The disappointment that was Sotogrande hotel and resorts

It's funny that I'm writing this eight months after our trip in Cebu (and posting this, err, four years after) and I still distinctly remember the sad feeling of watching a few foreigners dancing away downstairs, trying to imbibe a party atmosphere during new year's eve. And then going upstairs to watch the fireworks of nearby resorts. That was fun, but the pitiful fireworks display of Sotogrande was just sad.

Our Cebu trip was our honeymoon escape a few weeks after our wedding, which landed on New Year. Since we had to book early, I scouted for hotels that has a beach, that is peaceful, and can provide us relaxation. We were supposed to book BE Resort Mactan but the mandatory P3,500 per person for the new year's eve celebration turned us off. So we searched away for other options.

Then I chanced upon Sotogrande Hotel, which seems promising. It has a beach, the room is beautiful, and best of all, it's affordable. It's along the coast line of popular beach resorts Movenpick and Shangri-La Mactan. Also, it did not demand mandatory fee for the new year's eve.





All of those were true. Sotogrande has a beach, but it's clearly man made and the water is not clear or clean enough to bathe in. There were a lot of gunk and seaweed on the shoreline. Plus, to access the beach, you had to ask the hotel for a special pass because it is actually in the premises of the other hotel/resort. Same with the pool. It's weird and inconvenient. But then again, Sotogrande is located in somewhat a residential area that has three hotels owned by one company. And these hotels share one beachfront and a swimming pool. Yay.




For the room, it is indeed beautiful. We availed of the Suite Room, which is cheap at P5,600. The room has a living room, a dining table for two, couches, and a huge bedroom, which can be closed with a divider. The disappointment lies in the bathroom, which was too small for a bathroom that has a bathtub. For a suite room, I imagined it to be as vast as the one in Shangri-La Boracay. But when you shower, the whole bathroom becomes wet because everything drips. There are also some rust that smells through the water. The bathroom rug was constantly wet and it was very annoying.




The bed though was very soft and we had a relaxing time watching TV on the couch.

Another disadvantage is its location. There were no nearby stores or restaurants in the 'residential area' where the hotel is located. You have to walk for almost 10 minutes to reach the gate of the 'village' and ride a tricycle to reach the nearest McDonald's and 7/11. There were also restaurants in the area, which is a plus.

The hotel's buffet breakfast is a bit boring too. For days, the food seem unlike the other breakfast buffets I've gone to. It's like levelled up carinderia with an omelet station. There are also cereals and milk for an American breakfast but the rice and viand station is a bit boring for me.

But what can we do so we can enjoy our honeymoon? We just went to the city proper to do a bit of sightseeing or just buying stuff here and there.

Then there's the new year's eve that I mentioned earlier. True enough, there's no special dinner or whatever - there was, however, a sound system blasting downstairs on the street near the other hotel. A bit later, some foreigners started to dance and request songs to be played on the sound system. I was just amused while watching them in our bedroom window. There were some Koreans dining/drinking downstairs and when Psy's Gangnam Style blasted from the speakers, the Koreans started spilling outside and dancing to the music. It was funny but it was a bit sad too.

Being one of the few Pinoys in the hotel, the crew said that the best view of the fireworks is on the rooftop. We trooped along with the staff and found ourselves on the rooftop, where we had 360 degree view of all the fireworks display in Mactan and in the city. It was awesome! I only had my smartphone with me, so the photos were not very good.

So for those planning a vacation in Cebu, don't settle for the cheapest. Try to do extensive research on your accommodation to avoid hassle we encountered. Plus, if you really want to visit a beautiful beach, don't settle for those found in Mactan. Go to Bantayan island, where there are cheaper accommodations but more awesome beaches that you can find.


Where to eat in Seoul: James Cheese & Back Ribs


Have you imagined having spicy pork back ribs with the slight saltiness of cheese and the crunch of corn? This is the basic premise of James Cheese & Back Ribs, a hip restaurant for the beer-drinking, calorie-consuming youth of Seoul, Korea. 

It may sound weird - grilled marinated pork that you can coat in cheese... However, photos from those who have already eaten there made us think otherwise. The restaurant has two branches (that we know of) in Seoul - Hongdae and Myeongdong. Because we went to Trickeye Museum early in the morning, we headed to James Cheese & Back Ribs for lunch.

