Sunday, June 21, 2015

Bale Dutung

The "decathlon" of dining experiences.

That's how I'd describe Claude Tayag's menu at Bale Dutung, the restaurant my clique of museum hoppers chose as our splurge destination this year for our June 19th culture and food field trip. Yes, I drove all the way to Angeles City, Pampanga to eat at Chef Claude's well-known restaurant. It's also, I think, the epitome of Kapampangan cuisine. 

This trip was two years in the making. Man, JP, and I stumbled upon Bale Dutung when we went to the 2013 Philippine International Hot-Air Balloon Festival in Clark Field, Pampanga. Our wallets were not prepared for such decadence so we ate somewhere else. Since then, Bale Dutung was in my and in Man's restaurant bucket list. It finally became a reality this year. And it certainly was worth the wait.

We were welcomed into the very airy abode of the Tayags, with a bigger group composed of Xavier School alumni. This was their daddies'-day-out, complete with a road trip, a museum tour, and a hearty lunch before the main event... It was very similar to our day! But these dads were taking Sunday off too because they were teeing off at sunrise at Mimosa Country Club. And what a fun group they were! Instead of the usual restaurant dining experience, I felt that we were in a big party at someone's house because the dads were also talking with us during the four-hour dinner.

Back to us... The probinsyanas and the probinsyano were wowed by the table setting. One day, I will have a big dining room and will entertain guests this way too. 

Indeed, that's how we felt. Mary Ann, Claude's wife, hosted the dinner for us. She introduced our ten-course dinner, assuring us that we can go for seconds but with a caveat: we could only go back to the courses we liked to try again after we have finished our first tour of the degustation menu. She also discussed how the different dishes were prepared, which condiments paired best with which dish, and how we were supposed to eat some of the dishes (i.e., by hand, how to mix deconstructed dishes, etc). What I liked most about this dinner was that I needed to fully disclose my food allergies... They prepared versions of the seafood dishes that I could eat (the allergenic ingredients were replaced). I didn't feel deprived at all!

Dinner was a tour of the different flavours that a gastronomic experience in the Philippines could bring. We started off light with pako salad, followed by savouries, culminating with seafood kare-kare that previously wowed Anthony Bourdain. Dinner was finished off with tea (for me) and coffee for Man, Ate Mary, and Ate Bing. Plus our dessert. By the time we arrived at the tenth course, I certainly had no room for seconds. Bellies full, we were ready to take the long drive home. But Claude and Mary Ann, true hospitable Filipino hosts that they are, gave us tamales as baon to eat on the road in case we get hungry. Yes; just in case.

What this vehicle said is true:

How are we supposed to top this off next year?!?

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Top 15 survival tips from San Andreas (2015)

With one end of the West Valley fault lying so close to where I live, I thought that this disaster movie was an appropriate movie to watch one lazy weekend afternoon. It's all about a rescue helicopter pilot who successfully saved his wife and daughter in California after the strongest and most devastating fictional earthquake in history ravaged the length of San Andreas fault. Of course, the worst damage just had to be in San Francisco, which was levelled during the 1906 earthquake.

In the fictional earthquake scenario presented in the movie, parts of San Francisco was burning. The low-lying areas were underwater following a gigantic tsunami that went over the height of the Golden Gate Bridge. The skyscrapers dotting the city collapsed like dominoes. The peninsula became an island as the earthquake tore off the San Francisco area from the rest of California. Armageddon situation, right?

