Davao Metro Card Club

Metro Card Club

I realized after staying a few days in Davao that there was a Card club a few blocks from my hotel!  Metro Card Club is one of the best poker rooms I’ve ever played in, and I’ve probably played in at least 40 across the world.

Metro Card Club Davao

Inside of Metro Card Club Davao

The good:

- Loose games / plenty of terrible players
- Live acoustic music / vocals
- Tournaments every day to bring in players
- Comps tickets for food / drinks (play 2 hours, get 4BB in comps)
- Ability to store cash at cage (no real minimum)
- Quick floor people always on top of filling seats / getting cash and seem to give a shit
- Quick and good dealers (not once do I remember a mistake being made)
- Promoting open seats in higher limit games over speaker frequently
- Free beer some nights until 12 PM (Monday and Friday?)
- A pot of free food served usually around 10 (strange gruel like substance, didn’t try)
- In tournaments if you finish out of the top 3 places but in the money, you can receive double your winnings if you play cash games for an hour
- Super late entry for tournaments into 4th or 5th round
- Massages available
- Omaha games a couple days a week (usually on weekends)
- Cute dealers/floor staff ;)
- No explicit cutoff for time serving alcohol – since most bars close at 1 or 2am, could make a good afterparty spot (if not abused)

The bad:

- High rake at 10% – all poker is managed by a PAGCOR, a central gaming authority who long ago dictated this amount. The games are still beatable, but a ton of money leaving the table this way, a lot of new money has to come to the table (fortunately it does here)
- Players don’t like to show hands at showdown first (slows the game down)
- Games start late around 7 at the earliest (filling up more as people bust out of tourney)
- Low stakes – 25-25 blinds highest limit
- Frequent short stacks (also a good thing sometimes, but adds extra dynamics to proper play when players are pushing on draws and mid pocket pairs pre-flop.

Poker Chips from Metro Card Club

10p and 100p Poker Chips from Metro Card Club Davao

 

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Gothenburg, Sweden

Gothenburg Sweden impressions

I only visited the city during the week so I wasn’t really able to experience the night life fully.  There really wasn’t much to do.  I spent a lot of my time just hanging around the main mall people watching.

Looking down on Gothenburg main street

Looking down on Gothenburg main street

I took a tram up to the well-reviewed Gardens on tripadvisor, but it was pretty sad.  Then again, it was basically winter.

Botanical Garden (Botaniska Tradgarden)

Botanical Garden (Botaniska Tradgarden)

 

That was the only photo I took of the entire gardens – the rest of it was entirely forgettable.  I passed only a couple of people walking on the grounds, locals out for some exercise.

This leg of my trip did give me one of the most best memories that I’m glad I got on video.  I took a train from Copenhagen to Gothenburg (and later onto Stockholm) and there was an awesome cloud formation that gives you one of those moments of “Ok the world is fucking awesome.  How many people really get to see this special thing right now?”, similar to seeing the northern lights in Reykjavik.

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Copenhagen, Denmark

Impressions of Copenhagen

It’s no wonder everyone rides a bike here.  The streets and sidewalks are mostly old uneven European brick, making walking large distances painful and sometimes dangerous if you aren’t looking where you’re stepping.  When I say everyone, I’m not kidding – seeing bike parking like this was commonplace everywhere:

copenhagen 8

 

Here I’m climbing one of Copenhagen’s old churches and looking out over the city:

Once I caved into renting a bike from the hostel I was staying at, my mobility in the city increased greatly and so did my enjoyment.  I didn’t have to worry about walking to some far corner of the city for a night club or a restaurant that didn’t exist anymore – I could just bike away.  The bike came equipped with a rear-wheel lock that was self-enclosed and part of the bike itself – no need to carry around a stupid bike lock everywhere.

I ate some pizza at Gorm’s

Ate a buffet at Restaurant Samos

Healthy salads at Chilimili

After a couple days at the hostel I switched to Hotel Adlon just down the street

Had cocktails at Ruby

Was creeped out by some younguns at Wall Street Pub

In the meatpacking area of Vesterbro, I went to club Jolene and Karriere

If you like candy, you’ll like Danish movie theaters:

I did make a stop to Casino Copenhagen but only played poker for a short time.  An entry ticket just to get in the door is 90 DKK (about $16) which kind of sucks.

