Sunday, August 24, 2008

Caldera Cruise

I am always way behind my travel entries but this is the last of the Santorini holiday: the evening cruise in the Caldera.

Caldera is a cauldron-like opening formed by the collapse of land following a volcanic eruption. In my earlier posts about Santorini, I mentioned that the island is the remains of a volcano eruption thousands of years ago before inhabitants occupied the area.

Santorini’s caldera is formed by the following volcanic uninhabited and inhabited group of islands: Nea Kameni, Palea Kameni, Aspronisi, Therasia, and Thera.

The view of the Caldera lagoon from the bus. We have to go down the scary zigzagged road to the Athinios port where we will board a traditional ship for the evening dinner cruise.

This is a satellite view of Santorini archipelago showing the mouth of the Caldera.

The cruise was really nothing fancy but we wanted something different from our beach - pool - visiting small villages schema of things, so we chose the evening dinner cruise, which we thought was much better than the other day cruises offered. The boat was a traditional old replica of Santorini’s sailing boats that were used during the “Golden Age of Sails”, in the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century.

Oh, we had a bride and groom on board! Santorini is famous for wedding destinations and the couple just had their “I do” ceremony and now have joined the whole tourist troupe in cruising the Caldera and later to catch a glimpse of the lovely Oia sunset.

Greece is quite south of Europe but the sun during summer goes down later than in the Pacific, so we had a good time sailing the Caldera lagoon and admiring the beautifully formed rocky boulders, setting our eyes on the unspoiled white villages of Fira, Imerovigli, and Oia. They are so lovely up there, sitting on top of the graveled cliffs, we just had enough time to witness and experience the spectacular views before the sun vanished into the horizon and darkness enveloped us.

We had a little accident during the trip. Dutchman spilled my red wine on my Italian hand-made fabric bag. Good thing there was salt on board so I quickly smeared a lot of it on the stain. When we got back to our hotel I rinsed it with warm water. Thank heavens the stain was gone. I am pretty sure Dutchman will frown if he knew how much I paid for this bag.

Moi here, waiting for the boat to sail.

Here is a beautiful view of Fira from a distance with a huge ship mooring on its banks. I may have written this many times, Santorini is a very popular destination for touristic cruise ships touring the Mediterranean Sea.

The newlyweds, the bride and groom on our boat. I wish I had a better foto but it was not easy sneaking this one out.

The beautiful colors of volcanic rock layers on the boulders due to erosion.

Moi balancing on the deck.

Moi again. Windy day eh? Background is Fira, the capital of Santorini.

We have arrived in beautiful Oia.

And the famous sunset of Oia:

Anywho, it seems like I might be going back to Greece in a few weeks...

Travel Period: July 2008
Destination: Fira (Santorini - Cyclades Islands), Greece

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Typically Dutch 002: Draw Bridges & Caravans

The Netherlands is a water country, ergo bridges everywhere!

Draw bridges and caravans, even on the highway.

Last weekend we went to Friesland up north to visit friends. They speak a different language there by the way but ABN (Algemeen Beschaafd Nederlands - which is something like the nationally approved language) is also spoken by everyone. Along the A6 highway we stopped for a quickie as the highway drawbridge was open.

Drawbridges in the Netherlands come in many forms. Most of them are small wooden characteristic bridges in little villages that are drawn up by a pulley. Some are metal bridges operated by a remote control service, while this one is a highway bridge specially manned by a dedicated personnel.

And of course the caravan! What else can I say? Many Dutch own caravans and much to the annoyance of southern neighbors, they tow them down to Germany, France and Italy during summer, clogging their highways.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Hike in Utrechtse Heuvelrug forest

Last weekend, we hiked in Utrechtse Heuvelrug forest between Driebergen-Rijsenburg and Austerlitz. It was good hike I think. The sun was out and there was not a lot of wind.

I’ve also been checking out houses in this area but nothing caught my fancy. Here are a few fotos of the hike:

Horses grazing on the grass field.

Right behind this field is the NS railway that pass through Driebergen-Rijsenburg and Zeist (Utrecht) and the A12 highway.We could hear the train and the cars in the forest... so near, yet so far away.

The trees in this part are tall and lean but further ahead I saw lots of pine groves that make me think of winter.

Then we ran into a pretty black and yellow house with a red roof in the middle of the forest! I first thought it was a cafe restaurant but Dutchman corrected me that its actually a private house. Hmmm, it must be cool to live far away from the neighbors and in the middle of the forest... but I don’t know why being home alone in those serial killer types of movies suddenly and vividly sprung into mind?

Notice the grounds, the grass are brown because the sun could not shine through. The thick foliage covering cuts the sunlight from penetrating.

After the hike, we rewarded ourselves with patat (Dutch potato fries). Not really the healthiest dinner out there but we’ve earned it, and most importantly, I didn’t want to stand in the kitchen upon arriving home. There’s got to be some sort of balance in everything I guess.

Interestingly, I’ve lost 2 kilos recently. Oh, nothing to do with the patat really.

Tomorrow Sunday we are going up north. Hope the weather will be good.