Now, to survive an earthquake such as this, I learned from the movie that one must have the following capabilities:
  1. flying helicopters
  2. flying small airplanes
  3. driving a pick-up truck
  4. parachuting from a plane
  5. driving a speedboat
  6. driving a speedboat over a cresting tsunami and riding it as it crashes to shore
  7. tapping into phone lines with a non-digital phone
  8. swimming
  9. knowing which container in a firetruck contains emergency supplies
  10. navigational skills in a city without the use of landmark buildings
Kidding aside, I liked the more REALISTIC survival lessons and emergency responses that we can do in case of an earthquake... all of which was shown in the movie:
  1. first aid
  2. drop. cover. hold.
  3. go to the highest point of a building to avoid being buried alive
  4. if there's no cover, stay close to the strongest parts of a building (like structural posts)
  5. go to higher locations when a tsunami is imminent
This end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it movie reminds me of 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow.  The hero saves the day and his family stays together in the end. However, I find San Andreas to be more scientifically plausible than 2012, for instance, because the story was driven forward by a fictional earthquake prediction model. This model allowed scientists to give warnings about the massive earthquake early enough for many people to evacuate. 2012, on the other hand based the redemption of people on arks that carried the elite few when the floods came.

Until the next movie about a disaster that threatens to wipe out the planet!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Bois de Sauvabelin

I like to explore places, specially since it only happens once in one's lifetime to be in a place for the first time. So for my first ever stay on the European mainland, I thought I ought to do a bit of exploring. After visiting the lakeside Château de Chillon, I decided to veer away from water for a while and go somewhere more inland... so I caught a bus, went down at some bus stop, and hiked (well, huffed and puffed, more like it!) without any preparation... and ended up facing a lake AGAIN. Yes, I walked my way towards Lac de Sauvabelin. 

The lake was an interesting place to be despite the lack of sporty activities aside from walking. As I sat down to rest after my hike, I noticed that there were lots of waterfowl calling the lake home... I had wanted to see a black swan but I didn't see one on this trip. Then there were the endangered animals that call the park by the lake home. I didn't know that there were breeds of cows, pigs, chicken, and rabbits whose populations are in need of conservation. 

And then there was the Tower. The Tour de Sauvabelin is a wooden tower with a dizzying spiral staircase. At the top, there was a panoramic map of the Swiss mountains laid out so that I can look at the mountains and then refer to the map to know which one is which. I didn't see Mont Blanc in the skyline from the tower, by the way. Nor the Matterhorn. *sigh* Oh well, there'll always be a next time, right. We never know, I might be snowboarding in the Swiss Alps someday (yes, Rochie, dream on!)

After taking in what Bois de Sauvabelin was all about, it was time to start going down. I wanted to be back in the city before dusk because while I am into exploring new cities, I don't want to get lost in the dark in an unfamiliar city where I can hardly communicate (thanks to my current inability to understand and speak French).

A well-placed bench for tired tourists like me.

Pathway towards the endangered animals being cared for at the park near the lake.

Lac de Sauvabelin

Stopping to take a photo of myself as an excuse to rest, while climbing
the spiral staircase of the Sauvabelin Tower.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

In macaron heaven

One of the most colourful confectionery I've ever seen. And they're pretty memorable for me too because I've been snacking on them whenever I encounter them when I travel.

As the Nestle Conference was drawing to a close, one of the other fellows mentioned that a must-try in Lausanne is the macaron. Okay, I just had to taste this... Particularly since this is Laduree, touted to be just the best macaron in the world.

It was really good! I thought that this was the perfect pasalubong for family and friends. And so I hoarded macarons... I bought 48 pieces of these wonderful sweets and packed them the best I could in my luggage, with the wish that they'd survive the journey home.

Well, they did survive. Just barely. The macarons were all fractured when I opened the box that ended up with my family. Oh well, it's the thought and the effort that counted.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Parlez-vous Anglais?

