Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Tennis talk

Novak Djokovic, currently #3 in the world, won his first Grand Slam title last Sunday in Melbourne, beating the unseeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the final.

This is an amazing result because it is the first time in 3 years that neither Roger Federer nor Rafael Nadal won, or made it to the final of, a Grand Slam tournament. The last time this happened was also in the Australian Open 2005, where Marat Safin saved a matchpoint in the semifinal against Federer and defeated Leyton Hewitt in the title match. If you are counting, that makes 11 consecutive Grand Slam titles that were won by either Federer or Nadal. Now that's an incredible statistic.

What I loved about this result is that it allowed Steffi Graf to hold on to one of her records. She currently holds the record (for both men and women) for consecutive Grand Slam final appearances with 13. If Roger made this final, it would've been his 11th in a row. She already lost her record of consecutive weeks at #1 to Federer so as much as I like Federer, I was hoping that he wouldn't manage to snatch another record from Steffi.

One other record people were hoping that Roger would achieve this year was winning the Golden Slam i.e. the Grand Slam of tennis - Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open - plus the Olympic Gold medal. By losing the AO final, that means he surely won't be able to achieve this feat this year (his next shot at this record would be four years from now). Of course, both Djokovic and Maria Sharapova, who won the women's title, both have a shot at winning the Golden Slam themselves. But I wouldn't put my money on that. Which gives me high hopes that after 2008, Steffi Graf will remain as the only player so far to have won the Golden Slam.

Friday, January 18, 2008

And the AI7 saga begins

American Idol kicked off season 7 this week. They showed us a couple of great performances already, and more than a few crazy ones. Honestly, you see some of them and you think that they just want their 15 minutes of fame. Or infamy. Some of them seem to force bad auditions just to get on TV - we've seen that happend in previous seasons as well - and then there are still some people who think they can sing but aren't really good (and in some cases, just downright dreadful). Of course we've witnesses some damn good auditions already, but the judges have also let a couple of people through whom I thought were not worthy. Or it could just be me...

The highlight of the 4-hours we've seen this season so far though has been overnight sensation Renaldo Lapuz, who apparently is Filipino (probably migrated to the US and is now naturalized or something). How they allowed a 44-year old to audition, I don't know. And in all honesty, the first few minutes of his audition made me cringe.

But as the audition went on and the judges started to get really into it, singing along with the lyrics that they ended up learning after hearing the verses sung over and over to them, I started to get really entertained LOL. Before I knew it, I was in stitches! Here's a video clip of his audition:

video posted in youtube by user bobbageddon

What's scary about this is that the song is actually quite catchy, and after hearing him sing it so many times, it's a bit tough to get out of your head LOL. Folks were singing it after the show, and a lot of those who watched the episode last night just had to look it up in youtube immediately after to enjoy the show once again. And share it to those who didn't get to see it yet!

Simon predicted that the song would be a hit. I don't know if anyone is actually going to record it but if they add a couple of verses, get a really good singer to perform it, it could actually be a great song - possibly even better than those lame Idol finale songs like 'Inside your heaven', 'Do I make your proud', and 'My Destiny' haha. Either that or they use it as the theme song for Idol Gives Back (assuming they have another one this season).

So I guess after four seasons, we now have our new William Hung LOL.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Not the best way to start the year...

I'm sick! Damn.

I actually didn't go to work on Monday and Tuesday coz I was feeling horrible. My throat was sore, I had an awful headache for most of the day, and my body just didn't feel right. I also had a bad ache in my shoulder/neck/upper back area. Had it since the weekend actually. I was planning to hit the gym on Saturday because for the first time in weeks, my Saturday was free. Also, after my third gym session, my body didn't ache from the workout anymore. Unfortunately, when I woke up on Saturday, I had a horrible pain in my shoulder, neck, and upper back, the kind you get when you sleep in the wrong position. It really hurt all the way through Tuesday, and it was only on Wednesday that the pain abated just a bit. The crappy thing though is that it still hurts today. Not as much as a few days ago though so thank God for small mercies.

At first I thought that it may be due to the fact that I've been running myself ragged for the last few to several weeks and my body finally gave way. But when I came back to work yesterday, I realized that a lot of other people were also sick. And I have another couple of friends who are sick right now too. Makes me think that there may be some bug going around...

