Barcelona Christmas

 

 

Excactly a year ago,  I was in Barcelona filming DAPHNE Diaries for Lifestyle Network. You can watch some of the videos here.

Barcelona is one of my favourite cities for the simple reasons that it is so walkable and things are on a human scale. You won’t see massive architecture – well, except for the La Sagrada Familia. The city is multilayered – you see great architecture from different periods. And the food is not expensive and very accessible.

I had the most significant December 8th last year. It may have been coincidental that we were at the Our Lady of Montserrat Monastery exactly on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. I must have been really meant to be there.

But this story is about Christmas in Barcelona. We were lucky that when we were there, they had Christmas markets in the city. Our guide told us that the seasonal night markets only took place for a few days in December – around this time! I particularly liked the one just out side La Sagrada Familia. It had pretty clay sculpted miniatures.

 

 

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Our hotel was just off of La Rambla.

 

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It’s a must for every tourist. So yes there are a lot of souvenir stalls if you’re into that. I just liked walking up and down it.

 

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This is how the Catalans do Christmas nativity scenes. This was set up in the square outside the town hall. It had a rustic Roman theme.

 

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The little diorama had elements of rustic life when the Catalan region was still part of the Roman empire  — farming, traveling by boat and donkey, details of a Roman home. There is Mary and Joseph with baby Jesus by the waterfront. It isn’t your typical Holy Night scene.

 

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There’s an aqueduct. And look further. There’s a figure of a man who appears to be squatting.

 

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He is what is known as a Caganer – a figure of a defacating person. This has been part of Catalan tradition for two centuries now. Nowadays, Caganers come in all forms – Sponge Bob, Queen Elizabeth, David Beckham. I had to get one for myself! In Catalan culture, kids take turns looking for the hidden caganer.

 

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Just outside La Sagrada Familia, there happened to be a lovely Christmas night market.

 

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It was very rustic and crafty. There were no commercial products, no brands, no fakes from China. They had artisans and farmers from the region selling traditional Catalan Christmas goodies.

 

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Pine trees

 

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It is also part of their tradition to give pine bouquets as gifts.

 

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Our guide Fabio gave me a pine bouquet.

 

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These are Christmas logs known as Caga Tios. And just like the caganer, the cage tios also defacate. When the tail end of the log opens, out flows lots of candies for children.

 

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She is the artisan who made the miniature Catalan nativity (belen) that I bought. Top row shows traditional caganer in the white shirt and red hat, and beside it are soccer players in caganer form.

 

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Each little diorama element is made of terracotta clay. You can customize your nativity scene. All are inspired by a Roman village.

 

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More figurines for the nativity scene.

 

PC091622More contemporary caganer doing the poopie act. These caganers are placed in the nativity scene, usually behind the cottage where baby Jesus was born. Never in front, that would be disrespectful. Usually kids make it a game to find the caganer every day.

 

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Cartoon caganers. I found out that all this fascination with pooping is really part of Catalan tradition. It is believed that defacation is the greatest equalizer. It is something everybody does whether rich or poor.

 

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The holy family in miniature.

 

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My growing collection of Christmas nativity. I bought a the smallest sets.

 

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And just to give you an idea of how small my lovely nativity scene is.

 

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My gift to self – Antoni Gaudi as a caganer.

 

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Mr Gaudi and his La Sagrada Familia

 

I’m not a fan of souvenirs. But I had to make an exception for these caganers because they tell such an interesting story of Catalan culture. And how adorable is the Sagrada Familia in clay pottery?!

 

 

Sophia’s experience in France

 

 

My daughter Sophia’s essay about her camp experience in France got published in the Inquirer over last October 17. To say that I am so proud is an understatement. Seeing her byline put me over the moon. She’s only 12.

 

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You may read Sophia’s full article and photo gallery in the Inquirer here.

 

If you recall from my Instagram, last August, I went to France. That trip wasn’t about me or my work. It was all for Sophia. She was chosen to participate in Copain du Monde, a 2-week camp in the Vosges department in the Lorraine region of France. The trip was sponsored by Secours Populaire Francais (SPF), a French organization that engages in humanitarian programs in France and in other countries in need. In the Philippines, SPF is sponsoring a Yolanda rehabilitation program in Busuanga in partnership with Mirasol Foundation where they rebuilt a school and assisted in some livelihood-generating programs.

