Kuuijaq (CYVP) to Iqaluit (CYFB) was next. Another short leg but still with headwinds. Now more rocks and more lakes are what we see below us. The huge rocks with crater lakes become more dramatic. I noticed Canadian names and nouns are like American Indian words. “U” does not necessarily follow their “Q”. Again, the terminal was painted bright yellow, which stood out from the colors of the ground. Had a chance to run to the terminal to grab myself a crab sandwich. Saw their interesting handicrafts that deal a lot with polar bears, seals, and other aspects of snow life. The features of the locals resemble the Eskimos of Alaska. I did not realize how big Canada is until today.
Iquluit (CYFB) to Kangerlussuaq (BGSF) was our first Atlantic crossing. Greenland-finally! The rocky mountains became bigger and still more lakes and rivers. These are fjords and could have been dramatically white with snow if it isn’t summer. The approach to the airport was exciting as you fly below the mountain rocks into the river.
We were losing time as we flew east. Sunlight was long because it was summer but it eventually caught up with us. It was getting dark but as we took off, we still see the chunks of glaciers separated from the mainland and drifting towards the North Sea. It was like having white chocolate chips drifting in the blue sea from 35,000 ft. I was hoping to see some whales or polar bears but forgot I was not superman. Greenland was bigger than I thought. We crossed the Atlantic again and headed off to Iceland.
Kangerlussuaq (BGSF) to Keflavic (BIKF) was almost 800 miles. This was my first night landing this trip and my sim instructor will be pleased at how well I did. They had a small FBO and had sandwiches and coffee ready for us.
From Iceland, our next stop was Flesland (ENBR), Norway. This is about 4:00 am local time. I can feel fatigue creeping in on us. We could hardly comprehend ATC clearances but it was just another quick and short hop to Stockholm (ESSA), Sweden — our planned overnight stop. I can see the sun rising in the horizon. We were ready to sleep. Tuned-in to ATIS… heard ceiling was 400 ft and visibility was 2 miles. This is exactly what we DON’T need when we were all struggling to stay awake. Decision height was at 300 ft and as we got to 350 ft, we saw the runway. What a relief!!
It was drizzling and cold. That gave me an excuse to use my new leather Mustang jacket! I called our handler by Iridium to prepare a car to bring us to town from the airport. When we got out of the plane, our handling agent did not even help get our luggage, and as we got out, they did not even get a vehicle for us. That really sucks! With the gloomy weather, the drive to town seemed longer than it should be. We wanted to be right at the center of town so we chose Radisson, which was just next door to the train station. When we checked in, our rooms were given away because of our late arrival. This day was definitely not starting right but we were happy to be in mainland Europe safe from the cold snowy islands of the North Sea.
Breakfast was great and definitely a far cry from our small town cafe in Goose Bay. Nice yoghurt that American/Canadian hotels never think of, freshly baked hard rolls, croissant, apricot jam, and good cheese made us look at the bright side of things. At last, we were given our rooms right after our hearty breakfast. After a good shower and a quick nap, Supap and I were ready for our Thai lunch! Thai Airways fly to Stockholm daily because there is a large Thai community there. Hmm… we could hardly wait to have our Tom Yong soup and hot rice! We wondered around town and did our photo/video session soon after. We enjoyed the Swedish river that goes out to the sea. We saw the huge cruise ships and the old style sail boats that the Nordic seafarers use to travel in the olden days. Their architecture is also very distinct from the other parts of Europe. The colors and pattern of the buildings behind the water made us feel that we were indeed in Stockholm. The city is clean and well organized and in fact, it is voted as one of the Top 10 Cities best to live in around the world. The city has different colored trains crisscrossing around which always amused me and became good photo subject.
