Wednesday, June 29, 2005

White Stripes

Saturday night I was watching recorded performances for that day in the Glastonbury festival. I was about to turn in for the night but couldn't shut off the TV due to the mesmerising performance of White Stripes. I first heard this Detroit-based duo (just read somewhere that they are not brother and sister afterall) in Jools Holland's show years ago. They were okay, I thought but the performance they did in that muddy festival was really great. They had me enthralled. Never have I enjoyed head banging rock guitar riffs since college days (and I thought I was getting old for this).

Their on stage dynamics were magnetic with some sexy undercurrents what with drummer Meg sultrily looking over her shoulder to Jack or their one on one face-offs. Pardon me, but it looks like watching a passionate love act. I do find Meg's dumming antics quite sexy. While Jack, oh the great Jack, is a revelation to me. He has obvious talent in the guitar and the combination of the two of them making it sound as if there were more than 2 people in the band. His vocals reminded me a lot of the young
Robert Plant. I love their passion on the way the 'attack' their instruments and it was so good to see this kind of performance where they look like they're giving their all for the audience. Love it !

Friday, June 24, 2005

Free Stonehenge

I didn’t know that Stonehenge has free entrance during summer solstice?! According to an online article in the Guardian:
English Heritage has opened the site to the public free of charge for the summer solstice since 2000. "It's great the way people can come here now. I'm all for it," King Arthur said.

I wonder if they do this in the winter solstice as well? But then, who would want to be among the throng of 21,000 people unless you want to party. I hate crowds I go out of my way to avoid it, just not my cup of tea. Though it must have been awesome to see the summer sun rising up on the ‘heel’ stone of the megalith.

I’ve been there several times and whenever our car reaches the brow of the hill approaching it, the sight of these enormous stones formed in a circle never fails to take my breath away. Mind you, that’s not the only stone circle here in Britain. A notable one is that in nearby Avebury, where there is a village *inside* the circumference of the circle. There are lots lots more however, they are smaller making Stonehenge the biggest of them all.

I hope in the coming months I could see and revisit some of the stone circles I’ve seen and put up pictures here. They may look like ‘just’ stones arranged in a circle but I’ve always been fascinated by it and wondered on its actual use.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Good timing?

My glazed look at my monthly payslip suddenly turned into wide-eyed incredulity. Am I seeing what I'm seeing? I used to absentmindedly look at my netpay box, knowing that only a miracle can make the figures change. Now, I was actually a few hundred pounds richer. I did not rejoice and dared not spend it lest the next month they take it away and say they made a mistake. Only when another colleague who was in the same boat as I am remembered that we were due for our 5 and 10 year long service awards did the dawn of realisation set in. Aha! So that's what it's for! In the previous incarnation of our company, we used to receive letters way before the award is given. People are invited to a champagne reception at the personal office of our CEO who gives the gift/award with a commendation letter, 1 week extra holiday, 50% off our main product, plus a bust of his favourite hero - Churchill. Now the new company (who took over from the old one) just wanted us to take the money and run. :sigh: Well, what can you expect. They're just biding their time 'til they got rid of us.

But getting back on the money, great ideas were already dancing in my head on what to do with it such as:
  1. Holiday trip to Venice
  2. A new cooker/oven!
  3. Jewelry
Then the unexpected happened - our old reliable Sony TV died yesterday. Boohoohoo! There goes my 10-year award. :-(
My son and husband are very busy now canvassing prices in the internet. Plasma TV looks like a good idea although I would need about 3 times more than what I got to afford one. Ah, it's a good thing my family is not so keen on TV watching these days. So probably one of those generic TVs will do or probably scratch it altogether since we still have a wee bit of a 12-inch TV to get us by. Would that mean I would have my new oven and be able to bake tarts without setting it on fire?! *eyes widen* Hope beckons me ... *big grin*

Monday, June 20, 2005

A trip to Switzerland (part 3)


[... continued]

By Thursday (2nd June) we have to say goodbye to our nice free beds (with sinangag and Lucban longganisa breakfast) in Geneva. ;) My sister was leaving for the Phils. while we have to journey towards the Lucerne-Zurich area then on to our long drive home. After the hardwork of packing back our tons of luggage in our old van, we said goodbye to Geneva and drove towards Interlaken. On the way we decided to have a picnic lunch by the banks of small but pretty Lac de Bret near Vevey where me and my husband also had a lovely dinner the night before with some friends. As you can see in the pictures above, the place is tranquil and very pleasant.