Casino Copenhagen chips

Casino Copenhagen chips

Overall, the food and nightlife were decent, but not anything special that I’d make an effort to return to.

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Vancouver Bars and Clubs Reviews and Recommendations

I lived in Vancouver for around 15 years and I’m 34 now so I’ve got a pretty good vibe on its different night spots.  Especially since last year I quit my job and didn’t do much beyond play poker and go out. Probably too much, my wallet and health would argue.   So I decided to write a Vancouver Nightlife Guide, hopefully it will be useful to someone out there.
Vancouver is nice that it has a very central street called Granville where many popular bars reside. During summer and the busy times of year the street is walking traffic only. I’ve linked their yelp profiles for reference. Take what people say there with a grain of salt about clubs (a lot of haters); some places are shit on some nights though. Bars stay open until 2 or 3am (with the occasional 4am for some places on special holidays).

Info is up to date up until around Oct 2012.
Most bars have an event promoter that posts parties they have on clubzone (http://www.clubzone.com/h1/vancouver/nightlife.html). Great to know what’s happening at places on off-weekend days and where to avoid on weekends that will have huge cover and huge lines. Most weekend cover is between $15 and $20 for the busy clubs.
Some bars allow you to sign up for guest list on Clubzone. But it’s sometimes only valid until 11 or 12, and sometimes you’ll still have to pay cover (it’s only “VIP line”).
If you go out enough you’ll probably meet different promoters and bartenders that you can hit up for guest list (they want you to come spend money there). Sometimes I feel guilty about doing this when it’s the only contact we’ve recently had and I’m asking for something, but I keep remdining myself that it benefits them if they’re working and people come to the bar.

One problem with Vancouver that’s especially prolific in the summer is massive lineups at nearly all the popular clubs. For both the VIP and the regular lineup. Often friends of bouncers/staff will just skip both. Table service skips all lines but cheap bottles are expensive ($120++). Past 11:30 at night until 1:30, you can pretty much forget about walking into any of the clubs such as (Library Square, Venue, Republic, Ceilis, Caprice, Roxy, sometimes Barcelona) unless you want to wait in line for 1-2+ hours. Over time, bouncer rapport game can help at some venues which can be HUGE or sometimes greasing $20 if done smoothly can skip the line but you’ll still have to pay cover.

Monday:
Cellar (http://www.yelp.ca/biz/the-cellar-nightclub-vancouver) I think still has different events on Monday that are very busy. In Winter they have apres ski events that people who go snowboarding etc. come to drink afterwards. There’s not much open. Just people that might be at pubs.

Tuesday:
Go to Celebrities (http://www.yelp.ca/biz/celebrities-nightclub-vancouver). Line up can start getting long some days as early as 9:30 especially in summer. Mix of students and clubbers.
Cellar has live reggae which can be a good change sometimes but it wasn’t packed.

Wed:
Starting to get a little busier. A few people at Cellar (DJ).
“Casa 967″ at Caprice (http://www.yelp.ca/biz/caprice-night-club-vancouver) is busy and packed with foreigners (usually student).
Ceili’s (http://www.yelp.ca/biz/ceilis-irish-pub-vancouver) is packed with people because of their dollar beer special. Expect long lines, many drunk people.

Thursday:
Cellar has a live band and is busy. Many foreigners again as promoters give out tickets for free near student housing. A lot of regulars come here each week.
Republic (http://www.yelp.ca/biz/republic-vancouver) will have people coming and gonig through the night, but they will probably only be open upstairs.

Fri-Sat:
Everywhere is busy. Here are my preferred spots to hang out because you can usually get in without waiting a long time in line, slightly older crowd, better music.
Joseph Richard (http://www.yelp.ca/biz/joseph-richard-nightclub-vancouver). But good ratios sometimes and guys usually stand around a lot holding their drinks.
Barcelona (http://www.yelp.ca/biz/barcelona-ultra-lounge-vancouver) attractive crowd, decent ratios, reactions to being approached can range from friendly to ice princess.
Ginger 62 (http://www.yelp.ca/biz/ginger-62-vancouver). My favorite club in Vancouver – great staff, good music, great crowd (least douchy of the Granville strip bars). Since it’s near the end of the strip it gets a little less walk-in traffic of bro’s and ho’s. Gets busy but often is the right amount of full where you aren’t shoulder to shoulder shuffling around. A lot of non-VIP seating compared to most Granville bars (usually none). Take care of the bartenders and they’ll take care of you.

