Sunday, September 17, 2017

24 hours in Ireland: History and beer

Scene: Isabel Iris Garsuta on winning Miss University of Bohol Personality 2017: “It is a dream come true. To God be all the glory!   I am so grateful to all the people who have helped me on my journey throughout this pageant.” Her proud mother, Mariz Garsuta, posted on Facebook, “I wish you all the best, your journey as Miss UB personality 2017 has just began. Continue to instill the Christian values, the University of Bohol trinity of virtues and inspire the youth.” Erick Karcher is Mr. UB Personality 2017.

Isabel Iris Garsuta and Erick Karcher  Courtesy: UB 
Scene:  Police Regional Office (PRO)-7 director Chief Supt. Mario Espino was the guest of honor in the blessing and inauguration of the new P14 million police station in this city last week.  “A very comfortable and welcoming facility for the residents of Tagbilaran City. Maganda and presentable,” said Supt. Patricio Degay Jr., city chief of police, in a phone interview.   However, police had been left red-faced after the marker of the building was revealed - along with prominent spelling mistakes.  A close-up photo of the marker posted on the social media received “negative” reactions. Some residents have found at least eight “errors”- like “Police Regional Police" instead of Regional Police Office and “governemnt” instead of government.  The names of councilors were also spelt incorrect: Dulce Philipp S. Besas instead of Dulce Amelia C. Glovasa, Albert C. Torralba instead of Alberta C. Torralba, Agalon N. Polinar instead of Vicente N. Polinar, Agustinus Gonzaga instead of Augustinus Gonzaga and Nicanor S. Besas instead of Philipp S. Besas. It had “Sanguniang Bayan” instead of Sangguniang Panlungsod. Some residents shared that it must be double-checked since it was a marker. Degay said he didn’t know of the spelling errors since the marker was from the regional office. “I don’t have control with it since it was the regional engineering office which was in-charged,” he said.   Seemingly seeing the funny side, Degay said the marker would be remove and correct.  “We will have it correct as quickly as possible,” said Degay.

DUBLIN, Republic of Ireland-  After London, I decided to visit Ireland.  The reason Ireland is so popular with tourists is the overall experience. It is full of beauty and punctuated by charming coastal villages.  Yes, U2 and Westlife.

I hate travelling alone.  Solo travel depression is very real thing.  Solo travel is boring, eating alone is depressing and I hate an album full of selfies.

But all of these were gone when I arrived in Dublin, Ireland’s largest city and capital.

Dublin's charm lies on scenery, people and the craic. The good news is these can be explored even in 24 hours. For one day, tourists can visit the Trinity College, Temple Bar, Guinness Storehouse, Dublin Castle and more.

Ireland’s capital needs no introduction. It has history, charm, sights, museums, galleries, theatres, shops, pubs, restaurants and an abundance of character. Photo by Leo Udtohan
There are two ways to explore Dublin faster – rent a bike at bike stations, a hop-on-hop-off bus but a little pricey or do a walking tour. For me, Dublin is one of the most walkable cities in Europe that I found to be best enjoyed by foot.

Tip: Start in the north at Phoenix Park and head south to the River Liffey, cross the famous Ha'Penny Bridge and find your way to the medieval streets of Temple Bar. Pause for a pint before heading to the Trinity College campus. Shop along nearby Grafton Street before jaunting on to the peaceful St. Stephen's Green. From there, literary fiends can drop by the Writers Museum or the James Joyce Centre while visitors that enjoy a drop of the good stuff can tour the Guinness Storehouse or the Old Jameson Distillery.

And no matter what you decide to do on your Ireland adventure, every destination you head to will captivate, surprise, and inspire the curious traveler.

Here are the “must-see’s” and the “must-do’s” in Dublin:

Pubs. That's what you likely know about Dublin. There are at least  2,000 liquor licenses in the Irish capital.

James Joyce, one of Ireland's most influential and celebrated writers, once said it would make a great puzzle trying to cross the city without passing a pub.

Your VRS at O'Neills Bar and Restaurant
in the historic heart of Dublin.
The city has at least 2,000 pubs to relax
and drink Guinness beer. 
The pub is the social hub of any Irish town, and here you’ll find friendly chatter while observing the finer points of pulling the perfect pint.

