Friday, January 31, 2014

Perfect Month Part 2

In January of last year, I achieved a first as I was able to put up one post per day for an entire month. I have now managed to duplicate that effort. And guess what? I did it again in January.

I guess it's also because I'm "cheating". :) I normally take a couple of weeks worth of leave during the Christmas season and this allows me to catch up on my "backlog" or stuff that I wanted to write about but hadn't been able to due to lack of time. For instance, my trip to Austria almost seven years ago and my second Tagaytay Food Trip in the middle of last year. I tend to do a lot of catch-up writing during the holidays but I don't publish posts more than once a day so I end up saving a lot of what I write as drafts then just publishing them later on. So yes it is kinda like cheating. :) But hey. My blog, my rules. :)

Since I posted a ton this month, my January 2014 archive doesn't show all my posts anymore. So since I haven't really figured out how to set up a "previous" button yet, here are the links to all my posts in my second ever perfect month.

Jan 1: Happy 2014!
Jan 2: New Year resolution?
Jan 3: Mini Family Reunion
Jan 4: Youtube Rewind 2013
Jan 5: Dinner at URBN
Jan 6: Nadal wins in Doha
Jan 7: Customer Service Surprise at Conti's
Jan 8: Tagaytay Food Trip Part 2
Jan 9: Tagaytay Food Trip 2: Breakfast at Antonio's
Jan 10: Tagaytay Food Trip 2: Chine
Jan 11: Tagaytay Food Trip 2: Mano's Greek Taverna
Jan 12: Tagaytay Food Trip 2: Java Jazz Coffee
Jan 13: 1,000!
Jan 14: The LEGO Movie
Jan 15: Fun, food-filled weekend
Jan 16: Trip to Clark
Jan 17: The Oscar nominations are in...
Jan 18: The Power of Words
Jan 19: Free Parking in Shangri-La Plaza Mall
Jan 20: K Style Hair fix
Jan 21: The Smartphone Generation
Jan 22: Dinner at Ukokkei Ramen Ron
Jan 23: Austria!
Jan 24: Vienna
Jan 25: Salzburg
Jan 26: The Sound of Music Tour in Salzburg
Jan 27: Austria: final thoughts and travel tips
Jan 28: Australian Open 2014
Jan 29: What would you do with $25,000?
Jan 30: "The Prayer" by the Loboc Children's Choir and Various Artists
Jan 31: Perfect Month Part 2

Thursday, January 30, 2014

"The Prayer" by the Loboc Children's Choir and Various Artists

It's been almost three months since Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) struck Visayas and left behind a trail of devastation. Relief operations are still ongoing and there are still many ways to help out. One of those ways is to purchase the version of "The Prayer" performed by the Loboc Children's Choir and various OPM artists.

You can download this version of The Prayer at All proceeds will go to the Philippine Disaster Recovery Foundation to help rebuild the lives of those in the Visayas.

video uploaded in youtube by UniversalRecPH

Here are some excerpts I took from the information about this video on youtube:

On October 15, 2013, an earthquake with the energy equivalent to "32 Hiroshima bombs" devastated the Visayas, and parts of Mindanao and southern Luzon. Two days later, the Loboc Children's Choir sang, "The Prayer," with the rubble of the hundred year old Loboc Church as their backdrop. Their performance moved so many people here and abroad.

Then, tragedy struck again. On November 8, Typhoon Yolanda, the most powerful tropical cyclone of the year hit East Samar, Samar and Leyte.

This is where we took inspiration from the Loboc Children's Choir's performance."

"...we asked the help of various Filipino artists to lend their voices, to represent our country, and show the world that the Philippines has one voice, one prayer -- that we work together to help our countrymen rebuild their lives brick by brick. The resulting song will be used to raise funds through downloads. The proceeds will go to the helpPH campaign, a project by the Philippine Disaster Recovery Foundation (PDRF). It is a non-profit organization made up of major companies from the private sector and leading NGOs.

