Posted in Lifestyle, Self-Discovery, Travel

The Gift of Disney

For my birthday this year, my sister bought me an all-expense paid trip to Disneyland Paris.

Anyone who knows me would know that this is the most perfect gift anyone could have given me. I don’t care if this is my 31st birthday. In my opinion, you stop needing Disney when you are on your deathbed. I cannot conceive of any age where I won’t feel excited at the sight of Sleeping Beauty’s castle or when I won’t get a giddy feeling when I hear the opening notes of A Whole New World.

I digress. 

There is something to be said about a company who’s entire ethos is built on the power of dreams, on the power of believing that something magical is waiting to happen just around the corner.

And I know in this cynical world, where more often than not it is violence and not pixie dust that is commonplace, that may seem really trite and corny. I had a colleague who incredulously asked ‘Why??” when I said I was spending my birthday in Disneyland. He asked me whether I wouldn’t rather go to Italy to soak up some culture instead.

(Yeah…no. I’ve been to Italy so many times and I’m all cultured out thank you very much. I just want to see Mickey, Minnie and the entire gang of Disney Princesses).

Walt Disney once said that the problem with the world is that too many people grow up. I agree with that statement but only up to a certain point. Because as accurate as that may have been in the 50s or 60s, in these turbulent times you HAVE to grow up fast if you want to make it. If you want to survive.

I don’t think people growing up is the problem so much as it is people equating growing up with letting go of their dreams. Too many people stop seeing the world with wonder. Too many people go through life just waiting to be disappointed rather than thinking of it as one grand adventure.

And can you really blame them?

These are hard times. And it sometimes feels like its going to get worse before it gets better. President Trump. Brexit. Wars. Never-ending conflict in the Middle East. Harvey Weinstein. I’ve stopped keeping up with current events because it feels like there’s always suffering somewhere in the world. Its really hard to keep believing in the wishes our hearts make in the face of such troubles.

On a more personal front, the week before we went to Disney was one of the more challenging weeks of my life.  I don’t do change very well and that week felt like a week of endings: I was saying goodbye to something that had been a major part of my life for the better part of the decade in order to do something different. I said goodbye to a friend who’d been like a rock for me these past couple of years because she’s moving back to Australia.

I wasn’t feeling very Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah.

I was also feeling all kinds of depressed and yes, afraid, about the fact that I am now officially in my 30s and I don’t feel like I have anything to show for it. The fear of ageing hits you at the oddest of times but all the more so on birthdays I think.  Birthdays always make me feel the weight of all of society’s expectations more than any other time of the year. I always feel like my life never quite measures up to the standards of how a 30-year-old’s life should be.

WHAT A LOAD OF RUBBISH.

Like I said, I really needed this Disney trip. It made me realise that as scary as the world is becoming, I shouldn’t let it affect me so much because at the end of the day, there’s not much I can do about it. What will be will be.

I should also stop thinking about living my life according to other people’s standards. I say this all the time, but every time my birthday comes around (or when someone has a kid, or gets married, or achieves some other milestone that I’m nowhere near achieving), I always forget this  one simple truth: we will all go through life our own way, and the only person who gets to decide how we should our lives is US.

What I should be more afraid of is the concept of fear itself. I admit, I sometimes have anxiety problems. I worry too much about consequences that sometimes I don’t even bother trying. I let my fears get in the way of me experiencing new things. I can’t count the number of opportunities I’ve let slip simply because I was too afraid to try, or to say how I feel.

So whilst I was queuing up to ride the Hyper Space Mountain on Frontier Land, I suddenly decided that this year would be the Year of No Fear. I would make a point of going after things that scare me. If it makes me feel anxious, if it gets me out of my comfort zone, then its probably worth doing, if only for the life experience.

I will try not to be afraid of going after something I want, even if I crash and burn in the process. What’s the worse that could happen? Rejection? Heartbreak? Humiliation? I can survive all those things. What I won’t survive is regret, or looking back years from now and thinking about what could have been.

I don’t think my sister realised the impact of the birthday present she’d given me this year. It’s given me back a portion of the belief and wonder that I had as a child, and has made me resolve to go through life thinking that something amazing is going to happen every day. Its infinitely better than going through life being afraid all the time. It’s the year of no fear, and when we get over our fears I think that’s when we really start to live.

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All this introspection aside though, I just really REALLY enjoyed going to Disneyland. I wouldn’t want you to think I spent the entire weekend ruminating on the meaning of life.

 

EYE. ROLL.

