Friday, December 11, 2009

Japan: Nagoya Castle and more from Nagoya

The next day, we left for Kyoto for Nagoya via the Shinkansen. We were flying back to Manila from the Nagoya Airport. The reserved section Shinkansen tickets from Kyoto to Nagoya cost Y5440.

We took the noon train and got to enjoy the scenery along the way. The train took 37 minutes to travel the 108-kilometer distance between the two cities. The first thing we looked for was lockers to keep our big luggage and then we were off to visit Nagoya Castle.

We found out there was a Y500 day pass on the Nagoya Sightseeing Route Bus. And that gave us discounts to the attractions such as the Nagoya Castle. What a way to end our Japan tour walking around a grand Japanese castle that towered over the landscape. The entrance fee to Nagoya Castle is Y500. But with the bus day pass, you just pay Y400.

The Nagoya Castle is a wonderful sample of a Japanese castle. This was actually reconstructed in 1959 after it was destroyed by U.S. bombs in 1945. How I wish we restored our own Intramuros churches after the Americans carpet bombed Manila during the Second World War.

On the grounds of the castle was a colorful display of chrysanthemums. The next thing we knew, it was time to get to the airport which was another train ride away. Airports are no longer located within main cities (which is why they are proposing to transfer NAIA operations to DMIA). But again, the transportation system was so efficient, it was a breeze to get to the Nagoya Airport.

On my next Japan trip, I’ll definitely purchase the 7-day Shinkansen pass so I could simply hop-on and hop-off the train from Hokkaido to Kyushu!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Japan: Buddhist monuments of Horyu-ji (Ikaruga, Nara)

Our plan was to go a little further down the road to the town of Ikaruga to visit another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Horyu-ji Temple (法隆寺 or Temple of the Flourishing Law). The full name of the temple is name is Horyu Gakumonji (法隆学問寺 or Learning Temple of the Flourishing Law).

From the JR Nara Station, it’s only three stops away (Koriyama, Yamato-Koizumi, and Horyuji) and very convenient to visit. Tickets cost Y420. I really love the efficiency of the Japanese public transportation system!

When we got there, we were met by a Y1000 entrance fee. But with all the temples, shrines and palaces we entered and paid for already the past few days, the group was content with taking photos outside. We wanted to make sure we had enough for our last day in Japan. So after Horyu-ji, we went back to Nara, and back to Kyoto where we stayed for our last night.

Japan: Feeding deer in Nara, Japan

The next day, we headed to Nara, Japan, another UNESCO World Heritage Site (Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara), and another former capital of Japan. Train tickets are free seating so it didn’t matter what time we boarded but we made sure to get a train as early as we could so we could see more attractions. The ride took us a little over 30 minutes.

In Nara, we made sure to pass by the tourism desk to ask all the information we needed. We also got a bus day pass at Y500 which was convenient as in the other cities. Our first stop was Kofuku-ji Temple where we saw a very peculiar attraction of the city, wild deer which roam around Nara freely.

In fact, tourists can feed the deer by purchasing wafers from vendors. It’s fun feeding the deer and they can get aggressive too, nudging you with their head so to grab your attention so that you’d feed them more wafers.

When in Nara, make sure you visit the Todai-ji Temple. Its Great Buddha Hall or Daibutsuden is the largest wooden structure in the world and houses the largest statue of the Buddha Vairocana in the world. Entrance fee is Y500.

I was awestruck walking into this massive temple complex. Inside the Daibutsuden are more massive statues. I really took time absorbing the grandeur and size of the building and its contents. And these were all made hundreds of years ago.

We visited one last attraction in Nara, the Kasuga Taisha Shrine which is known for the many stone lanterns that lead up to the main shrine. My companions had temple and shrine fatigue so we did not enter anymore. So we missed the bronze lanterns inside the main Shinto shrine as well as the Kasugayama Primeval Forest, also part of the UNESCO World Heritage inscription.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Japan: Kyoto, Japan and its historic monuments

Autumn in Kyoto, Japan attracts throngs of tourists every year to its temples and other historic monuments. And we're lucky that our conference coincided with the vivid colors of Japan's autumnal foliage. We arrived in the evening so we did not get to see those autumn colors and Mount Fuji while on the Shinkansen.

