catching up

Catching Up!

The pandemic really intensified my introversion but after nursing a cough in January and trying to isolate for long periods, I missed the outside world. I have slowly eased into going out and seeing people.

What better way to lure me out of my cave than the prospect of food. We went out to buy durian!

I had also a long overdue spa treatment with Mitzi . We went to eat arroz caldo and takoyaki at our favorite place after.

Lani came to cook us buntaa, a Butuanon crab dish.

I went out with friends to check out Malihao Forest in Bonbon.

I finally went out on Valentine’s day! Not on a date, though. Ha! Our friend got married on Valentine’s day and it was also a time for me to catch up with these group of friends since I have not seen them in almost a year.

We also continued the catching up until dinner because one friend did not prepare his shoes (please explain, Yoshi) for the wedding and missed the event. Another friend also only learned about it the night before and it was too late for him to file for leave from work so we met him after work.

My friend, Wilbert, was in town. Mitzi and Dinah wanted to show him what is in Claveria and I have not been there so I tagged along. Claveria is a beautiful mountain town in Misamis Oriental with Mt Balatukan mountain range as its hidden gem. There were different developments sprouting in the area- coffee shops, accommodations, gardens. I hope the people in the area benefit most in these developments and that the environmental impact of these developments was being thoughtfully considered.

Although it seems like everything’s back to normal, I do not go out every day. Much of my time is spent at home. Planning my next art piece, practicing some painting techniques and working on projects took much of my time. I have errands to run and bills to pay.

There are days that I leave my schedule open and let spontaneity carry the day. I have three stories to tell because I like to remember them and process what happened at the same time. Three characters from the three different stories have told me, “You better write about this day.” Flattered that they wanted to be exposed (hahaha) in my little space in the internet, here I am scrambling my memory of the moments.

Story Number 1: Gatecrashing

One fine Sunday morning, my cousin Azenith bombarded our family group chat with photos of food that she cooked since she would be having guests for lunch. They looked yummy but I did not insist going because the food may not be enough for her guests. Her brother, Arvin, thought otherwise. As I was about to change to my house clothes after attending Sunday mass, he convinced me to go to Doongan and just hang out in their brother’s home (Alan) which is beside Azenith’s home and bond with the niece and nephew. It was a spur of the moment notice. He said we would just surprise them. I just came from Sunday mass and in my Sunday dress. Off I went with Arvin.

And we were met with a surprise indeed.

The house was locked. The family went to the mall. Here I am sitting outside their house.

And it was raining. Such was our luck!

Azenith brought us food and we ate at the makeshift table and chairs outside the house. We looked like those uninvited party guests who were given food outside the venue. It was worth all the trouble because she gave me the best part of the dish.

This is paksiw ng mata ng isda. Paksiw is a vinegar-based Filipino dish. Mata ng isda is eye of a fish. I know it might be weird for some but I love these kinds of food- fish eyes, fish roe, pork and chicken innards, balut, chicken feet, etc.

The family came home after a few hours and they still caught up on us eating the food. They brought more food!

My niece showed me the toy her kuya got from the arcade game.

Hugs to the chef!

Mission accomplished! We achieve what we intended to do: eat well.

Story number 2: My much-loved umbrella.

I do most of my errands in the middle of the week. I avoid crowds and lines. It was an early Wednesday afternoon. I already finished my tasks for that day and I decided to drop by favorite takoyaki place for some food to go. It was past 1 PM and the place was almost empty except for these two! This was completely a chance encounter with Mitzi and Erns. (Oh, it was Ash Wednesday).

Both were almost done with their tasks for the day, too. We decided we hang out and catch up with our lives. It had been awhile since we last had a chitchat. We dropped by a bit at Erns office as she had some things to finish and we found another friend, Eulyn, there. She planned to go to a home store to check out some items for her house. We tagged along with her.

This is Erns trying to show stuff to Eulyn.

This is Mitzi and I just hanging out in one of the areas in the home store.

We went to the mall after.

We passed by some wall installation and had to take some photos.

We had dinner. Mitzi and Erns wanted to get a massage and I am not a massage kind of person so I went to the grocery while they were getting massages.

I was in the grocery when I realized I was no longer holding my umbrella. I know I had it when we had dinner because we used it to reserve seats. I was trying to think where I could have left it. I was buying takeout food when I got a text from Erns asking where I am. I had to asked her if they have my umbrella.

Translation: Hey, you guys got my umbrella. I am no longer holding an umbrella.

I sounded like I accused them of getting my umbrella. haha I missed the punctuation. The tone changed. If I had the question mark at the end, the translation would have been: “Hey, did you guys get my umbrella? I am no longer holding an umbrella.” I was thinking that Mitzi might have picked it up mistakenly. She was carrying a large bag. Hehehe

I suddenly remembered where I left it. I went to the rest room before going to the grocery and hanged it on a hook inside the cubicle door. I forgot to bring it when I finished using the toilet.

Just a little senior moment for me.

Later that night, when Erns sent photos from her phone, I got a reminder on how the day went. That is my umbrella. Hahaha!

Story number 3: Millennial bonding!

Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are. My friends are these young people so who am I? A young person, of course! Truth be told, by the time I get my 20% discount card, they will still be at the peak of their careers and in pink of health. Ha! It is a wonder how I got along with these bunch when I am almost two decades their senior. Probably we meet halfway, they are wise beyond their years while I was stuck in my juvenile self. This I am sure, we all clicked and agreed to travel to Digos one March weekend.

I think I like this kind of traveling where all I have to do is pay for my share and show up. Ha! They all did the planning. You know you are traveling with a younger generation when you are given a 2 AM call time. Ha! I really showed my age by asking if it was safe to travel that early. I know some of my peers would ask the same thing for three reasons: security concerns, sleeping time, vision. The younger ones were more adventurous and in best of health with their future ahead of them while I worry about body aches, eyebags and hunger. I brought all my snacks from my stash like a certified tita.

Three friends took turns driving and all (except me) shuffled seats whenever drivers switched. I did not get special treatment for my age but for my condition. I have motion sickness. It is easier for me to get out of the car and throw up if I am seated near the right door.

By the time we arrived at the destination (Camp Sabros), we were already hungry and headed for lunch.

While waiting for the food to be served, we got ice cream first. Ha!

Our accommodation had a nice view of Mt Apo.

Much as I would like to just stare at the mountain, time is gold. We headed to the place that allowed us to do what we wanted to do that afternoon in the Apo- Talomo mountain range- swim! Ha!

Montefrio Garden Resort has an infinity pool that had this for a view.

The water in the pool was cold! It took a while before we acclimatize to low temperature. Eventually, we were able to adjust to the cold water.

We just stayed longer in the warmer part of the pool.

After we made the most of our pool time, we headed back to Camp Sabros and just chilled (literally). We huddled together to keep warm. Ha! That second floor unit was our accommodation.

Here we are in our jammies, chitchatting before we went to bed.

Before we checked out of Camp Sabros the following day, we needed fill our memory vaults with pictures. Off we strolled around the resort.

Our next stop was Jardin de Senorita, a flower farm.

They were telling me that only I, an artist who is fond of painting flowers, would be happy in this place. I was more interested in taking as much photos of the flowers than posing for pictures.

Sadly, it rained. We only got to take fewer photos than expected.

We also went to a cactus farm.

That night, we slept at the house of Pia’s brother in Davao City. We had samgyupsal for dinner. By the way, Pia makes authentic (and delicious) kimchi which she learned to make from her Korean hosts when she visited South Korea. Her pickled radish (danmuji) was also yummy. (I took a break from writing this post to message her to put me on the list of her next kimchi delivery. I also egged her to make danmuji. hehehe)

Pia’s brother’s family lives in this beautiful house. I love the design of their house- modern, minimalist, clean. More importantly, I love how the owners were so down-to-earth, kind and accommodating (pwede daw kami balik, guys!) and even entertaining us with funny and heartwarming stories about their lives. Plus points for them, they thought I belong to their age group.

Shout out to Rotchie Glen for the photos. He made me want to work harder to be able to buy the same phone (which I know I will hesitate to buy when time comes that I will have money hahaha; I will spend it for travel instead). Because I did not use my subpar phone to take photos, I did not have photos to show my aunts where I have been so I had to nag him to send the photos immediately.

The trip recharged me from my pandemic bubble. I realized I needed that trip to reenergize my body to this new life we have after a two-year slump.

A few days after the trip, I was out swimming with my cousins, nephew and niece.

March just passed by so quickly and it felt like we were slowly getting back to our routines just like a few years ago before the world slowed down.

I was able to force myself to paint some art studies for an exhibit. I still have to do more so I can finally decide on what pieces to make.

And I painted something to give to my friend, Erns, on her 46th birthday. I painted a piece based on a photo I took of her last year. I am glad she liked it. I also painted the used gift bag to hide my name written on it. Ha!

There were gatherings that I missed. I missed a cousin’s wedding ceremony and reception due to miscommunication and my introversion but I was in her virtual one. I even put on makeup. Ha! Here’s the proof:

Although I did miss a few gatherings for various reasons, I know there will be more of them in the future. For the ones I did not miss, I was happy to be there. It is nice to see people again!

Antipolo 01 (1)

Antipolo in a Day: Pinto Art Museum and Luljetta’s Hanging Garden Spa

After our trip to Baguio, my cousin, Azenith, and I stayed a little longer in Manila. My cousin has been working hard for two years straight and never had a decent vacation. I think she deserved a break and I had a free rein on where to go.  Manila is not really a perfect place to relax.  I never really adjusted to the traffic, pollution and the crowd of this megalopolis so I looked for places where we can conveniently spend a day to relax. I thought of Antipolo.

As a traveler, I always try to go to museums, visit art shows or watch theatre so Antipolo was the perfect place for me.  I have always wanted to see the Pinto Art Museum.  Azenith was game with whatever destination I choose. 

