Friday, August 1, 2014

Our Osaka long weekend at the Best Western Hotel in Shinsaibashi

Time flies so fast, I didn't realize that our trip to Japan was already close to one month ago. Ady and I were able to book tickets to Osaka on Cebu Pacific Piso Fares. It's a really good deal because the flight only cost us around Php6,500 per person with luggage included, but we booked our tickets in January, 6 months ahead of time. The only catch is that if Cebu Pacific does not manage to sell enough seats in those six months, they will just inform you one month before that the plane you're supposed to take - one month away - will have engine trouble and they will be cancelling the flight but they will give you a seat on the flight the next day. Totally unbelievable not to mention unscrupulous right? If you have already booked or paid for your hotel or tours, make sure there's a cancellation policy because Cebu Pacific will not shoulder any losses you may incur from advance planning. If you give them a hard time, they most they will offer you is a travel voucher to replace your cancelled flight and no-rebooking charges. Sorry, this turned into quite a long rant, but if it helps, you can download the Passenger Bill of Rights here so while the airline is allowed to cancel your flight one month before, if your flight is delayed for three hours you can demand food, and you can actually get your flight rebooked or you can ask for a refund or demand that they endorse you on another carrier. I suggest you print out a copy and stick it in your travel bag so you have it handy if ever there's a delay.

Anyway, we were supposed to be in Osaka from Friday night to Wednesday, but with our cancelled flight, we decided to fly in on Saturday instead (and save a leave) so we were virtually there only for 3 full days. Good thing all we wanted to do was eat anyway.

On our previous trips to Osaka, we normally stayed in the Namba area, but since the most cost efficient hotel we found when we were booking was Best Western Hotel Fino Osaka in Shinsaibashi we decided to stay there instead.

The Best Western Shinsaibashi hotel is easily accessible by Nankai Airport train from the Kansai (KIX) Airport. We just had to take the train headed to Namba, then we changed trains at Tengachaya, and the station closest to the hotel was just 4 stops away. You actually exit at the main road, then you walk to the left towards the Best Western sign (but you won't see it) because you'll need to go to the side street at the back to find the hotel.

I can say that the location is great, because our favorite store is just
across the main road.
The Best Western Hotel Fino Osaka Shinsaibashi and the 7-11 across
This is the small street the hotel is on, at the back of the main road.

Best Western Shinsaibashi Review
The rate of our small double room was around 7000Yen (around Php3,000). It cost us a bit more because the rates already increased when we revised our booking. 
The room was just a little bit bigger than a shoe box, with a comfy
double bed.
The bathroom was small, similar to the one on the
cruise ship, and it also has a tub.
Picture of Osaka Sights
Overall, the ambiance was nice for a basic room.

We arrived at the hotel probably around 10:30pm, so Ady and I decided to explore the area and walk to the Dotonbori River so we could grab something to eat (aka our favorite Takoyaki Balls).
It's a 10 minute walk from the hotel to the Dotonbori river, but you need
to walk more to get to the busy part with Don Quixote and the Glico Man.
My first meal in Osaka is always Takoyaki from this place.
The Best Takoyaki I've ever had. So many tako pieces in each ball.
We meandered to the Glico Man after eating, but the lights are already out
at midnight. We figured out it's only open from around 8:00pm to 10:00pm.
The famous Crab Restaurant at the Dotonbori food strip.
The Dotonbori Food Strip is the place that never sleeps.

Our room rate did not include breakfast, so we normally just buy food from 7-11 the night before, so we can eat breakfast in our room before heading out.
Day 1: I had the sausages I liked from last time, some tamago and milk tea
We were starving at the Instant Ramen Museum because we were stuck in line and we couldn't go to lunch, so I really stuffed my face for breakfast the next day because we were going to Kyoto.
Day 2: I tried the gyudon onigiri, boiled egg, banana and green and milk tea
The onigiri had so much rice and barely any beef, so I removed most
of the rice, and added the Chicken rice sprinkles I bought to improve it.
The boiled tamago was so good! It's just like the ones they serve in ramen
places, a little bit undercooked, and the yolks are slightly salty.
On the third day, we found a different type of Starbucks
Origami (20% cheaper) from Don Quixote so we tried it.
The more expensive ones from Starbucks are way better.
Day 3: Breakfast was mainly Banana and Greek Yogurt
to pay for the sins of having Kobe Beef for dinner two nights in a row
This combination was so good.
Since we planned to have brunch on our last day,
I had a light breakfast. Thanks Doc and Jenny for
introducing me to Fita with Spicy Tuna. Yummy.

