Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Osaka / Kyoto March 2017 - 6D/6N Itinerary

My youngest sister graduated last Feb 25 2017!! Whoohoo!! I promised her long before that I will accompany her to a Japan trip since she wanted to go to Japan ever since. So last November 4 2016, we booked a flight to Osaka when Cebu Pacific had a sale. We were able to book a 2 way flight for PHP 8255.48 (no baggage or food yet). Months before the flight was used for gruesome planning on what to do since we only had limited time and need to do so many things. 

Some of the things we did prior to the flight was:
1. Book inflight meals for PHP 350 per person - Ceb Pac meals were so bad. I do not recommend nor plan to buy their inflight meals ever again. I do not know why the food quality changed. It was not as bad before. 
2. Book baggage allowance for PHP 600 for 15 kilos and PHP 850 for 20 kilos and PHP 1400 for 30 kilos - always prebook your baggage allowance else you will be charged so much at the check in counter, PHP 600 per excess kilos. My technique here is that I always bring with me a portable luggage scale, I take note of my existing luggage weight and in case of excess, I upgrade my baggage after I have packed. 
3. Book Wifi Rental for PHP 1,413.36 (7 days) - You can use this link for my referral code: https://www.klook.com/invite/GA013.They charge USD upon checkout. The product enables we to get a wifi device for 7 days, but it has a 7GB cap which I did not understand upon booking. So during the 3rd day, internet became really slow but still usable. 
4. Reserve local volunteer guides for Kyoto and Osaka via their Systematized Good-will Guides Club - unfortunately only Osaka guides were available and we had to walk Kyoto on our own. Our Osaka guides were awesome and very helpful. I suggest you check out Japan's Systematized Good-will Guides Club on your next visit. They are mostly retirees who will tour you around Japan in exchange for good conversation, coverage for their meals and transportation. 
5. Book accommodations via Expedia - we booked:
    Kyoto - RESI STAY Higashiyama Sanjo for 3 nights PHP P13129.42 / PHP 3283 per person
    Osaka - Hotel Monterey Grasmere Osaka for 3 nights PHP P31252.32/ PHP 7814 per person
6.Since the weather is quite cold, make sure to bring hand cream / moisturizer. It will go a long way.

Upon computation, we spent about PHP 60000 per person for 7 days inclusive of food, hotels, activities, flight, activities, and souvenirs. This is a not bad bargain since we were able to eat at very nice restaurants and buy some really nice stuff. My only regret was not bringing a bigger luggage since I did not know there is so much nice stuff in Osaka to bring home. 

March 9  - Flight to Osaka was scheduled at 15:05-19:55. We decided to leave early so that we can get to the airport early and relax. We paid airport taxes PHP 1620 per person, checked in, ate meal at Ramen Nagi. We spent PHP 852.50 for snacks. Then another PHP 200 for 2 bottled water. It was a steady 3 hour 45 minute flight. Upon arrival, we claimed our prebooked klook Wifi Router from HIS counter, then from there my sisters went to buy their Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan tickets while R and I asked around how we can get to Kyoto from Kansai International Airport. We ended up purchasing tickets to Kyoto Station for 2550 yen per person since the last bus we were supposed to ride already left. While waiting for the bus, we purchased some pizza sandwiches at Doutor. The pizza sandwich barely had anything inside it but I like the tomato paste anyway. Had to fall in line early since a lot of people take the airport bus, they will take your luggage and give you a number to claim it. It was about 2 hour ride to Kyoto station. From Kyoto station, we had trouble finding the Hankyu Kawaramachi Station. This is where it got crazy. Besides the very cold weather and long walk which were not prepared for, upon finding the RESI STAY RECEPTION COUNTER it was closed. And the email I received prior told me that my whole party should drop by the office to give our passports, but when I repeatedly followed instructions on how to get in the building... the building key did not work. We tried calling the number at the email but nothing works. Everyone was dead tired and worried, we were planning to just book another hotel. But luckily, a local lady heard my pleas and offered to help. She called the office using her local phone and it connected to someone, and apparently WE WERE SUPPOSED TO GO STRAIGHT TO THE RESIDENCE and not the reception counter. GRRR...no thanks to the person who sent me the wrong instructions. So from the reception counter, we walked to Higashiyama Sanjo since I wanted to save money and not take the taxi. Stubborn me as always... By 1:00 AM we arrived at the residence, we were dead tired and freezing. Good thing the bedroom was spacious enough. The toilet is separate from the shower so it makes it more efficient for many people wanting to do their business. But sadly, the light in the toilet doesn't work so we had to bring in a flashlight every time we had to use the toilet. Also another down side was that there were no housekeeping, so we had to reuse the same towels. But the great thing about this residence was it has its own portable wifi router that we can take when we travel around the city, it has complete set of kitchen tools and even washing tools, it felt very homey. So we washed up and settled down, I think we slept at around 2 AM. Crazy day. 