Sometimes if I’m not into going down to the strip I might go check out Pint and Vinyl (closest Skytrain is Stadium Station).
Pint (http://www.yelp.ca/biz/the-pint-public-house-vancouver) is a bar/pub that on Friday/Saturday that strangely has turned into a similar vibe/crowd as Yaletown Brewing Company (more on them later) – small dance floor, DJ booth, people standing around with drinks and mingling.
Vinyl (below Pint) (http://www.yelp.ca/biz/vinyl-retro-dance-lounge-vancouver) very young crowd, shorter lines, many UBC students. Top 40 / dance / 80s and 90s.

Sunday:
Republic has live reggae. I feel very white there sometimes. Worth checking out but line can get busy during peak hours.
Just next door is Roxy (http://www.yelp.ca/biz/the-roxy-vancouver) playing live country music. If you’re into that kind of thing. Crowd is a little older and can approach the cougar age. Best way to descrive Roxy would be a sports/rock/pickup bar.
Special Mention:
Factory (http://www.yelp.ca/biz/the-factory-vancouver) – cheap drink specials, friendly bartenders, and nearly everything on the menu is $6. Notable since most entrees downtown could run $12-$15… You can’t walk around with a drink but if you’re at the bar you can open people next to you.
(Similar to Factory is http://www.yelp.ca/biz/famous-warehouse-vancouver nearby).

Cellar – I’ve mentioned it a few times because it’s open every day but Sunday. Next door is a hostel so there’s a lot of internationals that come here. In the back is stairway upstairs to Doolin’s so you can go back and forth to check out both spots.

Yaletown Brewing Company – bar with a pool table that was known for a long time as a good place to pickup with mixed crowd of some yuppies and randoms. I wouldn’t recommend it anymore as there’s too many pickup dudes, gets too crowded, hard to get a drink, hard to move around. Pint has become a better place to go now.

Roxy – it’s open every day of the week, so if you’re here and it’s a random Tuesday or something and nothing else appears to be happening, it’s worth checking out.

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3 Tips for booking cheap hotel rooms

Do you want cheap hotel rooms?

For cases when alternatives like airbnb or couchsurfing don’t suit your needs).

Tip 1 – Use EITHER hotels.com or agoda.com to look for a hotel.

Hotels.com has listings available worldwide for cheap hotel rooms, and has a good map interface for searching hotels in a specific region with the amenities you’re looking for.  It offers a “Buy 10 get 1 free” promotion where after 10 nights, a “free” night is available to apply on a future booking.  However, the “free” night has a maximum value that seems to vary depending on the prices of the hotels you’ve booked previously to get that free night.

Can't beat a better price than FREE for cheap hotel rooms! ;)

Progress showing towards free nights on hotels.com

(Sorry, you can’t book 10 days in the Best Western and then stay 1 night at the Shangri-La…)

Agoda has a slightly less friendly interface, but seems to have more listings in Asia.  Rewards points also accrue immediately, instead of batching together like hotels.com.

I haven’t seen difference in price of one or two dollars per night between the two sites for cheap hotel rooms.

Tip 2 – Don’t use the hotel’s own website.

In general, hotels will have their “walk-in” rate posted on their websites, which is nearly almost ALWAYS higher than the price on a hotel aggregator website.

In only one case that I’ve checked has a hotel matched the price for what I’ve seen on hotels.com – but if you did book directly, you aren’t going to be claiming rewards points/days for whatever budget travel site you normally use (agoda and hotels.com bonuses seem to work out to about 3-5% off over time over what normal discounts are already applied).

Tip 3 – Searching every single booking website repeatedly to get the lowest price may actually INCREASE your prices.

I’ve seen some incredible deals in Bangkok, Thailand while searching for places to stay ($36/night places discounted from over $100).  Some search engines (like hotelaggregator.com) that lookup bookings from multiple sites seem to trigger an increase in price.

I’m not sure if this is the hotel returning higher prices because it sees it’s becoming popular, or if some search sites actually place a hold on the room when you select a room type (i.e. “Book now – x rooms left”), thus driving the prices of other rooms up.

If you have other lesser known tips for getting cheaper hotel rooms when travelling, please leave a comment below!

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Reykjavik, Iceland – Part 2

Did I See the Northern Lights?

