Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Iceland Trip Part 2: A Day Around Reykjavik

(please do not use my photos without permission)

i'm actually starting this series of blogs in reverse chronological order because i want to save the best for last.

our last day in Iceland was spent walking around Reykjavik (the capital city) with my Icelandic friend giving us a free tour and bringing us to a very nice and famous restaurant. it's a welcome respite to just take a relaxing walk around the city on our last day of touring around Iceland as we had been driving all over the country for the past days, all the while hurrying to see places few and far between.

first on our list was Hallgrimskirkja.  like most Icelandic words, the pronunciation is entirely different from how it is spelled. i didn't understand which place my friend was referring to at first when she mentioned it. until she explained how certain letter combinations are pronounced a certain way, totally unlike the spelling.

those linear columns are reminiscent of the spectacular basalt rock formations at the Reynisfjara (more about this later on)

the church's organ pipes

i was surprised that (rowdy) visitors are allowed to play the organ

this is the view of the city facing the west... i love how colorful and neat the houses look. farther out there on the horizon is the peninsula of Snæfellsness, which is the setting of Jules Verne's "Journey to the Center of the Earth" (Voyage au centre de la terre, is the original french title)

Hallgrimskirja is actually a very modern Lutheran Church, which has a viewing gallery at the top, offering a magnificent 360-degree view of the city. Reykjavik is a nice city for walking, with lots of interesting places to eat, nice small shops and also a few quirky stops.

yes, "Phallological Museum", you read that right ;) we just passed by it while driving in the traffic, trying to find our hotel

i kinda feel like this sometimes :D

this gay bar is right next to our hotel... this rainbow symbol seems to be brandished all over Europe, i noticed.

with my Icelandic friend who gave us a tour of the city

musicians on the street wearing the flag of the country they came from... they came from everywhere!

we stopped by a book shop and then went for a drink at a bar where most locals go. it was packed for a weeknight! we sat al fresco to enjoy the sun -- 20 degrees is the hottest as hot can get in the summer, i guess. without the wind, it didn't really feel very cold for me. my friend told us we were lucky to have this weather because she had a friend who stayed for a month and only got a couple of sunny days.

there was a sale (utsala) in the book shop that we visited

i've always been curious about Haldor Laxness, as i've come across him at bookshops and book reviews online. i actually wanted to get "A Letter to Laura" by Thorbergur Thordarson (Þórbergur Þórðarson) because we visited his birthplace and museum in Hali. i didn't manage to find the book in English. i just contented myself with one that has excerpts from it (yellow book in pic).

the Blue Lagoon algae mask that i bought at the airport in Keflavik. i was not able to visit the Blue Lagoon (we went to the less crowded one in Myvatn up North instead), so i thought, i'd buy this mask to make up for it. :)

i didn't buy so much stuff from the shops except for a couple of books from Icelandic authors and some small stuff (magnets, postcards and key chains) to give to friends. i noticed that most of the items they sell in the shops are imported from other places and therefore, expensive. so i didn't really do a lot of shopping.

Fish Market restaurant, apparently one of the best seafood restaurants in Reykjavik

strolling around the city after dinner to help digest the heavy food. this was almost midnight. this street stretches out into the harbour. we wanted to keep walking there to watch the sunset at first, but i was too tired and too lazy since our hotel (with a warm comfy bed) is already close by. and sleep beckons more powerfully.

The Hallgrimskirkja at night
we went to The Fishmarket (fiskmarkadurinn) restaurant that my friend booked in advance. we were glad that we booked in advance because the place was packed even for a weeknight. it was a pity my phone died right after we sat down inside the restaurant. but i doubt my phone pics would look nice anyway because the place is dimly lit.

we took the Tasting Menu that is composed of four appetizers, three main dishes (if i remember correctly) and two desserts. we had to buy the wine separately, though. the food was really good. the place was nice also. the service was good and the staff were friendly and they take the time to explain what is in each dish. i could never forget eating whale for the first time. we didn't really know what they were going to serve in the menu, so it came as a surprise that we're eating whale. it tasted like really tender beef. according to my friend, there are only three countries in the world where whale hunting is legal -- Iceland, Norway and Japan. i felt a bit guilty about eating it, and so it's probably the last time i'm eating whale.

after dinner, we wanted to go bar crawling at first, but we were so full and suddenly so tired. and also, my friend had to work early the next day. i was quite thankful the bar crawl didn't push through because we'd have to wake up at 5 AM the following day because of our early flight to Amsterdam... but that's another story...

