We Went Up The Mountain Again!

This year, instead of our annual trip to Davao, Mikey’s family spent Lola’s birthday in Baguio City. I have to admit that I was one of the few only people who was happy about the change. I love Baguio. And I love any reason to escape Manila’s dreadful heat.

Traveling to Baguio is trickier now that we have a toddler. I have to say though, going up to Baguio was the epitome of a great how to article. On the other hand, our ride back to Manila was the perfect what NOT to do article. Oh well. You win some, you lose some. Hahaha. Here’s what we learned from our trip!

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Napping at the hotel after a 5 hour road trip.

How to Survive a Road Trip with a Toddler

1. Prepare Your Toddler

A week or so leading up to Baguio, we started telling Max about the trip to get him excited. We explained that we would be going up the mountains and he could ride the horses when we got there. We also told him that the roads were zig-zaggy and he would need to stay in his car seat to keep safe.

This worked out like a charm because we had no problems keeping Max in his car seat for most of his waking hours during our ride up to Baguio. Max sat quietly, asking us questions about the trees, the Hulk, clouds, Spider-Man, and birds.

I think it really helped that Max knew what was expected of him. When he would fidget, I would remind him that he needed to stay buckled in because of the zig-zaggy roads.

2. Leave Very Early!

I convinced Mikey to leave by 7:00 AM. I wanted to leave much earlier, but Mikey refused. He was driving, so there was no arguing with him. I thought I would wake Max up when we were about to leave, but he woke up as soon as I got out of the shower.

It was perfect because he got to have a quick oatmeal breakfast before we left. Initially, I thought Max would end up asleep in my arms for the first few hours of the trip and we would feed him breakfast on the road. This was much easier. We didn’t have to worry about getting Max breakfast anymore, so he could just snack on the things we packed if he got hungry.

The best thing about it is, he fell asleep as soon as we hit NLEX and didn’t wake up until we were about to hit Marcos Highway. He slept for the longest driving stretches, and woke up in time to see our ascent to the mountaintop!

3. Take Pee Breaks While the Toddler Sleeps

I forbade Mikey from stopping before Max napped. I knew that it was wonky/sleepy-ville and if we stopped, Max would want to go down with Mikey. It would’ve been difficult to get him back into the car.

So Mikey was more mindful of his liquid intake so he wouldn’t have to pee a lot. We didn’t stop until Max was completely asleep. It worked pretty well. By the time Max woke up, Mikey only needed go on one pee break and it was right before we hit Marcos Highway. Max happily sat in his car seat again because we told him that we were finally going up the mountains.

4. Exchange Screen Time with Window Time

We loaded our iPad and phones with all sorts of shows and movies to keep Max entertained on the trip. We were so surprised that he didn’t need any of it during the ride up.

He’s interested in so many things these days, so it’s getting easier to keep him entertained without screen time. We kept him engaged by pointing at stuff outside. We also sang a bunch of songs that he knew to help keep him engaged.

Neither of us wanted to mention it incase we would jinx it, but Mikey finally mentioned it when we reached the city proper. It felt like a huge achievement on our end!

5. Pack A LOT of Food and Water

I went overboard with Max’s snacks and drinks for our ride up. But it turned out to be really helpful! Max wanted a snack as soon as he woke up and he got to have some milk and cheese.

It turns out, Max doesn’t mind hanging out in his car seat as long as he has something to munch on. When we got to Baguio city and traffic was slow, Max kept himself busy by peeling out the whites of his oreos.

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We made it! Someone’s ready to run around.

How to Barely Survive a Road Trip with a Toddler

1. Don’t Have Your Car Checked

This was our biggest mistake of the trip. On the day we left, we noticed that the aircon wasn’t really working. Actually, it started acting up the day before, but we didn’t really notice because it was so cold that we didn’t really need to turn on the air conditioning.

At first, I didn’t think it was a big deal. I thought, at worst, it meant that it would be a warm ride home. But it turned out to be such a huge safety hazard.

It was raining really hard, so we couldn’t open any of the windows without getting soaked. When we kept the windows closed, it would get all fogged up because it was warmer inside the car compared to the outside.

So we ended up having to hit an air conditioning repair shop before we could drive back to Manila. When the repairmen filled our air conditioner with freon, they warned us to be careful. If there’s a leak, it meant that we would be able to smell the freon through the air conditioner. And if we did smell it, it could be harmful to us, but most especially to Max. So they advised us not to drive or to turn the air conditioner off.

Needless to say, it was a stressful drive down the zig-zaggy road. I’m just grateful that Max was asleep for all of that. We’ll definitely have our car checked before our next trip.

2. Make Lots of Long Stops

We “wasted” Max’s nap by making lots of stops on our way down. Mikey needed more cash because of the air conditioning system repair, so we needed to look for an ATM. And then we were at the air conditioner repair shop for a while before we could get going again.

By the time Max woke up, we had just gotten off the zig-zaggy roads. That was his only nap during the trip. So I had to entertain him the rest of the way.

3. Take the Wrong Route

Because we had to look for an air conditioning repair shop, we ended up at the other end of Baguio. So when Mikey used Waze to course our route back at home, we didn’t realize that it would take us through the small town route instead of the major thoroughfares. By the time Mikey realized it, it was too late.

This added 1-2 more hours to our travel time. Next time, we’ll make sure to double check Waze’s suggested route before heading off.

4. Feed The Toddler A Lot of Junk Food

Admittedly, Max was pretty well behaved during our long trip home. The great thing about this age is that you can talk to him and he’s really more likely to obey if he understands why. And if he can’t seem to understand, it’s also pretty easy to bribe him.

To keep him in a good mood, I presented Max with my bag full of snacks. Max was so excited. He ate for an hour straight. He had chips, milk, water, cookies, and crackers. Welp, any mom reading this can probably tell what’s going to happen next.

Max threw up. He threw up big time. And I caught it with my hands.

Miraculously, Mikey and I were as calm as a pickle. I think we were in such a pleasant mood because we managed the stressful zig-zaggy road drive. We just kept saying, “That’s OK buddy. You’ll be OK.” Mikey stopped on the side of the road while I cleaned Max up.

It was pretty drama-free, and apart from the hint of puke smell that lingered in the air, it was almost like it didn’t happen. Next time though, I’m packing more cleaning supplies in the car! And maybe a small can of air freshener too.

5. Screen Time

I had to find ways to keep Max entertained, so I succumbed to his request for screen time. He had A LOT of screen time during this trip. This is the first trip where Max finally discovered the wonders of cable television. He spent a lot of time hanging out in our hotel room, watching Cartoon Network, The Disney Channel, and Nickelodeon.

He missed it almost as soon as he woke up and asked to watch videos on my phone. I think this may have contributed to him throwing up. I wish I had tried to engage him in other ways instead. He gets really wound up when he has too much screen time.

6. Pack the Extra Diapers in Your Suitcase

I’m not sure if Max picked up something viral while we were in Baguio. Some of his cousins had a cold, so it’s likely that he got a bug of some kind. On our way down, Max pooped three times.

By the time we got to EDSA, I had changed Max’s diaper 5 times. I had finally run out of my reserve stash and the rest of his nappies were packed in our big suitcase. Fortunately, I had some of his potty training underwear in an accessible bag. And even more fortunately, he didn’t poop again for the rest of the evening.

Next time, I’m keeping all of his diapers in an accessible bag!

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Let’s go back?

Baguio will always have a special place in my heart because that’s where Mikey proposed almost five years ago. I love taking Max there and sharing our story with him. I’m also very partial to cooler weather. This isn’t the first time we drove up with Max, and I’m happy to report that it is getting easier! Hopefully, we’ll be able to head up there again soon.