 

I spent the weekend fighting with children for a spot to see Cinderella, riding rollercoasters and magic carpets and singing It’s A Small World After All. I saw Disney Princesses, and my heart went all a flutter when all those Prince Charming’s made an appearance.

There was lights, music, fireworks and Mickey Mouse on parade.

It was epic, fabulous and all kinds of awesome. It was the perfect way to start the Year of No Fear.

Happy 31st to me. Its going to be a great year, I can feel it. 

 

Posted in bloggers, Lifestyle, Travel

The Final Problem: Switzerland Part 1

The older I get, the more I need to find a place to hide for a little while and recharge. Work often gets stressful no matter how much I love my job, and the pressures of trying to make things work in a city like London sometimes get a bit too much. Its nice to have a place where I can just forget about it for a little while and just be able to breathe. Switzerland is that place for me, which is why I try to visit as often as I can.

Everything is so scenic in Switzerland, and there’s something about this country that just makes it a little easier to breathe. And I mean that literally. On my first full day in Schaffhausen I went for a 10k run towards the Rhine Falls, which is quite a hilly route.

Normally, I’d be huffing and puffing and getting side stitches once I hit the 3km mark but not only do I run faster in Switzerland, I also seem to have better breath control. I think its the clean air. You don’t realise it until you’re away from it, but London really is one polluted city.

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Wouldn’t you run everyday with a view like this?

 

I was blessed with absolutely gorgeous weather on this trip. So there were plenty of opportunities to go for a run and to do other activities such as going to a strawberry farm and picking fresh strawberries, the size of which were sometimes as big as a baby’s fist. If one wished to, one could also pick fresh roses off the rose garden.

 

While researching for this trip, I accidentally came across a fact that I really should have known ages ago, being a massive Sherlock fan. You see, despite the fact that Sherlock is OBVIOUSLY  a fictional character, the place where he appeared to have plummeted to his death in the book ‘The Final Problem’ is actually real.

The Reichenbach Fall is located in a small town in the north of Switzerland called Meiringen (pronounced My-ring-gen with a hard g). Because we also wanted to visit Interlaken and other neighbouring cities in that area, my cousin got us a Tageskarte (day pass, I think?) that will allow us to ride trains and buses to any destination within the country for a day, all for 45 CHF.

I think that’s a pretty sweet deal and something travellers should consider purchasing, because train tickets (like everything else in this country) do not come cheap. I think to get from Zurich Airport to Schaufhassen costs like 23 CHF for a one-way ticket. Its ridiculous.

Anyway, depending on where your base is, you might want to make an early start in the morning. It takes about 3 hours to get from Schaufhaussen (which is near Zurich) to Meiringen. You might also want to download the SBB app, which is their version of TFL, because it helps you plan your route and connections.

To get to Meiringen, we had to change trains three times. And we had to walk fast because for each change, we had about an average of 10 minutes to get from one platform to another or risk missing our connection. Needless to say, I was really glad I wore sensible shoes.

The train ride to Meiringen will take you amongst the most scenic and picturesque views that the country has to offer. I normally fall asleep as soon as the train gets moving but apart from the fact that I was scared as hell that we’d miss our stop, I really could not afford to close my eyes on the train ride because I’d miss one hell of a view.

When we finally got to Meiringen, we had to then figure out how to actually get to the bloody waterfall. Again, this is where the SBB app comes in use because it will pretty much give you a step-by-step guide on how to get to anywhere that has a bus or train station attached to it.

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A handy guide on the tram stations around Meiringen

For the Reichenbach Falls, we had to take a tram from Meiringen to a place called Alpbach, which is so close that you can WALK there if you’re not in any hurry or if (unlike us) you actually had a clue as to where to go. Also, it might be good to realise that this area actually has A LOT of waterfalls and you had to make sure you go to the right one.

From Alpbach station we had to walk to the funicular station to take us up to Reichenbach Falls. I didn’t realise how much of a presence Sherlock Holmes actually has in a town so far removed from England. They’ve capitalised on the great detective’s fame by doing tours and erecting museums in his honour.

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It cost about 12 CHF for a return ticket to and from the falls. Note: they only take cash. Also, if you’re planning to visit the nearby Aareschlucht (literally translated it means Aare Gorge) you might want to look into buying tickets for both because it will save you a few swiss francs.

 

The falls themselves are breathtaking. I don’t know, maybe its because I haven’t seen anything apart from buildings and man-made parks for a while or because as a traveller, I’m really quite easy to please. But I was ridiculously happy to have made it up there. I was even chuffed at the Sherlock Holmes cutout that they had near the funicular platform.

