Archive for May, 2008

pinoy party

This picture was taken at a friend’s place yesterday. With summer temperatures upon us, four Filipinos gathered one Thursday afternoon for a grill party (sausages, steak, and tilapia!). Mark, the host, even made tocino, a popular stuff of breakfasts in the Philippines. It’s cured pork, that’s similar to ham, only reddish, sticky and sweet. Thanks to the worldwide presence of ready-to-use Mama Sita mixes, I would be able to make this one at home, too.

As the day rolled on, we brought out the karaoke microphone and rocked one danceable tune after another. Everybody was off their seats and dancing! As if that wasn’t enough exercise, we then had a volleyball game on Mark’s huge yard. I haven’t played volley in a long time and so my arms were a wee bit in pain today. It was fun though.

And oh, that big dog. He’s Hugo – and huge! He’s smart and playful, he liked Fetch the most. Neil and I were taking turns throwing a tree stick for him to fetch. You could tell we grew tired quicker than the dog. So that was my day yesterday. If the weather permits, I’d go sunbathing tomorrow. Lots of Norwegians go out and strip down during this time, and you’ll see them everywhere – on the beach, in the park, on the wharf, even here in our courtyard. Time to bring out the camera! :) Have a great weekend everyone!

russia wins eurovision, norway places fifth

Congratulations to Dima Bilan and Russia for their first ever Eurovision Song Contest win last Saturday in Belgrade. Last year, Knut and I was able to watch the finals in Helsinki, but this year, my friends and I gathered together for a highly-anticipated final, score sheets and all. I didn’t tip Russia to win, but was rooting for Norway what with Maria’s pitch-perfect performance of “Hold On Be Strong.” Now that lady is one class-act.

I thought Dima Bilan’s 2006 performance and song was much better than “Believe.” I felt that he was trying too hard this time, even ripping his shirt towards the end which I thought was senseless. I spy a Gucci belt, though. Well, one couldn’t deny the charm of a body like that, but come on. Ukraine would have even made a “right” winner. She gave a solid and tight performance. She had sex oozing out of that €50,000-silver dress, something that was lacking in Sweden’s Charlotte Perelli, which was tipped to win but failed miserably. Ani Lorak’s voice was spectacular and she’s too charming for a diva. 3rd-placer Kalomira for Greece looked and danced like Britney Spears, and a prettier one at that. 4th-placer Sirusho for Armenia was cute and her song, hypnotic. If you would notice, all three are moulded into the same hip-gyrating, boob-popping, manicured-beauty form.

Then came Maria who was brilliant in her performance, giving a proper ending to the show contest. The song written by fellow Norwegian artist Mira Craig was the most current-sounding in the competition. Her fifth-place win is a farcry from last year’s Norwegian entry who didn’t even qualify for the finals. She got votes from 35 out of 43 voting countries, with 12 points coming from neighbors Finland and Sweden. I’m proud of our homegirl for doing a great job in Belgrade! I also truly enjoyed the performances of Israel, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Denmark, Iceland, Portugal, Spain, France, Sweden (despite a false note towards the end), and the three runners-up.

The final placings are as follows:

  1. Russia
  2. Ukraine
  3. Greece
  4. Armenia
  5. Norway
  6. Serbia
  7. Turkey
  8. Azerbaijan
  9. Israel
  10. Bosnia & Herzegovina

I won the tipping contest we had, I predicted 8 of the Top 10 songs, and placed one in its right position, and that was my own little victory Saturday night. And we’re looking at seeing the finals in Moscow next year! Now that would be just as sweet.

See the final scoreboard here.

postcards from cinque terre

Cinque Terre is one of those places in the world you would want to keep a secret from trolling tourists, and yet is amazingly beautiful that everyone deserves to see something so picturesque and way beyond words. If I had one extra week to spend in Italy, there is no doubt I would choose to spend it here.

Strung along Italy’s Ligurian coast, Cinque Terre’s five Old World villages are listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site. With regional trains running through La Spezia, Cinque Terre is easily reached from Pisa and Genova. One can hike from one village to the next, some taking hours, while it’s also possible to hop on and off each village with a local or regional train. It’s best to secure a Cinque Terre Card with several day-validity options so you can shuttle yourself at your own pace and convenience, maybe have breakfast in Riomaggiore, lunch in Vernazza, and dinner in Monterosso al Mare.

The first village from La Spezia, Riomaggiore, is characterized by a small beach and a wharf framed by brilliantly painted tower houses. From Riomaggiore one can reach the next village, Manarola (pictured above), by walking along the Via dell’ Amore (Path of Love), a winding cliff-side passage with romantic views of the Mediterranean Sea. Scribblings of love eternal are tagged on mountain walls, railings, and even on giant cacti. Corniglia is the only village that is not directly adjacent to the sea, but is perched on top of rolling vineyards and terraces. Vernazza, the fourth village, is a charming fishing village with a small harbour sitting under the shadows of an ancient castle and a seaside church. Monterosso Al Mare, the last village, has the only extensive sand beach in Cinque Terre (with the beach came the boys, too!). This is where we stayed during our trip, and we were billeted to a fantastic restored villa, equipped with modern facilities and balconies with views of the village and the sea. Each morning we were served freshly baked lemon pies and cakes, and we ended our stay with shots of orange liquor home made by our lovely hostess Maria.

