I know I’ve been slacking again on this journal over the past months. But I’ve been really busy. I’ve been travelling all over, attend to work, and take care of, send and fetch, and tutor my child since I’m yaya-less since August. I’m not at all complaining, I’ve been given a very abundant life, and though there were drawbacks too, my life is not all bed of roses I am very eternally thankful for everything.
I mentioned I’ve been travelling all over, almost every month, for leisure and with my family, fortunately. And for this post I would like to share some of my favorite photos from each of my travel this year, 2017. The purpose is personal and not to brag, but to humble myself and count all my blessings. I wish I could post these monthly as soon as they happen, but oh well, maybe I could just post my photo travels again in annual basis in the future.
For this trip the 3 of us went with Roxy and Gerry (hubs’ cousin). It was our first time staying in Causeway Bay area, where we did Ikea shooping and just basically food trip the whole 3 days.
Oh, I love this trip! We’ve been to Osaka several times, but this is probably the most laidback. We stayed in Dotonbori area unlike our usual Swissotel Nankai and this meant a looot of food tripping! Weather was really nice and not too cold. Did a USJ daytrip and Sophie enjoyed it too.
We went with hubs’ family, and London is as gorgeous as the first time. It was his family’s first time here, so we went with the usual tours. It was also a perfect twinning moment for Sophie and I with Big Ben, since she was sleeping the last time we went in 2015, and haven’t got a decent shot. I just wished we were able to see a musical play in this trip. Looking forward to another London trip next year, crossing my fingers!
Almost immediately after we returned from UK, we jetsetted off to HK again! It was hubs’ birthday, and the little one wanted to spend it in Disneyland. And my in-laws wanted to go shopping, so its a win-win trip for all of us!
Yearly since 2010, I make it a point for my own family to travel, be it foreign or local. My parents are getting old, and I want them to go see places while they still can. This year we went to Cebu. The last time we were here I was only about 6 years old, and they were not able to tour around. It was a nice bonding trip with their grandchild. Our last day was Tatay’s birthday, so this trip was also a treat for him.
We had a guided tour from our travel partner who arranged the whole trip. Jeju was a complete opposite of Seoul, very laidback and had few interesting places to see, but all equally beautiful in their own ways.
For Jeju tour arrangements, contact:
RJCZ Travel and Tours
+632.855.2724 / +632.855.2764
We go up to Baguio every now and then to chill, have a massage at North Haven and buy tasty breads from The Manor. And thats exactly what we did. And yeah, we also “break-in” the 2 Porsches.
WOW. When I was younger, it was my absolute dream to go here. And that dream was realized this year. What a beautiful island! No wonder not anyone can go here. Exclusivity sure comes with a hefty tag but, it was definitely worth every cent.
I mentioned before that my hubs and his sister bought their Porsche Macans, and were invited to Porsche Driving Experience in Sepang. It was a whole day driving and racing experience for them, learning how to use their cars to their maximum potential. While I, on the other hand, lounged at the trackside and had outlet shopping while waiting for them. Win-win trip!
We took a break from travelling by June and July, as the little one started her school. Come August, we’re on a roll again! It was my birthday month, and I’d like to treat the little girl again to her favorite, Disneyland. It was also our first time checking in to the Disney Explorers Hotel, the newest hotel there.
We spent our anniversary here this year! This was our first time and had the lowest expectation for this trip. But looking back, I miss Guam. We stayed for 4 full days, waking up late, swim, shop, drive around and just food trip all the way. It was so laid back I wanna do it all over again.
I’ve been looking forward to this trip! We toured San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and a sidetrip to Grand Canyon in Arizona and San Diego. We were able to spend time again with our Ninong Noel, who lives in SFO. It was our first time in Vegas and hubs drove going to and from LA. Sophie also spent her 4th birthday while touring.
We wanted to make the most of Sophie’s mid year break, but we’re on a budget, so we gathered all our miles for this Tokyo trip. We stayed in a budget hotel in Shibuya. We just stayed a lot in Shibuya area and food trip a bit there and in Tsukiji market. On our last night we stayed in Disneyland and spent the day in Disney Sea.
Okay. So this overnight trip is totally unplanned. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to spend anymore since I’m basicaly broke but we only need a few thousand miles and we’re Elite members already. Weighing the benefits of Elite member for a whole year versus our overnight expenses, plus I imagined Sophie swimming in MBS infinity pool, we then went for it.
I know I’ve been absent from blogosphere for a really long time. Its just that I’ve been really busy travelling here and there 😬, that I forgot that I have a blog that I maintain every now and then. Anyways, I would like to blog about one of my travels this time. I just got back from a trip to NYC, but I’m not so sure if its worth blogging at all. It had a lot of touristy spots and interesting places yes, but frankly, I do not see myself returning in the next couple of years. I am honestly more interested and inspired with my trip to the West Coast, in California.
It was my husband and I’s first trip ever without the little one. It was an anniversary getaway, after all. And since its our first time in the US, we made the most out of it and squeezed in San Fo and LA in just 6 days. Disclaimer though, we are not budget travellers but not business class type either. But we tend to splurge most of the time. As long as we like it and convenient for us, then we’re game.