Seeing the northern lights was one of my must-dos in my trip and the reason I would say I came to Iceland in the first place.  Watching videos of the lights makes them seem otherworldly – it seem real, and I had to see it for myself.

Gray Line tours in Reykjavik offers evening trips for viewings of the Northern Lights.  Each day they decide by ~6pm if conditions are favorable – if they are, they will take you an hour out of the city where there are less lights to see them.

I was halfway into my stay in Iceland and each night had been cloudy and poor conditions for viewing.  On a cloudy day, they may go anyways – hoping that they clear up later.  If they aren’t visible, your ticket is transferable to another night.

A busload of us were taken into a clearing.  It was still cloudy, but plenty of wind to push clouds around.  Did I mention Iceland was cold?  I was fully decked out in two pairs of gloves, heavy winter jacket, toque – the works.  They drove to another location… and waited… and waited…  all we got was a good view of some moonlit clouds.  In all we were out of town for 4 hours.  I didn’t want throw away an entire evening again, so I didn’t bother booking another viewing tour.

moonclouds

Not my picture. My camera can’t really take pictures at night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

While the eastern coast of the US was hit by a terrible storm, unrelated high winds were hitting Reykjavik – reportedly hitting up to 80 km/h.  Before I knew the bus schedule near where I was staying, I braved a 30 minute walk from my airbnb.com homestay into town fully decked in my winter gear to grab a late dinner in town and explore.

Finally, there it was, above me – a completely dark sky, with a long green streak reaching just above the mountains reaching about 1/3 of the way across the sky.  It didn’t dance around, but writhed slowly and if you weren’t staring at it, you wouldn’t notice that it was even moving.

Looked something like this (camera can't take pictures at night)

Looked something like this, but thinner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was happy.  I stood on the sidewalk watching for as long as the biting cold winds could permit me while walking into town.

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Beware of budgetair.ca / vayama

I use skyscanner.com to book all my flights – it’s a flight aggregator that shows semi real-time fares.  You can even specify blank source or destination locations and have skyscanner show you where you can fly to or from – showing there may be another cheap route to get to your destination.

When booking my flight to Reykjavik last near, skyscanner showed a flight with budgetair.ca through Seattle that was about a $400 savings over the next nearest flight that was over $1100.   Too good to pass up!  A quick Google search showed budgetair was legit, so away I went to enter my details and credit card info.  When clicking Accept at the final step, the site said there was an unexpected transaction error.  Since this was after all my details were entered, I didn’t even know if the purchase succeeded and I would be billed.

I phoned their support number and was connected to a call center in India.  I told the woman of my issue and they said “No problem sir, I can help you book your flight.”  Her English was fine and the phone connection was very audible.  She then asked me all the details that would normally get entered on the website – I sighed as I just entered all this in on the website 2 minutes ago.  I asked what the error meant on the website and she avoided the question.

When she would read back any of the answers to my questions, what she read back was wrong 90% of the time.  I had to spell out phonetically everything from my name to my billing address.   “B as in bravo, A as in alpha, R as in…” you get the idea.  Even after this, what she noted kept being incorrect.  My patience was quickly wearing thin as I was reaching what had to be at least 30 minutes on the phone thinking of words for all the letters “Y as in…  Yellow?”.  I almost gave up several times and told her to forget it, it was taking too long – “Sir we are almost finished.”  Finally they had all my details and had validated my credit card.  She said to expect a confirmation email in the next 24 hours.  I wanted to buy a ticket to Bangalore and strangle her.

I waited patiently for the email to verify the details.  Surprise – my phone number and address were wrong.  At this point I started to do a bit of internet detective work to find out more about this company.  Turns out the site is just a canadian skin of vayama.  Googling “vayama review” gave some scary results:

vayamareviews

 

 

 

 

 

 

To summarize the reviews out there, they do give cheap flights, but if you want to change anything they charge you fees of $200+ (granted, this is stated in the T&C), and sometimes after booking they will call you and tell you the flight is no longer available – but they can rebook this other flight on another date or time that happens to be more expensive.  You have connecting flights?  Sorry, too bad.  You want to cancel your flight and get a refund?  Let us refer you to our refund department, where you should expect to see money sometime between two weeks and never.

