Sunday, May 27, 2007

2001 WEEK 20: Mass at Antipolo

May 26-27, 2007. I went hope to Philippines just over the weekend to hear mass at Antipolo church, for my yearly May vow. Flying with Tiger Airways I arrived at Clark around 12.30pm and my folks together with my auntie, picked me up in the airport. In the car, I handed over what my cousin Katrina gave me in London for he mom. I even gave my bag 'coz I have no use of it. For my mom I gave her new Sony Ericsson handphone. I also bought shirt for my dad, elder bro and nephew, bag for my sister and chocolates for everybody else in the house (now I am broke).

Nothing much to do in Philippines, I don't have time to meet with friends, since I only have one night. I just slept all night.
The next day Sunday, we went to hear mass (7-8am). After the mass we went to nearby restaurant to eat (I ate 'lechon', roasted port), I also bought rosted cashew nut, which is my favorite in Antipolo. After eating we went hope to rest a bit before my folks send me off to the airport.

Around 1pm, my folks drove me to the airport, since I still have a lot of time for my 5.30pm flight, we went first to a nearby SM mall at Clark. I bought a merrell running shoes, for my workout and for some marathon contests. I also bought a dozen of dunkin donuts for my housemate in Singapore. My folks dropped me in the airport around 4pm. Then I started to queue in the airport, until I flew to Singapore.

*Baby Kurt is my nephew

Sunday, May 20, 2007

2007 WEEK 19: Portugal and short trip to London

At first I thought I couldn’t finish the task assigned to me before my vacation. Fortunately, around 4pm on Friday (May 11, 2007) I had solved all issues passed on to me. It gave me a sense of completion and great feeling that I will have a good and peaceful one-week vacation in Portugal. At Changi, I converted some SGD to 500EUR as pocket money.

My flight itinerary (May 11-20) was:
To Portugal: SG – London (Heathrow) – Portugal (Lisbon): Qantas, British Airways
To SG: Same route as above but with British Airways

During the flight from SG to London on Qantas I watched 3 movies in the plane: Letters from Iwo Jima, Night at the Museum, and The Queen (now that’s a movie marathon hehehe)

May 12, Day 1: Lost & Found. This was the first time it happened to me… you know what?? Our luggage was not with us on the way to Portugal! The bags were supposed to be checked in all the way through from Singapore to Lisbon. So it may make sense to blame Heathrow for mishandling our luggage. However, our flight was delayed in Singapore so there was little time to transfer our belongings in London (dang!). So who’s to blame? We went to speak to a lost and found officer and reported the incident. It took us almost 2 hours in the queue for only one personnel is attending to the customers. We had a small chitchat with the staff, like where we are from etc. We told the attendant that we were from Singapore (working in Singapore), and she said she was surprised to find out so. We asked her why. She said that we were “too kind to be Singaporeans” from the way we talked. Hehehe, I guess she had a bad impression on the Tiny Red Dot. The attendant asked us to come back around 6pm as our luggage will arrive in Lisbon with a 5pm flight. Also, they cannot deliver our bags to our hotel since the customs will need to inspect our luggage (which is locked and the key was with me).

We head to our hotel at Holiday Inn Continental riding a public bus. All buses in Lisbon have flat rate of 1.3EUR for a single ride or 3EUR for a day pass (for your reference, 1EUR is approximately equivalent to 2SGD at this time of posting). Their MRT also has a flat rate also of 0.75EUR for the metropolis subway. Weather was good, around 12oC. Architectures did not surprise me much ‘coz I have seen some in Philippines that were built by the Spaniards. I like the color of the houses and buildings in Portugal: beige, orange and white so neat to see, on the other hand there were a lot of vandalism in the walls of the street ‘prolly by some gangsters or whatever. We explored some churches, and even tried their tram going to the castle. We tried some street food like merengge and egg tart. I also like the side streets of Lisbon, which are made from chunks of marble stone.

We head back to the airport to get our luggage past 6pm and head back to the hotel, and grabbed food O Funil restaurant around 9pm, since it starts to get dark in Portugal around this time during May, and I tried Filetes Pescada, food was good… I love fish fillets!

Day 2: Discovering Lisbon. We left the hotel past 10am and headed to Belem thru MRT; we didn’t know that, some train doors in Europe does not open automatically that we have to press the open button once the train stop. That’s why we missed our station at first, and have to transfer train to go back to our destination.