Once a year, SPF hosts children from all over France and a few invited countries to participate in summer camps. This year, for the camp in Vosges, they invited children from Japan, Haiti, Nepal, Israel and the Philippines. Sophia was among the four Filipino children chosen by Mirasol Foundation to be sent as a delegate of the Philippines to France. They chose children from a list of nominees from another camp program that my daughter belongs to. While Sophia and the other delegates’ trip was fully sponsored, I presented myself as a “volunteer”. I paid my own way and SPF took care of my accommodations and food at camp. I was with Sophia and the kids for a week. Then I left her in France for the last week. The results of my journey are thousands of beautiful photos and a long video that I edited as their memento. You may view it here or scroll below.

 

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Copain du Monde camp was in a beautiful property in Xonrupt-Longermer, nestled in Vosges at the Lorraine region of France.

 

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After almost 24 hours of traveling, we arrived at Les Jonquilles in Xonrupt-Longemer. Sophia with Alexa Loste, wearing the sweatshirt that Soph designed for the Philippine delegation.

 

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The start of my camp mom duties, wearing the sweatshirt that Sophia designed — just so happy to be breathing fresh mountain air.

 

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The day the kids arrived at camp, they played ice breaker games.

 

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In a setting like this.

 

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Gerardmer is a small lake-side town in the mountains of Lorraine. History buffs would know that this was once the site of active battle during the Franco-Prussian War and World War 1.

 

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The war memorial in Gerardmer.

 

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Sophia’s favourite activity was rock climbing and rappelling.

 

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They went camping overnight two times in different locations. Camping, like in a tent. Here, Soph and Alexa were enjoying the stillness of Lac du Longemer.

 

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This was the hike to the campsite.

 

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We travelled to Paris by train We left Gerardmer at 4am, got to Paris by 9am, boarded the train again at 5pm, back to our chalet by 8pm.

 

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The main activity of Copain du Monde was a one-day trip to Paris to cebrate the 70th anniversary of Secours Populaire Francais. More on that in a separate blog.

 

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One rainy day, the kids took part in indoor activities. Alexa and Joaquin chose baking. They learned how to bake Mirabelle tarte. Mirabelle is a small seeded fruit, much like a peach or plum. It is lovely. And that pie was so easy to make. Now if I could please find some mirabelles here.

 

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This is Naomi. She and her family moved to France from Tibet three years ago.

 

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Even on rainy days, they had outdoor art activities.

 

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This is the bagtag of the Philippine delegation using Sophia’s design. We had Booths Republic make them for us.

 

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Lake Gerardmer

 

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We went kayaking.

 

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Soph and I enjoyed this kayaking experience. I used to hate kayaking in Canada (my brother took me on an extreme camping adventure where we had to kayak 5 hours to camp). This was so much fun.

 

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From Sophia’s article, “it was far from ordinary kayaking because this one had games. My favorite was “the boat is sinking.” The rules: Someone has to yell out a certain number, and in 10 seconds you must group yourselves together and hold on to each other’s boats using the side handles. Whoever gets left behind must stand on your kayak for three seconds—without falling. It was hilarious watching people tip their boats over, screaming their heads off.”

 

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Skipping stones. It’s universal.

 

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We made sure the kids heard Mass on a Sunday. We found this lovely little church on top of a hill in Gerardmer.

 

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After Mass, we walked back up to our lodge. This was the pretty view.

 

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At the cultural concert, the kids performed some songs and a dance. These are all in the video below.

 

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Our daily breakfast. Same every day. No plates. I thought I’d sworn off bread. But now I really miss it.

 

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We had the perfect weather in August. Temperatures ranged from 13 to 18 degrees. But it also got summer hot when the sun was out and there was no shade. Here, the kids did some art activities at the courtyard.

 

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The courtyard was also the only spot where there was wifi. So we (the adults) made it our little office. These are the adult leaders from the other delegations — Prizma from Nepal, Ibrahim from Israel and EJ Pepito from the Philippines.

 

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One afternoon in Gerardmer, we were given some free time. Soph and the kids sat under a tree waiting for our ride home. I went looking to buy some wifi load for this Orange mobile wifi that I bought. I ended up three blocks away. Then I saw the most amazing soft ice cream. I knew Soph loved soft ice cream so I bought her one. The sun was out and after 20 seconds the ice cream started to melt. So there I was, running like a mad woman with melting ice cream for my daughter. When it got to her, it was dripping with vanilla and chocolate melted ice cream. I told her, that is the love of a mother for her child. I looked like a crazy woman running through the narrow streets of Gerardmer holding that melting cone.

