Cebu & Japan


Armed with a suitcase filled with presents for my parents and relatives, I left work late in the afternoon on the 25th of April and met my brother at the airport for the 8pm flight to Cebu via Hong Kong. Ian was already at the check-in desk when I arrived, looking surprisingly cool for someone who was just upgraded to Business class thanks to a voucher he earned via the Marco Polo Club. He tried to get me upgraded as well as he had an extra voucher, but despite a very convincing story he gave the Senior Manager behind the desk about him being an epileptic and that I was his carer, I wasn’t awarded the same luxury. I did, however, make this a point to sign up for Asia Miles. After ten years of collecting points, I too might enjoy the privilege of a free upgrade.

IMG_2797We arrived on Friday night and only had the weekend to settle in before our flight to Japan on Monday, so we spent the next two days doing what we enjoy doing the most when we’re in Cebu: going to the beach and eating! The weekend was filled with tanning in the garden, eating buffet lunches at Shangri-la and chilling out at Maribago beach resort.

I met up with the twins on Sunday night and was surprised to hear that Alex was getting married in a few months time! Of course, I knew that he was engaged; I just wasn’t expecting him to get married so quickly (and Kaye isn’t even pregnant =P ). He asked if I would come to his wedding in Hong Kong and be one of his groomsmen – an invitation I wouldn’t dare refuse!


IMG_2800I think that the excitement that I was going the Japan in the way that i did didn’t really sink in until I sat down in my business class seat. Sipping on champagne, playing with the controls to my fully reclinable chair, looking at the wine and food menu – it felt all very much like an episode from the lifestyles of the rich and famous. It was my first ever international business class flight! I couldn’t resist but ask my sister to take a photo of me to capture the moment.

We arrived in Osaka at 6am the next day, all quite exhausted after only a few hours sleep in the airplane and our body clocks telling us it was only 5 in the morning. It was quite an unfortunate time to arrive as after our driver picked us up and took us to our hotel, we were told we couldn’t check in until 2pm. We were all knackered and just wanted to sleep – so much so that I looked up Capsule Hotels in the area to see if there was a cheap one I could crash in (there wasn’t). So instead, we left our bags at the hotel and had breakfast in a small cafe at the train station that our hotel was connected to – one of the few places that was open at this time – and passed the time there until the city awoke at 9am.

stationFor the rest of the day we dragged our feet around the area like zombies – well all of us except my dad who seemed to thrive on only 2-3 hours of sleep – and did nothing more than soak in the sights of Dotonburi (“Osaka’s kitchen”) and eat until the clock struck 2, which was when we went back to the hotel for a much needed nap (except for my Dad who was still on fire so decided to go to the gym). Dinner and bed followed shortly after.

Day two in Japan started gloriously with breakfast on the 33rd floor of our hotel. Perfectly cooked poached eggs on toast with crispy bacon with a double espresso (or two) was my staple for my stay at the Swisshotel Nankai Osaka! We found out that morning that the other party who were due to arrive late the night before missed their connecting flight in Hong Kong and had to wait 8 hours in the airport to get on the next flight – all I can say about that is that it sucked to be them.

We purposefully didn’t all fly on the same plane in the event that if the plane crashed, the Escario fortune wouldn’t be all lost in one fell swoop. Can’t have CIT being owned by one of foul blood, now can we?

Anyway, by 9am we made our way to Osaka Universal Studio, something I was particularly excited about being fresh from my trip to Disneyland Paris. I didn’t read up much on Universal Japan so I came without any expectations, so you can imagine my surprise when I found out they had recreated the whole Harry Potter Wizarding world! It was complete with the altar where Voldemort was born, Ron Weasley’s flying ford crashed into a whomping weeping willow, the Hogswarts Express, Diagon Alley with all the shops from the books and a Hogswarts castle that you could tour around! Of course everything in the shops cost an arm and a leg: my niece bought a glass of butter beer for almost 10 quid (and all it is is cream soda, butter and enough sugar to turn anyone into a diabetic).

Favourite rides: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, the Amazing Adventures of Spiderman and the Flying Dinosaur. We had to wait 90 minutes for the first two and two hours for the Pterodactyl (all worth it though)!

Ride I enjoyed thanks to the rain: Jurassic Park – The Ride.