March 10 -  We had breakfast at a coffee shop at Sanjo Keihan station. We ate some burger steak, spaghetti, curry, and flavored rice. All in all it was 2840 yen. The meal was simple and the cafe was filled with old people. The only thing we did not enjoy was that people were smoking cigarettes inside the cafe, there were no designated smoking areas and we had to eat while people near us were smoking. It made us really uncomfortable. We took the subway to the Arashiyama line. When we alighted the train, we asked around how to get to the bamboo groove. We saw they even had this SAGANO ROMANTIC TRAIN RIDE that will take you across the different sight seeing places for just 1240 yen per person. But we want to walk around and experience the area, so we decided to forego the train ride. Before heading out to the bamboo groove, we bought some Takoyaki 600 yen and fish custard cake for 300 yen from a local vendor. It was not as yummy, but it was a good filling snack. We then walked towards the Arashiyama Bamboo Groove and the nearby temples. It was very crowded at the bamboo groove but we still had a decent stroll around and rain was drizzling a bit. There were several small temples around the vicinity and we visited those on our path. We also stopped by Tenryu-ji temple/garden, per person cost 500 yen. The garden had a very nice pond which was perfect to take photos at and relaxing to stare at. The old houses/temples were very majestic to look at. We had a nice walk around the garden. Then for lunch, we had a set meal at Randon Kyoto Donburi Dining since we thought we should have something authentically Kyoto. We had some steak, burger steak, and raw sushi with fermented bean (my sister could not finish). We spent 5360 yen for our meal, it was not as economic since the place was packed with tourists and I guess its on a prime location. Beside it was a lot of stores, from food to souvenir items. One of the most interesting ones was an Owl Cafe. We went to the Arashiyama Owl Cafe, per person had to pay 680 yen. You can pet the owls on their backs only. The owls were really adorable and it was my first time seeing them up close and touching them. Some were quite scary to touch, but I guess I understand that if it was me being touched almost everyday I will be annoyed and grumpy. We also had snacks along the way, we bought some crepes from Crape (650 yen), Yuba and Cheese on stick (300 yen very yummy). Then we went to the Togetsukyo Bridge and the wind was blowing hard that our umbrellas were turned upside down. Then once we arrived at Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama, it was only 30 minutes until closing time. We decided not to proceed since it was about 15-20 minutes walk up. Sadly we did not see the monkeys.It was very late in the afternoon and we decided to head back to have our dinner. We used to subway to head to Kawaramachi and eat at Ichiran. It was my sisters' first time to try Ichiran and we wanted them to try the whole experience from the vendo machine to eating at their own cubes. Luckily when we arrived there was no line, so we had the stress free time to choose what we want and seat together (4 of us) in our own area. I had refill of noodles. We chose the 1280 yen, ichiran ramen with the green tea dessert. Everyone left happy and full. This branch was way better than the branch we ate at in Tokyo, since I did not feel the stress to leave or eat fast. The branch was spacious and had enough room for everyone to eat comfortably. On the way back to ResiStay, we saw a store selling strawberries, I bought quarter a kilo for 548 yen. It was about 15 minutes walk from Kawaramachi to our room. 