Tired from going around Tokyo the whole day, our group decided to go straight to the Kyoto Utano Youth Hostel where we had booked our stay for the next three nights. It's about an hour from the train station but only one bus ride on Bus No. 26. So we got to rest on the bus. But once we got there, we knew we made the right choice since for a youth hostel, this one was grand! A bed is Y3300 a night. You can also opt to have breakfast there for Y600.

The next day, we purchased one-day bus passes at the hostel counter for Y500 which is a must if you want to maximize your stay in Kyoto. Make sure you get a copy of the bus map the night before you go around so that you can plan which buses to take and where to go next.

There were so many temples to visit, many of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. But each had its own entrance fee. So people on a tight budget have to plan their trip around Kyoto wisely.

Our first stop was Ninna-ji since it was the closest to our youth hostel. It once served as the old imperial palace of Omuro, a residence for the former emperor. The temple is most noted as the center of the Omuro school of the Shingon sect of Buddhism. To visit the grounds, we had to pay Y500. We actually chanced upon a period movie being shot on the grounds. I had wanted to take photos of the actors in costume but the crew was very strict and did not allow photos to be taken.

We again hopped on the bus to get to our next stop, a must visit when in Kyoto, Kinkaku-ji. Kinkaku-ji is the popular name of Rokuon-ji Temple, home of the golden pavilion, an iconic attraction of Kyoto. It was exciting seeing the gold colored structure by the man-made lake for which I had only seen before in pictures. To get in, you have to pay Y400.

Nijo Castle was our stop before a very late lunch. Since we wanted to visit as much as we could while the sun was out (it looked like it was going to rain), we decided to delay our lunch break until we got to Gion.

Built in 1603 as the official Kyoto residence of the first Tokugawa shogun, Ieyasu, the castle was completed in 1626 by third Tokugawa shogun Iemitsu. It is one of the finest examples of Momoyama architecture in Japan, making use of early Edo building designs. Entrance ticket is Y600.

Gion is very popular with tourists so that’s where we decided to have lunch. Gion is a district of Kyoto that originally developed in the Middle Ages to accommodate needs of travelers and visitors to the Yasaka Shrine. It became one of the most exclusive and well-known Geisha districts in all of Japan. So visiting this place is a must for people who want to see old architecture and the traditional way of the geisha.

Our last stop before the sun went down was Kiyomizudera, another iconic attraction of the city. From the temple, you get a panoramic view of Kyoto. You can get perfect sunset shots from there. Ticket price is Y300. Shortly after sunset, they let all the visitors out of the grounds. And you can wait to re-enter again, this time for the evening views of Kyoto. It’s a different entrance fee for this but since we wanted to go back to the hostel and rest, we decided to make our way down the hill, passing by the many colorful souvenir and snack shops along the way.

Kyoto Utano Youth Hostel
29 Nakayama-cho Uzumasa
Ukyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto-fu 6
Kyoto 616-8191 Japan
+81 75 462-2288

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

North Philippines: Best pizza restaurants north of Metro Manila

Pizza is one of my personal favorites. Those who know me should know this fact very well. So I'm compiling a list of my favorite pizza places outside Metro Manila beginning with North Philippines.

Clark Freeport & Angeles City

C' Italian Dining (1210 Don Juico Avenue, Angeles City; +63 45 8924059) is known for the panizza. C' Italian Dining had already been serving these sumptuous pizzas rolled with arugula and alfalfa long before Yellow Cab came out with Dear Darla. And there's no way you can compare the taste! The C' panizza is the best!

The best sellers are Don Carmelo: spicy chorizo, anchovies, thyme and pecorino cheese; Kristina: bacon, ham, caramelized onion, sun dried tomatoes and mushrooms; and Saint Jacques: scallop flakes, shrimp, sun dried tomatoes and chili flakes.