 

Squishy Conquers Hong Kong

A few weeks back, over the holiday break, we took a quick trip to Hong Kong. Overall, it was a much easier trip compared to Japan. The flight was shorter and Max was older, which, as it turned out, makes for an easier trip.

We decided to got to Hong Kong shortly after our Japan trip. I think it was partly because Osaka summer kicked our butts. It was so hot. I was desperate for jacket weather. Max’s Lola also joined us for this trip, so it was Max’s first time to go out of the country with his “Lala”.

I have to admit, the days leading to our flight was kind of a blur. We decided to leave on Christmas day to maximize our stay. So there was a lot going on before we left—Mikey was preparing for a big school play, I was trying to finish two weeks worth of work in one so that I could be relatively free during our break, and multiple Christmas eve gatherings. We even got to stay up and open presents on Christmas eve with Max!

I got to plan the trip little by little as we led up to our departure. But it was nowhere as detailed as our Japan trip. I also knew that it couldn’t be as detailed as our Japan trip because we were traveling with other people. Here’s what we ended up doing:

Rough Hong Kong Toddler Itinerary

Day 1 (December 25)

  • Left Manila at around 9 AM
  • Arrived in Hong Kong at around 1 PM
  • Ate lunch at the airport
  • Took the airport bus to the hotel
  • Checked into the hotel (Rosedale Hotel-Kowloon)
  • Unpacked
  • Shopping and dinner at Causeway Bay

Day 2 (December 26 – Mikey’s Birthday! ❤️)

  • Takeout from McDonald’s, Breakfast at the hotel
  • Disneyland 

Day 3 (December 27)

Day 4 (December 28)

Day 5 (December 29)

  • Shopping at Olympian City
  • Shopping and Lunch at Causeway Bay
  • Uber to the airport
  • Depart from Hong Kong at around 10 PM
  • Arrive in Manila a little after midnight

Trip Essentials

Maybe it didn’t seem like we had to prepare too much for this trip because I basically followed my Japan list for Max’s trip essentials. So it was just a matter of re-stocking some of the things we ran out of.

We decided to leave our carrier at home and we relied heavily on the Pockit stroller. When we’re here and we have access to our own car, we actually still prefer our bulky Graco Verb Click Connect Travel System stroller. This was the first stroller we got before Max was born and we still love it because it’s a smoother ride and it reclines. Max’s Lola didn’t like our stroller so she bought him the Pockit stroller. It actually feels wobbly when you use it, but it’s so convenient to pack. So, it’s what we bring along when we travel.

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Spot the Pockit!

I kind of go overboard with our medicine kit, especially when we go to non-English speaking countries. I don’t want to go to the trouble of having to translate our ailments and risk getting the wrong kind of medicine. So our medicine kit actually takes up 1/4 of one of our large luggage. I also have a smaller version of the kit with me at all times. During this trip though, it was the adults who benefited most from our medicine kit. We didn’t touch any of Max’s stuff.

We also always make sure to bring insulated water bottles. One for Max and one that Mikey and I share. Hong Kong has a lot of vending machines where you can get drinks, but Max will ask for water specifically when he’s thirsty. He was also snacking a lot because his Lola kept buying him M&Ms, so it was good that we had water with us.

Cold Weather Clothes

This was our first international trip where we had to pack for cold weather! We’ve been to Baguio a couple of times when it was nice and cool, but we heard that the Hong Kong weather could hit as low as 9ºc, so we wanted to be prepared.

I LOVED Uniqlo’s Heattech line for our trip. It can get a bit pricey, but if you scout out the clearance sections or wait for sales, it’s not too bad. I really think it’s worth it because of the space it saves. I wish I had just packed Heattech for all of us. Initially, I just bought two pieces for Max, one long sleeved shirt and one pair of leggings. My mom and Mikey’s mom decided to get him some more, so he basically wore Heattech for most of the trip. It’s also great to pack as extra clothes because it’s so thin and light! I also scored a bubble jacket from Uniqlo (on sale!) for him.

 

Mikey and I also got ourselves some Heattech pieces. I bought myself a long sleeved top, leggings, and a sleeveless shirt. The days I wore Heattech were my favorite outfit days. The sleeveless shirt was perfect for breastfeeding on the go. I just popped out my boob from the top since it was a low neckline.

The Hotel

 

Unlike our hotel in Japan, our hotel, Rosedale Hotel-Kowloon, wasn’t centrally located. But we remember that we chose this hotel because the nearest MRT station was connected to the Disney Train line. That meant that our travel time to Disney Land only took about 30 minutes. I thought it made more sense for us to book a hotel closer to Disney because it’s the only day where we would have to get up extra early to get there in time for it to open.

And it’s a good thing too, because when you travel with other people, they don’t always keep to your schedule. So we actually ended up leaving a lot later than planned. We arrived at Disneyland about an hour after the park opened. If we had chosen a more centrally located hotel, we would have arrived much later.

Things like this tend to matter when you’re traveling with a toddler. Max is in his best mood when he wakes up and slowly winds down all the way up to his nap. In the morning, we don’t even have to bribe him to get on his stroller. He’ll willingly sit on it until we get to where we need to go. But if we spend too much time waiting around, he gets bored and wants to expend energy. So when we’re planning activities for him, we try our best to maximize his mornings so that he can get the most out of it.

Transportation

Hong Kong is great because the MRT is so easy to use. And it’s doubly easy because we ordered SIM cards from Klook so we could use the data on our phone or iPad. The MRT was a 5 minute walk from our hotel and since the weather was so nice, we looked forward to these walks.

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On the Airport Express

We only grabbed an Uber twice: on our way back to the hotel from Sneaker Lane and going to the airport from our hotel. After shopping in Sneaker Lane, we decided to take an Uber because it was a short ride, it started raining, it was late, and our travel companions were tired from the day.  Uber seemed like the best solution to get to the airport because we had a lot of bags and we could order an extra large car to pick us up.

Disney Land

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When we were first planning this trip, we were on the fence about Disney Land. We remembered our experience in Universal Studios Japan (USJ) and we thought that maybe we would wait for Max to get a little older before attempting another major theme part.

We’re so grateful that our friends convinced us to go. Unlike USJ, Disney Land was made for kids Max’s age! He was able to do SO MUCH more in Disney. He rode rides, watched shows, ran around with his bubble machine, and ate his heart out. He even met THE Buzz Lightyear!

 

Mikey also celebrated his birthday in Disney Land! As soon as Max fell asleep, Mikey got a Fastpass and rode Hyperspace Mountain which was the classic Space Mountain but Star Wars themed! After Mikey got to ride, he handed me Fastpass and I got to go on it too! So Momma and Papa also got to have their fun. The app was so useful in helping us navigate through the day. It told us what time the shows were, where they would be, and how long ride lines were. It was a surprisingly efficient day!

 

We ended the night by watching the Disney Paint The Night Parade which started at 9 PM. Max was already in wonky-ville before it started and he was actually latched and ready to sleep before the first float came out. But I was able to coax him off of me and got him to sit on my lap while we sat on Main Street. The lights, music, and all his favorite characters definitely woke him up. My Pixar loving toddler was so happy! He still talks about it to this day. He’ll randomly say, “Mama, go Disneyland?” and I just tell him that we have to save up again.

 

 

Ocean Park

When I was doing my preliminary research about Hong Kong, I asked a friend of mine who recently took her toddler there. When I asked her if Ocean Park was worth it, she said that her kid (and entire family) actually enjoyed Ocean Park more than Disneyland. So, that kind of sealed the deal for me. If we were going to Disney, we had to make our way to Ocean Park.