 

To get a closer look at the falls, and to get to the actual place where Sherlock fell to his death, you have to go on quite a bit of a hike. Again, wearing sensible shoes is key. Also, check the weather before scheduling your trip because I can imagine that it would get rather tricky to make the hike in unfavourable weather conditions.

 

Whatever you do, don’t forget to take your time and to take in the view from the top because its absolutely stunning. I’m pretty sure this blog post is now full of superlatives but even if I couldn’t find the words to describe how beautiful it is, the pictures should speak for themselves.

 

Don’t worry, falling is like flying, only a more permanent destination

The Reichenbach Fall, Sherlock

 

I think we don’t realise how much of a weight we carry on our shoulders until we go on a holiday and we shed that weight, even if its just for a few days. I have so much more to share about this trip, and I will be doing a series of blogs about it. But I just want to end this first one by saying that its my firm and unshakeable belief that travelling, despite its enormous cost to our bank accounts, is one of the few things that truly make us rich.

Travel on, wanderers and dreamers. 

 

Posted in bloggers, Lifestyle, Travel, United Kingdom

A Non-Hiker’s Guide to Climbing Arthur’s Seat

 

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“I’m on my way from misery to happiness today…”

– The Proclaimers

Finally, the last part of my Scotland blogs. Finding the time to write this blog was even more difficult than hiking up to Arthur’s Seat itself and I needed time because I really wanted to be able to do justice to one of the best experiences of my life (despite the unflattering photos and continuous whinging that you’ll all soon find in this blog).

The very first time I heard of Arthur’s Seat, my imagination was immediately captured. Despite the fact that I knew Camelot was just a legend, there was a small and unreasonable part of me that believed I’d find Excalibur on top of those hills.

I was all fired up to make this hike. I was so excited that it was all I could talk about during the long weekend. It was to be the grand finale of our Edinburgh weekend, not by design but because the weather was truly rubbish up until our last day, when the sun decided to come out and play.

TIP NUMBER ONE: Do not do this hike in questionable weather conditions. Seriously. 

This hike is quite a popular one and we asked several of our acquaintances about their own experience just to give us an idea of what to expect and what to prepare for. It’s easy, they said. Kids can do it, they said. Literally a walk in the park.

TIP NUMBER TWO: Do not listen to your acquaintances. Do your own research. 

It was not a bloody walk in the park by any stretch of the imagination. Climbing up Arthur’s seat is a proper hike. Had we known this, we would have been more prepared. I was wearing Hunter boots, for crying out loud. Those things were made for the rain, not for a rocky terrain. I was pretty much petrified the whole time that the rocks would somehow tear through the rubber and I’d have to make the long trek home on bare feet.

Which leads me to….

TIP NUMBER THREE: Dress for the occasion. 

I’m not much of a hiker but I’m pretty sure shoes with traction are a requirement if you’re climbing up hills and crags. There were also areas in which the ascent was slippery as hell. Do not even get me started on the descent.

Because we were rendered complacent by the seemingly expert advise of our numerous acquaintances, we chose to walk from our flat in the city centre to Arthur’s seat. As a direct result of this monumentally stupid idea, we ended up walking for FOUR HOURS.

It took us nearly an hour to get to the base of Holyrood Park (where the peak was), two hours to climb up and down the peak and, because we got lost, another hour to get back to the city centre.

We had no food, and even more appalling, we had no water. We were incredibly unprepared for this hike, its a wonder we didn’t pass out.

TIP NUMBER FOUR: Take a bloody bus or tram to Holyrood Park for god’s sake. And bring sustenance. 

Anyway, if you ignore the fact that you’re huffing and puffing and that you’ve been walking for the better part of two hours and you still can’t see the bloody peak, the views were pretty incredible. It was hard to believe we were still within the city of Edinburgh.

Being there truly felt like being transported back to a time and place when things were much simpler. Maybe that’s why city dwellers like me need to get out every now and then: take in a  little bit of nature, remind ourselves of how we are just a tiny speck in a very big world and this is why we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously.

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TIP NUMBER FIVE: Take time to breathe, ruminate and get a little perspective. There’s no better place for it than when you’re out in nature. 

And then of course you get closer to the peak itself and you are reminded by how much of a millennial you are because despite the fact that some of those paths really were treacherously difficult, you still find the time to whip out your phone so that you can have a photo to post on Instagram. Oh well.

