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Island time – Legazpi, Cebu and Bohol

Our flight to Cebu was a perfect example of island time. Scheduled originally for 18.30, we received an email at 7am to say it would now leave at 15.30, but on arrival at the tiny airport an hour early as instructed and passing through the 5 minute security check during which we didn’t need to show anyone our liquids or provide any more information than ‘web check in’ we eventually boarded the plane some time after 16.30 and spent some time on the tarmac waiting for the game of overhead locker tetris to finish. It must have been gone 17.00 by the time we were in the air…Island time 😉

As we took off the cabin crew asked a series of Christmas quiz questions…Where was mum kissing Santa Claus? And on what day? What did my true love give me on the 5th day of Christmas? So far the attitude to Christmas here has been excellent! A trend continued when we reached Cebu, who had decked out arrivals in festive ukuleles, baubles and lights complete with carol singers!

Outside Cebu airport we had our first confusion…the white taxi line or the yellow. White taxi’s were cheapest, but there were so many people waiting it seemed we’d be spending Christmas at the airport, so we joined the far shorter yellow line and stood for almost an hour slowly watching those who had been just behind us in the white line edging ever closer and eventually securing a cab. Some 20 minutes after we’d have been in a white car the third yellow car arrived (that’s right, third!) and we were off. Tortoise: 1, Hare: 0.

London at rush hour has nothing on traffic out of Cebu airport on the Friday before Christmas. The airport is on an island, with two bridges on and off, both of which were at total grid lock. I was so envious of the mopeds zipping in and out of the lines of cars, jeepneys and tuk tuks. But at the same time it was nice to enjoy the aircon whilst watching the street vendors and general hustle and bustle as we crawled along. The first treat was definitely the number of Christmas lights, trees and general decorations on every corner. From Santa and running reindeer in white lights as you exit the airport to stars, snowmen and everything in between, the effort was set to rival regent street!

Our home for the night was The Tropical Hostel…that extra s is always a risk and alas on this occasion our horse did not come through as we were directed to a windowless room with rickety bunk beds…an apparent upgrade from the room we’d booked! At least it was only for 10 hours!! Before we set out from the UK Sven had discovered google travel, a seriously handy system which allows you to download a map of your location and save various points of interest to it for use on airplane mode later. This meant we could save the location of the hotel, and the various eateries etc our host had pointed out to us when we checked in. I’d previously stuck with TripAdvisor which offers all the same features but on a far more limited number of cities. Google had allowed us use even in tiny Legazpi and the surrounding towns, and was super useful in Cebu where we walked the 20 minutes in search of something to eat that wasn’t from a 7/11. Great Christmas decorations on the way…

The place we’d been sent was a mall, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it in Asia before. Lights hung from every tree changing colour in sequence with songs played periodically around the complex. Outside the square were primarily eateries offering everything from sushi to Thai food and burgers to ice cream, but inside was every shop you can possibly imagine…including marks and spencer! What was going on?!

The following morning we were greeted by a very welcome sight as the sun flooded onto the balcony at the end of our corridor. Sven had woken up on the energetic side of the bed, and thought walking to the port was an excellent idea. Usually I’m all for walking to see a city, but not with an 8kilo backpack at 28degrees pre-breakfast. By the time we arrived at the ticket booth we were DRENCHED, and beyond glad to see a very air-conned coffee shop adjacent to the booth. The first boat was in an hour and a half, so we had a plan…get the tickets, get a coffee, get to the boat, done. Not so easy when a typhoon prevented all the boats yesterday from sailing. Our first option was the penultimate boat of the day, in 9 hours. But not to worry, there’s a luggage store at the boat! Fab! Plan b…have coffee, drop off luggage, explore Cebu city. Having not learned our lesson the first time we walked a further sweltering 20 minutes to terminal 3 and found chaos. Buses, jeepneys, tuk tuks and taxis were coming and going and hundreds of people either stood, sat or meandered around seemingly without purpose. What was the drill?! Perhaps there was ordinarily a luggage store (skeptical), but today the port was on a strict departure schedule, if your boat wasn’t leaving within the hour…sianara! Looks like our bags were joining the Cebu tour. Yay!