On leaving Universal Studios, I made sure that I ate the original Takoyaki (a fried ball-shaped batter with a piece of octopus in the centre) that was sold at the Takoyaki Museum. I tried one the day before in Dotonburi and I had tasted enough to conclude that this local delicacy didn’t taste all too different than our very own fish balls in the Philippines.

osaka castleThe next day our tour operator thought that it would be a good idea for us to be taken to not one, not two, but THREE viewing points: the observation deck at Osaka Castle, the Floating Garden Observatory and the Tsutenkaku tower in Shinseki. To be fair, the castle is extremely historical and definitely a must-see when in Osaka, but by the time we were making our way up to the our third viewing point in the span of a few hours, we all had quite enough of staring at the grey, misty skyline of Osaka that didn’t look all too different no matter what part of town you were seeing it in. I think we could have skipped the floating garden observatory and been given a bit more time for exploring each area we were taking to and for lunch. We were given only 45 minutes for lunch, which involved a bit too much waiting for our food to arrive followed by us inhaling it when it did so that we could run back to the bus in time to be picked up.

My mom wisely asked the tour guide after lunch to slow things down, and by the time we got to Osaka Aquarium we had an hour and a half to leisurely enjoy the myriad of marine life. Well, all of us did except for Siobhan who preferred not to hang around for too long this museum of torture and instead watched the sunset outside with a beer in hand.

I can definitely empathise with her – I myself have a dislike for Zoo’s for the same reason – but when I think about the millions of children whose closest contact with animals may only be through this medium, and how their emotions and minds are shaped by witnessing the beauty of nature (albeit in a contained environment), it somehow makes sense. Also, it was the first time I saw a Hammerhead Shark. =)

That evening, my best-laid plan for having a traditional, multi-course dinner in a famous Kaiseki restaurant had to be abandoned as everyone felt extremely exhausted by the time night came. So I called up and canceled (we learned the next day through our guide that this was sacrilege and meant that we would not be welcome to eat there ever again) and we ate instead in an absolutely delicious dimsum restaurant in a food hall just near our hotel. Thanks to Nicola for convincing us to eat in Din Tai Fung despite their menu not catering very well to vegetarians.

bus rideThe next two days were spent doing day trips to Kyoto. It was only an hour each way from Osaka (which for many Londoners is equivalent to their daily commute to work) and the journey served as a good point to catch up with relatives. We crammed a lot of sight seeing in two days (again probably a bit too much but such is the way with organised tours): We toured the Gion Area (with Bianca sporting a Kimono), went to the Kiyomizu Temple, Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji temple, Fushimi Inari Shrine and Nara Deer Park to see the Todaji temple. That’s a serious amount of temples and shrines to see in such a short amount of time – and we had a moment of tension with our guide when we were given only 45 minutes to visit one of the more scenic temples (Kiyomizu Temple) which we were all a bit upset about. We managed to squeeze an extra 15 minutes off him after probably 10 minutes of complaining so I’m not quite sure who won there in the end.

I’d definitely go back and spend a day at Kiyomizu Temple and another day just walking through all the tori gates at the Fushimi Inari Shrine, which I suppose is the whole point of these whirlwind tours – they give you a taste of what you can have but if you really want to sink your teeth into it, you can always come back and do it your own way.

Our last day in Osaka was left open for us to do whatever we pleased, which for me ended up hunting for star wars collectables with Ian in the morning at Nippombashi, having sashimi for lunch, buying a few souvenirs in the afternoon and then going for a nice, relaxing swim to get me in the mood for the much awaited Wagyu beef dinner we had in store for us that evening. We ate at Matsusaka Yakiniku which specialises in Matsusaka beef, one of the three major types of wagyu in Japan. Apparently Matsusaka beef cows are fed beer to stimulate their appetite and given massages using a special mixture of Sochu (a hard Japanese liquor). Whether this is true or not is all very questionable, but all the carnivores in our table had the the ‘DX Platter’ (the most recommended platter to experience all the best Matsusaka beef cuts) and every piece tasted absolutely divine and virtually un-paralleled to any other beef we’ve tried in the world. We all agreed at the end of the meal that eating meat won’t be the same after this experience.

It was the perfect meal to end our holiday in Japan.


The next six days in Cebu flew by all too quickly. I tried to squeeze in as much sun soaking, beach hopping and food devouring that I could. And as my departure date drew closer, I even started waking up earlier (and earlier!) as my brain wouldn’t allow my body to sleep in when it knew there was so much I still wanted to do.

But alas, all good things must come to end. And I was happy enough that I did get to spend a fair amount of time with the twins, my family and the Connolly clan who flew in for my Uncle John’s wedding.

It was particularly hard to leave home this time around. I’m not sure whether it was because this trip was a bit shorter than normal or because I’m starting to miss the sun, sea and tropical lifestyle more the older I get. I guess I’ll have to come back and stay longer next time to find out!

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