Historic Camalig Restaurant (292 Sto. Rosario Street, Angeles City; +63 45 3225641 or 8881077) is the home of Armando's Pizza. My personal favorite is Doy's Kapampangan: longganisa, ebun buru (salted duck egg), onion & pickle relish. Their newest offering is Marco's 3-Way: sun-dried tomatoes & kesong puti plus a choice of either tuyo, tinapa or chicken adobo. Then there's Mexican Medley: shredded chicken breast (sauteed in hot pepper & pizza sauce), fresh tomato & spring onion. Another personal favorite is the classic Armando's Best: same toppings as All The Way, but with extra peperoni, double ground beef, double green pepper, double mushroom & extra Canadian bacon.

Didi's Pizza (MacArthur Highway, Balibago, Angeles City; + 63 45 8921184) serves a very Filipino-flavored pizza if you know what I mean. My personal favorite is the Combination: mushroom, salami, pepperoni, green pepper and onions.

Salvatore's Ristorante (300 Fields Avenue, Balibago, Angeles City; +63 45 8920484) serves good Italian pizza as well. Their best seller is Italian De Luxe: salami, pepperoni, Italian sausage, mushroom, green bell pepper, onion, black olives. While the toppings of Italian De Luxe are mixed together, another flavor called Combination has Vegetarian on one side, and Meat Lovers on the other half.

Sub-Delicious (298 Fields Avenue, Balibago, Angeles City; +63 45 8921999 or 8926667) serves pizzas as large as 28-inches. Flavors include Super Meaty: pepperoni, sausage and hamburger; and Pizza Italiano: pepperoni, ham, and salami.

Subic Bay Freeport & Olongapo City

Xtremely Expresso (1 Dewey Avenue cor. Sta. Rita Street, Subic Bay Freeport; +63 047 2523681) serves the 22-inch Big Ben: pepperoni, sausage, bacon, beef, garlic, onion, peppers, mushrooms, black olives and two kinds of cheese. Other pizzas include Spanish Sardines, Chicken Pesto, Chicken & Peanut, Corned Beef, and Spicy Salmon.

Sam's Pizza (44 Magsaysay Avenue, Olongapo City; +63 47 2223686) is an Olongapo institution. Their best-seller is Sam's Special: pepperoni, Philippine sausage, mushrooms, green pepper, onion, bacon, Italian sausage and cheese. I remember having Chicken Teriyaki before but they no longer have it.

La Union

Olives Restaurant (Thunderbird Resort, Poro Point, La Union; +63 72 8887777) serves delicious wood-fired pizzas. Their best seller is Four Cheese: goat, parmesan, feta and mozzarella cheese. My personal favorite is Quattro Stagioni: kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, parma ham, fresh mushrooms. Also try the Spicy Sausage, Roasted Peppers, Mozarrella & Oregano Pizza or the Smoked Salmon & Mushroom Pizza: smoked salmon, fresh mushrooms, tomato sprinkled with oregano and cheese.

Ilocos Norte

Herencia Cafe (MacArthur Street, Bgy. 14, Sangladan, Paoay; +63 77 6140214) serves the famous Pinakbet Pizza: sitaw (string beans), ampalaya (bitter gourd), okra, talong (egg plant), patani (lima beans), kamatis (tomaotes), sili (chili), and labanos (radish). They also serve Bagnet Pizza: bagnet, onions, and basil; and Dinuguan Pizza: dinuguan, crispy pork, and chili.

Saramsam Restaurant (N. Corpuz Building, Rizal cor. Hizon Streets, Barangay 7-A, Laoag City; +63 77 7715825) also serves Ilocano-inspired pizzas. Their specialty is Poque-Poque Pizza which is topped with poque-poque, an Ilocano eggplant dish: eggplant, tomatoes, onions ang egg. They also have the Dinardaraan Pizza: dinuguan topped with green chili peppers; Longaniza Pizza topped with the local Laoag longaniza; and the Carbonara Pizza topped with Currimao oysters.


Casa Napoli (Abad Street, Brgy. Kaychanarianan, Basco; +63 927 7583370) serves pizzas with mozzarella cheese all the way in Batanes. Nothing really fancy about the pizzas but being in Basco, it's a novelty.

I'm sure there are more such as those in Baguio City, so please list them down by commenting below. I'll try to visit them when I can and add to this list.
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