March 11 - Morning came and I had a craving to try Japanese pancakes since they are such a buzz. So searched the internet for the top pancake stores in Kyoto, found a pancake store which was interesting. A pancake takes about 20 minutes to make, so I was really curious what makes this so special. So we headed for Blu Fir Tree to try their infamous Maboroshi no Hotcake. We took the subway and walked to the nearest branch via google maps. Upon arriving, I noticed that it was very small but had almost full tables. We got the table at the back since we were 4. We ordered pancakes, french toast, donuts, and pizza bread; we were also required to order drinks. We ordered hot chocolates, iced coffee, and juice. That is the one thing I really do not understand, everyone already ordered something to eat but they still require us to buy drinks. REQUIRE. I have not tried this theory but I think they care more that you order drinks instead of food. So when our food came, we ate it casually so as to enjoy it more. Nothing tasted differently. After breakfast, we used google maps and walked towards Ponto-cho. Its an area known to have lots of cherry blossoms by the river bank, and it also has a lot of food restaurants. Though we were not really expecting any blossoms, we were hopeful against reason. Upon arriving, we did saw bold trees without any flowers. So we just strolled around the area and checked out the restaurants. We did came across a small shrine called Misaki Shrine. It had fox statues. After the stroll, we took the subway train to the Fushimi Inari Station. Before we reached the Fushimi Inari Shrine, we saw a lot of food stalls along the way. We decided to try what we liked. R initially purchased some giant chestnuts, for 1100 yen. They were not hot anymore but they were really huge. Fell in line for some giant takoyaki for 500 yen, this was really worth it. The octopus chops they put in was huge. Bought some giant crab stick for 500 yen. This was not yummy. My sister bought herself a fox mask as a souvenir. With our bellies full of food, we headed towards the shrine. There were a lot of tourists as expected so it was hard to take decent photos, but luckily not much stairs so I was able to walk in a nice pace. There were a lot of pendants for sale. The big gates are for sale, I think you can build one in your name for a least 175000 yen - 1302000 yen. I cannot understand the note but it seems like it. hahaha. Upon reaching the "end", there was a hike up and I did not go up anymore since I 150m. R and my sister went up to check it out. They said the stairs were too steep and decided to go down eventually. The place was really huge as well that we were not able to finish everything ("climb towards the Inari mountain") since we were tired and wanted to still go to Nishiki Market. So we went back to the Fushimi Inari station, but before that, we decided to eat a ramen store named Men Ko Bo Ren. People were lining up for it before, now since its way past lunch time, there was no line. I ordered their Tsukenmen for 800 yen. The chef cooked the noodles right in front of us and it was fun to watch. After they served our ramen, we saw that they posted a sign outside that their ramen is all out. So we were really lucky to have eaten at this place before they close. The ramen broth was really salty and the noodles had a nice crunch. It was different, worth the try. But sadly, while walking back the station, my sisters noticed my face was really red and had spots. Apparently I was having an allergic reaction to something I ate at the shop. :( Soon after, we were on the train towards Nishiki Market. The market was a long walk from Kawaramachi Station, but again worth it. We just followed google maps and arrived at a very long strip of stalls. We saw a lot of raw seafood (I cannot eat :( ). REALLY GIANT SCALLOPS and very nice looking sashimi. I ended up buying an ice cream with some yuzu oranges since I saw it had a recommended sign. It was 420 yen. It was not that yummy. We saw a Snoppy cafe/store, we just purchased some Snoopy goodies for some souvenirs for the kids back home. After walking for some time, we decided to eat dinner. Initially we wanted to eat at Mishima Tei since their Sukiyaki is known to be outstanding, but regretfully we did not have a reservation and they do not take walk-ins. So we decided to eat at Cafe Independants instead. We ordered some pasta and paella for 5500 yen. My youngest sister did not join dinner but she preferred to wander at the market by herself. When we were done eating, I had worries that we could not find my younger sister since she did not have a mobile number working overseas nor did she have internet. Fast forward to minutes - hours of worrying, we did find her at a Family Mart. We then walked back home, packed our stuff for our move to Osaka tomorrow, and slept.

