Japan 2017: Osaka Video

 

Japan 2017: Osaka

I finished the video for Osaka a few months ago and forgot to post it on the blog! I’m using my trusted GoPro Hero 3 with a Feiyutech G4 Gimbal. This was my first video after our European Honeymoon. I tried to incorporate some transitions during filming which didn’t come out too bad. I did mess up the recording format for the video. I didn’t choose the correct recording format which is why it might look different from my other videos. Osaka was a great place to visit and I hope we go back in the future. Let me know what you think in the comments below or leave one in video comment section.

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Japan 2017: Osaka

Japan 2017: Osaka

Visiting Japan during cherry blossom season was one of our vacation goals. We have traveled to Tokyo and wanted to visit another part of Japan with Osaka at the top of the list. Osaka is also close to other cities we wanted to visit, Kyoto and Nara. We stayed in Osaka for six days but we could have easily stayed another week.

Cell Phones

I purchased a SIM for my wife’s phone at the arrivals terminal of Kansai Airport. Look for a large sign that says SIM on it or ask the information desk. The SIM card was ¥5,000 for 2GB of data and unlimited local calls. It was a bit expensive but we needed a way to contact our AirBnb host in the event we needed something. Thankfully, our AirBnb booking came with a portable WiFi.

Transportation

We purchased two ICOCA and Haruka bundles from the JR office in the airport. The total cost was ¥8,400. The ICOCA cards come pre-loaded with ¥1500 with a ¥500 deposit. These are the tap and go cards for the subway and JR rail stations. The Haruka ticket was a round trip ticket to the city. You can stop at Tennoji station or Shin-Osaka station. If you have an ICOCA card, you can buy the Haruka pass into the city for ¥2,200. We only used the rail systems while in the city. 

Accomodations

We stayed in Ashihara at this AirBnB. I was a bit disappointed with the location since it was outside of the “blue circle” on the neighborhood section of AirBnB. We wanted to stay closer to the subway or closer to Namba station. We didn’t want to cancel, so we made it work. We definitely got our steps in.

The Fun Stuff

I did not take a lot of pictures because I was using my GoPro. A lot of video was shot using the GoPro and will be compiled into a video at a later date. 

Osaka Aquarium

 
 

The Osaka aquarium was amazing. It houses many different animals ranging from dolphins, penguins, whale sharks, otters and other aquatic animals. The aquarium is laid out like a screw. An escalator takes you to the entrance, a few floors up and you walk down looking at exhibits. The outer walls have various exhibits from different parts of the world while the center exhibit houses the main tank. The main tank houses a few species of sharks including whale sharks, a few species of rays, and a few species of fish. This was the first time I’ve seen whale sharks in person and they were amazing to behold. Overall, this is one of the best aquariums I have visited.

Kemasakuranomiya Park

 

My wife suggested this park for our cherry blossom viewing. She read about it in a few blogs and heard about it from friends who have visited previously. The park was huge and we walked about 1.5 kilometers taking pictures and videos along the way. It was overcast but the trees looked beautiful.

Shrines 

 

Osaka has a lot of shrines and temples. It seems like every few blocks we would see one. We observed a few rituals, especially the flinging of water on Buddhist statues.

Food

 

Japanese cuisine, awesome. Japanese pancakes, awesome. Japanese versions of western food, awesome. I didn’t have a bad meal in Osaka.

Favorites

Ramen – Hanamaruken

Sushi – Harukoma

Breakfast – Eggs ‘n Things

CrossFit and Game Stores

 

We checked out CrossFit Hommachi A+ and CrossFit Minami while in Osaka. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures while inside A+ and CF Minami was closed for a private class. A+ has a few rules if you want to drop it. All tattoos must be covered or they will not let you workout. It’s a Japanese custom since tattoos are associated with the Yakuza (Japanese crime group/gang). Also, dropping weights are not allowed. The coach at CF Minami however said dropping weights is allowed in his gym. We didn’t get to drop in but we did purchase a few shirts.

 

Iconoclasm was on my list of stores to visit in Nipponbashi Denden Town, the anime/toy district. The front of the building has a small Warhammer 40k diorama which was a great eye catcher. The shop is not large but it is packed full of wargaming stuff. The main games featured were Warhammer 40k and Warmachine/Hordes.

Universal Studios Japan

My wife and I love visiting theme parks, especially American ones in foreign countries. We look for different foods in concession stands and if rides have changed. The main draw for us was the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The lines were not too long and each ride was worth it. This was another great Japanese theme park experience.