Visit Period: August 2008
Destination: Driebergen-Rijsenberg (Utrechtse Heuvelrug - Utrecht), The Netherlands

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Typically Dutch 001: Dog or cat in the bike basket

I thought I will start a “Typisch Nederlands” (in English – Typically Dutch) foto entry that epitomizes the Dutch and the Netherlands.

Spotted this cute little puppy in a basket bike this weekend when I did the grocery.

In the Netherlands, cats, little puppies, and small dogs are carried by their doting owners in a bike basket. The most extraordinary I ever saw was in Maastricht. The little hyperactive dog stood on the bike’s steel rod while his master pedaled the bike!

For big dogs, the owners usually bike side by side with them. Hand on the bike handrail and the other hand on the dog’s leash. The most preposterous I ever saw in this country was a car slowly towing a dog. Unbelievable how lazy some people are.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Oudaen Castle Brewery (and Restaurant) in Utrecht

In the Centrum of Utrecht lies this small city castle along Utrecht’s oldest canal, the Oudegracht, veiled from the hustle and bustle of everyday little city life – shoppers going about on their daily and weekly rounds, street vendors displaying their wares, musicians on the prowl for a few euros a serenade, food carts selling ijs, shaorma, and pizza... and I like to sit during late afternoon in the outside terrace of this little city castle and listen to the feisty flower sellers scream at the top of their voices their last call for the flowers of the day.

Having witbier in Stadskasteel Oudaen in Utrecht. I quite like the striking imperial doorway of this café restaurant which was once a castle and still is a brewery.

Stadskasteel Oudaen brews its own beer. They also have brewery tours with beer tasting and sampling of their bitterganituur, a Dutch finger food specialty usually eaten together with an alcoholic beverage before dinner.

I had witbier (wheat beer – these beers have a significant proportion of malted barley) which I think is their Ouwe Daen beer. It tasted really good. Witbiers are said to be descendants from medieval beers. It has this thick hazy color and white lather top when served cold.

I’ve lived in Utrecht for 6 years (half of it in the suburbs but still part of Utrecht) but I think I just recently realized that this elegant café restaurant by the Oudegracht is actually a castle and a brewery.

Visit Period: July 2008
Destination: Utrecht Centre, The Netherlands

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Monday, August 04, 2008

Get on the donkey!

The donkeys in Santorini, especially in Fira and Oia are not just tourist attractions. They also earn a living!

For many who came to Santorini on a boat cruise, which means they first dock at the bottom of the cliffs, they have 3 options to get to the town above:

1) Walk—always the best option of course
2) Cable car
3) Donkey ride

The donkey ride is of course for everyone who wants to experience it, not just for the visitors coming from the boat cruise, but I don’t think I would be brave enough to sit on its back as the animal slowly nimble down (or up) the stairs while I stare with fright at the steep cliffs down below.

It is not for me so I will just take pictures.

Travel Period: July 2008

Boating in Amsterdam

Last Friday I went boating with some colleagues in Amsterdam. Weather forecast: 0% chance of rain. We could not believe it! This is the Netherlands where the sun only shine 2 weeks in a year. Two of my colleagues own a boat which is pretty cool if you live in a canal city. However, with only 2 weeks sunshine in a year, a boat is not the most practical investment in terms of ROI usability.

On the other hand, wouldn’t it be fab to go to work in a boat instead of the usual bike, scooter, car, tram, or train? Right in the corner of our office building is a canal to moor the boat. No mooring fees I believe. Now, that is a great idea.

I love this quaint section of Amsterdam.

Anyway, it was a fun time. We’ve all blown our numbers at work so it was like a little celebration for an impressive entrance to Q3. While we are excited to see our bank accounts at the end of the month, it really was our ego that kept all of us going. A real sales person is not just driven by the €€€. A real sales person is driven to win, driven by his or her ego.

I was in a grumpy disposition though as I thought it was my worse month, having been away on holiday, being sickly, moody and everything else. Worse month it is not really as I have overachieved (note to self: you are such a brat braggart... but, well, most sales people are anyway) but I live in a cutthroat world with an obstinate head who will not settle down for less. For which I am resolved that this is literally an affliction I have, a cross to carry, as it becomes personal to me. Argh, I think I am cursed with this outlook. Caught in a vicious cycle, month after month, running after my own tail – run, run, run for the tail. My own tail. Then all of a sudden, I get lost in the adrenalin chaos translation jumping junk.

This is in the Red Light District at around 5PM - quite lively with lots of people, well, mostly tourists, hanging out.

At any rate, I really don’t (want) prefer to blog about work, so I guess this is so much that I can afford to write on here. Sometimes I truly wish I have an anonymous blog without my fotos (although in this blog I am semi-anonymous anyway) where I can write about my interesting and every-so-often colourful career life in the flatlands. The battles I have to go through, choose, and fight for, and how the Dutch and Europeans see this forthright, little, willful Asian woman wriggling her way in the rat race and carving a hole in this man’s corporate world called the IT industry.