Ocean Park was a lot of fun! Even if we already went to the majestic Osaka Aquarium, it was so fascinating to see how different Max was in a span of a few months. It’s like he’s a totally different kid. When we were in the Osaka Aquarium, I remember Max being a little confused. He would spend a lot of time in each exhibit, just watching. But we would essentially have to move him from one window to the next.

 

This time around, he played a more active role. He would go from one window to another by himself, often calling me to come with him or pulling me by the hand. He knew that if he kept on moving he would see one new thing after another.

We didn’t spend the entire day there. There were a lot of rides that Max couldn’t get on. But we made sure to hit all the essentials–the large aquarium, the penguins, the panda, seal lions, and walrus.

 

Hong Kong is a great starter vacation spot if you’re testing out your travel wings with a toddler. It’s convenient and there’s plenty of activities for them, even if you don’t end up going to a theme park. It’s also a great place to go shopping. I hit Ikea on our first night and Mikey visited two different Apple Store branches. And, while Mikey was at the Apple Store, we found a bookstore where I got our books for this trip! We like to get at least one book as a souvenir for each trip. For this trip, we got My Hong Kong Numbers and Hong Kong ABC.

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Max is absolutely in love with My Hong Kong Numbers. Every night, he’ll say: “Hong Kong Numbers read?” I’ll be writing soon about this and two other books that we got over the holidays that we love!

Max was a lot easier to travel with this time around. He didn’t have any major meltdowns and we didn’t have to resort to screen time as much either. Just like in Manila, it would get a little difficult when we wanted to shop because Max finds shopping for anything other than toys utterly boring. But I guess that’s normal, right? Hong Kong made us a little bit braver about traveling with Max. Hopefully, traveling is something that gets easier (and funner) as he gets older.

 

Osaka Epilogue: #watashiwatamago

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The view of the moon while we were on the plane on our way to Osaka.

I don’t want to sugar coat our trip. Looking back at the photos, it would be easy to paint a picture-perfect family vacation. But there were times when it was so hard that I wanted to join Max in his tantrum and cry. Mikey is the epitome of patience and flexibility when it comes to dealing with Max, but I know that he had some tough times with him too.

We were kind of baffled at this new clingy and fussy toddler that we were dealing with. He either wanted to breastfeed or to be allowed to run amok. A part of me thought that maybe this was a new phase Max was entering. Maybe it was a preview of the terrible twos that people kept telling us about. But looking back, I think it was a mixture of Max being frustrated because he couldn’t communicate what he wanted, the horrible weather, over-stimulation because of all the screen time, teething, and also still recuperating from his sudden sickness a few days before the trip.

It would be easy to regret the timing of the trip (“maybe if we waited until he was older, it would’ve been easier“), especially nowadays when we can meaningfully reason with Max. We could regret it, but we honestly don’t. As silly as it sounds, all the hard stuff is ultimately eclipsed by the sheer fun that we had together. Experiencing the world in new ways as a family is such a privilege. We are beyond grateful.

It took me a while to finish this series, but I think (like always) the timing makes perfect sense. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to include this last tidbit: a few nights ago, Max saw his Papa’s iPad wallpaper (a photo of Max and I watching rays at the Osaka Aquarium) and he said: “rey! Pan!” (Ray! Japan!). We were so amazed! He remembers and even if he can’t fully articulate it, I know that he learned and grew so much because of this trip. And so did we.

P.S. Our trip hashtag for all our social media postings was #watashiwatamago. Here is the backstory of that hashtag.

Osaka: Day 7 (Friday)

I don’t remember who woke up first, but I do remember that I knew what I wanted my last non-airport meal in Osaka to be: Shake Shack! We didn’t even have breakfast because I was so excited. We decided to check-out early so that we didn’t have to hurry back to the hotel.

We found Shake Shack in this cute little mall a few train stops away from our hotel. I think we might have accidentally cut the line, but it was well worth it! Max didn’t enjoy it as much as we did. Mikey and I actually had one burger each and then we shared another one after. It was so, so good. I wish Shake Shack would open in Manila already.

After Shake Shack, we went back to the hotel and decided to just spend some time in the lounge until we had to leave for the airport. Max and I ended up napping while waiting. While we napped, Mikey went around Shinshaibashi one more time and got me a honey latte again.

When we Googled the train ride to the airport, it turned out that we had one transfer. We had a lot of baggage (three large bags, one small one, and our own personal bags) and we had Max. I told Mikey that it might make sense to take a taxi to the nearest station of the train that would take us directly to the airport so that all we would have to do is get on the train. And I’m so glad we did. It was pretty much a hassle-free trip (Max slept and breastfed on the way) and we got to the airport pretty early.

We deposited our bags and then we spent two hours shopping and eating at the duty free area. When we finally checked in and got into the main airport, we wanted to spend what little Yen we had left in the airport shopping area, but while Max was playing in a play area he had a small accident with another child and he wanted to breastfeed. He fell asleep at some point, but I didn’t want him to waste his sleep while we were still at the airport. My failed attempt at gently waking him up by nursing and walking around at the same time was a disaster. Max freaked out and we both ended up on the floor. Him wailing and me on the verge of a breakdown. He calmed down after a while and we had to head to our gate already.

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Last meal before check-in.

Our plane was full and when we requested to be seated in a row without other passengers, they said that it wouldn’t be possible. But like a miracle, we were seated at the only row without another passenger (THANK YOU CEBU PACIFIC!). Also, like another miracle, the earlier breakdown turned to be worth it because Max fell asleep as soon as we were seated and he stayed asleep for the rest of the ride. Maybe this was his way of telling us that he was ready to go home.

 

Landing in the less-than-spectacular airport in Manila made me miss Osaka. But there was something comforting about being greeted by people who understood you. When we got home, we discovered our freshly cleaned apartment (care of Gwama Elena’s cleaning crew) and some new friends that Gwama got for Max. Max was thrilled be reunited with all his toys. And he was excited to play with some of the toys we didn’t open in Osaka.

I guess the trip was successful because we felt like it ended too soon, but after spending 7 days in a tiny (cozy) hotel room, our apartment suddenly felt like a mansion. We missed Osaka but were truly happy to be back home.

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Home is where these two silly butts are.
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And now, apparently, these guys too.

Osaka: Day 6 (Thursday)

Our last full day in Osaka was on a Thursday. We didn’t have much planned for the day except we knew we wanted to finally explore Dohtonburi. And Max wanted to ride the boat that we saw by Dohtonbori, so we knew we would do that at some point.

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I wish we had this here too.

Our morning was slow again: konbini breakfast (cheese and cold cuts, super yummy) and going through some Shinshaibashi shops. It was a tough morning with Max because for the first time, he pooped outside of the hotel. So we went to Daimaru to change his diaper. Osaka is really baby friendly and it was nice that we got to try out their public changing rooms. We finally had our sushi lunch and it was divine. Max was a trooper and ate his tamago sushi. For some reason, in Japan, tuna is more expensive than salmon (it’s the opposite here). And they had a whole variety of tuna sushi, so it was nice to try those out.

After lunch, we returned to the hotel (around 12 noon). I knew the evening would be a bit challenging with Max because we were going to do Dontonburi, so I thought it would be a good idea for Max to rest until then. I told Mikey that I would watch Max and he could spend the afternoon exploring. He had a good time and I took advantage of the wider Netflix selection in Japan while Max played with all his vending machine toys. At some point, Max fell asleep.