In Belem there is a Monument of Discoveries, we all knew that Portugal had discovered a lot of countries and even set a colony during the age of discoveries. We also went to the Tower of Belem on the seashore, a walking distance from the Monument of Discoveries. Then we walked to the Jeronimo’s Monastery in which I was so amazed by the architecture , it is too detailed and I remember World of Warcrafts’ Scarlet Monastery (hehehe) it looks similar that’s why. There was a mass ongoing at the right wing of the monastery. In the chapel where the mass was ongoing, the pillars of the chapel amazed me; it was too detailed with stone carving and even the ceiling itself (cool).

Then we can’t think of where to eat so we tried Mc Donalds (hehehe) and had egg tart dessert at a century old pastry shop, Pasteis de Belem. After filling in ourselves, we rode a tram to the National Park. From the old century views in the city, here comes modern look, Lisbon’s national park. Cool building designs, nice walkway with fountains, I see Philippine flag also along with the other countries, nice trams and lots of tourists. We walked all the way to the start of the cable car, ‘coz we need to go to the other end for the Oceanarium and according to articles Lisbon’s Oceanarium is the biggest in Europe, though it smells so fishy to me. They have a big tank in the middle of the building housing hundreds of species, one of the tourist’s favorite here is the sunfish, its huge! After this we burned time inside the mall, Vasco Da Gama ‘coz of the rain, and had our dinner inside the mall too.

Day 3: Hiking. We went to Sintra, a place outside Lisbon that have a world heritage century old castles and palaces. The travel from Lisbon to Sintra is more or less 20mins via train. The last terminal is Sintra itself. From Sintra’s station we walked all the way up to the Sintra National Palace and explored the place, from here the Moorish Castle can be seen which is on top of the mountain. After that we had our lunch at the Center Hotel near the palace, I just had linguine. After eating and a short rest, we climbed the mountain, it took us more or less and hour and a half to climb to the castle, the breeze was too cold. Finally after an hour and a half we reached the ticketing office and had a snack break. First we went to the Moorish Castle, the walls are like the Great Wall of China (hehehe), wind was so strong and cold and a lot of tourists are exploring the castle too. The castle is overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Basically we went to explore all the corners of the castle.

After Moorish Castle we went to the Palacio National da Pena, which can be seen from the castle. It is a huge palace. Though sad to say it is closed on Mondays, so we just took some picture at the garden of this palace called Parque da Pena. After taking pictures we decided to take bus all the way down the mountain (wow the bus costs 4EUR expensive! For just less than 10mins ride).

Day 4. Western Europe. We went to Cascais, western part of Europe, which can be seen also from the Moorish Castle. We alighted at Estoril and walked the coastline to Cascais. Though there were not so much people swimming in the beach, but a lot are sun bathing that time, trying to get rid of their pale color. I also visited some shops for souvenirs but had no luck for a good one. We went back to the hotel early to rest and went out at night to the city for dinner, which I had grilled chicken at Don Giovanni restaurant. These pretty much are all the things to be done in Lisbon and its neighboring town.

Day 5. Sun Burn. We checked-out at the hotel and went to the bus station. It took us 4-hour travel to Lagos, which is in Algarve, south of Portugal. Temperature here is quite warmer, 26-27C as compared to Lisbon with 12-19C and in Lagos it can be as high as 45C during summer. After arriving at the area, we look for the inn and check-in, had lunch in the nearby restaurant, and went for a stroll all the way to the west of until we reached the lighthouse. I forgot to apply sun block lotion, my arms and face was sunburned. During the trail we went down the shore, posed and took some pictures and even had a drink of juice and soda in a close restaurant because it was very tiring… imagine walking 2km under the sun with less trees on the road and cliffs. Some women are topless too; to bad the nude beach is on the other side far from our place. Going back, we took tram back to town, rested a bit, played a bit of Warcraft and had dinner next to the inn. My face became shinier because of the sunburn.

Day 6. Southwestern Europe. We went to Cape St. Vincent, the last town of Portugal in southwest and the southwestern part of Europe as well. A lot of tourists were also taking pictures and watching the stunning view of the cliffs, while the waves of Atlantic Ocean splashes thru. I then realized that the calendars I use to see when I was little kid was not computer edited ‘coz I’ve seen the cliffs myself. So peaceful and forgetting work and just be with nature... it was so good and was so relaxing. Apart from that, we also visited Sagres, next town to the east. There was nothing much there, only a fortress wherein it features cliffs as well.