I booked our return SFO flight during an online seat sale of PAL back in March. Had I known that time that we would be going to LA, I should have booked a flight out of LA to Manila. But oh well, at least we would be wiser the next time around.
Upon our arrival at SFO International Airport, we went straight to the counter of Hertz Car Rental. Hubby said it will cost us less to rent a car than take a taxi going to and from the airport. We were a bit excited (and nervous at the same time!) to try driving in the US. We rented a small car, a Nissan Versa. Good thing we only had 2 luggages coz only 1 luggage fit in the compartment and the other 1 at the back passenger.
Aahh, the highways of California are the best! Even though there are tons of cars, their highways are so wide and well planned out to accommodate hundreds and hundreds of speeding cars. I heard about their speed limit on highways, but wondered why no one is following them. They are all literally fast and furious. And we like it all the more of course. 😂
We checked in that night at Omni Hotel San Francisco. We heard about this hotel at OTWOL, a local soap starring the loveteam Jadine, and I never looked for other hotels in SanFo other than Omni. Hahaha. Anyway, they do not have guest parking but valet parking is available and included in our room. The hotel is a bit dated, but is spacious and classic looking. We were starving when we arrived, and nearby restaurants were closed since it was so late, so we ordered burgers in room service. The burgers were huge! We should have ordered just one for the 2 of us. Anyways, as we go along our trip we discovered that everything here is supersized. The burgers, the drinks, ice creams, one serving can serve up to 3 persons. American sizing is huge, for real.
We didn’t have time for a jetlag because we were early the next day for our early access tour to Alcatraz and city tour. Our meetup place was in Union Square, and it was then that we realized that Omni was not a good idea. We had a good 30 minute walk going to downtown.
We rode a private tour motorized cable car. If it had not been too cold, it would be the best way to go around the city. Everyone loved our cable car, whenever we stop by somewhere, everyone was asking where it would go and wanted to have a ride, or simply have a photo with it.
Touring the Alcatraz Island is also easy esp. because we’re early and there’s not much queue around. Being the non-history buff that I am, I also appreciated it because it provided insights about the lives of the prisoners inside this maximum security prison, even some of the escape attempts a few organized.
After our lunch of (huge) sandwiches, we toured around the city. We stopped by to several photo taking spots of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. It was cold and foggy that time, and only half of the bridge was visible.
We also stopped by the Palace of Fine Arts, to take photos and marvelled at its architecture.
The tour finished at around 3PM, and after then we met up with a family friend and godparent at our wedding, Ninong Noel. He has been living in SanFo since 2009, and we both couldn’t be any happier seeing each other for such a long time.
We drove to the best spot for photo taking of the Golden Gate, in Battery Spencer. I had to make sure the next time I go here to bring complete gear for wind and cold. It seemed like there was a typhoon with the kind of winds this spot has.
We also drove to the famous Lombard Street, the world’s crookedest street!
Afterwhich we had an early dinner in Franciscan Crab restaurant in Fisherman’s Wharf, and even though the huge garlic crabs were so-so, the clam chowder in sauerkraut bread was amazing!
Then it was time to say goodbye for our short but meaningful reunion. Ninong Noel had a tough life in the US, it was even his first time to go to the Golden Gate and Lombard Street, even though he’s been here for 7 years. It made me appreciate more the fortunate lives that we have, being we can travel in the US for just a vacation, and not worry about anything when we go back home.
The next day we’re not too early with the tour, so we had time for our breakfast at the next door’s Bob’s Steak and Chop House. Food was amazing and certainly worth the $30 vouchers.
We had a half day city tour again, but with a bus this time. Went to see the Golden Gate bridge again, Land’s End lookout, the Presidio and finally at the Fisherman’s Wharf. We’re supposed to go up the Twin Peaks but the guide said it would be worthless due to fog. Had lunch at the wharf with clam chowders and lobster rolls.
We had a flight to LA by 4:30PM, and even though the tour ended at 12:30 we waited for another bus to take us back to the hotel. It was already 2PM when we left Fisherman’s Wharf, and we were already wondering if we can make it to our flight, since we still had to return our rented car at the airport. We only had about 30mins before the flight, and thank goodness, no sh*t happened on our way to checking in. It was seriously an amazing race. If we were in Manila, we would not make it for sure.
We had an hour and 20 min flight to LA via Virgin America. Upon our arrival we went to Hertz again for our rented car, a bigger Kia Optima. The staff in Hertz LA are more kupal, they charged us several insurances without asking us first. And our booked car was supposed to be a Chrysler 200, but was “unavailable” and gave us the Optima. We should be wary of them next time.
Our first stop in LA was what else? In-N-Out Burgers! We’re a bit disappointed with it though, Shake Shack is a whole lotta better, imho. We also dropped by at the Best Buy because hubby wanted to check some tech stuff.