I just hope that I am completely well by Saturday. I am attending two weddings - Hestia and Migoy are getting married in the morning and Jenny and Aaron are getting married in the evening. And to complicate matter, I am singing three fairly difficult songs in Jenny's wedding. If my throat doesn't clear up, it's not going to be pretty. I just started taking meds yesterday and drinking a whole lot more water. Hopefully that does the trick.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Iceland: Day 6

My final day in Iceland. I spent the day just going around Reykjavik. I left my stuff at the left luggage booth in the SBA bus terminal then started thinking whether I still wanted to take aany of the half-day tours offered in the capital. There’s a Puffin Express tour that lasts only an hour - you go on a boat and get really close to these very colorful birds. I decided not to take that tour since I had seen puffins already (albeit not up close and personal) and I instead opted to take a riding tour.

There are a few tours offered where folks get to ride the famous Icelandic horse, and some of these tours don’t require any riding experience. The main reason I wanted to take this tour is that the Icelandic horse is famous for providing riders with a very smooth and comfortable ride. Unfortunately, when I called them, they were apparently fully booked already. So that meant I had a slow day (finally!) to go around the city.

I made my way to the Sólfar (Sun Voyager), a unique sculpture created by Jón Gunnar Árnason. My book didn’t mention it, but since I kept seeing it in postcards so I swung by the Tourist Information Center to ask where the sculpture was.

My flight was departing Reykjavik for Copenhagen at 1am the next day and the last bus to the airport was at 10pm so I had lots of time left. I spent the rest of the day looking for and buying souvenirs. I had gone over-budget already, so I was just thinking of getting a few little trinkets like magnets and key chains. But I figured it would be a long while before I would ever get to visit Iceland again, and Iceland t-shirts aren’t exactly the easiest to find anywhere else in the world. So I decided to get a shirt for myself, my mom, and my two nephews.

Here's a summary of all my Iceland blog posts:
Day 1: Blue Lagoon and Hallgrímskirkja
Day 2: Glacier Lagoon Tour
Day 3: Whale-Watching in Reykjavik
Day 4: The Golden Circle
Day 5: Trip to Dettifoss and the Jewels of the North tour
Day 6: Last day in Iceland

However, if I had to do this trip over again, I’d make a couple of changes in my itinerary and have the following instead:

Day 1
Go around Reykjavik and visit the Blue Lagoon via (Iceland Excursions)

Day 2
South Coast & Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon tour

Day 3
Take the Gulfoss and Geysir Express, then take the last flight to Akureyri. This is about a thousand pesos cheaper than the Golden Circle Classic and you get to visit practically all the same places that you see in the Golden Circle Classic as well. The only two places you skip are the Nesjavellir Power Plant and the Skálholt church, which I personally think you can miss. The Gulfoss and Geysir Express also takes about 2-3 hours less, so you end up being more rested

Day 4
Jewels of the North tour

Day 5
Take a whale-watching tour and spend some time going around Húsavík
As I mentioned, Húsavík is apparently the best place in Iceland to see whales. And taking this tour from Akureyri would actually take less time and money than taking the Ólafsvík tour from Reykjavik.

Day 6
Go around Akureyri in the morning, fly back to Reykjavik at around lunchtime, then take one of the Icelandic Horse riding tours in the mid-afternoon.

So now I just spent six amazing days in Iceland. But my holiday wasn’t over yet. Next stop: Austria!

Iceland: Day 5

I had a scant few hours of sleep leading into the fifth day of my stint in Iceland. My hotel was a stone’s throw away from the SBA-Norðurleið bus terminal in Akureyri where I arrived shortly before 8am to purchase my Jewels of the North tour pass. The bus leaves at around 815am and we make a quick stop on the outskirts of Akureyri where we get to take in some amazing views.

Our tour guide talks a bit more about Iceland and Akureyri as we make our way to Goðafoss, or Waterfall of the Gods. My trip in Iceland may very well be the Waterfall tour since I ended up seeing so many of them over the course of 6 days.

Our next stop is Lake Mývatn, a 42 square kilometer body of water amidst mountains and lava fields. We make our way to the largest of the many false craters or pseudocraters

…where we get an amazing view of the lake.

Our bus goes around the lake and we make another stop on the other side of it for more photo opportunities before stopping at Reykjahlíð village. I transfer to another bus that eventually moves off the paved highway and starts traveling on dirt roads. A middle-aged professor from England (actually, I think she was originally from Ireland) who was also taking the Jewels of the North tour that day would later tell me that she first visited Iceland way back in the 80s and practically all the roads in Iceland weren’t paved at time.