 

If you’re a traveler who appreciates getting lost in small alleys, feeling a part of a world so remote on your fingertips as you brush them against old crumbling walls, and having a laid back vacation away from the hustle and bustle of big tourist city players, then Cinque Terre is definitely a place I would recommend. It is probably the most enchanting place I have seen in my life. I have been so lucky to have discovered and experienced the blinding beauty and sheer charm of the Five Villages. And if you’re lucky, you just might find yourself here one day too.

postcards from florence

Florence is every thing that’s written in books and your customary travel guides. The capital city of the Tuscany region, Florence is brimming with art and architecture, as it is the birthplace of the Italian Rennaisance. Palazzos and wide-open-spaced piazzas arrest you, the domed cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiori makes you stand still, statues made of marble inspire awe and will truly catch your eye.

Florence is less than a three-hour Eurostar train ride from Venice. Try to stay awake as scenes of the Tuscan countryside flash past your window. As we had barely 24 hours in the city, we only went to the big-on-tourists spots and resisted falling in line to get in either at the Uffizi Gallery with its Botticelli and Caravaggio artworks, or at the Accademia with the glorious David of Michelangelo. So we opted to see an exact, and much smaller, copy of David on Piazza della Signoria, along with other statues of equal stature. We also admired the imposing crowning glory of Florence – the Santa Maria del Fiori and its domed cathedral. Towards dusk, we looked out into the great Arno River which cuts through the old part of the city from Ponte Vecchio, before continuing on foot to Piazza Michelangelo for a breathtaking panoramic view of Florence, where the photo above was taken from. It’s truly worth the hike and is best experienced at night. 

Shopping is better in Florence, with more varied clothing shops and fashion houses. I picked up a sweater and a really cute underwear. Then there was also this cute Japanese guy working the street for money. He was drawing Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring on a pedestrian street corner with his bare hands and sticks of chalk. Supa-!!!

                    

Coming up, postcards from Cinque Terre! Also, visit my photoblog at Fresh Frame. Thanks!

postcards from venice

It’s true what they say about Venice. That it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world. There’s something enchanting, breathtaking and unforgettable about the city. The moment you first behold sight of the city cradled on the Adriatic Sea from your plane window. The moment you get stopped on your tracks stepping into Piazza San Marco. The moment you cross one of the city’s over 400 bridges on a moonlit evening. The moment you finally give in and pay big for that celebrated gondola ride, gliding through the city’s crisscross of canals. The moment you spend an afternoon hopping to the island of Lido reminiscing what it was like in the film Death in Venice. The moment you escape Venice’s cacophonies and have coffee along a canal in Murano. The moment you see the rush of water traffic on the Grand Canal and the rush of nationalities as you stride past a Venetian campo. People from all over the world come to this tiny lagoon city to have the time of their life. To experience something enchanting, breathtaking and unforgettable. 

We spent the first two nights of our Italian rendezvous in Venice, and sweetly ended it there too. We first stayed at the boutique hotel Ca’ Gottardi and I would recommend this hotel for its great location on Strada Nova beside the grand palazzo Ca’ d’Oro and a comfortable walk from the Rialto Bridge and Piazza San Marco. It has been said many times, but really the best way to explore Venice is on foot – by just getting lost among the lovely small alleys that seem to whisper memories of the past. And that past is never too distant because Venice breathes and lives in the richness of its history. 

We did all the things a tourist could possibly do while in Venice. We went up the world famous Rialto Bridge. We were among the pigeons of Piazza San Marco. We admired the grandeur of St. Mark’s Basilica, the Campanile and the Doge’s Palace as they turn color at dusk. We gazed into the Bridge of Sighs while a line of gondolas smoothly glide under. We sampled the Italian fares gelato, pizza, and pasta. We dined with the locals at the always-booked haunt Alla Botte (Calle della Bissa near Rialto; try the tagliatelle with scallops, I was intrigued by this platter of three types of cod). We would also recommend this restaurant called Achiugetta near Piazza San Marco for its modern sleek interiors, reasonable prices, and excellent dishes (Campo SS Fillippo e Giacomo; the spinach mousse with parmesan melts in your mouth). We admired the exquisite Venetian masks and learned the history/characters of each. We took a gondola ride along with an Italian family to save half of the insanely expensive price, the cheapest we could find was 100 euros for a 35-minute ride in the oldest part of Venice. And on our last night, we slowly sipped on our flutes of bellini at the legendary thus ever-crowded Harry’s Bar. We had our final forty winks in Italy at Corte 1321, a cozy bed & breakfast in a quiet alley near the Rialto, with a characteristic courtyard for breakfast during fine days.

All in all, Venice was a good beginning and ending to an Italian holiday I never thought I would covet in my entire life. If only for something enchanting, breathtaking and unforgettable, I would definitely go back to this city in a heartbeat. Now on to the pictures – click on the thumbnails for a bigger, better shot. :)

                                 


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