Luckily one of the main tourist attraction was a meer hop, skip and three minutes walk away. Fort San Pedro was built by the Spanish under the leadership of Miguel Legazpi (fitting!!), having served as a base camp, rebel stronghold, prison and city zoo the ruin is now open to the public offering history and much needed shade! There was also an photographic exhibition of historic Cebu, with both the original captions from any published photos and an actual definition of what the photo depicted. This was to show the power of cropping, editing and voice even back in the 1800’s! One example showed people waiting outside a large building, captioned that they were homeless and waiting for food. However in truth it was Sunday and they were waiting to enter church!

We spent the next few hours wondering around Cebu city, a crowded, noisy and eclectic city far removed from the mall we had visited yesterday. Street vendors lined every pavements selling clothing, watches, phone cases, shoes, fruits and vegetables and everything in between whilst the roads were filled with a diverse range of traffic…men sat atop trucks filled with rubble, rice sacks, coffee, rubbish and other cargos I couldn’t determine…mopeds weaved in and out of tricycles (they’re not the same as tuk tuks, I was calling them the wrong word!), taxis and jeepneys and in the midst of it all there were several horse and cart combos ferrying smaller goods and people. Knowing which way to look before crossing the road was a challenge!!

Cebu is the sort of city where everything seems to happen at once. Behind us in the picture above there was a bicycle shop, with workers lined up on the pavement outside fixing wheels, chains, frames and handlebars. Next to this was a general store selling packets of noodles, instant coffee and other treats, next again an Internet cafe of sorts and behind that a chicken shop. Chickens seemed to roam free or be tied by the foot on every corner, whilst dogs lounged in the sun or trotted along the paths quite at home.

Our next stop was Carbon market en route back to the port. Much the same as Camden really! Or Portobello Road, you can find everything and anything a chap can unload! From woks as big as an arm chair to all the daily stuff you could need. Here we acquired a shadow by the name Amelie who skipped along beside us for a few minutes chatting away in near perfect English and finding my attempts at Filipino hilarious. I always worry with little shadows that they follow us too long, far beyond the boundaries British children would be allowed to roam in a place this crowded. But perhaps that says more about our society than theirs, where communities still work together with far more harmony and neighbourlyness than I have ever seen at home. Or on the other hand perhaps they don’t have anyone to worry where the wander, but Amelie was well dressed with adorably bobbed hair and good shoes, something tells me she wasn’t a street kid.

Before long it was time to return to the port and join the craziness mascarading as organised chaos. Firstly you have to wait for check in to open for your particular boat, at that point the first security guards on the door will allow you entry into the building. From there you battle through the crowds to the desk relevant to your booking company…in our case Ocean Jet. Ticket stamped you then go through security, joining lines segregated by gender (though the first sign for this is after the point the line has split…that was fun!) where men are asked to pass bags through x ray machines and walk through scanners whilst women stroll through a gate with a smiling security guard. Foolproof. From there you high five Father Christmas and join the next queue to pay your 20peso port fee. From here the throng becomes single file. Imagine the chaos of the motorway going down to one lane, then times that by a few hundred people, many of whom are from cultures who do not value queuing. I have always travelled alone, and in these situations am happy to be carried along by the crowd at whatever pace is occurring around me, but here I learned that super-weapons can come in the form of tall Germans! It was like Moses parting the Red Sea, blooming marvellous!! Also impossible to lose him in the crowd, huzzah.

The sun was putting on a stunning final display of red and gold by the time we boarded, ahead of those still waiting for the 3.30 departure, poor sods. We’d opted to pay the extra £2 for airconned seats, and so found ourselves herded into the hull of the ship where there were no windows and a huge group of Chinese tourists. Thank goodness the trip was only due to last an hour. I did think it a bit odd that shortly into the trip a full length feature film started to play on the large television at the front, but didn’t think too much of it until the credits started rolling two hours later. We’ll call that an island hour then shall we?

Having been told several times to catch a tricycle from the airport at no more than 250pesos we exited the terminal and found ourselves in a 600peso mini bus. Ah well! The seats were comfy and drivers fun as we zoomed along roads lined with Christmas lights to our home for the next six nights; Alona Beach. After the craziness of Cebu this was pure paradise, and moments after checking in Sven and I were sat star gazing with our toes in the surf, astounded by the lack of people around us. The next week is going to be great!!

Blogathon Day 48 – Come in (!) and know me better man!

Today Katy asked us to walk the path of Ebenezer Scrooge (from A Christmas Carol, if you don’t know that then FOR SHAME!) and visit the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future….here goes nothing!

