Philippines - welcome to Paradise

Hello there!

I finally set foot in the Philippines, something I wanted to do for the past 10 years at least, and I was not disappointed. For once, my expectations were met and more!

Full disclosure: even as I am sure there is much much more beauty to this archipelago, I only concentrated my time to Palawan, because of El Nido, Coron, and - spoilers alert - the Tao Cruise.

In this day and age, when Instagram, Flickr and other Tumblr spoil you of the joy of discovering the beauty of foreign places, it was great to be able to be so taken aback by the sheer beauty of Palawan.

Day One: Arrival in Manila
After a very exhausting flight with a stop at Bangkok, I finally arrived in the early afternoon in Manila. I always find the drive from the airport very important, as that gives you a feel of what it's like to live in a capital city such as this, so I forced my eyes open, and I soon encountered these vehicles:
These, as I would find out later, are called Jubney, and it was my first time seeing so many of them, and so customized. And after a short while, I also saw these vehicles,
Much more touristy, but mainly used, as far as I could see, by Filipinos.

We finally arrived at my Hostel, Casa Nicarosa, a very central hostel not too far from the Marina.
After a nap (which was a huge mistake), I crawled out of bed and decided to go for a walk along the Marina, and that's when Manila first surprised me. Sights like this
Or this one
I did not expect this, and I really enjoyed it. I'm aware that this is a tiny bit of the metropolis, but as a first day, it pretty much set the mood for the rest of the trip.

Day 2: Taal Volcano
Today was a day trip Hiking the Taal Volcano. It turned out it was a private tour, as there was no other people to book this trip on that day. The driver gave me a quick lesson in History (which was really interesting to understand the melting pot that are the Philippines), then, when we arrived at the lake, to a resort that was part of the tour.
Lunch with a view
After lunch, we reached the hottest hours of the day, and took a boat to the volcanic island in the middle of the lake. As a side note, this tour, organized by Filipino Travel, has 2 pick up times: one at 8 and one at 10. I chose the one at 10, because I thought I would suffer from jetlag, but I would definitely recommend the one at 8, because the walk has some parts exposed to the sun, and you might want to avoid the hottest hours for that.

View along the walk, there are several craters in the Taal lake
I will not spoil anything, but this is definitely worth a visit. The walk is short, the views are amazing, and it is such an easy access from Manila that it would be a shame to miss it.

Day 3: Flight to El Nido
After a better night, I woke up early, since it was my last day in Manila, and walked further along the Marina, to enjoy the view
very occidental style
Then, after horrible traffic (every guidebook says so, but even more true when there are roadworks at the airport: allow a good 3-hour margin to go to the airport), I finally caught my plane to El Nido. Only ITI does daily trips to El Nido, and it is now situated in the Domestic Terminal of NAIA. I recommend you ask for a window, because the views along the way are beautiful.
and on arrival as well
After a warm welcome with food and singing, I took a tuk tuk whose driver was as lost as myself when it came to find my hotel, the Yolindas Tourist Inn. I had a cabin all to myself, further apart from the main hotel building, which was quite tranquil.

View from the restaurant - I do not recommend the food there
View from my room
Day 4: El Nido
Unfortunately, as this was the day before the Tao Cruise, I could not plan for a day trip, so I thought it would be a good occasion to relax. However, the part of El Nido where the hotel is situated is on Corong Corong, which was not close to town, even though it was close to the Tao office. So I walked up and down the beach:
Even though I took the time to swim in the clear water and enjoy, I was starting to get bored by the time the briefing was supposed to start.

Tao Cruise concept is "remote island experience", and it clearly addresses its message to travellers, not tourists. So before the day of departure, they assemble everyone and do a quick briefing on what we are supposed to expect in this tour. Mine was with the only - and unique - traditional Filipino sail boat they have, so they made the experience even more special.

After getting ready, I went to this restaurant called La Plage (I really didn't go there because it was French, but because it was known for having great food, and it was close to Tao house). The view is amazing, you are basically on the beach, and the food is indeed delicious
Sunset is better experienced through your senses, not your lenses
The next 5 days are about the cruise, and it is going to be very difficult to word how amazing the trip was. You have to experience it, and all the more with the sails, and language is failing to grasp the sensations. So I will let the pictures speak.
Day 5: cruise day 1
After gathering everyone at El Nido Port, we embarked on our beautiful wood boat, and set the sails North.
El Nido Port
with the sails open
During the day, we had different stops for snorkeling, but there was so jelly fishes that the experience was a bit tarnished. Also, we were still too close to El Nido to see a variety of fishes.