Nishinomaru Garden

Nishinomaru Garden is located west of Osaka castle. Entrance into this garden is not free, we payed ¥350 per person. The garden has a large lawn, a large number of cherry blossom trees and great views of Osaka castle. We did not explore most of the north end of the garden but we did stay until evening. At night, the garden lights up with some spotlights on the cherry blossom trees and other lights lining the paths. If you’re willing to pay the entrance fee, this is a great spot to hang out and enjoy the cherry blossoms. 

Thoughts on Osaka

Japan is a great country to visit. The people are friendly and polite, the streets are clean and the food is delicious. Walking through the different alleys and busy streets, I noticed a difference between Osaka and Tokyo, the vibe. It’s not as fast paced and people are not rushing. Everyone is relaxed, laid back and enjoying life. I can see the appeal of visiting during cherry blossom season. Enjoying the outdoors and appreciating nature is not something most of us do, it’s refreshing.
 

We did a lot more stuff in Nara and Kyoto but that’s for a different post. I was not able to list everything we did but we had a great time. We met up with a few friends and enjoyed the city together. I’m not sure where we are going to next, maybe the Philippines or Korea. Look out for the video.

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Euro Trip 2016: Amsterdam

Amsterdam 2016

Amsterdam was our last stop on our European honeymoon and also the shortest. Three days were not enough to fully explore this amazing city.

Cell Phones

Since this was the last leg of the trip and the shortest, we didn’t purchase a new SIM. We decided to use our SIM cards from the previous countries until we used up all the minutes and data. We would switch to WiFi whenever possible to cut back on data usage.

Transportation

We picked up a three day Amsterdam Travel Ticket for 26. This Smart Ticket or (OV-chipkaart) is easy to use and you can choose a longer duration, up to seven days. Getting on a bus or train is easy, you tap it on a pad on trams and buses. It also comes with a transportation map which was helpful. The ticket covers the train from Schiphol Airport to Amsterdam Central Station. This is convenient since you do not need to purchase separate tickets for the public transport in the city. We used the Citymapper app to navigate around the city. It’s a lot better than Google maps for transportation schedules.

Accommodations 

We stayed in Amy’s Blue Room on the historic Haarlemmerdijk. It’s a short distance to central station, two stops on the bus. You can easily get to the other parts of the city from Central Station. It’s about one kilometer to the Anne Frank House and the city cente, and it’s a nice neighborhood to walk through.

The Fun Stuff

The Canal District

We loved walking through the canal district. The clean streets, iconic architecture and fresh air were a welcomed break from the busy streets of London, Rome and Paris. While not many places of interest are in the canal district, the scenery and architecture is well worth the stroll. We would buy pastries and hang out along the canals which looks great at night as well.

Anne Frank House and Museum

The Anne Frank house and museum was a short walk from our place. I did not read her diary growing up but the museum gives a great history of her life. The museum did not allow pictures to be taken inside which was a relief. The wife and I were able to just immerse ourselves in her story without trying to take pictures. I was able to read excerpts from the original diary which was a great experience. We picked up a copy of her diary in the gift shop, which I will read soon.

Heinekin Experience

If you are a Heineken drinker, this is a must visit. The Heineken Experience is a tour through the first Heineken brewery in Amsterdam. You learn the history of Heineken and how their beer is made. Beer is no longer brewed in the building but kegs are shipped in from their closest brewery. Two glasses of beer are included with the ticket.

Van Gogh Museum

My wife and I decided to visit the Van Gogh museum instead of the Rijksmuseum. We wanted to visit both but we were limited on time. She’s a fan of Van Gogh’s work and wanted to see more of his paintings. If you’re a fan of Van Gogh, this visit is worth the trip.

Thoughts on Amsterdam

I didn’t mention everything we did in Amsterdam above. We went to the red light district, coffee shops and two CrossFit gyms (they were closed). We had a blast and we wish we spent more time here. In retrospect, we would have cut two days from Paris, and stayed the extra days in Amsterdam. I hope you enjoyed my recap of our honeymoon. If you have any questions feel free to comment or use the contact form, safe travels.

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Euro Trip 2016: Rome

Rome 2016

Rome was the third stop on our European honeymoon. My last visit to Rome was 25-26 years ago. I was around four and do not remember much. My return to Rome was with my wife and I couldn’t have asked for a better travel partner. Main points of interest on this trip was the Vatican, the Colosseum and the Pantheon.

Cell Phones

We picked up a new set of SIM cards from TIM. It came with a few gigs of data and costs about $30.00. The coverage was great and data speeds were fast. We would switch to WiFi once we got home which made the data last about five days.

