Seville, Spain

Seville, Spain
September 16th 2010

Arrived in Seville around 5 am after taking the 8-hour overnight bus from Lisbon. Public transportation isn’t awake then so after waiting for 30 minutes for a bus that would never come until much later, I got a girl at the bus stop to split a taxi with me, as we were heading in the same direction. The part I feel guilty about was that I had told her that the bus station she wanted to get to was toward the east. Upon consulting my map in my guidebook later in the day, I saw that the bus station she needed was in the west. Ooops, hope she had more sense than to listen to me.

Spent the morning exploring a couple of tourist destinations; the Cathedral, self-explanatory, and Alcanzar, a former residence of the royalty of Spain. The Cathedral was like most other old churches around Europe although much bigger and more lavish. No wonder we had to pay an expensive entry fee, I’m sure all the tourists were paying off the debt for all that glitter inside. Alcanzar was downright cool. It was so massive with so much Moorish influence in the designs, well worth whatever money I paid to get in.

The buildings in Seville were really cool-looking as they were colorful and had a very Spanish feel to it. Before I ever set foot in Spain, this was how I imagined Spain looked like.

Walked along one of the main drags in the touristy area and found the main post office. Went in to find out how much it would cost to ship my LP Europe guidebook back to the USA. It costs €33! The book cost €20 and has so much wear on it that it was probably only worth €5. I figured I’d just give it away to one of my hostel-mates.

Not much else to say about Seville. Did not go see any flamenco performances or bull-fights.

Seville, Spain Pics

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal
September 14th, 15th 2010

After an 8-hour bus ride, I arrived in Lisbon around 6 pm on the 14th. Stayed at a wonderful hostel called ‘Traveler’s Hostel’, which in my opinion, has been the best hostel I’ve stayed at so far. It had everything a hostel should have: friendly staff, super clean rooms/bathrooms, great kitchen, great location, and great amenities, all for a good price. Anyway, I spent the night walking the streets around Lisbon. Went to the closest pier and saw a ton of fish just floating near the surface. Saw the sunset on the coast. Saw some skillful skateboarders do tricks at a main square.

(Forgot what this arch was called but it’s one of the main ones)

(All the sidewalks were made of this beautiful smooth tile)

(All this fish were just chilling by the side of the pier, wish I had a line and hook)

I saw a street that had many outdoor seafood restaurants so I picked one and took a seat. No one brought me a menu so I had to get someone’s attention. Made an order of boiled cod and potatoes. A group that sat around the same time I did ordered, ate, paid, and left and I still didn’t get my food. I got annoyed. Another group came, sat down, ordered, and got their food so I gave them 5 more minutes. I was too nice. I figured, maybe boiling fish and potatoes takes a longer time than the food the other groups had. A waiter saw me looking at my watch and timing them so he came over to find out what I had ordered. Instead of telling him, I just said ‘If my food doesn’t get here in 5 minutes, I am walking away’. With 30 seconds left, they brought my food. It wasn’t even that good and wasn’t worth the wait. I started to get excited because I saw my chance to leave a penny tip for the poor service, my first one ever. And I did.

Woke up the next morning and guess who were having breakfast? Jos, Jayben, and Nick, the group of friendly soccer-loving Aussies I met in Barcelona and then Madrid. I knew they were going to be there though because they were the ones who recommended this hostel to me. They had just arrived after taking the night train. I left them to rest while I headed to Belem, home of the famous pasteis de natas or custard tarts, the most famous ones in Portugal. I actually had one the night before, after my suck-ass dinner, after spotting it in a bakery near the hostel. It looked a lot like a Chinese egg-tart, one of my all-time favorite pastries, so that’s why it caught my eye. One of the hostel staff members told me maybe the Chinese egg-tarts originated from the Portuguese version, a plausible reason as the Portuguese used to be world explorers. I had five of them in Belem for lunch. There was a long queue for it so I figured, I might as well make my wait count and have a few.

(Pasteis de natas)

(Torre de Belem)

(Slobs in my hostel room. Girls.)