We checked in at The Georgian Hotel in Santa Monica. It was a simple and quaint hotel by the beach, and maybe the priciest of the 3 hotels we checked in, as per its location. It was already late and we just rested for tomorrow’s activities. The next day, we had our breakfast at the balcony of The Georgian. Having breakfast at the hotel’s balcony in Santa Monica beach sure has a different feel, like its once in a lifetime, y’know.
Our tour for today is called A Day in LA whole day city tour. Meetup for the bus is just 2 mins walk from The Georgian, that’s why I chose this hotel. Our bus has an old Californian theme, a Rasta Bus.
Our first stop was Venice Beach, located on the other side of Santa Monica. It was famous for its arts and entertainment and the muscle beach, where muscled men workout by the beach.
Next stop was Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, the most expensive shopping street in the world, where designer brands line up the street.
We had lunch at The Farmer’s Market. Hubby couldn’t forget his lunch at the Pampas Grill, and talked about it all the time, even after our vacation. I, on the other hand, couldn’t forget the Rocky Road caramel apple I bought. It had the thickest chocolate topping, and was so big that I ate it for 3 days. Our short time at The Farmer’s Market brings so much fond memories for the both of us.
Our next stop was the Griffith Observatory. I wasn’t so much with the observatory, but it has a beautiful view of the city, and the Hollywood sign is visible, though small. The James Dean bust is the best spot for the Hollywood sign photo op.
Our last stop was the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It was crowded and crazy, and good thing I didn’t book a hotel here, though I did consider at some point. There were famous theaters here like the TCL Chinese and Dolby Theaters. And lots of famous names on the walk of fame.
After Rasta Bus dropped us again at Santa Monica, we walked to the pier and just enjoyed the sunset. It had gotten so cold, and even though its cold people flocked to the beach. The pier was jampacked. It had different restaurants and food stalls, games and entertainment, rides, souvenir shops. There was an art lettering stall there and we had Sophie’s name done for $1 each letter.
After our stroll we ate at a famous restaurant called The Lobster. They couldn’t have given themselves a more appropriate name, their lobster really IS the lobster, its the bomb!
We called it a night after such a long day. The following day, we checked out early and travelled to Universal Studios, around 45mins drive from Santa Monica. We spent our whole day here. We purchased front of line tickets, so we didn’t have to fall in line every single time.
We got to ride several rides like The Hogwarts ride, The Mummy, Jurassic Park. We also saw the Studio Tour, Waterworld and its behind the scenes, and Animal Actors. We got to take photo with minions Kevin and Jerry, and my childhood fave, Betty Boop.
We had lunch in Hogsmeade called The Three Broomsticks, and had (huge) ice creams at Phineas Butterfat.
After our tiring day, we walked to the City Walk and had early dinner at Johnny Rockets. We were kinda scammed here, with a photo worth $15. Anyway, charged to our experience again.
We checked in at Residence Inn Beverly Hills by Marriott. Their breakfast was buffet, parking was self-park, room was spacious (and had free popcorns!). It even had reasonable rates. It was the most ideal accommodation really, though the location was kinda off. It was about 30mins away from Universal Studios.
The next morning we’re off to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure (DCA). Disney is in Anaheim and a long one hour drive away from Beverly Hills. We bought the park hopper tickets so we can hop to and fro each park. Since we’ve been to a couple of Disneylands, we spent most of the day in DCA. The Radiator Springs ride is the best! We queued for an hour, since they do not have front of line tickets and we did not know about the Fast Pass. I also had a photo op with Minnie ❤️.
For lunch we dined at fine dining restaurant Carthay Circle. The Carthay had an exclusive spot for viewing of the World of Color fountain show, which was a fantastic show to end our day.
And since I missed going to the Ghirardelli House in SanFo, I made sure I didn’t miss it in DCA.
Before calling it a night we drove to Pink’s Hotdogs, which is only about 10mins from our hotel. We wouldn’t want to leave LA without eating at the original Pink’s.
On our last day we planned on going to Rodeo Drive and just have lunch again at the Farmer’s Market, but an old friend wanted to meetup with us. So we went to The Grove and had lunch at The Cheesecake Factory instead.
We were chatting for so long that we kinda lost track of the time. Our flight to Manila was in SanFo and we still had to take a domestic flight. Thank heavens again the US Airports are so efficient, (we love the Air Train!) that after returning our rented car at Hertz, we went straight to checking in and boarding. We had a good experience flying with Virgin America, and I know for sure it won’t be the last.
The weather in LA for a September was good. We expected it to be too hot unlike in SanFo but it was good enough. The sun was always up there in LA but the wind was cold. It was ideal for travelling too, since we didn’t need bulky clothes that take up most of the luggage space.
Maybe the best thing about California (or maybe US in general) is the food! We can eat everything here, and we always joked that we cannot live here because we will die young. Hubby always has steaks and I always have chocolates! And like I said, the servings were huge and sometimes I didn’t get to finish a sandwich and had to pack and eat later. But it never happened because I had to eat another one again!