When Mikey returned from his adventure, Max was still asleep so it was my turn to explore without a toddler. For some reason, I was hungry. So, the first thing I did was hit up Ichiran again. I wanted to try it with a little bit of spice this time. After Ichiran, I went to Uniqlo to pick up another on sale Airism shirt (Y500 only, or Php 241.00 or USD 4.45)! And that’s where Mikey and Max met me.

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“Where’s Momma?” — Max waking up from his nap.

After Uniqlo, we made our way to the Dohtonbori boat tour ride (or the Tombori River Cruise). It was really fun! Our guide spoke in broken English (but mostly Japanese). Max was quietly watching most of the time. Towards the end though, he decided to breastfeed.

After the boat tour, we made our way to Dohtonbori. It was fine for a while, but Max had a huge tantrum. He wanted to keep rolling around on the floor and we wouldn’t let him. Mikey had to give him a time out and we were both emotionally spent. It didn’t help that most of the restaurants we wanted to try were full and Max was getting crankier by the minute. We eventually settled on an empty-ish okonomiyaki restaurant and it wasn’t bad! I’m sure Mikey wanted to try more of the street food, but I guess that’s the price you pay when travelling with a toddler.

As soon as we got to the hotel, we put cranky Max to sleep. And we spent most of the evening packing and buying more luggage weight online (we did a lot of shopping). When we were done packing and re-packing, Mikey rewarded himself with a solo trip to Ichiran (again, our hotel location was amazing!) and I stayed behind to watch the toddler sleep and downloaded a bunch of movies on Netflix for our plane ride home tomorrow. It was a tiring day and even if we were starting to miss the comforts of home a little bit, I don’t think we wanted to say goodbye to Osaka just yet.

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Osaka: Day 5 (Wednesday)

Our fifth day in Osaka was probably the toughest day, Max-wise. It started off pretty slow, we had a late breakfast in Shinshaibashi before taking a long(-ish) train ride to Kyoto. Max was still pretty clingy on the train and he wanted the breastfeed the whole way. At that point, I just let him because he was easier to manage and we knew we had to reserve our energy for the day ahead.

The train ride was pretty spectacular though. It made the trip to Kyoto worth it. We got to see a another side of the Kansai region. We passed by an area that was just houses and sprawling hills. It seemed more provincial than Osaka. By the time we got to Kyoto Station, Mikey was hungry. So we stopped at the first comfortable restaurant we saw. It turned out to be a restaurant that specialized in tempura. It was really good, but based on the price, it was definitely a tourist trap. Unfortunately, when you’re travelling with a toddler, sometimes you really have to cave and pay extra for comfort.

After lunch, we walked to the Fushimi Inari Shrine. It was so HOT. Max had rosy cheeks the whole time because it was hot. Walking towards the temple was fun for Max because there were pigeons everywhere and he kept chasing after them. When we got to the shrine, there was a lady lying on the floor almost passing out because of the heat. Max had a blast at the temple though. The floor was made up of stones and Max loves stones. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to walk up the steps and see the famous troii gates because we had a stroller and the coin locker was so far away. Mikey and I were already sweating like crazy.

After an hour or so, we decided to head back to Osaka. We figured we’d come back and see more of Kyoto when Max is older (and hopefully when it’s cooler). We decided to take the rest of the day to finish up all the shopping we wanted to do. We wanted to hit a book store, a supermarket, and Don Quixote (a giant discount store).

Every time we take a trip, we try to get a book to add to our library to commemorate the trip. When we’re in another country, we try to find local authors who write in English. Since Max came along, it’s been more fun to find books for him.

We found a book store and a supermarket in a complex near our hotel. Bookstores in Osaka are a lot more quiet and library-like than bookstores over here. Max is used to being allowed to run around in our local bookstores here. But over there, everyone is so quiet. He actually got shh’ed by a salesperson. But I’m glad we went because we found the perfect books! ❤ We left with Polar Bear’s Underwear by tupera tupera and Still Stuck by Shinsuke Yoshitake. We love that we found English books by Japanese authors! They’re so cute and the humor is reminiscent of all the manga I used to read as a tween.

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After the bookstore, Max was getting really, really fussy. He was sleepy and when we finally found a place to breastfeed him, he fell asleep right away. When he fell asleep, I tried to put him in a carrier so that we could go on with our shopping. 10 minutes into the grocery store and he started freaking out. He was still super sleepy, but he couldn’t breastfeed himself back to sleep because he was strapped in. It was kind of a nightmare at first. I struggled to unstrap him and then I let him latch while walking around. It was uncomfortable for the both of us. Finally, he hit his limit and had the meltdown of the century. He just kept crying and screaming and we couldn’t console him in any way. And bonus: he was trying out this new high pitch scream that seemed one million times louder in calm and quiet Osaka. We took turns taking him outside. Eventually, he relented and we breastfed while I sat on the sidewalk. I was spent.

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My spent look

We decided to go back to the hotel to drop stuff off before heading to Don Quixote. After decompressing and cooling down for a bit in our room, we were off again. We went to Don Quixote and Max spent most of the time in his stroller watching shows/movies/YouTube clips on the iPad (we seriously abused screen time on this trip). Mikey and I took turns with him so that we could explore each floor. By the time we reached the top floor, our shopping basket was full and Max was ready to run around again. So, we let him.

We walked around Dontonbori for a bit, but Max was reaching crazypants level again, so we decided to have dinner at the hotel. On our walk back to the hotel though, we witnessed something pretty amazing. While we were waiting for the stop sign to turn red, a huge group of go-karters dressed up like Mario Kart characters came down the street. It was so cool! We waved at them and they waved back and even smiled for a photo. Most of the Japanese people we met so far were very meek and polite. It was great to witness firsthand the famously quirky side of Japan.

When we got to the hotel, Mikey left right away to buy our dinner. I specifically requested for Sushi, but it turns out that not a lot of restaurants do take out in Japan. So Mikey ended up getting sushi from Family Mart and a bunch of other things. It turned out pretty well and we were tired from the day so it was nice to be able to relax at the hotel.

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hum (“home”, what Max called our hotel)

Osaka: Day 4 (Tuesday)

A few weeks before our trip, I kept tweaking our itinerary and budget. As I revised my excel sheet for the nth time, it became clear to me that the largest “experience” expense we would have would be Universal Studios Japan (USJ). Max would get in for free, but our ticket would’ve been Y7,900 each (Php 3,814.00 or USD 72.00 each).

Two weeks before our trip, I was ready to forgo USJ. It felt selfish to go because it was just for me. The only attraction I was really excited about was the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Mikey was barely a fan (he finished the first three books and refers to the fourth book as the boring one with the intrams) and Max had no idea who Harry Potter was.

When I told Mikey that I thought we should remove it from our itinerary, he disagreed. He knew that I was a huge fan and that I really wanted to go for a long time. He said that it would be a waste not to go and that we didn’t know when we would be back. Dramatically, he said: “why are we even going to Osaka if you won’t be able to see Hogwarts?” I appreciated his heart, but I wasn’t convinced, so he spent a few days trying to change my mind.

I knew Osaka would be pretty hot and I couldn’t imagine dragging Mikey and Max to an amusement park just so I could geek out. Thankfully, we talked to our friends who visited Osaka earlier this year (HI RAM AND DARM!) and they changed my mind. They said that they absolutely LOVED USJ and spent the whole day there. And more importantly, they said that Max would love it too! They told us that there was a Minions and Sesame Street area. And while Max wasn’t exactly a huge fan of either, I knew he would definitely have something to do there! So, I changed my mind and USJ was back on our must-do list!

Our friends also told us that USJ is usually packed from Friday-Monday, so we decided to go on Tuesday. We were also told to try to get to the park before it opened. Since it was summer, the park was scheduled to open at 7:30 AM that day.