You can also still donate to the Philippine Red Cross through this link.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

What would you do with $25,000?

On November 12, 2013, Casey Neistat received a letter from 20th Century Fox. They asked him if he wanted to create a video with the theme "Live Your Dreams" as part of the marketing campaign of the film studio's new movie "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty". Casey replied that his idea was to use the US$25,000 budget to help in the Yolanda disaster relief efforts. 20th Century Fox agreed.

Check out this amazing video.

video uploaded in youtube by Casey Neistat

Thank you Casey Neistat, 20th Century Fox, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and everyone who was involved in making this happen!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Australian Open 2014

Close but no cigar. Rafael was one match away from even greater legendary status. A win in Australia meant that he would have been the only male player in the open era to win two of each Grand Slam events and he would be the only man to do it at a time when the majors are all on different surfaces. (Roy Emerson and Rod Laver won each major event at least twice when three of the four events were still played on grass.) It would also have allowed Rafa to tie Pete Sampras with 14 Grand Slam titles. Alas, it was not to be. Rafa ran up against an on-fire Stanislas Wawrinka who blew him off the court in the first two sets. Rafa had some physical problems that prevented him from competing at the highest level but maybe in the end it wouldn't have mattered anyway.

As such, Stanislas Wawrinka becomes the first man outside "The Big Four" - Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray - to win a Grand Slam event since 2009 when Juan Martin Del Potro won in the US Open. He also goes up to #3 in the world and becomes the highest ranked Swiss player for the first time in his career.

Nadal of course increases his lead at the top of the rankings. He now has an almost 4000-point lead over Novak. The catch is that Rafa has a ton of points to defend between now and the French Open but if he can manage to hold off Novak until June, he may actually hold on to the top spot at least until the US Open since he has no points to defend in Wimbledon.

On the women's side, Li Na wins her second major title. You can argue that Australia is her most successful tournament since she has gotten to the finals of this event three times already. She beat Dominika Cibulkova in the final. What? No Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, or Victoria Azarenka? I guess you could say the women's tour featured more than its fair share of upsets, none more shocking than Serena's loss I guess. Sharapova hasn't been doing well and was coming back from injury, Azarenka was seeded 3rd but she lost to an inspired #5 Agnieska Radwanska (who was then tossed out an an even-more-inspired Cibulkova). But Serena Williams, who was on a 25-match winning streak, was upended by a resurgent Ana Ivanovic.

It was one of the most unpredictable Australian Open tournaments in the last few years. While I am disappointed that Rafa lost (and that he was booed by people who seemed to think he was resorting to gamemanship when he took a medical time-out), Wawrinka definitely deserved to win. Congratulations to Stan and also to Li Na, Aussie Open Champions of 2014. Here's hoping though that Rafa can rebound from this loss and win the French Open.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Austria: final thoughts and travel tips

Before anything else, here's a quick summary of my different blog posts about my 2007 trip to Austria:

My strategy in picking hotels: I go to and search for hotels, sorting by price. From there, I then check the cheapest hotels in tripadvisor and see how good that hotel is and its location (it has to be central or it has to be close to a metro station or bus stop). Once I have a selection of highly rated but relatively inexpensive hotels, I then search for the hotel online and compare the room rates there to the expedia or the agoda price. I also look for other online packages. It's a bit of a tedious process but I haven't been disappointed with any of the hotels I've stayed in using this process.

The beautiful grounds of Hellbrunn Palace

It is through this process that I must have learned about Pegasus (the welcoming agencies). They had online packages and I decided to take one, which included two nights at Hotel Capri (which I selected because it was rated quite highly in tripadvisor among hotels in Vienna; currently, it is ranked #13), a voucher for a half-day Schönbrunn Tour, a Vienna card that gave me free use of the transportation system for 72 hours, entrance to the Albertina Museum, coffee and cake at Cafe Schwarzenberg, and a book about Vienna that they sent to me via snail mail after my trip. Apart from the book, everything was sent to my hotel and were handed over to me as soon as I checked in. Total package price was 185 euros (I think the hotel room alone cost just as much if not more than the package price).

