Saturday, December 1, 2018

Wisdom from the Road #70

On exercising

I am so lazy when it comes to exercising. It is only when I travel that I get to exercise (walk a lot) and enjoy myself. Ever since my brother gave me a watch slash pedometer, when traveling, I'd get a kick at looking at the number of steps I made at the end of the day. I am amazed that I could walk up to 36000 steps [about 25 kilometers] in a day! The amazing powers of our body!

On a normal day, I'd walk just an average of 6000 steps [about 4 kilometers]—way below the recommended daily 10,000 steps [about 7 kilometers]. So, yes, 10,000 steps and above is a feat for my feet.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Monday, November 26, 2018

Free Upgrade on GPSmyCity

The GPSmyCity team has gathered thousands of travel articles and city guides written by travelers like you and me and have put all these travel information in one app. With the GPSmyCity app installed on your smartphone, whether iOS or Android, you have the world on the palm of your hand.

The GPSmyCity app can be used offline, therefore, you can read the articles and use the guides without the need to be on roaming or renting a pocket WiFi or data SIM. You can go on a tour at your own pace. By accessing (for a minimal upgrade fee) the GPS-aided map, the places mentioned in the guide will be pinned on the map, tour routes will be displayed, and turn-by-turn directions between places will be provided. No need for paper maps!

I have been contributing articles in the GPSmyCity app and I am happy to announce I have a bunch chosen by the GPSmyCity Team for publishing:
To celebrate the release of this batch of articles on GPSmyCity, the upgrade (to access its GPS-aided map) to the following article apps will be given away for FREE from November 26 to December 2, 2018!
Please click on the link (or links) that interest you and try it out! (If you haven't already downloaded and installed the GPSmyCity app, it will prompt you to do so.)

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Wisdom from the Road #69

On "Filipino time"
It's not funny anymore.
Be considerate of other people's time.

Whoever you had agreed to meet with at a specified time, they made an effort to be there on or before the agreed time. And you leave your house 30 minutes after the agreed time because 6am is "just the assembly time"? It's not funny. It's inconsiderate.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Friday, October 5, 2018

See Sapporo: Parks, Towers, Streets

Sapporo has an area of 1121 sq. km but I was only able to explore three parks, two towers, a street, and an alley.


Odori Park is a 1.5-kilometer park featuring fountains, a playground, open spaces for events (Beer Gardens pop up in Odori Park during summer), green spaces with trees and flower beds, and benches to enjoy this bit of nature in the middle of the city. And on the east end of Odori Park is Sapporo TV Tower, one of Sapporo's well known landmarks.

I did not attempt to see the park from end to end, because it meant I'd have to cross 11 roads. Not that crossing roads in Sapporo is a risk—it isn't (as is the rest of Japan); I was really just too lazy as I was unlucky to be in Japan during its hottest summer in years (Hokkaido experiences mild summers, but the unrelenting heat made its way to this northernmost prefecture)!

Directions to Odori Park: Take the subway (Namboku, Toho, or Tozai Lines) to Odori Station.

9AM to 10PM
Observation Deck Admission Fee 720 yen
(If you want to visit in the morning and in the evening,
you will have to purchase a ticket for every entry.)

Sapporo TV Tower, on the east end of Odori Park, stands 150 meters tall and has an observatory at a height of 90 meters. The observatory affords a view of Odori Park cutting through the concrete jungle.

And if you don't have a watch, just look up at the TV Tower and its enormous digital clock will tell you the time (except after midnight when it is turned off).

Directions to Sapporo TV Tower: Take the subway (Namboku, Toho, or Tozai Lines) to Odori Station.

 Sapporo TV Tower

845AM to 510PM (Last admission at 5PM)
Admission Fee 200 yen
(Closed for renovation until October 31, 2018)

Another Sapporo landmark is the Sapporo Clock Tower which was built in 1878. The clock is a weight-powered pendulum type and is the oldest clock of this type in Japan that still works.

At the time of my visit (July 2018) the Sapporo Clock Tower was undergoing renovation and entirely covered in tarp. Pffttt. (Renovation work is set to be completed on October 31, 2018.)

Directions to Sapporo Clock Tower: Take the subway (Namboku, Toho, or Tozai Lines) to Odori Station, take exit 7 and walk 5 minutes to Sapporo Clock Tower.