That night, I decided to join several hostel-mates for wine tasting. I had missed on the previous night when the hostel had tapas night and regretted it when I saw what they had. I was reluctant to do the wine-tasting as I didn’t know anything about wine but the Aussie trio got me to join in. There were 9 different types of wine plus a port, all from different regions of Portugal. It was an interesting experience although I couldn’t tell the difference. I swirled, I sniffed, I drank, and they all tasted like…WINE. I have unsophisticated taste buds. I know my cousin Eugene would have loved this. Green wine anyone?

Lisbon, Portugal Pics

Madrid, Spain

Madrid, Spain
September 11th, 12th, 13th 2010

Didn’t visit any churches or museums in Madrid. Basically used the time to relax, enjoy some spectator sports, and resupply on anything I need.

Took a tour of Santiago Barnabeu stadium (Real Madrid’s ground). Got to sit in the players’ seats. Of course, it wasn’t as exhilarating as visiting Old Trafford. Went to a game the following day and that was quite an experience. My first professional soccer game. Got to see the Galacticos, some of the best players in the world. Real Madrid beat Osasuna 1-0 and it wasn’t the most exciting match.

Went to see a bullfight with Jos, Jayben, and Nick (and some of their hostel-mates), some friends I met in my hostel in Barcelona, although they were staying at a different hostel in Madrid. Funny thing was that after Barcelona, I didn’t expect to see them in Madrid but I was walking back from buying my Real Madrid ticket and I heard some familiar voices behind me and I turned around and it was them, coming back from buying their tickets as well. Small world.

Here’s the progression of a bullfight. A couple of matadors come out (apprentices, not the main matador) along with some lancers (guys on horses with spears). Then they let the bull out. The apprentice matadors start toying with the bull by waving their pink capes and when the bull charges them, they hide behind some wooden structures. Then they taunt the bull into charging at the lancer. The lancer will then spear the bull around the neck area, causing massive bleeding and weakening the neck muscles. This causes the bull to fight with its head lowered, which will help the main matador kill it later. Anyway, after the spearing, some apprentices will stab the bull in the neck area with some markers. This is done when the bull charges at them and they will stab it and somehow avoid being gored. The main matador comes out and fights the bull. Then when the bull shows no more fight, the matador takes out his sword, gets the bull to charge at them, and they stab it very deep in a particular spot which will kill the bull almost instantaneously. The problem is that sometimes, a matador will have problems stabbing it in the right spot, causing only a shallow stab. They will try the finishing move again and again until the crowd boos them. And after the bull is tortured by this lack of skill, the matador finally gets it right and ends the bull’s life. If the bull isn’t instantaneously dead, someone will come up and stab the bull in the head with a knife and severe some tendons around the head. I couldn’t quite see what they did exactly. But overall, bullfighting is supposed to be artistic and exact. When you have matadors and lancers missing their mark, the crowd does not like it. And for those who call the sport animal cruelty, there are those who argue that bulls bred for bullfights usually live a wonderful life for about 4 years before they are then sacrificed for sport. It was a noble way for the bull to die. Also, before the 1940s, the horses used by lancers didn’t even have protective armor. The bulls end up goring and killing the horses when being speared. More horses died compared to bulls. Anyway, you can read more about bullfighting here.

(Spearing a bull)

(Matador vs bull)

(Dragging the fallen bull)

(Warm up session for Madrid and Osasuna players)

BTW, I have found a snorer that beats out the Japanese guy in Goreme, Turkey. One night, I woke up after hearing the most obnoxious, vile, unworldly snore in the world. It wasn’t a regular snore either. It was a loud snore, mixed with an after-snore sound that was terrifying. Some Italian guys walked into the dorm around 2 am and were snickering at the sound of the snore. Awake, I joked with them that the guy in one of the beds really has a terrible snore. One of the Italians took a closer look and told me ‘That’s a woman!’ We burst out laughing so hard, and I had to cover my face with a pillow to muffle my laugh. The snorer barely broke rhythm even after all the noise. I found out it was some plump Spanish-speaking woman that I had met earlier in the day. I had to endure her snores for two nights. What a nightmare. Earplugs didn’t work.

Madrid, Spain Pics

Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona, Spain

September 7th, 8th, 9th 2010

Got to Barcelona late on the 7th, after a 5+ hour journey by train from Montpellier. Ate some nasi biryani (Malaysians reading this will know what it is) at an Indian joint across the street from the hostel. They also make pizza and serve tapas (Spanish finger foods that are served with beer) there, go figure. Indians are enterprising.