Some rudimentary Dublin rules to follow:

1)If someone buys you a drink, buy them one back.

2)Don't expect to drink all night.  Most pubs close at 11:30 p.m. on weeknights and 1a.m. on weekends. Something about curbing alcoholism.

3)If you are drunk and have awful lots of feelings, don't call an Irishwo/man British. You are starting a fistfight. The Republic of Ireland is independent of the crown. It has been a Free State since 1922. Northern Ireland is part of the UK.

If you are in Dublin, it is a must to visit the Guinness Storehouse where the beer was born to travel.  The dark, tangy porter beer first brewed by Arthur Guinness in Dublin in 1759 wins the hearts and minds of beer lovers in United Kingdom and Africa.  The Guinness Storehouse is very touristy. Here you will learn the history of Guinness, how Guinness is produced, how it is marketed, and even learn how to pour the perfect pint. The tour ends with a pint of Guinness at the Gravity Bar. From here, you have 360° views of Dublin.

Trinity College. Founded in 1592, Trinity College is Ireland's oldest university. The historic buildings, gardens and monuments are worth a visit. Famous students here were Samuel Beckett, Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde. 

The statue of Molly Malone, an attractive 
young woman making her way in the world, selling 
seafood by the barrow, through the streets of Dublin.  
The city is so enamored with the legend of Molly Malone
 that a statue to her memory was erected near Trinity College, 
to celebrate the millennium anniversary of the city’s founding. 
Photo by Leo Udtohan
The school library houses the Book of Kells. It may seem like a crumbling old bible, but look closer at the amazing designs and colors on these manuscripts (a different page is carefully turned every day).  The Book of Kells was written in 800 AD by a group of monks and was buried in the ground for safe keeping against the Vikings. In the 1600s it was rediscovered and sent to Trinity College where it has been ever since.

Other displays include a rare copy of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, read out by Pádraig Pearse at the beginning of the Easter Rising in 1916, as well as the so-called harp of Brian Ború, one of the oldest harps in Ireland.

There are at least 200,000 of the library's oldest volumes at the 65- meter Long Room, the library's main chamber. If your eyes are tired from all the reading, take some time to walk down the enormous hallway and admire the marble busts that pepper the unending rows of bookshelves.  There are 51 busts that scattered across the library including Socrates.

Museums and castles.   Dublin has many museums, galleries, castles and churches. And they are really good. But best of all they are free. These are the Chester Beatty Library, Natural History Museum, Museum of Modern Art and National Art Gallery which are highly entertaining.

Dublin Castle is the heart of historic Dublin and is where the city gets its name from the Black Pool - 'Dubh Linn' which was on the site of the present Castle garden. Founded in 1204, Dublin Castle spans 44,000 square meters and has two museums, cafes, gardens and a conference center. The government buildings and the State Apartments are the most important state rooms in Ireland. The grounds are free to explore.

Cathedrals.  Ireland used to be the most Catholic country in the world. The church's connection to the island nation dates to St. Patrick's conversion in the 5th century. There are many ancient but empty churches here. According to a local newspaper here, in 1984, nearly 90 percent of Irish Catholics went to Mass every week. But by 2011, only 18 percent did. It's a massive cultural shift.

Trinity College, Ireland’s oldest university.  Photo by Leo Udtohan
I, however, still love to visit old churches when I travel. I visited Saint Patrick's Cathedral even the walk was long-ish and  a bit uninspiring. Saint Patrick's is the National Cathedral of Ireland which was built between 1220 and 1260. But for friends of world literature this is a pilgrimage, and a must - Jonathan Swift of "Gulliver" fame was dean of and is buried in the cathedral.

Horse drawn carriage to see Dublin City in comfort and style.
Photo by Leo Udtohan
Another lovely church to visit is the Saint Augustine and Saint John The Baptist Church. I passed the famous The Beer Market near Dublinia on my way to the church. Outside the establishment, I saw a Filipino who was very familiar. He smiled at me. I just smiled back since I was in a hurry to catch the Holy Mass. While inside the church, I realized that the man I saw was a Boholano priest! After the Mass, I went back to The Beer Market to see him. Unfortunately, he was no longer there. That night, I had a chat with Wilma Diez-Balag, a resident of Cogon District, who asked me if I met Fr. Julian Lupot who is in Ireland. I suddenly remembered the man I saw in Dublin.  Wilma confirmed it was Fr. Julian. I still can't stop feeling the regret not being able to talk and shake hands with him.  Sigh!