The facade of the restaurant

Hongdae is a neighborhood near Hongik University and is filled with restaurants, bars, cafes, and shopping areas intended for the youth. As expected, James Cheese & Back Ribs serve alcohol to go with the pork back ribs. And since we were there for lunch, the restaurant only had a table occupied by some Chinese tourists. 

Although it's near the university, the restaurant is far from affordable. One order is 9,000 KRW for only one person so we had to order two. The total damage to our wallets is 18,000 KRW or almost Php 800. 

The menu
A portable stove on your table is already set up and after ordering, the staff will provide you with the basic side dishes - (left to right) buttered corn, radish, pickles, and kimchi.


The interior of the restaurant is pretty sleek with the wooden tables, black ceiling. black chairs, and wooden tissue holders. The utensils are placed in a steel bucket that later converts into a container to dump your discarded pork bones.


Cute restaurant name signage


Once your order is ready, the staff will place this stone grill platter on the portable stove, which they will operate. Soon, you can see the cheese melting and bubbling. The staff will then help you separate the back ribs by using the scissors provided in the bucket on your table. Aside from the pork and cheese, they also provide you with extra corn, egg, and... I forgot that white thing on the sides.


See it bubbling away...

Plastic gloves are provided so you can eat with your hands. What's tricky is how you coat your pork back ribs with the cheese, which you can pull from the grill with the chopsticks. Once the cheese loses its heat, it would be harder to pull it and coat on the pork. So eat it while it's hot!


The cheese used was mozzarella so it was a bit bland. However, it did its job to neutralize the spiciness of the sauce used in the pork ribs. It's like eating deconstructed pork BBQ pizza without the bread. The sauce of the pork ribs is flavorful enough to make us forget that the blandness of the cheese.

It was not strange - it's an interesting concept which we haven't experienced here in our country. I also wondered how nice it would have paired with beer, like pizza and beer but for this one, with more effort.


Several messy minutes later, the steel bucket is now filled with the discarded pork bones. Even without our usual source of carbs - rice- we felt full after that meal. All in all, we were happy to have stuffed all those meat and cheese in our belly. Given the chance, we'll dine there again and probably try it during dinner just for a change.






Where to go in Seoul: BAU House Dog Cafe

The staff naturally love and care for the dogs in the dog cafe. They get to go on walks everyday too.

During international trips, one won't have the luxury to sit around unless you prefer staying in cafes rather than exploring the city. But when we went to Seoul this June - during the height of MERS-CoV in the country - we had the luxury to sit around because of scare of transmitting the virus in major tourist spots.


And so on our third day in the city, we decided to relax at BAU House, a dog cafe located at Mapo-gu, near Hongdae. Going to the dog cafe is easy - alight at Hapjeong station, go out at exit #3, walk a bit on the main road, and turn on an alley. The signage to the dog cafe is prominent, so you would have no problem locating it. Here's a screenshot from Google Maps:


My sister's expectation was that the place would be stinky with the number of dogs in the enclosed area. But when we got in, the smell was not overpowering, plus the dogs were clean and looked well-taken care of.

The dog cafe has two areas: One area for the small dogs and another area for the medium to large dogs. There's no entrance fee but you just have to buy a drink or a snack naturally priced high so they can pay for maintenance and the staff in the cafe.

My first friend: the Schnauzer who I befriended in the small dog area and later got lost in the medium-large dog area.

The place is heaven! At first we were told to take the seats in the small dog area. Immediately, several dogs flocked on my lap, including a cute Schnauzer.

Aside from the menu, the staff will also give you a paper-sized card containing the photos, names, and breeds of the dogs in the cafe. You can also buy dog treats - small-sized treats and sticks. Best to buy the small-sized treats for better management of the dogs - they tend to flock to you when they smell the treats.


Some foreigners who felt helpless after they were surrounded by the dogs. The staff are willing to help out at anytime

For dog lovers, the place is heaven - you can relax by just watching the dogs, enjoy their company as they snuggle near your seat, or relax while petting them. The dogs are well trained -  they know how to sit, shake, and high five in exchange for treats. The dog cafe sells dog treats but only for the medium to big dogs. Even the Alaskan malamute was game to show off his dog tricks in exchange for the treats:




We had so much fun during our first time there that we decided to go again during our last day in Seoul. We arrived at the cafe during the opening so the place smelled strongly of cleaning agent. The fun part was that as soon as we took our seat, almost all the dogs flocked to us, climbed on our seats and table, and sniffed us. Heaven!