We stayed at an Airbnb in the Newport Area just across NAIA terminal 3. I think it is the most convenient place for non-Manila residents like me. There is a walkway towards NAIA 3 and there are many P2P buses at the terminal. For Antipolo, we had two options: take the NAIA 3 P2P bus to Ortigas and from Ortigas, take another P2P bus to Antipolo or take NAIA 3 P2P bus to Cubao and from Cubao, take the UV Express to Antipolo.  We missed the P2P bus for Ortigas  so we took the Cubao route. There was ample walking involved from the Araneta bus terminal (where the P2P bus driver dropped us) to the UV express terminal in Cubao. We were dropped at a side street near the Antipolo Church; we hailed a tricycle to bring us to Pinto Art Museum.

The museum grounds looked like I am in a hacienda in Mexico.  Notice the hand sculpture. Did you play that game as a kid, too?

And, sometimes, because of the white structures, the place looked Santorini-esque to me. But what do I know about architecture? All I can say is that the place was heaven for an art lover like me. 

The first painting that welcomed me to the museum was this massive piece entitled, Karnabal, from the Salingpusa Group. Salingpusa Group is a group of then amateur artists in the likes of Elmer Borlongan, Manny Garibay,  to name a few, who used to hang out at this Dr. Joven Cuanang’s property in Antipolo.  The good doctor would hold exhibits for these emerging artists then. Look at where they are now! These artists have now earned a place in Philippine contemporary art history. Thanks to Dr, Cuanang’s appreciation and support for Philippine art.

Shout out to this graffiti art because we were not those kids really. We come and go without warning.  Hahaha!

The museum housed a massive collection of art that I gave up taking photos or else it would take me the whole day to complete the tour.

Here are a few pieces that caught my camera.

This is Aiya Balingit’s “Bright, Cheerful and Pleasant Acts”.

This is Keiye Miranda’s “Intro the Realm of Consciousness”.  I love how we, as a viewer, would look up at the painting with a subject that is looking up.

This looks so familiar to me and when I looked at the label, I knew why.  It is because Arnica Acantilado’s work was part of the ManilArt2019 last October.  This is her “Dolls on the Landscape”.

I remember my favorite piece of art during ManilArt2019.  It was a painting by Efren Carpio depicting a child hold a santol with leaves growing in on ear. It spoke to me because I knew that old wive’s tale. These pieces from Demetrio de la Cruz had the same effect.  The box of shoes below is entitled, “Lolong and Loleng”. By the title, one immediately gets what it is all about. Lolong was the world’s largest crocodile in captivity that also died in captivity and these shoes are made of … take a guess. Yes, crocodile skin. On top of the “Lolong and Loleng” is a painting entitled “Holy Cow” by the same artist. If one looks closely at the painting, the frail cow has a monogram of a popular luxury brand on its skin with a handbag placed on a designer chair. Notice the skull of an animal.  These paintings made one think about the human acts that affect nature.

Pinto Art Museum has 7 galleries! Seven!  I only dream of putting up one small gallery for myself in my own house but a museum with seven galleries with massive collection of art owned by a private individual is incredible. 

This is the seventh gallery and construction is still on-going.

So huge.   Look how small I am! (This is a sentence I wanted to write for so long. Hahaha) 

There are installation pieces like this tens of thousands toy cars in one room.

More paintings are displayed at the mezzanine.

Thank you, Dr. Cuanang for supporting Philippine Art and building Pinto Art Museum!

I hope visit again soon and just spend a leisurely tour to view each art piece.

We only spent an hour or two in the museum because, in the afternoon, we went to Luljetta’s Hanging Gardens Spa. This resort has been on my radar for some time now. Facebook algorithm knows I am always on the lookout for nice places to visit.

From Pinto Art museum, we asked the tricycle driver to drop us near the Antipolo Church. We ate lunch at a local eatery.  After lunch, we hailed another tricycle for Luljetta’s Hanging Garden and Spa.

We availed of their day tour where we can access the different pools and jacuzzi.

We were given a robe to wear over our swimwear and a basket to hold our things. I did not bring slippers so I was given a pair to wear.

Our first stop was this area which was commonly photographed in many of the feeds that appear on my Facebook timeline.

It was the first week of February when we went. It was cold. And there were frog statues so I did not linger.  Ha!

I tried the fish spa. I lasted a few seconds before feeling ticklish.

Azenith was ticklish.

So we went to the infinity pool.

Look at those majestic views.

I hope the view remains green in the future. I can see some subdivision development. It is sad. It might not take long before this view will be replaced with concrete jungle. So we linger a little to store the moment in our memories.

Truth be told, it was still cold.

We need to look for some heated pools.  There were photo opportunities along the way.

We finally found a heated jacuzzi.  But there were couples in it so we waited for our turn.   There was a lounge area near the jacuzzi.   One couple left.  Then, I guess the couple who were left behind they felt awkward staying longer with two Titas as spectators. Ha! They left.  We had this jacuzzi just for the Titas. We stayed as long as we can here.

We left before we turned into stew.

I guess looking for another water feature/activity exposed us to the cold breeze because we tried the sauna next.

Then we took a last dip in the smaller infinity pool.

We called it a day by taking the free merienda that came with the day tour.

We waited for the shuttle that would take us to the reception area.

Off to the reception area!

Luljetta’s has a garden covered with umbrellas.

Outside the compound, we hired a tricycle to bring us to Robinsons Mall.  There was a P2P bus in that mall that will take us to Ortigas.

So here’s our P2P bus story.  We arrived at Ortigas a little past 6 PM.  The P2P bus for NAIA 3 already left so we decided to eat dinner in Galleria.  We read the sign in the bus stop that the bus arrives every 2.5 hours. Since the previous bus left at around 6pm, we expected the bus to arrive at 8:30 pm. To be sure, we started to wait for the bus at 8 pm.  Then 8:30 pm came, no bus.  It might be caught in traffic. Then, 9 pm came. We started to think if we should have booked a Grab earlier. We waited for an hour already. We should have thought this through. All my brain cells were left in Antipolo swimming into the cold and hot pools.  By 9:15 pm. the bus arrived. At last! As soon as we entered the bus, we were told that it would leave at 10 pm.  Oh, well. Lesson learned: Check the schedule. I remember also that the bus passes through all the airports with NAIA 3 as the last stop.  We anticipated the long commute. Because we chatted with the driver while waiting for the bus, he learned that we were staying at the Newport city area. When we passed by the area, he told us he would make a stop for us instead of us alighting at NAIA 3. It takes a little to be kind. Thank you, Mister driver.

We were dead tired when we arrived in our Airbnb.  Talk about forced relaxation the next day!

I love Antipolo. I should try to explore more of the Rizal area next time.

baguio blog (1)

My Three Trips to Baguio

Baguio, again? I got that reaction from friends and family. It is because in the span of 13 months, I have been to Baguio three times.

I went to Baguio at end of January 2019. At that time, I read reports about single digit temperatures and it really felt like that. It was that cold that I layered my clothes. Good thing it was a work trip so we stayed mostly indoors. We stayed in Baguio Country Club so staying indoors was not a problem since I got this view.

We had time to go to Mines View to shop for souvenirs and I bought some hand towels and jams.

When I posted a few photos of that trip, I got this comment from my friend, Wela.

Be careful what you wished for.

By March, there was a seat sale for a trip to Manila. It was only 1200++ round trip so off we booked that November Baguio trip to celebrate Shirly’s birthday. This was my second trip to Baguio for that period.

I was really looking forward to this trip because this was Wela’s first trip with friends and my first trip with both of them. Wela and Shirly are my longtime friends. They were my friends since grade school. Even when I went far, far away in high school, we kept in touch through letters. So this trip was special.

Because I am the artsy-fartsy friend, I need to visit something artsy during the trip. We went to BenCab Museum.

I have been to that museum before and I love it there. This is my dream if I have millions of pesos. I will build a gallery, cafe, studio with a nice garden. I put dibs on that idea.

And this is my beef with BenCab. I cannot afford anything I like in the museum but the entrance ticket and the meal in the cafe. Poor me!

We went to another artsy place. I have not been to this place before. This is the Tam-awan Village. The village features the rich culture of the Cordillera. This was also a nice inspiration to that gallery+studio+cafe+garden of my dreams.

Our driver suggested that we visit the Diplomat Hotel. I have no prior idea what the place is all about. It sounds like a spooky place to me but it was day time and Shirly who has been there did not look scared. She even told us that the courtyard was nice. I even had my picture taken at the courtyard.

The hotel was in ruins. If my memory serves me right, it used to be a monastery turned garrison turned hospital turned hotel turned government building and so on. My imagination did not run wild. Not until I posted my photo on Facebook and I get comments about its notoriety. I even watched a Jessica Soho feature and it was about a tourist who captured something on video while on that courtyard. Scary! Now that my innocence (ignorance) has been broken, I declare that that was my last trip to that hotel. Ha!

We went to the Baguio Botanical Gardens. I love flowers so this was a happy place. They have elephant statues which I think is better than riding those poor elephants in Thailand.

I posted this photo of me in the middle of these yellow flowers. My uncle commented in jest that there is a snake beside me.

Fast forward to February 2020, there is a snake beside me! There is an area in the botanical garden with all the Chinese zodiacs. Although I am surrounded by dragon-born friends, I was born on the year of a snake. I am a dragon at heart, snake by birth. Charots.

We also went to the strawberry farm in La Trinidad, ate ice cream and bought some souvenirs

We dropped by the colorful Stoboso houses.

In the evening, we went to eat some cake because it was Shirly’s birthday. We had strawberry shortcake from Vizco’s.

So everybody thought I was done with Baguio. Not quite. I got a message from Uncle Jing that he would be going home to the Philippines in 2020 to attend his 50th college homecoming. Uncle is the husband of my mother’s sister who lives in Canada. He is from Baguio. He would not be able to travel to Butuan to visit us so he suggested we go to Baguio instead. The easiest person to invite to Baguio is me and my cousin, Azenith. I already know how to go to Baguio and Azenith had too many leave credits. So off we went.

On February 1, 2020, Azenith and I traveled to Baguio. We flew to Manila, rode a taxi to PITX . PITX is the new Paranaque Integrated Terminal Exchange. The terminal is spanking new with modern amenities. It is like an airport terminal. There is a Solid North bus there that travels to Baguio non-stop.