With 24 hours, you can get a good taste of Dublin. 48 hours would be ideal. But even with just 24 hours in Dublin, I manage to get a good taste of the city and find a lot of reasons to return.  When I return to Dublin (someday) I wish to visit the sheer cliffs of Moher on the emerald Isle to see how it feels to be one small step from infinity. The cliffs have appeared in several films, including The Princess Bride (1987) (as the filming location for "The Cliffs of Insanity"), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009), and Leap Year (2010).  In music, the cliffs have appeared in music videos, including Maroon 5's Runaway video, Westlife's My Love, and Rich Mullins' The Color Green. Most of singer Dusty Springfield's ashes were scattered at the cliffs. 


Thanks for your letters, all will be answered. Comments welcome at, follow leoudtohanINQ at Twitter /Facebook.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

48 HOURS IN LONDON: Heritage or adventure

Scene: Glyssa Perez on winning 1st princess in Miss World-Philippines 2017: I am where GOD wants me to be, at this very moment, every experience is part of His divine plan.  I was awarded Miss World Philippines 1st Princess. I may have not won the Miss World Philippines crown, but I still feel like a winner. All the Glory belongs to my Heavenly Father, thank you for my victory. I came to the competition with a heart of service, and I will continue to do so. The experience and friendship that I have gained through this journey was more than I could of imagined. I am a firm believer that "Everything Happens for a reason" and I know that God has greater things for me. I am so thankful for this opportunity, and I am more than thankful for the people behind every success of my journey. 

Scene:  The opening and blessing of Dalareich Chocolate House in Booy District, Tagbilaran City last Friday. It is Bohol's first and only Chocolate Factory.

Scene: "Jardin Necitas," Pilar’s glowing garden will turn on its light on Sept. 27, 6 p.m. There will be a live acoustic band "Jam403" with special participation of Jerome Sala Ucab.

Scene: Our dear Ruth “Neneng” Udtohan was dearly missed on her 16th death anniversary, Sept. 9.  At 17, she died from leukemia. She was a staff of The Lampbearer’s Night publication of the University of Bohol High School Evening Session. She wrote poems and short stories.

LONDON—My Facebook messenger was busy. There were calls and messages.

Jocelyn Pilayre (of Gecko Tours and Travel, 2nd floor at Alturas Mall) calling from Tagbilaran.  She was asking/ tracking my whereabouts.

Big Ben is an iconic London landmark and
a must on your list to see while you’re in London.
“Where have you been,” she asked.

When she learned where I was, Jocelyn joked, “Are you there to visit The Queen?” Maybe she thought I was the pussycat in the nursery rhyme.

“If I would be given the chance to see Her Highness,” I told Jocelyn in my trying hard British accent. 

London has many iconic buildings, landmarks, parks, West End musicals and shows, and sights to be seen, whether they be old or new, London is constantly evolving and is rich in historic culture.

In London, we met Katherine Embradura-Shaw who hails from Tubigon town. She told us that many sights in London – most of them can be discovered by walking and free.

She said London is packed with destinations that can make one’s a day or two-day break worthwhile.

Katherine was right.  Most of London’s top attractions are all within walking distance of each other. And by using the city’s regular bus or boat routes, you can tick off even more sights in a short space of time.

Awesome scenes and sights are Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Tower of London, Royal Courts of Justice, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, London Eye, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey and --- yes, yes, yes! --- Tower Bridge!

Buckingham Palace has served as the official London residence of the UK's sovereigns since 1837.
Photo by Leo Udtohan
Start your day down in South Kensington. From here, you can drop into some museums or wander up the road to Knightsbridge. Iconic London shops like Harrods and Hamleys will be a bit quieter in the morning.

The sights of London at night are astounding. Visitors can see London come alive as the lights of the city flicker on during your walk. In fact, I was humming Petula Clark’s Downtown when I saw Harrods and Hamleys at night. Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city. Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty, How can you lose? The lights are much brighter there, You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares...

