Sunday, October 27, 2013

Breakfast at the Hotel Villa Fontaine

Business hotels in Japan don't usually provide breakfast as part of their room rates. It is usually an option when you purchase through their websites. I'm just not sure if the accommodations are availed via sites like Agoda or as inclusion of the breakfast is not always indicated in the information online. As we asked for assistance from our hosts in booking our hotel rooms, we were able to get a good deal for our rooms and had breakfast as part of our package for three nights. The food was not like the buffets of the more luxurious and larger hotels (e.g., Intercontinental, Hilton, Pan Pacific, Shangri-La, Sofitel, Peninsula, etc.). The buffet was simpler with less choices but definitely nutricious enough and filling for the day's first full meal.

Typical breakfast of fish, burger, scrambled eggs, thinly sliced cabbage, bun, rice and miso soup.
Natto was also available but I'm not one among those who find this Japanese delicacy okay for their palates. Of course, there was coffee, tea, juice and water available to wash down the food. There was usually also yogurt available and I usually cap my meal off with a cup of yogurt.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Sto. Domingo Church

I don't know what came over me one time I passed by the area en route to a snack at the Cafe Dominic located in the same compound. I guess I just wanted to go inside to have some quiet time and perhaps to say a few prayers and do some silent reflection by myself. Sto. Domingo church is huge and it is usually full during Sundays. However, during weekdays there are usually less people and the cavernous church presents one with an opportunity to commune with the Almighty. At the time I was there, I chanced upon a Mass just starting at the smaller altar at the side of the main one. And so I decided to hear Mass before I proceeded to get my snack. After the Mass, I took a few photos inside the church.

Dome atop the main altar
Main altar and dome of the Sto. Domingo Church
Daily Low Masses are celebrated at a smaller altar at the side of the main one and which shows the image of Our Lady of La Naval. La Naval is in reference to the naval victory of the Spanish Armada against a Dutch invading fleet in Manila Bay during the Spanish Period.
Another view of the main altar
Stained glass windows at Sto. Domingo
Sto. Domingo is a newer structure compared to the churches that were destroyed or severely damaged in the earthquake that struck Bohol and Cebu a couple of weeks ago. The structure was also nice (aesthetically speaking) especially the stained glass windows that gave character to the cavernous interior. This was more a modern design though and didn't have the old world feel of the heritage churches in the Visayas and other provinces in the Philippines.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Preservation and reconstruction of heritage churches

The recent earthquakes in Central Visayas that destroyed or damaged many of the old churches in Bohol and Cebu reminds of the need to preserve such structures that are now considered part of our history and cultural heritage. Many of these churches, like the temples and castles in Japan, the temples in Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia and Myanmar, and the mosques in Indonesia and Malaysia (to cite a few) are considered national treasures. These are very much part of the communities and are representative of what our countries have gone through as much as they also represent the faiths of nations.

I have seen some of these heritage churches and have written about them. These include the churches in Dauis, Baclayon and Loboc in Bohol, the churches in Bantay and Vigan in Ilocos Sur, the churches of  Miag-ao and Cabatuan in Iloilo, and the shrine of Our Lady of Penafrancia in Naga City, Camarines Sur. There are many others that I have visited but have not taken photos of, including churches in Capiz, Negros Occidental, Cebu, Quezon and Laguna. Perhaps it is not too late to make a bigger effort in preserving these treasures for the next generations through retrofitting and other measures to strengthen the structures and enable them to survive earthquakes. Perhaps the inspiration for the restoration work should be the restoration of the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, which was heavily damaged by an earthquake in the 1990s and the challenge is similar to that from the voice heard by Francis of Assisi "Go and rebuild my church!"

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Backyard grown atis

Atis or sweet sop remains as my favorite fruit and so I was very happy to learn that the atis tree at my parents' home bore a lot of fruits and these were not ruined by the rains last month. Knowing how I loved atis, my mother sent us a lot of what they were able to pick from the tree. And so I had atis to end my meals for almost two weeks prior to my trip to Japan. The Clairvoyant isn't so keen on atis so she generously gave me her part of the "harvest."

Ripe atis is an enjoyable treat after meals


Monday, October 14, 2013

Kamameshi working lunch

I wasn't able to post this photo of our lunch during one of our meetings in Tokyo last week.  As we were having a very productive meeting given the momentum that we already had in the morning, it was decided to have a working lunch instead. We expected lunch boxes to be ordered and were pleasantly surprised with the kamameshi set that was wheeled into the meeting room.

