Pico De Loro (Nasugbu, Batangas)

Standard

Despite being born and raised in Batangas, I never really went to any of its beach resorts before I got my first job. I only had the sea shores of Barangays Ilijan and Dela Paz, my parents’ hometown, to visit. In fact, I didn’t know that places like Anilao, Laiya, Calatagan and Nasugbu are famous summer destinations, and didn’t even know such places exist.

Moving forward to today, having discovered my fondness of traveling, I have been to a few of Batangas’ beach resorts. My most recent one was a family trip to Pico De Loro in Nasugbu, Batangas. I know that Batangas does not have Boracay-white sand beaches, but sometimes, proximity is a good reason to go there, especially now that I am expecting. I was supposed to treat my family to Puerto Princesa, Palawan last January but severe episodes of vomiting and nausea cancelled our trip. And so, my dream of showing my parents the other side of Luzon did not push through. Hopefully, our short trip to Pico De Loro made up for it.

I have read a few blogs and reviews about Pico De Loro before deciding to go there. It was a mixture of goods and bads, but what option do I have? Summer is fast approaching and almost all beach resorts in Laiya, Calatagan and Nasugbu were fully-booked. One of the few available resorts was Pico De Loro.

I found the Pico Sands Hotel too expensive for an overnight stay for a group of 6, even in Agoda, so I resorted to looking for a condo unit owner who offers rental. Luckily, I found one. The owner’s facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/hamilocoastcondo. Their website is http://www.hamilocoastcondoforrent.com/ We rented Myna B Studio Unit for 4,500 a night. It’s still a little expensive but it’s more economical than staying in the hotel.

The Travel

Having Batangas City as a starting point doesn’t mean we had less travel time than if we started from Metro Manila. Batangas City is 103 kilometers away from Pico De Loro, vs. 82 kilometers if we came from our apartment in Mandaluyong City. With 5 adults and a kid, it took our old sedan about 3.5 hours to get to our destination. We started traveling at 12 in the afternoon and arrived there at 3:30 already. We had to stop by Jollibee in Nasugbu town proper to have our lunch before proceeding with the trip.

Travel tip: Plan to leave early so you will arrive at the destination early and maximize your stay. (Yes, I should have known, but we had to visit the auto shop first to make sure our good old car was ready to hit the long road)

The Room

I found the studio unit small, but it was just enough for an overnight stay. Anyway, I knew that we won’t be staying inside long, for we went there to swim, swim, swim. The pictures here http://www.hamilocoastcondoforrent.com/412mynab.html are exactly what you will find in the room. What was nice about renting this place was that we had everything we need. It was just like staying in our home. For our food, we just brought uncooked rice (they have rice cooker and stove), drinking water, and some food to reheat. Kitchen and dining wares were complete (although I didn’t notice if they have kitchen knives).

The Place

We felt we were really finally there when we entered the gates … NOT! We had to drive about 5-10 more minutes along a mountainside before we got to the condo. Pico de Loro was a huge property, I may say.

There was a man-made lagoon in the middle of the condominiums and hotel. The place was like a huge park. To get to the beach, you can either take their shuttle service or just walk. We took the shuttle service in the afternoon, but the next day, we decided to have a leisurely walk along the lagoon going to the beach and enjoy the shady trees.

Man-made lagoon. Don't worry. It's not for swimming.

Man-made lagoon. Don’t worry. It’s not for swimming.

The country club is accessible both to members and guests, while the beach club requires a member to accompany guests to use its amenities. In order to use the country club facilities, guests are required to pay guest fees.

Guest Fee Payment

One thing that I didn’t like in Pico de Loro was the service. I was told that we had to pay a guest fee per head, and purchase their cash card in order to use the beach. So after taking some rest at the condo unit, my family took the shuttle going to the Country Club. When we got there, there were only 2 ladies at the reception area who were assisting the guests. I was third in the queue. I thought that being third in line would take just a while, but I was wrong. I waited like 15 minutes to be assisted, and about 30 minutes to be registered and for my payments to be processed. My, oh, my! 45 minutes of wasted time.

Note: Guests are required to pay guest fees. The rate during that time was PHP500 per head because it was still lean season. In addition to the guest fee, a group should also purchase one cash card for PHP1050. It has an initial load of PHP1000, and could be reused and reloaded (so make sure you keep it for future use).

Sunset at the Beach

Because of the delay in Country Club registration, we arrived at the beach at almost 6PM. Just in time for the beach to be closed for swimming. It was sad that we were not able to swim that time, but it was still amazing to watch the sunset. My husband and my daughter still managed to sneak some swimming time at the shallow part of the beach. I’m glad that Mr. Lifeguard didn’t mind them taking a dip. And while they were enjoying the calmness of the sea, I was busy taking everyone’s photos. We’re glad we brought a mat, where my folks sat down and seemed to enjoy the moments.

DSC_1171

My parents and my aunt on their chika moments by the shore

Watching Stars at Night

One of the nice things to do here if you have kids, is watching the night sky. We were supposed to build a tent that night if only we had more energy and time (I had to go to bed early). Instead of setting up a mat, we used the beach chairs to lay down and watch the stars. The sea was still calm and the weather was perfect. My 5-year old daughter said “This is my idea of a perfect vacation: watching stars!” I was waiting for a shooting star, but I think my eyes need glasses to do that.

After my daughter identified her stars of white, blue and red colors, and watching planes and helicopters pass by instead of shooting stars, we headed back to the condo unit. My folks were already asleep when we got back. I was really tired, too, and soon everyone was asleep.