The St James’ Park and Buckingham Palace are just around the corner. The Buckingham Palace is the Queen’s official London residence. It has a total of 775 rooms. It is one of the few working royal palaces remaining in the world today. Unfortunately, we didn’t see the famous Changing The Guard.

The Coca-Cola London Eye is a giant Ferris wheel
on the South Bank of River Thames in London. Photo by Leo Udtohan
Next, walk down the Mall towards Westminster. You might have more chance at spotting some politicians at the Houses of Parliament and of course, the world’s famous clock, Big Ben. I was excited to see Big Ben and to hear the iconic chimes thrice!

The Houses of Parliament is a neo-Gothic wonder built in the mid-19th century. It is made up of two houses – the Commons and the Lords – and if you reserve ahead or just try your luck you can go inside to watch British democracy in action.

The Coca-Cola London Eye is a major feature of London’s skyline. It was opened to the public in 2000, when it was first built it was the largest Ferris Wheel in the world. Visitors can buy tickets to go up in the London Eye in one of the little pods (actually, 32 capsules, holding up to 25 people), it’s definitely something to consider on your first trip to London so you can see out over London. The London Eye gives you a breathtaking experience with a unforgettable perspective of more than 55 of London’s most famous landmarks.

Westminster Abbey is next door so you can see two of London’s most iconic buildings in one place. It is a must-see 700 year old living pageant of British history, the coronation church of England.

Either jump on a boat down the River Thames to Tower Bridge or walk across Westminster Bridge to the South Bank, and meander down the river on foot.

Then either head into Borough Market, see The Shard (the tallest building in Europe) or visit the Tower Of London. The Tower of London is a 900-year history as a royal palace, prison and place of execution, arsenal, jewel house and zoo.

Inside the National Gallery Museum. Leo Udtohan
Afterwards, jump on the number 11 bus heading west. You’ll travel through the oldest part of London, The City, past St Paul’s Cathedral (where Prince Charles and Lady Di were married in 1981), down Fleet Street  and The Strand and arrive at Trafalgar Square for that photo opportunity with the stone lions.

If you love to museums, there are many museums in London for free, without eating into your budget.  There are at least eight free museums in London- Natural History Museum for the roaring T-Rex and earthquake simulator, Sir John Soane’s Museum for the candlelit tour, Museum of London for the fascinating history of England’s capital, Bank of England Museum to hold a genuine bar of gold, Victoria and Albert Museum for the beautiful objects, Museum of London Docklands to learn about the history of river Thames, William Morris Gallery for the life and works of one of Britain’s most inspiring designers, and Queen’s House and  National Maritime Museum.

In South Kensington, you’ll find the Natural History Museum, Science Museum and the V&A are all within a short walking distance of each other.

For art, the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery and Tate Modern are home to some of the greatest paintings in the world.  Whatever time you go, the permanent collections are always free.

The London's red telephone booth, an iconic part of the city.
Photo by Leo Udtohan
The National Gallery holds one of the world’s most important collections, and sees over six million visitors every year.  For the first time, I was very close to marvel at the masterpieces of van Gough, Renoir, da Vinci and Michael Angelo! 

There are also London’s lesser known art galleries, Georgian estates, crypts, old police stations and even old telephone booths. For many, London's red telephone booths are an iconic part of the city. As cheesy as it may sound, a picture of the traditional red telephone box should be on everyone’s must-have photo list whether you are visiting or residing in London.

I was at The Square Mile when my celfone rang. My cousin Helen Castaño-Alagadmo, on the line, asking how my day was.

“I really love London,” I told her. “It’s 8 p.m. here and I am enjoying my afternoon tea.”

“Did you cross London Bridge?” she asked.

“Yes, twice,” I told her. “The bridge is spectacular at night time.”

She kept on asking about the bridge and I assured her that London Bridge is still there.

I told her, “London Bridge is not falling down!” And I heard her laughing out loud!

There are other quirky, weird, cool and interesting places in London. However, visiting them would require another day.

I woke up early for my flight to Dublin, Ireland, while Pinoy Aquaman and Roel Catoto returned to the Philippines last August 19 because of work and family.