Christmas Past – Maybe it’s the frame of mind I’m in, but the one Christmas standing out for me today is 2008. It was the last Christmas with my Grandad, and I’m really missing him today. I could use his advice. In 2009 I was living in Bristol, working at UWESU and also the Hippodrome as a Front of House Assistant, it was great fun, something I’d always wanted to do, but it meant I couldn’t get home for Christmas as early as I usually would. This was the year my sister and I went shopping on Christmas Eve (madness right?! Nope!! The shops were all empty and the sales had started, best Christmas shopping ever!), my grandparents came to stay and somehow everything just went right. There were no family fueds (a big deal I assure you), there was snow (!!) and therefore snowball fights and I just remember everything being, like Christmas should. Everyone seemed so happy, like something from a film, the perfect holiday season. We lost my Grandad in the February and family wise it’s all been a bit shit since. This is my fave photo of him, I feel like he’d just said something so cheeky, wish I could remember what it was…


Christmas Present – I have no idea, haven’t even worked out where I’m going to be or what I’m buying people. I feel so disorganised this year. 2011 has been an odd year, feel kind of adrift at the moment, though I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Whatever I do and wherever I end up I’m going to try and really enjoy it, soak up the atmosphere and make as many good memories as possible. Two definites so far; our annual Christmas Eve dinner is moving out…we’re off to a restaurant rather than having the traditional supper at home. This means all usual tasks (i.e. I dress the table, my sister brings the pud etc) are out of the window, it’s going to be a year for all things new! Then on the 27th we’re all off to Gloucester to see the cousins. Julie, Andrew and Georgie throw a Christmas bash every year for around 30 members of family and friends. They have a HUGE table, cook masses of food (we bring the cheese and crackers, bet Katy would love that!) and then we all play pictionary on a white board, who’s in the bag and in 2009 a real life version of Chairs. Great fun!

Christmas Future – Before I start, why is this ghost…nevermind, just realised the answer to my own question! In A Christmas Carol, and A Muppets Christmas Carol the ghost of Christmas Future is always the scariest….why? Is it perhaps fear of the unknown? Nope, it’s because Scrooge, being a miser, has nothing to look forward to. In my head my ghost of Christmas Future is far more jolly. Something like this chappy…

Christmas Future, now there’s an exciting thought, where will I beeee? Who will I be with? What will I be doing? Who knows! I am quite looking forward to having a Christmas for myself though. I love my family, but me being me I end up feeling guilty that I am with Mum rather than Dad, or that Nan is on her own, but then when Dad and I went to Nans in 2009 I just wanted to be having my normal Christmas…which then made me feel bad about being selfish.  Guuuuilt trips everywhere. Nothing you can do about it, tis just the way my head works. At the same time though, Christmas is a time for family right? Without traditions, is it still Christmas, really? I have no idea, but I guess there’s only one way to find out.

Blogathon Day 47 – He’s making a list, checking it twice!

Ho ho ho and a Merry Christmas to all!

Is there anything more magical than being a kid at Christmas time? Wishing for snow, counting down the days till a jolly old man in a red suit pays a visit down your fireplace, leaving out mince pies and carrots for the reindeer….magiiiiiiic! Today’s theme was set by my good friend Emma Brown (Enmability to her friends), who would like to know of a visit to Old St Nick.

The thing is, every story I can remember involves taking my nephews, rather than going myself. Yet I must have been, at least 10 times! So, rather than telling you a memorable story from a childhood visit, I’m going to tell you about the best Santas Grotto I’ve ever seen.

A few years ago we decided to visit Berkeley Castle, in Gloucestershire, during their Christmas celebrations. In December the castle becomes an even more magical place, their “Castle by Candlelight” event fills the castle with candles (surprisingly), giant festive trees and a choir warming the great hall with carols and hymns. It’s pretty fantastic, if you haven’t been and are close by I encourage you to go!

After you have explored the many rooms, old corridors and ‘secret’ passageways Berkeley has to offer, supped on hot mulled wine and enjoyed some roasted nuts (probably my favourite winter snack!) you are ready for the pièce de résistance…a visit to the big guy himself. I have to say, even I was caught up in the magic of it.

The entrance to Santa’s Grotto is a long narrow white washed corridor, adorned with boughs of green, fairy lights, mistletoe and decorations. Whilst you wait (there’s ALWAYS a queue) you can hear the choir singing. The day we were there everyone was in good spirits and often those waiting would join in with a carol or two, really got us in the festive mood! At the end of the corridor the ceiling and walls widened into a round cavern about 2m square (can something be m sq if it is round?) where sat a jolly little elf who asked for a pound per child who wanted to go in. She was SO cool, honestly until that moment my nephew had been quite skeptical about the whole thing (right on the cusp of the Age of Non Believing) but this elf, with a nod of her head, twinkling eye and few choice words had him enraptured.

