Text and images by Pia Santos Miralao
Graphic manipulation by Greco Milambiling
The year 2013 was when we officially became US citizens. Along with our citizenship came our passports and freedom to travel to almost any part of the world without the tedious process of obtaining a visa. Having no real familial obligations during the holidays, I decided it was the best time to venture to other parts of the world and to experience that together—just the four of us, my husband, my two daughters, and myself—and that kickstarted our tradition of spending Christmas away from home and discovering this time of the year elsewhere.
CHRISTMAS ON THE BLUE LAGOON
In 2013, we traveled right on Christmas Day to Iceland. The adventure started as soon as we got to the airport as our connecting airline told us we did not have a reservation to New York, where we were to catch our flight to Iceland. As it was Christmas Day, the Icelandair offices were closed and the ticket counter wouldn’t open for another eight hours at which time our flight from New York would’ve left without us.
Thanks to my smartphone and the Internet we got ourselves to Union Station, and after a four-hour bus ride to New York Pennsylvania Station and a hairy cab ride (first-time driver) to the John F. Kennedy International Airport, we caught our flight to Iceland. There, we stayed at a cozy two-bedroom apartment in Reykjavik and experienced swimming in the Blue Lagoon, a glacier hike, frozen waterfalls, four hours of daylight, a cloudy van ride looking for the Northern Lights (which we didn’t find). We even managed to find a Filipino restaurant in the city and managed a meal of adobo from a friendly Filipina owner.
PARIS IN THE WINTER
In 2014, we celebrated Christmas Eve mass in French at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. This was the year I started using Google docs to plan and share our itinerary with the family. I booked (and wrote out) our plane, train, bus, and hotel schedules while I had our older daughter, Sidney, plan the places to go to in Paris. First day in Paris she had us visiting Pompidou and it turned out to be closed (she was mortified). But after that things went pretty smoothly. We visited not-to-miss Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, a Christmas market along Champs-Élyseés, the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile, while staying at the tiniest apartment a block away from Sacre Coeur. We learned to travel by train around the city and snacked on croissants and Belgian waffles (and espresso) all day long. Our last day was spent on the grounds and castles of Versailles, an hour by train from Paris.
SIX HOURS ON THE CARRETERA AUSTRAL
In 2015, we ventured off to the Chilean side of Patagonia. En route to our first destination, Parque Patagonia, we had to stop over in El Salvador, Lima in Peru, Santiago and Balmaceda in Chile, after which we drove six hours of dirt road on the Carretera Austral or Chile’s Route 7, the highway that runs over 1,200 kilometers through rural Patagonia, from Puerto Montt, the port commune in southern Chile, to Villa O’Higgins, the gateway to the South Patagonian Ice Field. The drive was an endless view of the bluest lakes and rivers and untouched forests and small towns. We stopped for lunch on a mini bus where we discovered Chileans use guacamole like mayonnaise.
Parque Patagonia is a luxurious lodge at the bottom of the world surrounded by mountains and rivers. We discovered the guanacos, a distant relative to the alpaca. Lights out at 10 p.m., and no Wi-Fi, but it had its own restaurant and chef. We started making our way back up to Santiago after two days of hiking. We stayed at another lodge, Hacienda Tres Lagos, where the kids had their own detached room as there were many rooms available over Christmas. We met our tour guide Andreas who took us on hikes and boat rides to waterfalls and an abandoned goldmine. We went on a day-long glacier hike in lieu of an overnight glacier camp due to strong rains (it was probably a blessing as an overnight camp would’ve required us to carry 80 pounds to the campsite for four hours each way). We had to stop on the road once for a herd of cows blocking our way.
FIVE DAYS ON THE SKI SLOPES
After days of discovering Patagonia, we flew back and spent two days in Santiago. December is summertime in Chile and the city reminded me very much of Manila—hot and crowded.
Right niow, we are in Switzerland. We have spent the past five days skiing in Zermatt and Cervinia with a day each in Zurich and Lucerne.
It has been hours and hours of booking flights and ski rentals and lifts and hotels and city tours for nine days of just the four of us. Nine days where the kids have no choice but to be with us and each other. Nine days of mostly laughter and discovery (with some moments of annoyance). Nine days of discovering how people spend Christmas in yet another part of the world.