The clues were all there... I really had to learn how to speak French because I never know when I'll find myself in a French-speaking country.
  • My academic supervisor at the University of Queensland speaks French.
  • I used to housesit for two French postdoctoral fellows in Sydney when I first began to study for my PhD.
  • I found myself in Hanoi, where a lot of people speak French.
  • During the GRISP leadership course, I wound up with a group of African francophones whose attempt at teaching me to speak French led to me remembering tout de suite (roughly, this is French for right now, immediately, ASAP... you get the picture).
  • Matty and Val have been switching to French when they talk with each other while I watch with a blank face. (And they jokingly told me that when they tell me something in French, I just answer Oui).
  • I bought (on a whim) a Lonely Planet European languages phrasebook right after graduating from college and, naturally, there's a section in it about French sentences.
  • In Thailand, I ended up watching Gerard Depardieu's movie (French) without subtitles.
  • I studied short courses in culinary arts, a field in which much of the jargon is in French.
  • I was a resource person during a training course in which African Francophones were the students.
At the end of the day, I only got a few French words with me. So when I was told that I was going to the French-speaking region of Switzerland early in June this year, I was caught unprepared! I have no idea how I was supposed to communicate there if English isn't used as widely as in the Philippines. 

And so with a very limited French vocabulary, I flew halfway around the globe to be in one of the most expensive countries in the world. But, I did bring one very important sentence, which I picked up after reading a Nancy Drew mystery story: Parlez-vous Anglais? (Do you speak English?). Well, the sentence did not prove to be useful in the Geneve-Aeroport train station, it turned out, because I bought a ticket from the vending machine and because I couldn't find the English version of the instructions screen. I misinterpreted a question in which I had to answer 1 or 2... and I thought this was about how many tickets I was going to buy that day. 

(Turned out I was being asked whether I'd be buying first- or second-class tickets.)

I found myself alone struggling with ordering food, several times. Of course, my first question after the requisite Bon jour greeting in the restaurant, I just had to ask: Parlez-vous Anglais? The waitress promptly said no (uh-oh!) so I had to dig deep into my very limited French vocabulary and non-existent knowledge of grammar with one goal in mind: I get understood enough to get my food. Good thing that the boys taught me the French translation for numbers (although I can only go up to five right now); all I had to figure out was what to order. Payment was a different thing altogether because I didn't know how to ask for the bill. An English-speaking guy taught me a new sentence: C'est combien? (How much?); the internet dished out Je voudrais l'addition, s'il vous plaît. (I would like the bill, please.). These sentences both came in handy.

Then there's the transportation. I kept wondering how'd I know if I already have to get off the bus. I kept hearing an announcement overhead saying, "Prochain arrêt" just before the bus halted. The disembodied voice in the bus continued to say it each time; but the announcement kept ending with a different French word, or two. I finally figured out that this meant "Next stop".

I finally gave up, one afternoon, deciphering the French language without help. So I got myself a Lonely Planet  French phrasebook and has kept it in my bag since. We never know, I just might find another reason to speak in French in some random part of the world.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

How many languages does it take to buy cheese?

My last day in Switzerland finally arrived. But instead of relaxing in the morning before I went to the airport, I was doing what typical Filipinos do when they're out-of-town: pasalubong shopping. I had already purchased macarons and chocolate. The last item on my list was Val's special request: cheese. As per the advice of one of the shopkeepers, I proceeded to Globus, a hypermarket in Lausanne. After a quick tour around, I couldn't find the cheese. So I looked for someone who could speak in English. 

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a grocer who spoke English at that time. I did find, however, find a guy who carved ham for customers to taste. After tasting the ham he offered (which I don't think is jamon iberico... must be from some other breed of pig), I attempted to ask where the cheese was. And at that point, I realised that I could barely speak other languages aside from French. Here's how our conversation went (where was my Lonely Planet French phrasebook when I wanted to use it?!?):

Rochie: Parlez-vous Anglais?
Grocery staff: No. Parlez-vous Español? Italiano?
Rochie: Je parle peu Español et Italiano. 
Grocery staff: Si!
Rochie (switching languages): Dove e il formaggio?

And the ham grocer danced his way, guiding me towards the cheese stall. Thank goodness for the cable networks! I wouldn't know how to ask about cheese (in Italian) if it weren't for that cooking show in the Italian channel. 

I really have to learn another language, earnestly.

Friday, June 5, 2015

my top five reasons to revisit Lausanne-Ouchy, Switzerland

I was lucky to have been selected as one of the young scientist attendees at the Nestlé Conference in Lausanne, Switzerland. Thank you to the people who made one of the items in my bucket list become a reality! 