 

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They swam at an indoor heated pool.

 

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Most of the days were spent out playing in the beautiful field.

 

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The girls made up their own game and own rules. There was a language barrier. But kids just need to play and they totally understand each other.

 

There are more stories and photos. I’d like to share them in a separate blog entry. My daughter had a life-changing experience in France. She learned so much. Here is the link to her Inquirer article again.

In Sophia’s own words, “Copain du Monde changed my life in two weeks. We did not talk about politics or how to fix the world’s problems. But we were just happy to be with other children from different parts of the globe. It was a reminder that children are the future of the world, that in a loving and peaceful environment, children would become better citizens.”

 

Hope you enjoy this long video I made. You may skip past the halfway mark to see their performance.

 

 

DAPHNE DIARIES in the Hobbiton Movie Set

 

 

From my recent trip to New Zealand, here is my DAPHNE® Diaries of the Hobbiton Movie Set. Let me know what you think…

 

 

 

Daphne Diaries Travel Stories

 

 

I don’t know if you have noticed, I’m slowly increasing my posts about travel. It’s not something I planned deliberately. It’s just happening on its own. I remember when I was still hosting F and Urban Zone, I refused a lot of offers to travel. I couldn’t bear leaving my kids even for a few days. But now that they’re a bit older, I have slowly allowed travel back into my work. I can’t do it too much, lest they start protesting and I start feeling guilty. We also try our best to make sure the kids get a grand travel adventure every year – whether to a local or foreign destination. And whenever we can, like every couple of years, Patrick and I try to travel JUNK (just us, no kids).

Last December 2014, I had the chance to film little travelogue snippets for Lifestyle Network. They flew me to Barcelona for a week. There are a couple of interstitials that ran on Lifestyle Network last April. On my part, I filmed my own video diary. The stories are now called DAPHNE Diaries. In case you missed it, here’s the one I made in Barcelona.  And from our “JUNK” trip to Bhutan, I edited some videos. You can view them in my Daphne.PH YouTube channel. There are more videos coming, promise.

I looked back at some of my recent travel photos and realized that I haven’t really shared much about my trips to Canada. Whenever I am there, I just want to savour the moments with my family. And there’s no time to blog too much. But there have been some amazing spots we went to in Canada. And I’m ready to write about them soon.

Here are some photos from our recent family trips and some from my work trips. You will notice a lot of fashion repeats – blue blazer, black leggings, puffer jackets, Burberry trench coat, chukka boots, sneakers. I’ll be traveling again in a few days, and I have packed the same exact things. I have no problem with repeating. Before all these fast fashion brands came in, I invested in good quality clothes. So I don’t really feel the pressure to keep changing them every season. Even if it means my instagram photos may look like I’m wearing the same things over and over.

When I’m traveling there are many things I do not want to busy myself with — my outfits for instance. This is why I travel with basics, neutrals, and most importantly, sensible shoes.  I also always prepare myself health-wise. Health insurance is a must. Even if my credit card company says I am covered etc, I still buy a separate supplementary health plan. My friend once had to pay $2,000 just because her kid has a stomach ache which thankfully turned out to be uneventful. But goodbye $2,000. I also make sure I boost my immunity by taking multivitamins with iron and zinc. The last thing you want is to catch a virus while you’re on a plane.

 

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Sainte Marie among the Hurons, in Midland, Ontario. Not exactly my favourite place when I was a teenager. But now that I am a mom, a trip to Toronto isn’t complete without going here, a couple of hours north of Toronto. My kids love it.

 

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It is a recreation of the 17th century settlement by the French Jesuit Mission in the land of the Huron Wendat people. This was Ontario’s first European Community. There were parts of the fenced community that included areas for the Native People. Here’s one of the teepees. And yes, my girls and I were running, hopping, skipping, and dancing.

 

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This was the time my whole family drove to Montebello, Quebec. Snow was still thick. Whenever I’m home I feel like a kid again because I get to sit in the back of the family car. And my mom and dad take care of me. Haha.

 

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The reception cottage at Kenauk, a nature reserve with 60 lakes and only 13 chalets. My family reserved the biggest chalet. It was beautiful — facing a frozen lake with no neighbours in sight. Kenauk is managed by Fairmont in Montebello, Quebec. So it was roughing it but with glamour. We stayed for three nights.