In we went….wow.

Blue lights on the white walls gave the room a decidedly ‘North Poleon’ feeling, there was a carpet of snow, merry snowman and a path of fairy lights leading up to the jolliest man who ever lived. You know how sometimes Father Christmas has just obviously had a long day, what with popping back to Lapland to check on the toy making, answering to Mrs Claus about the route he’s planning to take on Christmas Eve and bugging the elves about the price of reindeer food going up again it’s no wonder that at times he can seem a little grumpy, but not this day! This was, hands down, the best mood I have ever seen Chris Cringle in…he was laughing and smiling, telling jokes and offering hugs to mummys and daddy’s as well as boys and girls. We came out of that room feeling warm and merry and bright and 100% glad to all be on the nice list. What a merry day we had!

I’m really intrigued as to whether Katy and Fi remember visits to St Nick (Sion (like Sean) Con in Welsh for those who are wondering!) as children…seems strange I can’t remember a single visit! I remember there being white footprints from the front door to the tree the year it snowed…I remember my father saying everyone will leave milk, so we should leave brandy out for Father Christmas. Haha! I can recall visits from family we hadn’t seen all year, Christmas walks and brandy butter. I remember the biggest present I ever had, from my uncle, and wondering and wondering what it could be for weeks before Christmas…but visits to mini North Poles, not so much! There’s a message in there somewhere. Am very much looking forward to this year now, thanks Enmability! 😀

Blogathon Day 44 – It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.

Today I asked the girls to teach me something. Of course when setting this I really didn’t think about what I could teach them in return! What do I know how to do? I could tell you guys how to make my famous brownies, but having already blogged about that it seems like cheating. I could tell you how to make a Christmas stocking, but Fiona is making those herself so I’d rather something more original! Today I gave my parents their advent calendar, made from cones of paper stuffed with tissue paper, a Christmas fact or joke and little present, but I got that idea from Pinterest sooo…no good. If I was on my laptop I could teach you how to make a felt gingerbread man, but I’m not. Hmm. Stuck.

I think I’m going to have to go with something I know Katy and Fiona will like. I’m going to teach you some of my favourite Welshisms. Starting with…

Cwtch – Cwtch is probably the best Welsh word going, in my opinion. It basically means cuddle (or snug as we found out yesterday) and to me just sounds very appropriate. It rhymes with butch for those of you wondering how to say it. Sometimes you just want a cwtch, it’s cute, I like it!

Taw a dy lol – Don’t talk rubbish! (tore a dee lawl) This phrase came from a Jenny Sullivan book I loved as a kid. It’s one I use quite often, despite having to explain what it means which usually distracts from the point you’re trying to make. It does however, usually move the conversation on quite nicely, good little phase in that respect!

Diolch – (dee olch) This is the Welsh word for ‘thank you’. ‘No thank you’ is ‘dim diolch’ Maybe it’s not my favourite word, but it’s good manners to know how to say please and thank you in a language! Incidentally the Welsh word for please is VERY complicated, therefore ‘please’ works just fine!

Popdi ping – Made famous by Aled from the Chris Moyles show, this is the Welsh word for microwave. Say it as you see! It literally translates as ‘oven that pings’….it’s that kind of simplicity which makes me smile!

Trenni fach – One of those ‘aw poor you’ phrases! (again say what you see tren ee fach, fach…te only way i can think of to describe how to pronounce this is like dark with a Liverpudlian accent, haha!) Trenni fach translates as ‘little pity’ I think, but it’s usually used in quite a sarcastic way, by the people I know anyway! Haha! Oh you have to work? Trenni fach! Get on with it!

Cariad(carry add) This is another word which is used in several ways. It’s love and also sweetheart; often used for friends, family, loved ones and sometimes in the same way northerners etc say ‘alright love!’. It’s a pet name, affectionate, good word!