And so (as per usual), I only prepared clothes for the conference. I didn't know anything about where I was going outside conference hours. I didn't even know that many of the people I would be interacting with, outside of the conference, did not (or refused to) converse with me in English. And little did I know that I was staying in a VERY DIFFERENT part of Lausanne compared to the conference venue. So, I read up about the place a bit while I was exploring the area. Thanks to Wikipedia, Google Maps, Compagnie Générale de Navigation, I was able to learn more about the village; and my trusty Nikon D60, my Sony Action Camera, and my iPhone, because I was able to capture the beauty of the place.

Here's what I've gathered... and I'll add more information as I read more about Lausanne-Ouchy.

Lausanne-Ouchy is a port town and a popular tourist destination (after all, Lac Léman is surrounded partly by Lausanne-Ouchy). I immensely enjoyed my stay in this area, albeit the shortness. While walking around on my first night, I promised myself that I would go back here on vacation and explore Switzerland even more... I will be back AND will be speaking in French by then. Promise. 

Here are a few reasons why I'll go back:

#1 The hotels
The hotel I stayed at is called Hotel du Port. Don't be deceived by the relatively small façade of this hotel because my room was big enough for a family of four people! Despite the size, the room was really very cozy. But aside from the room, the highlight of my stay at Hotel du Port was the breakfast at its restaurant. The maître d'hotel always welcomed me warmly and it made me feel instantly at home in my temporary home. I think I was winding down my stay in Ouchy when she asked me why I always looked happy; I told her because I was really happy for being in sunny Switzerland. If Ouchy were the standard of how beautiful this part of Switzerland is, who would be in his/her right mind not to be happy to be there, right? I mean, just look at some of the pictures I took!

street-side cafes
The Hotel Aulac. Wow!
I thought Disney princess stories came true when I saw this castle: Chateau d'Ouchy.

#2 Lake-side vistas

For me, the lake-side area of Lausanne-Ouchy was an interesting place for strolling. If I were not staying in Lausanne-Ouchy, I'm almost sure I'd end up here in one way or another. Why it's worth the visit? Lausanne-Ouchy provides beautiful views of the other side of the lake (i.e., France) and of the Alps. For this tropical girl, it was quite disconcerting to see the mountains still capped with snow IN SUMMER! In fact, I got so intrigued by the snow-capped peaks of Dents du Midi that I rode on a ferry to get a closer look! The resort towns of Thonon-les-Bains and Evian-les-Bains (yes, as in Evian, the expensive bottled water) were also pretty to look at from the Lausanne-Ouchy side of Lac Léman. 

Aside from the Alps and the French towns, I could also see the shore leading to Vevey. Between Lausanne and Vevey (which I knew is where Nestlé has its global headquarters) lies the Lavaux, a grape vineyard region. Then there's Montreux, which I've heard has a statue of Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of Queen who died of AIDS in the 1990s.

Lac Léman is a major transportation hub, it appears, because there were so many boats and watercraft in the water. In fact, I could see a few ferries transporting people to the different lakeside towns. Since it's summer, I was also looking for jet-skis and wakeboarders. If there were wakeboarders, I would have found out how much it would cost to wakeboard there.

#3 Relaxing stroll on the quay
Tree-lined, with lots of beautiful gardens and promenades; that's my first impression of the quay when I saw it. I enjoyed walking around, taking in the sights... there weren't a lot of people and it felt more peaceful and wholesome than Manila's Baywalk (when it was still dotted with bars and concert stages). 
Hat seller

A gardener tending the summer flowers by the quay
I was told people drink directly from the fountain here. Uhm... no, thanks. I'm not used to drinking naturally clean water (anymore).
#4 Starting point for border crossings
Seeing France is enough... not for me! With France at plain sight, I wanted to actually go there! Thanks to the Compagnie Générale de Navigation (CGN), I was able to visit Thonon-les-Bains with other Nestlé Conference young scientists. It was a relatively fast border crossing; far shorter than taking the train around the lake. Because of the CGN making my trip to France possible, one of my imagined versions of France was corrected: there's no background accordion/violin music while walking on the streets of Thonon-les-Bains! Oh well, it's only in the movies, I guess.