Morning Swimming

After eating our breakfast of rice, embutido and adobo, everybody dressed up with their swimsuits and excitedly went to the beach. We did not take the shuttle. Instead, we enjoyed walking along the lagoon going to the beach. I was glad that my parents and my little one enjoyed the sceneries. I tricked my mother to walking past the hanging bridge, knowing that she easily gets nervous with those kinds of things. I just wanted my my parents to enjoy their life and not worry too much. The last time I got them to do something that scared them was making them ride the big ferris wheel in Enchanted Kingdom. :D They seemed to enjoy those challenges after. :)

It was 9AM already when we arrived to the beach. I knew we were a little late … again … knowing that check out time was 12 noon, but that was vacation. We were just taking things slowly at a time. My parents enjoyed the shallow and calm waters of Nasugbu. There were protective barriers to prevent swimmers to go deeper, so I guess my mother got a little bored. They grew up in a place where they swam the seas almost everyday of their lives. I think shallow waters were not much of a challenge for them. But because the water was crystal clear, we all enjoyed swimming and even watched a few fishes. It was amazing to see fishes almost near the shores. :) The waters may be nice to swim in, but beware of the jelly fishes. We were fortunately not stung, but we did catch 2 small ones.

My daughter, very excited to go swimming and play with the sand

Small jelly fishes we caught before leaving the waters

After swimming in the sea, we went to the Country Club to try their swimming pool. They had different types of pools, but the deepest was only 4 ft. The pool was a bit crowded, and there were no chairs left for us to sit on. It was a good thing that we brought our saviour mat again. Swimmers were strictly advised to wear swimming attires. Unfortunately, my mother was wearing cotton shirts, so she was not allowed to swim.

Pack up Time

This was another thing that I didn’t like about our stay. I knew that check-out time was 12 noon, but I didn’t want everyone to hurry up (this is, again, vacation, right?). In the unit owner’s email, we were told that we would pay an additional PHP500 each hour of extended stay, so I thought it wouldn’t be bad to just pay. However, the unit’s caretaker told us to vacate the place because there would be guests who will use the room next. They should have advised us earlier when we checked in, else, I would not have thought of extending and we would have used our time more wisely to check out at exactly 12. We didn’t have a choice but to get everything and just get the hell out, with me still combing my dripping wet hair.

My frustrations with checking out didn’t end with my dripping hair. I told the lady at the reception desk that my family was ready to check out. She told me to wait as the room was being checked. I waited long because there were other visitors who were checking out. Somebody was even complaining about her reservation. I waited for about 20 minutes before I made a follow up. My family was already getting impatient outside, and I could hear my daughter crying. I just found out that the receptionist thought I was checked in at another room, while our room was actually already cleared out several moments ago. With this trip, the deal-breaker was always service: to think that it was not yet peak season. Sigh. I guess they should train their staff more.

Lunch at Lagoa Restaurant

Before heading home, we thought of trying their food at the Lagoa Restaurant, located at the Country Club. We were pleased with the service here, at least we didn’t wrap up our trip with the bad experience during check out.

Buffet lunch was available at PHP850 per head. We could not afford such price, and there were not much food choices, too, so we just ordered ala carte: rice, sinigang na liempo, grilled pork liempo, pinaputok na bangus, and turon with ube and langka. The food was not that great but I still think they did a good job. I’ve read of diners who were not at all pleased with the food here. Maybe the management did some improvements, which was good.

food

Buffet Lunch Setup

Buffet Lunch Setup

Our trip at Pico De Loro, Hamilo Coast was definitely something to remember. The place has a lot to improve in terms of service, but I would still go back for another family vacation. It would be best to stay here for more than a day, to explore and enjoy the place more.

Baler (Aurora)

Standard

My idea of a perfect vacation on a beach had always been that with clear waters, white sands and clear skies: the exact opposite of my most recent trip. It was murky water and big waves. I never thought I would consider going to Baler, a place that is synonymous to surfing.

My first surfing experience was more than a year ago, at Bagasbas in Camarines Norte. I blogged about this unexpected trip in my post, Calaguas + Bagasbas, Camarines Norte. Surfing is really not my thing, and not something to get serious about, but it’s an activity that gives my bummed programming life a challenge every once in a while. After a small talk with a co-worker about interest in surfing, we set up a small trip to Baler, where my husband and daughter, and another fellow co-worker also joined.

How we got there

The long vacation during All Saints Day is also a peak season for vacation spots, so our group decided to rent a van instead of being chance passengers. Our group met at 6:30 AM in Ortigas. I was surprised (and glad, being a time-conscious person) to see everybody there at the agreed time. We paid P550 per head for the ride.

The ride was one of the longest ones I have ever experienced. We started on the road promptly at 6:30 AM but arrived in Baler at already 4PM. There were a few things that caused this delay. First, we had a stop over at NLEX to eat breakfast. Our decision to choose the first stop and eat at Jollibee was not a good one, for it was THE longest Jollibee line I have ever been to. Imagine waiting in line for 30 minutes, and then another 30 minutes to wait for the food. Second, and as expected, there was a very heavy traffic along the express ways due to a huge volume of vehicles and people who were either going home to their respective provinces, or like us, going for a vacation to the northern parts of Luzon. Our driver decided to take the service roads instead, but did not make any difference because the cemeteries along the roads were also packed with people, vehicles and street vendors.

Travel tip:
As much as possible, try to avoid travelling on rush hours to avoid traffic and to maximize vacation time.

What we did

Surf, of course. But not as soon as we got there. It was already 4PM when we arrived at our destination resort, Rushies Point. We were so tired from that 9 1/2 hours of travel, that we thought it would be best to wait til next morning to surf.

The waves that greeted our arrival

The waves that greeted our arrival

Day 1: Simply walk along Baler sea shore

Day 1: Simply walk along Baler sea shore

I woke up very early at 5:30 AM, hoping to watch the sun as it rises. However, to my dismay, there was light rain that morning. My husband woke up some minutes later, and so did our little girl.