Breakfast tales aside, here's a quick summary of what we did for the three days that we were there.

Since we had a 2 Day Hankyu Tourist Pass, we really made the most of it.
The Hankyu Tourist Pass allows tourists unlimited rides on Hankyu Trains between Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto. You just need to show them your passport when you purchase it. The 1 Day pass is 700Yen and the 2 Day Pass which we got is 1,200Yen. Trains from Osaka normally start from the Umeda Station which is a few stops away. To maximize our tourist pass (and transport to Umeda), we planned to go to Ikeda (in Osaka) for the Cup Noodles Museum on Sunday (our first day) in the morning, and afterwards head directly to Kobe to visit the Kawasaki Museum and have A5 Certified Prime Kobe Beef for dinner.
The Cup Noodle Museum in Ikeda, Osaka was so much fun.
You can read my post on it here.
After the museum, we had a late lunch near the Ikeda train station, and since we weren't really rushing we even managed to shop a bit. It's from the wholesaler with the orange sign here that I found the individually packed Chicken flavored rice sprinkles and the Green Tea Oreos (which I blogged about here).
Maybe it was a mistake not to rush, because when we got to Kobe,
we needed to beg to be allowed in to the Kobe Maritime Museum and
the Kawasaki Good Times Museum which closes at 5:00pm.
I plan to blog separately about the Kawasaki Museum because I surprisingly enjoyed it more than I expected to. Just something to note, if you're travelling on the Hankyu Pass, you need to get off at the station for the Kobe Port. It's after the last stop included in the Hankyu Pass. You just need to show your pass to the person at the counter and he will charge you the fare difference which I think is less than 100Yen. On the way back, you can either take the subway to the Sannomiya Station (which seems to be the central station in Kobe), or pay the fare difference to resume using the Hankyu Pass. We ended up going to Kobe because Doc, Ady's friend loves motorcycles, but I was so agreeable because my ulterior motive was to have Prime Kobe Beef for Dinner which was totally on my bucket list.

Just to give you an idea, Certified A5 (A5 is the highest Kobe Beef classification which means the beef needs to be grown in the Hyogo Prefecture and complies with all the requirements such as marbling, beef color, etc) Kobe Beef cost around 20,000 Yen (Php9,000) for 200grams. You pay more if you go for ambiance, but since I wanted to eat the beef and not the ambiance, I did my research before we left and I found this how in the wall Kobe Beef Place we loved so much, we even went back the next day... because transport was free on our Hankyu Pass.
Certified A5 Kobe Beef. Check out that marbling. No need to say more.
I will blog about Kobe Fuji separately.
For our second day in Japan (also our second day on the Hankyu Pass) we decided to go to Kyoto first, then head over to Kobe (yes, we know it's the at other end) for round two at Kobe Fuji.

The Hankyu Pass is very convenient if you're going to Kyoto because the Hankyu Station is just below the Shopping Street (one street away from Nikishi Market). This means that you save time and money on transportation vs if you take the JR Lines which stops at the Main Kyoto Station near the Kyoto Tower.
We went to Kyoto so Jenny could do the Maiko Transformation,
complete with photo book and 10 minutes free time to take her pictures.
The general area where the makeover studio is was quaint with a lot of old
shrines, but it was also bustling with souvenir stores.
After exploring the area and Jenny's Maiko transformation, we just headed for a quick look and Soba lunch at the Nikishi Market, then it was off to Kobe for another great Kobe Beef Meal.
Since it was so good, even if we weren't hungry we ordered all of this!
Thank you so much to the Hankyu Tourist Pass because without it, we wouldn't have done all of that in two days.

We honestly thought, Day 3 would be so much better because all we had planned to do was to walk around the Shinsaibashi to Namba Area (piece of cake, we always do that!) to shop and eat. It didn't really work out that way, because the second store we entered was H&M and they were on an upto 70% off sale. We spent hours in that shop and I managed to buy so much, and it only cost me a little over Php3,000 on my credit card bill!
Doc had the brilliant idea of bringing her hand carry,
but after H&M, it was already full, and she only put in
her things!
Since we were caught in the black hole that was the H&M sale, lunch was late again and we had it at Sukiya, a fast food similar to Yoshinoya, but so much better.
Their gyudon comes with CHEESE. Again, no need to say more.
Just watch out for my post on this.
The rest of the day was a lot more walking. In fact, I didn't even make it to the Toys R Us and Re-ments store in Namba Parks because I was just too tired to go any futher. In fact, while Tokyu Hands was just across our hotel, we didn't get to go until our last day.
Since I just started using my last Muji Notebook, a stop in this stamping
heaven was really on my To Do List.
They even had rulers so you can get the letters and spacing straight.
Ady tried to wait for me but left me when she said I took hours.
Another favorite and Must Eat place from our past trip was this place
 which serves a more tostado version (but equally rich) of the cream puff.
The shell is crisp, with a sugary coating, then they fill it as you order.
This was my shopping haul. Can you imagine me dragging my H&M big
bag the whole day, add the 2 Bic Camera bags after lunch, I really could
not walk anymore with all the weights I was lifting.
So when I has around 30 minutes left to kill, I decided to just grab a bench by the river and sit there instead until it was time to meet up for dinner.
I finally saw the Glico Man all lit up (on this trip).