#5 Photography
I guess that this is an obvious reason, because I took a lot of photos in this portside town. Unfortunately, I've only been in Ouchy for a few days. I didn't get a chance to take sunset photos from this side of the lake (although I did from Thonon). And I've been there when it was raining too... The place is beautiful even with the rain at night; I just didn't bring my tripod along for the additional stability so I didn't attempt anymore. In times like these, I opt to watch the view (in this case, the reflection on the wet street) than worry about not catching it on camera. As Noan once said: enjoy now, post later. In this case, enjoy now and keep the memory in my head.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Touring around Zürich

I just barely checked in at the Hotel du Port when I set off again. This time, I was taking the train from Lausanne Gare, in French-speaking Switzerland, to Zürich Hauptbahnhof in Swiss-German Switzerland. No time to rest (yet) because I was going to meet up with Pogs... and it was all worth it because the view throughout the train ride was picturesque. Two hours afterwards, I was disembarking on one of the largest train stations I've been to. I'm not sure if this train station is busier than the Sydney Central Railway Station... but I can't wrap the idea around my head that it is possible to ride a train here and end up in Germany, Italy, France, or Austria. I'm just too much of an small-country island-girl to get a grasp at how big mainland Europe is.  

I met Pogs at the giant clock in the train station. From there, with him as my guide for the afternoon, my Zürich adventure began!

One of the first thing I noticed was how crowded the city was! There were a LOT of people sitting by Lake Zürich. With me growing up with Laguna de Bay in sight, I was amazed at how clean Lake Zürich was despite the crowd around it. There were a lot of birds too. Watercraft abound the area; I was almost expecting a wakeboarder to show up! As I was staring at Lake Zürich, I began to wish that Laguna de Bay start looking like this too. I mean, with all the commercial fish pens in the lake, it will take a lot of political will, social consciousness, and environmental reasoning to get the lake dredged (to allow it to get deep again) and cleaned up. But if the leaders of the Philippines want Laguna Lake to return to its former glory (and reduce Metro Manila flooding), they really need to make drastic changes. Just look at Lake Zürich!

Quite near the lake, Pogs and I made a stop at Mövenpick Ice Cream Gallery, along Theaterstrasse. Pogs said that this is one of the older ice cream companies in Switzerland... and I learned later that the first branch opened in 1948. I understood why it's such a long-running company when I saw the long queue for the ice cream. A lot of people wanted to cool off with a Mövenpick, tourist or local alike!

To avoid the long wait, we opted to eat inside, where there's a table and a few chairs. I liked the clean and modern aesthetic inside the restaurant... I would've stayed longer and ate more ice cream because the vibe was conducive for ice cream bingeing. But we had more places to see and more things to do around Zürich. After we've scraped the last of the delicious ice cream, it was time to hit the streets.

What can I say? I was charmed by the place! Pogs and I walked along narrow cobblestone-paved roads. While we were strolling along Niederdorf Street, I remembered my exploration (read: getting lost) of wintry Nottingham and the rainy and wintry nighttime stroll in Gangnam. Both cities (and this part of Zürich too) had buildings that looked taller than they really are because of the close proximity with each other. The only difference is that the winding streets of Nottingham and Gangnam had buildings of similar colours... monochrome, if you will. But Zürich had colourful buildings that livened up the vibe of the place. It was so unexpected for me because I always imagined Zürich to be all skyscrapers of chrome and glass... like any ultramodern central business district in urban USA... but Zürich certainly kept the charm alive, which made me think of San Francisco somehow.