We went out, to Mahdox School of Surf although it was still drizzling outside. This place is located just a few steps from Rushies Point. My daughter was really super excited to surf. She even picked a pink surf board for herself. Unfortunately, the school does not recommend surfing for ages 7 and below (my daughter is 4).

Mahdox Surf School

Mahdox Surf School

My husband receiving surfing lessons

My husband receiving surfing lessons

That's my husband riding the waves

That’s my husband riding the waves

Being a beginner, I needed a surfing instructor. An hour of surfing lesson costs P350 at Mahdox. They gave me a soft board, the kind that is just right for beginners. Just like my first surfing lesson, my instructor, whose name is Bato (and he assured me he doesn’t take “bato”) gave me the basic Do’s and Don’ts of surfing. I also practiced standing up and balancing on the surf board, while still on sand. It is very important to know those basics before heading out to the shore.

Honestly, I forgot how big the waves were in Bagasbas. When I looked at the waves of Baler, I easily got intimidated, that I wanted to back out and just volunteer to take everyone’s pictures while they were surfing. To make myself a little bit braver, I just remembered how eager my daughter was to surf, and that she was not able to do it because of her age. Just thinking about that made me feel cowardly as a mother, so off I went to meet and greet the Baler waves.

Kuya Bato’s instructions were very clear and helpful. My first 3 tries were failures. I kept on falling off because I was very conscious of the waves. On my next attempts, I imagined that I was still standing on the sand, and that there were no waves, and that helped me. The next tries were a mixture of successes and failures; but mostly successes. Success for me means being able to stand up, bend my knees, and balance until the waves carry me near the shores.

When Kuya Bato noticed that I already got a hold of balancing, the next thing he taught me was pushing the board without his help by paddling. He asked me to paddle hard until the waves push me, which was the cue that it is time to stand up. It was hard to get during the first tries, because I had to focus on 3 things: paddling, the timing of standing up, then balancing. Kuya Bato was patient with me and told me the things I was doing wrong every time I fall off the water. In the end, I was able to do the paddling successfully for a few times. I was also able to see which wave would be OK for a beginner like me.

After an hour of another thrilling and tiring surfing experience, I have concluded that surfing is not something to be afraid of, especially if we find a good surf board, a good instructor, and a good wave.

And this is me trying to balance. You can see from the picture how shallow the water is, so it wasn't that scary.

And this is me trying to balance. You can see from the picture how shallow the water is, so it wasn’t that scary.

But wait! There’s more! Aside from surfing, Baler has other things to offer, like the Mother Falls. The name sounds too generic, right? But that’s how they call it: the Mother Falls.

Getting to the Mother Falls was very challenging, from the moment we stepped on the tricycle that took us to that tour. Our group traveled for some 20 minutes inside a tricycle, on a plain road. Being back riders for that long has surely been tough for my 2 colleagues, while my husband and I managed to make sure our daughter didn’t get cold with the wind against our faces. After windy ride, our tricycle next braved a rocky road (literally rocky) leading to the trail to the falls. The 2 boys had to get down to give some push when we hit large rocks. If the bumpy ride was a pain in the *ss for grown ups (again, literally, the way our bottoms had to fight upward and downward forces), it was a fun adventure to our 4 year old, that she called it the “roller coaster tricycle”.

The rocky road was just the beginning of our adventure. After that, we had to take a small hike up to the falls. We crossed streams that had large rocks, and narrow bamboo bridges. It was a big challenge for my husband to carry our daughter during the trip, and was also a challenge for me to carry our things and our camera. And! It drizzled. I had to take extra care not to get the camera wet, and protect it from falling off streams and rocks at the same time. And take pictures too! Whew!

DSC_0945

Rocks!

Rocks!

DSC_0948

DSC_0951

If we're heading to the Mother Falls, this might be the "child".

If we’re heading to the Mother Falls, this might be the “child”.

The Mother Falls, which was the prize that was waiting at the end of our journey, was a magnificently flowing water form coming from the mountain top. It was the 4th falls I had seen in my life. It was not the biggest I have seen, but as always, there was something grand about waterfalls that make me feel honored to witness such nature’s wonders. While swimming is the ordinary thing to do in waterfalls, I did not do it there, nor in the other falls I went to. I admit that I’m scared to go swimming in fresh water because fresh water is less dense than salt water (I fear that I would not float as easily). My husband was the one who took a dive at the water, which he described as “as cold as ice water”. Brrr! Even if I knew how to swim, I would not dare swim in ice cold water.

Now, this is the Mother Falls. And that was my husband trying to fight the cold water.

Now, this is the Mother Falls. And that was my husband trying to fight the cold water.

When more and more people came, we decided it was time to go, and next to the pasalubong center.

The hydroelectric power plant powered by the falls

The hydroelectric power plant powered by the falls

DSC_0989

The pasalubong center was located near the bus terminal. I have nothing much to say about that place, because there was nothing much to find in it. I was expecting a huge place with different kinds of native products and souvenirs, but I only found a few stalls selling a few products. I was not able to find food that was unique to Baler, so I just opted for some shirts to give to my parents. They love wearing souvenir shirts.

Where we ate

Aside from surfing, another fun thing to do in Baler is eating. And eating is more fun if it’s buffet style. And buffets are more fun if they are affordable and delicious.

During our 3 days stay in Baler , I was only able to eat in 2 restaurants: Bay’s Inn and Gerry Shan’s Place.