One way to keep sane while traveling with a toddler is to learn to manage your expectations. For me, that meant not letting myself get excited (it made letting go easier if Max didn’t cooperate). But I couldn’t help it. I WAS SO EXCITED. I was so excited that I was up at 5:00 AM. I hurried through my bath and bought breakfast while Mikey and Max slept soundly in bed. I think I returned to the room at around 6:00 AM and just in time for Max to wake up.

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Sleepy heads at 5AM.

We were on the train by 7:00 AM and we arrived at Universal City Station a few minutes past 8:00 AM. When we arrived, the line for tickets wasn’t too long. I got our tickets after a few minutes. The park didn’t seem so crowded, but it was much bigger than I expected! Max didn’t mind sitting in his stroller while we figured out where we were in the park. Mikey and I were looking through our maps trying to figure out how to get the Hogwarts when a USJ employee approached us and asked us if we needed help. I asked him if we needed a timed entry ticket to get into Harry Potter (our friends said that this might be needed) and he said that the park wasn’t crowded that day so we could just walk in. Hooray!

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It was so hot, but I didn’t really notice yet. I was so excited! We walked across the park and got to the huge replica of the shark from Jaws. We were a little confused at first because the map said that we should have hit Harry Potter before Jaws. Right next to Jaws, there were three huge stones and path way surrounded by trees. Mikey asked me if there are three stones in any of the Harry Potter books. Honestly, I didn’t think there were, but there was nowhere else to go so we decided to take our chances. After a few minutes, I knew we were heading to the right direction because I could hear the Harry Potter music. Before we even hit the main entrance, I spotted a blue Ford Anglia! YUP! We were definitely at the right place!

We walked through the huge gates and we were magically transported to Hogsmeade! The first thing I saw was the Hogwarts Express and then all the little shops. I wanted to go in each shop and explore, but Max wasn’t having any of it. He sat in his stroller for too long and he wanted to explore too. So we let Max down and Mikey chased after him while I took the stroller and looked around. It was amazing! I felt like I stepped into the movies. It was pretty hot and Mikey was thirsty, so I offered to get him a Butterbeer. I was standing in a really long line when I noticed a lady waving at me on the other side of the stall (it was as big as a trailer). They had just opened up another window to take orders. I was so excited! I ran to her before anyone noticed and I ordered my Butterbeer. In my excitement, I pointed to a silver medieval beer mug. She asked me to make sure: “premium?”, she said. I didn’t know what that meant, but I nodded and said “yes! One Butterbeer please!” When I got to the cashier she asked for almost Y4,000.00 (Php 1,933.00 or USD 37.00) and I was so shocked. Then it dawned on me that this is what my friends warned me about. They said that you could get Butterbeer in a paper cup, in a plastic mug, or in a premium metal mug that was really expensive. I remember telling them that I would totally go for the paper cup.

I walked back to Mikey in shame. I told him what happened and he laughed. He said that that explains the text message he got from Citibank alerting him that I had just purchased something for Y3,900++. Mikey drank the Butterbeer in our expensive cup (which now sits proudly on our shelf) and I took over chasing Max around. Max was wearing a Harry Potter t-shirt that I got for him last Christmas and he was going up and down a low cobblestone stage where the house banners were showcased. I couldn’t believe I was at Hogwarts with my little boy.

I looked around the different shops. It was kind of clear that neither of us would get to try any of the rides because the lines were at least 45-minutes long. But we were lucky enough to do the walking tour of Hogwarts. Max didn’t really like it because it was dark, so he hugged me almost the entire time. Mikey encouraged me to pick out a souvenir from one of the shops, but everything was so expensive and I was still feeling guilty about the whole Butterbeer mistake. It was getting hotter and hotter, so I suggested that we check out other (hopefully air conditioned) attractions.

We decided to head to Universal Wonderland which had all sorts of toddler friendly activities. The first area was the Hello Kitty one. As we were walking by, Max saw a twirling cupcake ride and he really wanted to go on it. We asked the attendants and they said that Max could go on the ride and there was barely even a line! Max was really excited when we were choosing a cupcake to ride in and he was really excited when we got in, but as soon as Mikey and I sat down with him, all he wanted to do was breastfeed! So he was under my shirt the whole time! I think he thought the ride would be longer because he kind of cried when we were walking away.

The next area we went to was Snoopy Land. There was another ride there and Max really wanted to try, but he was too short to go on the ride. It would’ve been heart breaking, but he quickly forgot about it because there was an indoor play area. And hallelujah, it was air conditioned! We let him run around for a while. There was a small playground and replica of Charlie Brown’s house. He was so happy! After an hour or so in Snoopy Land, we took him to Sesame Street world. That’s where Max really went wild! It was like Kidzooona on steroids. There was a huge ball pit with a slide where giant Bert and Ernie were taking a bath, there was an area where kids could throw around giant balloons, there was a building area with large foam pieces that you could put together, and a sort of jungle gym area made out of rope and foam where you could climb and crawl. Max was so happy and it really tired him out because he didn’t even want to get out of his stroller to meet Elmo on our way to lunch.

We walked across the park to have lunch at a pizza parlor. It was so hot, so we didn’t really stop to check things out. Mikey and I had pizza and Max happily ate his risotto balls while watching a video. After lunch, we were thinking of exploring Minion Land with Max, but it was so hot. And even though Max seemed ok, Mikey and I were melting. It was getting difficult with Max because he wanted to run after the confetti on the floor and we would’ve totally let him, except the sun was so unforgiving and we were worried that he might get a sun burn. We walked around to try to find a shaded area, and we eventually spent some time in the carnival area. Mikey then played one of the ball tossing games and won a large Snoopy stuffed toy on his first try. But after that, it became clear that we were just killing time and that it might make more sense to leave USJ.

I was okay with leaving USJ after spending the morning and the afternoon there. Except, I really wanted to visit Hogsmeade one more time before leaving. When we got there, Max and Mikey had some ice cream. After that, Max wanted to breastfeed, so I actually breastfed him while he was sitting on his stroller. He eventually fell asleep and that was the perfect time for me to go around one more time by myself while Mikey took a break and looked after Max. I went around the different shops and returned to Mikey several times to let him know that I couldn’t find anything. I toyed with the idea of getting a wand (it was just a little bit more expensive than the Butterbeer), but I thought it would just spend most of its time in a drawer. I thought about getting Max a shirt, but it was so expensive and he would grow out of it so quickly. I tried getting Mikey a shirt, but they didn’t have anything in his size. I settled on the cheapest shirt in the shop—a red Hogwarts Express shirt with a 9 ¾ logo on it. I recently Marie Kondo’ed my closet and I remembered that I didn’t have any red shirts left. We need red outfits for certain Chinese occasions (i.e. birthdays and new year). I was so glad that I finally had a red shirt that I would actually enjoy wearing (I’m wearing it as I type this right now!).

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He wasn’t sick, but it was so hot that I put a KoolFever patch on him while he slept.

With Max soundly asleep in his stroller, I said my last goodbyes to Hogwarts and Hogsmeade with my best friend by my side. He gave me a moment to take it all in again and we even walk towards Hogwarts so that we could take one last photo together. I can’t believe I almost talked myself out of experiencing all of that.

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Max was still asleep when we were exiting the park and it turned out to be the right decision because a Minion water parade was just about to start as we walked out and we knew that if Max woke up, he would want to join the fun and his parents were already pooped (and didn’t have extra clothes). The train station was nice and almost empty on our way out. We decided that we would go back to the hotel to freshen up and re-group.