Anyway, Niederdorf means "low village" and used to be part of the medieval city of Zürich (like Intramuros for Manila, if you will), which was flourishing even before the 18th century. Part of the charm in this area (for me, at least) was the sight of people dining al fresco in all restaurants facing the sun. In the Philippines, people do everything to avoid being under the sun; but here, they embrace it. 

As we continued walking along, we found ourselves approaching the Universität of Zürich (UZH), the biggest university in Switzerland. Pogs mentioned that UZH doesn't have a campus; rather, the buildings of the university are scattered all over the city. It must be interesting, therefore, to study there because one can go around the city to attend classes. I don't know what workday traffic must be like; but if it's like Manila, I'd rather take classes in adjacent buildings than to ride a bike or catch a cab just to get to my next class.

This wasn't Pogs' university though. He's studying at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich (ETH), just one of the best universities in the world! This is where Albert Einstein studied and taught physics; where Carl Jung taught psychology; and where Richard Ernst studied and taught, eventually contributing scientifically to the field of NMR spectroscopy. Yeah, ETH is a seriously good school, what with the honour of being associated with 21 Nobel Prize winners.

As if that wasn't impressive enough, the university is located in a very strategic location. The view from the Polyterrasse is amazing! It provides a great view of the city of Zürich... something that I've only seen, as a child, in encyclopedia articles about Europe. At this point, I thought that one of my childhood dreams came true: seeing the rooftops of cities in Europe. I've always thought that this dream would become real when I step foot in the Czech Republic, but never mind... I'm in Switzerland! I cannot wish for anything more spectacular! One thing off the bucket list!

But wait, there's more!

I've previously read about funiculars in the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys Supermystery "New Year's Evil", which is set in Quebec City. I've always wanted to ride one of those after reading about it... and Pogs guided me to the UBS Polybahn, a funicular that goes from the Central plaza to the ETH campus up the hill. The view wasn't much because I felt I was looking at shrubbery the whole time, but it was an exciting experience.

As we wound down our day of walking around Zürich, we had dinner at Zeughauskeller. Since it's summer, the sun set late out here. Hence, we were having dinner in what seemed to be the afternoon. Anyway, the Zeughauskeller used to be an armoury (built in 1487... yes, 1487!) and was eventually converted into a restaurant. This Swiss institution was filled when we popped in; hence, we opted to dine al fresco across the street from the main restaurant. 

Because there were a lot of diners, we had to sit with other people at the same table. It was an interesting experience, actually, because it felt like I was back in Singapore, sharing tables with strangers... except that the Zürich experience was a whole lot classier. Pogs suggested I try the traditional Zürich fare, so I ended up with rösti potatoes with a bratwurst, I think it was.

I think this was where Pogs introduced me to sparkling water too. So if anyone asks, my taste for Badoit, San Pellegrino, Schweppes, and Perrier was born in Zürich. Back to the food... it was delicious! I always likes eating hotdogs but it's either on a stick or in a sandwich (with cheese... think Jolly Hotdog). Eating a hotdog with potatoes... this is definitely European, and I was enjoying it. Plus, I've never had a hotdog with onion sauce before. It's a foreign concept to me. But since I was in Zürich, I might as well try.

We finally found our way back to the train station. It was such a fun experience seeing a foreign city with Pogs, especially since I was seeing it from his point of view. Thank you so much, Pogs! 

Someday, I'd like to go back and roam around again. And this is why having adventurous friends, who say that being a first-timer is not an excuse to tour the city, is one of my biggest treasures. Yes, I'm looking at you, Sherry Lou. You pushed me in the right city adventure direction on my first night in Sydney!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

An afternoon in France

When the Nestle Conference ended, we, young scientists, wanted to explore the region but we didn't know where we had to start. I suggested that we begin our adventure by crossing Lac Leman and visiting France. My friends agreed that it's something worth trying and so we ran to the ticket booth to get tickets in time for the ferry ride to the other side of the lake. The African young scientists decided that they wanted to stay in Switzerland, maybe thinking that France was too far way. So the group that visited France was composed of a South African, a Spaniard, an Indian, and a Filipina... how more international can we get right?