It was already past 6pm when we arrived in Baguio. Look at our tired but happy faces!

We had dinner and went back to the hotel. (But at 9 p.m. , we wiggled our way to the night market at Harrison Road).

Our hotel was along Session Road so I woke up to this view every day in Baguio.

There was free breakfast in this hotel cafe.

And one can eat in this little terrace with this view. We didn’t though. The tables were too small for three people.

Our first day in Baguio was on a Sunday so we attended mass first. The cathedral entrance was a few steps (and three flights of stairs up! ha!) from the hotel.

Off we went to visit The Mansion…

… and Wright Park.

I saw paintings for sale at Wright Park. Should I start selling paintings this way in Guingona Park? Nah, the introvert in me can’t stand socializing with passersby.

Then, off to Mines View Park! I hoarded another set of hand towels. I think I have expressed before that there was nothing to see at Mines View Park. The view deck is narrow and crowded and the mountains there do not look magnificent but still I took a selfie because I wasted time to go up there. I might as well get something out of it.

It was Azenith’s first trip to Baguio so I brought her to the tourist traps. Ha! She looked stunning compared to my toothy grin.

Lunch was in the Vanilla Cafe at the Kamiseta Hotel. I read beforehand that Kamiseta Hotel serves buffet breakfast and lunch on weekends. Since we already have free breakfast at the hotel, I wanted to have lunch there. I wanted to see their sunroom with the colorful chairs and fancy decors that are easily associated with Vanilla Cupcake Bakery. If you happen to see their branches in Manila, this is the expanded version of the cafe.

This should have been my logo, don’t you think? Double K and a flower since I love botanical art. But then again, I use K squared for a logo because long before my math was at that level, my father already taught me what it meant and integrated it in my signature. Now, I multiply life by the power of two. Charots. (In case you do not know, it is a line from a song.)

We went to the botanical garden after. It was a quick walk from the Kamiseta hotel.

I want to have a canopy of bougainvillea in my dream garden. This is the inspiration.

On the second day of the trip, we went to Atok, Benguet. I wanted to see the Northerm Blossom Flower Farm. It was a Monday. I chose that day to avoid the weekend crowd but, alas, the farm was closed for maintenance every Monday. I did not know that. So, we went to other spots in Atok instead. We went to the highest point of the Halsema Highway. This used to be the highway with the highest altitude in the Philippines (until last year, the Kiangan-Tinoc-Buguias Road in Ifugao snatched that title).

This is the awesome sight from the view deck. Behind those clouds is Mt. Pulag, the highest peak in Luzon.

On my left is Mt Timbak.

We went to Bosleng Grotto after. The view was majestic- a far cry from the crowded Mines View Park.

On our way to the grotto, we passed by cabbage farms.

To maximize our trip since we were not able to see Northern Blossoms flower farm, we visited Haights Place. There were not much flowers so I insisted to have my picture taken among the snapdragons…

… and alstromelias.

This place is also where those cherry blossoms from Japan were planted. They are expected to bloom in a few years. I now have two reasons to go back to Atok- cherry blossoms and flower farm.

This trip was already my fourth trip to Baguio in my lifetime and I have not tried strawberry picking. Or should I say I do not have a photo of me picking strawberries until this time. Ha! Voila!

I spied another way of displaying and selling paintings.

After this, we drove back to Baguio city. We rested and took a stroll around Burnham.

The Panagbenga Parade was cancelled due to the coronavirus scare but the garden landscape entries were slowly being set up.

We had dinner and went back to the hotel to pack.

We left at 9 a.m. the next day.

Bye, Baguio! You are lovely. Hope to see you again someday!

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How We Spent Two Days in Tokyo

This is the last of a series of blog posts about my trip to Japan. First part can be found here. Second part, here.

After more than 3 hours of traveling by bus from Niigata, we arrived at the Ikebukuro station in Tokyo. We dropped by Don Quixote, a retail blackhole (ha!), for a bit since Gail needed to look for something. Off we went to Ueno where our hotel was located.

This is our hotel. They must have ran out of appropriate paint color. LOL

Hotel is still a little cramped but it was clean and there was a fridge so we’re fine.

We wanted to go somewhere that day but we did not have enough time. We decided to just find a place to eat. We found this place that has a vending machine for orders. One would have to push a button to choose and order, insert the bills and get the receipt.

We gave the receipt to the server inside and after a few minutes, our order was served.

After we finished eating our dinner, we roamed around the area and found out that the Ameyoko market was just around the corner. We did not find anything interesting so off we searched for the nearest Don Quixote which was a few blocks away. After some retail therapy, we went back to the hotel ready to call it a day.

We really do not have a very tight schedule for our first whole day in Tokyo, we just chose places we wanted to visit like the Imperial Palace, Uniqlo Store at Ginza, Hachiko at Shibuya, Sekaido (art store) at Shinjuku then back to Ueno for the zoo and park. We agreed that we would just visit what we could cover for the day. We took a leisurely pace. Tita na kami kasi.

First stop was the Imperial Palace. We rode the train to the Tokyo Station.

As soon as we reached the station, we looked for a place to eat. We think that there were better choices in a train station than outside. We found this place that served breakfast sandwiches so we quickly settled to the available seats.

Look there is a bucket under every seat for a place to put your bags.

Off we went the Marunouchi exit of the Tokyo station. Just before we exited, we looked up and the ceiling was beautiful.

This was the reason why Grace reminded us to take this exit and when we were already outside, we should not forget to look back. This is what the station looks like outside. Just beautiful.

When we crossed the street, there was this commemorative installation for the Rugby World Cup that was being held in Japan that time.

After we had enough photos, we walked our way towards the Imperial Palace grounds. I thought we would be able to see the palace from the grounds. I guess not.

So we took a few photos in the palace grounds area and we are off to Ginza!

Google told us that it was 17 minutes away by foot. We also got to pass by Hibiya park.

I love how there were pockets of greens in between concrete jungles in Tokyo.

So what is in Ginza? The largest Uniqlo store in the world!

There are 12 floors and I was only able to buy 1 thing- thermal undergarment because it was on sale. It was already fall/winter season and I live in a tropical country so nothing caught my fancy. Plus, I was on a limited budget. We also kept on computing because prices were more or less the same as the ones in Manila.

This is the view from the top!

After going through all the 12 floors in Uniqlo, we were off to Shibuya.

I just needed to visit Hachiko at least once in my lifetime.

And since we were already in Shibuya, we might as well cross one of the busiest intersections in the world.

We went to Shinjuku afterwards to check out an art store. This was my special request. And we had difficulty in finding the store and just when I was so ready to give up, it was just in front of me all those times. Naks! I was meant to get those paint tubes, notebooks and pens. Rationalizing the purchase.

I guess we lost track of time because by the time we reached Ueno, the zoo was already closed. We will just have to visit it next time. We trekked back to our hotel after we had dinner. We had to pack. We would be checking out of our hotel the next day. And the highlight of our Tokyo trip was also scheduled the next day.

Our last day in Japan would be spent at the Ghibli Museum! And somebody was prepared to go there. Look at her earring.

Ever since Grace went to the Ghibli museum with her kids, I wanted to go there too. I know nothing about Ghibli until Grace mentioned it and I caught up with 4 Ghibli movies since then. I know. I needed to catch up.

It was difficult to get those entrance tickets. One needs to book a month in advance. We tried to book online at the specific time and date when tickets were available but the website crashed on me. I messaged Grace about it so she called her local Lawson office and personally bought the tickets for us. Whew! When I checked the website a day after, the tickets were sold out!

We had a specific time when to enter the museum- 10 a.m. The museum was 45 minutes away so we checked out of the hotel at around 7 a.m. We had to leave our luggage at the lockers at the Keisei Ueno station where would ride the train to Narita later that day.

To reach Ghibli, we had the option to go to Mitaka station and ride the Ghibli bus or take the Kichijoji sation and walk. We took the Kichijoji route because we saw that there was a Catholic church along the way. I traveled with a saint so we needed to visit a church. Kidding aside, it was a nice way to be thankful for our trip.

The church was tucked away behind a building which we first thought was the church.

You know you are in the right place when you can understand what is written in the sign.

Our walk from the church to Ghibli was an easy one because we passed through the Inokashira Park. Gail was on heightened alert because trees meant spiders between tree trunks. Hehehe

There were directions on which way the museum was. It was hard to get lost.

We saw the Ghibli bus that we did not take because we opted to walk.

We finally reached Ghibli. This is not the entrance yet.

We turned to the other corner and we found a line! We arrived 20 minutes before it opened and there was already a line. I was looking at the people and told Gail, “So these are our competitors in getting the tickets!” LOL

Photography was not allowed inside the museum.

All I can say is that Ghibli artists are so creative and detailed. They would label each color they used in the illustrations so every frame you see in their movies are perfectly made. There are notes on how each frame was made. If you are into illustration and art, the place is very inspiring. I was happy to visit Ghibli. My inspiration cup overflows. Thank you, Grace, for securing the tickets for us and for introducing Ghibli to me!

Our last destination before we headed for the airport was this pancake place. Grace told us to try this place while we were planning our trip. It was a short walk from Ghibli. So as a celebration of this trip, we splurged a little in this place. We ordered a meal and a dessert. Yes, a pancake meal and a pancake dessert. Yummy fluffy pancakes!

As I was trying to finish my meal, another set was waiting for me to devour. I shared this with Gail, by the way.

What a way to end a trip to Japan! I hope to go back!

A weekend in Niigata

A Weekend in Niigata

My trip to Japan would not be complete without visiting my friend, Grace. Grace used to live in Dubai but now lives in Tokamachi City in Niigata Prefecture. When she was still living in Dubai she kept inviting me to visit her but it was hard for me to score cheap plane tickets. Then she moved to Japan. I told myself that I should be able to visit her this time. Plus, I follow her Instagram feed. She lives in a quiet and picturesque part of Japan. Very provincial and peaceful. Who would not want to go there?