I don’t know whether it was because of the bad weather on the previous days but going up the peak was a little bit too slippery for my peace of mind. I had to use my hands and my feet to make sure I don’t get an injury. My mind was already conjuring up visions of me asking my favourite surgeon to fix my broken ankle. Shudder.

TIP NUMBER SIX: Do not think of broken ankles while making a difficult climb. FOCUS, YOU IDIOT. 

The last few levels (for lack of a better word) before the peak itself were among the hardest bit you have to get through. I very nearly convinced myself that I was content with having made it that far, I didn’t really need to climb that last hurdle.

But then I thought about how I’ve come too far to chicken out at the last minute.

Plus, I think I have residual abandonment issues. I’ve always hated the thought of being left behind, of not being able to do something that everyone else was doing. Those things combined gave me enough of a push to get over my fears and just focus on climbing – excruciatingly slow, yes, but I was making it up to that peak if had to crawl on my hands and knees to do it.

And thank God I did. The views were awesome, yes, that was a given. But what I didn’t count on was the exhilaration that came with finishing a hike; I felt a huge sense of achievement even though I knew this was probably nothing compared to other trails elsewhere in the world. The important thing is that I did it, despite being genuinely scared at times. I am pretty sure there’s a metaphor for life in there somewhere.

TIP NUMBER SEVEN: Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear – George Addair

Okay so I didn’t find Excalibur on Arthur’s Seat. But I returned to London feeling recharged and ready to take on the world. I had memories of an incredible weekend and I felt even more motivated to do as many hikes as I can, see more of the world outside of the concrete jungles I usually visit when I travel.

There’s a reason why we spend so much money travelling. At the end of the day, what it all comes down to is that the world truly is such a beautiful place. There are so many places you can go, so many things to see, and you’re lucky if you get the chance to see as much of it as you can. If you do get that chance, grab it with both hands.

 

 

Posted in bloggers, Travel, United Kingdom

Escape To Edinburgh

Here’s a fact: one can go absolutely nowhere on short notice when one has a Philippine passport.

This is the reason why I had very limited options when I was feeling antsy over Easter weekend. I knew I had to get away from London for a while, but I didn’t know where to go that would a) be affordable and b) not require a visa.

Fortunately for me, all my searching eventually got me considering going to Scotland. Originally, I had wanted to visit the Highlands. Despite the fact that – as many of you know – I am NOT  a big fan of the Outlander series I kinda wanted to see the setting for it, maybe visit Loch Ness and just soak up some of Mother Nature’s goodness for a spell.

However, it was not a good idea to go the Highlands when the weather was so uncertain. Also, you will need AT LEAST 5 days to really be able to enjoy it and I did not have 5 days. At most, I had a long weekend. So, I researched Edinburgh instead and found that it was perfect for the kind of weekend I had in mind.

So I packed my bags, took a bloody uncomfortable ten-hour coach ride and hied myself off to the capital of Scotland.

I didn’t know much about Edinburgh beyond the fact that it had a castle right in the middle of the city centre. I was pleasantly surprised to find such a charming city that had all the modern comforts of London but with enough of a difference for me to know that I was definitely in Scotland.

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As I usually like to do when I first get to a new place, I walked around with my sister and my friend Romelyn to get a general lay of the land. The weather was NOT GREAT; I thought my boss was kidding when he said that it always rained in Edinburgh but I certainly did not feel like laughing when I looked up to overcast skies that day.

We didn’t really have an itinerary, just a list of places and points of interest to visit. Plus, it was Good Friday and the Catholic in me (plus thirty years of hearing my mother’s voice in my head telling me that one does not go gallivanting when the Lord has died) just could not bear the guilt of being out and about on Good Friday.

So we took a little tour around the city, passed The Scot Monument and crossed Waverley Bridge to make our way to The Royal Mile. We visited Victoria Street, which apparently served as the inspiration for Diagon Alley from the Harry Potter series.

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In fact, one can argue that Edinburgh is the birthplace of The Boy Who Lived, as JK Rowling wrote most of the first book in one of the cafes just off Victoria Street, a place called The Elephant House.

Side note: the owners of the cafe certainly had no qualms capitalising on the series’ fame.  It very clearly advertised this fact on the restaurant window for any and all tourists to see.

It was a little morbid but we also visited Greyfriar’s Kirk, which is really nothing more than a graveyard. Being total Potterheads, my sister and I could not resist visiting this place where JK Rowling apparently got most of the inspiration for the names she would eventually use in the book. It certainly had a very Godric’s Hollow feel to it and OMIGOD I AM SUCH A NERD.