Sapporo Clock Tower
Photo by redlegsfan21 (Flickr) CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

The Clock Tower on Sapporo's manhole cover

Ganso Ramen Yokocho
Operating hours vary by shop

Sapporo is the birth place of miso ramen, and the best place to eat it is where it all started: Ganso Ramen Yokocho. This alley only had seven ramen shops in 1951. Today the alley has 17 shops.

I went to Ganso Ramen Yokocho for an early dinner and hungry diners hadn't crowded in yet. I just picked one at random and ate miso ramen (800 yen) at 天鳳 (Tenhou). Had I researched, I would have gone back to Ganso Ramen Yokocho and tried the seafood ramen Anthony Bourdain ate at 味の華龍 (Aji no Karyu).

Directions to Ganso Ramen Yokocho: Take the subway (Namboku Line) to Susukino Station. Walk 3 minutes to Ganso Ramen Yokocho.

Ganso Ramen Yokocho

Miso Ramen from 天鳳 Tenhou

Tanukikoji Shopping Street

Tanukikoji Shopping Street is a 900-meter long pedestrian-only street, spanning seven chome (blocks). The shopping area is covered (roofed), though some crossings (to get from one block to the other) are not. The shopping street has restaurants, cafes, izakayas, souvenir shops, tea shops, a huge Don Quijote store, and even accommodations—like Grids Sapporo Hotel + Hostel, which is where I stayed in Sapporo.

And because it is called Tanukikoji, there are tanuki (Japanese raccoon dog) figures everywhere. Even a shrine!

Directions to Tanukikoji Shopping Street: Take the subway (Namboku Line) to Susukino Station. Walk 3 minutes to Tanukikoji Shopping Street. If you're anywhere near a streetcar stop, you can take the Sapporo Streetcar to Tanukikoji stop.

Tanukikoji early in the morning.
When shops open, and especially at night, the place gets really crowded!

9AM to 6PM (Last admission at 5PM)
Admission Fee 600 yen (Free until end of March 2019)

Shiroi Koibito Park is home of the Ishiya Chocolate Factory, which, to my mind, is the Japanese counterpart of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. In the park is a rose garden and European-looking buildings which house the chocolate factory, a candy lab (see how candy is made!), a cafe, and a souvenir/sweet shop. In the chocolate factory, one can see the production line of Shiroi Koibito, their famous white chocolate cookie.

The production line was under renovation at the time of my visit (July 2018) so admission fee was waived. I just explored inside a bit where I saw a small exhibit about Ishiya and about chocolate, and a collection of tea cups. Outside, while queueing to buy their soft ice cream (really delicious), I witnessed a musical show of mechanical figures coming out of the building towers.

Grand reopening is scheduled on June 2019.

Directions to Shiroi Koibito Park: Take the subway (Tozai Line) to Miyanosawa Station. Walk 7 minutes to Shiroi Koibito Park.

 Shiroi Koibito Park

A collection of tea cups

Rose garden

Soft ice cream

East Entrance 7AM to 10PM (last admission at 9PM)
Free admission

From a waste disposal site in 1977 to a beautiful green park in 2005 up to the present, this is Moerenuma Park. This wide open space is covered in a carpet of grass with man-made hills, sculptures, fountains, play areas, and a glass pyramid.

I went to Moerenuma Park and was in awe of all the green around me. I wanted to take off my shoes and walk around the park's carpet of grass barefoot! But I didn't. Instead, I climbed Play Mountain where I enjoyed the 360-degree view while the wind blew my hair hither and thither.

It is a very relaxing park, perfect for picnics, and walking barefoot on the grass. And maybe even rolling down the hills!

Directions to Moerenuma Park: Take the subway (Toho Line) to Kanjodori-Higashi Station. Then take bus 69 or 79 to Moerenuma Koen Higashi-guchi モエレ沼公園東口 (210 yen, 25 minutes).

Doesn't this make you want to take off your shoes and walk around barefoot?

The glass pyramid "Hidamari"

Music Shell (left), and Tetra Mound with a height of 13 meters (right)

The view from on top of Play Mountain, a height of 30 meters

62-meter tall man-made Mt. Moere

It was very windy up here!