Our bus makes a stop at 1pm. I get off and follow the path that leads to Dettifoss. Even from some distance away you can hear the thunderous roar of the most powerful waterfalls in Europe. And when we get there, my jaw drops. Dettifoss is massive!

The water looks muddy because it comes from a glacial river. I go around the falls taking photos from a few different spots before I settled on a dry rock on which to sit, had some lunch (I had a sandwich and orange juice with me), and just marveled at this amazing natural phenomenon. Our stop was for about an hour and a half, but the time seemed to go by so quickly! I didn’t have much time left before the bus would leave so I started walking back.

I then remember that there is another waterfall nearby – Selfoss. I quickly make my way over there to take a few snapshots before near-sprinting back to my bus.

It was a different bus that we get on at 230pm (our third and the last one we would take for that day). We make a couple more stops the rest of the way. We get to see another waterfall and we also stop at a couple of hiking trails. I follow the same trail as the woman taking the same tour (I had several long conversations with her but I actually never asked her name and she didn’t ask for mine either). We discuss how amazing it that there are so many beautiful waterfalls hidden amidst the Icelandic moonscape. It’s almost like finding hidden treasure!

The second hiking trail we visit brings us into the horseshoe-shaped canyon Ásbyrgi, or Fortress of the Gods. It was mentioned that we would stop here and I actually took pictures of the amazing rock formations there without realizing where I was. When I realized that our bus was on its way to Húsavík, I ask the woman I was with if we were not going to see Ásbyrgi and she said that we had actually seen it already.

Our final stop is in Húsavík, which is supposed to be the best place to go on a whale-watching tour. A few people on the same bus I was on told me they had taken the whale-watching tour from Húsavík and actually got to see a Humpback Whale (which is apparently the most commonly seen whale here) so I was kinda kicking myself in the butt for not doing my research well enough.

We finally get back to Akureyri at around half past nine pm. The sun is still up and since my flight back to Reykjavik was early the next morning, I decide to go around Akureyri to take a few more photographs.

Here’s a shot of the Lutheran church right next to my hotel...

…and of the colorful sky right after sunset.

Finally, one of my favorite photos. Akureyri isn’t above the Arctic Circle so the sun does actually set as you can see in the previous picture. But during summer, the sun remains just below the horizon after setting so it never really gets completely dark (the same is true for Reykjavik actually). I decided I wanted to take a photo of my watch at midnight to show how the bright the sky still is at this time. Pretty cool, ey? :)

It’s too bad that I didn’t get a chance to really experience Akureyri this trip. If I ever find myself in Iceland again (and I’m guessing that I will at some point), I would love to re-visit this city and spend a little more time there.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Iceland: Day 4

Day 4: The Golden Circle Classic. This is probably the most popular excursion in Iceland, and I’d have to say that for me, it’s probably the best bang-for-your-buck. If you had to take only one tour in Iceland (although you’d be crazy to visit this beautiful country and take only one tour) you need to make sure you get to see the Golden Circle. It’s cheaper compared to most of the other tours (especially the ones I had already taken), you get to see several very beautiful natural wonders, and it doesn’t take as long as the other trips (this one lasts only about 8-9 hours).

What makes Iceland a very unique country to visit is the fact that a lot of the land is like moonscape, which was created by the volcanic and geological activity in the country. I had seen it already on my first day (heading to Reykjavik from the airport) and on every subsequent tour I've taken, but day 4 was the first time I managed to take a decent photo of it. Here's an interesting quote from this link: The whole of the central highland plateau of the island is a beautiful but barren and uninhabitable moonscape - so much so that the first American astronauts were sent there for pre-mission training.

The first stop is the Nesjavellir Power Plant. A guide from the plant briefly explains to you how power is generated and sent to the city. You are also given a bit of a tour inside.

We get to pass by the beautiful Lake Þingvallavatn

…on our way to the next stop, Þingvellir. Þingvellir is where the Icelandic parliament Alþingi was founded way back in 930, This makes it the oldest known functioning parliament in the world. Apparently, this is where the tectonic plates meet, providing such amazing rock formations.

Before we left, one of the people on the tour suggested we take a drink from the water flowing from one of the streams there, so we did. The water is so fresh and clean!