We then proceeded to the Interlaken area via a very steep twisting road called the Jaunpass. There were lots of lovely sights to behold - green valleys, lush farmlands, waterfalls, great mountainscape. So nice to breathe clean mountain air. We were quite (camera) trigger happy in that jaunt.


When we got out of that tire-wearing twisting road, we found ourselves looking at the twin lakes of Interlaken. Unfortunately, we didn't have the time to visit the beautifully set town but instead diverted to the hiking village of Kandersteg unless we wanted to see a major tantrum from J1. He wanted to show us around the place where he and his scout troop went camping last year and we were not disappointed. J1 had very fond memories of those times and wanted to share it with us. Kandersteg town centre is quite charming with the air of a small village. There were quite a number of small upscale hotels which belies the variety of outdoor activities available in the area such as hiking, skiing, mountain biking, camping, etc. It is also where one of the camping sites of the World Organization of the Scout Movement is located (where J1 camped last year). That website of the scout camp is quite useful because they have a live webcam onsite. What we used to do is to make J1 stand there in front of the webcam after his daily phone call to us so we could see him on the internet - what he's wearing, who's with him, etc. Isn't that neat?! I remember we used to interrogate him about his clothes - "Didn't you wear that the other day? How come your shirt and trousers don't match?" :LOL:

pictures courtesy of Ernie Endrina

After swanning around for some time in Kandersteg it was time to leave. It was getting late and I thought we might have to take the easy route to Lucerne (where we are supposed to spend the night) instead. But I'm glad we decided to push on to our original plan - that to pass thru the superlative Sustenpass. If ever you want to go to just one place in Switzerland to see mountain views go there !! Sustenpass is even more steep and twisting than Jaunpass and more tire-wearing, too. When we stop we could smell burning rubber what with all those countless steep hairpin bends we had to negotiate. But don't worry 'coz soon enough you will be rewarded with breathtaking views of the Swiss Alps. Although your pictures would look like you stepped in front of a poster. LOL! Really superb views of majestic snow-capped peaks.

What I like most with our time there is that we practically had the route to ourselves. Besides the daredevil powerbike riders, there were hardly any cars enroute. You know me I don't like crowds so it was pure bliss. Also as we were climbing, I could see dark clouds closing in on the mountains. I said a little 'request' to the goddesses and guardian spirits of the Alps to please give us a little window of sunshine to better appreciate the beauty of the place. And what do you know, the clouds parted the sun came out and we had a glorious time! On our way down I looked back and saw the clouds moving back in. The short show was over and I said a silent heartfelt prayer of thanks to them.

Tired from the long drive that day (which included probably the longest tunnel we've been in), we hit our beds right after we checked in a hotel in Lucerne. Early the next day we toured picturesque Lucerne with its lovely location right at the edge of the lake of the same name. The old part of the city is quite small with the oft photographed Chapel Bridge and Water Tower dominating it. The former has been here since the 1300s but unfortunately most of it were burned in the devastating fire in 1993. They have restored it completely although they chose to include some badly charred murals to remind people of the ravages of the fire. It seems like a place with lots of touristic things to do like go up in Mt. Pilatus or Mt. Titlis. It was a nice relaxing day by the river bank where we had a idyllic lunch. We also met up again with our friends Helen & Ellery and their family right before we left.


Lots of old structures are clustered along the riverbank. On of them is this Jesuit church in Lucerne, made distinct with its twin onion shaped domes. On the right you could see its fabulous Baroque interior.

After lunch and saying goodbye again to our friends, we motored on to the homestretch of our trip. Unfortunately, we hit the combined rush hour traffic and countless road works in Zurich and in the A35 towards Strasbourg just outside the Swiss border. Our plan to spend the night in Boulogne was ruined because of this. So we decide to drive thru the night straight to Calais/Dunkirk area. It wasn't much of a problem since there were 3 of us alternating on the driver's seat. We must have drove a bit too fast since we arrived in Calais at 4 AM! Our schedule with the ferry is not until 12:45PM. What to do? After circling around the Calais area trying to find an open restaurant or fastfood to relieve our grumbling stomachs, we decided to go for it in the ferry. When we arrived in Dunkirk, there was hardly any queue. Good thing they allowed us to board. Hooray! Hot breakfast for everyone on board. Pretty soon we were back on British soil and welcomed by the comfort of our own home.

