Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Day 11: Driving to NYC

We were supposed to leave Niagara Sheraton on the Falls by 10am, but for one reason or another, we left almost 11am. When we crossed the Rainbow Bridge to the US border, we got detained for a couple of hours in immigration along with other nationals. I swear, immigration people are the most unfriendly people there are.

We left the center around 1pm and had lunch at a Denny's nearby. Ethan threw up at the restaurant while Nikki decided to bring Allison to a nearby hospital ER to treat her ear infection that has been bothering her for a few days.

We drove on ahead with dad, Cols and the kids in our Hertz Nissan Altima. I just followed the GPS from Buffalo all the way to NYC passing through the I-90, I-86 route. It was a long boring ride because there was nothing scenic at all. Just miles and miles of freeway.

We had a stopover break at Cortland to buy supplies. We arrived at Embassy Suites NYC 11pm. I tried to return the car to the nearest Hertz drop-off point, but it was already closed. So I had to pay an extra night of parking across the hotel

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Day 10: Niagara Falls

We started the day with brunch at IHOP. Then dad joined us at Niagara Horseshoe Falls visitor center. We went through the "behind the falls" tour. After that, Les went to pickup the car to drive Dad home. Cols, Caitlin, Ethan and I had a long, slow walk back to the hotel.
We watched a 4D Spongebob movie feature and had dinner at Planet Hollywood to cap the day.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Day 9: Niagara Falls

I got a very disturbing txt from Judith about an NBI raid in the middle of the night that bothered me, so I did not get much sleep I called up Elvie long distance to clarify it and put my mind at ease. I got to sleep a couple of hours then woke up around 6am to get ready for our 8:30am flight to Toronto.

The weather this morning is terribly freezing. Les' relatives drove us to the domestic airport. When I stepped out of car to get a pushcart, the wind hitting exposed skin hurt like hell. This is pretty intense compared to New England winter.

When we got to the Air Canada check-in counter, the plane was already boarding. The airline officer assisted us and rushed through security. We were able to cut several lines, but had to go through the security checks that could not be avoided. Since we were a big group, it really took time to inspect each person. So I ran ahead to the terminal gate to stall the door from closing while the rest of the party caught up. Phew! Luckily, the plane waited for us.

I slept through most of the 4 to 5 hour flight. We arrived Toronto around noon. Toronto Pearson Airport is huge. For an airport this large, its odd that push carts are not free, but you have to pay for it. Even good ol' NAIA has stopped this practice already. Its very tourist-unfriendly.

Toronto is not really part of our itinerary. Its just the closest airport to Niagara. From the airport, first stop was to look for a Chinese restaurant (groan). We used the cars' GPS and ended up at China Palace outside the airport. From there, I got to talk to my former neighbor, Alfred, who is now based in Toronto.

Les and I bought some supplies at a nearby Walmart. Then we drove through Toronto to catch a glimpse of CN Tower, then drove onwards to Niagara. We arrived at our hotel, Sheraton by the Falls, very tired and sleepy.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Day 8: Boxing Day

Today is Boxing Day -- that's what North Americans call Dec 26, or the first or second weekday after Christmas Day. Its a day for major sale in all shopping establishments here. I guess its time to mark down those items that were not sold in time for Christmas Day.

Temperature was frigid again today. After lunch at a Chinese restaurant, we drove to Polo Park. We split up to do some shopping. While Cols went with Caitlin to do their girl shopping, I was left with Ethan. We were doing fine sitting at the bench when he suddenly decided he needed to poop. And he needed to do it fast!

I begged him to hold it but he said he couldn't. So we ran off to the far-end of the mall where there was a food court. The restrooms were there. As we ran up the short flight of stairs, I tripped and pulled Ethan with me. But not time to get embarrassed as it would be more embarrassing if Ethan poops in his pants.

The mens room was closed for cleaning. Luckily they had a "family" restroom where several members of the family regardless of gender can go in together at the same time. I took Ethan there to relieve himself. Phew! Disaster averted.

We stayed at the mall until early closing time. Driving home was tough with the windshield's low visibility due to ice. Just relied on the GPS to get us back to the main road to Nikki's house. Bought KFC on the way home for dinner.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Day 7: Christmas Day

Everything's closed today. After a lazy morning opening more gifts, we decided to take the kids tobogganing (is that a correct verb?) in the afternoon. Leslie took us to Kilcona Dog Park, a popular place for this activity during winter. There were a couple of dozen other people with the same idea. The place was just white snow as far as the eyes can see. The weather was freezing but the kids were all bundled up.