 My sister and I enjoying the dogs' attention as we were the only ones in the cafe at that time


A poor and old cocker spaniel which wore a shirt snuggled near me as it shivered from the cold. Cuuute! But poor baby. Even the huge Alaskan Malamute went under our table and settled there to rest.


We also had a date with this cute and friendly Golden Retriever using the dog treats as reward. He sat beside us and even slung his hand on my sister's arm, begging for more treats. Cute!


My favorite dog was this Cavalier King Charles Spaniel with the huge floppy ears. At first it was just sleeping but eventually went to sit on our table. It was my first time to encounter this breed. So cute!


 

The only dog that we were scared of was the Tervuren named Ho Su. Aside from it being part of the Belgian Shepherd family, he/she seemed to not be gentle in terms of taking the treats. We also noticed that Ho Su was always called at by the staff. There was also a time when my sister offered the treat and Ho Su's fangs seemed to graze on her hand. Scary.


There was a young and playful black labrador that love to play with the golden retrievers.


Beware though when the dogs decide to poop or pee - they sometimes do it randomly on the floor. The Tervuren named Ho Su dumped a large amount of poop during our first visit but it was immediately cleaned by the staff.

All in all, visiting the dog cafe is relaxing. During our second visit there, we stayed for two hours and we don't want to leave yet. That's how enjoyable the experience was.

More photos:



 

 






How to get to BAU House:
Naver map: http://me2.do/x2JkUss6
Google map: https://goo.gl/maps/Fnf25


Where to bike for free in Seoul: Oksu Station



You may have heard or read that eerie Korean comic set in Oksu station in Korea. The comic revolved on a guy who was dragged into the railroad tracks by a ghost. Today, with the provision of barriers, no ghosts can drag you to the railroad tracks.

Aside from Oksu station being a home to an urban legend it is also your gateway to experiencing free biking along the Han river through the Hangang park. All you need is just an ID to rent a bike for two hours.

With the information gathered from a blog, we braved the busy Oksu station and followed the instructions of the blogger to no avail. The blogger said vaguely that after you take exit 3, cross the pedestrian, you will see the building where you can rent the bikes.

Because of the vague instruction, we spent the next 15-30 minutes getting lost and finding a way using the available free WiFi. Thanks to some Malaysians or Indonesians who bravely asked some bystanders, we were led to the building, which was quite a walk away and is impossible to see from the Oksu station exit.

So here's a visual guide thanks to Google Street View:

1) Take Exit #2 or #3



2) Cross the pedestrian lane until you reach the sidewalk

3) Walk along the sidewalk where you can see an apartment building. Walk straight.


4) You will reach a fork ahead of you and a pedestrian lane. Cross it and walk again.


5) Walk until you reach the apartment building. By this time, you can see the biking building on the other lane.



6) Cross the pedestrian lane that would lead you to an island. Cross the other pedestrian lane again.


7) Welcome to the biking building!



See, that was not a short walk from the Oksu station. In the future, I hope that I could help someone with this post hahaha.

Entering the building, you will be welcomed by an middle-aged man who will get your ID, ask you to sign on a sheet, and let you pick a bike parked inside the building. Among the choices are kids' bikes, bikes with basket attached, and mountain bikes.

 

I picked a red mountain bike while my sister picked a bike with a basket. We took the downhill road close to the building and headed to the bike lane. We headed to the Seoul forest, which would require you to cross a wooden-floored bridge. There are plenty of signs that would let you know if you're close to the forest.

            



Our favorite part was going to look at the deer in the forest. You need to find the signage (below) after you walk uphill and lead you to footbridge that stretches two highway lanes. There was a signage that says that you can't use a bike on the footbridge but several bikers disregard the warning and bike there nonetheless. The footbridge is not very narrow but losing your balance would mean crashing onto someone or banging on the rails.

Yes, the 6nd gate! How do you pronounce that? :))

The footbride as seen from the highway in StreetView

Nearing the end of the footbridge, you will be able to see a lake below and then a caged facility where the deers are resting.



You might have noticed that we wore surgical masks as our trip fell on the height of MERS in Seoul. A local advised us that we would just look strange in the crowd of people without masks but for us, it was our protection against Koreans who sneeze and cough without covering their mouths. There's nothing wrong in taking extra precaution.

I'm ending this post with a short video of me biking. You can see that the biking lane is asphalted and well constructed. People can jog on the right side while bikers can bike on the left side. I wish that someday the Philippines can have this facility so that bikers won't have to fear for their lives while biking alongside trucks and irresponsible drivers in the streets. Haha, wish ko lang talaga.