After an afternoon of walking, we were so tired that we eventually decided to go back to our flat on Rose Street. I rented a flat off AirBnB from a very nice host called Charles. The location is so close to everything: Rose Street is a small street running parallel to Princes Street, which is the main high street in Edinburgh.

The area where we lived boasted lots and lots of restaurants, pubs and shops. It was extremely roomy – two bedroom, with a large living room and an open plan kitchen. It was so homey that there were times when I didn’t want to leave the flat. Thank you, Charles for being such a good host. If any of you are ever in Edinburgh, I would really recommend his place. Follow this link to see his page on AirBnB.

On Day two the rain was still relentless, but we still made the most of it by finally making our way to the jewel of the city, the Edinburgh Castle. This historic fortress sits on top of Castle Rock, which was made from some volcanic eruption millions of years ago. The view is absolutely magnificent, and it just dominates over the most of the city’s skyline. You can hardly go anywhere without seeing either the Castle or The Rock.

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We didn’t enter the Castle because, honestly, I’ve seen too many castles in my lifetime that I don’t think I can stomach forking over £30 to see another one. I usually go into castles if I know about its history and as I’m not as well-versed on Scots history as I am on say, The War of The Roses, I figured it wasn’t worth the cost or the time wasted on queueing. If any of you do decide to go, I would suggest pre-booking.

Below the castle is the Royal Mile and the surrounding Old Town, and its a good place to grab something to eat or drink. One of the things I regretted not doing is having whiskey in the place where its thought to originate but maybe I’ll do that some other time, maybe when I visit the Highlands. Its also full of the usual tourist traps but what do you expect; they have to get revenue from somewhere.

Because I was somehow obsessed with being one with nature for this trip (I don’t know maybe I’ve just seen to much of the concrete jungles of the world that my soul was yearning for a little greenery), we made the hike to Carlton Hill. Hey you Instagrammers, apparently this is THE place to be if you want to take some of the more iconic shots of the city’s skyline.

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It was quite a hike to get up to Carlton Hill, but what I would soon find out is that this nothing compared to the trek up to Arthur’s Seat, a journey that – for me anyway – was so fraught with risky paths that it deserves a blog post dedicated solely to it. More on that later though.

The view from Carlton Hill is also quite nice, if a bit ruined by the city’s evident industrial boom. Still, its easy to imagine Scotland the way it was when clans ruled the land and they had to fight over every bit of territory they could get their hands on. At least that’s what it seemed like to me anyway.

Being on top of that hill was a very welcome respite to the hustle and bustle that I’ve gotten so used to in London. It was nice to just walk around and breathe in some fresh air. Even though I am a self-confessed city girl, its nice to get away every once in a while.

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Of course, I would soon be itching for a little bit of civilisation as I got a little bit too up close and personal, LITERALLY, with nature while hiking up to Arthur’s Seat but that’s a story for another day. I will post it on my blog soon, along with tips on how NOT to approach a hiking trip.

Until then, have a good week blabbaholics and bookworms! Stay tuned for more travel posts just as soon as my day job lets up on the pressure. Lol

 

 

 

 

Posted in bloggers, Travel, United Kingdom

Random Thoughts on A Ten Hour Coach Ride to Edinburgh

I have random moments where I suddenly get the urge to go somewhere I’ve never been before. These days, especially, because I’m saving up money for my “big” holidays later in the year, I feel like all I’ve been doing is work, work and more work. I feel like I never even get out of Central London.

So I spontaneously decided that I want to spend Easter in Scotland. There are two things wrong with that sentence: spontaneous and Easter. I looked up plane and train fares and they cost more than what I want to spend considering that I’d still be within the United Kingdom. I think return flights would have cost me around 160£. Come on. I can fly to Spain with that kind of money.

So I had this bright idea that we can take the coach to head over to Edinburgh and then take a flight to come back to London. Megabus fares going to Edinburgh were only around 40£, which is pretty sweet for a last minute trip on Easter weekend. That’s the upshot. However, it takes TEN HOURS to get from London Victoria to Edinburgh.

Ten hours on a bus.

It sounds like a nightmare. Ordinarily, I would balk at spending more than 5 hours on a bus. I’ve done it before and I promised myself I never would again.