Day 6: cruise day 2
Sunrise in Cadlao basecamp
Sunset on another remote island
Day 7: cruise day 3
Ginto Island
Day 8: cruise day 4

Snorkelling stop - Takling island
lunch break - Cobra Island
sunset at Bulwang island
Day 9: cruise day 5 and arrival in Coron
Last sunrise of the cruise
Arrival at Coron, with the famous Hollywood-style hill
After hugging the crew and fellow explorers good bye, I arrived at Coron and was picked up by boat to my hotel for the next 5 days, Discovery Island and Dive Center
Pier to the hotel

Day 10: Dive day 1
As you can guess from the name, the hotel has its own Dive Center, so I jumped on the opportunity to see some wrecks. And I was not disappointed.

The first day of dives was epic, as we were wandering in the passageways of Akitsushima wreck, Okikawa Maru and Olympia Maru. I was afraid to have a claustrophobic reaction, but I was so amazed by the view and the path we were taking to be afraid of being 30 m under water and going through a narrow crack on the hull. There were things to see everywhere, and I often found myself spinning around just to try to grasp what was surrounding me.
on the way to one of the dives
I must admit that my former shipbuilding self was very impressed as well. These boats were standing as pieces of History, and now the Ocean was taking over in the most beautiful way.

Day 11: Dive Day 2
As this was the last day for the couple of divers I had joined the previous day, that day we "only" did one reef dive, one dive on the Skeleton wreck (very picturesque, as you can only see the beams of the structure remaining), and finally the Barracuda lake.
entrance to the Barracuda lake
Barracuda lake was an out-of-this-world experience, with the thermal water going up to 38C, and the underwater landscape was barren in a very intriguing way.

At the end of the day, I joined a couple of friends made on the Tao Cruise, and could appreciate the town vibe of Coron. There are a lot of delicious restaurants in Coron, and the one we went to served the best octopus dish I could taste on the trip.
sunset in Coron
Day 12: Dive Day 3
That day, I decided to rent a GoPro because I could not stand to see so many beautiful underwater landscapes without being able to keep a digital memory of it.

So we went to Kogyo, Tangat Maru and Teru Kaze Maru, and when I say "we", I mean my divemaster and myself, which did not spoil the fun, on the contrary.

Kogyo wreck - it used to be a construction ship
the outside hull of the Teru Kaze Maru

Day 13: last day in Coron
As it was my last day in Coron, and I was taking the plane the next day, we "only" did 2 dives.

One was at Siete Pecados, a gorgeous snorkeling spot, but at 18m, the current was quite strong, and after so many wreck dives in my mind, reef diving lost a bit of its spice.

The other one was called "Twin Peaks" because of the limestone rocks above the surface, and that's where I saw my first Filipino Barracuda.

Afterwards, the dive boat took me to 2 of the places I wanted to visit "above" the surface:
Kayangan Lake
Twin Lagoon
Twin Lagoon was particularly impressive with the clear water, and the mix of salt and fresh water fauna.

Since it was my last day on the island, I joined again my friends in the town centre, and we met at an Expat bar called the No Name Bar

Day 14: Flight to Manila, then home...
Unfortunately, the time had come for me to go back home, but this last flight above Coron was pure magic. Once again, I definitely recommend asking for a window when you book your ticket.

And that was it for the Philippines. It was as good as I hoped and more, every day was an experience for the senses, and even though I'm aware I did such a tiny bit of it, I'm purely satisfied with this trip. As usual, I will definitely come back.

What places would you recommend visiting in the Philippines?


Why London is such a great place to live in

Hello everyone! Just before my trip to the Philippines, I just wanted to share a few thoughts about how great London is. Lately I've been genuinely feeling in love with this city. And I cannot believe in 3 months it's going to be 2 years since I've started living here. It's going to be the longest I've stayed in one place since... 2010!

I'm not going to elaborate on all the things you can do in London, so many better writers have done it before me. I'm just going to explain why...

The main thing with London is that it is not afraid to change. In Europe, we are not developing countries. But that also means we are not really evolving either. Rome, Praha, Athens, they might be active capitals, but their city center is so full of history that evolution happens at the periphery. Reykjavik is a blooming city, with the suburbs development skyrocketing, but again, the city centre, while buzzing, is not really evolving.