This our old van in the belly of the ferry from Dunkirk. You have to hand it to this Toyota oldie. It travelled close to 2000 miles in the span of a week. Even at one point running for about 500 miles almost non-stop with nary a glitch (except for the aircon on timer :LOL:). It did not disappoint on the contrary it just went on and on and on ... thanks Lucida for taking care of us in our trips. Here's to more travels and adventures - cheers!

Saturday, June 18, 2005

A trip to Switzerland (part 2)

[Continuation ...]

We arrived in Geneva in the evening and settled down for the night in the flat where my sister is staying. Next day was a Sunday so decided to get down to the business of serious sight seeing in central Geneva before we go to church in the evening. We walked along the promenade of Lake Geneva (Lac Leman) and imbibed the beach-like atmosphere. Sun was fiercely hot which made all the summer clothes and activities come out in force. Nothing like a fiesta ambiance to perk your mood. Lots of ducks, swans, sunbathers, rollerbladers, ferry tours to keep us occupied.

We walked around the old cobbled-stone area of Geneva. Saw the old Cathedrale St. Pierre - one of the dominating presence in the old quarter. It was sparsely decorated inside probably echoing the Calvinist doctrine of non-indulgence of wealth which was prevalent here in the 1500s. We also saw a lot of United Nations (UN) buildings and its agencies. Though when we tried going to the main UN HQ building, it was such a long walk from the car park that we decided not to.

Geneva is a pleasant city to walk, very clean and orderly with lots of smart upscale shops. General feel of the place is that of a small cosmopolitan city. Now and again you see the reminders of one of Switzerland's main industry - banking. Prices of everything is so expensive - it's true! And that's coming from me living in costly London.


Next up in our itinerary is that castle precariously built on a promontory in Lake Geneva near Montreux - Chateau de Chillon. It gained fame when Lord Byron wrote about a supposed prisoner in its dungeon in his poem The Prisoner of Chillon. For me, what's notable about this medieval structure is its beautiful silhoutte like that of a fairytale castle enhanced by its romantic location at the edge of an equally beautiful lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Unfortunately we did not choose to go inside because of the prohibitive entrance toll. But we were more than satisfied enough with just touring outside.


The following day we were up earlier than usual for we have to drive up to Broc near Bulle to see one of the big highlights of our trip - a chocolate factory. I blogged about this in my food blog so have a peek there on the culinary side of the visit. Highlight of this was being able to eat as much chocs as we can in the tasting room. I wish I brought a plastic bag with me. ;-) Also here we met up with our friends Helen & Ellery and their kids who were all with us throughout the day's touring.

We then proceeded to the tiny cute town of Gruyere built with a castle on top of a hill. Nice to see a typical Swiss village with its wooden houses with intricate carved decorations. Local delicacies like its meringue were very nice, too. The surrounding areas are very green farmlands it conjures up that cow-milk-pasture image of Switz. What it doesn't include is the stink of cow dung fertilisers hanging in the air. Iiikkksss!!


It was getting late but the sun was still up so we drove on to Bern. The old part of the city had a medieval feel about it what with the cobbled stone streets, lots of old buildings even in the shopping area. Its got a dramatic setting as well with the river Aare running thru it. UNESCO has included it in its list of World Heritage sites - I'm not surprised. We were not able to explore it as much as we wanted to because of the late hour when almost everywhere is closed. Above left is the 600-year-old clock tower that used to mark the western entrance to the city. On the right is the tram lined flag-festooned main street. I bet that place is delightful to do a complete walking tour.


More pictures from Bern ... on the left is a communal water fountain/tap. We found these taps almost everywhere in any town or city centres in Switz. Most of the time the water is drinkable. During the days when it was scorching hot you can find us wetting our faces and arms with the cold mountain waters from these fountains to cool us down. Picture on the right shows what big horn he has! An old man giving a free performance in the cathedral square.

By the time we left it was already dark and drove 2 hours back to our soft beds in Geneva. It was a long, tiring but enjoyable day.

[To be continued with the 3rd and last part ...]

Monday, June 13, 2005

A trip to Switzerland (part 1)

I've been itching for an overseas holiday for a looong time. Something about being in a different environment and seeing new things revitalises me. That's why I love this European 'tradition' of going on holiday at least once a year. It does your body and spirit good to relax and wind down. Resting, relaxing and being 'away from it all' really do decrease stress levels.

I haven't blogged for sometime partly because of being very busy and partly because we went on a driving holiday to Switzerland. As soon as I heard that my sister C, is moving to Geneva and calculated that we had enough funds, nothing can stop me from planning this. :)

We chose to drive because there's five people in the family plus a family friend who wanted to come. With these numbers in mind, the cheapest way to go is by car. It may be slower and tiring but we've got time and we get to see more sights along the way. For me the holiday starts with the journey and not just when you get to the intended destination. Something about the adventure and the discovery of new places/things during the travel itself that appeals to me.

