Monday, August 30, 2010

Cocktails and a million-dollar view in Cebu

I arrived in Cebu yesterday afternoon on a Philippine Airlines flight from Manila, together with some of the Travelife team to check out what was new in the southern capital. I hadn't been to Cebu in a few years and so I was quite excited to be back. This particular trip started out pretty well, too. Our PAL flight was on time and pleasant, and we were in Cebu in just under an hour. This flight was a good reminder of how painless it is to travel between these two major points in the Philippines. In fact, it's just like taking a luxury bus.

At the PAL domestic terminal in Manila, I checked in about an hour before my flight; and I barely had time to grab a cinnamon roll from one of the food counters and answer some texts, and then it was time to board the flight. On the plane, I took out my Mac a few minutes after takeoff to work on articles for the next issue -- but again, before I knew it, we were making our descent into Mactan International Airport and Cebu City was in the distance.

Thank goodness for Facebook

While waiting to board my flight in Manila, I was trying -- with no success -- to find a wireless connection, when a text came in on my phone from my friend Gia, who lives in Manila but also has a home in Cebu. She was in Cebu and she'd just spent the weekend at the beach with friends. At that exact moment, she was checking Facebook on her mobile while having lunch at the country club.

"Are you in Cebu?" She texted.

I quickly texted back. "I'm leaving for Cebu in a few minutes!"

Well, it turns out that she had seen our post on Facebook -- about how the Travelife team was on their way to Cebu that day -- and she too was in Cebu for the long weekend. We ended up making plans to meet later that day in Cebu, all by text and all before I boarded my flight.

The most beautiful view in Cebu

We arrived at our hotel just after 4 PM and had just enough time to freshen up and dress for the evening. At 530 PM, Gia was at our hotel to pick us up. We were supposed to go to dinner but she suggested first visiting her mother-in-law's house on top of a mountain. "It's got a beautiful view of Cebu that's best seen at sunset," she explained. Of course, we were just too happy to go anywhere a local suggested.

Well, we were completely floored by the view, the lovely house that was sprawling but not uncomfortably large, and filled with beautiful antiques, porcelain and wood furnishings. And perhaps the best feature of this dream house was its huge terrace -- an expanse of tile that ran the entire length of the house, fronting the most amazing 180 degree view of Cebu. In the distance, I could see the entire downtown, the old Cebu Plaza Hotel, the Marriott Hotel, the Waterfront Hotel, and as far as the harbor.

On the right side was a gazebo with a small table that probably functioned as a breakfast nook or a place for afternoon tea, and right in the middle was a massive wooden table good for 16 to 20 people. The moment I saw the table, I was already imagining what I would do if I actually owned that house: I'd be hosting the most enjoyable dinners every Saturday night -- casual food, a couple of bottles of great wine, good friends, and this fantastic al fresco dining with a million-dollar view in front of us.

"This is the perfect place for New Year's Eve," Gia said. "You can see all the fireworks from up high."

A great place to live

Then we sat around for a few minutes, relaxing over wine, cold cuts and cheese -- and working up an(other) appetite for dinner. I was enjoying so much this impromptu plan Gia and I had hatched up in a few minutes earlier that afternoon that "Cebu life is certainly very nice," was all I could manage to say. This was of course an understatement. Cebu life was not only very nice - it was great. Fresh air, the comforts of civilization, no traffic, everything within easy distance, and a lower cost of living than Manila.

There's also something incredibly relaxing about Cebu. We felt it the moment we stepped off the plane. The openness is so refreshing after the built-up atmosphere of Manila, the people are so laid back, and the fact that both the mountains and the beach houses are within very easy driving distance is a great plus. "Going to the beach is SOP here," Gia said. "Everyone I know has a beach house somewhere, if not two." No wonder so many people move to Cebu and never want to leave.

For dinner proper, we drove down the mountain and headed to Guiseppe, a favorite Italian restaurant of locals, right on the way to the Maria Luisa subdivision. When we walked in, it felt just like going to a restaurant in Makati. Gia knew lots of people and everyone was greeting each other. It felt like having dinner somewhere in Greenbelt. Of course, this being the Philippines, with its two degrees of separation between people, even I found common friends with the Cebuanos I met that night. And when it was time to order, I didn't even bother to look at the menu.

"We're in your hands," I told Gia.

What a wonderful spur-of-the-moment evening with good friends from Manila, new friends in Cebu and the Travelife Magazine team.


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