Khun Somchai, the Thai Airways general manager, is Supap’s good friend. He picked us up for dinner and drove around town. He knew exactly Supap’s taste. He brought us to a fancy restaurant and had the most stylish meal in Stockholm. The dessert was a killer because it was so good!! I can just imagine the calories that I have ingested! We were beat by the time we finished. Almost fell asleep between stories but I still had to do some flight planning and hotel reservations in Budapest — our next destination!
Khun Somchai had Chinese dim sum prepared for us before we departed for the airport. It was still drizzling and cloudy as we got the plane ready for our flight. Our shoes were wet with the rain but weather was reported to be nice and sunny in Budapest (LHBP).
This was my flying leg and it was great to get out of the clouds. The ATC was also very good to us and gave us a couple of direct routing. By the time we were turned over to Budapest approach, we were actually number one. What a great flight plus, we had about a 60-knot tailwind.
We had to take off our sweaters the minute we landed and we were off to Four Seasons right in the heart of Budapest. It could not have been any better than this. My good friend Bruno called as soon as we got there and he was ready to pick us up. When I stepped out of the hotel, the whole Hungarian Balloon Team was outside waiting for me. I was very happy to see them in their country. I always wanted to visit them. They have the same fun loving character as Filipinos do. From the moment we met, I knew that we were going to be friends for life. Bruno is 74 but looks and acts like 45. Peter had gifts for us and it was embarrassing because I had nothing for them. I thought I’d give them my American snacks packed in my bags and a few Asian Air Safari shirts.
Dinner was in the old town of Buda at a restaurant called Kisbuda Gyonye just across the river. The resto served traditional Hungarian drinks and food. They even had an old man singing and playing the piano and accordion while he joked with us. To my surprise, Tibor showed up in Barong Tagalog, a Filipino’s formal wear for men. He claims that it should make the party festive and culturally impressive for his new partner, Nora. Toni and Julie were the nicest couple ever. Toni is lucky because Julie sacrificed drinking for driving so he was obliged to drink her share. Laslo enjoyed recalling their Philippine experiences. We had a blast trying all the different starters, Hungarian wines, dessert, and even coffee. Except for Bruno, all of them drove about 60 miles just to see us. Tomorrow’s dinner will be Laslo’s treat at his restaurant in Agar!
Bruno picked us up for lunch and he was more than happy to tour us around the city. There is so much history and culture in Budapest. Even our hotel used to be the famous Gresham Palace. Bruno’s story telling included the medieval times, the Ottoman Empire, World War II, and up to the modern times. It is like a review of my history classes in high school but this time, it really sticks in my head because I can actually see and feel the place. It was a very pleasant walk around the city. Everywhere you look is a nice photo subject. I regret that I never visited this place earlier in my life. I can very well be a Hungarian in my second life! I love this place specially the people. By the way, all the women are so pretty but I was too busy with visiting cathedrals and castles.
Bruno ’s amazing! He is a walking encyclopedia and history book put together. And just like in school, I am always the slow student… or was I just distracted by the flimsy summer wear of the ladies walking around??
After seeing San Stefan Cathedral, Heroes Park, the Citadel, and the pleasant walk around town, we headed to Agar to see the lake and, of course, to have dinner with the rest of the gang in Laslo’s Cytori restaurant. There was a wedding reception that evening so that gave us an opportunity to learn a bit more about Hungarian culture. It is interesting to know the similarities and differences between their traditions and rituals and ours in the Philippines. I tested one exercise — the cutting of wood where the bride and groom use a saw to cut a log. This signifies working together and sharing responsibilities. Mind you though, my trial of the woodcutting was purely for exercise.
Laslo showed me around the place. Food was excellent and his drinks and wines were great. No wonder King Juan Carlos of Spain uses his restaurant for catering whenever he is in town deer hunting. I might be able to remember my Spanish 101 if he invites me for hunting.
We enjoyed the music together and I felt I was so lucky to have friends who knew how to enjoy life and be happy. Saying goodbye was rather sad but they promise to visit the Philippines again on my birthday.