Spent the next day checking out one of the most jaw-dropping structures I’ve seen in my life, the Sagrada Familia, a Catholic church designed by Anton Gaudi. Its design is inspired by nature and was started in the late 19th century and scheduled to be completed in 2030. I would love to go back then to check it out. Instead of gargoyles, the outside of the church was adorned with statues of frogs, lizards, and various other reptiles, as well as statues designed by Josep Maria Subirachs, a famous sculptor. Subirach’s statue designs are very interesting. Please check out the link to the Sagrada Familia, so much information I cannot even begin to write about and describe. Pictures say a thousands words.

(A section of the Sagrada Familia)

(Some of Subirach’s work)

(Inside the Sagrada Familia)

I remember how awed I was visiting old churches such as the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. In 500 years time, then we’re all gone, tourists visiting Barcelona will see this church and be in awe. But I was there when they were constructing it. Please check out the rest of the pictures of the Sagrada Familia in the link at the end of this post. Gaudi designed some other structures as well but I only looked at them from the outside as the entry fees were ridiculous. It sucks that he died by being hit by a tram. A tram!

Found a bookstore that sold English books and bought The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole and Fever Pitch. Cost me ~€10 each! But good books make such good time-fillers, be it on the long bus/train/subway rides or just relaxing in the park or hostel lounge.

Ate lunch at a popular local joint called La Rita. It was high-end looking but had great prices, especially if you have the Menu del Dia (Menu of the Day) where you pick a starter, a main course, a dessert, and a drink. I tried to be classy and had red wine eventhough I knew the consequences. An hour later, I walked around Barcelona with red eyes and face and feeling quite buzzed.

The next day, I explored La Barceloneta, the area around the beach. Had seafood paella from one of the restaurants along the beachwalk. Then walked along La Rambla, one of the most famous streets in Spain. It’s just a tourist stretch filled with tourists, street performers, tourist shops, restaurants, and pickpockets. On the way back, it started to rain and instead of taking the subway, I decided to be cheap and run back. I got soaked, but saved €1.40! Ok, I am not that cheap, I just felt like running back in the rain. It’s an exhilirating feeling.

Spent the next day checking out the Barcelona Cathedral (unimpressive) and Mercat de Boqueteria, a popular local market. Had some fresh fruit and a chick pea dish. Spent the afternoon taking a tour of Camp Nou, F.C. Barcelona’s stadium.

Barcelona, Spain Pics

Nice, France + Monaco

Nice, France
September 2nd, 3rd, 4th 2010

Didn’t really explore Nice very much. Walked along the main street a lot to get to/from the beach. I said a while back I preferred sandy beaches. After seeing what real pebble beaches look like, I changed my mind. I think the one in Split was a one-off because it was small and wasn’t laid out the way the beaches in Nice were. They are both great in their own way. Pebble beaches are a lot easier to clean up from. Sand doesn’t get into every nook and crevice of your shoes/clothing/bag.

Did spend part of my last day visiting Monte-Carlo in Monaco, a 20-minute train ride away. Visited the Old Town there (a small area filled with a few tourist attractions, tourist shops, and also Prince’s residence, where at 12 pm, a crowd of tourists got to see the changing of the guard, who have some snazzy sharp uniforms). Went to check out Monte-Carlo Casino and on the way, saw a bunch of Ferrarris and Lamborghinis drive past me on the road. Found them all parked in front of MCC, where all the tourists got to take a closer look and photograph themselves standing next to them. It made me think of what it was like to be so utterly filthy rich. Also saw a few Bentleys and a Rolls Royce parked in the area. I checked out the menu at a cafe next door to the casino; a bowl of soup costs €15, sandwiches cost €20+. Insane and good thing I wasn’t dying of starvation.

I ate Chinese food almost every meal at this point-and-pick fast-food Chinese joint down the road from my hostel. I would pair a dish and a bowl of white rice or noodles. The food was surprisingly good, decently priced but more importantly, it brought a little familiarity and comfort to my travels. I can’t begin to tell you how comforting and delicious a bowl of white rice tasted.

Nice, France Pics

Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy

August 31st, September 1st 2010

Who pays €10 just to check out a naked guy? Me.

