you to either city.
This is operated by JR West. As a visitor, you are entitled for a discount (just show your passport) when you purchase a combination of their ICOCA IC card, and a round-trip in the Haruka. The return ticket is redeemable within two (2) weeks of your stay, which is roughly the length of time an entry is allowed on a tourist visa. The last Haruka for Kyoto is 10:16PM, and the trip is about an hour and fifteen minutes. Coincidentally, you can also use the Haruka to end up in Osaka since it makes a brief stop at Tennoji Station.
This is run by the Nankai Electric Railway, a private railway company servicing Osaka, Kobe and nearby areas. This usually terminates in the Namba station. As an alternative, you can also use the Kansai Airport Rapid Express, since it leaves the airport in between the timings of Nankai. More details on the Nankai here. Both operators could be found across the concourse when you get out of the airport.
What is ICOCA?
Hotels vs. AirBnB
- Rere / Her place is southwest from the station, and along the train tracks. She provides with the smallest of amenities you could think of from a host.
- Gacky / A bit more sparse, but handles more guests since the bed is are tatami mats with futons. This is northeast, and bit closer to the station as well as other subway stations going to other parts of Kyoto.
Both are walking distance from Kyoto Station, and near convenience stores and small restaurants.
In Osaka, we settled in APA Hotels, a known hotel chain. It was right smack in the middle of two subway lines which got us mobile rather quickly around the city. I suggest booking these places through Booking.com.
Going to Osaka and Kyoto
Traveling between the cities is actually quite convenient. You can take the Keihan line servicing both Osaka and Kyoto. Especially during peak seasons, hotels in Kyoto in particular could get filled up quickly. Osaka can work as a good base, and just do day trips to Kyoto. It takes about 30 minutes via the rapid service trains.
As much as Japan is awesome with food, you don’t have to eat every takoyaki on every corner. You would eventually get tired of them if consumed consecutively. I suggest spacing your Japanese snack cravings. There would be lots of delicacies to enjoy when you walk around the public markets. Make sure to save space for those. What I enjoyed the most though is kaiten sushi (conveyor belt sushi). Ramen and soba stalls are a common sight especially near the stations. These cater mostly to the commuting worker type, but still gives a good meal. Don’t miss the chance eat in one. While riding the train, we impulsively hopped off Sakuranomiya Station to get our first glimpse of cherry blossoms up close. It was almost lunch and you could see couples, people sitting underneath the trees with their bento boxes. It was such an authentic quaint experience.
Our main stop of the day was Osaka Castle, which was quite a walk from the station where we hopped off. Whether you take the northern or southern gates, the distance would almost be the same. Much of it authenticity of Osaka Castle was only kept on the outside. The entire castle has been gutted out and modernized to fit in a museum, gift shop and costume rental. We didn’t really stay for long and made a quick pass the exhibits. There was also an old audio-visual presentation on every floor, but it was all in Japanese.
Noticeably, there are no high rise buildings in Kyoto. This city was meant to preserve the cultural heritage of Japan. The only high-rising places you’d get to see are temples and shrines with the exception of Kyoto Tower. Funny enough, when you enter Kyoto Tower from the ground floor, it gives off that aura of the old Greenhills Shopping Center back in the 80s. Enjoy the parks. Sure there are the usual tourist attractions (that get rather tourist-trappy for the obvious reasons), but I highly suggest hanging out where the locals do. On the way to Yasaka Shrine, we decided to sit down at Maruyama Park. Spread around the park are tatami mats for public use, and you could buy bento box food in stalls peppered around the place.
Kyoto is a walking city. The subway of course is convenient, but going around could be done on foot, and certainly burns the calories off from the food you would end up gorging along the way. The weather was also conducive during this time; we didn’t break a sweat after walking about 3-5kms back to our AirBnB apartment. The Japanese have respect for public spaces. They take off their shoes when stepping on the tatami, and pick up after themselves. If our society only had a fraction of their collective social discipline, we’d see some progress in ours.
Everything is packaged so neatly and nice, it appeals to the impulsive buyer in you. If you can’t control your retail therapy sessions, you might just end up buying every knick-knack on each corner because they look cute. I’m such a sucker for Japanesey accessories since I use them for shoots.