The drive back was quicker without traffic and the city lights at night was too nice to pass. As if we haven’t had enough, Supap and I still walked the streets and took pictures of the castle and the night-lights of Budapest. Gee, I haven’t had a descent sleep yet and tomorrow, we are off to Athens.
Athens (LGAQ) was Supap’s leg and again, a nice day for flying. Strong and bumpy winds but was an easy flight. The landscape changed, as we got closer to Athens. The sea and the mountains looked distinctive so we know Athens is definitely different from Budapest. One of Supap’s childhood dreams is to take a good photo of the Acropolis so this is one of our missions here. We stayed in the center of town near the restaurants and shops. We enjoyed our Greek seafood dinner — the bread, olive oil and olives, and the wine made us feel we were really in Greece. The next day was a cultural day for us. It’s our chance to see and touch what we learned in school about Greece. Of course, I wanted to see Mercury so I can continue to have his gift of flight. We first visited the Acropolis to fulfill Supap’s dream. It was fantastic to see it from our hotel room window. Acropolis is perched on top of the hill and overlooks the whole city. To actually walk around the old city made me imagine what it’s like for a poor fisherman or farmer would feel when he first enters the city during its glory times. I stared at the architecture and old columns in awe. It was sad to see the once great empire turned into just a world heritage site. I wish it still exists and old folks can tell me stories of how they fought the wars and saw the royalty and crowns changed hands.
After a few photo sessions, we drove around to look for other interesting sites. We went to the port to have some fresh seafood lunch. Right after, we headed to Wea Marina, the biggest in the island, just to watch the nice and fancy yachts being cleaned. We drove around all afternoon to see the rest of the city and enjoyed seeing the Acropolis from the different angles of town. We also hiked up in the chapel in Mt. Lycabettus and visited the track where they had the Olympic finals. Pooped and tired, we decided to have dinner on the rooftop of the hotel with the lighted Acropolis as our background. There was no better way to end our day.
We were up early the next day to do a quick side trip to Santorini (LGSR). Weather was great and it was just a 30-minute flight away. Some small islands en-route reminded me of home except that their mountains were a bit different and beaches were not quite like ours. The approach gave me a strange feeling because of the parallel runway. It felt like one was too close to the mountains. No problem though because it was a nice and clear day anyway. I was not too happy with my landing because of the gust of wind but as long as I can correct it then, it should be okay.
I was happy to be in Santorini. The place made me feel like I was really on vacation. Everything seems so relaxed and casual. We had a young Dutch lady as our handler. Our Canaves Resort van was waiting for us and we were ready to see the island. We stayed in the town of Oia at the northern tip of the island. All the fancy resorts are there so I was hoping to meet a vacationing princess or jet-setting lady. When we got to the resort, I noticed that everyone was walking in pairs. This was a honeymoon place and only couples normally stayed here. Supap and I might have been mistaken for gays so I made sure I walked farther away from him, showed I had a separate key for the room, and smiled charmingly at all the ladies.
The white painted cave houses hanging by the cliffs and overlooking the Caldera are just something you never see anywhere else in the world. The walk around the small town of Oia was magical! You can hear people speaking in different languages and shopping around for souvenirs. The cafes looked so romantic, specially, during sunset.
My villa had two floors, a Jacuzzi that had a window having the ocean and passing ships as a view on the ground floor and my bedroom on the second floor. I had my own balcony where I could just relax under the umbrella and read airplane magazines. The contrast of the blue sea against my white wooden windows is like a picture from a magazine.
We were eager to see the whole island so we drove around again. We went into the busy town of Fira, walked the beaches of Perivolos and Perissa, visited the lighthouse, and of course had a few drinks at the Santorini winery. Meals were always good at Dolphins near the Red Beach. We were happy to keep all our beautiful memories, the picturesque views, and our different experiences in our video footages and photos. We can always view it and share it with our friends, children and grandchildren. Santorini is truly a vacation place one must see.