We also loved driving here! Almost all of the drivers are disciplined, pedestrians and cyclists are priority, and they hate being honked at.
Maybe the very thing that turned us off a little was the Tipping. Every service has a corresponding tip. Even though our valet was free in Omni and The Georgian, every getting of the car has $2 tip. Every luggage put inside the car has $1 tip. The restaurants even has tip suggestions, 15%, 18% or 20% if you find the services exemplary. In fairness, the services in the restaurants were excellent though, maybe because they are expecting large tips. In Franciscan Crab, I tipped a whopping $40 for a $200+ meal! Americans are so used to tipping, a whole opposite of the Japanese. Mind you, it is required, and it definitely ruins the budget.
And oh yeah, the parking fees anywhere in SanFo and LA were outrageous! Imagine paying 27 friggin dollars for just 3 hours at the Fisherman’s Wharf!
But man, we had such an amazing time in California! It was probably our greatest trip ever. I don’t know, maybe because we’re not stressed with the time because we made our own itinerary? Or maybe because we drove our own car? Or because it was our first time, perhaps? Or maybe, it was just the 2 of us? If hubby had his way, we would have gone to Vegas on this trip. But 6 days is so little to squeeze everything in. And we haven’t been to Yosemite or Napa Valley, too. At least there’s so much more to look forward to next time. I know for sure I will be California dreamin’ until I get back here again. ❤️
Since we have bought our flight tickets during the last Travel Madness sale, at some point we would have to apply for the US Visa. I guess considering the numerous travels we had over the years, we’re a little (just a little) confident that we have an edge to be granted the most elusive visa of them all. Of course we did some research on the common questions to be asked for the interview. Nowadays, you can’t just complete your application and just head straight to your schedule at the US Embassy and thats it. You HAVE TO study your answers beforehand. While most of our answers are scripted, it meant positively on the consular officer, as we are answering in sync and know what we are going to say. It is still best to come prepared.
When I tried to schedule online, the earliest available is June 27. But when I called their hotline, the earliest is June 6. So I grabbed the June 6 as it will spare us the agony of waiting for so long. I guess it was better to just call the hotline instead, since they can accommodate us earlier because we have a small child. The MRV payment is needed to be able to schedule the appointment interview. We already paid this in BPI.
On the day of our interview, I brought all the docs we would be needing: (Standard Tourist Visa for Filipinos living in the PH)
1. DS-160 confirmation page
2. Appointment letter (sent in email by the US embassy customer service)
3. Original MRV receipt
5. 2×2 photos
6. All other docs (proof of financial capabilities)
Since I applied for the DS-160 online, I did not need the 2×2 photos anymore (I was wondering too why I still need to bring them). I already uploaded the digital copies during the application. As for all the other docs, the officer did not ask for any of them.
Our appointment schedule is 9:30am, and since the guards are strict about lining just 15 mins before the schedule, we walked from Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf (from the other side of Roxas Blvd., where my sis in law dropped us and would be waiting) just 10 mins before 9:15. We waited for just 5 mins outside, and come 9:15, we queued going inside. The first queue we were asked for the Appointment Letter, and the staff put barcoded stickers on the back of our passports. She also gave us a letter E yellow cardboard (express queueing for senior citizens, pwd and with small children), when she asked for Sophie’s age and I said she’s 2.
When we got inside there’s a security checkpoint, and an x-ray machine for the bags and belongings. ANY electronic devices are not allowed, as in ALL, even USBs. So we did not bring our cellphones anymore.
Since we have the letter E, we bypassed long lines and headed straight to the first counter, where we were asked DS-160 confirmation questions by a Filipino staff. Next counter is the biometrics-taking, an American officer took my husband and I’s finger scanning. No biometrics for small children like Sophie.
The next queue is the Interview. We lined up with the seniors and with small children, and waited for around 40 mins before it was finally our turn. Since we were seated in the area where applicants passed by after the interviews, we have witnessed different reactions and expressions. Some fortunate ones were crying tears of joy, clapping their hands, shrieking “yes!” or just simply have joyful smile on their faces. The unfortunate ones however, have blue papers in their hands, returned passports and have disappointed, faraway looks.
The feeling was nerve racking. I felt like I was going to get my IELTS results. (add: I was positive that I would fail my IELTS back in 2008, so when I went to get my results, I could hardly walk up the stairs going to the IDP office — I was a total nerve wreck!) It was so stressful I could not wait for our turn and get over it. When it was finally our turn, my husband carried Sophie while I gave our docs to the officer. Here’s how the interview went:
Us : Good morning.
Officer : Good morning. Hi Sophie, how old are you? (I was surprised she called Sophie by nickname)
Sophie quietly said “two” and raised her 2 fingers.
Officer : What’s your relationship?
I : We’re a family.
Officer : What’s your purpose of travel?
I : We would like to tour, go shopping and go to Disney World for our daughter.
RJ: We would also like to try different restaurants like the Pinks Hotdogs and Buffalo wings.
Officer : Buffalo wings (smiles) How long will you be staying?