Walking back to our hotel in Shinshaibashi, I saw a small restaurant in one of the side roads that looked interesting. I’m not sure if it was the heat or the day’s activities, but even after a full lunch, I was famished. So, we had another full rice meal at the restaurant. Mikey had ramen, I had a beef rice bowl, and Max had gyoza.

After eating, we walked back to our hotel and Max was happy to be reunited with all of his toys (most of them from those egg vending machines all over Osaka) while Mikey was comfortably lounging in bed. When I realized that they would be that way for a while, I decided to make most out of the day (and my energy) and try to find the Daiso near our hotel. I shopped for about an hour when Mikey said that they were ready to go again. I walked back to the hotel with my shopping bags (it turns out, the Daiso was located in the street behind our hotel—again, we love our hotel’s location!) and we headed for another shopping excursion—this time to the nearby department store: Tokyu Hands. We spent about an hour and a half there picking out all sorts of things. Mikey went nuts with their Hario coffee equipment, and I bought a bunch of stickers, make-up, and cooling pillow cases. Max was pretty cooperative for the first thirty minutes or so. He watched a little bit of Monsters Inc. and then some ABC Kids TV on YouTube. When Max got tired of the iPad, Mikey and I took turns running around with Max.

We weren’t sure where we were going to have dinner, but we figured we’d find a restaurant on our way home. Walking back, we saw a restaurant that caught Mikey’s eye. It was called Enzo and the sign on the store was a familiar giant black bear logo. Mikey recognized the bear and thought that it was the same restaurant as the yakiniku place he wanted to try in Dohtoburi. When we went inside, the place was still pretty empty, but we were welcomed by very nice waiters. They led us to a private room upstairs and they were very nice to Max. Honestly, I don’t know very much about meats. In Manila, when Mikey tells me that we’re eating really good meat, I can’t really tell the difference. But I could definitely tell this time. The meat was so light and flavorful at the same time. It was perfectly marbled—the fat wasn’t concentrated in just one area so it wasn’t overwhelming. So each bite was perfect. It was the best meat I’ve ever had. Mikey says it was the meal of his life. And Max really liked it too. In fact, I had to order an extra bowl of rice because he ate most of mine!

We walked back to the hotel with happy hearts and full stomachs. We had to fight the sadness that came with the realization that we were already halfway through this trip. We still had three days left but we already missed Osaka.

Osaka: Day 3 (Monday)

On Monday, Day 3, our Thing of the Day was going to be our visit to Nara Park in Nara Prefecture, where wild deer mill about. The deer are famous for being polite, bowing to curious and happy humans who feed them the deer cookies you can purchase at every corner of the park. But we also read some reports that said that they were aggressive and rude, acting very spoiled and entitled to those deer cookies, to the point that they would literally bite the hands that fed them. 

We wanted to find out. And we thought Max might have a blast.

We started off the day by having breakfast outside our hotel room for the first time. We chose McDonald’s (yes, we are those kind of tourists)—Char and Max had a boring old Sausage McMuffin with Egg, and I had a strange burger-muffin hybrid with a kind of spicy-garlicky sauce. It was excellent. Their orange juice was excellent, too—Char later admitted that that was what she was curious about in McDonald’s, more than the food.

McDonald’s was just a few meters up the road from Apple Store Shinsaibashi, so we decided to drop by since it was only 5 minutes to opening. When we got to the door, they asked us to choose one of two queues: shopping, or Genius Bar. We queued up on the shorter shopping line. I planned on zipping in and checking out the second floor, picking out an Apple Watch band, paying for it, processing my tax refund, and heading on out of there. What happened instead was one of the greatest moments of my life:

I love applause, and I love Apple, and from what I know, Apple Store employees only applaud first entrants whenever it was for a launch of a new product. But there we were, basking it in, on a random Monday in Osaka. It was surreal, and I’m so happy I got to share it with Max, and that Char got to record it. 

After nabbing my 42mm black Sport Loop, it was off to the deer.

We took the train and arrived at Nara station at around 11, and we decided to head to the park before having lunch. At the information center, when we asked for directions to the park (it’s supposed to be a 5 minute from the station), they warned us that it was going to be very hot, and that we should drink water. They were right—it was crazy hot. I had Max on in my hipseat carrier, and I held an umbrella over us. Poor Char had her hands full with the stroller so she didn’t use an umbrella. It was just ridiculously hot. Thankfully, the shade of the trees from the park were only a few minutes away.

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One of the first things we saw on our way to the park was this road sign.

The first deer we saw seemed so majestic: the deer was seated a short distance from the fence, beyond the reach of regular humans. It was a magical moment—I mean, how often do you see wild dear just hanging out a few meters away from you? But it was also short-lived: a few more steps and suddenly deer was everywhere. And so were the little stalls that sold the cookies. Char quickly bought us a set of cookies, and Max and I tried to feed a few. Whenever we did, it was such a thrill for Max. We kept walking and feeding deer who were just hanging out on the sidewalk, surrounded by tourists. 

Char had to follow us and keep pushing the stroller, so she didn’t get to feed any of them. Max enjoyed feeding them, but we couldn’t get them to bow. Honestly, it was probably because it we were also very tense. I was worried that these wild animals would suddenly just pounce on Max, or pounce on Char, or pounce on the stroller, or pounce on me. So we just tried to feed as many as we could. When the cookies ran out, we decided to head back to the station to figure out where we could have lunch.

 

Nara station is connected to a kind-of strip-type mall, with food places galore showing off “classic Kyoto specialties”. We chose a place that advertised a really good-looking set meal that included unagi, which is what I ended up ordering. It was excellent, but I forgot that unagi was only my favorite thing as a child, and not as an adult. Char had salmon and lean tuna sushi, which were just sublime. For dessert we found a place that offered matcha (green tea) soft serve. Char and I generally don’t like matcha (it tastes like leaves), but to me, this one was great. We each had a milk/vanilla and matcha twirl on a cone. Japanese soft serve is the best in the world. (Char still didn’t like it though, and wished she just got plain milk/vanilla flavored soft serve.)

After lunch, we went to Daiso, the JPY100 store, and we took a quick shopping trip. There are also Daiso and Japan Home stores here in Manila, but it was just so exciting to be in a Daiso in Japan! They had things we would have a hard time finding here: wooden fridge magnets, a hose that made water transfer from aquariums so much easier, and even a straw tool that made it easy to make two-layer dessert drinks! Needless to say, we freaked out. (Char more than I.)

At around 2PM we decided to try and feed the deer again. We kept the stroller and our shopping bags in a coin locker (JPY500 for 24 hours!) so that Char would have her hands free to feed the deer. On the intensely hot walk back to the park, we saw a family off to the side—a man and his young son rubbing sunblock all over his wife. It was like taking a peek at our silly future.

When we got to where the deer were, all of three of us got to try feeding them, and we got them to bow too. Max was just delighted. Our nerves were a little calmer so we fed them a little more actively, but then that also led us to encounters with more aggressive deer. One of them, after being fed twice, tried to search for more cookies on my person, and ended up biting the strap of my hipseat carrier (that Max was on!). It was fun, but freaky. Max loved it. Also the part where they bit it smelled like poop.

 

We walked deeper into the lovely Nara park where some families having picnics, and the deer were just grazing around, ambivalent to the non-wild human creatures hanging out around them. It was nice to have some fresh air and delight in the beautiful non-consumerist touristy part of the Kansai region.

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Afterwards, of course, we decided to dive straight into consumerism all over again. Our next stop was back in Osaka, to Denden Town—Osaka’s answer to Tokyo’s Akihabara, and the hub of otaku culture in the prefecture.