Bay’s Inn offered its breakfast buffet for P170. They served the usual Filipino breakfast: silogs, except longanisa and tapa. The buffet also comes with unlimited iced tea, orange juice and coffee. During dinner, waiting time at Bay’s Inn could take as long as 2 hours, that we ate our dinners at Gerry’s.

Tapsi at Bay's Inn

Tapsi at Bay’s Inn

Bay's Inn at night

Bay’s Inn at night

Beach rules

Beach rules

DSC_0781

Clubhouse sandwich at Bay's Inn

Clubhouse sandwich at Bay’s Inn

Gerry Shan’s Place is a legacy diner in Baler that offers buffet at a very reasonable price of P180. They have unlimited iced tea that comes with the buffet meal. Most buffets I have been to are overflowing with food, but not with taste. In Gerry’s all the dishes I tried were delicious and tasty. I avoided the greasy ones, though, because they would fill up my tummy easily and would make me eat more rice. I got interested with their fern dishes, especially the fern salad. It was my first time to eat fern. They tasted well, and compliments the main dishes. We also tried their halu-halo, with sizes of “small” and “medium” and amounts of serving that looked just the same, only the shape of the containers were different. (So next time, we know which size to get)

My first plate. All my favorites!

My first plate. All my favorites!

Buffet all day at Gerry Shan's

Buffet all day at Gerry Shan’s

How we got home

Surfing, trekking, gluttony were all unforgettable. How we got home, was unforgettable, too, in an different way. We got to Baler the hard way, and we got out the harder way. While the Genesis Bus told us days before that their buses leave at 5:30, 7:30 and 9:30 in the morning, we found out that all their buses left early at 7AM. We wanted to take the 9:30 schedule, but instead, we ended up waiting for another bus, with several other passengers. Unfortunately, when the bus came, everybody pushed their way into the bus. Every person who got in the bus first had a lot of companions. That left us with no available seats.

There we were, 2 hours waiting for any bus, until we decided to split. Me, my husband and our daughter took a van going straight to Cubao, while my 2 colleagues were kind enough to wait for the next van or bus. We paid a staggering P660 per head for the transportation fee. I think it was overpriced, but we could not delay our trip any longer because we still had to go home to Batangas from Manila. In short, we took the van.

DSC_1115

DSC_1097

Some sunset photos we took on our way home

Some sunset photos we took on our way home

We arrived in Batangas already at 11PM. We were lucky to ride what looked like the last trip in the Cubao bus terminal, at 9PM. When we got home, my daughter excitedly told my parents about the great adventures she had in Baler. Then off to bed all 3 of us went: tired, but full of stories to tell.

Bean Perk (Mandaluyong)

Standard

Too many unblogged blogs! (Sigh) Small chicha’s have been piling up already! Ok, I’ll begin unstacking from Bean Perk, a favorite and not so famous local coffee shop that gives me a homey feeling.

My husband discovered Bean Perk when it was still along Boni Ave. One day, we just found out that a milk tea house has replaced this coffee shop. We wondered if the owner has decided to serve milk tea, instead. But last Saturday, while we were walking along Libertad street and looking for a new place to rent, we accidentally bumped into what we thought had forever closed Bean Perk. There it was in Gueventville building, just across California Garden Square. It was not along the main road as it used to be, so it was not that easy to notice when I pass by that street everyday.

We opened the door and entered a bigger, cleaner coffee shop than the old one. I looked around, and found some indoor games, magazines and newspapers. I don’t remember them having those items before. If they did, maybe I didn’t notice back then, or maybe I’m just getting more forgetful. We sat on the biggest couch, the one with sungka that had coffee beans instead of small sea shells. I felt sooooo relieved and relaxed sitting on those couches. My feet were really tired from a whole day of walking and apartment hunting.

I would not forget their carrot cake, which I thought was the best one I ever tasted. But I it was not on their glass display that night. I don’t know if it’s sold out, or if they don’t serve it anymore. Instead, we had a slice of chocolate chip cookies cake (that was not too sweet). We also had a pepperoni pizza pocket (an excellent choice) and bolognese (which was Italian, so I assume sweet style pasta lovers would not enjoy). And of course, coffee. We got their coffee of the day, a chocolate frap with a free size upgrade. Sorry, I forgot the exact name of the coffee. I told you my memory is getting poorer. The coffee was so-so … I don’t think it was that special. I would probably try other flavors next time. Service was great. Our food and coffee arrived in no time, served by courteous baristas.

So my husband and I talked and talked. That’s what we came there for: some decision makings over light coffee dinner. Because there were just a few people there, we felt like we were just talking at home.

Bean Perk gives the usual coffee shop ambiance, but in a way that I feel I’m not in a usual coffee shop, if you know what I mean. Maybe it’s because it’s just as simple as how I would want to wrap up my day.

Uncle Cheffy (The Hub at Greenfield District, Mandaluyong)

Standard

After saying our mealtime prayers last night, we stared at the pizza on our table. My husband asked “Would you like to take its picture?” I said “No, I’ve got too many blogs to write, and they have been piling up.” He said “Ok, let’s eat.” But before he could reach for the knife to slice the pizza, I told him “Ok, let’s take its picture.”

I love taking pictures of food, but sometimes it feels weird to do so because everybody nowadays takes pictures of everything and post them on Facebook. But the delectable pizza on the table seemed to tell me “No, I’m different! Take a shot!” So I did give in to the pizza. It was not my first time to eat at Uncle Cheffy’s. My family had a big dinner last year in its branch in Lipa City, Batangas, I just didn’t remember how the food tasted. But I did remember rolling up the pizza.

We ordered the Medium-sized Uncle Cheffy Favorites Panizza that’s only PHP200. It had oven dried tomatoes, mushroom, garlic, anchovy, chili flakes, basil and 3 cheese (of course, details taken from their menu). Roll up the pizza! The pizza was flavorful, and we really enjoyed the big serving. We thought their “Medium” panizza would be just an additional room for our stomach to go with our main course, but I think just that size would suffice for a dinner for 2.