Day 7. Bye Bye Lagos. We left Lagos, town in Algarve, at noontime for 4-hour in-land travel back to Lisbon. We arrived in Lisbon past 4pm (London time). We went to Restoradores to check-in and to spend the night. We also went to hop malls to buy some souvenirs to my colleagues, friends and family in Philippines. If the first place was on top end (Holiday Inn), the second was mid range (Mar Azul), this time its low range no AC but only electric fan. Still I was able to sleep well.

Day 8. Bye Bye Lisbon. We left Lisbon around 9am and flew to Heathrow. In Heathrow we asked the immigration officer if they could issue In-Transit visa since we have more than 8hours of waiting time for the connecting flight back to Singapore. It is a good time also to see London with my cousin Katrina who is based in London. Unfortunately, they can’t issue an In-transit visa and that there is no such thing. So, I sms my cousin about it, then she gave her father-in-law’s number who works in the airport, that he, Neri, might give us assistance. So I did call her father-in-law to guide us thru. He escorted us in the executive lounge of the airport for where he is working. He told us that it has been 3 days of strict security in Heathrow airport, that even their cell phones are being check. That explains why In-Transit visa is so hard to issue, he added.

So what else to do in executive lounge? Eat, eat ,eat… he served us with pasta, and some bread aside from the food served in the lounge. I also played world of warcraft (hahaha! Yeah its true, I am so addicted). Around 8.45pm (London) I thanked, Neri and went out of the lounge to board.

Day 9. Back to London. There was a problem in the plane going to Singapore. At first, the AC didn’t seem to work. After fixing the problem, which took the crewmembers around 2hours, I noticed from the front seat screen that our flight path seems to reverse back. So I began to worry that there might be a problem. Few more minutes… the captain announced that we have to go back to Heathrow because after fixing the AC problem it caused two systems of the plane to malfunction. I was not scared but was worried about work at that time. Based on the rescheduled departure, departure will be Sunday at around 4pm (London time) and will be in Singapore at Monday, 10am (Singapore time).

So we did go back to Heathrow. The immigration issued 24-hour In-Transit visa for all passengers requiring but without UK visa. The airlines sent us off to Park Inn Hotel near the airport to rest with free breakfast. Then in the morning I met my cousin Katrina to get the stuff for her mom. She gave me 20 pounds to buy chocolates for her mom too. During departure, delays were still encountered…… BA is truly BAD AIRLINES. But during the flight they tried to serve the passengers with excellent service.

Traveling tips to Portugal:
1. Do not eat, and tell the waiter you do not want the bread couvert being served while waiting for your main order, or else it will add up to your bill, unless you wanted the it.
2. It is customary that customers give tip to waiters
3. From Asia avoid traveling to Europe with Bad Airways ooops… British Airways
4. Meals costs around 7-20EUR
5. Portugal is a member of Schengen

Thanks to my cousin Katrina for spending a little time with me in London, and also to her father-in-law, Neri, who gave us the privilege to stay in an executive lounge while waiting for connecting flight.

Hope next time I visit London Katrina will be able to drive me around London.

More pictures at this link

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Early Weekend marks at JPMCC; Recognition

Thursday, May 3, 2007 marks the start of my weekend. Why? because it seems that we are not tied-up in work because most of us in the office including most of the team leads and managers (total of 32) joined the JP Morgan Corporate Challenge (JPMCC). Its a 5.6km marathon of more or less 10,000 corporate personnel (gee good thing nobody was injured with stomp). The starting line starts at the bridge next to Esplanade and was divided with a string for runners and walkers. Of course runners are in front but still divided by time range one can achieve like: less than 20mins, less 30mins less 40mins. Though I was not sure where I fall 'coz I really cant see the divider nor it is crowded and that I cannot move in front further.

It took me 38mins to finish the course, in which i combine sprint, jog and walk. There were water stops along the course which I grabbed some and water my sweaty face (yeah I like the feeling). Everybody who finished the course got a bag (not that good though) with T-shirt, 4 anlene yougart drink and some paper ads.

Friday came... and look like everybody was resting from the marathon. Not so much work to do for we have farewell for our Filipino colleague whose moving out to Canada for good. A long lunch around 2 hours at Tuk Tuk Thai and a farewell message meeting at end of day.

Saturday... I workout at Paragon Fitness First and gee, I was not that surprised that my photo in winning Fitness First's Motorola Duathlon Challenge is in the gym's monthly newsletter (bottom right of the picture above), this is aside from some poster posted in clubs bulletin board itself. So I grabbed some and scan and sent it to my gym buddies in Philippines (hehehe). Then after workout I meet my Thai friends and a Filipina in Valley Park for dinner. They prepared and cooked Thai food... the tuna salad was good!.