We then head towards the largest waterfall in the Western side of Iceland – Gullfoss. Aside from the size of the waterfalls, what makes this such a must-see is the fact that isn’t one big drop but a series of small (or well, relatively small) ones. Kinda like rapids, but on a much grander scale, making Gullfoss very interesting and beautiful.

Even better is that you can actually get really up close and personal to the falls. Here’s a photo I had taken of me standing right next to Gullfoss.

The tour continues to the Strokkur and Geysir hot springs. Geysir very rarely erupts i.e. it can actually be dormant for years at a time, but Strokkur erupts every 4 to 10 minutes. If you want to take a good photo of even video of it, you have to keep a steady hand and have your camera ready. The water does go up pretty high!

We make a brief stop in Skálholt church, the ancient seat of Icelandic bishops...

Before making our way to our final destination: the volcanic crater Kerið. I’m not sure if it’s still active but the crater is filled with beautiful blue-green water.

But my day wasn’t over! Once I get back to Reykjavik, I have a pretty hefty dinner (my first decent meal since I got to Iceland) before I collect my stuff from my hotel and take a bus to the domestic airport. I was now heading to Akureyri, which is in the Northern part of Iceland. It was from Akureyri that I would be taking the Jewels of the North tour (which would then bring me to Dettifoss waterfall).

I got to Hotel Kea (a really nice hotel with an amazing breakfast spread!) in Akureyri shortly before 10pm and one of the guys in the same plane I took apparently was checking into the same hotel. We start talking to each other while in line to check in, and I learn that he is Austrian. I told him it what a coincidence it was because Austria was my next stop. We then decide to grab a few beers. I was running short on funds and was already over-budget, but in all my travels, I never got to experience hanging out in a local pub and having a few beers, so now that I had temporary company I decided spending a few (or well, several) extra bucks would be worth it. I ended up having four pints of Viking, the local beer:

It was a good ending to a long and tiring day, and I rested quite well that night (thanks to the beer!) which I needed for the long day I had ahead.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Iceland: Day 3

My travel books didn’t mention anything about whale-watching so it wasn’t in my radar when I started planning my trip. But reading about the different day trips provided by Iceland Excursions got me really excited about whale-watching and I felt that I would regret it if I left the country without getting to see whales in their natural habitat. So I snuck it in my itinerary, my dwindling budget notwithstanding.

There are two whale watching tours that you can take via Iceland Excursions – one in Reykjavik and another one in Ólafsvík which is about a 3 hour drive from the capital. I saw a thread in forum section of Trip Advisor where someone was asking which place was better for whale watching, and practically everyone said Ólafsvík. So despite the fact that the Ólafsvík tour was a lot more expensive and that it would take a lot longer, I decided to take it anyway.

You are advised to dress warmly since it’s a lot colder at sea than on shore, and when our boat headed out, I wished I had brought gloves with me as well. It was freezing!

I was hoping to catch a glimpse of a Humpback Whale, but my basic requirement for this trip was to see a whale. Probably within half an hour of our boat heading out, we spotted a Minke whale. I had never heard of Minke whales prior to this trip but I believe that these are possibly the most frequently-seen whale in this area. The fact that we spotted several Minke whales that day seems to validate this.

I also got to see several puffins. It’s funny to watch these birds fly – they flap their wings very frantically. And whenever they are sitting on the water like a duck and the boat approaches, the puffins start flying away just above the water. And when they realize that they can’t move faster than the boat, the suddenly dive into the water.

We later on spotted a few white-beaked dolphins. Must have been a group of 4 of 5 of them. Unlike the Minke whales which show their backs for one brief moment before diving back into the cold water, the dolphins kept surfacing so we got to see a lot more of them than the whales.

On our way back to Reykjavik, I ask the driver if he could drop me off at The Perlan (or Pearl) instead of at my hotel and he agreed. I didn’t think I’d have time left to visit this place and I was told that the view here was quite good. The dome is actually a restaurant, and a very expensive one at that. A basic meal could cost you several thousand Icelandic Kroners (several thousand pesos) so I just stuck to looking at it from the outside and taking a few photos:

… and looking at the view.

The driver instructed me how to get back to the city center. He said it was walking distance. Can’t exactly recall how long it took me to get back – maybe half an hour to 40 minutes – but I didn’t mind the long walk.

Next stop: the Golden Circle tour.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Iceland: Day 2

I decided to take the South Coast and Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon tour on my 2nd day in Iceland, which happened to be a Sunday. This tour is offered by Iceland Excursions only on Thursdays and Sundays, with additional trips on Tuesdays and Saturdays from June to August.