Transportation

From the airport, we used an airport shuttle that was offered at the airport. It was about €10.00 per person. We used the same service to transport us back to the airport for our flight to Amsterdam. The subway system in Rome is small compared to Paris and London. It contains only two lines that run near the center of the city. The bus system is your go to for public transportation. We picked up the three day pass and a two day pass from a local convenience store. They also sell passes at kiosks around Termini station.

Accommodations

We stayed in an AirBnB on Corso Vittorio Emanuele II. Aside from the awesome name (my first name is Emmanuel), it’s within walking distance of many tourists spots. We walked to the Vatican, Pantheon and Trevi fountain. Unlike Paris, we booked a room but it had a bathroom which was a plus. The person checking us in was very helpful and gave us directions to laundromats, popular eatery’s and tourist spots.

The Fun Stuff

The Colosseum

The Colosseum is an iconic Roman structure. It’s featured in most if not all films that portray ancient Rome. It’s also the setting for one of my favorite films depicting ancient Rome, Gladiator. The structure is large but not as large as I imagined. If naval battles were fought in the arena, the ships would have to be really small. We walked around the ancient arena and then headed towards the Forum.
Roman Forum

The Forum was a short walk from the Colosseum. The Forum contained ruins, churches and other buildings. Some of the churches were old temples that were converted when Christianity became the national religion of the empire.

The Vatican

My wife and I are both Catholic and the Vatican was at the top of our must visit places. We visited St. Peters Basilica, the Sistine Chapel  and the Vatican museum. Like Paris, we were able to attend mass in St. Peters. While there Pope Francis give his weekly address in St. Peters square. We were able to view great works of art such as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel as well as the Pieta. Some of the papal tombs were open and we were able to walk through them. Unfortunately we were not able to see the tomb of John Paul II, but we were able to view St. Peters tomb.

The Pantheon

The Pantheon is one of the more famous churches in Rome. It was a former temple that was converted into a church. Two famous tombs can be found in the Pantheon. The tomb of King Victor Emmanuel II (pictured above) and the tomb of the famous artist Raphael.

CrossFit Villa Albani

A trip to Rome wouldn’t be complete without visiting a CrossFit gym. Simonetta, the owner, was very welcoming and asked us to sign her wall in the lobby. We picked up a few shirts after taking a tour. We didn’t get to workout but hopefully we will the next time we visit Rome.

Our trip to Rome was amazing and we were sad to leave. We had a great time wandering streets and eating amazing Italian food. I’m going to miss the pizza and I’m sure my wife will miss the gelato. This will not be our last trip to Rome.

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Euro Trip 2016: Paris

Paris 2016

Paris was the second stop on our European honeymoon and the top pick on my wife’s list of cities to visit. She was very excited and so was I. I couldn’t wait to see the churches, museums and eat in the different cafes. She couldn’t wait to see the Eiffel Tower. After London, we were ready to take on the most romantic city.

Cell Phones

We narrowed the list of cell service providers to SFR and Orange.  After reading many reviews and talking to a few locals. SFR and Orange were the best providers. We went with Orange since it was the closest store to our apartment. We payed €40 each. It was more expensive than a London SIM but it was slightly cheaper than a pocket WiFi. The service was great and we didn’t lose signal while in Paris. We made use of the data and talk time by calling each other when we ventured off on our own. I would recommend them if you need cell service in Paris.

Transportation

We arrived at Gare du Nord and was planning on calling an Uber for transport to the apartment. I wasn’t able to get service so we decided to find a taxi service. Here, is where I screwed up. You should always go with an official taxi to avoid getting ripped off. We went with an unmarked cab and it costed us €75! The fare should have been about half that. It was an expensive lesson but I’ll be more cautious next time.

While in the city we purchased five day passes for public transportation. The total cost for zones 1-3 was about €40. This was a great deal since we spent a lot more than that in London. It came with unlimited use of both bus and metro.  We also used Uber for a few late night commutes, which were great. We also used Uber to get to the Orly airport which was about $40.

Accommodations

We used Air BnB and stayed in the 4th arrondissement. It was a small apartment but it had everything we needed. It was close to a lot of different attractions.  The Lourve, Notre Dame, Musee d’Orsay and Sainte Chapelle were about one to two stop on the metro or bus.

The Fun Stuff

Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame is one of the churches that I have always wanted to visit. It’s pictured in many movies especially in the Disney classic, The Hunchback of Notre Dam. After visiting churches in London I was eager to see the churches in Paris. We were able to attend Sunday mass at this cathedral and it was beautiful. The choir was amazing and even though we didn’t understand French we felt the presence of God.