Selfie up close, and closer to my bench by the river.
I got a few nice shots while waiting. These two are my favorite.
Dotonbori River Selfie
Our last dinner was at Ichiran, a popular ramen place by the river,
which I think is extremely over-rated. I'll blog about that separately.
Our trip was a lot of fun, but really tiring. In fact, blogging about it made me tired. We really could have used the extra day Cebu Pacific robbed us off, so it wouldn't have been as hectic. Before we left, there was news that a Super Typhoon was going to hit Japan the day after we left, so we were quite excited to leave because we didn't want to get stranded.
Ady and I didn't go to Universal Studios, so we just borrowed
Jenny's Kitty glasses instead.
If you're curious to know how much I spent for 3 Days in Osaka - ALL IN, I spent less than Php 40,000 - Shopping included. 

Local Currency includes everything I paid for in cash in Japanese Yen - these include food, Daiso Shopping (they only take cash), and other miscellaneous things (ie Vendo, etc)
Our Hotel Rate was really low because we booked early
The Ticket and Fees include a Cebu Pacific Ticket (Piso Fare both ways) + Travel Tax (only applicable to Filipinos residing in the Philippines) + Php550 terminal fee
Credit Card Shopping include my shopping on Day 3 + the Starbucks Origami Coffee I bought
Kobe Dinner I just separated the Kobe Beef dinners we had for two nights so you can see that you can have Certified A5 Prime Kobe Steak without breaking the bank 

Can't wait to plan our next trip back to Japan. Sofia wants more Custom-made Cup Noodles with Cheese and Cute Fish Cakes and I want more Kobe Beef. Hankyu Pass - see you soon! just saying.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

P365 TE Day 212

Ateneo de Madrid

Travel Bite: Since today's the feast of St. Ignatius, Did you know that our National Hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, studied English in Ateneo de Madrid and did research there? 

Location: Madrid, Spain
Date Photo Taken: May 2006

P365 TE Points for today: 2 out of 3 (for now)
P365 TE Points from Audience Interaction as of July 27: 206
P365 TE Running Points: 630 out of 636 (as of posting)

You can read the background of Project 365 Travel Edition here.  
Feel free to come back everyday. just saying...

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum in Osaka

I've been to Japan quite a lot in the last three years. We like visiting Japan because the food is really good, and if you come towards the latter part of the year, the weather is also really nice and cool. Since we normally either go to Osaka or Tokyo, I look forward to doing something different every time I go.

On our last trip to Osaka, one of the new places we visited was the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum in Ikeda (Osaka), as the inventor of instant Ramen, Mr. Momofuku Ando created instant ramen in a little shed behind his home in Ikeda. There's a much bigger Cup Noodles Museum in Yokohama.

Our Hankyu Tourist Passes really came in handy since the closest train stop to the Museum is the Ikeda station on the Hankyu line which you can take from Umeda. So to maximize our Hankyu pass, we made sure that we did the Instant Ramen museum in the morning, before we headed to Kobe.

When we got out of the station, we just walked in the general direction of where the museum was supposed to be.
We knew we were on the right track when we saw this sign a few blocks
away. You'll also see a lot of people walking towards the station,
with their puffed up bags of Make Your Own Cup Noodles.
The Instant Ramen Museum in Ikeda
Everyone wants a picture with Momofuku Ando,
the father of Instant Ramen.
The monopod really came in handy for this shot.
The photo composition above was even better than
the picture that Ady took.
The Instant Ramen Museum is very popular with school kids,
and tourists. Entrance to the Ikeda branch is FREE,
but entrance to the Yokohama branch is 500Yen.
When you enter, there's a quick history of ramen to your right.
And the Instant Ramen Tunnel on the left.
They show the different noodle innovations launched per year.
Ending with everything that's now on sale.
The biggest highlight of the museum is the Cup Noodles Factory where you can make your own Instant Noodles for 300Yen (around Php135).  They also have a workshop that you can participate in to make Fresh Ramen for 500Yen but you need to sign up for it beforehand.
Line up here for make your own Cup Noodles.
If we knew how long the lines were, we would have come here first.
While waiting, there are a lot of signs and a video on how to make
your own Cup Noodles, but it's all in Japanese.
You can make up to 5,460 different Cup Noodle Variations

When you finally get to the end of the line the process starts.