Chicken kamameshi on the meeting table
We ended up having a short break to eat our lunch and have our Japanese hosts explain to those of us who were uninitiated with Japanese food what kamameshi was all about and how it is eaten. Frankly, it was difficult to continue with the meeting when everyone seems focused on the delicious meal served to us.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Dinner at Gonpachi - Part 2

During our dinner at Gonpachi, I tried to get some photos of their menu. We were very curious about what else they had offer aside from their specialty - barbecues. Unfortunately, I could only get hold of the drink menu, which was left with us for additional orders during our dinner. As my iPhone was already running out of power, I had to make do with my BlackBerry, which didn't produce as good photos as the iPhone could, especially in bad lighting conditions.

One part of the drink menu
Another part of the drink menu
Our eight course meal for dinner.

Tofu salad
Stewed pork belly
Charcoal grilled skewers
Grilled swordfish (what's left of it before I took the photo)
Vanilla ice cream with salted caramel topping

I think the teriyaki grilled swordfish was the most delightful part of our meal. This was particularly since it was grilled quite perfectly resulting in a "melt in your mouth" texture. Instead of rice, we had cold soba towards the end of dinner (pang alis ng umay). I thought the ice cream as dessert was also a good finale for our dinner, providing the sweet taste to balance the salty, spicy and savory tastes of the other food we were served at dinner.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Vending machines on rail station platforms in Japan

In the previous post, I featured some conveniences at train stations that included vending machines on the platforms. Following are a few more photos including a couple showing the newest models of vending machines. These have touch screens showing the products for sale and even shows weather forecasts.
Passengers using the new touch screen vending machines at a JR Line platform.
The screen displays products as well as the weather forecast. On the right are disposal bins for bottles and cans.
Conventional vending machines and trash bins at the Enoshima Dentetsu (Enoden) platform.
A souvenir machine featuring a metal press where the customer can choose among 3 designs.
Ice cream vending machine.
There are many other machines selling other products. I hope I can take some photos of these later or the next time I'm in Japan.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Conveniences at train station platforms

Japan is also famous for having a lot of vending machines dispensing everything from snacks, softdrinks and beer to toys and electronics, and even shirts and underwear! At the train stations there are also many vending machines in addition to the kiosks that are basically convenience stores. Here are a couple of vending machines and the garbage disposal bins beside them.

Vending machine and telephones behind a kiosk at a JR Line platform

Vending machine at a Tokyo Metro platform

 Within the larger stations, there are also restaurants or eateries for those wanting a quick meal but happen to have already gone past the turnstiles. These are not your typical holes in the walls or fast food types. Instead there are also full service restaurants or cafes. Then there are food courts where commuters may have a good variety to choose from like the Tokyo Food Bar that I found at the JR Akihabara Station.

This food bar is very much like the food courts we find at malls. These offer a variety of selections for the hungry commuter. The signboards show the menus of establishments inside the food bar.

Chocolate review: Munz Swiss Premium 70% Cacao

I came across Munz Swiss Premium 70% Cacao as I was on a trip to Davao City in the Southern Philippines. After one dinner at a Swiss-themed restaurant, our group decided to take a look at the products they were selling at their deli, which also sold local products particularly coffee from Mindanao. I bought a bar to bring home and share with the Clairvoyant who also loves dark chocolate. We enjoyed eating the bar and it was one of those that you tried to consume over a longer period as you didn't know when you'd be able to get another bar (I didn't know, for example, that Santi's was selling the same.).

Munz Swiss Premium 70% cacao

Details on the content at the back.
Later, I usually bought a bar or two depending on our "supply" of dark chocolate at home. At least now I know I can easily get one if we had a craving for dark chocolate. It helps to know that this is a good quality brand and the price is just right for its class in the Philippine market.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Dinner at Gonpachi

We had a splendid dinner at a restaurant that's said to be the inspiration of Quentin Tarantino for the set of Kill Bill. At the narrow entrance were framed photos of the gaijin owner with celebrities who have dined in the popular restaurant. Gonpachi is located near the corner at Nishi Azabu in the Roppongi district of Tokyo. It is a short bus trip from our hotel and a 10-minute walk away from the Roppongi Station of the Hibiya Line of the Tokyo Metro.

We were greeted with a welcome drink cocktail of sake and enjoyed a dinner consisting of salad, barbecue, soba, and ice cream for dessert. I will feature this dinner in a succeeding post but for now here are a few photos of the place, which was packed with diners considering it was a Monday night.


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Katsu dinner at JR Akihabara Station

I woke up quite early for my flight to Narita and ended up taking only a mug of cereal drink for the morning. This usually gets me through the entire morning but that's when I drink the high fiber concoction at around 5:30 AM and not before 4:00 AM. There was an inflight meal served late in the middle of our voyage but as always the choices in economy class was limited and I only had few bites to fill the stomach en route to Japan. 