It took 3 back and forth exchanges over email to make sure my details were correct – info that was correct in one email suddenly became incorrect in the next.  I don’t know what the plan was here – just incompetence, or trying to get me to call in to change my flight and charge me?

There was still the matter of the transaction error on my original booking – is vayama going to bill me twice?  The charge hadn’t appeared on my credit card yet.  I check back the next day and boom, there was two vayama charges back-to-back.  My $400 savings was now a $300 increase.

Another phone call to India – the CSR actually confirmed seeing the mistaken double-transaction and said that it would be removed.  It was, fortunately.  Would they call me up the day before my flight telling me it was no longer available?  I was dreading a phone call from them leading up to my departure, but that didn’t happen.

No wonder vayama rebrands itself in different countries.  Googling “budgetair.ca scam” shows positive results:

budgetairreviews

 

 

 

 

 

How was it possible a site that’s just a rebranded skin of vayama have so many good reviews?  When something is too good to be true, it probably is.  If it were Yelp, the page would be full of No-Face 1 Review people.  Read for yourself on trustpilot.

Signs trustpilot is full of fake reviews for budgetair:

- A lot of reviews read like commercials

- 0 of the reviews are validated through Facebook connect, they are all a “Review by confirmed purchaser” – I’m guessing BudgetAir allows users to post reviews directly bypassing the normal interface

- Large groups of reviews appear in batches of specific dates instead of across a normal date distribution

There’s no way to tell if bad reviews are removed.  I just posted my story and I’ll see if it stays.  I don’t believe that trustpilot itself posts these reviews – more likely vayama or marketing companies hired by vayama.  To the consumer, it’s not really relevant where they come from either way since trustpilot appears second in Google and isn’t giving users “good” information.

I’m not the first one to doubt trustpilot’s authenticity:

http://www.frustratedcustomers.co.uk/complaints_detail.php?SETparam=aWQ9d2U1c25xa2drYmh3aXo3MHV0ZmN0

But it seems investors love trustpilot – it just got an investment of $13M back in December.

http://techcrunch.com/2012/12/11/with-nearly-7m-reviews-of-100k-sites-trustpilot-raises-13m-from-index-and-more-to-build-out-a-yelp-for-the-world-of-e-commerce/

Sorry trustpilot, you’ve got a long way to be as trusted as Yelp.

 (Update 1/5/2014)

This page is getting a few hits from search sites and I want to respond to the feedback left by budgetair over the email they sent.  They’ve apparently stopped using that call center in India (thank god).

They probably have good deals for some specific fares, but I would really not recommend them (or any budget fare dealer) if there is any chance whatsoever you’ll need to cancel or change your booking.  That’s hard enough when doing it directly through an airline.

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Reykjavik, Iceland – Part 1

It turned out that when booking my trip the dates coincided with Iceland’s biggest music festival, Iceland Airwaves (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iceland_Airwaves).  This turned out to be a bit of a mixed blessing.  On one hand I got to experience the collective buzz in the city from a fun happy social event, on the other hand I didn’t have a ticket (sold out, and I don’t really like concerts anyway) – so I wasn’t able to get in some of the bigger venues, and I had a hard time booking accommodations on the second part of my trip there.

There are two major tour bookers that exist in Reykjavik – I used Gray Line Iceland Excursions (http://www.grayline.is/Tours/activity_tours/Iceland.is) when I went caving. All hotel transfers worked out pretty well, you can get picked up at your hotel or just meet at the main office.

The time of year when I was there (late October/early Nov) it was dark very early.  This turned out to be the case in all of my stops in Scandinavia.  This means after waking up around noon some days, by the time I’d eat and roll out I’d only get a couple of hours of daylight.  Most of the Europe photos on my trip are going to be either indoors or appear to be at night time.

Fortunately not all venues were IA exclusive, some bands play in venues like Bus Depots or Hostels.  I was able to check out a lot of different bars in Reykjavik.  Given the cold, lack of available seats and coat check – most people just kept wearing their jackets in the bars or clubs the entire night.  Clubs didn’t charge cover – apparently “That just wouldn’t work here” – they just might have super long lineups to get in.  My first night in a bar in Reykjavik dancing I thought to myself “How cool is this?  I’m in fucking Iceland!”

I left the last few days of my Iceland trip unbooked hoping I’d find something while there.  I was able to find a place a 10 minute bus ride / 30 minute walk out from the city center.

Read more about Iceland in Part 2…

 

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