Friday, October 9, 2015

Hazy Thoughts

ever since i can remember, there has always been the haze in Singapore but it has never been as worse as it has been these past weeks. it has affected everybody's health and mood. the skies looked so dark and bleak all the time. it reminded me a lot of winter when i was back in Europe. but without the cold, it just felt so eerie. sometimes, it even makes me think of being stuck in a stagnant sand storm. it's not a very good image to conjure, especially for somebody with a tendency to be claustrophobic, like myself.

just look at these harrowing images of the forest fires in Indonesia taken by a drone from Greenpeace:

i find it crazy how we felt like we were being poisoned little by little each day, but then, i thought about all the others that actually live in Indonesia in closer proximity to the haze. i read that some birds and even children would just drop dead. it made me feel concerned about my own daughter hearing about these things.

i think that more than the greed of the capitalists and the corruption of the people in their government, it's mostly mere heartlessness and lack of empathy that make people turn a blind eye on something so despicable like this. i read somewhere that there's nothing we can do about saving the planet now because it's already too late. but at least, we can still try to save our souls.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Iceland Trip, Part 4: Akureyri and the North

(please refrain from using my pictures without permission)

continuing from my last installment, we were in Borgarnes (the west). from there, we headed up North towards Akureyri, which was about four and half hours' drive. as usual, we drove along the coastal areas. the paths were long and winding. the clouds hovering low over the fjords, still. there were times when the roads were really zigzagging and steep. it would get all foggy and cold one moment, and then all sunny and clear and warmer the next.

the small city of Akureyri in the North -- apparently, the second biggest in Iceland, next to Reykjavik

we had lunch at the City Center in a nice restaurant called Strikid, which has very good reviews and located a few meters from our hotel. i really enjoyed my seafood lunch.

the view of Akureyri as we cross the huge lake on the way to Myvatn

i would open the windshield from time to time to capture in stills the magnificent fjords with countless tall waterfalls trickling down the sides. it was beautiful and breath-taking.

we passed by an area that is apparently famous for seals. we didn't make a lot of stops this time as we wanted to just have a quick lunch at Akureyri city center and then head off to Myvatn to relax in the pools of hot water that it is famous for. apparently, they call it The Blue Lagoon of the North.

i wanted to visit The Blue Lagoon in Reykjavik at first. but upon reading the reviews and finding out how despicably touristic the area is, we felt it best to opt for the less crowded one. it was indeed less crowded, but still crowded for me.

the fog closing in on us as we leave behind Akureyri for Myvatn

first stop -- Godafoss in Bárðardalur, it was huge, magnificent and gorgeous!

we passed by this geothermal plant on the way to the baths... lots of interesting colors here. i just might make a painting out of this pic. :)

and this is how the pool looked like. it's bluer than it looks. this pic was taken with my husband's crappy blackberry phone.

we passed by this crater on the way back to Akureyri, which was a tempting two-hour hike. but we didn't have the time. they say it has a blue crater lake like Mt. Pinatubo. i forgot the name, though.

we settled for this short walk along a small pond with pseudo-craters... quite interesting.

at the Skútustaðir craters -- standing here on top of one of the pseudo-craters. it was so cold and windy. white birds far out in the background.

a short literature about the place

we stayed at the baths for about an hour. it was very nice and relaxing. the water was a bit stinky, though. but that was to be expected. there was no long queue to enter and the pool was not very crowded. but still too crowded for really good pictures. 

and then we started on the road again. there were a lot of interesting landscapes and rock formations and nature walks along the way but we didn't really have much time to do some of the long walks, unfortunately. along the way, we managed to find an interesting walk at Skútustaðir. we walked around a small pond surrounded by pseudo-craters. it was out-of-this-world! the pseudo-craters were like little versions of Taal volcano in the Philippines. except that they don't erupt... i think... the place was so windy and looked a bit lonely. and not at all touristy. it made my heart ache a bit looking around and seeing how beautiful everything is! it was the exact same feeling i was having while reading "Wuthering Heights" back in highschool.

some nice portrait graffiti that looks like my pretty friend (took this pic for her)  

some guy (probably drunk) took a dive right into the small playground... good thing no kids (or adults) were harmed

old and blue

we headed back to Akureyri to take a bit rest at the hotel, which is right at the middle of everything. and then off we were for a short walk again at the city center. after which, we decided to get dinner at the same nice restaurant where we were for lunch.