I was picked up at my hotel at 730am and in fact there was a bit of a scare as well – I ended up getting on the wrong bus. There are two touring companies in Reykjavik – Reykjavik Excursions and Iceland Excursions – and bus that came to my hotel had no sign on it so I wasn’t sure which touring company it was for. I ask the driver if it was for Iceland Excursions and he said yes so I got in. Much to my surprise (and slight panic), the bus takes me to the Reykjavik Excursions terminal. Crap! Good thing that the Reykjavik Excursions counter very readily helped me out by calling Iceland Excursions and asked them to pick me up at their terminal.

The tour starts at around 815-830. Our tour guide was a middle-aged woman who not only shared with us a lot of historical and geological information about Iceland (population: 300,000; land area: 103,000 sqm) but also told us several Icelandic fairy tales throughout the entire trip. Iceland has lots of stories about elves and trolls, and I learned from our guide that in Icelandic folklore, when a troll is exposed to sunlight, it is turned to stone.

The stories made sense as we got to see some of the sights on this tour. When we made our first stop to the beautiful Skógarfoss (or Skógafoss) waterfall, she pointed out a very interesting rock formation right next to it that is supposed to be a petrified troll. See if you can make it out. Hint: it’s on the right side.

The day started out with the same murky weather from the day before, and so the roads were covered in thick fog. I guess the drivers are all used to driving with this kind of visibility coz ours didn't seem fazed by the fog one bit.

Finally, we get to the highlight of the tour – the Glacier Lagoon. It’s sometimes referred to as the Bond Lagoon because it was used in the opening sequence of the James Bond flick ‘A View to a Kill’. (Note: The Siberia sequences in Lara Croft Tomb Raider were actually filmed in the Glacier Lagoon as well). When I finally caught a glimpse of it, I was awestruck. It was amazing to see all the huge blocks of ice floating in the water! Having them shrouded in fog provided an even eerier, more surreal feel to it. (I made sure to include a few people in the photo so you can have an idea of just how massive these blocks of ice are.)

The tour includes a ride on an amphibian that takes you from the land right into the Glacier Lagoon.

We stop in the middle of the lagoon and one of the guys from the tour company brings up a small block of ice from the water and hands it to our guide. She then gives us a bit of a talk about the Glacier Lagoon and then we proceed to have our photo taken with the block of ice. Afterwards, she proceeded to break up that block of ice and handed the much smaller pieces to the folks on the boat for us to taste. It was very fresh and pure!

It was around this time that the skies start to clear up. It was great because I got to see the Glacier Lagoon in two different lights: under brilliant sunshine and covered in mysterious fog.

On our way back, we make a few more stops. The first one is at Hjörleifshöfði, a large cape that stands right in the middle of what seemed to me to be barren wasteland. The numerous volcanic activities in this area have essentially left the soil incapable of allowing vegetation to grow.

We then visit the Reynisfjara beach. There are a couple of large rock formations in the sea close to the shore (which are believed to be trolls that were still trying to pull a ship back to shore when the sun rose, and as such were left petrified). But what makes Reynisfjara a really interesting stop are the really cool and amazing basaltic columns on the mountains next to the beach. I don’t know how these columns are formed but they look really beautiful, stacked up the way they are, their clean lines and structured form contrasting with the rest of the jagged, craggy mountains.

Our final stop is the Seljalandsfoss waterfall. There’s a path behind the falls that people can go through, and walking completely around the back of the falls is supposed to cleanse your soul (or something like that). Naturally I walked through. Was I cleansed after that? Not sure, but it was an amazing experience getting to be that close to the falls.

We finally got back to Reykjavik at close to 1030pm. This tour is supposed to last 14 hours and in our case it did. But I have heard from other tour guides that when they do this tour, it normally lasts more than 14 hours, especially when people want to enjoy each stop a bit more. I was knackered when I got back to my hotel, and it was only the 2nd day of my 12 day vacation, but it was such a fantastic experience that it left me eagerly wanting to see more. I was now ready for day three!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Iceland: Day 1

It started off with a bit of a scare. My flight from Copenhagen to Iceland was at 7:50am but the earliest train from Lund to Copenhagen was at 5:30am. I was supposed to arrive at the Copenhagen airport at around 6:40am, which means I had a little more than an hour to check in, which would’ve been okay since the flight was within Europe (i.e. I needed to be in the airport an hour before my flight). Only problem was that the train I was on got massively delayed in Malmö. I actually had to switch trains after waiting for more than 20 minutes. I got to the airport with less than 45 minutes before my flight would leave and I was so worried that I would miss my plane. What was worse was that the queue at the baggage drop in counter was so long (I had an e-ticket so I had already checked in using one of the electronic check-in counters, but I needed to check in my bags.) I asked help from one of the Danish airport personnel, saying that there were major train delays in Malmö and that my flight was leaving really soon. He very nicely agreed to check in my bags for me. I finally breathed a sigh of relief when I got on the plane.