[Click on the pictures for a bigger view]


Of course we started off on a cross English Channel crossing from Dover, Kent. I made certain that we left the house early to give ample time for the 1.5-2 hour travel from our house to the coast. I DO NOT want to repeat our escapade fiasco of 3 years ago to Belgium where we had to queue in the road to Dover for 7 hours !!! We joined the queue at around 9:30 AM and got on a ferry at 4PM. Imagine we were barely 1.5 miles away from the ferry.

After packing our old Toyota van to the rafters, we left early and found the traffic thankfully light. We were so early that we were one of the first ones on the queue. Yehey we're early for once! Our ferry was Norfolk Lines which left the white cliffs of Dover at 5:30PM then disembarking in Dunkirk, France at 8PM instead of the usual Calais. It was only about 30 minutes drive from Calais.

From there we drove towards Reims, France and spent the night there. Hotel Ibis at the city centre was quite good for its price and very clean. Early next morning after buying breakfast at a kiosk at the nearby train station we set off to see the old part of the city briefly.


The centre-piece of this medieval city is its glorious Cathedral of Notre Dame. Being the place where most monarchs of France were crowned, it had a major role in France's history. As you can see the soaring gothic structure still retains its aura of grandeur and magnificence that rightly deserved its UNESCO World Heritage Site award.

Now, Reims is not in the champagne region for nothing. Almost every other shops are champagne houses and we could not resist buying a few. I was already homing in on several well-known well-packaged brands in a shop when we happen to ask the sales clerk on his recommendations which we direly need because we're wine nincompoops! Very interesting to note that he did not recommend *any* of the well known brands saying that most of them were actually terrible. One exception was Krug, which he said still retained its excellent quality but at an average of £100 a bottle it was not good value for money. He recommended several to us which were actually cheaper than the famous brands. At this point I trust his opinion already since if he only wanted money from us he would have pushed the more expensive famous ones in our hands which in our ignorance we would gladly take. Confirmation of this came when we gave the champages to wine loving friends who heartily approved of 'our' choice. (I think I should be blogging this in my food blog!)

After a brief tour of Reims, we reluctantly went back on the road. It was one of the hottest day of the year (so far) as it reached 32C and probably more on the road. I'm always lucky in having nice weather when holidaying. Unfortunately for us, our old van's airconditioning system seems to have a timer. After an hour it promptly turns itself off. So we have to roll down the windows and bear the heat. :(


One pleasure in driving on French motorways (highways), besides the fact that the roads are very smooth, is that they have a lot of 'aire' or rest areas where you can get off the road, rest, go to the bathroom, or have something to eat and drink. As you can see above left, they have a very pleasant tree-lined park-like atmosphere. Some even have children's playgrounds or picnic areas. I couldn't resist taking a picture of one of their toilets in the Jura region (not all are like this). It's not often that I see these 'hole in the ground' types (above right). But they are clean and stink free.

People could argue that it's just right that French motorways should be good since we have to pay to use most of them. Why, our total road fee for the onward trip was 57 Euros! It can be a shock in the system to pay this much since our British motorways are all free.

[To be continued ...]

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Fishy Fishy

We got a new source of obsession at home in the form of an aquarium. Now everyone fusses over these goldfish (oranda-like) we got one weekend. Actually we had five then a day after 1 died. It probably got so stressed with the move from the pet shop to our globe fishtank. We replaced the casualty with another one and a black one. Total population right now is 6 goldfish, 5 gold and 1 black.

This is the first time we've had a tank, or pet fish for that matter, so we don't know how much or how often to feed them. First few days we put in about a teaspoon of pellets everyday. The water quickly turned cloudy and dirty while all the fish kept on pooing. We had the water tested at the pet shop where you give a water sample, they mix it with some chemicals and a coloring emerges. It was supposed to be very light pink but ours turned nearly purple! The guy testing asked - "Are they still alive?" Of course they're still alive - just. We had to replace 1/4 of the water right there and then and repeat the procedure every week to clean it out. The pet shop boys (pun intended) said we probably have too many fish in the tank. We're thinking of getting another bigger rectangular tank to move these goldies and just get very small fishes for the globe tank. Ayayay, once you start it's getting more and more expensive. Wish us luck, hopefully these goldies stay alive.