March 12 - We did the self check-out by 7AM. We just dropped the room keys at a hole on the reception table. Before taking the supposedly 2 hour train to Osaka, we bought some onigiri at Yamazaki convenience store. We were supposed to meet our guide at the hotel lobby by 10 am, but we did not understand Japan trains yet so we rode the wrong train. Instead of the express train that takes 2 hours to Osaka; we took the all stop train and it took I think 3 hours instead. When we got to Osaka station, we transferred to Namba and walked to our hotel: Hotel Monterey Grasmere Osaka. We got to our hotel at around 11 am, checked in and met our local guide Tak Date at the lobby. He waited 1 hour for us. huhu. But now, it was my other sisters turn to get lost without a means to contact her. I was really furious and worried since we had to leave because the guide was already with us. But my sister decided to shop without staying visible. Long story short I saw her on the upper floor of the department store beside the hotel. I was fuming mad. We took the train to Osaka Castle. Our guide Tak Date was explaining to us some fun facts about Osaka Castle, but I was hungry so we bought some chicken karaage 500 yen and the best potato croquette ever for just 100 yen! Then we also bought some red bean cake for 150 yen. It was a nice day out, wind was cold and the sun was out. We decided not to enter the castle since I cannot take the stairs and there were too many people inside. Ticket costs 600 yen. Took more photos around the castle and headed to Endo-sushi for lunch. But when we got to Endo-sushi, nobody wanted to eat sushi. So we ended up at Chibo, since Tak recommended it to have great Okonomiyaki. We ate Okonomiyaki and Yakisoba. It was good. Then we took the train and walked to Dotonbori. We did shop a lot (300 yen stores. disney stores), ate a lot of street food (yogurt, pablo cheese tart, grilled crab legs, melon pan) and took lots of photos around Dotonburi (running man, giant food signages) For our last stop with Tak, we went to Hozenzi-yokocho. We saw a lot more restaurants and a shrine. Took photos, went back to the hotel with Tak san and bid farewell. We just paid for his transportation to and back. Japan really has great programs. We checked in our room, it was spacious and had a green stripey toilet. We just did not understand how to turn on the AC. We rested our legs and by around 6:30 we headed out to have dinner. We went to an indian restaurant called Asiyana.  We ordered some curry and nan. We did not go Spicy since we were worried it might be too spicy since we were at an authentic indian restaurant. Sadly we should have gone spicy, their mild and regular did not have any kick. But their Nan was really good. It was a good meal and we spent 5610 yen for all our yummy food. Before heading back to our rooms, we went to the nearby grocery to check out their items. It took about 1 hour and so since they had a lot of cool home items to look at. Tak san expenses were 600 yen train pass, 2236 okonomiyaki, 200 cheese cake.