Kunsthistorisches Museum or the Museum of Art History

This same process allowed me to discover I got a package that gave me a 3-night stay in Cordial Theater-Hotel (which seems to have changed its name since then to Goldenes Theater Hotel; its ranking seems to have gone down as well as it is now only #62), a Salzburg card that gave me free admission to all the sights in Salzburg as well as free use of the public transport network, and a ticket to the Sound of Music tour. I got the Salzburg card and the Sound of Music voucher at the reception of my hotel upon my arrival. Total package price was 304 euros (once again, the hotel room cost for three nights would have cost just as much if not more than the package price).

Playing around with a puppet at the Marionette Museum in Salzburg

I did get to see a lot of places in Vienna but because I was really low on funds, I didn't purchase entrance to any of the places there (the Albertina Museum pass was included in my package). While I did a lot of research, I do regret missing a few things to do and see in this city. I already mentioned the Labyrinth in Schönbrunn Palace. I would have also loved to visit the Belvedere Palace and go inside the Vienna State Opera House.

Monument of the Republic in Vienna

While I didn't have this same problem in Salzburg because my Salzburg card gave me free entrance to the attractions there, I would have wanted to see a Mozart concert and dinner. However, it would cost a lot and I didn't have any proper clothes.

Sculpture outside the Museum of Modern Art at the Mönchsberg

A major shock when I got to Austria was the heat. It was a whopping 38 degrees Celsius on average everyday! While everyone else was wearing shorts and flip flops, I was in jeans and shoes. I should have done my weather research a bit better.

Statue of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German writer and politician

I mentioned before that I initially planned and budgeted for a trip to Vienna only but I am glad that I took a trip to Salzburg as well. While this trip happened several years in the past and I am only writing about it now, I am quite happy that I still remember a lot of it in relatively good detail. I hope I can get to revisit Austria and Western Europe again some time in the near future.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Sound of Music Tour in Salzburg

A lot of people say that you shouldn't go to Salzburg for the sole purpose of joining one of the many Sound of Music tours, which are viewed by some as quite tacky. However, these tours are normally half a day long only and they do take you to several really interesting places. So while I did take one of these tours, I also made sure to see and experience the other great sights of the city (as I have written in my previous post).

I got a Salzburg Card which included, among other things, a ticket for The Sound of Music tour offered by Sightseeing Tours. While on our tour, our guide discussed the different sights we would see and how they relate to the movie, and he occasionally played music from the film and got people to sing along. I have to say, it can be corny if you don't get into it, but if you do, it really is a lot of fun! We got to see some pretty beautiful landscapes while on the bus.

One of the first few places we saw Leopoldskron Palace. While our tour guide told us that the front exterior of this palace was used as the Trapp family home and the terrace where the family drank pink lemonade with Baroness Schraeder, apparently this is not the case. Only shots showing the lake (where Maria and the children fell off a boat) were filmed here.

This gazebo, which was originally in Leopoldskron Palace but has since been moved to the grounds of Hellbrunn Palace, is featured in two scenes: Liesl and Rolf singing "Sixteen going on Seventeen" and Maria and Captain Von Trapp singing "Something Good". It has been closed off and visitors can no longer go in. Apparently, a lot of people have attempted to go jumping around inside the gazebo (similar to what Liesl does with Rolf's assistance) resulting in more than a few accidents.

Just outside Hellbrunn and near the gazebo is a tree-lined road. In the movie, Maria skips along this road as she sings “I have confidence” on her way to the Von Trapp House for the first time.

The tour took us to Lake Wolfgang in St. Gilgen. This beautiful landscape can be seen in the opening sequence of the film.

Not far away was a place where participants of the tour were given an option to try a toboggan ride. This isn't included in the tour price so you have to pay for it separately but personally, it was worth it, especially since it was my first time on a toboggan. Interestingly enough, you can control its speed as it goes down. It really was a lot of fun. (I got someone on the tour to take my photo as I was taken up the slope and also as I went down.)

