What a Trip!
It’s early Thursday morning here in Spring City while it’s dinner time in Cebu. Traveling to and from the other side of the planet really messes up one’s body clock. We refer to this phenominon as “jet lag,” which can have all kinds of undesirable effects on one’s constitution. I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say that yesterday was truly a purging experience for me, while Christine slept the day away sicker than a dog. I’m glad I don’t have to make trips like this regularly.
Ok, now that my complaining is out of the way let me get on to the real reason for this post. I wanted to share how blessed I feel for having been given this opportunity to connect with my son, his lovely wife, and our two beautiful grandchildren we had not seen in over two years. In spite of the challenges of long distance travel – and there are many – this was the best trip ever and I hope we’ll feel up to doing it again in a year or two (don’t tell Christine I want to return that soon, it’s our secret).
We drove to Chattanooga, parked and took a shuttle van to the Atlanta airport. We then flew non-stop from Atlanta to Seoul. This 14.5 hour flight was rather grueling, despite the Boeing 777’s creature comforts of on-demand movies and USB power for our iOS devices. We had a 4 hour layover in Seoul and we were pleasantly surprised to be upgraded to business class for the final 4.5 hour leg of our trip. Why, we don’t know other than God was smiling on us. What a wonderful gift this was to have seats that fully reclined into a bed and the excellent service Korean Air provides its business class passengers.
When we first saw our 3 and 4 year-old grand darlings on December 13th, they were not real sure about us. Of course Mom & Dad had been prepping them to meet us, but we were still strangers. Christine worked really hard to win them over and made a big break through by pulling out her iPhone to introduce them to Talking Tom and Angry Birds. This was a big hit and within an hour or so they were on her lap learning all about this new toy. It always amazes me to see how quickly young children learn to interact with our new touch-screen technology.
The bonding continued at the hotel pool as Christine worked so hard to win their trust and their hearts. I remember her saying how tired she was from catching and swinging them around for hours. “Grammy” was a lot of fun and they were really warming up to her. On the other hand, this big bear “Poppy,” was a little scary. Big, bald and furry, it was going to take a bit longer to trust him.
More Bonding Time
Of course over time they would come to know that Poppy was OK. After sharing meals together and more time at the pool it was bound to happen. We didn’t need to move too fast…after all, we were here for a full two weeks. Plus, I had a secret weapon…the iPad! That would surely win some points.
Spending Time with the In-Laws
Of course our visit wasn’t all about the grandkids. It was also important to me to spend some quality time with Oma and her family. Oma’s dad, Vic, is the leader of his charismatic renewal community, so we have a great deal in common in regards to our love of Jesus. Soon after our arrival, Vic and I took a long walk from the hotel to visit a couple of adoration chapels in nearby churches, one of which was located at the Cebu Catholic Television Network, the Philippines version of EWTN. We had a real nice time that day as we visited Our Lord and walked the busy streets of Cebu.
Vic also invited us to attend a benefit Christmas concert and healing Mass with the Archbishop of Cebu. Originally we were scheduled to be going with both Vic and Amy (Oma’s mom), but she was out of town and delayed by the devastating rains that wreaked such havoc on parts of the Philippines that week.
After an eventful cab ride to the Cebu Colleseum on Saturday afternoon (the cab we were in broke down in the middle of an intersection and we had to switch cabs with cars honking and the new cab rolling to appease the drivers behind him), we were pleased to see that Oma had taken her mom’s ticket to the event. I was so happy that we would be spending this time with both her and her dad!
I also need to say a few words about our hotel. The Radisson Blu in downtown Cebu is a wonderful place. It’s location is unmatched in that it’s directly across the street from the huge SM mall where you have dozens of low cost dining choices, pharmacies, a department store and an amazing Cyberzone with stores featuring every conceivable electronic gadget known to man. In addition to having this resource so close by for affordable dining and convenience, we were also upgraded at no charge to a business class room for our first week’s stay.
We probably would not have spent our own money for this upgraded service, but after experiencing the included executive lounge amenities offering complimentary daily breakfast buffet and evening appetizers & cocktails we gladly paid for the upgrade on our second 5-day stay here. The level of service is amazing when all of the staff knows your name and your preferences. The chef had my daily mueseli with fresh mango and other fruits prepared for me each morning. I can’t say enough about how much we enjoyed this hotel, its location, staff and amenities.
In spite of all the praise I have for the hotel, I will caution you on taking all of their suggestions. The lounge chef encouraged me to try the local dried fish, which our three year old granddaughter absolutely loves. Being a good sport, I did. Let’s just say that it’s definitely an acquired taste!