March 13 - Had complementary buffet breakfast. Took time to observe how people were eating the dishes since a lot did not make sense initially. They had a make your own sushi section, beverage section in japanese, soba section. It was a good time to unwind since it was just only me eating breakfast overlooking Osaka city view. My sisters ate before me since they went to the Aquarium. After breakfast, R and I went back to Dotonburi area to take more photos. While waiting for Gram to open, we waited at Maison de Gigi. R ate some chocolate coated waffles (not yum) with juice and I drank some hot chocolate. By 10 am we were shocked that Gram had a very long line already, once we reached the top, we saw that the premium pancakes were all out. huhu. We did not know that we can fall in line even before they opened. But we decided to eat there anyway, we ordered their SPRING NEW MENU pancakes for 1300 yen and some strawberry shake 550 yen. Service was really slow for a pancake place and by the time we were served, I think an hour already elapsed. Paid 1850 yen. The pancake was okay, it was not too sweet and had the right texture (not crumbly). We then ordered the special takoyaki Tak san recommended the day before 600 yen. It was not yummy, nothing special. For lunch, R and I decided to eat at Kani Douraku. Surprisingly, it was not as expensive as we thought it would be. The menu was overwhelming, so we decided to just order boiled snow crab legs and boiled king crab legs with clay pot rice. Everything tasted so good that we decided to order another round, we loved how the crab meat tasted with the sweet vinegar. It was a very happy meal, we spent 11988 yen for the food. We met with my sisters at the hotel, then went together towards Denden Town. Along the way, we saw the Namba Parks. I thought it was a beautiful park structure of some sort, so we pursued that route and went around the area to look for the park. To much regret, the upper level park was very dry and did not have anything spectacular. We just walked around hoping to see something nice. Went down with nothing. Went back to the original route of Denden Town. Along the way, I saw a game station and decided to try my luck at those crane machines. I played 2 games, wasted 100 yen each since I kept pressing the button too early. huhu. Not meant for those "exciting" games, low EQ I guess. Went around the area, stopped by a few toy stores to check what they have. R and my youngest sister were both very happy looking around. R managed to find some of his collection and happily bought some. Then we saw Gram again around the corner. We decided to try it out again. They are open for reservations of their premium pancakes, we got our numbers and to our surprise we were the first to get them. We got numbers 1, 2, 3. haha. So we just stayed inside Gram until 6 pm when they will officially serve our orders. We just talked and surfed the web while waiting. I ordered some soup. While R and my sisters got their pancake, we took photos and videos...then we devoured them in less than 30 minutes. They were really fluffy and good. It did not taste like any other pancake I tried before. It was fun and was not too sweet, do not be fooled by its chubby look. Happy meal. We walked around some more. Before we decided to go back to our hotel, but before that we decided to eat dinner at a small stall along the way called Ten Tio Jin. It was a vendo restaurant. I decided to buy their grilled pork rice (790 yen), while they all ordered ramen (980 yen). They all liked mine better. Got back to the hotel and slept. 

March 14 - For breakfast, happy to eat with R and my youngest sister. Then we met with our new guide Yasuyuki Funabiki (Biki) for the day. We took the train to Kobe, then took the local city loop bus around. First stop was the Meriken Park and Kobe Port Tower, we took photos of the port then went up the Kobe Port Tower to see the whole of Kobe Port. Paid around 630 yen since our guide has a discount, but published its 700 yen per person.The tower view was alright, you can see the whole port but it did not have the wow factor I was looking for to merit the 700 yen fee. But in any case, I think its a must experience in Kobe. Then we walked towards the Kobe Harbor Land before lunch and some sightseeing. Before we dispersed, we saw Anpanman's Childrens Musuem. Decided to walk around and bought some bread from the bakery since it was too cute. At Harbor Land, we separated ways with our guide to give us ample time to look around the boutiques. We went to Kiddyland, then R and I went off on our own to try food snacks. We bought some Kobe ice cream and Calbee fries. Then we met with Biki san and went to Steakland for lunch. It was such a blessing since Biki san had reservations done beforehand so even though it was lunchtime, we had a good table. We ordered the Kobe Beef Steak Lunch Set for 3180 yen, while Biki san had the Small Roast Steak Lunch Set for 1080 yen. I think he was embarrassed to order expensively. We were really happy with the Kobe beef. This was the highlight of our Kobe trip and it was worth it since R was really really happy. He ordered another 200 g of the KOBE SPECIAL BEEF STEAK for 4880 yen. Overall we spent 18680 for us 5, but all worth it since we were all happy. We bought some boxed kobe curry to take home as souvenirs 490 yen per box. Biki san said that among all the restaurants that sell Kobe beef, steakland is the most popular and cost economic since the quality is good yet the price is just right. Next stop, we went to Kitano to see old european houses. The incline up was steep so I decided to stay behind 7-11 while my sisters with Biki san checked out The Former Thomas Residence. Afterwards, we went to chinatown for strolling and snack hunting. My sister bought some kobe croquette 194 yen which was good. But I still preferred the Potato Croquette which was just 100 yen at Osaka Castle. Then we took the train back to Osaka station and parted ways with Biki san by paying his transportation fees. We stayed at the station since we wanted to check out the Pokemon Center and Tokyu Hands store there. The Pokemon Center was a bit disappointing, it was just basically a store designed with lots of pokemon details. We looked around a bit and went to Tokyu Hands. It was much cooler there, so many items to check out and buy. But since we did not have enough time we just focused on the stationery and office supplies section. We bought some items to bring back as gifts. I loved the bag I bought here since its very practical. Then for dinner we went to the 16th floor and ate at Osaka Chikuyoutei since I wanted to try the Osaka Unagi Bento Box. The unagi rice was a bit disappointing, we did not taste any difference from that of a the usual eel rice meals we ate back in the Philippines. After dinner, we went back at the hotel. Packed up for our flight tomorrow and slept. Biki san expenses were train pass 240 yen, water 78, JR pass 320, kobe bus 660, kobe beef 1080, kobe to osaka pass 410, train 750.

March 15 - My sisters and R had breakfast while I stayed in the room and finished the packing of our stuff. Wanted to make sure that we were within our baggage limit. By 9:00 am we checked out and met with our guide for the day Kuniko Isaka. We took the train and went to the Instant Ramen Museum. There we quickly scanned the museum of its history. Its so amazing that the Nissin empire started at a simple house with such simple tools. It was in 1958 when the first ever CHIKIN RAMEN was created. Hope I can still buy this one day. Then we went over to the MyCupNoodles Factory where we get to make our own cupnoodles by designing our cup and choosing the ingredients to put in. The empty cup is 300 yen but it was really cool to experience it. We were given pens to decorate our cups, then it was sanitized. We were asked to choose what broth to put in and 4 ingredients. Then in the end, they will seal it. And you can put it in a air bag to protect it. Then we took the train to Yodobashi Umeda for lunch. We went to eat at Pomme's Omurice. We each ordered an omurice to our preference. It was amazing to see how much variety in taste and size they can do here. Then we walked to the Umeda floating garden. We paid 1000 yen each as entrance. It was very windy and it was hard to walk outside. It was so cold that my phone died. We never really understood why its called the floating garden. But it was nice to see Umeda in a top view. But I was never really a fan of observatories or towers so I did not really enjoy this as much. Kuniko san bought us to a old Japan design restaurant strip just to let us appreciate it. Then we bid farewell and paid her transpo fees. We got our luggages from the reception counter, walked to the OCAT bus terminal beside our hotel. Took about 5 minutes, bought our 1 way ticket to Kansai International Airport for 1050 yen. Waited for the designated time and boarded our bus. It was really convenient. Upon arrival at the airport, we returned the wifi rental and waited for the check in gates to be open then we went inside to buy dinner at Ganko Sushi. I ate my tempura meal happily while renrick had his curry. Soon enough our gates were open, and we were on board. Our flight to Manila was delayed, but soon forgotten when they served our horrible in-flight meal. I had the Yoshinoya Chicken Teriyaki, it was so awful that I did not finish it. So as my 2 younger sisters. I tried to sleep throughout the flight. Woke up in the Philippines... happy and filled with memories. Kuniko san expenses were train pass 240 + 270 + 270 + 800, and omurice 885.

I'm really glad that R and I was able to finally complete this promise with my 2 younger sisters. I hope that with this trip, they can grow more independent and travel/explore life more. Cheers to more adventures.