Wednesday, October 29, 2014

European Backpacking: Money Saving Ideas!

We all know Europe is an expensive getaway but there are a lot of ways to cut cost and extend your budget in Europe. I made up these tips based on my recent 2-week trip.

These ideas may not work on people who have a different take on their travels. In my case, it’s a shoestring backpacking trip. Hence, cheapest possible or the value for money.

1.    Book your tickets in advance / Schedule your transfers
Aside from accommodation, plane tickets and train transfers are the biggest part of a trip. I suggest you decide on your route and how long you plan to stay in a city or country then book your airplane or train tickets in advance. Also, decide whether to take the plane or train. In my case, I decided on my country transfers even if I didn’t have my detailed itinerary per city yet. Yes, there may be instances that I wish I could’ve stayed longer or shorter but marking these dates is very important to get the cheapest ticket possible. I tell you, you can save a lot! You can even save time not queuing up for tickets! Just make sure you are not left by your train.

I regularly check tickets online to see if the flight tickets already changed. In my case, I got the cheapest deal for Lisbon – Paris (Beauvais) ticket from Ryanair. I booked my Ryanair ticket more than 2months in advance and it was worth it. I only paid 55Euros (Php 3,135) per person included the 20kg baggage allowance. Had I book it just a month earlier, I’m sure I would have paid more!

I got the best deals on our train rides. Since train fares are like plane tickets already, the earlier you book the flight, the cheaper you can get it. I booked all our trains online on the first day it was available online. Haha! I made sure to be the on the queue. Lol.

Just to give you an example, normally the bus ride from Madrid – Lisbon is cheaper than the overnight-sleeper train but since I booked it early, I got a cheaper ticket on the train. And yes, we were able to lie down on a full-flat bed. Yay!

In Italy, I got our Frecciarossa high-speed train tickets for only 29Euros (Php 1,653) per person for our Milano – Firenze and Firenze – Roma trip. By the way, it was business class! Haha! Had I gotten the ordinary seats, it would have just cost me 19Euros (Php 1,102). Like I said, I book it early. If I got my tickets on the travel day itself, the tickets were already 43Euros for ordinary and 63Euros  for the business class. I saved a lot! Now, you see what I mean for the value for money -- I paid 29Eu for business class rather than buying it on the spot for 43Euros and it’s just the ordinary seat.

2.    Get good hotel deals / Airbnb / Couchsurf / Overnight trains
The other major expense in a trip – a place to stay. It would be a big saving if you have a good friend to stay or find a couch. But if none, better plan this as well before your trip because it’s a big consideration.  Try checking out Airbnb or hotel website for good deals. Consider taking an overnight train as well to save on hotel costs, sleep on the train and once you arrive, you are already in a new country. Yay!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

European Backpacking: The Summary

WOW! I made it and my mom survived! We're finally back after our 16-day European pilgrimage-backpacking trip. We visited 11 cities in 4 countries with 5 airplane rides, 2-overnight trains, 2-high speed trains and 2-regional trains.
My partner. Haha!
Our main purpose was to attend the beatification ceremony of Don Alvaro Del Portillo in Madrid, Spain. But since we were already in Europe, might as well visit other sites. It was already our chance!

So we visited famous pilgrimage sites such as Fatima and Avila, prayed in major Basilica like the Sacre-croix (Sacred Heart) in Paris, Milano Cathedral and St. Peter's Square in Rome, attended Papal Audience in Rome and of course other must-visit side trips -- Disneyland Paris, Eiffel Tower, Leaning Tower of Pisa, Coloseo to name a few.

To summarize our trip:
Spain: Avila. Madrid. Segovia.
Portugal: Fatima. Lisbon.
France: Paris. Versailles.
Italy: Milan. Florence. Pisa. Rome.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Fuji-Q Highlands: Home of Roller Coasters

April 29, 2013

Another once-in-a-lifetime experience I had in 2013 was to visit the thrilling, breath taking, and home of roller coasters in Japan, Fuji-Q Highland.  From the entrance, you can  already see up close the famous Fuji-san or Mt. Fuji, where the name of the theme park came from.
Fuji-Q Highlands Entrance

Before going to the park, I was really excited to try all the rides and I’m up for all the challenges. But seeing the rides up close and personal, it seemed like I can’t make it especially if I take up the challenge alone. But if someone was willing to ride with me, will have definitely ridden all the coasters! In the end, I tried the King of All Coasters, Fujiyama and Dodonpa.

Not to mention the breathtaking view!
Fuji-Q Grounds
Its famous roller coasters include the following:

Fujiyama: 79m high, top speed of 130km/hr and a total length of 2045m. It was once the 8th tallest, 5th longest and 10th fastest roller coaster in 2007.