Uncle Cheffy Favorites, Medium-sized good enough as dinner for 2

Uncle Cheffy Favorites, Medium-sized good enough as dinner for 2

Shortly, our order of Pork Ribs was served. This one costed just PHP300. It came with a huge bowl of yellow rice and a tasty sauce. I just called yellow rice “yellow” because it was obviously not plain rice, and of course, yellow. It had bits of potatoes maybe, or pineapple. We thought the meal would be good for 2 persons as the waiter hads told us, but no! It would be enough for 3 persons. The pork ribs were not as soft as I expected, but they were really delicious. The sauce was also good, sweet with some spices. If I’m not mistaken, it had Laurel leaves, which reminded me of my mother’s home-cooked “humba”.

500g Pork Ribs, would be light dinner for 3

500g Pork Ribs, would be light dinner for 3

After my husband and I finished a meal for 3-4 persons and virtually left nothing on our plates, he asked me “Was the food really delicious or were we just disappointed with our previous dinner date?”. Last week, on my birthday, we ate at a restaurant that we had high expectations of, because of the pricey food. It turned out that their menu of a “Buffalo chicken” sampler was just 4 really small pieces of buffalo chicken and the rest were just large potatoes and other finger food. However, I still think that putting aside that not-so-nice experience, the food we had at Uncle Cheffy’s was good enough for us to come back again.

Haru Sushi Bar and Restaurant (the 2nd time around)

Standard

I guess when you’re getting older, the concept of time also starts to change. I woke up on my birthday and realized, of course that it was my birthday. Unlike my other birthdays, when I used to fervently pray that the rain would not come (September is one of the typhoon and monsoon rain months in the Philippines), I suddenly started to take a closer look at the concept of time. I thought of it as having no meaning without any reference to distance. Without distance, time is linear, hence, the concept of being a year older will not be true without considering that age is calculated as the number of revolutions of the earth around the sun, from the instance when we started tracing from that point (the point of birth). So on my birthday, I called it as my “Thank God I’m Still Alive Reminder.” Not “Thank God I’m still alive day” because I consider each day to be another day to be thankful of. The earth’s revolution from my special point on the circumference of its orbit around the sun is just a gentle reminder to pause and be grateful that I have been breathing along with it during its travel.

I celebrated my “TGISAR” with my husband by doing some things we love the most: bowling and billiards. We usually go to game arcades, but I left my work late, so we didn’t have time to do that. The next day, the extension of TGISAR, I celebrated with my family by going to ACE Water Spa in Mandaluyong City, followed by a cozy Japanese dinner at Haru Sushi Bar and Restaurant.

The last time we ate at Haru was last year, and I actually wrote a blog about it. I remembered that I have not yet taken my parents out to eat at a Japanese restaurant. Haru, now an unfolding pride in Kapitolyo, Pasig, was just a few steps away from ACE Water Spa: what I thought was the perfect place for a family dinner after a tiring day of swimming and water massage.

I expected this place to be jam-packed on weekends, but quite hoping it was not that full on a rainy night. We arrived there warmly greeted with “Irrasshaimase!” by attendants in Kimono outfits. There were no more available seats for us, that I became a bit hopeless. But a big smile (and curiosity) showed on my face when they told us that they could open the “basement” for us. The entrance was from the side, and I didn’t know they have an extension. When they opened the door, it was a different set up. If the ambience upstairs was about cute Japanese dolls and figurines, the one below seemed to be for boys: of robots and cars. We were the only visitors at the basement, so my family had the place all to ourselves.

We ordered just the right amount of food: Yakisoba, Tofu steak, Don-buri meals (tendon, katsudon, gyudon, and oyakodon), and some buko juice (which I think was weird to have in a Japanese menu). Each meal came with a miso soup, and pickled cabbage. We spent just a little over PHP2,000, which I think was not bad for 5 really hungry adults and 2 kids. Service was not bad, either. I think it’s because we had the place solo. The taste of the food was good, but not that great, and overall, I think everybody enjoyed their meals.

Buko juice

Buko juice

Gyudon

Gyudon

Yakisoba

Yakisoba

After eating, we had time to look around this small gallery and let the kids play with the marble toys. My 4-year old nephew, who’s a real fan of cars, enjoyed pointing at the old toy cars, and saying out loud recognizable ones, such as the Mercedes Benz, and the Beetle. As for me, I enjoyed looking at the robots, reminiscing the old times, when those walking toys were a fad, and my younger brother had one.

Pachinko slot

Pachinko slot

Idle area (I suppose, where you could take a rest after a full meal)

Idle area (I suppose, where you could take a rest after a full meal)

Classic robots (Man, they're vintage already?)

Classic robots (Man, they’re vintage already?)

There it was … my TGISAR. Birthdays might be a little overrated, but I have to admit. However older I may get and however I would change my concept of time, it’s still fun to celebrate birthdays with the norm. :D

Part 3 of Manhattan Day Tour: Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art (New York City)

Standard

It took a while to post the third part of my New York solo trip. It seems my schedule is now getting busier again. Here are the links to my first and second posts about this adventure.

It was a shame I was able to stay in the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art for only 2 hours. That short time to roam a very huge place of full of artistic history was simply priceless. The museum was like a time machine that has taken me to different places around the world at different eras (and has also provided me shelter during the rain). I am posting just a few photos of the artifacts. They are all too precious to be displayed here, and would certainly be much more enjoyable to look at, if seen in person.