Tip: If you plan to use the Sapporo subway (there are three subway lines, namely Namboku, Toho, or Tozai Lines) multiple times in one day, you might want to obtain a Subway 1-Day Pass which costs 830 yen. On weekends, holidays, and from December 29 to January 3, the cheaper Donichika Ticket (520 yen) is available.

This article is now available as a mobile app. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.

Other places I did not get a chance to see (reasons for me to go back to Sapporo):

Japanese Summer 2018
See Sapporo: Parks, Towers, Streets (you're here!)
(more soon)

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Sapporo Accommodation: Grids Sapporo Hotel + Hostel

I flew in to New Chitose Airport and made Sapporo my base (taking the shinkansen from Tokyo with a transfer to a limited express train at Hakodate is possible, but would take a total of eight hours), staying in Grids Sapporo Hotel + Hostel for a total of six nights (the other two nights were spent in the city of Asahikawa, some 140 km northeast of Sapporo).

For my one week stay in Hokkaido, I opted to buy a Hokkaido Rail Pass and travel to other towns and cities daily. With the daily commute utilizing JR Lines, it would have been ideal to stay near JR Sapporo Station, but Grids Sapporo Hotel + Hostel, though a 20-minute walk from JR Sapporo Station, won me over for the following reasons:
  • the dorm (one floor for Mixed Dorm, one floor for Female Dorm; 3150 to 4500 yen per night) has spacious capsules (30 capsule spaces for each dorm). The capsule was like my own small room with an outlet (USB and regular power), lamp, coat hook and towel rack, shoe box, safety box, space inside the capsule for a cabin-sized luggage (for large luggage, there is a common luggage area in the dorm), and a curtain for privacy. The only downside I can think of is that when you arrive, you still have to make your own bed, which sucks if you arrive after a long flight and just want to wash up and then crash in bed. (Private single/double/triple/quad rooms are also available.)
Mixed Dorm (Photo from Grids Sapporo Hotel + Hostel)

  • the dorm shares a number of shower rooms (soap and shampoo provided) and toilets on the same floor. If all shower rooms are in use, there are three more in the reception area on the second floor. 
  • towel is provided and a change of towel is allowed for free for stays of more than three consecutive days (otherwise, it's a 200 yen fee per towel change)
  • breakfast is available for 500 yen (must pay and inform reception a day in advance) and served between 7am to 10am
  • washing machines and dryers (two each) are available for a fee (200 yen for washing machine, 100 yen for detergent, 100 yen per 30 minutes for dryer)
  • luggage storage is available (they kept my luggage for me for the two days I was out of town)
  • the hotel can be accessed by elevator up to the 7th floor (the hotel/hostel occupies floors 2 to 8)
  • the hotel is accessible by subway: 4-minute walk from Susukino Subway Station; 6-minute walk from Odori Subway Station
  • Tanukikoji Streetcar stop is just a hop and a skip away
  • bus stop for the airport is just around the corner
  • being located in Tanukikoji shopping street, food was not a problem (it was surrounded by restaurants!)
Early morning quiet at Tanukikoji Shopping Street
Odori Park and Sapporo TV Tower

Ganso Ramen Yokocho

Sapporo Clock Tower (Photo from Hokkaido Guide)

Grids Sapporo Hotel + Hostel
Chuo-ku, Minami 3jo Nishi 5 chome 32, Sapporo
+81 11 252 7415
Book Grids Sapporo Hotel + Hostel through

Japanese Summer 2018
Hokkaido: Sapporo Accommodation: Grids Sapporo Hotel + Hostel (you're here!)
See Sapporo: Parks, Towers, Streets
(more soon)

Monday, October 1, 2018

Wisdom from the Road #68

On transportation #2
When in Manila, thank heavens for GrabCar
(and Uber, when it was still alive).

I have always dreaded going to Manila because of taxi drivers who take advantage of people who are clearly not from there by overcharging them. On my most recent trip to Manila, when my buddy had to abandon me post-haste, it was either lock myself in the airbnb or brave the jungles of Manila by myself. Thanks to GrabCar and being able to easily book one (I have always had a difficult time booking one in Cebu), I did not have to worry about opportunistic taxi drivers. I could breathe easy knowing how much I would have to pay for the ride (the amount is shown on the app before booking the ride), and knowing that I will be taken to my destination in one piece (what with all the horrors involving taxis that have popped up on my fb feed).