 

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That is the chalet we rented, behind the trees. Can you see it? The kids loved exploring the woods. I promise to blog separately about this trip.

 

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This is the frozen lake that faced our cottage. This was springtime in Quebec. I didn’t bother using fancy boots. I just wore rubber rain boots and used two layers of thermal socks. The snow was starting to melt.

 

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One of the many highlights was the sugar shack experience. We took a sleigh ride through a maple forest. This is how maple syrup starts… as sap from the maple tree.

 

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This is why we got the biggest chalet.  We were complete.

 

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Selfie in my second home with my favourite sculptor Henry Moore behind. My first real job was here, at Toronto City Hall. And there’s my tried and tested Burberry trench coat and Raybans.

 

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That same time when we were in Toronto, I flew down to New Orleans for a work trip. It was a trip that would take me to New Orleans, Chicago, and Wisconsin — from almost summer to late winter in the woods — I travelled light and just made sure I had layers and warm clothes. My favourite fall back is the blue blazer. It goes with anything.

 

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And I always make sure I have a scarf in my bag.

 

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In New Orleans, they showed us the warehouse that held all the mardi gras parade floats. A bit creepy, but fun. On work trips, even if an event calls for casualness and comfort, I try to look neat even though I spent no time thinking of my outfit. I do this by wearing sensible black leggings (not too tight, they are legging pants), clean sneakers – like these plimsoles from Cath Kidston, and striped shirts.

 

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Then we went to Chicago. I had some free time one morning and decided to take the river boat cruise across the city alone. No one in my group wanted to go, but I went because it highlighted Chicago’s skyscraper history. The downside of traveling alone is you end up with selfies like this.

 

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Here I asked a stranger to take my photo and ended up with the perfect “windy city” shot. Here is the trench coat again. It’s a light one with no heavy lining. But I find that with a thin feather down layer underneath, it keeps me real warm. Best fashion investment ever.

 

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This was back in 2005 when we only had one kid – Sophia. We left her in Toronto with my family. It was a wonderful second honeymoon. Even back then I wore comfy shoes for traveling. Those were my beloved Camper bowling-style shoes. My coat was from J. Crew. It was nice and classic. I recently sold that in my garage sale and I think I regret it.

 

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Winter in Shanghai back in 2012. Muji down jacket, black leggings and Muji boots. (I am mourning the loss of these boots. I am convinced my husband moved them to a part of the house where I will not find them til we are 75. I can’t find them. Sad because they are perfect for walking and they’re not too precious.)

 

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In milder weather, like we had on our last day in Barcelona, the best travel outfit is again… black leggings and a fitted blazer. This was from the Martin Margiela line in H&M a few years ago. Because someone will ask, those are my chukka boots which I bought in Wisconsin. They are so comfy.

 

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Wearing my Celine leather boots in Barcelona. Very comfortable because of its stacked heel and square toes. But I was too paranoid to scuff them. I bring them to wear on fancy nights out when I feel like wearing a skirt. But it’s not the kind of boots to go roughing in. Much to precious. And I doubt I’ll ever find beautiful boots like these because they are narrow enough to fit my skinny legs.

 

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Here’s what I wear when “roughing” it. This was in Bhutan last February. Need I say it again – black leggings, chukka boots, puffer jacket.

 

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And a coat from the most recent season of Uniqlo with their Jil Sander collaboration. Also in Bhutan.

 

I think you get the drift. I stick to the tried and tested classics. I go for comfort and ease. And I really prepare for trips. I’m actually now on my way to New Zealand. It’s my first time. The trip involves urban, rural and VIP meetings. You already know what I’ll be wearing. Haha. Black.

 

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For this trip, we are doing everything in style and comfort. I was treated by Conzace to a luxury car ride to the airport.

 

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As you can see, I keep everything monochromatic – black. So I don’t have to think about matching whatever.

 

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I also made sure I strengthened my immunity by drinking multivitamins with minerals like Conzace daily. I also packed enough for the trip. I will be outdoors a lot.

 

Can’t wait to tell you stories about New Zealand! Stay tuned.

 

 

Tiger’s Nest, Bhutan

 

 

TIGERS NEST

 

My new DAPHNE Diaries… from our February trip to Bhutan. We took an 8 day package with Amala Destinations. On our last full day, we climbed up Tiger’s Nest Monastery.

 

 

Please let me know what you think of the DAPHNE Diaries series on my YouTube channel. If you like it, please subscribe so I can make more. I’m open to suggestions.