Of the countless beautiful relics and art pieces in the Met Museum, there were 2 that stood out and captivated me most. These were “The Massacre of the Innocents” by Francois-Joseph Navez and “Salome” by Henry Regnault. Both paintings were so much alive, that when I looked at them, it was hard to believe they were just paintings. Those 2 now belong to my top 3 favorite paintings, the other one of a Filipino painter, Juan Luna. His work, “Spoliarium”, occupies a whole wall at the Philippine National Museum. Here’s a link to a news that features a picture of that painting. I consider the 3 paintings “captivating” because these paintings were so beautiful, they made me feel weird and awed at the same time.

One of the sad things about day trips is that a traveler can never get to many places in a short time. There is this pressure to quickly decide whether to stay in a lovable place, or to get to the next location as planned. As for me, as much as I wanted to stay, I had to cut my trip short. Although it was still raining, I bid the place farewell, and continued my adventure outside.

Manila Ocean Park (Manila)

Standard

After five months, I was back to my home land, the Philippines. I missed my family so much, as well as our small trips. To celebrate my homecoming, we went to Manila to see the sea creatures at the Manila Ocean Park last Saturday. I made this post short, as the pictures themselves could speak about the fun we had, and how amazed my daughter was with her encounters with marine creatures.

Manila Ocean Park is strategically located close to the airport and Manila Bay, where several hotels could also be found. We have seen many tourists who also visited the park last Saturday. The place was huge, and I think the aquariums were well-maintained. There were also small restaurants and shops that people could visit when they get hungry or want to buy souvenirs.

Most feedbacks I have heard previously from friends were about the price of the attractions. The minimum ticket that a visitor could purchase costs PHP550. Some people think the price is too much, but I actually think it was worth it. We availed the minimum package, which includes Birds of Prey, Oceanearium, Jelly Fish, and supposed to be the Sea Lion show, which was not available that time, so they replaced it with Fountain Lights show.

Later that evening, we did not get to see the Fountain Lights show, because we were so tired after hours of walking and going to the other 3 attractions. Instead, we ate our dinner at Makan-Makan, the hotel restaurant inside the park. The food there was not as pricey as we thought. The restaurant had several stations that featured different cuisines, and where diners could see how food is being prepared, which I thought was interesting. The food was so-so, but I commend them for the delicious drink we had (the one that looked like sago-gulaman). Everything was served in large portions. We ended up in full stomachs, and afterwards, braved the heavy rains on our way back to our apartment.

I found the Manila Ocean Park worth visiting, especially for families who have kids who are old enough to appreciate marine life. My daughter liked everything there, and could not help telling everybody about the things she experienced. That made me happy and satisfied, as well.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Unboxing the Not so Famous Nook HD

Standard

Nook! Nook! Who’s there? That was supposed to be a joke about the Nook HD. My husband didn’t get it the first time, so never mind. I can’t think of an answer to “Who’s there?” anyway.

I know I was supposed to finish my New York day trip series of posts, but I was so excited to write something about my new toy, and how I ventured into buying it. This is actually my 2nd techie post since “My New Travel Buddy”, when I bought my Asus Eee PC 1015 PEM. Why? Because I have not bought any gadget since. Boy, it has been almost 3 years.

I have many times reaffirmed that I am not a gadget-a-holic (I would not skip 2 months dinner for a gadget). But since Google Play came to life, and has introduced me to e-books on my Android phone, I had some last minute decisions on buying a tablet. My Sony Xperia phone does an excellent job on texts, but I thought reading would be more convenient on a bigger screen.

I spent 5 days browsing the internet for reviews of tablets and e-readers. Yes, there are numerous tablets out there in the market right now. Big and small, narrow and wide, pocket-sized and magazine-sized, but my top choices narrowed down into:

– Amazon Kindle Fire HD
– Samsung Galaxy Tab (I don’t remember which model, since there were a lot to choose from)
– ASUS Google Nexus 7
– Nook HD Plus

After looking at reviews and specifications, I still felt like that I’ll never know what I want, until I get a hold of the device. “The gadget chooses its owner” That’s what my techie colleague told me. “You’ll know it when you see it.”

Prospect #1: Barnes and Noble Nook HD Plus

The first store that I went into was Barnes and Noble. I looked at the Nook HD Plus, a 9-inch magazine-sized e-reader. It does live up to its high resolution specifications. It runs on Android OS, and now has Google Play (Yey!) However, it fell short on having a camera, and it would not fit inside my casual bags for sure. Therefore, I ended up buying bargain recipe books, instead (and was so happy about how cheap they were)

The next stop was Best Buy. When I looked at the long line of gadgets in the store, the reviews and researches suddenly disappeared from my mind. There were so many to choose from. I had to hold them, browse books on them, spend time analyzing the brightness, the intensity of light, and calculate prices.

Prospect #2: ASUS Google Nexus 7

ASUS Google Nexus 7 is at this moment, hyped in the market. Given its fast processor (Quad-core!), high resolution display and portability, it would have been a bargain for $199. After all, I have trust in ASUS-made products, as my netbook has not failed me yet for almost 3 years now. Its tie-up with search engine giant and Android OS developer, Google, was a sure ball for meticulous buyers. However, after looking at the size of this device: it was light, portable, and everything, but the ratio of the screen was not what I was looking for.

Prospect #3: Amazon Kindle Fire HD

I went to check out Kindle Fire HD. Amazingly, it was the size I wanted: a 7-inch tablet with a wider screen than the ASUS Nexus 7. It would fit in my shoulder bag. It had a front facing camera, and sold at a reasonable price of $159. It was practically everything I wanted in a tablet. The slight down-side of everything was the OS: it runs on Android OS, specifically tailored just for Kindle. It does not support Google apps. Another difficulty point is that Amazon apps are not available for download in the Philippines (sad face). There are actually ways to make it possible (if you have heard of “rooting”). I know my geeky friends could help me out with that, but I don’t want a headache exploring that path.