I was really excited throughout the entire plane ride, and when the plane finally landed in Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, I kept thinking to myself that I couldn’t believe I was finally there!

I decided that I would spend my first day going around Reykjavik to get a feel of the city then I’d head to the Blue Lagoon to relax. I visited the Hallgrímskirkja, or Hallgrimur’s Church, which was named after the 17th century hymn writer Hallgrímur Pétursson. It was supposed to have been built to resemble a mountain of basaltic lava. (Note: This photo was taken the day I was leaving – I decided I wanted another photo taken of me with the church under brighter sunlight.)

Here’s a photo I took from the top of the church. It was unfortunate that it was a bit murky that day so the skies weren’t as clear as they could be on a bright sunny day.

I made my way back to my hotel shortly after lunch to get ready for my trip to the Blue Lagoon. The great thing about taking the organized excursions in Reykjavik is that you get picked up at your hotel. I actually booked my excursion from the Information Center who got me on the Reykjavik Excursions tour. I was a bit bummed later on because it cost significantly more (ISK 3,800) than the tour provided by Iceland Excursions (ISK 2,500) but I didn't let that ruin my day. (Note: ISK is the Icelandic Krona. 1 Philippine Peso = 1.52203 Icelandic Krona.)

Anyways, I get to the Blue Lagoon and now I was quite glad that it was cold and raining very lightly. There’s something about sitting in the warm Lagoon water while the weather is cool and nippy that feels incredibly relaxing. Made the whole experience a lot better, in my opinion. It would’ve been nice to have my photo taken while I was in the water, but since I wasn’t with anyone, I left my camera in my locker for safekeeping. So I only managed to have my photo taken once I had gotten out of the water.

Bathing in the water is supposed to be healthy and very good for your skin (don't know if it worked on me though LOL). If you do go to the Blue Lagoon, bring your own towel so you won’t have to pay to rent one (Iceland is one of the most expensive countries I’ve ever visited). I can't recall how much it costs though because I just took a towel from my hotel (and returned I after, of course).

Next stop: the Glacier Lagoon!

Monday, January 07, 2008

Summer holiday in Iceland and Austria

Last July, I decided to take a week and a half off of work to go on a summer holiday in Europe. My destinations: Iceland and Austria

I’ve always wanted to visit Austria because I've heard such great things about it from so many different people who have been there, including my mom. But why Iceland? (Or well, I guess not a lot of people know enough about Iceland – and prior to 2007, neither did I – so folks would keep asking me this question when I would tell them that I went there.)

Before I left for Sweden, I decided to buy a travel book about Scandinavia. I have all different types of travel books – Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, Let’s Go, Fodor’s – and to me they are all equally good. So while looking around in Powerbooks, I find a Fodor’s book on Scandinavia that had a photo of a magnificent waterfall on the cover. I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover but since I don’t have a personal preference for any particular travel book and they are all good, I decided to buy based on the cover photography.

Once I got to Sweden, I told myself that some time during the year, I would visit those falls. But I didn’t know which one it was. I tried figuring out what that waterfall was by going through my book. It was only after about a week that I managed to find the (small) text inside the book that indicated that the photo on the cover was of Dettifoss waterfalls in Iceland. But what was really interesting was that there was no other mention of Dettifoss anywhere else in the book. Strange... Anyways, here's a photo:

I never really thought about visiting Iceland prior to my arrival in Europe; my main interest was to go around Sweden and visit Norway and Denmark which were the closest countries to Sweden. But now that I figured out where this magnificent waterfall was, I started reading up more on Iceland, and I discovered that this country had so many amazing points of interest. I discussed Iceland with my colleagues. Most of them had never been there before, but they knew people who had and they also told me that everyone they knew who had been there was not disappointed. That essentially decided it for me.