I : Probably around 2 weeks.
RJ: We would also like to catch the Black Friday sale.
Officer : Right, so you can get good deals. (Smiles) Dad, whats your job?
Tabs didn’t hear this. So I nudged him and said, dad!
The officer was a little amused. She turned to Tabs, “You’re the dad, you’re the mom.” (To me) and laughed.
RJ: Sorry. I’m the Chief Technical Officer of a family-owned corporation. We have 3 *** gas stations.
Officer : How long have you been in the company?
RJ: Since its incorporation in 2007.
Officer : How many people are there in the company?
RJ: In all 3 branches around 70 plus 10 accounting staff, so around 80.
Officer: How much do you earn?
RJ: I earn *** a month, excluding allowances.
Officer : And how much including your allowances?
RJ : Around *** a month.
Officer : Mom, what’s your job?
I : I’m a businesswoman. I have a *** shop in the ***.
Officer : How much do you earn including all allowances?
I : I earn more or less *** a month.
Officer : Which countries have you travelled?
I : We’ve been to London (nods her head when she heard London), Japan, Korea, China.. (she cut off, she didn’t seem interested with Asian countries)
Officer: Is Sophie always with you?
I : Yes, we always bring her with us.
After a pause and tinkering on her computer, finally she said.
Officer : Alright, you will receive your visas within 7 days.
The interview ended and we said our thanks and goodbyes. Of course we were elated after! The interview was short and concise, and we didn’t have to defend or explain further anything, like some of the applicants before us. The officer’s mood was light during our interview, very much unlike how I thought of her when we were in the queue. I thought she was scary and bitchy, but she was not. My nervousness quickly went away during the course of the interview.
In reality, getting the US Visa is probably one of the easiest to process. Since the officers face around 150 applicants per day, they do not have the time to ask for the docs to support your answers. They will simply depend on the DS-160 that you submitted and how well you answered the questions. The DS-160 is more on personal details, but the most important thing here is that you study and know the answers to the frequently asked questions. If you will lie (unless you’re a very good liar), they can spot in your answers as they give series of questions depending on how you answer them. They are trained to recognize your real standing and your purpose of application.
Since we passed our interview with flying colors (hehehe), we received our passports 3 days after, all with 10 year Multiple-Entry Visas! US of A, see you real soon! 🇺🇸
I can’t seem to contain my excitement. In just a week’s time, I will be saying hello to Big Ben! Tabs and I wanted to treat ourselves for our anniversary this year. We were thrilled when we got approved for visa. Who knows, US next year, maybe? 😉
We were just thinking of trying to apply for a UK Visa a few months back. The process seemed fairly easy, with no interviews. The only part that took me a tad long was the online application. I had to accomplish 3 applications (mine, tabs and sophie’s). We had to compute all the financials, our expenses here at home and what we have to spend in UK. Plus, it needed our previous passports informations. Good thing we were able to keep them.
Since its still fresh in my memory, below is the list of the requirements and the process we went through. (Standard Tourist Visa for Filipinos living in the PH)
1. Before starting on the online application, gather the information needed. This includes present and previous passports, previous travels, hotel/flight/trains/tour details and costs (no need to book yet), living costs here and in UK.
2. Apply online. Be ready with credit card details and cost. I was charged $136/person for the visa application (approx 6,316 at the time). The infant has same rate with adults, yes. After accomplishing the application, schedule an appointment date and time. For family application like us, I booked the same date and time. Print the online application and appointment letter.
3. Make sure that all supporting documents are ready before making an appointment. These are the documents that I submitted for the 3 of us.
• Mayor’s Permit • DTI • BIR COR • Business ITR • Bank Statement and Certificate • Marriage Certificate • Present and previous passports • Printed online application with appropriate ID Photo (check here for exact measurement)
• COE • ITR • Bank Statement and Certificate • Present and previous passports • Printed online application with appropriate ID Photo
• Birth Certificate • Printed online application with appropriate ID Photo
All documents must be submitted in original and photocopies. There are instances that originals are not returned when no photocopy is provided. No need to submit the same docs if you’re travelling as a family (eg. Marriage cert).
Tip I got somewhere:
The money in your bank must be greater than your overall UK trip.
4. Come to the appointment at *VFS Global at least 20 minutes earlier. Parking space is limited and valet is available if full. No charge for valet parking, just tip the driver.
5. Sort the documents beforehand. All originals and copies of docs for one person are checklisted at the counter. It saves time if docs are properly sorted.
6. All applicants must come to the appointment in person, even children and infants. This is for the picture taking and biometrics purposes (picture taking only for infants).
7. If you want to be notified of your application thru text message, pay an additional Php150 per person. I made a mistake of applying for sms notification for Tabs and I (Php300), since we didn’t really need them. We are always online and email notifications are provided for free. If you’re not always online, then sms notification is helpful.
8. You may opt to have your documents returned by courier, though I’m not exactly sure with the charge, around 300/person. We opted to return personally to claim the docs, as that time we kept our UK planning a secret and wouldn’t want anyone in the house snooping on docs mailed by UK embassy.