And NONE of us were native French speakers! This was the ultimate adventure; we were winging it in the communications aspect. It reminded me of being in South Korea and not knowing how to communicate there!

Anyway, the ferry ride was amazing! It offered views of the Alps and the calm waters of Lac Leman. The greenery of Switzerland and of France were in full display. I don't know if this view will ever grow old for me.

We crossed the Lac Leman to get to France!
Once in Thonon-les-Bains, a town in the Haute-Savoie department of the Rhône-Alpes region, I gaped at the sight of yet another fortress... Was the surrounding area of the lake a frequent battleground back in the day?!? Why the many ramparts?

Walking deeper into town, we found ourselves along narrow footpaths, climbing staircases, and then coming across a fountain. This was such a small neighbourhood! Finally, I think we found ourselves in town. There was a church surrounded by narrow roads... I kept wondering how I was supposed to take a photo of the whole church?!

In Lausanne, at least, there were wide plazas in front of the churches I've encountered; hence, I could take a step back and then take a photo. The narrowness of the area reminded me of how difficult it was to take photos during the Pahiyas festival in Lucban, with the higantes further crowding the narrow roads leading to the town church.

Then, to make our experience of France even more international, we opted to eat Middle Eastern food (read: shawarmas) somewhere near the church. It was a good decision because food in France was way cheaper than food in Switzerland.

As the day drew to a close, we found our way back to the ferry station... and found such a beautiful view of the lake and the surrounding area. No wonder people fall in love with this part of the world! If I could only afford it, I'd be here every summer!!

One of the most pronounced differences between what's real and what I've been imagining about France is the lack of music along the roads (in real life... at least in Thonon-les-Bains). See, I've always imagined that when in France, I'd be walking along cobblestone paths with Edith Piaf or Yann Tiersen in the background. However, I was kind of disappointed with reality since there was no music! My view of France, obviously, has been of one big movie set... Amelie or Da Vinci Code, perhaps. But that view was corrected by my afternoon trip in Thonon-les-Bains.

Despite the reality check, I still found that I'd like to return to France one day... hopefully soon. Especially since I've only whetted my appetite for the country. I haven't had the chance to explore the other cities yet. But first, I needed to deal with the language barrier. Definitely.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Château de Chillon

I have to be honest about my Switzerland touristy goal: I wanted to see that famous cuckoo clock tower I saw years ago on the telly. However, this tower is in Germany! No wonder it's not in any of the travel guides I had read about Switzerland!

Blooper aside, there are quite a few things I wanted to experience when I got to Switzerland: see the Alps, visit a lake, eat good food... and see cultural landmarks. And so I trooped to the CGN ticket counter to discuss my touristy options with the ticket vendor before I bought a ticket to ride a ferry. The ticket lady suggested a trip to Chateau de Chillon, which I saw in a guidebook as a must-see place, so I took a two-and-a-half hour ferry ride to Veytaux despite not knowing where that is exactly. As you can see, I really didn't plan this trip very well (hello, Korea side trips!).

Turns out that this was a good decision because I saw the snowcapped Alps!! The closest approach I could get, in fact. It's summer and I was actually seeing snow! I felt that this was such a decadent way to explore Switzerland: take a cruise along the lake's coast and then take in the view from a castle on an island on Lake Geneva. 

But that wasn't all. I was fascinated by the Chateau de Chillon itself. It's castle which is about a thousand years old... A thousand! I've never seen a building that's in continuous use for literally that long! But then again, the place is well-maintained and the structure itself isn't that old (if put in context): when I visited, a tower was being repaired. 

As I walked across the bridge and into the castle, I realised that princess stories may not be as rose-tinted as they are portrayed in the books. Back in the day, the castle must have been dark, cold, and damp; seemingly no water system; lots of manual labour in operating machinery; and no electricity. This place might have been perfect for storing wine and for scaring the wits out of prisoners, but it might not have led to damsels in distress; ladies living here must have been made of tougher stuff. I don't know if Princes Charming ever made stops here before their quests to save maidens. Did evil stepmothers ever lived here? I wouldn't know.