We made sure that our Japan itinerary included a weekend in Niigata. We chose the weekend so we could also spend time with her family especially her awesome kids, Pristine and Benjamin. Too bad, Pristine was on a school trip. We missed her bubbly personality.

We flew from Osaka to Niigata via ANA. We scored an affordable plane fare that flies from Osaka International Airport (Itami Airport). This airport is different from the Kansai Airport. Good thing Gail read the ticket details. I would have assumed otherwise. This is the reason why we chose the Namba area for hotel location in Osaka because the stop for the airport bus to Itami Airport was just a short walk away. We woke up early to catch the 6:00 a.m. bus so we arrived at the bus stop 15 minutes earlier. We alreayd saw the bus waiting for passenger and we were pretty surprised that it was almost full. These Japanese people and punctuality left us wanting! (Sana all!)

I do not have a photo to show for our trip to the airport or even when we arrived in Niigata airport because I avoided looking like a tourist. I felt that I already look like a tourist because I think we were the only non-Japanese at the airport. I guess not so many tourists take our route. Everyone was quiet and calm. If I kept on taking pictures, I would attract attention. So much so that while we were on flight, I saw Mt. Fuji from the airplane window. I practiced self-control to not take a picture because the Japanese passengers in my row were so behaved and quiet that talking to Gail (who sat near the window) about taking a picture for me would already be too noisy. I just saved the view to my own memory, analog-style. (How did I know it was Mt Fuji? The perfect cone was a giveaway. Plus I asked Grace when I remembered it days after I arrived home. Ha! )

And Google confirmed it.

When we reached Niigata, we needed to travel to Tokamachi where Grace lives. Grace was unable to fetch us because the day we arrive was also the that Pristine leaves for Tokyo for her school trip to the US. Grace needed to drive P to the train station. So she gave us instructions on how to get there. We checked Google and asked her for confirmation of the route.

We used this site for instructions.

If one looks closely, the time when the train leaves was so specific. 12:06. Not 12 noon; not 12:05 but 12:06. That is how precise they are with the schedule. And in particular, at 14:12, we needed to transfer to another train in 3 minutes. I told Gail that we might not be able to get to that train in 3 minutes and I did not think they would wait for us. So both of us put our game face on and focused on the task- find the train and be quick in getting there. As our train approaches the Echigo-Kawaguchi station , we could see the other train on the other track. And to get there, we needed to go down a flight of stairs, cross a hallway and go up another flight of stairs to the platform where the train was. All these steps while carrying our luggage and doing everything in 3 minutes! No wonder many Japanese looked so thin! Traveling is a form of exercise. As soon as I found a seat in the train, I could feel my sweat trickled and I could hear myself breathe a sigh of relief.

Let me say that Google Maps was also very helpful in navigating Japan. Information is in sync with the actual schedule. Even the price of tickets is accurate. It makes me wonder how tourists managed to navigate Japan before the Internet.

We met Grace and Benjamin at the station. Although I missed Pristine, Benjamin came to the rescue. Benjamin kept us entertained all through out our stay there. He was such a pro in keeping us happy and amused.

Grace’s house was just a quick drive from the train station.


She is surrounded by neighbors who have vegetable gardens.

As soon as she stepped out of her car, she was greeted by her neighbor who handed her a bag of eggplants. What a generous community!

When we entered her door, she still had a box of eggplants given by the same neighbor!

She showed us where we would be sleeping. Look at that! We stayed in a traditional Japanese home complete with tatami mats and screen doors/windows.

(Btw, this room is on Airbnb. If you want to experience Niigata, you might want to check this out. )

I love that this is their front door – a thin sliding door and there is no need for heavy locks. Yet they feel safe and sound. (My front door in Butuan had 3 locks. Plus I have padlocked iron grills for a gate. I needed those to feel safe and sound. Sigh. )

As soon as we got acquainted with our room, Grace called us to change into her yukata (summer kimono). While planning our trip, she already offered to lend us her kimono. Renting one can be expensive. She also had to help us dress since wearing one is pretty complicated.

There are different shrines near her place so as soon as we finished dressing up, she drove us there. Since Tokamachi was pretty laid back and quiet, there weren’t many tourists. That is how I want to travel. Not much tourists= no photobombers. Ha!

I took this photo of Gail.

Grace took this photo of me taking a photo of Gail. Cool, eh?

It was starting to drizzle. We had enough photos already so we headed to the grocery. Yes, we were wearing yukata in the grocery! Only the two of us were wearing the attire. Take that Heart E! LOL

This is Gail talking to Benjamin while waiting for us in the grocery. Benjamin and her talked like they have been friends for a long time.

This is our first meal in Grace’s home. Yummy!

For Day 2, we were out to explore Niigata.

Our first stop was in Ojiya. Ojiya is another city in Niigata which is less than an hour away from Tokamachi. There was a bullfighting event that day which Grace was invited so we got free entrance. We were lucky to be able to tag along. While waiting for the matches to start, we walked around the area. The venue was on a mountain area. Look at the view! Lots of Christmas trees!

We also had cold soba to fill our tummies.

We walked around.