Prospect #4: Samsung Galaxy Tab

I also checked out Samsung Galaxy Tab’s line of tablets. Samsung has been innovating and getting better, I know, but their tablets cost too much. Furthermore, reading their texts kind of made me dizzy. Maybe my astigmatism-stricken eyes do not match Samsung’s resolution.

Prospect #5: Apple iPad

Then I went to the product that I would choose the least. That is an Apple iPad. I held the iPad 4 (the one with retina display). Great resolution, nice to hold, but again, it would not fit in my bag. And at $499 (the 16Gb version) I would be able to buy 2 gadgets with almost the same specifications. So I went to the mini version. That product has wowed me. It was exactly what my hands needed. At $329 (the 16Gb version), maybe it would not hurt to try out iOS, this time. My daughter would also be happy to use it (for kids, “iPad” is as generic term for a tablet as “Colgate” is for toothpaste, in the Philippines). However, there’s a slight problem. The text was not as crisp as other HD tablets. I thought about sleeping over it and coming back the next day.

Prospect #6: Sony Xperia Tablet Z

When the next day came, I went back to Best Buy. I was almost ready to purchase an iPad mini, when my colleague introduced me to another tablet with nice features: the Sony Xperia Tablet Z. It is unique because it is waterproof and dust-proof. It had nice hardware specifications. It’s as smooth as my Sony Xperia Arc S phone, only that it’s a tablet. It actually looks like a cute mini version of a high-end Sony TV. It is cute but it costs $499. Ouch. So again, I had to go home and think about which to buy (and that’s how to be a middle-class. You can’t buy stuff without thinking about things over again until it makes sense to buy one)

The iPad mini lingered in my thoughts until I went home. The comfort, the feeling of having everything in one, it’s there. So again, I dove into the internet and found out that Apple might be releasing an iPad mini with Retina display, maybe later this year. I talked to my husband about it, and we agreed to settle for the ASUS Google Nexus 7 instead, while waiting for the iPad mini retina. And slept over it again.

Unexpected Prospect #7 slash the Chosen One: Barnes and Noble Nook HD

It’s weird, but the next morning, the Nook HD (the 7-inch version of the Nook HD Plus) that never was on my list, woke me up. I finally realized that I just need a small e-reader that will serve as my pocketbook. Nook HD is a plus, because it is portable, just the right size close to a pocketbook, is in HD, has Google Play, and is cheaper than other tablets. It might not be famous in the market, but it has good reviews.

After eating lunch, I was back to where I started: to Barnes and Noble. I was pretty much excited to buy the Nook HD, and more excited when I saw kids playing with it. Then I looked at the price. Uh-oh. I thought that $129 was the 16Gb version. In fact, it was only 8Gb. The 16Gb version costs $149, same price as the Nook HD Plus. Now I had to choose between the small one and the big one. Do I want to be practical? Or do I want convenience? I went through the 2 products, comparing them side by side. I actually spent 30 minutes doing that: staring at the texts, the icons, playing Temple Run 2, playing videos, browsing the net. It was no help. It was like comparing a magazine to a pocketbook. I gave up, and came up with a final test: imagination. I pictured myself sitting on a bench, while waiting for friends or someone else to arrive at a meeting place. As bright as the morning sun, the 7-inch tablet was the one I was holding. Now, would it be the 8Gb or the 16Gb version? Ok, it wouldn’t hurt to spend $20 more for a bigger memory. And if I need more, there’s the micro-SD slot.

After the “Eureka!” moment, I went straight to the Customer service, and asked for a Nook HD. It even came with a free charger. There was a funny moment for me, the cashier, and everyone who were in line. When the cashier punched in my Nook, expecting a free coupon for the charger, the Nook came out as the freebie, instead. Anyway, the manager came to the rescue and joked about it. After some tweaks on their payment system, I went home with my Nook; which I paid for, by the way.

Unboxing

The gadget was easy to set up. I think a non-techie person would easily follow the instructions. I panicked when I didn’t see Google Play, but eventually figured out that the system just needed some upgrade, which I began installing right away. After restarting, the Nook had a slightly different interface, with additional applications, including Google Play (Yey!). So far, I am enjoying the very simple Nook HD. It would probably be for keeps, as long as it’s running and functional.

Nook HD just right for me

Nook HD just right for me

Part 2 of Manhattan Day Tour: Uptown Tour and Central Park (New York City)

Standard

After waiting for about 15 minutes, the lobby of Madame Tussauds Wax Museum finally opened. Together with other visitors, I lined up to get my City Sights NY bus tour ticket. Just in time to go to Central Park, I thought. The bus tour includes Upper and Lower Manhattan tour, plus Brooklyn tour. Most of the people in my batch went off to the Downtown tour first, but I knew that it was going to rain, that I opted to go for the Upper Manhattan first. That way, I could go to the Central Park and walk under trees without getting wet that much. After Central Park, I planned to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and wait for the rain to stop.

My itinerary for the morning was:
9:00-9:15 Hop on the double-decker bus and go sight-seeing
9:15 Hop off at Museum of Natural History (Just to take a picture outside)
9:15-10:00 Walk around Central Park
10:00-10:15 Lunch at Central Park
10:15-12:00 Walk up to Metropolitan Museum, and change to Downtown Tour

I was ready to hop on the bus at 8AM but unfortunately, the bus tour starts at 9AM. Another 1 hour of idle time, I thought. I went to McDonald’s first, to change clothes. I knew it would not be a nice idea to go around in long pants and doll shoes. I changed into shorts and rubber slippers for a more rainy-day-ready look.