Sainte-Chapelle

Not far from the Notre Dame Cathedral is the Sainte-Chapelle chapel. It is a small one room chapel but it has beautiful stained glass windows. Information detailing the restoration of the chapel is also on display

The Louvre 

The Louvre is one of the worlds most famous museums. Within it’s three wings it houses priceless art pieces. The Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and the winged victory are on display as well as other famous works. The Louvre is was on my bucket list and I couldn’t wait to explore.

Musee d’Orsay
I didn’t know about the museum but it’s just as famous as the Louvre. I saw very famous works by Monet and Van Gogh which I have only seen in text books.

Eiffel Tower

I was able to see the Eiffel Tower during the day and night. They had an awesome light show at night.

Arc de Triomphe

The Arc de Triomphe is another iconic Paris building that I’ve seen in many movies. It’s has a great view of the city.
CrossFit Lourve and Starplayer
 
As with every stop on the city tour we had to stop by a box and game store. We stopped by CrossFit Louvre which was under a Reebok store. The gym was a good size but not too big. They were out of shirts which was a bummer.
 

Paris was amazing but we should have stayed for a shorter time. Five days was too long, since we saw all the things we wanted in three days. We still had a great time and would love to visit again.

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Euro Trip 2016: London

London 2016

When I was discussing our European honeymoon my wife and I picked out four cities. My first choice was London. I wanted to visit London after watching BBC shows like Sherlock, Dr. Who and Luther. One of my favorite holiday films is Love Actually, set in London.

Cell Phones

We were able to purchase Lebara SIM cards at Heathrow airport for £25. They also had other options in a vending machine but a Lebara representative gave us a good deal. We were able to get 5gb of data and 500 minutes of talk time.

Transportation

We got into the city on a train from Heathrow to Paddington station. It was about £10 each person. From Paddington we purchased an oyster card to use on the Underground/Tube. We didn’t buy the all day passes and instead opted for a pay as you go. The train and bus system was easy to navigate, especially using the City Mapper app. We would also take Uber rides if we stayed out too late or had to go to a place that was out of the way. 

London was the most expensive place for travel. The daily cap for fares were £9.40 but I’m sure I paid more than that in fares based on credit card statements. London is the worst in public transport cost if you’re staying under seven days. 

Accommodations 

We stayed in North Peckham in the Southwark borough. London has great public transportation and we were able to get to any area of the city fairly quickly using the bus system.

The Fun Stuff

 
We started off this trip with a classic English breakfast and it was delicious. This was the first time I’ve eaten beans at breakfast and it wasn’t bad. The bacon is thick and not as crispy but the hash browns were awesome.
 

During the planning of the trip, we picked places we had to visit: Buckingham Palace, Tower of London, Big Ben, Westminster Abby and the London Eye. We also strolled through neighborhoods like Soho, Covent Garden and Notting Hill. There were a lot more places but it would be boring to list them.

The Tower of London has a lot of history. The former fortress holds the crown jewels of the monarchy. Crowns of past kings and queens are also on display as well other royal regalia.

 
Trafalgar Square is a place I’ve wanted to visit since I watched Jump London. I remember the huge lion sculptures and large obelisk. I was an avid free runner until I started getting injured. I stopped completely but I still watch our footage once in awhile. I’m still amazed at what we used to do. We also visited the National Gallery which is next to Trafalgar Square. The gallery had a great selection of art from artists from around the world. This was the first time I visited a large art gallery and it made an impression on me. It made me want to paint miniatures again.
 
 
In front of the National Gallery you will find a lot of street artists and performers. They range from chalk artists, poets, still performers and break dancers. 
 
 
 
 
Big Ben was not as “big” as we though. I imagined that it would be as as tall as a sky scraper. It’s actually a lot wider than it looks. I read an article that Big Ben is tilting, thankfully it’s not a danger to the public. We walked by the houses of parliament and toured the inside of Westminster Abbey. We used a free audio guide that was narrated by Jeremy Irons. I was surprised to see the tombs of great scientists such as Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton. I wanted to take a picture but the officials made it clear no photography allowed. 
 

 

We were able to get tickets to the play “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” at Palace Theater. It was my first large theater production and it was a great experience. I’m a fan of the Harry Potter series but I didn’t want to read the screenplay for the Cursed Child. I was hoping they would make it into a movie or I would watch it live. Thankfully, the theater had tickets for sale. We didn’t realize how fortunate we were until we talked to people at the Harry Potter store in Kings Cross Station.