Just like any embassy in the world, all docs submitted must be true and authentic. They keep a record of all the docs and it could cause a problem (if not now maybe in the future) if fake docs are submitted.
In exactly 10 days, we received a text notifying us of the decision made and that our docs were for retrieval already. We were given multiple entry in 6 months. I think this is the standard visa they give to tourists.
I think we got approved because of our numerous travels in Asia, and with Japan visa valid for 5 years. The docs we passed all had originals and photocopies. But they were all returned to us, with them not keeping even the photocopies.
After our visa approval thats the time we finalized our flight and hotel bookings and tours tickets. UK be ready, we’re coming for ya! 😉
Every Holy Week the Agcaoilis make it a point to travel to a different country. For this year we travelled to Hanoi, Vietnam; just 6 days after wrapping up our Holy Land tour. Sophie is surely fast becoming a jetsetter, having travelled to 11 countries in just her 17 months of existence.
Well, I wasn’t really keen on doing this tour. Maybe because South East Asian countries never really interest me. One, because I find PH far more interesting than the nearby countries in terms of natural wonders, and two, because of the hot weather. I tire easily and lose interest when its too hot while touring. And this was what happened in Hanoi when we had our city tour. It was just too hot, that even Sophie was sweating like crazy it looked like she just came from shower everytime we walk.
Anyway, what I find interesting in Hanoi were the foods. I was not normally adventurous when it comes to international cuisine, and having just finished our Holy Land tour where I realized how much I hated (as in totally) Mediterranean food, I wasn’t ready for another food adventure. So, it came as a surprise that I like it. Well, some of it at least. Vietnamese food weren’t so bad after all, maybe remove the cilantro (they put tons of it) and they taste good, even for a picky eater like me.
Some of the foods we had during our 4 day stay.
I think the one that looked like mango was the only edible here. The other two, esp. the red one that looked like sineguelas, were absolute no-no. It was too sour. These were sprinkled with sugar and chili and cost 50k vnd or approx. 100 php.
We also had our lunch at the supposed most famous restaurant in Hanoi.
We walked from Hotel de L’opera (where we stayed) to here which was like 2 km under the scorching heat. The place looked like a small filthy carinderia which goes up to fifth floor. It was packed with foreigners and locals alike, and we finally settled to 4th flr. They only served 2 kinds of foods from which they are famous of, the grilled pork with rice noodles and crab spring rolls.
It was delicious of course, like my mother in law says, “mura na, madumi pa” (cheap and filthy). She was so grossed out by the place that even though the food tasted great, she only ate a little. Funny thing was, it blacked out the moment we started eating. It was so hot and dirty and packed with people and even though its the most famous here I’m never eating here again. Ever.
By dinner time we just ate inside the hotel’s Vietnamese restaurant, Satine. We wanted to be sure the quality of the foods we’re eating, I guess. I must commend their spring rolls, they tasted great. The others were blah. I wished that I ordered for a clubhouse instead.
We stayed in Hotel de L’opera for 3 nights, and good thing that they have an acceptable array of foods during breakfast, continental buffet. Sophie somehow loved their chicken congee, which is a good thing. I was thinking that she wouldn’t eat Vietnamese food and I brought several cup noodles along with us.
On our city tour the next day, we were brought to a nice European style restaurant during lunch called La Tonkin. We were served with Vietnamese food again, but all were good. Again, Sophie had her chicken congee which tasted so good that I ate over half of it.
Now this is the more interesting part. There was an ice cream shop near the hotel called Kem Trang Tien since 1958. We think its very famous because we passed by a couple of times and it was packed with people and motorcycles going in and out of the area. So after the tour we walked and gave it a try. It was located in a small complex, with 3 stores selling the ice cream and parking lot for the motocycles. We were all excited to try because all people inside were happily chitchatting and eating their ice cream. It has only one flavor (vanilla) in sugar cone.
How I wish that the ice cream tasted as good as it looked. It was awful. I didn’t know the exact ingredients for an ice cream but this one clearly lacked sufficient milk and loaded with sugar. It also has a bitter aftertaste, even the sugar cone. I guess I was waiting for the taste to get better, but it didn’t, so after eating some, I unceremoniously threw it away. Really, what a waste of effort and excitement. The locals have an out-of-this-world standard of a good ice cream. I would prefer our dirty ice cream any time of the day.
Some of the foods at Bhaya Cruises
On our last night, we went to the famous Halong Bay. We boarded the Bhaya Cruises for our overnight cruise. In fairness, almost all foods were great, the taste somewhat caters to the foreigners, which was all the better for me.
I’m not a fan of noodles, and I couldn’t really say whether I like their Pho or not. I think its acceptable enough. Maybe remove some of the cilantro, or better yet, nothing at all, then it’ll be okay. Here, pho’s are everywhere, even on breakfast. Cilantros are everywhere on their food, too. On our four days here, one food that stood out is their spring rolls. They make really good ones. So in my short experience of Vietnam, Vietnamese food is all about spring rolls and not pho.