I was planning to have a snack or light lunch at Narita but then both our departure from NAIA and our arrival was also delayed. The odds were really against me from having a decent meal at the airport when for some reason I encountered a long queue at the immigration area that took something like 30 minutes before I got to finally claimed my luggage. By the time I came out, there were only 25 minutes for me to change currencies, buy a limousine bus ticket and head to the bus stop to catch my ride to Tokyo.

And so after putting down my bags in my hotel room, I decided to go out and get reacquainted with the trains in Tokyo and perhaps have my meal of the day somewhere. I opted to check the likely route I would be taking to go to Yokohama later this week using the Namboku Line of the Tokyo Metro and then transferring to the JR Yamanote Line at a station I am quite familiar with - Meguro. To cut a long story short, of which I will be relating in more detail in a near future post, I ended up having dinner at the JR Akihabara Station. 

I found this Tokyo Food Bar right inside the station after entering the turnstiles from the Electric Town exit. Given the variety of food, and may I say comfort food, available as seen in the menu outside the bar, I went for the rosu katu set at Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin. The katsu was perfect and definitely something a regular commuter passing through Akihabara can probably eat every day. Itadakimasu!

Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin
The most popular meals are on display and prospective customers can't miss the sets offered.
Rosu katsu set for 650 JPY (about 287 PHP)
Perfectly breaded and fried with a generous serving of shredded cabbage on the side
Tokyo Food Bar just inside the JR Akihabara Station - perfect for the hungry commuter!


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

RORO ferry trip between Batangas and Calapan

I took Roll-On, Roll-Off ferry trip between Batangas and Calapan, Oriental Mindoro for a meeting in Calapan. I was originally planning to take the SuperCat service between the cities but was informed there were no trips in the morning due to rough seas. Upon inquiring, I learned that the RORO ferry services were not affected by the conditions and a ferry left Batangas Port for Calapan every hour during a typical day (24-hour service). I was reluctant to take the RORO ferry in part due to their safety record and mainly because it took at least 2.5 hours for the voyage. Fast ferry service only had 1 hour journey times. Nevertheless, due to necessity, we had no choice but to take the RORO service instead. I just crossed my fingers that the SuperCat service would resume later in the afternoon.

A view of two RORO ferries docked at the Batangas Port. One was operated by Montenegro Lines' Marina Ferries and the other by Starlight Ferries.
Passengers boarding the ferry Reina Hosanna. Some vehicles, mostly trucks were already loaded on the ferry.  Others would have to wait until passengers have boarded the vessel.
A view inside the ferry where vehicle and freight are positioned and secured for the voyage. People form a line before the narrow stairway to the passenger level. 
Passengers climbing the narrow stairway to the passenger deck of the Reina Hosanna.
A view of the Batangas Port from the upper (view) deck of the ferry right above the passenger deck.  Trucks can be seen boarding (rolling on) the ferry. The orange things are lifeboats lined along the rear of the passenger deck.
A provincial bus arrives to board another RORO ferry, the Starlight Nautica, which was scheduled to leave an hour after our scheduled departure. There are many bus companies plying the western nautical highway route , which can take the traveler to Caticlan, the jump off point for Boracay Island.
A look at the Batangas harbor with docked ferries and containers on the pier. In the background is the coast of Batangas. The photo was taken in the general direction of the west.
Crewman bringing up the anchor as we start our voyage to Calapan.
Rough seas along the Verde Island passage during our voyage to Mindoro
A view inside the passenger deck - seats were cushioned but mostly dilapidated and obviously requiring re-upholstery. The cabin seemed to be originally air-conditioned and we were lucky that the weather was fine and not so hot that day. Some passengers went to the upper deck to get some air.
It was my first ferry ride in a long time. The last one was a fast ferry trip using the SuperCat service from Cebu to Tagbilaran, Bohol. That was in the afternoon and was quite a rough ride, too. I have not experienced riding the SuperFerries but in my childhood had a lot of trips between Manila and Iloilo via ships of Negros Navigation (Dona Florentina, Don Julio, Don Claudio, Sta. Maria) and Sulpicio Lines (once using Don Eusebio). I also had previously used the Fast craft service of Negros Navigation between Iloilo and Bacolod. The trip between Manila and Iloilo used to be something like 19 to 24 hours depending on the ship. I did remember the Don Julio being NN's fastest ship at one time and the Don Claudio being somewhat the slowest. Our family used to take First Class cabin or First Class deck so we could have decent accommodations and meals on-board.

I think shipping lines should not balk on the safety and comfort of passengers. People would be willing to pay a higher fare if the vessels are in better condition and facilities such as seats are well-maintained. I can only imagine the traveling conditions during the peak periods when a lot of people would take these RORO ferries as they are usually the cheaper and practical option between islands.