And what about Paris? We are so afraid to change the buildings from the Haussmannian era that we have attributed one district, and only one - La Defense - to skyscrapers.

In London, I don't think I have ever seen so many construction sites going on at once. Near St Paul, you have a mix of glass modernity and ancient stones. Near the Shard, you have the remains of Middle Ages London. And it's constantly evolving, developing, changing.

Living in a city is like being in a relationship. You need some changes to keep things exciting. And London knows how to change its skin to keep on seducing you...


Fire and Ice-land - Practical informations

Hello, everyone! Any New Year Resolutions for 2016? I know I have, and the first one is to explore more of my new home country, the United Kingdom, and that includes exploring Wales, Ireland, and Scotland.

This is the 50th post! Yay! To celebrate, I will not describe another trip I've made, but give you the input I have gathered during my three trips to Iceland. Let's start with the first one:

5 reasons to travel with Icelandair:

Icelandair is the national airline for Iceland, obviously. And as any national airline, it is your first feel of the country, and I cannot think of any one better than this, to introduce you to the gentle way of Iceland.

1. They name their planes
Seriously, isn't that thoughtful? It's usually named after a volcano, or a glacier (the difference between the two is sometimes non existent in Iceland). I don't know why, but it feels good to be in a plane that has been named, instead of another B747 or A340

2. The booklet is full of nice information about Iceland
Of course, you have the usual advertisement, but you mostly have stories about people - usually foreigners - discovering Iceland, or helpful advice (especially the one about holding your car door when you open it, as Iceland is a very windy country. As they say, "your car rental company will thank you")

3. Their entertainment system is full of fun trivia about Iceland
They have this show that concentrate on every part of Iceland, which is obviously sponsored, but still gives you a good feeling about each region. And when the screen is idle, they have these "did you know?" fun facts

4. The safety information is told as a hiking narrative
This one I think is great, and very well thought! Fastening your seat belt becomes tying up your backpack belt, cases of emergencies are jumps in fresh pools. I won't describe it more, but it is seriously a pleasure to look at and listen to, which for me is a first.

5. Their first class is called Saga class                                 
Just for that, it makes you consider the possibility of being part of it. Imagine: you are part of a Saga!

And finally, bonus reason, they welcome you into their home, Iceland.
Whether you are on a stopover or you are going specifically to visit the country, this is, in my humble opinion, the best airline choice. Compared to the low cost airline WOW that my travel companion chose, the difference in price was minimum and Icelandair so much less of a hassle. Remember this next time you travel from Europe to the USA or Canada, or from North America to Western Europe.

The second practical input comes from my own bad luck with the winter weather in Iceland. Once again, Dangerous Business wrote an article to warn you about bad weather in Iceland, but I prefer to concentrate on what you can do if you are stuck in Reykjavik.

5 Things to do in Reykjavik in case of bad weather

1. Thermal pools
Thermal pools, even outside ones, are available all year long. And I must say, swimming outside in warm water while it is snowing is one of the weirdest experience of my life. You don't get to do this often, so I would definitely recommend it.

2. Downtown cafes
Reykjavik is very well known as a barista paradise. If you want to get warm in the bad weather, there are plenty of great options. My personal favorite is the Laundromat: 

But the Reykjavik Roaster is apparently very good as well, and you even have one themed after The Big Lebowski

3. Museum
More than cafes, Reykjavik is packed with museums: Apart from the National Museum, you have the Saga Museum, the Aurora Museum, the settlement museum called 871 +/-2 (which you will have to visit if you want to know why it is called like that). You even have a Volcano House, which is not a "real" museum, but has an exhibition about the tremendous geology of the country.

4. Concerts
During the holiday season, you obviously have a lot of Christmas concerts, in one of the many churches of Reykjavik, but if you're not religious, you still have plenty of options to listen to Icelandic music in different concert venues. Ask your hotel reception for details!

5. Golden Circle tour
Golden Circle Tour is the most popular tour all year round, so you are sure that the road will stay practical, and I personally think Geysir, with the smoking water rising from the snow, is a vision to behold. Probably wait for the snow storm to be over, though, because you want that little bit of sunshine for good pictures.

And finally, bonus reason, wake up your inner child and... Play in the snow! Snow angels, snowmen, the possibilities are endless, the only limit is your imagination!