While our first week was spent at the Radisson Blu, we wanted to give the kids a great waterpark experience at another hotel, the Imperial Palace Resort. Our plan was to spend two nights there, one of which Jake, Oma and the kids would also have a room. When we checked in on Monday we were immediately unimpressed with the hotel having come from the Radisson. It was packed with noisy tourists and the lobby was an open air style. That would have been OK if they had fans, but they didn’t. Unlike the Radisson there was no mall nearby for inexpensive dining, so we were also captive to their overpriced restaurants.
Not to worry…we came for the waterpark, right? Well, we spent the first afternoon there choking on the smoke of nearby burning garbage. Yes, the locals burn their trash in this area. The smoke was so thick that you could see it hanging in the air. Christine developed a bad cough from breathing it and you could even smell it in the lobby. Very nasty. We were able to cancel our 2nd night and get a full refund, which happended by the grace of God.
Fortunately day two brought cleaner air and we had a wonderful morning in the water with the kids. Amaya was not 100% as she was suffering from asthma, but she had a great time in spite of it. All was not lost…in fact that morning was one of the best of the trip.
It was also memorable for Jake & Oma’s nanny and her 11 year-old daughter who had never been to a facitily like this before. She also experienced the hotel’s massive breakfast buffet for the first time, which must have been quite an experience for this poor country girl. You should have seen her eyes light up at all the choices of food. Of course she opted for the fish and rice. 🙂
Back to the Radisson Blu!
After our waterpark fun at the Imperial Palace, we returned to the Radisson for our last 5 days. We were so happy to get back “home” to this hotel. By this time the kids were warming up nicely to Poppy and we had some amazing bonding time at the hotel pool. What wonderful memories and some great photos taken by my talented photographer son.
Out of the Mouths of Babes
At the end of this wonderful day we were relaxing with everyone in the lounge. I just had to include these two short video clips of these darling children. Sarah & Amy, listen carefully to their request in the second video.
The next day we all spent some time at the mall with Oma’s parents. We enjoyed a nice lunch together, followed by the some fun on the children’s rides on the lower level. I was becoming quite an expert getting around the mall as I was walking all throughout it daily for about an hour. After several hours of walking the mall, as well as several meals in its restaurants we really knew our way around this place. A great time was had by all.
After nearly two weeks of good times, the really big day was finally here! I’m talking about Christmas eve day. In the Philippines, this is the evening that the birth of Christ is celebrated with much fanfare and family gatherings. Begining with the Christmas Vigil Mass at the local parish (Our Lady of the Rule in Lapu Lapu City) and followed by “Noche Buena” at the family compound, we had a wonderful Christmas eve.
Noche Buena is the traditional meal that is eaten at midnight. While we actually feasted before the midnight hour, the children are under strict orders that they can not open any presents until the 25th.
As midnight approached the neighborhood lit up with exploding fireworks in celebration of Christmas. We all went up to the top level of the Maentz’s 4-story home to watch the show and wait for the midnight hour. As soon as it arrived, we went back downstairs to open the gifts. Yes, the kids were ready for Christmas! They typically don’t get many presents, as the focus of Christmas in the Philippines is the birthday of Christ. They don’t celebrate the secular Christmas we have come to expect in the States. However, this Christmas Poppy & Grammy were in town and we just had to spoil them a little bit. So they each received a few nice presents from us, which they were eager to open. They had been eyeing them all week under the tree! After all the fun we returned to the hotel around 1:30 am.
After a good night’s sleep we shared an amazing Christmas Day brunch with Vic & Amy and the Maentz’s. The hotel had a special brunch, which was absolutely delicious and vast in its selections. There was something for everyone and it was all incredible.
Our Last Day
The next day also had a few surprises in store. First, it was raining steadily so it wasn’t going to be a good day to enjoy one more time at the pool. The good news is that Christine was able to arrange a no-charge late checkout of 6:00 pm. This was awesome! It meant that we could spend the day in our large suite with the kids (I forgot to tell you how we were once again upgraded when we checked in our second time. Have I told you how much I enjoyed this hotel?).
We didn’t have to be at the airport until 10 pm that night, but with the late checkout we just chilled in the room and then headed to the mall for dinner after dropping our bags with the concierge. We at a nice last meal with the kids and then returned to the hotel to wait for our car to bring the Maentz’s home and us to the airport. It was a very relaxed day and a great way to conclude our trip.
The absolute best thing about this trip was the close relationship we developed with Jake & Oma and their two beautiful children. I’m sure the grandchildren will never forget us after spending all of this quality time together and that they will look forward to our video calls in the coming months. They now know their Poppy and Grammy in America and we feel so close to them all. Through this trip God has given us a most memorable Christmas gift that we will cherish for years to come.
I’ve posted all the photos from our trip on Flickr. There are several of the city of Cebu taken from our taxi as we traveled around town, as well as many more of our good times. You’ll find over 600 images in the set. Here’s the slideshow of them all: