Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Shopping and Dining at San Sebastian, Spain

Basque architecture at the city center

The Old Market

some tiny church

not a good time to go the beach area

most people who live in the southwest of France would go to San Sebastian, Spain for shopping. especially during the summer sale season when "Rebajas" on all the shop windows are flaunted. i most especially like to take advantage of this whenever i visit France with my family in the summer. especially since i have so many favorite Spanish brands.

Kokotxa -- a Michelin-starred restaurant where we took refuge in when the rain suddenly poured after our arrival at midday

amuse bouche of bread sticks and bisque

Entrée -- i forgot the one on the left, i think it was prawn. the one on the right was salmon

this was my favorite -- Red tuna, peach, pickled vegetables, fresh cheese

having some cava (spanish sparkling wine) to go with the seafood

Squid ravioli, broth of its stew and corn

i changed to this refreshing light red wine to go with the meat for the next dish

Piece of ox filet, crunchy ashes and macadamia nuts

Raspberry foam, sponge cake, fresh fruits, yogurt & mint
 it started raining while we were almost on our way to the nice restaurant that we found on the internet. it is a gastronomie restaurant with one Michelin star called, Kokotxa. when we got there, the rain started pouring heavily. luckily we were able to book for a table. but they only serve lunch starting at 1:30. we were one hour early, so we took to the shops first.

we took the Market Menu, which was mostly composed of lovely fresh seafood, which i love. you can see in the pictures above how colorful and palatable they all look. and the taste did not disappoint as well. i most especially loved the sort of tuna tatari with cheese, etc. there was also a fish dish that came after it but i forgot to take a picture.

it was a pleasurable experience having lunch at this place. the ambience was very good. it was a quiet corner but very central. close to the marina. the service was very good. and the price is quite reasonable for a Michelin-starred restaurant.

walking amongst the shops after lunch

i love Nixon watches

this one particularly looked good on my wrist

i got these nice pair of cutsies at a Spanish shop called Loreak Mendian for half the usual price

after lunch, we headed to the shops to take advantage of the Rebajas. i noticed though, that some of the shops that i like do not offer the same styles of clothes that are available in Singapore or in France. i only managed to find nice stuff in one Spanish branded shop but most of the other stuff that i got are French brands... still they are on sale and i might not find them in France anymore when i will have the time to shop there (hubby and i are going out of France in a couple of days for some adventure in the north of the continent) because everything is on sale and the ones that are my size will be all taken.

it was quite crowded in the shops, though even on a weekday. i totally enjoyed my day trip to San Sebastian despite the short shower of rain at midday. it was actually even a bit refreshing since it has been really hot in the South of France.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The AirFrance La Première Experience

our family would always visit Europe during the summer. for this year, the opportunity of traveling on the New AirFrance's La Première (First Class) flight presented itself right around the time we were planning our trip. this first class cabin was only introduced late last year! we were so happy and looking forward to the experience, especially since it will be the same time as our Fourth Wedding Anniversary. and indeed, it was, just as imagined. and here are the details and my review of some sort. but take note that this is only one part of the trip: Singapore to Paris. i might still update this with the flight on the way back to Singapore.

The Cabin:

The ultra-comfy seat that you can recline and pull up the foot rest, and make fully flat like a bed

I most especially love this lamp that you can dim or brighten as you want

they've put a mattress and duvet when i came back from freshening up before bed
up on the headboard is a small reading light

first of all, i love that my seat spanned four windows in all, meaning, it was huuuge! also, since the First Class cabin of this Boeing 777-300ER plane only has four seats in it, we practically owned the whole cabin. tough luck for the other person who was with us who had to endure our makulit and malikot baby.

i love the huge entertainment screen. both the viewing screen and the hand-held console are touch-screen. for the best sound quality, they use Bose headphones. i was a bit disappointed with the limited selection of Hollywood movies and TV series though. but i really didn't have time to watch a lot. i mostly slept after dinner and then had to attend to my hyperactive daughter when she woke up.

there is also plenty of stowage space. aside from the overhead compartment, there are a couple stowage spaces right next to the windows and another one below the seat right in front of me. speaking of which, i totally loved this extra seat. because of it i was able to have dinner face-to-face with my husband. and we were able to enjoy each other's company even more, like we were in a very special and private restaurant.

and the best part of it all is that they give you very comfortable futon mattress and duvet by Sofitel My Bed for the most comfortable sleep. the window shades are are controlled with push buttons on the arm rest. i also noticed that the temperature within the cabin is at a comfortable level. unlike in the Business and Eco class where it's always super cold. best of all, you have curtains that you can close for maximum privacy.

The Amenity Kit

Toiletries by Givenchy on top of the Food Menu

inside this dust bag is a pyjama set in Merino Wool by Christian Lacroix

contents of the toiletry pochette -- lip balm, facial and hand moisturizer, ear plugs, eye mask
the pochette also has a tiny mirror

i found the Givenchy Amenity Kit really sleek and stylish in its packaging. but i was not too crazy about the contents. i am not really a big fan of strong fragrances. everything was much too scented for me -- the hand cream, the lip balm and the facial moisturizer. i didn't like the eye mask so much either. the fabric is too rough on the sensitive skin of the eye area. too bad i forgot to bring my old one that is really soft and silky. there was also an eye cream but i haven't had the chance to use it yet.

on a better note, i appreciate the pyjamas. but since the mattress was heated and it was not that cold in the cabin, i only wore the bottom. also, it was a bit huge for me but it felt nice and comfy. they seem to only have Medium size onboard. i didn't find it nice-looking enough to post, though.

The Food

foie gras! the best part of the dinner for  me
when you just arrive inside the cabin, they serve you champagne (like in Business Class). i am crazy about champagne! and for this flight, i was really looking forward to it. they served us glasses of Veuve Cliquot La Grande Dame 2004 which is one of the most expensive champagne. it was so smooth! i wish could've drunk more but i left room for the Rosé, which was also very good and the Chardonnay, which i didn't really like so much. on the way back to Singapore, i promise to drink more of that gloriously bubbly champagne!

the dinner started with a Mise en Buche composed of grilled scallops, a sushi of some sort with duck and mandarin orange and a brochette of bocconcini, olive and cherry tomato. i really loved it. we decided to skip the soup and proceeded with the Entrée which was foie gras (my favorite). hubby and i agreed it was one of the best foie gras we ever tasted. i took a main dish with fish which was not so special in my opinion. hubby didn't like his grilled beef either as they always tend to overcook beef on the plane, which is quite forgivable. we decided to skip dessert since it was way past midnight and we were both full. and i was getting sleepy with all the alcohol.

it was a very good Fourth Anniversary dinner date all in all.

as for the breakfast, i really liked my omelette and sausage. my daughter and husband had the pancakes. but they were in a sad soggy state so my daughter was left to eat the bread and yoghurt.

The Salon VIP Lounge in Paris:

this limo picked us up right after stepping off the plane... we really felt like VIP's! :)

one of the cozy nooks of the huge AirFrance lounge, Salon VIP in CDG, Paris

dining area with huge selection of charcuterie, cheese, fruits, patisserie, etc.
sitting on one of the cozy nooks with my baby

their very own spa with free facial and back/foot massage

relaxation/sleeping area... very inviting!

i knew i was back in France when i got a small cup of black coffee and these cute sugar cubes in a bowl.
one of the best parts about the First Class flight was the limo that picked us up immediately after getting off the plane. it rid us off of the whole hassle of the crazy immigration queues that CDG, Paris is famous for. it took us straight into the Salon VIP, where we spent the time relaxing before picking us up again to bring us straight to our plane on the way to Toulouse. it was so surreal, it made me feel like a movie star or a real VIP. :)

i must say i was impressed by the immensity of the Salon VIP. they have plenty of nooks and spaces for lounging, a work area, a bar, a dining area, a reading area, sleeping/relaxing area, and a spa which offers free facial, back or foot massage. i'm definitely trying it out on the way back to SG when we will have more time to spend in the lounge.

as for the service, the flight attendants were very nice and accommodating to us. she was always attentive and ready to serve. the lady limo driver was also very nice and welcoming. and like in the Business Flights that we usually take, they spoiled my daughter with sweets and gift packs. although, the VIP Salon staff could use a bit more of 'out-of-the-usual' friendliness and cheerfulness. the horrible bit was the woman at the La Première check-in counter in Singapore. she was very unfriendly and didn't want to check in our baggage for some reason and very grumpily and unceremoniously told us to queue in the Business Class counters instead. i wanted to press the lowest rating smiley on her counter because i was feeling a bit grumpy and hungry (lethal combination) at the time, but decided against it in the end. aside from this mild annoyance, we had a really pleasant experience all in all, and are looking forward to the flight back home.

cheers to a good weekend! :)

Friday, July 10, 2015

Keeping Time, Time, Time...

reunited with my adventurous black Nixon watch
a week ago, my cunningly adventurous wrist watch took a dive right into the small gap between the
train cabin and the platform just as i was stepping out. i was on my way to the office. it completely took me by surprise. at first, i didn't even know what fell into the gap when i heard a sharp chink! and then i realized that my left wrist was immediately a few grams lighter.

oh no! it was my beautiful black Nixon watch that hubby gave me as a birthday present last year! i quickly noted the cabin number on top of the exit door. i then reported it to the reception. they told me they could only go down the tracks after midnight, and so i will have to wait the next day to retrieve it... and so, i did.

the next day, i got it back without a scratch on it, completely intact and in perfect working condition as if nothing happened at all.

i was so grateful and happy about it. it might not be the most expensive watch in the world but i really love it for the sentiment that goes along with it.

now, if it were a video camera instead of a wrist watch which was turned on when it fell, imagine all the interesting bits of images it would've captured! does the apple watch have a video camera?.. hmm...

the uncle who handed it over to me commented that he thought i was a guy because my name is usually a guy's name in Indonesia and some other Asian countries. also because he said my watch looked more masculine than feminine. i thought it looked, "simple pero rock" (simple but kick-ass) just like the owner. my husband thought it was interesting, mysterious and sexy. i guess that's how he thinks about me.

the next time i write on this blog, i shall be on a different time zone. will be having my yearly three-week summer in Europe with the whole family. i'm so excited.

bon weekend! :)

Sunday, June 28, 2015

How to Get a Driving License in Singapore

i have just passed my Driving Exam a few days ago and i am feeling ecstatic! just thought i'd share my experiences, advice, thoughts and opinions about getting a driving license in Singapore (via SSDC) here in my blog.

first off, here are the steps on how to get a new Driving License in Singapore:

- first of all, you have to book for a Basic Theory Test (BTT) schedule. you will usually get a schedule that will be a month or so from the date you have decided to look for a schedule.

- after passing BTT, you can start to book for Practical Driving Lessons. and also should book the Final Theory Test (FTT). you will need to take around 25 to 30 sessions of Practical Driving Lessons, depending on how well you do on the lessons. a single session lasts for two hours at SSDC. and if you don't manage to pass the requirements of the session, you're going to have to retake it.

- and finally, you have to pass the Driving Exam after having finished all the required sessions of Practical Lessons. to pass the Driving Exam, you need to get less than 20 demerit points. and you must avoid the errors that will cause Instant Failure, such as not stopping on the stop line, crossing a double line, and not being able to do the parallel/vertical parking in time.

now, unlike the Theory Exams, which i have both aced without difficulty, the practical lessons have been really challenging for me. and here is a list of the things that made learning how to drive a complete nightmare for me:

- first of all, almost all the instructors are grumpy and impatient. and they really don't care so much at all whether you learn or not because they get paid anyway.
- it takes forever to travel from the city center where i live to the Driving Center, which is in Woodlands (the countryside). so it's always an effort for me to motivate myself to attend the lesson because i'm not really a masochistic person and i have a low tolerance for the rudeness of the instructors (and i pay 77 - 85 SGD per session booking for all this!)
- i was trying to learn to drive a manual car, which is not really as easy as an automatic one. even though most of the cars in Singapore are automatic, including the one that we have, i still need to learn to drive manual for when we go outside Singapore, particularly when we travel to, or if we ever need to go back to live in Europe
- driving a car was not a natural thing for me because i have very bad peripheral vision and i have very poor hand-eye coordination
- i am a little bit short. which makes reaching for the foot pedals not very easy. and also, when i do the parallel parking, i had to stand a bit to see through the passenger window while trying to do the clutch control... thankfully, i managed to find an instructor (towards the end of my classes) who gave me good instructions by looking at the side mirror instead of looking through the passenger window.

what advice could i give to people living in Singapore who are trying to obtain a new Driving License? below is my list:

- never make the mistake of putting up with grumpy instructors. find one that you go along with well because it's not only going to make the learning part difficult but it could also agitate and stress you while on the road, which could lead to accidents. i think it's best to be zen while driving. i have made this very expensive and regretful mistake of putting up with all the grumpy instructors who were randomly assigned to me each time i would book a practical lesson. i only realized this mistake after quite some time because i thought at first that this should be part of the training on how to be a good driver. totally not! and also, you need to pay extra cash to book an instructor. but it's totally worth it.

- wear comfortable clothes that don't restrict leg movement and best of all, wear comfortable shoes. i am so thankful i purchased a pair of foldable flat shoes that are super comfortable, it made controlling the foot pedals a lot easier. especially when you're doing two hours of parallel and vertical driving practice! it made a lot of difference.

- try to schedule your lesson dates close to each other. finish all your lessons as soon as possible. i think it goes without saying that the sooner you get it over with, the better. as for me, i had the misfortune of getting lazy halfway through my lessons. and also, there were circumstances beyond my control that made it impossible for me to have the time to take the lessons. and so, it dragged for more than a year. this is also because you have to book lessons a month in advance because the schedules get taken so fast.

- also, never give up (i know i almost did). even if you fail the Driving Exam on the first try. it just means that you're not good enough yet and you have to try harder. everything can be learned. and eventually, you will learn to drive properly. and i'm actually glad they are strict here when it comes to passing people at Driving Exams. it means they are seriously concerned for the safety of the people. because driving is no joke.

UPDATE: and here i was last weekend (11 July), finally driving our car out on the road on the way to
lunch a few blocks from our place... hubby says i look constipated while driving. LOL!

special thanks:

- to Mr. Chong Meng Leong of SSDC who managed to teach me properly how to do parallel parking when you are too short to look through the passenger window.

- to some of my thoughtful friends who kept encouraging me. and those who congratulated me. :)

- and lastly, i'm just glad i have a wonderful husband who kept on motivating me.

best of luck to those who have stumbled upon my blog and are persevering to get a Driving License! :)

Sunday, June 7, 2015

A Climber's Life

reunited with the wall after more than ten years

more than ten years back, i was regularly climbing walls with colleagues back in the Philippines. and i was enjoying it very much. and now, here in Singapore, i was lucky enough to have found a nice bunch of fellow wall lovers (or huggers) to go climbing with regularly.

i find this activity more physically challenging and a hundred times more fun than just plain running or swimming. also, going to the gym was never an option for me, even though we conveniently have our own one at home. i find it really boring. i hate being stuck in a crowded, air-conditioned (meaning cold) room, which is more often than not, reeking of human effluvia. no thanks!

what i love best about wall climbing is that it reminds me so much of the time when i was a kid back in the province climbing trees with my friends as a favorite pastime. i never really lost this love for tree climbing. that's why, the last time i was in Sydney, i found myself perched on one of the gorgeous old trees at Hyde Park. they were perfect for climbing!

perched on one of the huge old trees at Hyde Park, Sydney... my mini skirt did not prevent me from going at it :D

this love of trees and nature would eventually motivate me to climb mountains. and i managed to climb quite a few back in the days. my best climb ever was Mt Pulag, the tallest mountain in Luzon.

a neophyte climber finding herself on the Killer Akiki Trail on the way to the summit of Mt. Pulag

and the super best thing about climbing: the view from the top. just look at these gorgeous photos below taken from my previous travels that required climbing a certain height:

the surreal Game of Thrones-like feel of the surrounding mountains, with the whole village jutting out of the cliffs at Rocamadour, France

the rolling vineyard hills of Tuscany on the way to San Gimignano from Lucca

the view of the Hudson River from atop the Empire State Building in New York

and as Ferris Bueller would put it, everything just looks so peaceful from way up there. :)

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Three Years at Being a (Not-So-Smug) Mom

my little kitten and moi
i'm not really in the habit of talking about being a mom so much as i think it bores and annoys most people. i remember back when i was single, i thought about parents, especially new parents as smug, self-righteous and overbearingly annoying especially when they are bragging about their kids and offering you unsolicited advice on how to become a good parent even when you're not even a parent yet, or have no plans of being one.

and so when i became a parent, i promised myself i wouldn't be this type of annoying person who would post plenty of their kid's pictures all over the internet and post updates about the teeniest developments on their kid's mundane existence. or swoon over the proud moments when their kids get some sort of achievement in school, etc. i promised myself i shall never become a stage mother. ever. my kid's achievements will be hers and hers alone. not mine... and definitely not to make up for my lack thereof.

but i like to be a smug parent once a year, at least on my blog, where people have a choice to be subjected to such smugness or not. :D so, here goes my annoying once-a-year blog about my not-so-smug parenting experience that i hope could be useful.

if i have any good piece of advice to share to all moms out there, it's to STOP overdoing it! there is this one famous celebrity in the Philippines who keeps saying, "benign neglect is better than malignant concern" and i'm kinda like that as a mom. i don't live my whole life for my daughter. i try to keep a balance in between caring for myself and and my family. i really don't want to lose my individuality and freedom in the process. come to think of it, this rule applies to all relationships.

parenting is one of the toughest things to do. at every stage of your child's development, you'd think that the next stage will be a lot easier than the one you are dealing with right now... but no. each stage has its own unique difficulties. but you learn a lot in the process. not just about your kid but about yourself and also about life.

also, not smothering your child and not being all over the place will let the child have some independence. letting your child do certain activities by themselves -- eating, dressing/undressing, tidying up her toys, etc -- helps to build confidence at an early age.

right now, the most challenging part for me is instilling discipline. especially since she is quite a stubborn person totally not unlike myself and my husband. stubbornness runs in the family. especially among women.

one very important thing i have learned about this special experience is to be more patient. it's really good for me because it has helped me to deal with adult people also who have the propensity to be juvenile and childish.

despite the hardships, i find parenting to be so much more rewarding than i ever would have thought or imagined. it is not really for everybody. back then, i did not even know that it is something to which my very limited faculties and capabilities could actually even hope to endeavor someday... but here we are. and we make the most and the best out of it.

the love between a child and a parent, i would say, is the purest one of all. and that receiving your child's love is the ultimate rewarding experience you'll ever get in this life. i'd say you haven't really experienced true love at all until you become a parent... and that's just about the smuggest thing i could ever say about being a parent so i will end this blog right now. :D

oh wait, i have one more coming -- best of all it has unbelievably made me want to be a better person, and to be a good role model for the first time in my life! (that's really the last bit!)

happy Mother's Month to all the mothers and mother figures out there!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Dangers of the Digital Now

i am one of the very few people i know who are always reluctant about fully succumbing to the lure of digital technology despite being exposed to it a lot at work. i mean, i only got my own cell phone years after everybody else has been already addicted to texting. and every time i get one, i never get tempted to buy the latest one. i've only had four cell phones since 2001. the longest time i have owned a phone is six years. and i rarely even used it. i would leave it at home most of the time... until it has become impossible to leave cell phones at home recently (it happened to me with the advent of phone cameras). and so, i started bringing it with me everywhere, but i would always keep it on silent and limit its use to the phone cam and keeping in touch with faraway family and friends and having a few useful apps.

to be honest, i never liked cell phones. it's because you have no excuse to be unavailable. we cannot possibly be available all the time. there should be certain times when you should be logged off from everything else and take special quiet time on your own.

i have come across this video from TED about how time is being cannibalized, fragmented and warped in the digital age. what i think it is saying is that humans, unlike machines are not designed to be ubiquitous and omnipresent. we have a past, present and future. we have these timelines. but the computer does not have this. with computers, time is fluid and flows in all directions. it's making it difficult for us to set priorities and to live in the moment and make every bit of that moment count. instead, we get distracted all the time. i for one, cannot keep my attention too long on a certain piece of literature. i keep jumping in-between browser tabs on my laptop, while browsing facebook and uploading images on instagram and sending messages on viber and whatsapp... phew! and i get lost in all these distractions that i barely notice my daughter anymore or pay attention to my husband when he's trying to talk to me...

i think what's really important is that we keep in mind that everything that is important to us -- family, friends, occasions, work, goals -- deserve meaningful time and attention. not a virtual one, but a real one.

lately, a lot of people are confusing virtual space and time where you exchange likes and empty comments as real-life conversation and meaningful exchange... what a sad world it will be if more and more people will be like this. i mean, how can you connect a meaningful memory over a facebook like or comment? we don't map meaningful life experiences and exchanges in our brain this way. meaningful exchanges are supposed to be multi-sensory -- there has to be music in the background, a mood in the surrounding ambience, some touching, laughter that you can see and hear... we associate meaningful experiences with not just the sights but also the sound and the smell and the mood of the moment... and this does not, and never shall exist on cyberspace.

i feel sorry for people who cannot distinguish real life over virtual reality -- their involvement unsympathetic, their attention myopic and their capacity to give and receive real love and affection borders on fantasy and make-believe without most of them realizing it... i hope it's not too late for them to get back in touch with the real world where humanity exists... which is right here and right now.