This other tree-lined road may also be familiar to fans of the film. Captain Von Trapp drives through this road with Baroness Schraeder on his way home and he sees several kids playing loudly and noisily in the trees. He initially dismisses them as local urchins before he realizes that they may actually be his own children.

The Mondsee Cathedral is where the wedding of Maria and Captain Von Trapp was shot.

Mondsee is a quaint village with a lot of charming, beautifully painted buildings in the center. I wouldn't have minded spending more time here.

I mentioned in my previous post that some scenes, specifically the ones where Maria and the children sing "Do-Re-Mi", were shot in the Mirabell Gardens. Maria and the children actually sing this song while going around the pegasus fountain.

The climax scene where the family hide in the convent as the Nazis go looking for them is set in Petersfriedhof (St. Peter's cemetery). However, as I read up on it, I realized that while the location of that scene is meant to be Petersfriedhof, that scene was actually shot in Hollywood. That's why the cemetery looks different from the scene in the movie! :)

All in all, The Sound of Music tour is actually pretty good. You see a lot of places in a short period of time and it can definitely be quite enjoyable for those who love the film. If you still remember the words, try to get with the program and sing along to the songs while on the bus. It really makes the whole experience a lot more fun. :)

Saturday, January 25, 2014


Salzburg has been made popular globally by music. Not only was this the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart who is one of the most important and influential classical composers in history, the film The Sound of Music was also shot on location in this beautiful city. I decided to write separately about the Sound of Music tour that I took so this post will focus on other places of interest in Salzburg. And believe me, there are so many.

view of the city from Hohensalzburg Fortress

Festung Hohensalzburg, or Hohensalzburg Fortress, is arguably the main landmark in the city. It sits atop a small mountain and as it is also one of the largest medieval castles in Europe, it can easily be seen all around the city.

The Hohensalzburg Fortress

Inside, you can visit the Fortress Museum

and the Marionette Museum.

Salzburg also has beautiful natural scenery. The Salzach River separates the old town and the new town. I took a riverboat cruise here on my first day.

Riverboat cruise on the Salzach

I also visited the Salzburg Hochthron, which is one of the many peaks of the Berchtesgaden Alps. The highest point is 1853 meters above sea level. You can get close to the top by cable car then from there you can decide to take a leisurely walk up to the peak. The views here are beautiful!

Magnificent view atop the Salzburg Hochthron

Back in the Old Town, you can find the Mirabell Gardens, built in the 18th century. Some scenes from The Sound of Music were actually shot here (I'll write in more detail about that in my succeeding post).

The beautifully landscaped Mirabell Gardens

Another place that I also got to visit as part of The Sound of Music tour was Hellbrunn Palace. It's in the outskirts of Salzburg and you can get here by bus.

This palace and garden complex is famous for its many trick fountains, which are in operation from April to October.

Trick fountain inside the Hellbrunn Palace grounds

I also got to visit a couple of church complexes in the Old Town. The Salzburg Cathedral is where Mozart was baptized.

Monument outside the Salzburg Cathedral

Right next to the cathedral is St. Peter's Abbey

Inside St. Peter's Abbey

and Petersfriedhof, or St. Peter's Cemetery, which is the oldest cemetery in Salzburg.

St. Peter's cemetery

I also got to see a few more places in Salzburg, such as the Salzburg Museum, the Holy Trinity Church, and Mozart Wohnhaus or the residence of Mozart in Salzburg. I also took the Mönchsberg Lift to the top of Mönchsberg, one of the five mountains in the city. Up next: The Sound of Music tour.

Friday, January 24, 2014


I was told that Vienna is known for its beautiful architecture. One of the first places I visited was Neue Burg, or the New Castle wing of the Hofburg Palace. This palace has housed some of the most powerful people in European and Austrian history, including the Habsburg monarchy (rulers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire). The palace currently serves as the official residence of the President of Austria.