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch – Try saying that 10 times fast! I first learnt to say this in 2002, I was travelling to the States on an exchange and wanted an ‘interesting fact’ up my sleeve! Llanfairpwll is a village on Anglesey. It’s the longest place name, certainly in Europe, if not in the world and translates as [St] Mary’s Church (Llanfair) [in] the hollow (pwll) of the white hazel (gwyngyll) near (goger) the rapid whirlpool (y chwyrndrobwll) [and] the church of [St] Tysilio (llantysilio) with a red cave ([a]g ogo goch). Apparently this name was created purely as a tourism stunt! Certainly seems to have worked, with people travelling purely to have their photo taken by the railway sign etc, if you can fit it all in one photo that is!

Bore da – Good morning! I use this one almost every day funnily enough, along with Nos Da which is goodnight. Remember with Welsh there are no silent letters, you pronounce every one. So bore sounds like boar eh, nos sort of rhymes with force, with a very soft r!

Nadolig Llawen – With tomorrow being the 1st December this one seems appropriate. Nadolig (na-doll-leg) Llawen (cl-ow-EN) means Merry Christmas.

Seren – Seren means ‘star’ but is often a girls name as well. I think it’s quite pretty as a middle name really, I know of a girl called Seren Wyn (white star) and a few Nia Seren’s too. It’s not as ‘hippy’ like as an English kid being called Storm (apologies to any Storms, or parents of Storms out there), in fact there’s almost certainly a few out there who probably don’t even know it translates to anything! For example my name apparently means ‘pure’, is that a translation? No idea!

So there’s my top 10 Welshisms for today 🙂 I was going to go down a ‘basic Welsh’ route, teaching you ‘My name is…’ (fy enw i ew’) and how to get extra large portions of chips (in Carmarthen anyway!) but honestly it was complicated, and boring, whereas maybe you’ll remember a few of these! I hope you enjoyed it anyway 🙂

Blogathon Day 31 – Tra la la la la, la la, la la!

For those who know me, try not to faint; I’m about to discuss Christmas, despite it definitely not being December. Fiona wants to hear about our family traditions, what’s a girl to do?

Christmas (Peg I hope you know how hard it is to even write that, I usually call it ‘Mid December’ at least until I have my advent calendar!) for my family always arrives after mums birthday (technically it arrives at the same time for every family, but you know what I mean!). She was born on the 16th December and it’s very rare indeed for decorations, trees or anything else to get a look in at our house before that. Quite right too in my adult opinion! As a kid however, the wait was torture! We have a few family traditions I suppose, things I took as normal until others told me they were odd. Having dinner on Christmas Eve for example is quite standard in our house.; a few years ago it was decreed that spending most of the big day slaving away in the kitchen sucked, so we have our big dinner the day before. Usually around 14 descend upon my parents house, where either mum or Col will have barricaded themselves in the kitchen (baby gates can be useful things) to cook the feast. By this point the trees (yup, multiple, one in the kitchen and one in the lounge) are up, candles lit and the whole house has that piney, spicy smell which only comes with Christmas. For the past few years it has been my job to ‘set the table’, ever so much fun! I’ve made table cloths and runners, bought new placemats and love choosing the colour scheme, decorations and seating arrangements for the meal.

Sadly the effect kind of gets lost once all the plates are put out!

Last year we were all also instructed to make our own hats, the results of this exercise can be seen above. My ‘hat’ was a sprig of holly attached to a hair band with some festive wire. Before you tell me off for making such little effort may I say that holly is very prickly and my head quite sensitive. Lesson learned!

Before bed the kids (that’s me and my siblings, not the actual kids) each get a present, usually something small or silly, but it sets the mood. Last year we also tracked Santa using an app on my phone which was VERY exciting, it even had a little notice for when children should head to bed so as not to be caught up too late when old St Nick arrived. Ace!

Christmas morning very much depends on the company, some years it is a leisurely adult affair, with bucks fizz, salmon and scrambled egg breakfasts while we wait for the youngens to arrive. Other years they are already there, so the lounge is often hidden under piles of wrapping paper before 8am. Either way there are always lots of hugs, oo’s, aah’s and chocolate for ‘pre’ breakfast (the bucks fizz et al occurs either way). I’m trying to think of what else there is to it really, with most of the ‘traditions’ over before midday on Dec 25th everyone just tends to relax until the Doctor Who Christmas Special (no Queen’s speech I’m afraid, unless Matt Smith is involved!). We play games with the kids, listen to new cd’s, try out new gadgets, maybe go for a walk to the beach (one year all the boys got kites), all the standard things which happen when you get an influx of new stuff to entertain you. It’s just fun, relaxed and friendly. All in all a jolly good day.

This post is part of the Twitter Blogathon.