 

Before heading to London I researched some stores I wanted to visit. Orc’s Nest is a famous game store in London that has a large selection of table top games and accessories. They had a small wargaming section but no Warmachine or Guild Ball models. I wish we had a game store like this back home.

 

 
My wife and I love visiting CrossFit gyms in different countries. Most of gyms we visited are welcoming and helpful. We didn’t get to workout since we were on a tight schedule but we did buy a shirt. 
 

Final Thoughts on London

London is an amazing city full of interesting people, great food and rich history. We didn’t get to visit every place we wanted to but we will save them for our return trip. It was five days well spent and the experience was something we will remember forever. After London we headed to Paris for the second leg of our honeymoon.
 
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Europe 2016: Honeymoon Edition

Europe 2016: Honeymoon Edition

September has been a great month. I got married and went on an awesome honeymoon to Europe. We visited four cities: London, Paris, Rome and Amsterdam. I brought my GoPro with me and took a few shots using my new Feiyu Tech G4S Stabilizer. It worked really well and I hope the video comes out great. I posted a lot more pictures on my Instagram (@ENPalomo) if you want to see some stills.
After reading a lot of posts about pick pocketing in Europe, my wife bought a Pacsafe Venturesafe 150 GII cross body pack. I used this instead of a body wallet that people usually recommend. This worked great on the subways and buses throughout Europe. It has a lot of anti theft features which makes it a great alternative to a body wallet. I might do a review on this after all the cities.

Cell Phones 

We purchased SIM cards in London, Paris and Rome. We did not purchase SIM cards in Amsterdam, instead we used our previous SIM cards and roamed. This lasted about three days into our trip to Amsterdam which was enough.

Airfare and Transportation

 

I booked my tickets using Kayak and my train ticket using Eurostar. Each city has a different system for public transportation which we picked up after landing. We also used Uber for a few rides in London and Paris. This was the first time using Uber and it took a few rides to get used to using it and the etiquette when using it. The app didn’t update numbers when switching SIM cards which I found out the hard way. Overall, I had a great experience with Uber and the drivers I interacted with.If you plan on using taxis to get to your accommodation, use a legitimate one. Their will be people asking you if you need a taxi in the airport terminals and some of them are not legitimate. Make sure they have a meter and a taxi sign or licence. They prey on tourists and will overcharge you.

Another great app to download would be City Mapper. This app was a lifesaver on the trip. It requires an internet connection but you can use it offline if you save routes. You pick a starting point or use your GPS location and pick a destination. The app then calculates the quickest route to your destination including all forms of public transportation. It also calculates driving, walking and rider sharing apps like Uber. This made navigating the city that much easier. It doesn’t have all major cities so check the website to see if the one you’re visiting is on there.

Accommodations

 
Trying to find hotels that fit within our budget and proximity to the city center was extremely difficult. We opted to go with AirBnB. This was my first experience using AirBnB and it was great. It was also more affordable and located in great areas within the cities. At first I was hesitant to use this site but after talking to multiple friends we decided to give it a try. Each place we stayed in had an excellent guest ratings and had a minimum 50 reviews. I also read all the negative reviews if any. We had a great time in each place which I’ll discuss in each city review.
Attractions and Restaurants
We primarily used the website Trip Advisor to look up attractions and restaurants. I’ve used this website to plan past trips to Tokyo and Seoul. They have a great forum if you need to ask questions about places you’re going to visit. I would also save locations using Google maps. I will talk about the few we visited on our trip.
Money Exchange
We took some cash with us with the intent to change it at a currency exchange. In retrospect, it wasn’t the best way to obtain foreign currency. We should have brought half the amount of cash and pulled the rest out of ATM’s. When I added up the fees from the ATM transaction, it was lower than the fees from currency exchange. Most European bank ATM’s do not charge fees, with most of our fees coming from our local bank. Our bank fee was about $2. Try to avoid independent ATM’s and stick with bank ATM’s.

Some currency exchanges have commissions and the trading rate was higher than the bank rate. Make sure you inform your bank before traveling. Most banks will lock your account since withdrawals from a foreign country looks suspicious.

Credit Cards

My wife and I have a travel friendly credit card. We do not get charge foreign transaction fees and we get the best dollar to euro/pound conversion rate as opposed to cash. The rates are made by Visa which is close to the bank currency exchange rate.

I will be writing about the cities in the order I visited them, London, Paris, Rome and Amsterdam. I’ll try to finish one each week.
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