back at Strikid for apéro and dinner

hubby took the N° Iceland (top) and i took some strawberry-flavored cocktail, which was really good and refreshing.

having a cool drink and a nice simple dinner (the place was famous for burgers) was a really good way to cap off another tiring day on the road... but hang in there, dear readers. more adventure awaits... ;)

Friday, September 11, 2015

Iceland Trip Part 3: Borgarnes and a Bit of the West

(please refrain from using my photos without permission)

first of all, i would like to say that i fell in-love with our hotel in Borgarnes called Ensku husín. The name of the hotel translates to "English House". just look at how charming it is from inside and out:

this is the view from the restaurant

a collection of old books

i love this binding

the midnight sunset

our little room... the only thing i didn't like was the white curtains. it was difficult to sleep because the sun sets at midnight and at 4AM, it feels like midday already.

Ensku husín in Borgarnes

since we were traveling from Jokulsarlon (Southeast) we had to pass by Reykjavik, and then had to go through an underwater tunnel, which was the only time we had to pay for a toll fee. it was a long way from Jokulsarlon to Borgarnes but it was never boring. the landscapes were always spectacular and entertaining. of course we made several stops on the road, but i will talk about them in the last part of my post about Iceland.

we had trouble finding the hotel at first because it was outside the city center and we did not have  GPS. the hotel signage was not very obvious. but we managed to find it after making several turns.

lovely cascades inside a private fishing property a few meters from our hotel (this is a special long exposure shot taken with an ND 10-stop filter)

walking around the hotel area right around midnight

at first we were disappointed that our hotel was far away from the city center. but after visiting the city center, which did not really offer much for sights and/or activities, we were thankful we have our beautiful countryside hotel.

some church at the city center

Filipino restaurant in Borgarnes, unfortunately, they're only open in the evening

some hobbit houses

after settling in, we decided to walk around and see more of the beautiful surroundings. there was a private fishing area with a waterfall. we went inside the area because we did not see the sign at first that it was private property. there were some people doing some fishing, but they did not care about us taking pictures of the waterfall.

around the city center, there was not much to see and do. i was quite surprised to find a small Filipino restaurant though. right in the middle of nowhere is a Filipino restaurant. imagine that?! we chatted about it with the hotel staff and they said there are indeed 5 Filipino families in Borgarnes, which has a population of only 1,800! :)

Deildartunguhver hot spring in Reykholtsdalur -- water was 100 degrees hot!

all hot and bothered

we went further out to Reykholtsdalur in the afternoon to visit the hot spring in Deildartunguhver. Apparently, it's the biggest hot spring in all of Europe. it brings hot water in the surrounding areas to even as far out as Reykjavik. speaking of water, the tap water in Iceland is the most refreshing water I have ever tasted in my life. i really missed it immediately after leaving for Amsterdam.

this view just makes me want to run around with my arms wide open and start singing... the hills are alive with the sound of music... la, la, la... :D

shot from the car... it looks like rain over that mountain and certain areas of the pond. pictures don't do justice.

on the way to and out of Borgarnes are these magnificent views on the road. everything is so green and blue and the clouds just seem to love the mountains and the plains too much, they are always hanging around to create the most magnificent cloudscapes i have ever seen in my life.

it's interesting to note that the temperature gets increasingly more comfortably warm as we headed north. usually, it would be colder higher up in latitude. but it does not work that way in Iceland, for some reason. and because it gets warmer up north, the landscapes varied differently. it was so much greener as opposed to the eerie, mostly moss-filled lava land and glacier frost of the south.

self-service kiosk selling tomatoes -- nobody's manning the kiosk but they say that there's a hidden camera somewhere to avoid theft. :D

best-tasting strawberries from a greenhouse not so far away from the hot spring.

we passed by a greenhouse selling fresh strawberries and they were the sweetest. there seemed to be a lot of fruit and vegetable kiosks that are self-service. we had trouble paying for them because we had no change. fortunately, one of the people in the queue had some change for us. the strawberries were some of the best i've tasted ever.

Mt. Baula

Gabrok crater at Bifrost

i love how there's almost nobody there.

on the way to Akureyri, we passed by a huge mossy lava land, with interesting weird-looking rock formations. on the way back from Akureyri, we decided to visit Bifröst to climb onto the craters of Gabrok.

i love how there weren't so many tourists in and around Borgarnes. i had the most wonderful time revelling in its lovely, lonely landscapes.

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 than it already is.

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