Fire and Ice-land - New Year's Eve

Happy New Year, everyone! Okay, let's not lose time with celebrations, and keep our schedule for blogging!

So, after Snaefellnes and the Golden Circle, spending NYE in Reykjavik was my next goal for Iceland, and discovering the Winter Wonderland that becomes Iceland during the winter time.

But first I must warn you: BE PREPARED FOR ICELAND IN WINTER

Dangerous Business and other travel blogs are good at describing the ups and downs of Iceland in winter.

I hate generalizing, but I have seen too many Asians coming to Iceland in winter, and not prepared at all. As my guide put it, they come to experience "real" winter, but have no idea how cold it is going to be... I even saw 3 Chinese girls, attempting to walk on a Glacier with no gloves on! So please, if you consider going to Iceland in winter, be ready to cover yourselves with warm layers. The temperature will probably never drop down to -20 or so, thanks to the Gulf Stream, but snow storms and hail are fearful.

If I had to classify this trip between failure and success, I wouldn't put it as a sucess. The conditions are quite hard and ever changing during the winter season, even more so than the summer season, and of course, you only have few hours of light... Also, I wouldn't advise a road trip at this season, unless you are very experienced driving with strong gales, snow and ice. But I will explain everything in this article (and the next one).

Jokulsarlon and NYE

So, apart from the NYE in Reykjavik, another goal of mine for this winter holiday was Jokulsarlon, with this idea that I could maybe, if conditions permit, have a picture of the Northern lights above it (spoiler alert: deception follows... Remember when you travel to never expect anything, you'll never get disappointed).
So I arrived on the 26th of December, and checked in at the Reykjavik City Hostel, a bit out of Downtown Reykjavik. Once comfortably settled, I received an email saying that my ice climbing session of the next day was cancelled due to bad weather, so I spent the evening trying to figure out things to do in Reykjavik in case of bad weather. I decided to go for a dip in the nearby thermal pool, and booked several other excursions for the next days, as my only plan was the 2-day trip to Jokulsarlon. I also booked the Bonfire and Fireworks tours for NYE.

The next day was therefore quite empty, except for the short walk on icy sidewalks to go to the public pool. This particular pool, so close to the hostel, offers a variety of heated options. The outside pool is heated at a comfortable 30-ish degree Celsius, there is a great slide, and different hot pots heated at different temperatures ranging from 37°C to 40°C.

On Monday, I had the Whale watching tour planned. You're going to say "But whale watching in Iceland is mostly in Summer!", and you would be right, but when you have run out of options, it could be a good half day out. Actually, the tours go all year round, and even if you don't spot whales in winter, as they have already migrated, if you are lucky enough, you can spot some dolphins. We were lucky enough, as the weather was more or less clement (except at the end), good for spotting wildlife apparently, as there was no glare from the sun.
Plus, a boat trip is always cool
Tuesday was the Game of Thrones tour with Reykjavik Excursions, with our very talkative guide Didi, who gave us a lot of fun facts about Iceland and Game of Thrones, and Lord of the Rings, and Vikings...... It was particularly nice, because the snow was fresh and stopped for a while, which made for good pictures with this amazing winter light you have up north, between dawn and dusk.
Our guide, Didi
Wednesday was the start of the 2-day tour to Jokulsarlon with Extreme Iceland. We were quite lucky because the storm hit the previous day, so our tour wasn't cancelled, but we had bad weather all along, with snow storms and hail in between quiet moments.
Try driving under this kind of weather...
The good point of this windy weather was that while enjoying the coastline, you could see huge waves crashing on rocks, with great effects.
On the road to Vik
We stopped just before Vik, taking road 215, to see the famous basalt marches, again, with powerful waves crashing on the rocks

On the Vik side of the cliffs
After a couple of hours driving in complete darkness, with snow and hail still on to us, we arrived at our lodges, where a warm dinner was waiting for us. We did try to see the Northern Lights, as there were some holes in the cloud cover, but to no avail.

The next day, we drove back to Jokulsarlon, and guess what? the storm had pushed all the icebergs to the sea, so the very famous picturesque lagoon was just... flat out boring... It was still quite interesting to play with the camera on the ice:

On the black beach next to the lagoon, however, there were ice pieces galore. It's always fun to imagine a creature carved in the ice
what do you see?
The afternoon was planned for a walk on a nearby glacier, Skaftafell, the one featured in Interstellar, and really, even though hail was once again among us, it was a vision out of this world!