Toboggan is pretty much like sledding on a small hill. As always, Ethan was fearless. He sled down the hill without concern for his safety. And as usual, Caitlin is afraid to try it out at first. But once she got the hang of it, she won't stop. The kids sled down and walked up about a dozen times. Les and I also sled with them. It was kinda fun. But having cold snow powder hit you in the face while sledding down was a bit painful.

Cols was too cold so she went back to the car to wait for us. We stayed there for about an hour until the freezing weather was getting to be unbearable. We called it a day at around 6pm and headed home.

From Toboggan

Friday, December 24, 2010

Day 6: Our First Family White Christmas Eve

Christmas party was hosted by the Ko's tonight. Nikki and Les' relatives and friends came over. As is usual in North America, it was a potluck dinner. The Nintendo Wii Just Dance was a hit with the younger crowd.

From Christmas Eve 2010

At the stroke of midnight, it was gift opening time!

From Christmas Eve 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Day 5: Slow Life in Winnipeg

We flew in last night from Winnipeg. Our flight was delayed by a couple of hrs. The plane arrived in Winnipeg almost 1am their time (2-hrs ahead of Vancouver). Nikki picked us up from the airport early morning. Weather here is colder than Whistler at -7C.

The Ko house is about 30 mins from the airport. By the time we settled down, it was about 3am and we all went to sleep.

Woke up near noontime. Just stayed home with Ethan and played with the snow in the front porch while Cols and Caitlin went to watch a play with Nikki and William. We lasted only about 15 mins outside and came back in. Ethan took a nap while I accompanied Leslie to pick up Claire from her day care.

It gets dark here very early in Canada during winter. It felt like nighttime by as early as 4pm. After dinner, went to a 24-hr Wal-Mart. The place was packed with Filipinos -- from customers to store attendant. I've never seen so many Pinoys gathered in one place in North America. You can hear Filipino spoken left and right.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Day 4: Last Day at Vancouver

We took it slowly in the morning and checked out by 11am. We walked a few blocks to look at shops Pacific Center Mall. Nothing much to buy. It started to drizzle so we ran back to the hotel.

We drove off toward Vancouver International Airport by 12:30pm. Had a stopover at Safeway to buy some supplies. Outside Safeway was a Chinese restaurant across the street. Since it was still quite early, we had a quick lunch and left 1:45pm for the airport which was 10 mins away.
I filled-up the rental car with gas at the airport gas station first before returning. Cost only CAD 49. The rental salesman was offering me CAD 100 for them to fill it up when we got the car. Good thing I did not listen to him. Lesson learned -- never listen to the car rental salesman.
We drove in to the Budget garage just in time for our deadline. The guy gave me a receipt showing $830 vs. $700. I clarified it at the Budget counter and turned out they charged extra for going over 2pm by a couple of minutes. The guy waived it since it was noted that we rented it out past 2pm anyway.

At YVR airport, we used the self-service kiosk to check ourselves in. Just scanned our passport on the kiosk to lookup our Westjet reservation in their system. However, we could not print the baggage tags until 3hrs prior to flight so we hanged out at the food court to pass time.
Our 6:45pm flight got delayed to 8pm due to late arrival of the plane. Because of the snow, it was very low visibility in the place where the plane came from. Based on the new schedule, we will be arriving Winnipeg 12:30am given the 2-hr time differential. Thankfully, there's free public wifi to help pass the time.

YVR is also child-friendly. They have kids areas showing cartoons and play areas at the terminal gates. The kids were too sleepy to care though so they took a nap while waiting.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Day 3: Mushing!

Seems that no matter how early we go to sleep, we still seem to always end up rushing in the morning. Today, we had to rush to the Hilton for our 9:30am dog-sled booking. The Adora receptionist who booked our tour said that they will forfeit our slot (and payment) if we're late! We did get there about 10 mins late, but luckily, there were no problems. We took a big van with a newlywed couple to go to the sledding area.

The whole sledding tour is supposed to be 2.5 hrs. But it turned out that almost 40 mins of that is just going back and forth to/from drop-off point. When we got to the sledding area, the guide gave a quick intro on the tradition of sledding and how the sleds today are still pretty much the same in design as they were hundreds of years ago by the Native Americans. They gave us a quick intro to the dogs and off we went.