Neue Burg, the New Castle Wing of the Hofburg Palace

One of the most popular landmarks of the Austrian Capital is the State Vienna Opera, which is within walking distance of the Hofburg Palace.

Wiener Staatsoper (State Vienna Opera)

Another impressive building is Karlskirche, or St. Charles Church. Located in Karlsplatz, it is named in honor of Saint Charles Borromeo, a cardinal archbishop of Milan in the 16th century who was responsible for major reforms in the Catholic church.

Karlskirche (St. Charles Church)

While I did see several museums in Vienna from the outside, I only actually got to see the collection of the Albertina Museum.

Albertina Museum

One of the most popular waltzes is the Blue Danube waltz so I naturally wanted to see the Danube river while I was in Vienna. It is the second longest river in Europe (after the Volga) and it touches the border or passes through ten countries.

Danube River

Stephansdom or St. Stephen's Cathedral is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vienna and the seat of the Archbishop of Vienna. As you can expect, this cathedral is pretty massive.

Stephansdom (St. Stephen's Cathedral)

I visited Schloss Schönbrunn, or Schönbrunn Palace, as part of a tour. I don't think the tour took us anywhere else but Schönbrunn itself is so massive that just going around its ground and taking photos can easily take up half a day. I didn't actually go into the palace, but with its 1,441 rooms, it used to be the summer residence of the Habsburgs.

Schloss Schönbrunn (Schönbrunn Palace)

The Secession Building is an exhibition hall built in 1897. Secession apparently refers to the withdrawal of a group of rebel artists from the long-established fine art institution. The most remarkable thing about this building is its golden dome which some Viennese apparently describe or refer to as the 'golden cabbage'.

Secession Building

Other places in Vienna I got to see were the Wiener Riesenrad, a 64.75-metre Ferris wheel at the Wurstelprater amusement park, often simply called "Prater"...

Wiener Riesenrad (Ferris Wheel) at the Prater

the Soviet War Memorial...

Soviet War Memorial

Stadtpark (or City Park)...

Statue of Johann Strauss in Stadtpark

and the Parliament, which features Greek-style statues and architecture.

Parliament Building

Since it was summer when I was there, I spent one night at the Rathaus (City Hall) to enjoy the Rathaus Music Film Festival. This is held every summer at Rathausplatz. Entrance is free and there are a lot of places where you can get food and beer while you enjoy the show.

Enjoying a beer at the Rathaus Music Film Festival

Finally, I got a package from Pegasus that included a cake and coffee in Cafe Schwarzenberg. Being in Vienna, I needed to order the Sacher Torte, one of the most popular Viennese dishes. It is a specific type of chocolate cake that was invented by Austrian Franz Sacher in 1832 for Prince Wenzel von Metternich in Vienna.

Sacher torte in Cafe Schwarzenberg

Other places I got to see while I was there include the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Naturhistorisches Museum, the St. Francis of Assisi Church, and the Votive Church. That's a lot to have seen in just two and a half days, although of course this is also because I didn't spend time going inside a lot of these place since I didn't have a lot of time and I was already running low on funds. Nevertheless, it was still a great stay in a beautiful city. Up next: Salzburg.

Thursday, January 23, 2014


Three things compelled me to write about this now. After posting my 1,000th blog post and re-reading my Iceland trip back in 2007, I realized I never got to write about my succeeding trip to Austria. Then I just had dinner with my friend Anne and her Austrian husband Georg (both of them live in Austria now). Then it's Throwback Thursday. So it's a perfect time for me to finally complete writing about this trip that I took back in 2007.

Vienna State Opera

I didn't write about this back then because when I was looking through my pictures, I realized that there was a smudge on my camera lens which resulted in ugly spots appearing on half of my photos. I tried to clean them up myself using photoshop but it was slow and laborious and I wasn't happy with my output. I finally decided to just "outsource" this effort by asking a friend with the right skills to help me out. Now that I have a full set of clean photos, it was time to write about it.