But I underestimated just how much I wanted to get out of London. So I booked it (and convinced two other people to book it with me). We chose to go on a sleeper one, leaving at 10:30 from London Thursday Evening and arriving in Edinburgh at 7am the next day. I rushed from work (the list overran, of course) to the station to catch my coach ride, got into my seat and settled in for the long haul.

It was a very loooonnnng bus ride.

Some of the thoughts that were running through my head:

10:30

Please God don’t make me want to do number two at any point during this bus ride.

10:31

Hey wait, is there even a toilet on this bus? Oh my God, I don’t think there is one.

10:40

Okay, how do I recline these seats? My colleague promised me these seats were better than National Express because they recline.

10:45

Oh hey, I did it! This seat reclines!

11:00

Damn you, woman whose seat is at the back of mine. I have every right to recline my seat if I want to! Its why that feature is there, so that people can get comfy. Have you never been on a plane? Its the same concept. Unless they’re serving us meals, I can bloody well do whatever I want with my seat!

11:05

Should I recline this seat just to spite her? I’m kind of in the mood for an argument.

11:10

Ugh, its not worth it. Its roomy enough and comfy enough that you’re able to sleep anyway.

11:20

Wow, my Spotify playlist really is very good.

12:00

I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier. Woohooo, Killers.

12:15

I am so bored. I wish I’d taken on more bank shifts or planned this trip earlier so that we could have gotten better fares for the plane or the train.

12:30

What time is it in Australia?

12:35

No, you will not randomly message someone because you’re bored. That is never a good idea.

12:40

Okay let’s start counting some sheep so you can zzzzzzz.

13:00 (I think)

15:00

Oh hey, stopover. Should I quickly run to the loo?

15:01

Nah, I’ll make it. I don’t need to go to the loo.

15:03

But what if I do need to go to the loo and we’re still hours away from Edinburgh. Better to go now than suffer later.

15:04

Alright, I’ll go to the loo.

15:10

Let’s get this bus back on the road. Hmm, maybe I should start writing a new post for the blog.

15:15

Bloody hell, there’s no charging station on this bus. THERE’S NO CHARGING STATION ON THIS BUS and I’m only on 40% with 4 more hours to go on this trip.

15:30

Okay, zzzzzzzz.

18:00

Oh man, the Scottish countryside is so beautiful. I can’t remember the last time I saw this much greenery.

18:15

Zzzzzzzz

19:00

Oh we’re here? YES! I survived a TEN HOUR COACH RIDE.

I am never doing this again.

Posted in Filipino, Lifestyle, Travel

The Great Island Escape

I’ve recently come back from a much needed holiday in the Philippines and despite the weather’s best efforts to curtail my fun, I managed to stick an island getaway for myself and my entire family to Sumilon Island, which is part of Maribago Resorts Group.

Word to the wise: if you’re booking from outside of the Philippines, be warned that you may have to pay international rates, especially if you’re booking through websites like booking.com. If you have friends or relatives who can book for you from within the country, it might be cheaper to book via that route. There’s a substantial difference between local and international rates, plus, if you’re travelling with someone who’s got a senior citizen card, you may also get a discount.

Sumilon Island is a great alternative to the usual beach resorts scattered all over Cebu because it provides more activities than just swimming and lounging by the pool. My dad is not a big fan of swimming. I spent a small fortune on an overnight stay in Shangri-la Resort last April and he didn’t even so much as dip his toes in the water. He said he was basically there to enjoy the view so this time around, I really made the effort to find a resort where he can have his bloody view but where there are also activities for him to do.

Sumilon Island is accessed via pump boat from the port of Oslob, which is in the southern part of Cebu. This port is close to where the famous whale-watching site is so that’s also something you can do while on the island or on the way to the island. Transportation details can be found on the website but if you and your group are thinking of driving like us, free overnight parking is one of the perks that comes when you book a room with the resort. You can also hire a private van or simply head down to the South Bus Terminal for easy transport to Oslob.

 

We booked the Premier Deluxe rooms which will only accommodate two adults and two children. Now to be honest, in some resorts its easy to get around that rule because the staff usually don’t notice that there are extra adults hanging around and waiting while the “official” guests check in. However in the case of Sumilon they make it mandatory to sign in everyone who’ll step on that boat on the way to the island, so they will know exactly how many people are with you on the trip. We ended up paying an extra 16,000 php for 4 extra people, but at least that came with free dinner and breakfast. Its not a bad deal but it is a hell of a lot of money.

The island itself was beautiful. It just took my breath away really. 