Thanks for your letters, all will be answered. Comments welcome at, follow leoudtohanINQ at Twitter /Facebook.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

The enigmatic Stonehenge

The sight of Stonehenge with its broken circle of stones and mighty central trilithons standing in apparent isolation on Salisbury Plain has been mesmerising travellers for centuries. Photo by Leo Udtohan
Scene:  The 'ber' months are here, ushering in what many call the longest Christmas celebration. Merry Christmas to all! US-based psychologist Elaine Joy Auza-Meyers has won for the first time in our high school game “Who will greet first Merry Christmas on September 1.”

Scene: A community organizer (CO) posted on Facebook that a beauty queen cum cultural worker  (BQCW) claimed that she founded a five-year-old local festival.  CO said that it was a misrepresentation.  “Hello, please do not claim that. Yes, you were one of the staff working but please do not claim such a role,” CO said. BQCW had a long reply posted on her Facebook account saying she conceived, created and planned the project. “Things I will never do in my lifetime: Eat balut, smoke, illegal drugs, and reap what I did not sow,” BQCW posted on Facebook.

Seen: Actor Richard Gutierrez and family spotted on a vacation in Bohol last week.

Scene: Will Miss Bohol 2016 Glyssa Bingas Perez be the next Miss World Philippines?  Watch the pageant tonight, Sept. 3, on GMA Network at 9:30 p.m.

Scene:  Miss Bohol 2017 Pauline Amelinckx was crowned Miss JCI Visayas 2017 held  in Bacolod City. She was also adjudged Best in Festival Costume designed by Malayka Yamas and Best in Gown designed by Bohol fashion icon EJ Relampagos.

* * *
LONDON- After staying for a week at Kent county (province) in South East England,   it was time to explore other places.

I was very much delighted for I could finally see for myself the places where it all happened, the tales of Camelot, King Arthur and the wizard Merlin.

England has numerous marvels to offer, from the famous Buckingham Palace to the simple sight of a red fox in London and the British countryside.

 (L) Roel Catoto, Atty. Ingemar “Pinoy Aquaman” Macarine, 
your VRS and Alex Guinid at the Stonehenge, a masterpiece 
of engineering with the stones carefully arranged to 
line up with the movements of the sun.  
But the one marvel that stood out was the Neolithic monument called Stonehenge.

Our amazing host Alex Sison Guinid brought us to Stonehenge which stands alone in the vast empty tract of Salisbury plain.  Its origins date back nearly 5,000 years and it has been home to pagan religion and spiritual worship, not to be mention public debate ever since.

The entrance or admission fee for Stonehenge is £16.30 for adults (advance purchase) or £18.20 if purchased on the day. (Tip: Buying tickets in advance is essential to guarantee entrance. There is a timed ticket system in operation and advance booking is advised to avoid queues.)

Alex, who is living in London for 17 years, told us that the best time to visit the Stonehenge is during winter. The entrance is free during winter and summer solstices, but you have to contend with crowds.

Cared for by English Heritage, visitors will have a chance to understand more about the history of Stonehenge at the Visitor Center. The Neolithic houses, furnished with replica artefacts, can be found near the center. It reveal the homes in which the builders of the ancient monument might have lived. The Stonehenge Exhibition tells the story of the stones, the land and its people, with audio-visual displays and more than 250 archaeological objects and treasures from the surrounding countryside.

Your VRS discovers the gateway to mystery 
as he feels the 5,000-year-old Stonehenge 
as enigmatic, romantic and mystic.
From the Visitor Center, you will take the short bus journey to the Stones. You can walk to the Stones but it is a two- mile or 1.6 km journey and the bus runs every few minutes. For those visitors where time is short the bus offers an express two-minute journey direct to the famous Stonehenge.

There is an outer perimeter fence, but once you are through the turnstiles there is a piece of thin rope about 60cm/2feet high which keeps you back from the stones. The nearest you get is around 15m/yds away, but the view is still good.  Due to the fragile below-ground archaeology, preserved stone surfaces and prehistoric carvings, access inside the circle is possible only at certain times outside normal opening hours.

When I was closest to the Stones, I took time to appreciate and feel the history behind these huge stones.