Our Holy Land Tour concluded last week, we arrived in Manila on March 24, having been gone for more than 2 weeks, since March 8. We covered 4 countries in all, Egypt, Israel and Jordan, with an extension in Dubai. It was a bittersweet trip for me, sweet that I got to witness the land of the Lord, which some people only dream about. And bitter because Sophie and I got ill for several days on that trip with Sophie losing a lot of weight because she didn’t eat for a week.
Anyway, one of the highlights of the trip is our renewal of vows in Cana. There were 4 couples in our group, and just like the marriage in Cana of Galilee, we also had our wedding ceremony officiated by our priest, Fr. Jobert Villacorta. It was supposed to be done inside the Cana church, but our tour leader Ms. Rose wanted it done inside the cave below. Wow, it was the most perfect place! It was a small and beautiful cave perfect for the intimate ceremony. All of us couples wore white, and the ladies were given bouquet of roses. Two of the older ladies wore simple veils, while I had crown of artificial flowers, as well as Sophie’s, the flower girl. (I also dressed her in white)
It was a real wedding, because we all have certificates from Cana church signed by Fr. Jobert. Roxy even sang a beautiful wedding song called “Ikaw”, as requested by Ms. Rose. After the ceremony, we were all congratulated by our groupmates! Tabs and I were very fortunate to experience this. It is once in a lifetime. It really felt just like my wedding day. ❤️
After we’re done, we even had to taste the wine sold in a souvenir shop outside. I didn’t pass on the opportunity to buy wines for us, and for my parents, since this would be the wine from Cana of Galilee, just like in the bible. What an unforgettable experience indeed.
Going to Japan was one of our dreams come true. When news of Japan’s visa lifted came about last year, we were overjoyed and started planning. Sadly, the news wasn’t real at all, as confirmed by the Japanese Embassy. Anyhow, the good news is that, it becomes easier to receive a Japanese visa and they can even provide multiple entries upon approval.
When PAL released their seat sale earlier this year, Tabs and I hurried to book a flight to Narita, business class. It still cost us a little over USD2k, but taking into considerations the 4-hour flight, a baby with us, and our first time in Japan, we decided to splurge instead. Its a seat sale after all, still cheaper than the regular fare.
We booked for June 6-8, and came May, we were still unprepared for the trip, and visa application. We thought of rebooking the flight for September, as our honeymoon after the wedding. But rebooking the tickets will cost us almost USD700 more, and downgrading the tickets to economy is not allowed. And so with less than a month before the flight, we decided to just take it, come what may with the visa. We then prepared the requirements for visa application, and online booking of hotel and tours.
We received the visa just 2 days after submitting to Reli Tours. It cost php3,600 for the three of us. Of course we were thrilled upon our approval, imagine, its a Japanese visa! Meaning we have a chance to get a multiple on the next application. And also, our stepping stone to the US and Europe. (A third-world thinking like us 😝)
Tokyo’s weather when we arrived was 20 degrees with rain showers. 20 was ideal, but the rain, well, it isn’t much when you’re travelling.
It took us almost 2 hours from Narita Airport to Marriott Courtyard Ginza via Airport Limousine. We chose Courtyard because the airport bus and tour bus stops here, and also near a subway station, so its very convenient for our airport transfer and tours. The first day is a free day since we arrived at the airport at past 12 noon already. I noticed that Narita Airport is already an old airport. I’m not so sure with Terminal 1 but I think Terminal 2 needs a renovation to be at par with other airports like Hongkong or Incheon. We collected the wifi router Tabs rented as we were waiting for the next bus shedule at 145PM. Its already raining when we landed, and the rain didn’t stop throughout the day.
After checking in at the Courtyard and resting for a while, we took the subway and went to see the Tokyo Skytree Tower. Because it was raining, we could only see fog from up the tower, and only the tiniest bit of sight of the buildings. After buying our souvenirs we went down for dinner. We looked for a resto that has an English menu, and we settled at Kitchen Jo’s, sort of like Western Japanese. The nice thing about it was, when we asked for a high chair for Sophie, they included a kiddie plate with utensils and a cup with straw. Its so cute. The only thing we noticed about their high chairs everywhere here, its just literally a small high chair, no seatbelt whatsoever.
Access to the Skytree is in the 4th floor of a mall, so after viewing and dinner we walked around inside for a while. There was a Hello Kitty store and bought some stuffed toys for Sophie. I also noticed some stores selling beautiful fans and umbrellas. Too bad we didn’t have the energy to go around anymore, we were tired from all the walking and we still had to take the subway back to the hotel.
Now came the challenging part on our return to Courtyard. When we went up from the subway it was raining hard. As in think of a storm or typhoon with lots and lots of rain. Good thing we bought big clear umbrellas from Family Mart, they protected our upper bodies, including Sophie. But the rest, especially our shoes, were dripping wet. We looked like poor soaked creatures upon our entry to the hotel. And it got me thinking of the last time I got soaked in the rain, which was, forgettably, a long time ago.