We arrived in the area at around 4PM, and one of the first things I saw was a wrestling-focused store, proudly proclaiming they had products that featured WWE’s Asuka. I geeked out at the paraphernalia (a RING of HONOR Championship replica!) and large selection of DVDs, and I wanted to buy a shirt or two, but unfortunately they had nothing that fit me.

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We then went to have a quick snack at a hybrid legitimate-restaurant-and-heat-your-own-food-yourself-shop, and then after few minutes of confused navigating, we found what had come for: JOSHIN Denden Town Kids Land! I went nuts. Kids Land is a 5-story toy store. The first floor featured character toys, Lego, and puzzles; the second featured plastic models (Gundam, etc.); the third was called “Tamiya Corner”; the fourth featured model vehicles and weapons; and the fifth featured train and railroad models. We were so excited to take Max to the train floors, but honestly, I was more excited for myself. Unfortunately, we found out that the train and railroad models were those for serious hobbyists, and the locomotives were insanely detailed replicas—not toys at all. We ended up getting Max a car wash set, and I bought some Star Wars and Dragon Ball “Figure Rise” plastic models that were on sale.

 

At about 7PM, we checked out a few more giant Joshin stores (cosmetics, home appliances, and electronics), but there wasn’t much to them besides being giant awesome Joshin stores—there wasn’t really anything else for us to shop for. We knew that there was more to Denden Town, but we were pretty tired and hungry by then, and we figured we had had our fill of the place with our huge shopping bags in tow. Max was also getting a little fussy. We decided to get some dinner and then head back to the hotel. We chose to have dinner in Yoshinoya, which served fast-food Japanese cuisine. Yoshinoya stores can also be found in Manila, and, frankly, they’re not very good. But our friends told us that Yoshinoya was excellent in Japan, and it was comfort food to them. 

Char had a gyudon (beef on rice in a bowl, topped with egg), and I had a gyudon topped with curry sauce. Max had some of Char’s food while watching YouTube videos on an iPad. I must say that our friends were right. My mouth is watering right now just thinking about their curry sauce.

It was then off to the train and back “home” to our hotel. When we got home, Max immediately fell asleep and didn’t even give us a chance to bathe him and brush his teeth. Char curled up and watched Twilight on Netflix—it’s still one of the things I don’t really understand about her. It’s like the universe’s way of compensating for her amazing-ness. I decided to assemble my Super Saiyan Son Goku model on the hotel room floor. Assembly took about an hour, and the succeeding photo shoot and social media posting took about 30 more minutes. 

By 12:45AM, I was falling asleep, with happiness in my tummy, thinking about Son Goku, Denden Town shopping, my dorky Twilight-loving wife, and my son squealing in delight as he fed those entitled deer.

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Since we visited Nara, Max is always points out deers in books and videos. He’ll say “dee!” (deer) and “kiki” (cookies). He loves watching his deer feeding videos over and over again. ❤

Osaka: Day 2 (Sunday)

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Good morning hair!

Mikey woke up early this time. He was energized from the massage (and antihistamines) from the night before. He left me and Max to grab us some breakfast from Family Mart. We decided to take Sunday slow. In our original itinerary, we planned on going to Den-den Town, Osaka’s tech and toy hub. But we decided to stay in Shinshaibashi and explore the area.

We took our time in the hotel that morning. We had our FamilyMart egg salad sandwich, prosciutto di parma (!), cheese, and baked rice breakfast. I enjoyed two cups of coffee from the 2ndfloor.

The first thing we needed to do that day was to visit the Pixar exhibit. We promised Max the night before that we would do it first thing. When we got to Daimaru, there was a bunch of people heading towards the exhibit. We didn’t think it would be a crowded thing since it wasn’t too crowded the night before. But we forgot that it was a Sunday and that most families with young children would probably visit on a Sunday.

The exhibit was on the 14thfloor. The elevator to the 14thlooked like it was going to be crowded, so we decided to take the one to the 13thand take the escalator up. While waiting, a lady from the concierge led everyone to take this same elevator instead. When we were inside waiting for the doors to close, the lady bowed apologetically, and stayed bowed until the the doors closed.

When we got to the 13th floor, they roped off a path heading towards the escalator to the 14th, to the ticket booth, the stroller parking area, and then finally the exhibit. We were so excited for Max. The exhibit was pretty cool! There were “life-sized” exhibits of all of his favorite Pixar movies. And just like Max’s Pixar obsession, the exhibit started with Toy Story. They made a huge replica of the Woody’s Roundhouse record player, Buzz Lightyear on RC, and a standee of Bonnie holding all of Andy’s old toys.

Very quickly, the whole draw of the place dawned on to us. There were lines for each exhibit and the whole point of the place was to take photos with them. That meant that you had very little time to explore the exhibit up close. My curious toddler did not understand this at all. He was finally seeing all of his favorite things in this huge scale and he wasn’t allowed to linger and play. On top of that, we had to wait in line for most of them to even get up close. Towards the end, we had said “no” and “wait” and “later” so many times that he was so frustrated. We actually left the exhibit with Max crying hysterically because he couldn’t play with Sulley and Mike Wazowski. It was kind of heartbreaking. Mikey carried him like a sack of rice to the gift shop and tried to distract him with the toys. He picked out a few things, but he was still in a bad mood.

He wanted to breastfeed his troubles away (and he was also teething—two lower front teeth were erupting), but it was hard. Eventually, I told Mikey that I thought we should have lunch in the hotel. So, Mikey went shopping in the food grocery in the basement while I breastfed Max in the bathroom (I did this a lot during our trip). We walked back to our hotel and when we got there, Max fell asleep right away. Mikey and I had a picnic and ate our take-out on the bed while Max slept. Mikey got a steak/beef bento box, gyoza, fired rice, and sushi for lunch. It was excellent.

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Since Max was sleeping, I decided to go out on my own to explore Shinshaibashi. I ended up spending all of my time (a little under an hour) in the first drug store I saw. Japan has really great skin care products, make-up, and seemingly random items for various ailments, so I loved exploring their drug stores. I was on the third (out of four) floor when Mikey messaged me to tell me that Max was awake and having lunch. I knew that it meant that I had to go soon, so I rushed through the last two floors and walked back to the hotel with my spoils.

We didn’t spent too much time in the hotel, we went out again to explore Shinshaibashi. It was kind of crazy. We took turns with Max whenever one of us wanted to explore a store. We went to Three Coins, the Disney Store, and I got to go to another GU (this one was bigger). Mikey got to spend some time in a tech and toy store, but he decided to hold off on his purchases until Den-den Town.

When Max was getting too nuts-o (I don’t think he understood why we kept stopping, he was just sitting in his stroller and got very bored), we took refuge at a Milky café. I had pasta, Mikey had pancakes, and Max had ice cream. Mikey also ordered an ice cream, but Max thought it was his again so he ate most of it. After Milky, we decided to just keep walking so that Max wouldn’t get annoyed. We just took note of stores that we wanted to hit at a better time. I guess this was the beauty of staying so close to Shinshaibashi. It would be easy to come back again.

We kept walking down the shopping lane and then eventually, we hit open air again. I looked up and gasped because right in front of us was the Glico Man sign. We had made it to Dohtonbori without knowing it! We didn’t realize that Shinshaibasi was connected to Dohtonbori.

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Dontonbori is a street full of food (restaurants and street food). Mikey got an order of grilled king crab legs from the famous Kani Doraku (the restaurant/take-out place with the giant mechanical crab on the sign) and Max ate a lot of it again. We spent some time (and money) letting Max run around in two arcades we saw along the way. We decide that it wasn’t really the best day to eat in Dontonbori since it was Sunday and there were a lot of people. Max was also still pretty cranky.