What was this vast collection of stones intended for? Was it observatory of the moon? Cremation ground? Sun worship site? Alien landing pad? Who were the people who carried and carved these 40 ton rocks? 

Stonehenge, a mysterious circle of stones under the clear blue sky has stood like doorways to the next world on a hillside in southern England for 5,000 years.

Numerous legends have grown around the origin if Stonehenge-itself a form of almanac. Present day archaeology asserts that it was built gradually, beginning before 3000 B.C.E.

Numerous theories assert that Stonehenge was not only a temple and ancient burial ground, but also, an astronomical observatory and almanac, keyed to the summer solstice, much like the Temple of Denderah in Egypt.

Intricate astronomical computations for determining solstices, equinoxes, sunsets, sunrises, moonrises and eclipses can be derived from the relative position of the stones and their proportions.

At the center of Stonehenge lies a horseshoe-shaped group of trilithons, stone pillars standing parallel to each other with another pillar capping both to form a doorway-like structure.

Windsor Castle is one of the official residences 
of the British Royal Family. Photo by Leo Udtohan

Once numbering five sets, only three remain intact. Surrounding them is the now incomplete circle of evenly spaced monoliths, the Sarsen circle, which was once capped by a continuous ring of stones called Lintels. Like the trilithons, many have fallen into disrepute.

But the most intriguing aspect of the Stonegenge are the bluestones. The bluestones are situated between the Sarsen circle and the inner monument and much smaller than the other formations. Once numbering as many as 10 only very few remain. Each of the stones were made to increase in size towards the center. Within the blue stone horseshoe is a massive rock of a blue-gray hue and is generally known as the Altar Stone.

What makes the stones so fascinating was that the stones could not possibly come from anywhere near Stonehenge. The most likely source was from the Preseli Mountains, 320 km away in the South Wales and transporting them was a big question.  How they traveled hundreds of miles with thousands of men helping move them across England to their current resting place?

Twice a year, on Midsummers Day or the Winter Solstice (the coldest day of the year), the rising sun perfectly aligns with the Heel Stone. From within the monument, it is as if there is a great shining ball perched right on the tip of the Heel Stone. 

Its spiritual importance should not be neglected either. It is believed that only Merlin was able to move the Stones from their original home in Ireland to Britain and that it was to become a grave. So this has led it to become a frequent place for pagans to come and worship. There are also frequent pilgrimages for followers of the Ancient Order of Druids (Earth religion) since then.

I spent more than three hours at Stonehenge trying to feel the energy and reconnect my past life. I was confident that I’ve found the gateway to mystery.

From Stonehenge, Alex brought us to Windsor, a historic market town in the English county of Berkshire.

The town is widely known as the site of Windsor Castle, one of the official residences of the British Royal Family.

Many swans and ducks live on the river at Windsor 
and it is an offence to kill one- although the crime is no
 longer treason, as it once was.  Photo by Leo Udtohan
Windsor Castle is one of the finest medieval castles in England and is the largest and oldest occupied castle in the world. It has been a royal residence for over 1,000 years and today is one of the homes of Queen Elizabeth ll.

“No trip to Windsor could possibly be complete without a visit to amazing Windsor Castle,” Alex told us while I was studying every detail of the castle.

The royal standard flies from the round tower of the Castle when the Queen is in residence.

The size of the Castle (5 hectares/13 acres) is breath taking, in fact it is the largest and oldest occupied Castle in the world and it’s where Her Majesty The Queen chooses to spend most of her private weekends.

Alex shared that to know if Queen Elizabeth II is in her residence, we just need to look at the round tower.

“Look at the flag flying from the Castle’s Round Tower; if it’s the Royal flag, the Queen is inside,” he said.

Windsor Castle offers something for everyone, and with so many areas to explore  like the magnificent State Apartments, the St. George’s Chapel, the Queeen Mary’s Doll’s House and the changing of the guard, it would take at least two to three hours to see it all.

Many swans and ducks live on the river at Windsor. Each summer there is a process known as
Swan Upping which checks the identity and health of each of the swans, and adds tags to new cygnets (baby swans).