We were informed that there is a shrine nearby. What are shrines really? This is how I understand it from Grace’s explanation. These are places of worship of the Shinto religion that originates from Japan. In Shintoism, they do not have churches and regular masses like us Catholics. Instead, they have shrines scattered all over Japan. Some are small ones like that ones we saw in Niigata and some are huge ones like in Osaka. People offer prayers in these shrines. The torii gates we often see are the entrance to a sacred realm.

Inside the shrine are these objects of worship.

After a quick hike we returned to the arena, we had reserved seats. This is Grace’s surname in kanji.

Bullfighting or Tsunotsuki is a Japanese tradition which spanned for more than a thousand years. It is different from the Spanish bullfighting where there is a match between human and a bull. In Tsunotski, two bulls fight each other to show strength and skills.

And no bull wins a match. As soon as any of the bulls show aggression, a group of men (seko) would separate the bulls by tying a rope in the bull’s foot and grabbing the nose (the weakest part of the bull’s body). Then the match is over.

People in Ojiya want to keep this tradition alive. Our host lent us this device so that we can hear him make commentaries in English. Afterwards, we rated the quality of his commentary. We were asked to answer a questionnaire on how to improve the event to attract visitors to the area.

We were also given this delicacy for snacks.

Yummy! This tasted like Surigao’s sayongsong but with red bean filling.

We watched all the 17 matches! There was one bull who did not want to fight. It kept running away from the other bull. The sekos just let it be. Game over. The bulls were led to their holding areas. (Walang basagan ng trip!)

It was a unique experience for us. It was the first time for everyone. Even Grace’s husband, who was born and raised in Japan and he also grew up in Niigata, witnessed this form of bullfighting for the first time.

Now off to lunch! We ate at this katsu place. Happy tummies!

Off to the next spot! Nishikigoi no sato! Entrance was free that day.

From their website: Nishikigoi is the generic name for the carps with beautiful colours and marking patterns. They are sorted out from the edible carps, called “koi” in Japanese. The improvement of edible black carps into Nishikigoi for appreciation started at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Through people’s unceasing efforts black carps have now turned into exquisite Nishikigoi.

Nishikigoi no Sato is the only place in the world where a wide variety of live Nishikigoi are on display along with the materials showing the history of their improvements. Nishikigoi are usually raised in mud ponds from spring to autumn, so their beautiful figures cannot be seen from a close distance during these seasons in breeding districts. In order to solve this problem, the city of Ojiya opened Nishikigoi no Sato in October 1989, so that visitors can see genuine Nishikigoi, in their birthplace, swimming in clear water throughout the year.

How lucky are we to be in the best viewing area with the most number of koi varieties and we got in for free!

They were huge and very hyperactive! Ha!

Can you spot the platinum koi?

Grace, I can’t thank you enough for bringing us here! I took a lot of photos for future painting reference.

It was getting dark when we left. We dropped by their public library where Benjamin borrowed some books to read. Tokamachi is not a very populous city by Japan standards and yet it has an awesome public library! Photos were not allowed so I do not have something to show. Grace told us that during summer when kids are not in school and temperature was high, they would spend the day at the library. Sigh!

When we got home, Benjamin started to write his homework. He was writing on his diary of what happened during the weekend. He did his homework while we munched on edamame.

We also had this delicacy called chimake, a glutinous rice dish wrapped in bamboo leaves.

We had dinner while Grace booked our bus trip to Tokyo for the next day. We are so blessed to have a wonderful host, efficient tour guide, stylist, skilled photographer and booking agent in Grace. These are just a few of her incredible list of practical life skills.

We left Niigata for Tokyo by the third day. But since our bus was scheduled to leave at 12:05 p.m. We still have the whole morning in Niigata.

It was a Monday and Benjamin had to go to school so we accompanied him to the meeting point of school kids. Japan’s school children walk to school with their schoolmates.

Children in Benjamin’s school were assigned groups where they walk together to school every day. Older kids serve as leaders. This is Benjamin’s group and look how they lined up in an orderly manner.

Since Benjamin was in school, Grace and her husband, Maki, drove us to the Kiyotsu Gorge. Kiyotsu Gorge is one of Japan’s most gorgeous gorges.

The tunnel that runs along the gorge was transformed into an art installation.

Even the toilet was turned into an art installation. Yes, this metallic structure that looks like a space craft is a toilet.

This is how it looked inside.

And this is the view when you sit on the throne.

The tunnel had colored lights in the hallway.

And the pièce de résistance is at the end of the tunnel. This is the light cave with a water feature and mirrors reflecting the Kiyotsu Gorge outside. It looked awesome!

After we toured the tunnel, we dropped by this structure.

On the second level was a foot spa.

We dipped our weary feet.

We looked up to this opening that lets us see the nature outside like a periscope.

We climbed down the steps to get a closer look at the river that flowed in between the gorge.

What a way to end our last day in Niigata!

Grace dropped us at the bus stop.

We were the only people inside the waiting area.

Thank you so much, Grace! I will be back someday!

Look what is inside the bus! A comfy foot rest for the 4-hour ride. There was free wifi and charging socket. Not bad.

Off to Tokyo!

*** Thank you, Grace, for the wonderful photos!