Reykjavik is a nice little city that is good for walking. especially if you are blessed with a wonderful weather, like we were. my friend says Iceland, especially Reykjavik is fast becoming more and more touristy. we saw that for ourselves because they are starting to build more and more hotels around. we are lucky to see Iceland before it gets too crazy touristy and even more expensive that it already is.

next time, i'll be writing about Borgarnes and Akureyri. :)

Friday, August 14, 2015

The AirFrance La Première Experience

this blog has been UPDATED! was first published in July 18, 2015. scroll down below for the updates.

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:

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

the huge entertainment screen right on top of that extra seat right in front of me

magazine rack
my baby, all tucked in

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 quite hot, and it was not that cold in the cabin, i only wore the bottoms. 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 Bouche 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.

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! :)

UPDATE (Toulouse to Paris to Singapore):

at the Toulouse Airport, we were surprised to be approached by one of the AirFrance staff immediately upon approaching the check-in counters. they recognized us from our faces, without even looking at our passports first. i'm not really sure if i find that very thorough and professional, or a bit creepy... it's one of the reasons why i deleted most of the pictures on this weblog just recently. i don't like to be stalked. :D

at the Paris Lounge, we had plenty of time spent at the Salon VIP (the AirFrance First Class Lounge), i asked to be booked for a back massage. but they told me that it is only available at 3:30 PM (we arrived around 2PM, i think) since the masseuse leaves at 4PM. too bad for me because i was having lunch came 3:30PM. filling in my empty stomach was my priority at the time. it was a pity though, that they only offer this service at such a limited schedule.

meanwhile, i really enjoyed the lunch. apparently, the menu was prepared by no less than three-Michelin starred chef, Alain Ducasse. the meal was superb!

Lobster and pasta, from a menu prepared by three-michelin starred chef, Alain Ducasse

Baba au rhum with a bit too much rhum
during the flight, the staff, as usual were very accommodating. even the Captain came to welcome us personally when we arrived. although, the flight attendant who was dedicatedly serving the First Class cabin seemed to be too busy doing a lot of things and was not as attentive as the flight attendant on our way to Paris.

the food during the flight was also not as nice as the ones served on the way to France. i didn't drink a lot of wine this time. i only had a couple of glasses of champagne. even the champagne was not as good as the first one. although, it was still of premium quality.

on the way back to Singapore, we had some caviar and blinis for appetizers... not really a big fan of caviar
the best part of the trip coming back to Singapore was our arrival at Changi Airport. the woman accompanying us to the immigration took care of everything. she drove us to the immigration counters, took care of the immigration stuff, accompanied us to the baggage belt where our baggage was already waiting for us upon arrival, and then to the taxi stand priority queue where there was nobody at all. It was so fast! we really appreciated it. especially since we saw this really long queue of people trying to get past the immigration when we arrived. we could actually skip this queue because there are dedicated entryways for Residents, but my daughter does not have access to this yet because of her age. 

this is what i best loved about being on First Class -- avoiding all that hassle and buying you a lot of time... because as we all know it, Time is Luxury. ;)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Driving Around Iceland, Part 1: Teaser Post

To the uninitiated, Iceland frightfully sounds a lot like some piece of land filled with a lot of ice. Well, it's not true at all. There are actually more ice in Greenland (its neighbor country, a bit higher in altitude) than in Iceland. Although, it is true that I specifically went there to see the ice, I went during the summer so I only had the chance to see them on mountaintops and fjords, and melting on glacial lagoons, thankfully. Yes, glacial lagoon, you read that right! More about that later! :)

I shall be posting about the Ice in Iceland lastly in these series of posts because it is the part of my trip that is the most amazing of all. And I really like saving the best for last. For now, I just want to present the itinerary of our crazy driving trip back and forth Reykjavik (the capital city) -- going down South towards the Southeast (Jokulsarlon) and back again towards the West (Borgarnes) and then the North (Akureyri) and finally back again in Reykjavik. I have to admit, we didn't plan this trip well enough. We did not do a lot of research and just followed the suggested itinerary of our Travel Agency blindly.

You can see our crazy itinerary on the left side, and our driving path in blue on the map. We have actually spent almost 18 hours on the road, according to Google maps. It didn't feel like that at all because we had plenty of stopovers at gorgeous sights along the way! :)

But it was not such a bad trip at all. Contrarily, I would say it was my best trip of all, to date. Iceland is just Amazing with a capital A. It has landscapes that boggle the mind and make you feel like you are in another planet. I mentioned this to my Icelandic friend, whom I visited while I was there, and she said in fact that the landscapes are more amazing in the highlands. Regretfully, we only visited the coastal areas, which have paved roads. We didn't get a proper vehicle for rough roads and the highlands, unfortunately. She said the landscapes there are quite like the ones on the moon that there are actually astronauts training up there to get a feel of what it would be like on the moon. Is that Amazing or not?!

So I leave you hanging for the meantime, awaiting my series of posts featuring one of the most magical sights you will ever see in this world... Ciao for now! :)

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

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.