Cols and Ethan went in one sled, while Caitlin and I in another. The sled is 7-ft long and can accommodate a max of 2 adults and 1 kid. It would have been cheaper actually if its 2 adults and 1 kid because they would charge about half price for the kid. But since we were 4, we had to take 2 sleds @ $145/person. Ouch!

The fresh snow was very thick and powerdery. The kids loved it. There was also a little snowfall while sledding on the way back. But other than that, it was beautiful, bright weather. The trail through the forest was not that long. The dogs would rest every now and then and start running again when you should "mush!". I sat inside the sled at first but it was quite uncomfortable. So on the trip back, I decided to ride beside our dogsledder.

We got back to Adara by noon and drove off. We stopped over a Chinese restaurant with a Filipina manager at the next town. The Chinese food was terrible, but we had no choice since the kids were not into western food.

I was quite sleepy driving back through 99-South. The kids were knocked out at the back seat. We tried to pass the Capillano Suspension Bridge but since the kids were asleep, we did not go down anymore. I peeked from the outside but there was no photo opportunity as it is completely blocked by walls. The entrance was pretty expensive too. Not worth paying just to take photos.

Went back to the car and drove through traffic at Lions Gate Bridge. We arrived back at Sutton around 4pm. The kids rested at the room while I went out to buy truffle puree at Urban Fare. Also bought pizza for dinner (finally!); McDonalds nuggets and rice for the kids.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Day 2: Off to Whistler

First night sleep at North America. Had a bit of a jet lag. Woke up at around 3:30am and could not get back to sleep until 5am. Must be an effect of getting old. I've never had problems sleeping with jet lag before.

We must have been more tired than we thought. Since Cols closed the thick drapes last night, the room remained dark in the morning. So we did not really know that the sun was already up. We broke into a panic when Cols announced that it was already 11am! I had to immediately call the Reception to ask for a late checkout since we could not possibly get ready in such a short time. The Sutton Place people were very nice and gave us a 30 min extension.

The kids ate their take-out rice from last night and instant noodles at the room. I consumed my CAD 20 coupon at the hotel restaurant with a big club sandwich. The serving was pretty big so I could only eat half and took out the other half.

We left Sutton around 1pm and drove off to Whistler. A GPS is not really necessary as going to Whistler is very straightforward. I just looked at the city map to get an idea how to get out of the city. Once out, you just follow the signs through the Sea-to-Sky Highway all the way to Whistler. I drove at regular speed (80 ~ 100 kmph) and got to Whistler Village around 4pm -- just in time for our check-in at Adara Hotel.

The Adara is a small, 3-storey, boutique hotel in Village Green. Whistler Village is pretty small. So everything is just walking distance. We were booked at Room 220. The room came with a microwave oven and free Wifi Internet access. Actually, the Wifi provider is not really the hotel but Wireless in Whistler. So you can take out your laptop and connect to the access point even if you are far away from the hotel. The other SSID I could see was that of Basewireless which supposedly has a 100mbps fiber link to the Internet.

From Whistler

We walked around Whistler Village but it got dark early and activities are closed by this time. Ethan started complaining he was hungry by 5pm, so we had early dinner at the Japanese sushi-to-go take-out counter at the Visitor Center.

Our room aircon was very noisy. Everytime the thermostat kicks in, it hums really loudly. I actually preferred having the window just open but Cols could not sleep with the voice of people outside. At around 1am, everyone woke up and took some time to get back to sleep again.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Day 1: Visiting Vancouver

We left for the airport from Valle around 12:30pm together with the folks but in 2 separate cars. The traffic was light so we got to the airport will lots of time to spare. Went through several security checks. It was pretty cumbersome to put on and off my 16-year old Timberland hiking boots. These pair have seen better days. This is probably the last trip that it will take with my feet. I'm retiring it afterwards.

While waiting for our flight, we spotted Bob Arum (Manny Pacquiao's boxing promoter) and his wife. They are apparently taking the same flight PR 106 that we're taking. The plane flies first to Vancouver and then proceeds to Las Vegas. The flight departure was delayed by about an hour due to late arrival of the aircraft from Honolulu.