Due to the bad conditions, we arrived quite late in Reykjavik, and missed the bonfires activities, but were more than early enough to see the fireworks. Actually, we arrived in Reykjavik at around 20:30, and the fireworks had already started.

Reykjavik's NYE is absolutely amazing. The principle is that anyone - and I mean absolutely anyone - can buy fireworks from the Rescue Volonteers, and launch them absolutely anywhere, anytime during the night, except of course between 22h30 and 23h30, where the famous Sarcastic show Áramótaskaupið. Then, everyone goes out again and continues to launch fireworks. Our group stayed on the plaza in front of Hallgrímskirkja, which I thought would be crowded, but I forgot that this was Iceland we were talking about, so the standard of "crowds" are a bit lowered compared to London, for instance.

From 23h30 and for at least an hour, you are surrounded with fireworks, exploding everywhere, climaxing into lights and noise at midnight. I cannot describe it better, you have to be there. Everyone that has been there will say the same thing, but let me tell you one thing: it is better than anything you can read on it!

What other New Year's Eve would you recommend? Stay tune for some practical information on Iceland!


Fire and Ice-land - Golden Circle

For my second trip to Iceland, since I was going on my own, I decided to settle at the Reykjavik City Hostel, with one day trips. The main event was a one day PADI dry suit course in Silfra, but we'll see that soon enough.

Golden Circle
So after retrieving my PADI Dry Suit Course book at the PADI centre, I checked in at the hostel... and missed an apparently amazing Aurora display. Yes, at around 11 PM, at the end of August, the Northern Lights decided to make an appearance, and here I was, lying on my bed. Let that be a lesson for later...
So the next day, my first tour was a Super Jeep tour around Eyjafjallajokull. The tour started with a 4WD track up to the glacier, then a 4 km trail around the new land formed after the eruption

As the day was clear, we were blessed with views up to Landmannalaugar. It was such an eerie feeling to know that we were walking on land that did not exist a few years ago. The desolate lava field, with patches of snow, was really a vision from out of this world.
Lunch break
After the walk back, we were left on the top of the Skogarfoss, an impressive straight and powerful waterfall

Then on our way back, we also walked around Seljalandsfoss, where you can litteraly walk around the waterfall, as the power carved a path behind it.

The next day, as I missed the pick up for my excursion to Landmannalaugar, I took a shot at a Golden Circle excursion. We first went back to Hraunfossar and Barnafoss before heading to the brand new excursion called Into the Glacier (which opened on June 1st, 2015), which takes you inside a Glacier, with some lights inside the ice to show off awesome features

After that, the bus took us to Thingvellir, to see the continental plaques rift, and read about the history of the first parliament.

Then, while one part of the group went back to Reykjavik, we continued on to the Golden Circle, to see Geysir and Gullfoss. No need to present you with these 2 icons of Iceland, one having given its name to all geysers, and the other being one of the most powerful waterfall in Europe.

And that was it for this tour, which made for quite a long day, and I needed the rest to be in shape for the next day with DIVE.is, which was bound to be hard.
And it definitely was. After a first training in the pool with the dry suit instructors, which drained almost all my forces, as it is incredibly difficult to stand still with the equipment, we took the route to Thingvellir, and specifically the Silfra rift. This is the best known spot for scuba diving in Iceland, but the water is so cold that you cannot dive without a dry suit, hence the course. It is however quite annoying that it is so well known, as you can see armies of snorkellers above you.
I'll have to admit, after the first actual dive, I wanted to quit. I started with a panic attack, then it was so hard to balance yourself in the water, and the final drop was that my fins didn't fit. So even though it was pristine and beautiful, I enjoyed like 30 seconds of it. But then, the instructor told us that the next dive was going to be only a fun dive, nothing to worry about to pass the course except at the very end, so I yielded (the hot chocolate did help). And I did not regret it.
As previously stated, the water is pristine, and as it is filtered by the volcanic rocks, there is nothing but water there, no mineral, no nutrition, so no life. Absolutely no life. But the other face of the coin is that the vision is clear for several dozens of meters.
Entrance to the Cathedral
At the end of the day, we all passed the course, and with beautiful colours in our heads.

And that was it for my second time in Iceland!