Step1: Buy Your Cup
Step 1 is Buying the Cup Noodles empty cup from the
vending machine for 300Yen.
You can buy as many cups as you want.
I only bought 1 for Sofia.
Step 2: Clean your Hands
Sanitize your hands at this station.
There's even a place to put your cup.
Then an attendant gives you a plastic cover so that
the inside of your cup remains clean.
Then he briefs you on what to do.
They have this sign in different languages.
When there's space available, they let you in the decorate your cup area.
Step 3: Decorate Your Cup
You can only use the Pilot pens provided, but they're really nice.
The first thing you need to do is write the date.
I think the cup noodles are best eaten 1 month after you make them.
I decorated Sofia's Cup with all her favorite things.
There's another long wait for the Noodles Factory portion.
You can get your picture taken with this extra large mock-up while in line.
Number 2 on Sofia's bilin list - Check. Yes, we need to work on her spelling.
You can understand the long wait because every step of the process is
a photo opportunity, and the Japanese are so polite, they don't rush you.
Cup Noodles Factory
Look at all that Instant Noodles!!!
Step 4: Putting in the Instant Noodles into the Cup
They put your cup on top of the Instant Noodles
Then you need to keep turning the handle around untile the cup noodles
is upright.
Step 4: Customize your Cup Noodles by choosing the broth and the filliing
There are 4 different soup broths to choose from: Cup Noodles, Seafood, Curry and Chili Tomato.
Then you can choose up to 4 toppings.
There are 12 toppings to choose from, one of which is a surprise topping
that changes from time to time.
Everything looks so clean and neat, because they
vacuum the place after every group. OC much.
There are 3 different topping stations so we decided to split up so we'd
finish faster.
Our cups ready to be customized.
For Sofia I chose the classic Cup Noodles broth, Meat, Cute Fish Cake,
Corn and Cheese. They even pose the noodles for you to take a photo.
Sofia's Special Cup Noodles Concoction
Sofia loved the Fish Cakes, but we just called it the cute gummis.
 Step 5: Seal the Cup
When you're done customizing, you move to the end
of assembly line to seal your cup.
They just put it in the machine... and Voila!
Step 6: Shrink Wrapping
Then to make sure it stays fresh, the cup noodles are shrink wrapped.
First, it's wrapped in plastic, then put in the machine,
then out it comes from the chute.
You now have your very own Cup Noodles.
But since the Japanese are very inventive, there's a last step.

Step 7: You put your Cup Noodles in an inflated carrier bag.
You get a bag and a string...
Put the cup noodles inside... and then pump!
Don't put too much air.
This is Sofia's.
It was only after we pumped up our bags did we read that it's not
recommended to do the last step if you're flying.
Look at how many packs this little boy made.
On our way out, we saw the different Instant Noodles Nissin Ramen,
including my favorite Spicy Chicken Yakisoba.

Before leaving, don't forget to visit the "souvenir window". It's literally that small.
You'll see some products on display with numbers - then you go to the
counter to fill up an order sheet, pay and get your merchandise.
I think the advantage of going to the bigger Cup Noodles Museum in Yokohoma is they have a bigger selection of really cute Cup Noodles souvenir items which you can browse here.

Since Sofia didn't like the dinner last night, she ate the Cup Noodles I made for her and she really loved it.

Sofia loves Cup Noodles.
Since she wasn't with me in Japan, she found her
Cup Noodles so cute.
 Just cook it the normal way. Add hot water until the line, then wait 3 minutes.
This is how it came out. oooooh. Look at all the melted cheese!
But since the toppings are on top, you need to mix it for the corn and
 meat cubes to cook well.
Sofia loved the cute gummis.
If you'll notice, the broth when it was newly cooked was this clear.
But since the cheese melt, you get really yummy cheesy broth.
Look at the soup after everything is gone. 

Sofia loved it so much, we're trying to ask my friends who will be there next week to get some for us. Thanks in advance Tians and Twiny! just saying

Getting There
8-25 Masumicho, Ikeda,
Osaka Prefecture 563-0041, Japan
+81 72-752-3484
Note that the museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays

Here's the Map for the general orientation.