The shoes didn’t dry the next day, and we had no choice but to wear them for our tour today. We booked online with Sunshine Tours a Mt. Fuji tour for today and a city tour tomorrow. The transfer bus, which stops in front of the Courtyard, promptly leaves at 815AM. Japanese are very prompt people. So when the schedule is 815, it doesn’t mean you have to be there by 815. You have to be there by 810 or 812 because it will leave by 815 on the dot, whether you arrive or not.
The transfer bus with transfer guide only drops the tourists to Hamamatsucho Terminal, the main terminal of Sunshine Tour buses, where you will stand in line to the corresponding type of tour you purchased, and will be given tickets to board the bus. It can get really crazy here, because they have so many types of tours and so many tourists standing in line, or waiting to board, all in one place.
We purchased the Mt. Fuji and Hakone tour with lunch, but due to the bad weather (yes, still raining), the bus was only allowed to the first level of the mountain. We got down to take pictures, which didn’t look like we’re from a mountain at all. It looked just like a stopover surrounded with trees, and the rain.
Plus, Hakone tour was also cancelled. The tour guide said a road was blocked also due to the weather. Still, he found ways to make up for the lost Hakone tour. We went boating and rode the cable car. Both were so boring that I fell asleep inside the boat, seriously.
Our return to Tokyo was via Shinkansen or bullet train. We wanted to see how fast it can get. The train was fast enough at 300 km/hour, but nothing really beats the MagLev in Shanghai that goes up to 500 km/hour. Kinda scary, really.
The Shinkansen stops at the Tokyo Station, and from there we went by subway going back to Ginza. We looked for a place to have dinner, and we ended up at Yoshinoya. Funny how this was our first time eating in a Yoshinoya. There were so many in Manila we thought its local, but in Japan, they’re everywhere.
After dinner we walked around Ginza for a while, bought some stuff at the Apple store, and baby clothes at Uniqlo.
Our last day tour is called Tokyo Morning city tour. We checked out early because the tour will end by 1220PM at the Tokyo Station. Theres still a bit of rain, but unlike the past 2 days, the weather today has got better. Our first stop was the Tokyo Tower. Since it was shorter than Skytree, we were able to have a better view of the city. Tabs also said that since the opening of Skytree, Tokyo Tower has had decreased visitors. Maybe thats why they partnered with the tours.
Next stop is the Imperial Palace. Or just its garden, because tourists are not allowed inside of course. The garden was lined with hundreds of perfectly trimmed beautiful pine trees. Today’s guide was a nice lady with a good English who shared detailed informations about the city and the Japanese monarchy. She even took a family picture of us in the Armory Storage Building.
The next and last stop was the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. For 100 yen, we tried the fortune telling here, where theres a wooden box with sticks inside that you have to shake. After shaking you get one stick from the hole and compare the Japanese characters written on it to the many different characters placed on little drawers on a cabinet. The only answer you can get is a good or bad fortune. As expected, I got the bad fortune and Tabs, the good fortune. Since I got the bad one, I had to tie the paper to the bad fortune rack, so that the bad luck leaves there. The guide said not to take the game seriously though, as only 30% of it contains the good fortune.
We walked around the Nakamise Shopping Market (also in Asakusa) and tried some street foods there, like buns with different flavors, and ice cream sandwich.
Asakusa was the last part of the morning tour, and we were dropped at the Tokyo Station again. We went back again by subway and did some last minute walking in Ginza. I bought several stuff in Sanrio World in Nishi Department Store.
If only we had lots of time, Tabs would really love to go to Sony in Ginza and Akihabara, and I would have loved to see Hachiko in Shibuya. At least there are things to look forward to next time. After our lunch at Denny’s just across Courtyard, we collected our luggages and took the airport limousine back to the airport. It took only an hour since there were no stops this time. I did some last minute shopping for souvenirs, I just had to buy Kit Kat, Royce and Shiseido, which I was amazed because its so cheap here. We had snack at the beautiful lounge of American Airlines and finally boarded the plane back to Manila.
On our next visit, maybe we can plan on going to Osaka. They say Osaka has lots of beautiful places, ideal for tourists. I don’t know, was it just me, or I just couldn’t seem to find anything special in Tokyo? I mean, the city was nice, though we’ve been to Ginza area only most of the time. I mean, given that it is Japan, I expected to find something unusual, or maybe something I haven’t seen in the countries I’ve been to. Or maybe I expected too much? What I never expected was, most of the people we encountered, I mean the servers in restaurants or the guards in the subway, can speak English. So we never really experienced any language barrier of sort. Also, I expected the cost of living to be really high. But its just something like Korea, and unlike Singapore which was too unreasonably expensive. Also, I liked that the tours didn’t stop at tourists trap shops which I totally dislike in other countries.
I think 3 days is too short to explore Tokyo. Given the chance to return, I think 5 or 7 days would be enough. And I have to make sure it won’t be a rainy season. It was a short, bittersweet experience. Sayonara Japan! Until we meet again.