Nishiki Market has lots of local delicacies you’d enjoy snacking along the way. It’s best to just buy small morsels and taste every bit, rather than just filling yourself from one stall.
Shots from Kiyomuzi Dera. This is place never runs out of people because of the scenic view of Kyoto from the mountain side. There lots of eateries and small restaurants along the way.
I certainly don’t mind going back here. There are lots more places to explore, and we’ve only scratched the surface.
Nakasendo Way – Old Japan Highway
Now this is something I want to try next time I’m in Japan.
Nakasendo Way is the old Japanese highway that used to link Tokyo and Kyoto during the Edo Period.
It’s amazing how they are able to preserve the past despite the all development that has happened around. Just sharing this guy’s Google gallery to remind myself to do this during on our regular trips to Japan.
More details on guided tours and travel info, check out: http://www.nakasendoway.com/
All images posted is copyright of the photographer.
Edit (03.03.16): The wifey and I have decided to do a part of the Nakasendo Way. This would be passing through two (2) towns (Magome and Tsumago) in the Kiso Valley. I would be posting our shots after the trip.Check out my youtube channel for your regular glimpse behind the scenes! While you’re at it, drop buy the online store and get goodies from your favorite models!
Tokyo: Inspiration City
Tokyo never ceases to inspire me. It’s a city that has both feet planted in reality and fantasy. For most Japanese, Tokyo may be a normal place in their daily lives, but for most of us gaijin (foreigner in Japanese), exploring the city is like dreaming while wide awake. Theirs is a culture that has both the structures of a 1st-world city, and yet you get pockets of the outrageous peppered all around. The old is juxtaposed with the new in such a harmonious way, you could feel how they embrace their past at the same time build for a future.
This is my second trip (of perhaps more) to the city. Whatever we missed out during the 1st round, we more or less covered on this one in a more relaxed pace. We were pretty much done with the tourist mandatories, and so a bit more time could be devoted to enjoying the fine details of what the city could offer. Even as simple as hanging out in a Starbucks in Ueno Park proved to be quite a treat.
Since the train system was already familiar to us, it was pretty much easy going to most parts. Day 1 was devoted to all the anime places I didn’t get to go the last time.
|Yes, I have to take a picture in front of the Gundam RX-78 in Diver City.|
|Yoshinoya beef bowls won’t taste the same after you’ve had the one in Japan.|
|Even the wall decor in some anime shop looks awesome.|
|They have entire bookstore chains dedicated to anime and manga.|
One of the trip high lights is dining out in Omoide Yokocho in the Shinjuku district. It’s made up of several alleyways cramped with eateries (with seating capacities of less than 10 for some of the stalls). Most yuppies and working types end up having drinks after work in this area. Food is mostly beef bowls, noodles, yakitori and the quick service type. And there is something with Japanese food, no matter how “cheaply” bought, still way better than eating in the most expensive restaurants back in Manila.
For a cultural experience, we checked out Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. As it turned out, there was some design exhibition / awards going on that week.
From one park to another, we checked out Ueno Park. They have a zoo and several museums and art galleries in the area.
|Yes, you can ride Pikachu.|
|Thanks to the wife for indulging me in this rare occasion of vanity.|
We spent our last day getting out of the Tokyo area, and discovering Kamakura. It was an hour out, and you could actually sleep most of the way through without the fear of missing out on your station. From Kamakura, we had to transfer to the Enoden line which is not listed within the Tokyo train map.
The walk to the giant Buddha was about 500m from the station. We were given heads up that since it’s out of Tokyo, conveniences of restaurants, stores, etc… were a bit sparse. So we gladly stocked up, only to discover there are numerous food places every other step going to the shrine. This was the place where I saw more Caucasians than Japanese walking about the streets.
|Cute coffee truck, complete with manga to read while you wait for your brew.|
|From the other side of the Hase (Enoden Line) station, there was a wind surfer’s beach.|
|Pancake-ish desert filled with red mung beans.|
|Their local version of the pedicab.|
Tokyo would see more of my fat ass this year for sure.Check out my youtube channel for your regular glimpse behind the scenes! While you’re at it, drop buy the online store and get goodies from your favorite models!