Travel tip: Check the weather forecast. It pays to pay ahead, but that could also mean no time to wait for a more reliable weather forecast a day before the trip. If the forecast suddenly changes from sunny to gloomy, adjust the itinerary accordingly and get equipped.

Just as everyone boarded the bus, the rain began to fall a little heavier. The tour guide gave us disposable rain coats. Good enough to keep us from getting entirely wet up the double-decker bus. I enjoyed the trip, nevertheless. I did not mind the rain or the tree branches that almost hit our faces. The tour was very informative. It showed us how Upper Manhattan is the upscale part of New York, where famous people own apartments. I also learned why there are so many scaffolding around. It’s part of the government’s standard safety inspection procedure to avoid accidents due to falling debris from old buildings. New York has a lot of really old buildings, dating from the 1900’s. I did not finish the Upper Manhattan tour, because I wanted to get off Central Park instead of going around it, since I did not have enough time to do that.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I hopped off the bus at the Museum of Natural History, and started walking to Central Park from there. I passed by Shakespeare Garden (or what I thought it was). I was torn between walking north and south. Central Park was so huge, that my feet had their own adrenalin. I was in a rush to see the place, but a little bit lost with my map. After a few twists and turns on my cellphone, I finally learned that I should follow the major roads, and not to confuse them with small jogging paths. A lot of people were running, skating, and walking their dogs on the roads. I don’t know if there was a race, or maybe it was just always that busy in that park.

Museum of Natural History

Museum of Natural History

Some small jogging paths that got me confused at the map

Some small jogging paths that got me confused at the map

I passed by this beautiful lake, labelled as “The Lake” in my map. It was probably the one I usually see in movies. Due to the rain, I had limited chances of taking pictures. I had an umbrella on my hand, and a camera on the other. It was hard to balance both, that I just skipped taking pictures on some interesting sculptures around.

The Lake

The Lake

The Lake

The Lake

The Lake

The Lake

And again, I had to find my way to the famous Strawberry Fields, a commemorative park for the late Beatles band member, John Lennon. I was not able to get a picture of the “Imagine” mosaic, due to a number of tourists who were at that spot. I was able to capture an itsy bitsy strawberry fruit, though. :)

Strawberry found!

Strawberry found!

After visiting Strawberry Fields, I walked up to the East end of the park and found some interesting sights on my way (but again, it was raining so no pictures taken). I stopped under a tree by this small pond to eat my lunch (half of the bread that I had for breakfast), and headed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was just sad that I was not able to visit other parts of the park. I also felt that my legs are complaining and needed some rest.

Stopping by for a rest

Stopping by for a rest

Part 1 of Manhattan Day Tour: Early Morning Walk (New York City)

Standard

Yes, my New York Day Trip has finally been gratified after so many skeptic thoughts. Thanks to a few persons who gave me the courage to go on my first solo backpacking trip. From my claustrophobia in buses, my fears have turned into one of the most unforgettable days of my life.

The main reason why I was so hesitant to go to New York at first was not being alone or lost in the city, but getting into trouble while on the way. I have not always been comfortable travelling for long hours by bus, let alone I don’t have my husband with me here. However, after watching the movie “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” in HBO two weeks ago, I finally had the courage to travel alone. If a little boy could make it to unfamiliar places, why can’t I? It’s just a movie, but indeed, there are braver little souls out there than I am. How much more afraid should I get? The next day, I did not think twice about booking a round-trip ticket to New York City via the Greyhound Bus Lines website. Days before the trip, I was able to get travel tips from online forums. I prepared my itinerary, saved the map to my cellphone, and the next thing I knew, I was in a bus heading to New York City on a Friday night.

Travel tip: Buy tickets ahead of time. I bought my tickets a week before the travel date to save money. While browsing for schedules, tickets were sold at $31 and $37 to/from New York respectively, but when I waited another hour, both trips increased by $5 (I did not make it to the cut off). Fares bought a day before the schedule could reach up to $132, so it pays to pay ahead.

The trip going to New York City was 8 hours long. Thankfully, I met a friendly girl who was also heading there. I had a chat with her at the bus station in Pittsburgh, then a little in the bus (until the driver asked everyone to stop talking) and before we departed ways in New York City. I really appreciated that she kept me company to keep me away from my worries.

The bumpy road kept me awake at almost the length of the travel. I only had the chance to sleep at the last hour of the trip. Amazingly, like some of my trips, I woke up with the sight of my destination from afar, just like giving me a glimpse of what I am going to be up to. The dawn was breaking, and I was most certain it was the Empire State building I was looking at. New York, here I come!

After a few more minutes, our bus has made it to the terminal. I stepped outside, and headed to the 42nd street at 6AM. I saw a different place in my head than the one I was staring at. New York early in the morning was not as pleasing to the eyes as I have imagined. Garbage and trash were everywhere. There were some nomads around, but they seemed to be harmless. Almost all shops and buildings were still closed. The lobby of Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, where I was supposed to get my City Sights NY bus ticket, was yet to open at 8AM. To kill time and worries, I started walking around. On the way, some street food stalls were already opening. I bought a sausage and egg sandwich for $3 and sat in front of the Grace building while eating my breakfast. The sandwich was too big for me, that I saved half of it for lunch. After I finished eating, I walked up to the Rockefeller Center, but it began to drizzle that it was hard to take more pictures. Because of the rain and silence, I felt a bit sad and scared at the same time. So I just decided to head back to 42nd street before the rain gets any heavier.

It was still early when I got back, so I just stayed at the front of the wax museum while waiting for the ticket booth to open. That time, more people were already flocking the streets. Most of them looked like tourists too, and were looking for places to go.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.