Crazy. This is one of the best roller coasters I’ve ridden. And I’m looking forward to try other coasters in the future. The lines were very long but it was all worth it to experience this one-of-a-kind roller coaster. The warm-up move was to climb the 71m and getting ready for the 1st drop. While we were slowly moving up, my bones were shaking whether I could make it or not but there was no backing out! The thought of it was really crazy!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Universal Studios Japan: Experience the Movies

April 24, 2013

Touched down Osaka, Japan. Where to go? Universal Studios Japan ex- the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Unfortunately, I went there a year before the scheduled opening of the Harry Potter themed attractions.
Universal Globe
Seriously, we went directly to Universal Studios (USJ). Upon arrival at Kansai International Airport, we immediately purchased bus tickets to USJ bringing with us my big luggage. I didn’t care what other people might think. Haha! Travel Tip: There is luggage storage at the entrance of the park. You may leave your things there for a fee (I forgot how much though).

Too bad the weather didn’t cooperate during my trip because it was raining. But it didn’t stop me to enjoy and maximize my day trip to the park. After all, I didn’t know when can I visit this park again? Not until they announced the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opening soon! I’m not a die-hard harry potter fan but will surely be back there to see the attraction! HAHA!

Like my suggestion in all other theme parks, get a copy of the park map immediately and plan on how you maximize the place. Make sure to include in your schedule the park shows and performance. 

Universal Studios Japan:
Mandatory photo!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Itinerary: Kyoto

Before every trip, it is very important to research on the places you intend to visit.   It is equally important to plot everything so that you can maximize the little time you have bearing in mind the expenses you will incur.

Let’s face it, sometimes researching for your trip can consume most of your time before your dream vacation. Of course, if you are on a tour group, they prepare everything for you.

Sharing to you my 2-day itinerary in Kyoto, Japan.
Golden Pavilion
Day 1: April 26, 2013
06:05AM – Arrival at Kyoto Station via Overnight bus from Nagano Prefecture
06:05AM – 07:00AM – Travel to Cathedral of St.Francis Xavier (We arrived on a Sunday so we decided to attend mass before going around)
07:00AM – 07:30AM – Quick tour in the church and prepare for mass
07:30AM – 08:15AM – Holy Mass
08:15AM – 09:45AM – Travel to Kyoto ShuhokakuHotel (leisure morning walk)
09:45 AM – 10:20AM – Early registration and left our luggage
10:20AM – 1!:15AM – Breakfast near hotel
11:15AM – 12:00NN – Walk from hotel to Kiyomizu-dera (including the 20min from the city streets to the main entrance)
12:00NN – 01:00PM – Explore Kiyomizu-dera
01:00PM – 01:30PM – Walk to Kodaji Temple
01:30PM – 02:15PM – Explore  Kodaji Temple, Maruyama & Yasaka Park Shring
02:15PM – 03:00PM – Explore Kyoto downtown and Gion area
03:00PM – 03:30PM – Travel to Kyoto Shuhokaku Hotel
03:30PM – 05:00PM – Check in and Rest (Eat snacks from convenience store)
05:00PM – 06:00PM – Travel to Kyoto University (I visited a place near the university)
06:00PM – 06:30PM – Met with the Director of the place
06:30PM – 07:30PM – Travel back to the Hotel
07:30PM – 08:30PM – Rest
08:30PM – 09:30PM – Special Kaiseki dinner at the Hotel
09:30PM – 10:30PM – Wash up! Prepare for tomorrow

Day 2: April 27, 2013
06:00AM – 07:00AM – Wake up! Prepare ~
07:00AM – 07:40AM – Hearty breakfast at the Hotel
07:40AM – 08:15AM – Pack things (We leave the hotel at night so we need to check-out early)
08:15AM – 09:00AM – Travel to Kinkakuji
09:00AM – 10:15AM – Explore Kinkakuji (GoldenPavilion)
10:15AM – 11:00AM – Travel to Ryoanji
11:00AM – 11:45AM – Explore Ryoanji
11:45AM – 12:30PM – Travel to Nijo-jo
12:30PM – 01:45PM – Explore Nijo-jo (Nijo Castle)
01:45PM – 03:00PM – Lunch and Rest! (We walked a lot!)
03:00PM – 03:30PM – Continue to stroll to Imperial Palace
03:30PM – 04:15PM – Explore Imperial Palace
04:15PM – 04:30PM – Travel to Gion area
04:30PM – 06:00PM – Explore Gion at night and bought some souvenirs
06:00PM – 06:20PM – Go back to Hotel
06:20PM – 06:30PM – Just grab our luggage!
06:30PM – 07:00PM – Travel to Kyoto Station
07:00PM – 07:40PM – Explore Kyoto Station
07:40PM – 08:30PM – Dinner at McDonalds in Kyoto Station
08:30PM – 09:30PM – Rest
09:30PM – 10:30PM – Went to the bus, board and rest again!
10:30PM – Departure!

That’s it for my Kyoto trip. It was very short so I just visited the major destinations in town.