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Like I said, there’s loads of activities to do if you don’t want to go swimming. They have a lagoon where you can feed the fishes, do kayaking or boat pedalling. They also have trails for trekkers of all levels (beginner, moderate and advanced), and during this trek you’ll get the chance to see the lighthouse or “parola” . We were a bit disappointed when we got to the lighthouse and realised you can’t actually climb the darn thing, but it was good exercise. You don’t even have to worry about what you’re wearing (or not wearing) when you go on the trek; for the beginner’s trail you’re perfectly able to get through it even if you’re wearing beach shorts and slippers.

 

 

They also offer a bike trail as an alternative to the trekking although we didn’t have enough time to do that. For safety reasons, all the trekking and biking activities as well as the main beach have to be closed by 5pm so we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon swimming by the sandbar instead. If you book a room you actually have direct access to the sandbar via the coastline if the tide is low enough, but the afternoon that we were there the tides were too high for us to go via that route so we had to take the longer route instead.

 

The sandbar was absolutely divine, despite the fact that we were bracing ourselves from the really strong winds coming our way that day. If you’d rather not swim on the actual beach, the resort also has a stunning infinity pool near the reception area. The pool was actually smaller than I expected, which tells you that photos can be extremely deceiving.

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Dinner was served at around half past six and though I wasn’t overly impressed with it, i didn’t think it was that bad. I think at that point I had been over-saturated with native Filipino food from the endless rounds of catching up with friends over restaurant dinners,  that I was really just craving something different like sushi. But of course, this is a resort that seeks to provide an authentic island experience so they served – what else? – Filipino food. They did have a pasta station though but I thought I’d better steer clear of that if I still wanted to look good in my swimsuit the next day.

 

There aren’t a lot of late night entertainments around the island; there was no dancing to be had. I actually got the feeling that this resort catered more to honeymooners than family outings. My siblings, my cousin and I did have a round of drinks by the bar but we  soon decided to go to our own room with the idea of finishing the two bottles of mojito we had sneaked in to the resort. We underestimated just how much the day’s activity had exhausted us however, and my cousin had come straight off a night shift, so actually I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

We woke up early the next day so that we’re able to swim and explore a bit more before breakfast and check out (which was at 11am). Breakfast was served at around 7, and I actually thought the breakfast buffet was much better than the dinner buffet. The staff were also incredibly accommodating. My aunt was suffering an upset stomach over something she ate the day before and we asked the chef if he could whip up some porridge or chicken arroz caldo for her, and even though it wasn’t part of the menu he was able to accommodate our request. The island transfer and transportation services were also really good. They were on time, they assisted us with all our bags and they were sticklers for safety.

All in all we had a really great time. It was worth the really long drive – Oslob is almost 3 hours away from the city; there was something for everyone and most of all, I cherished the opportunity to have fun with everyone in my family; who knew when my sister and I would have the opportunity to both come home at the same time again? I did find myself thinking I’d love to come back to the island again, but this time with “the one” by my side. Oh well, crazier things have happened.

Posted in Filipino, Religion, Travel

Sinulog: An Argument For Religion

One of the hardest questions I’ve ever had to answer (apart from, obviously, where’s your boyfriend haha), is when someone asks me ‘Do you still believe in God?‘.

I get asked that every time I happen to mention regularly attending church on Sundays, or if I have to excuse myself early from Sunday brunch to hear mass or if someone sees me take out the rosary during a flight where there’s really bad turbulence.

I got into an argument once with a colleague (who’s pretty well-known for being rude so I really shouldn’t have stooped to his level) because he said that religion is for the weak. At the time, I couldn’t really articulate everything that was in my head because I have to admit that this topic always confuses me.

I grew up strictly Catholic and in a very Catholic country. My mum still goes to church every day and makes regular donations to support our local parish. Its very hard to undo nearly 30 years of tradition even though sometimes I probably do them out of habit. And because if I skip mass I can practically hear mum’s voice in my head nagging me to distraction. Sometimes its not just in my head: she will FaceTime me to make sure that I’m not skipping church. Its actually quite funny and endearing; she probably fears for my eternal soul living in London.

However, I have friends who make a good solid case about why they don’t practice their religion anymore. For them, Catholicism is outdated, judgmental and overly rigorous. It demands too much from its members and its out of touch with today’s reality. It gets in the way of progress, and the current state of the world begs the question that if there is a God where is He during these troubled times?