PS I am clearly not from Manila because of my accent when I speak Tagalog. Hehehe. So if you're Tagalog and you speak to me, don't be offended if I answer you in English or take a long time to answer you in Tagalog—my brain is still trying to convert words to Tagalog.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

What's in a (Business) Name? Setenta y siete

Dirty Harry's pet's salon.
Spotted in Rizal Avenue, Puerto Princesa City, Palawan.

For more amusing business names, please visit Go Random.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

National Museum of Natural History

The Philippines' National Museum of Natural History opened on May 18, 2018. At the time of my visit (August 2018), only seven of the twelve galleries have opened, the other five were still works in progress.

There are exhibits about the Philippines' UNESCO Natural Heritage Sites; species of plants and animals that have been discovered in the country; mangroves, beaches, wetlands, and forests in the Philippines; and marine, plant, and animal life of our country.

Plants and animals discovered in the Philippines

There are replicas (such as Rafflesia, the world's largest flower, which I learned we had 13 species of! But, sadly, endangered.), miniature models (such as the lakes in the Philippines), life-size models (making you feel like you were walking through a forest or a mangrove), taxidermied animals, pressed plants, interactive zones, and activity areas.

Explore the mangrove

Check out the flora and fauna of a mossy forest

The mangroves and forests (pine forests, mossy forests, rainforests, etc) exhibits I thought were pretty awesome. It was like walking through a mangrove/forest and observing the creatures that inhabit it. It was also interesting to learn about the animals endemic to the country. Some creatures I had only heard and seen for the first time: such as the weird looking bird called Philippine Frogmouth.

Take a closer look at these plants

Two extinct birds in the Philippines: spot-billed pelican (left) and sarus crane (right).

Marbled water monitor, endemic to the Philippines

Of all the exhibits, my favorite would have to be about the underwater life in the Philippines. I love the sea but can only dream of scuba diving. In this exhibit, I learned about some corals that I have seen while snorkeling, poisonous corals and creatures, and which areas in the Philippines we can find whales, dolphins and sea cows.

Check out this corner to know where to spot whales, dolphins, and sea cows in the Philippines.

The titan triggerfish (center, back row) attacked me in Gilutungan!

It makes me proud that we have these museums—National Museum of Natural History, National Art GalleryMuseum of the Filipino People—in the country! And then it makes me sad to learn how we have taken our natural resources for granted. We have many animals endemic to our country, but are a threatened species (Philippine eagle, tamaraw, rufous hornbill, Visayan warty pig, etc) because of hunting and loss of habitat. In 1900, we had 70% of forest cover. It is now 2018; the chart shows just data from 1999 and the projection for 2010! I shudder to think how little is left—if any at all!

National Museum of Natural History
Teodoro F. Valencia Circle, Ermita, Manila
Tuesday to Sunday 10AM to 5PM
Free admission

Directions: Take the LRT to United Nations Station. Walk 300 meters to the National Museum of Natural History.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Libingan ng mga Bayani

My travel buddy abandoned me in a cemetery in Taguig because I was a pain to be with. He wanted me buried in one of the plots there. Unfortunately for him, I was no hero. Just joking. He had to fly home on an emergency and I decided to visit a cemetery. But the first story would have been more interesting. I would have asked him to choose a spot next to one of the Philippine presidents.

Libingan ng mga Bayani in Fort Bonifacio in Taguig is the final resting place of tens of thousands of Filipinos who have brought honor to the country: soldiers, statesmen, national artists/scientists, presidents.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

It was a gloomy and quiet afternoon when I visited Libingan ng mga Bayani. I found the graves of three of four Philippine presidents: Elpidio Quirino, Carlos Garcia, and Ferdinand Marcos. (I didn't see Diosdado Macapagal's.) Ferdinand Marcos's was being guarded by three soldiers and visitors had to write down their names on a logbook.

Memorials were erected around the cemetery. One is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, with three pillars representing Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. There are memorials for the Filipino soldiers who fought in the Korean War, in the Vietnam War, and in World War II.

And around the 103-hectare cemetery were thousands of white crosses marking the graves of soldiers. The stillness of the cemetery disrupted every five minutes or so by a plane flying overhead.