Walking deeper into the belly of the castle, I learned that this place played significant roles in the medieval histories of France and of Switzerland. Château de Chillon acted as a residential building for noblemen, a Roman outpost for the Alpine roads, as a prison, and as a storage facility for weapons. Just stepping into the castle made me think I was really taking a step back in time... or at least into the village of Bree, into the halls of Theoden King's Meduseld, or into the narrow corridors of Denethor's Minas Tirith. (in Lord of the Rings trilogy).

As my tour in and around the castle drew to a close, I realised that I almost filled my DSLR's memory card with lots and lots of pictures. After all, a castle is not a normal thing in the Philippines. I've been in a real one for the first time in my whole entire life in Nottingham but I didn't see the whole castle because I had to rush to the train station and then to the airport that same day. Château de Chillon is sort of the first castle I was really able to explore at a leisurely pace.

My mom was right. She said that if ever I step foot into mainland Europe, I would immensely enjoy soaking up on architecture and history of where ever I found myself. In this case, it was the Lac Leman area of Switzerland. And this was just my second day. Who knows where else during this trip my feet would take me.

Fairy tales normally start with "Once upon a time" and end with "And they lived happily ever after". These stories may be fiction but I was definitely one excited tourist upon seeing the place, though still looking for that fairy tale ending. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Two lakes, one day. The reprise.

The last time I saw two lakes in one day was when I went to Pandin Lake and hiked to see the view of Yambo Lake. That is, until I went to Switzerland. And on my first afternoon there, no less. 

After I've checked in the hotel, I caught the train to visit Pogs in Zurich. All I knew then was that it would take about two hours to get there by train from Lausanne. The train ride proved to be a picturesque trip on its own because I saw a bit of the landscape of this side of Switzerland. Plus, I was amazed to hear the language switch from French to Swiss German as the train traveled further north. For instance, I kept hearing the next-stop announcement say prochain arrêt when I was still close to Lausanne Gare; but as the train approached the Zürich Hauptbahnhof, the words became different.

Anyway, back to the landscape...

For this scenic tour of Switzerland, the first lake I passed by (that I noticed) was Lac de Neuchâtel. It was memorable for me because the train passed by a castle along the lake! This is Château de Neuchâtel, another thousand-year old establishment just like Château de Chillon. I wish I could stop by because of the view. Since I've started riding a boat on a somewhat regular basis, my interest in exploring lakes was piqued... and there were a LOT of boats on the water that day. Then there were the vineyards, the villages, and the mountains. Alas, I was on my way to Zürich; I couldn't stop this time around. Definitely someday, I'll be back AND I'll explore the places I passed by all I want.

Honestly, I didn't know that there's a lake in Zürich until I got there an hour later. (That's how much I didn't think about my side trips on this adventure.) But when I saw the lake, I was amazed! There were a lot of people along the shores of the lake! People were queued for the ferries, were walking along the boardwalk, were jumping into the water, or were basking in the sunlight of the early evening... 

It was a foreign concept for me, this spending free time by the lake. Yes, I live quite close to Laguna de Bay but I cannot imagine myself spending time by the lake shore because it's heavily polluted. Ferries don't seem to be the main mode of transportation on Laguna de Bay. There are no boardwalks as I far as I know (but I can be wrong, too). I can say, however, that I've been to a park by the lake and I've been at a rice field near the lake. In addition, I've always associated time at the lake as adventure time because I've gone wakeboarding on both Taal and Caliraya, swimming on Pandin and hiking to the Yambo view point... never just relaxing by the lake side.

Oh well, there's always a first time. But not this time in Zürich. There's so many things to see in so little time. I'd chosen to explore the rest of the place than just visit the lake side. Besides, there's Lake Geneva, which is way closer to my home-away-from-home this week.