Ok, not just any naked guy, the naked guy in Florence, the statue of David. The Florentine authorities really know how to maximize tourist revenue. Just put a world-famous piece of art in one of the lousiest art galleries in Florence, and everyone will pay an exhorbitant entry fee just to see it. The statue was a lot bigger than I expected and was very, very impressive. How did they even move it around without cracking it? Is marble really that solid? And all this was carved from a single block of marble. By the way, every picture out there of David is a front shot, and although photography is banned, I managed to sneak an ass-shot of David so check it out, David from the behind. Please, no gay jokes. It’s art.

I was also, sadly but proudly, the first in line to the Uffizi Gallery, one of Florence’s most famous art gallery, which included works such as The Birth of Venus and my favorite, Michaelangelo’s Tondo Doni (the color, especially the baby pink, was absolutely creamy, exquisite and vibrant). The Uffizi usually has long lines (we’re taking about 2 hours if you arrive around 11 am). I got there around 7:45 am, it opens at 8:15. I was originally #4 to arrive but because I sat on the doorsteps to read while waiting for it to open, everyone thought I was #1 and formed a queue behind me (the 3 girls in front of me submissively did the same). My competitive nature kicked in and I felt proud that I was managed to steal #1. What a nerd lol. I blame it on the Malaysian school system.

I ate some great food in Florence. One of my favorites was freshly-made oven baked pizza. Nothing but good dough, good cheese, tomato sauce, and olive oil. I also had some pasta (again, eat pasta while in Italy, it’s Italy! And I’m Dr Pasta, I have to study the art of pasta). If only I was a wine-man, I’d be sampling all kinds. After all, I am in the Tuscan region. But all I know of wine, sadly, is there is red, white, and pink. I will be hoping to learn more about wines and cheeses through my life, I hope. Who knows, I may become a wine-snob, like Miles from Sideways. If you have not seen that movie, watch it. ‘I WILL NOT DRINK ANY FUCKING MERLOT!’

I spent part of my last day visiting Pisa, only an hour’s train ride from Florence. The Leaning Tower was smaller than I had thought it would be but also a lot wider. Ate some delicious ‘Yogurt with strawberries and honey’ gelato, which was like having a party in my mouth. I’m a huge chocolate fanatic when it comes to gelato but that takes the cake.

Florence, Italy Pics

Rome, Italy

Rome, Italy

August 28th, 29th, 30th 2010

Didn’t do much the first day. I decided to do laundry and lounge around in the hostel. I have designated a blue t-shirt, purchased in a Paris supermarket, and a 32-inch inseam with 30-inch waist (my dimensions are the other way around), purchased in Poland, to be my ‘laundry-day wear’. Ate some Chinese food and wondered what cuts they use from the cow to make the beef dishes, not just this restaurant but all over the world. They’re never lean and meaty, but mainly rubbery and chewy.

Next day, I visited Vatican City. I came just in time for a 1.5 hour queue to the Vatican Museum, where the Sistine Chapel is located. I have a massive painting which I did in high school for art class hanging in my parents’ garage of Adam and God nearly touching fingers, you know, that picture. Of course, my drawing and painting skills are severely lacking and the overall end product is hilarious looking. I wish I could’ve taken a better picture of the actual Michaelangelo version, which is breathe-taking, but picture-taking was banned and there were plenty of security personnel making sure of that. I did do a couple of ninja-snapshots. Anyway, it was nice to see the actual piece of what I attempted to copy, poorly, in high school. The entire Sistine Chapel was covered from top to bottom with beautiful art, much like tattoos.

Went to St Peter’s square of Vatican City around 12 pm, just in time to see a live feed on big-screen of the Pope giving a sermon somewhere else, I believe Castel Gondolfo, a distance from Vatican City, to mass there. I lined up to check out St Peter’s Basilica, which was equally impressive from the outside and inside. Other than that, I was actually surprised at how accessible Vatican City was to the public. I expected it to be a walled off island in Rome, with only a few gated entrances where those colorfully-clothed Swiss Guards would let the crowds in from. But only small sections are guarded and sealed off, I’m thinking where the Pope lives. Those Swiss Guards wear very colorful garb on Sundays but I was back there on Monday, again, and saw them dressed in plain blue. Maybe that’s their version of ‘laundry-day wear’.

Spent my last day there checking out the Colosseum. Inside, I was disappointed at how much lay in ruins. The entire ground was gone and I could see into the underground tunnels that once lay beneath where the gladiators dueled. Since the Colossuem was oval-shaped, depending on where you stand, it could look small or it could look massive. I wished I was there back in the days when gladiators fought. ‘Maximus, Maximus!!’ (he could have been real).

Went to check out the impressive Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. Lots of ruins, including some very impressive looking ones. I took one of my favorite and best pictures of Arco di Settimo Severo, dedicated to the Emperor Septimus Severus (talk about a cool name) and victory over the Parthians. The lighting was just perfect.

I visited several other little spots in Rome (bought unlimited all-day subway passes, so I had to maximize their use by zipping up and down Line A and Line B). Both lines go through Roma Termini, Rome’s main train station. This station has been the most awesome train station in Europe because it’s quite happening in there. Lots of shops, a couple eateries, very modern and busy, and even has one of those electronic arrival/departure boards where the characters flip and the right words/numbers are displayed. I actually spent two nights eating dinner at a self-service joint (popular with the station employees) and watching Serie A soccer with everyone. But yes, I hung out at a train station.

Rome, Italy Pics

Venice, Italy

Venice, Italy
August 27th 2010

Not quite what I thought it would be. I had previously imagined the only way to get around was on gondolas and if you walked outside the door, you’d fall right into the water. But in reality, Venice is made out of pedestrian walkways, with canals running through it. Just pretend it’s like any other city but instead of roads with cars, you have canals with boats (to transport things).

The bus from Ljubljana took me to Mestre, just outside Venice. After finally acquiring a bus ticket (Why don’t they set up ticket booths next to a bus stop? Why do we have to go around asking coffee shops if they sold bus tickets? And why do coffee shops have no idea where I can get bus tickets if they didn’t sell it themselves? And why do some locals have no clue that the bus driver himself sold tickets? And why did the bus driver try to lie to me that he didn’t sell tickets, only to be called out by a local, and only then did he admit he had tickets?), I arrived at the Venice main bus station. Got checked in to my hostel (check in at main office, then they send you walking 10-15 mins to your actual rooms), then went to walk around.

Venice has a ton of alleyways and mini-alleyways. It’s very easy to get lost. At least they have signs telling you which alleyway to take if you want to get to certain main attractions. And every shop in Venice is catered for tourists. I wonder where all the locals live and if Venice is anything more than a tourist-town. I noticed a lot of Asian women with non-Asian men (nothing against interracial dating but Venice seemed to have quite a lot). Also noticed a lot of Asian people (mostly women) working in Venice shops. Is it trendy to work/live in Venice or something?

After walking around the city, getting lost, finding my way again, hanging out at Per San Marco and people-watching, I decided to eat at an Italian restaurant near my hostel. A bunch of people eating in there, good sign. I walk in, order a plate of pasta for €7.50, which in hindsight, was a bad choice. Why is it a bad choice? Because I am ‘Doctor Pasta’. I may not make world-class pasta, but I’ve made pasta enough times to know when I’m overpaying for what is essentially a very cheap meal to make yourself. But I had a huge craving for pasta (I believe I last had it in Norway), and figured, hell, I’m in Italy. Of course, the restaurant charges an additional €2.50 cover charge on top of the meal (common practice in Italy I learned). If I bought my own ingredients, cooked it myself, €10 would make 4-5 meals. But the pasta was good, and I’m sure I paid to eat some secret ingredients (riiiiiiiight…). If I had a do-over, I’d order a meal I couldn’t make myself (basically anything other than pasta).

Of course, I have to mention gondola rides. Overpriced tourist trap. Expect to pay €80-100 per person. If you try to get a discount, I’ve heard the gondola drivers will cut out the good spots. Also, there’s nothing romantic about it from what I’ve seen. How could it be romantic when you have a ton of other tourists on every bridge and sidewalk, staring and taking pictures of you as you pass by?

My feet are killing me. The trailrunners I bought in the UK were USA size 10, when I really wear 10.5. The guy at the store recommended I get 10 because he thought it was a better fit for me. But he failed to realize (how could he forget, he sells shoes) that feet expand. So often times, my toes (left pinky toe and its neighbor) would be squished, causing a lot of discomfort. I’m constantly on the lookout for backpacker stores to get another pair of shoes and ship this pair home. But you can’t really google “backpacker store ” because those foreign cities don’t make English websites, they make foreign websites, so you’ll have to google it in foreign words, which I don’t know.