 

So we walked back to our hotel. We took another route and we got back in less than 10 minutes! We were seriously loving our hotel’s location. Max and I settled in while Mikey went out to get us dinner. He hit up a few places and came home with tokayaki, okonomiyaki, a huge butter garlic crilled oyster, fried oysters, rice, and drinks and dessert from Family Mart. Our room smelled like food, but it was an excellent dinner.

It wasn’t the easiest day with Max, but we felt like we got to know the lay of the land. I was starting to doubt how much we would be able to do on this trip since Max was having an extra fussy day, but without really trying, we just stumbled onto one of the spots we really wanted to hit. The universe was schooling me and my inner planner. She was saying: chill and let the magic find you.

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(Sometimes the Universe sounds like Mikey.)

Osaka: Day 1 (Saturday)

IMG_FBDDDF1172E3-1I woke up early on Saturday. I was excited and ready to explore. I was jealous of Mikey’s late night escapade and I wanted to go on an adventure. Mikey and Max were still sound asleep, so I took the opportunity to explore a bit. I went to 7-11 to pick us up some breakfast and I visited the coffee machine on the 2ndfloor of our hotel. By the time I got back, Max was awake and Mikey was still tucked in.

We had our konbini breakfast on the floor and got ready. We were supposed to head to Kaiyukan (Osaka Aquarium) that day and if time and energy permitted, the Osaka Castle.

The commute to the aquarium was about 30-40 minutes. We took the MRT and we were supposed to take a 10 minute walk to the aquarium, but it took longer because it started to rain and we only had one umbrella. I ran to the nearest konbini and picked up two umbrellas displayed in front. I didn’t look at the price (I mean, how expensive could umbrellas be?) and ran to the register because Max got fussy on the stroller whenever we had long stops. When the man rang it up, the two umbrellas cost me almost 4,000 yen (almost Php 2,000.00 or around USD 36.00). I was flabbergasted, but I didn’t have enough Japanese in me to cancel the transaction. Mikey just laughed at me.

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Made it to Osakako Station! ❤

From afar, it looked like the Aquarium was packed. There was a long line, but I quickly learned that in Osaka, long lines don’t mean slow lines (like they do over here). Everyone is always working and moving. I got the tickets pretty quickly and we folded up our stroller and left it at the receiving area.

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The exteriors of the aquarium. Max was screaming “ish!” when he saw this. 

There’s really only one route through the aquarium, so you basically follow the crowd. Looking back, maybe it wasn’t the best idea to visit the aquarium on a Saturday (it was packed), but the great thing about it was that it was never disorderly. And even if there were so many people, Max had a blast! He saw clownfishes, rays, sharks, whale sharks, dolphins, seals, penguins, and crabs. It was everything he saw in Finding Nemo and Finding Dory, live!

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My mesmerised little boy. ❤

The weeks leading up to our Japan trip, it was Finding Mamo (Nemo) fever in our home. We would watch Finding Mamo and Dory once (even twice) a day! He would get really excited when Dory explored the different exhibits in the Marine Life Institute. I would ask him, “do you want to go to an aquarium?” And he would always nod. Then I would say “we’ll go to one in Japan!” And he would smile and say “Pan!” After weeks of doing this with him, it finally came true.

Max would sit by the windows of the exhibits, press his face (and squish his nose) on the glass window, and watch the fish swim by. He screamed “kark!” and “ray!” and “ish!”. He kept screaming “Momma!” and “Papa!” also to make sure we were seeing what he was seeing. Seeing him light up like that was pretty amazing…it was life changing. Or maybe it’s life affirming? I can’t describe it eloquently. It was like being gobbled up a huge joyful cloud. It was also pretty amazing that this squealing, joyful child was the same kid we brought to the ER just a few days back. I was beyond grateful.

Before heading out, Max picked out a stuffed whale shark from the gift shop and I got him a small clownfish pin which he wore on his bib during our trip.

We walked to the mall next to the aquarium to get some lunch. The place was packed, so we ended up eating at an eat-all-you-can do-it-yourself kushikatsu restaurant. Max had some rice with miso soup and A LOT of cheese. He also had one cup of soft serve ice cream.

Side note: Oh my goodness, the soft serve ice cream in Japan is so amazing. We had it multiple times every day. It was so, so good.

After lunch, we put him on his stroller and 5 minutes later, he was knocked out. It helped that he was on his last day of the decongestant, but it gave me and Mikey some time to do a little shopping. There was a Daiso and a large drug store, so I got to pick up some really cool things. Mikey got to check out the Lego store at Legoland (which was connected to the mall).

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We always feel like winners when he falls asleep in his stroller. 

We got off a different MRT station on our way back to the hotel. That’s when we realized how great our hotel was. We were right next to an amazing shopping district. We also saw a sign that said that, Daimaru, the mall near our hotel had a Pixar exhibit. We knew Max would love it, so we were definitely going. On top of all of that, we realized that our hotel was ONE minute away from Ichiran, a popular ramen joint that came highly recommended among our friends.

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Shinshaibashi is love.

After a quick stop at the hotel, we walked back to Shinshaibashi to look around. We also visited the street parallel to Shinshaibashi which housed a lot of big stores like Nike and Apple. I also had my first taste of GU, Uniqlo’s even more affordable sister company.

We decided to have dinner at Ichiran and the timing was perfect. There’s usually a long line and you have to wait a while to be seated, but we came before the dinner rush. Our friends describe Ichiran as introverted ramen because you eat on a boxed-in table and your ramen is served to you through a small curtained window. It reminded me of those tables we used to have in our University Library. We sat on these stools that were bolted on to the floor (but we could twirl around in them).  Unfortunately, Max didn’t have a seat for himself, but he was surprisingly content with sitting in his stroller and watching ABC Kids TV on the iPad.

In Ichiran, you can customize different aspects of your ramen, like the richness of your broth, spiciness level, or the firmness of your noodles. I couldn’t be too adventurous because I was sharing with Max, so I just ordered the ramen the way they recommended us to have it. I also ordered extra rice for Max. I have to say, it was excellent ramen. Ramen isn’t my favorite thing, but the broth was just so flavorful and the pork was so soft. Max enjoyed it too. I would twirl around in my seat and feed him a spoonful of rice and ramen broth. He ate a lot that night!

After dinner, we checked out Uniqlo and then we went to the mall for the Pixar exhibit. Unfortunately, by the time we got there, the exhibit was closed. So, we told Max that we would go first thing the next day. We got to look around the Pixar gift shop though! And Max got a couple of Pixar themed mystery toy eggs from the vendo machines.

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at a random fast food joint and got ice cream. When we got back to the hotel, Max fell asleep without much effort and Mikey went out to get a massage. I took a hot bath and put on my PJs. The only English channel on TV was CNN, and I wasn’t in the mood for news, so I browsed through Netflix. There were so many more shows and movies in Netflix Japan compared to the Netflix we had at home. But being the lame-o that I am, I settled on Twilight Saga: Eclipse. Hehehe. I have all of them in Blu-ray at home, but who takes out discs to watch movies anymore?

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Mikey made friends with the women who gave him his massage. 

It dawned on to me how different things were now that we had a toddler. I looked back on our day and I thought of how we would’ve done it if it were just me and Mikey. We definitely would’ve made it to the Osaka Castle and Museum. We would’ve explored more of the shopping district. I could’ve enjoyed my ramen more. All of that was true. But there wasn’t even a hint of sayangI’m so glad that we got to take trips before Max. But all the challenges that come with travelling with a toddler is worth it when you see your kid experience the world in new ways. Love can be so illogical sometimes.

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What a wonderful world.