This is just a simple guide to help you plan your Kyoto escapade. Feel free to modify my itinerary according to your interest and schedule.

If you have more time in Kyoto, you can explore other places: (not a complete list)
Ginkaku-ji – Silver Pavilion. Arashiyama.. Shugakuin Imperial Villa. Tenryu-ji. Kamigamo & Shimogamo Shrines. Mount. Kurama. Kyoto National Museum.

Enjoy your Kyoto trip!

Kyoto | Imperial Palace: The Emperor's Residence

April 27, 2013

To conclude our Kyoto trip, we went to Kyoto Imperial Palace, ‘just walking distance from Nijo-jo,’ according to many Japanese. But this doesn't mean 5min walk. Aha. Just like in other developed countries, a 20-30min walk is a norm for them. Just to make things clear, its around 2.8km from Nijo Castle. Now, it’s for you to decide if you want to walk.

In our case, we walked from the castle to the palace. I’m good with the walk given the cool weather and pleasant view, including traces of Cherry Blossoms. I also enjoyed observing Japanese lifestyle and culture.

Kyoto Imperial Palace was the home of the country’s Emperor until 1868, when they transferred to Tokyo Imperial Palace (been there in 2009). 
Imperial Palace Main Gate

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Kyoto | Kinkaku-ji: Golden Pavilion in Nature

April 27, 2013

First thing on the list in our 2nd and last day in Kyoto – my number 1 place to visit, Golden Pavilion – Kinkaku-ji. It’s arguably the most famous temple in Kyoto and even in the country.  Make sure to visit the place to understand its magnificent beauty. A perfect place for reflection of what you have done with your life. HAHA!

After freshening up and a hearty breakfast, we immediately went to Kinkaku-ji. I was very excited to see the temple that I woke up early and researched some fun facts to appreciate the structure more. Travel Tip: It’s good to read prior before visiting a place to know its value. Reminder to self: Read, and not just pure photos!

The entrance to the temple was already very inviting because it was perfectly maintained. You can already feel a serene ambiance leading to the main temple. The locals and tourists were also very disciplined. Who would dare throwing rubbish here?

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Kyoto | Kiyomizu-dera: A Temple in Otowa Mountain

April 26, 2013

Exactly a year ago, I visited Kiyomizu-dera or Clear Water Temple in English. It is one of my top 5 places to visit in Kyoto. A beautiful temple at the East side of Kyoto and just walking distance from our hotel, Kyoto Shuhokaku Hotel.
Kiyomizu-dera's main temple
Yes, striking distance but that doesn’t mean less than 10min of walk because the walk from city streets to the temple entrance is already 20min. Hence, from our hotel, it’s approximately a 35min stroll. Travel Tip: Consider wearing sneakers. The walking time might be easy for you! But how about the elevation and slopes! Take note, the temple is located in Otowa Mountain.

But it's a pleasant walk! Most people, including Japanese high school students in their school uniforms, heading to the temple would also walk to the entrance.  There's a wide array of shops too along the way. Travel Tip: Grab the green tea or sakura ice cream. It’s amazing! Buy some refreshments too!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Kyoto | Nijo-jo: Home of the Tokugawa Shogunate

April 27, 2013

"Not only did Nijo Castle witness the rise and fall of the Tokugawa, but the castle has also watched over changes in Japanese History."

The home of the 1st Shogun of the Edo period (1603-1867), Nijo Castle is one of the 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites found in Kyoto that you should not miss out. From the entrance of the castle, you can already see the grandeur of the structure.
Ninomaru Palace
Near the gate, we paid for the castle tickets then went immediately to the castle.  And we didn’t get the English voice guide system because its additional cost. By the way, I saw a Filipino family in the entrance who must have went here through a tour group. I should have followed them to have a free tour explanation of the castle. lol. Travel Tip: It's not allowed to snap photos inside. Make sure to take photos while you are still outside! And the Japanese religiously follow rules :)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Kyoto Shuhokaku Hotel: A Japanese traditional living

Thousands of hotels, guesthouses, inns bed & breakfast to choose from in this must-visit city of Kyoto, but we opted to stay in a Japanese inn known as Ryokan. This type of room feature tatami-matted rooms where guests rest and sleep.

Kyoto Shuhokaku Hotel is a traditional inn that offers a perfect Japanese traditional experience from the rooms to the food they served, from the lounge to the common bath area.
Hotel Entrance
Once you enter the hotel, you will immediately find a small souvenir shop selling traditional products. Just go straight a little further to find the check-in desks and the staffs would gladly help you. They were very helpful and accommodating. In fact, they provided us with a map and suggested routes on how to go around Kyoto.
Japanese wearing Yukata
Even in the hallways, you would realize the traditional feel of the hotel. Travel Tip: You have private showers in the room you can go to a public bath for everyone (onsen). Likewise, if you want a public bath experience exclusive to your family (people you are with), you can ask a staff to reserve a public bath for you. 


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