Venice, Italy Pics

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana, Slovenia
August 26th 2010

Took the 10-hour overnight bus from Split to Ljubljana. Not a very big town. Mostly walked around, checking out the city. Went back to the hostel, took a nap, woke up, headed out for the evening. Some hostel-mates whom I met when I arrived told me that Paco De Lucia, a world-famous flamenco guitarist, was performing in Ljubljana for two nights. I checked out ticket prices, it was €44 per ticket so I did what any savvy backpacker (and not-so-rich local) would do; camp outside the open-air auditorium walls and listen to it. It was a ton of fun, just sitting outside, under the street lamps beside a road, with all these people, listening to some amazing guitar playing. I only listened for an hour but went back to the hostel to check out some PDL videos, to see how he plays the guitar. It’s very sick.

I have to mention, I ran into this Japanese dude (his name’s Sho) again, for like the fifth time. I mentioned in my earlier entries that I kept running into this fellow on several legs of my trip and when we saw each other again, we just laughed, chatted a bit, parted ways, this time for good, as he’s flying back to London soon.

Ljubljana, Slovenia Pics

Split, Croatia

Split, Croatia
August 23rd, 24th 2010

I think Split was the first place I’ve actually spent time lounging on the beach. Three times. Varna didn’t count as I just walked along the beach but after acquiring some serious farmer’s tan on my travels, I had to even it out a little bit. The guy running the hostel, Peter, recommended I go to one of the more remote beaches on the right side of Split, which I did once, only to find out it’s frequented mostly by older folk (and you know how older folk also have to wear their speedos and bikinis…). There wasn’t any sand, mostly smooth rocks. I hate walking on rocks in the water as I keep thinking I might step on prickly sea urchins. The water was nice and deep, perfect for swimming but I personally preferred sandy beaches so I left after a while to go back to Bacevice (the touristy but sandy beach). What’s nice about Bacevice is that everyone goes there so it’s nice for people-watching. The first time I was there, I would soak myself in the water at intervals, then go sit on the sand and stare into the open, thinking about all sorts of things. The second time, I would just sit in the ankle-high water as the tide was lower. I started to remember how much fun beaches were and I am now looking forward to the beaches in Nice, France.

Not much in Split, just usual tourist stuff (Dioclethian Palace being the major one but I was quite unimpressed because the insides of the walls are filled with every imaginable tourist shop). One cool thing was the fish market. Got to see all kinds of seafood being sold that I’ve never really seen in markets before. Later that day, I ate some amazing seafood at a popular local joint called ‘Fife’ (some sardine appetizers, fresh fish off the grill, and some good Croatian beer). Other times, I just had pizza slices from one of the many pizza joints all over the place.

My hostel felt like an apartment; it had rooms, a kitchen, a living area with flat-screen TV complete with channels to watch soccer (caught City vs Liverpool with some hostel-mates), a computer…but it was a small area and the guy who ran my hostel, Peter, told me how suffocated he felt working there. He was the only guy working at this place, so it’s almost like a 24/7 job for him, with no one switching shifts with him. The guy has spent the past year doing this and was going nuts. I felt sorry for the guy so I offered to help watch the hostel for him while he went out to relax or to get food/run errands. I didn’t mind, I was sitting in the living area watching sports and surfing the net anyway. If someone rings the doorbell, let them in, that’s all. I also cleaned up the hostel computer as it was super-slow. It made me realize how much I enjoy fixing, improving, and making things more efficient.

On my second night, at 1 am, the doorbell rang. No one was around so I opened the door and some Belgian guy was asking if there were rooms. Peter was gone for the day and I let the guy use the computer to find accomodation around the area. But it was 1 am, most places were closed already, so I told the guy to take one of the empty beds in the hostel. Funny thing, I had some Bosnian money that I couldn’t get rid of (exchange offices don’t take coins, even if they were worth €5, and this guy was going to Bosnia next, so I changed money with him. He told me he would pay the hostel but I think he left the next day without leaving anything, not even a note.

Split, Croatia Pics