Mirabell Gardens, Salzburg

While this trip happened 6 1/2 years ago, I apparently remember it in pretty good detail. I didn't automatically remember the names of a few of the places I visited (I didn't write them down at the time either) but somehow I easily remembered where they were on the map and from there I was able to identify what those places were.

Statue of Mozart, Vienna

My initial plan was just to go to Vienna and spend 3 days there. After all, my holiday would be a combination of a trip to Iceland and Austria.

Gloriette in Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna

However, after reading more and more about this beautiful country, I decided I wanted to go to Salzburg as well.

Residenzbrunnen fountain, Salzburg

After all, I am a big fan of The Sound of Music and I thought it would be good for me to visit some of the locations where the film was shot.

The gazebo where "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" in The Sound of Music was filmed

I eventually spent almost six days in Austria - about three days each in Vienna and Salzburg. I will be writing in detail about my trip to these cities in the next few posts.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Dinner at Ukokkei Ramen Ron

My friend Anne, who now lives in Austria with her Austrian husband Georg, is currently in the Philippines. On her last night in Manila, she organized dinner at Ukokkei Ramen Ron in McKinley Hill. I hadn't eaten there before; in fact, I haven't really tried a lot of the new ramen places that all came out as part of the Ramen craze in Manila so I thought this was a good venue choice.

Apparently, there's an item that they serve - Tantanmen - that's really good but it's not on the menu. Most of the folks in our group ordered it but as I got there later than almost everyone else, it had just run out of stock. Everyone seemed happy with the Tantanmen. I on the other hand ended up ordering the Shoyu Ramen. I thought it was just okay. I prefer the one in Ramen Bar. We then moved to Banapple next door for some coffee and dessert, although Tricia and CJ, who arrived after we were done eating in Ukokkei, ended up having a late dinner in Banapple instead.

I last saw Anne when we went to the Hundred Islands then had dinner in Eat Well early last year. I missed meeting up with her when she was here in March due to my stomach problems so it was great that I got to see her and Georg again now. That I also got to see my other friends, all of whom I haven't seen in ages - Ray, Dessa, Tricia, CJ, and Teb - made the evening even better.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Smartphone Generation

Call it a generation gap but there are things about current smartphone use that I find odd, if not impolite. I remember having dinner with friends recently when I noticed a lot of them were intently on their smartphones - and not just to reply to a text - and I had to call them out on it. What's the point of all of us having dinner together when everyone just starts spending more time on their gadgets than engaging in conversation? (We could all just call it a night if people realize they need to do other stuff.)

I saw this video recently and I can definitely relate to the lead character:

video uploaded in youtube by charstarleneTV

My recent dinner experience resembles 0:26 to 0:43 of this video. And while I have taken my fair share of photos in concerts and maybe the occasional video clip, I don't spend the entire time with my camera up taking videos. I guess it works for some people but personally (1) I can't really enjoy the concert as much when I'm half-focused on my phone or camera and (2) the video and sound quality almost always sucks anyway and it never captures just how great the artist's live performance was. But well I guess that works for some people.

Monday, January 20, 2014

K Style Hair fix

It all started during our department Christmas party last year. It was a long and busy day of preparations and execution and when I saw pictures and videos taken of me before and during the event, I noticed that my hair was a veritable mess. Years ago, I used gel regularly but then I stopped when my hair started thinning. I haven't used any hair product on a regular basis since then; I pretty much went wash-and-wear and I would just try to straighten out my hair throughout the day. However, seeing those unappealing photos of myself was a big wake-up call. I spoke in front of a large audience that night and I realized that how I was presenting myself to people wasn't all that good.

So since the start of this year, I've been using Lakme K.Style Fiber Paste.

I purchased it at Piandré. At P500 for a 100mL container, it's not exactly cheap but you need just a little amount so it's not too bad. I've been happy with it so far. To top it all off, a lot of folks at work kept saying I look a lot cleaner. And thinner! Amazing what looking just that much more presentable can do for you. :)