My initial plan was really to spend four days in Iceland and three days in Vienna (in Austria). But this changed quite significantly. As I kept on reading, I started learning more things that I wanted to experience while I was there. Also, I also started reading up on Salzburg, only a three hour train ride from Vienna, and I thought that it would be fantastic if I got to visit that city as well. So after much deliberation (and some serious number-crunching to make sure I had enough money and credit to take these trips), I decided on the following itinerary:

Day 1 (Saturday)
Early morning flight from Copenhagen to Reykjavik (the capital of Iceland) and arrive shortly before lunch. Go around Reykjavik and visit the Blue Lagoon.

Day 2 (Sunday)
South Coast & Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon tour (whole day)

Day 3 (Monday)
Snæfellsnes, Whale and Bird Watching tour (whole day)

Day 4 (July 10)
Golden Circle Classic tour from 830am to about 6pm. Then take the last flight out (8:45 to 930pm) from Reykjavik to Akureyri, a city in the northern part of Iceland.

Day 5 (Wednesday)
Jewels of the North tour (this is the tour that would take me to Dettifoss) from 8:10am to 9:10pm.

Day 6 (Thursday)
Take the 945am flight back to Reykjavik, spend the entire day there shopping for souvenirs and seeing some of the other sights I missed. Then I head to the international airport at the end of the day.

Day 7 (Friday)
Take the Reykjavik-Copenhagen flight at 1am (arriving in Copenhagen at 6am). Then take the Copenhagen-Vienna flight from 9:05-10:45am. Arrive in Vienna around lunchtime then tour the city.

Day 8 (Saturday)
Take the half-day City Tour of Vienna and spend the rest of the day checking out the sights.
Day 9 (Sunday)
See more of the sights in Vienna then take the 530-830pm train from Vienna to Salzburg.

Day 10 (Monday)
See some of the sights of Salzburg in the morning, and take the Sound of Music tour in the afternoon.

Day 11 (Tuesday)
See more of the sights of Salzburg.

Day 12 (Wednesday)
Take the 11:10am-2:30pm train from Salzburg to Vienna, then take the 6-8pm flight from Vienna to Copenhagen then take the train back to Lund.

Needless to say, after these 12 incredibly full and hectic days, I was wiped out. But it was all worth it. I will of course be writing about this fantastic trip in more detail and share some pictures over the next few days/weeks. In the meantime, here a few more photos I took in Iceland and in Austria:

Beautiful scenery taken from Þingvellir in Iceland:

The amazing architecture in Vienna, Austria:

And a magnificent view that I saw while on the 'Sound of Music' tour in Salzburg.

Stay tuned for more stories on this fantastic European holiday!

Five pounds

That's what I gained over the holidays. Crap. I've been through so many Christmas seasons in the past but as far as I can tell, this is the only one where I gained weight. Or at least that much weight. Must have been a combination of my lack of exercise as well as an increase in number of get-togethers, parties, and meals I had with family and friends. If I recall correctly, I had something going on with friends or family everyday from December 13 all the way til last Thursday. (Then last weekend, I was fully booked so Friday was my first free day LOL)

I decided to do weights again. But since my wallet and credit cards were still reeling from all the expenses, I decided to forego getting a personal trainer and just asked the gym to make a training plan for me.

My first gym session was last Saturday, and two days later, my body still hurts like hell LOL. Anyways, the plan is for me to keep at it and lose some weight before I start running long distances again. I want to be better trained for the Milo marathon this year, which means starting to train several months before the actual event.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Four weddings and a trip to Tagaytay

November to January tends to be wedding season, at least for most of the people I know. In the last couple of months, I’ve attended four weddings. Denise got married to Yong Han in Singapore last November 3. Zarah and Ruter tied the knot in Alabang last December 18. Three days later, I headed towards Alabang again to attend Peegee and Randee’s wedding in Fernbrook. And on December 29, my uncle Tito (cousin of my mom, actually, whom we call Tito Tito… cool ey? :) ) got married to Grace in Calaruega. The common denominator of all these weddings is that I had to travel really long distances to attend them all. And if you factor in Donald and Tisha’s wedding in Boracay on February 1, then it’ll be the first time ever that I attended five out-of-town weddings (okay, technically Alabang is still in Metro Manila but it’s so far away that it may as well be out of town) in three months. Now that’s a first!