No one really talks about faith and religion in London, not in my experience anyway. Even Filipinos living abroad find it hard to counter some of the more sensible arguments from those who see religion as a crutch; its hard to defend religion when others see it as the root cause of all the hate crimes and terrorist attacks that regularly plague European cities. Its a shame that the acts of a few extremists brings censure on the sect as a whole.

So no one really talks about being religious or professes their faith in everyday conversations. We just get on with the daily grind, blearily getting into our (scrub) suits for another day in the office. My default answer when asked if I still believe in God is to say, well I don’t know but I believe in SOMETHING.

Cebu and the Sto. Niño

I am not going to recount the history and long relationship Cebu has with the blessed niño, the patron saint of our beautiful city. All I can say is that you’ll be hard-pressed to find a celebration more beautiful and more inspiring than this 9-day celebration in January, culminating in a grand procession every 3rd Sunday of the same month. Yes, even if you’re an atheist this will still amaze you. Scorn it if you like, but to see it and to witness it is an experience.

People come out in droves to the pilgrim center of the Basilica (and the streets beyond) every day for 9 days to attend the novena mass. There’s a novena mass every hour and every hour attendance is always at full-capacity. Every hour.Every day for 9 days. Rain or shine, hell or high water.

Its crowded as all get go, and even when its raining its so bloody humid and you will feel really sticky. You have to rub elbows with the crowd and if you want to have a seat, you might as well forget it. The Basilica is in a part of the city that’s known for pickpockets; you can’t bring a car because the streets are closed to accommodate more mass-goers. Public transportation will only get you as far as maybe three to four blocks away and even then you’ll have to take a ridiculously circuitous route to find the entrance.

9 days.

It seems like a lifetime for some. And I know some people reading this will think its a waste of time. But for the people of Cebu, this is an integral part of their lives. I remember teaching Nursing in my alma mater from 2009 to 2011, and our college would sponsor one of the novena masses every year. During our sponsored mass day, class schedules are rearranged so that students and clinical instructors alike can go to church. One of my close friends in the Nursing faculty wasn’t even Catholic and even he wanted to attend just to experience what it was like.

People make time for the Niño. For some its because there’s a legend that if you complete the 9-day novena you get to make a wish or something, but I doubt something like that is the basis for the sheer devotion that you can feel coming out of the pilgrim centre. One of the most beautiful moments of the mass is the Batobalani Sa Gugma (literally translated it means “Magnet of Love”) where people raise their hands in prayer, waving them to and fro as if being controlled by, wait for it, a magnet.

Moving Forward

I attended one of the novena masses yesterday for the first time in 3 years. And when the choir started singing the opening hymn, I got this pang in my chest and I felt my eyes start to sting with tears. Its like you held on to your emotions for so long and you try to be strong because you have to be in order to survive in another country. And I haven’t turned to anyone or anything for a long long time, and especially not my faith.

I suddenly realised that its been a long year, 2017 I mean. It was probably one of the most difficult – personally and professionally. But I got through it. And I guess I suddenly let myself think about that during mass yesterday for some reason, and I just got really emotional. I was in tears by the middle of the song, people were starting to look at me like I was a nutcase.

The traditional homily was a sign that the Catholic church (in Cebu at least) is ready to enter the 21st century. The surprisingly savvy and hip officiating priest talked about needing followers who go to concerts, drink alcohol and have a regular following on Instagram. They need the millennials who take a million selfies and whose burning desire is to travel the world (while taking selfies! Lol). He said some things that made me think that the church is finally willing to admit that some of its long-held beliefs may be just a touch antiquated. Its arguing for tolerance and acceptance for the first time in a long long while.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. I cannot stand behind a church that will persecute its members for being different. If the Catholic church is telling me that my best friend and his gay husband will burn in hell for loving each other then I will renounce my faith in a heartbeat. But its not doing that. For the first time I can feel the church make an effort to understand. And to accept. That is the kind of church I can get behind.

I think that people will always need religion. We all need something; we need to believe in a higher power especially during difficult times. I mean they say you should rely on yourself. But if I allow myself to believe that there’s only little ole me during a crisis and no one else, I will go insane. I need to believe that there’s someone looking out for me. If that makes me weak then yes I’m weak.

Do You Still Believe?

Like I said. I’m reluctant to answer that question because I don’t want to be a hypocrite. But I think the answer to that question, strange as it seems, is yes. I believe in the power of religion to unite people even if its just for an hour every day. I believe in the capacity of people to do good because of their faith. I believe in something that is not within my remit nor capacity to explain. And for now, that is enough to get me through the day.

Viva Pit Senyor, Cebuanos!