The actual flight was about 12-hrs. I sat with mom, while Cols sat with the kids at the first row of the cabin section. Ethan was restless most of the way, while eating airline food was a challenge for Caitlin. In-flight movie was Julia Robert's Eat Pray Love. The projector quality was so poor though that I was better off watching Leonardo DiCaprio's Inception (which I might add -- is very difficult to comprehend in one sitting) on the laptop before getting some shut-eye.

We arrived in Vancouver 12:50pm same day. Caitlin finds the international dateline thing very amusing. We arrived in our destination at an earlier time from when we left Manila. Vancouver Airport (YVR) is very nice and spacious. Makes one realize how pathetic our NAIA airports are (even T3) in comparison.

We split up with folks as they proceeded to the domestic terminal for their transfer to Winnipeg, while we went to the rental car parking. I booked for an standard SUV, but the Budget guy sales-talked me into getting a full-sized Ford SUV. He said that when it snows hard, the highway patrol do not allow 2-wheel drive vehicles to drive up to Whistler. Since that is the highlight of our Vancouver trip, I did not want to gamble. Wrong mistake. That doubled my budget after he added insurance, car seats, etc. to about USD700 for the 3 days. (In hindsight, I should have stuck with the much cheaper standard SUV. There really small cars going up and down the Sea-to-Sky Highway to Whistler!)

I didn't rent a GPS unit anymore and just followed my Yahoo Maps instruction to get us to Sutton Place in Burrard Street right in downtown Vancouver. After settling our stuffs down, we went looking for Walmart to get snow boots for the kids but ended up in the neighboring Superstore instead. Got the snow boots for about USD20. Stopped by a Chinese restaurant on the way home. The kids do not go for western food. Thankfully, there are so many Asians in Vancouver (supposedly a third of the population) that finding Chinese/Cantonese food was not a problem.

We reached back the hotel past 8pm. Everyone was dead tired and went to sleep.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Most Popular Car Colors

I read in a newspaper article today that according to paint manufacturer, DuPont, half of the world's cars are colored silver (26%) or black (24%). While there are slight variations in taste depending on the country, it normally does not deviate significantly from that global trend. Hmm... of our 3 cars, 2 are silver. So I guess our taste in car color is the same as the majority.

Enabling 3D Secure

I finally got around to enabling 3D Secure support on Mozcom PayEasy Online Payment System this afternoon. The "3D" has nothing to do with 3-dimension. Rather, it stands for "Three Domain" authentication. 3D Secure is an XML-over-SSL protocol that essentially allows the card-issuing bank to prompt the cardholder for a password during online payment instead of just relying on the easily-copied/viewable 3-digit CVV.

While there are not that many 3D Secure capable cards in the Philippines yet, that seems to be the global trend. And since our PayEasy merchants deal with customers from around the world, we have no choice but to support it. I heard in Europe, it is already a requirement for online merchants to comply.

Locally, enabling 3D Secure on your credit card can range from really simple to really frustrating. I enabled 3D Secure on my Standard Chartered today also. Its really straightforward. Just go to Standard Chartered Philippines and click on the Worry-Free Online Shopping link. It will just prompt your for basic info about your card (CVV, expiry date), your birthday, then the 3D Secure password you want, and an extra phrase that you want to be displayed in the 3D Secure page so you are sure its your bank's website. Really simple.

Now for the really frustrating -- Metrobank Card. At first glance, enabling 3D Secure on Metrobank credit cards also look trivial. Just go to their site and click the link to Secure Online Shopping (SOS). It will prompt you for your credit card number. When you click next, that's where the complexity begins. It prompts you for the SOS PIN which the bank is supposed to send to you via SMS.

I've already called Metrobank Card (Tel: 8700700) four (4) times for my SOS PIN in the past 2 weeks. Up to this date, I still have not received it. Everytime I call their call center, I would get some lame excuse (ex. system maintenance) and the phone operator would give some equally lame promise that I will receive it within the day. Up to now, nada, nil, zilch. Really poor service. Metrobank Card is a tie-up between Metrobank and ANZ of Australia/New Zealand. So its supposed to be at par with global standards. But my experience so far with them has been nothing but disappointing.

Saturday, December 4, 2010 Discontinued

Darn! My favorite file-uploading service is shutting down its doors. I guess without a really good business model other than subscription-based service, it was bound to happen. Luckily for them, they were bought out at least by Facebook. So hopefully, the founders were able to get some money out of their brainchild.