And as is usually the case, I had a special role in three of these four weddings. During Denise’s wedding, I was one of three vocalists who performed several songs to entertain the crowd that night. Cheapest wedding band ever, according to them LOL but it was such a pleasure because I got to perform several songs for the first time ever. My repertoire that night consisted of:

  • In my life by The Beatles ‘All I want is you’ by U2 (second time I’ve sung this in a wedding)
  • Through the barricades’ by Spandau Ballet – this isn’t the most appropriate song for a wedding but it’s Denise’s favorite song so I just massacred the lyrics to make them more appropriate (my apologies to Spandau Ballet…)
  • More than Words’ by Extreme
  • Stand by me’ by Ben E. King (this turned out to be the impromptu first dance – Denise and Yong Han weren’t supposed to have a first dance but while I was singing, they were asked to dance and they did so very gamely)
  • Friday, I’m in love’ by The Cure
  • ‘That thing you do’ from the same movie

For Zarah’s wedding, I hosted the wedding reception and sang ‘The Gift’ by Jim Brickman with Jenny, the vocalist of the Bernie Pasamba band. (I’m almost certain that I sang a duet with Jenny before, in Nats’ wedding). And during Peegee’s wedding, I sang Eric Benet’s ‘The Last Time’. This was a special request of Peegee, who sent me an mp3 of this song a few months before his wedding so ago so I could learn it. I knew immediately from listening to it that it was difficult to sing. The band (Bernie Pasamba again) was going to play the music and it was only right before the reception that I got to run through the song with them, but I think it turned out okay in the end.

Of all these nine songs, the only one I had performed for a crowd before was ‘All I want is you’ so I was actually quite pleased to have gotten to learn and to sing new songs. (I later on performed ‘Friday, I’m in love’ again during our office Christmas party.)

I didn’t have to do anything during Tito Tito’s wedding. Which was really good for me because I was really tired when I got there - the traffic going south that day was horrific. It took me 4 hours to get from Fairview to Tagaytay (it should’ve taken only 2 ½ to 3) then another 45 minutes to get from Tagaytay to Calaruega. And since I was driving (I was with my grandparents, mom, and 2 nephews), I was immensely tired by the time we got there.

The wedding ended up starting really late. It was supposed to start at 630pm so when we got there at 745pm, we thought we would only make it to the reception but as it turns out, they were only midway though the church ceremony. We left the reception at around 11pm. Our relatives were inviting us to join them partying somewhere but we were all too tired. We had booked a room in T House so that we didn’t have to make such a long trip back that night, and so that we could spend a day in Tagaytay.

T house (website: http://thousetagaytay.com/) is a really good hotel. I was a bit lucky to get a room there because when I called the first time, they said they were fully booked. But they asked for my number in case someone cancels, and a few days later, they called me, asking me if I still wanted a room for 4 adults. Pretty cool!

It doesn’t provide a lake view like Taal Vista or Days Hotel, which also means it’s less expensive. The room was very spacious – 4 adults and 2 kids all fit in one room – and the hotel had a really nice, relaxed atmosphere that makes you feel like unwinding and taking things slow, especially when you factor in the very helpful and friendly staff. They also serve a really good and fairly large-portioned breakfast with great coffee and hot chocolate. The gate to the hotel compound is closed at night which provides an added element of security. And T House also has a very good location – just a few minutes away from People’s Park and Picnic Grove. The only downside is the fact that you can only pay with cash (i.e. credit cards not accepted). However, they charged us for only one extra person even if we had two extra people in a room for four (I guess they decided that two kids count as one adult…) which I thought was a really good thing.

After checking out on Sunday, we headed towards Picnic Grove People’s Park so that my nephews could go horseback riding. We did this once before, when both CJ and Ciera were still very young. This time, they both were allowed to get on the horses by themselves, so I decided to just take pictures of them (and of my mom who also went riding with them).

We decided to enter Picnic Grove to take a few photos of Taal Lake. My nephews then spent half an hour in a playground while my mom and grandma bought a few souvenirs.

Once we were done, we went to 'Breakfast at Antonio's' for some lunch before heading home. It was my first time there and it was okay but a bit overrated I thought. I wouldn't mind eating there again but I guess I didn't feel the 'wow' factor that I've heard from so people who have eaten there before.

All in all a good weekend, despite the difficulties in driving through unbelievable traffic. I'm supposed to attend 4 more weddings in the next month. So I'll guess there'll be a few more wedding singer stories from me soon...