Writing is indeed therapeutic. It makes me calm. It makes ordinary people like you and me think of the things in our lives that matter, things we appreciate. It helps put stuff in our minds into words, words that we can read and validate. That is why I always say, I blog for myself.

The Sex Palace in Amsterdam Red Light District.

So much for that, the highlight of the boat trip are my Dutch colleagues who have never seen the light of day in Amsterdam. Throughout their Dutch lives, they have never set foot in the Red Light District! Big LMAO, ROTFL, LOL, and whatever cyber jargons you can think of! For real, they all went agog when we passed by the district.

At a snail’s pace our boat glided into the narrow canals of the forbidden terrain-NOT. My colleague's eyes wide open, wowed to this new discovery in the country they were born into, haha--'This is the Red Light District???' One of them requested we turn back so he could see the sexy hookers behind the windows for the second time. And we did.

I thought it was so funny! While all the tourists, wannabe tourists, and foreigners et al think that the Dutch go to hookers for pleasure, eat space cakes, smoke hash all day in the coffee shops, and euthanize their sickly grandparents. Yeah right ;-)

Visit Period: August 2008
Destination: Amsterdam Centrum (Amsterdam - North Holland), The Netherlands

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Sunday, August 03, 2008

Santorini, Greece: A Day at Perissa Beach

Perissa is the longest beach in Santorini with approximately 7 kilometers stretch of fine black sand due to the volcanic terrain. It is also the oldest beach in the island I believe.

This humongous mountain in the picture divides the 2 beaches: Kamari and Perissa (yes, Kamari is on the other side) but there is no short cut route to get from Perissa to Kamari or vice versa, only with the boat, which is approximately 5+ minutes compared to inland travel which is 30+ minutes. This mountain is also the location of the ancient Thira archaelogical ruins.

We almost booked a hotel in Perissa as Dutchman was quite familiar of the place having camped here during his younger years, but the reviews we read online were not all jolly compared to Kamari. We didn’t take chances and booked instead in Kamari but wanted to see Perissa while there.

The online reviews of holidaymakers that stayed in Perissa were right on smack. Unlike Kamari that has a compact and lively beach front, and resorts and hotels are within walking distance to the center and beach, Perissa is different. The resort hotels, restaurants, shops, and other touristy and commercial establishments were quite scattered and loose. There was not much to do in the evening too. The feeling of gezelligheid was just not there.

We also paid a visit to the camping Dutchman stayed some 20 years ago, and he had a blast remembering the old times, telling me this used to be here, that was not around here before, this area had an alley that goes right to the beach, where is the restaurant beside the camping, why aren’t there many campers, blah-di-blah-di- blah. His final conclusion: the camping grounds, a past glory.

20 years ago, resort hotels were almost nonexistent, an imaginary in Perissa and all around Santorini, and most of the tourists that visited the island were young European kids trailing on a backpack with a tent. Mode of transportation was boats, trains, buses, and sturdy hiking boots. Dutchman said there was no airport here before. Wow, the island surely have gone a loooong way!

He could not imagine camping and traveling on a backpack anymore. But I have challenged him that we should do 1 camping holiday (with a tent) at least once in our lives. I was met with a funny stare and told that I am a luxurious lady that will not last a day in a tent. Well, let’s set aside the comforts shall we? I would still do it for the experience.

As for the beach – I did dip in the cool waters, a great relief for me as the black sand was too hot to step on with bare feet. I didn’t bring any beach slippers and had to walk with my heeled espadrilles to the beachfront, haha. There were no sand dunes in the waters  though, instead there were rocks, so I had to tread on carefully because it can get slippery.

We had a late afternoon lunch snack at one of the tavernas. Some good old Greek salad, which is always refreshing, bread and a plate of calamari. Dutchman loves to order the Greek frappes while I settled for a rose wine.

For our souvenir of Perissa, Dutchman handed over to me a rock shaped like a penis, lol. He brought in this trip his snorkeling set and found this interesting looking rock while snorkeling on the shore. I had a laugh, of course! Great souvenir, ha-ha!

Me sitting on the ledge in Perissa beach.

A blue domed Greek Orthodox Church with beautiful pink flower trees on the grounds (a cross between frangipanis and bougainvillas) which reminds me of my childhood in Cebu. Our next door neighbor had many of these similar looking trees and the branches cascade down to our home’s wall gates and the flowers fall down on our terrain. I always manage to grab a few of them but was told I should not as I am stealing the flowers.

Typically Greek - white and blue colored doors, dilapidated quarters, domiciles, or in this case igloo, and corroded latches with hanging locks. If you look closely on the mountain rock, you can see a white house nestled in the cliff.

Vision for this foto op: Could be a nice store or perhaps a small roadside cafe, and me the business woman manning the little establishment, says the Dutchman.

Penis looking rock Dutchman found while snorkeling and what a nice way to lounge back on a lazy sunny afternoon.

We are having a light shared afternoon lunch here at one of the tavernas on the beach after dipping in the waters.

The entrance to the camping site in Perissa with the star-studded blue EU flag.

Travel Period: July 2008
Destination: Perissa, Santorini (Cyclades), Greece

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