Your VRS with the swans. 
Queen Elizabeth II attended the ceremony in 2009 in her role as “Seigneur of the Swans” and is a passionate fan of the hundreds of swans that swim and nest on the River Thames beneath the Castle walls.

All wild mute swans in Britain are considered to be property of the Crown.  It is considered an offence to kill a wild mute swan though centuries ago their meat was considered a delicacy.

“The Queen owns them,” warned Alex when he saw me feeding the swans.  

“I am sure Her Majesty will be glad to hear that someone is feeding her swans,” I said.

The birds are now protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and killing or injuring a swan used to be classed as treason under a law dating back to the 12th century.

After Windsor, we returned to London to enjoy London at night. Whether you're jetlagged, insomniac or wired, London at night is a vibrant place.


Thanks for your letters, all will be answered. Comments welcome at, follow leoudtohanINQ at Twitter /Facebook.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Hello, England!

LONDON —“The English weather is unpredictable,” a friend warned me.

“Bring an umbrella,” a sound advice from another friend.

Then, a third friend lectured me about Geography 101:

England is the largest country in Great Britain and the United Kingdom (UK). It is sometimes, wrongly, used in reference to the whole United Kingdom, the entire island of Great Britain, or indeed the British Isles. This is not only incorrect but can cause offence to people from other parts of the UK.

The Maison Dieu (House of God), is a medieval building 
in Dover, England which forms part of the Old Town 
Hall buildings. Photo by Leo Udtohan
The official name of the UK is the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland".

The name refers to the union of what were once four separate nations: England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland (though most of Ireland is now independent. Only Northern Ireland is part of the UK now).

The United Kingdom is made up of:

• England - The capital is London.
• Scotland - The capital is Edinburgh .
• Wales - The capital is Cardiff.
• Northern Ireland - The capital is Belfast.

Many people think that “English” is the same as “British”.  It is not!

People who are English are from the country of England. On the other hand, British people are people who live in Great Britain (Britain) and the UK.

And last reminder, “Don’t forget your British accent!”

I was travelling alone to England, one of the most visited countries in the world. It offers travellers endless possibilities when it comes to fun things to see and do.

After arriving at London Heathrow Airport, I bought an Osyter Card at the airport Tube. (Tip: Bring Pounds since shopping centers or stores here don’t accept Euros after the Brexit.) I headed straight to Victoria Station, London’s busiest rail station. Inside the train, I got my first look at my fellow riders. There were couples, young and old, and a few single travelers like me. There’s an air of excitement and expectation that seemed old-fashioned in this age of hurried high-speed travel.

Riding the rails from London to Dover in Kent county (province) is a once-in-a-lifetime smorgasbord of scenery.  The trains to Dover are modern, comfortable and air-conditioned, unreserved seating but may be crowded in rush hours.

The attraction starts the Dover Port where 
one can see the White Cliffs Country, 
unspoilt coastlines, historic castles, breathtaking 
views and unique heritage and history.  
Photo by Leo Udtohan
Just before 7 p.m. on Wednesday (August 9), I arrived at Dover. It was not getting dark. In the summer, it stays light until 9 p.m. and in the winter it gets dark about 4 p.m. but the sunsets we get can be lovely.

I was in Dover to cover the swim of environmental lawyer and triathlete, Ingemar Macarine, nicknamed “Pinoy Aquaman,” who dared to plunge into the cold waters of the English Channel considered as the Mount Everest for open sea swimming.

Several swimmers had attempted to cross the English Channel but not one of them was Filipino. Until now.

Pinoy Aquaman, his coach Roel Catoto and your VRS literary flattened the road for our daily routine. It was a 30-minute walk from the house of Carmelo Rebolos to the Dover Port where Macarine had to practice swimming for two hours every day before swimming the English Channel.

Our generous host Carmelo, whose grandmother was from Bohol, cooked us adobo and sinigang. The pricey and smelly dried fish I brought from Bohol was another appetizer. He said Pinoy Aquaman needed more carbs for his swimming.

Last August 13, the Filipino Community in UK gathered at the Dover Port to show support to Pinoy Aquaman.  His destination was Cap Gris Nez, a promontory on the French coast, about 34 km (21 miles) from his point of origin, Dover town. He had swum almost 4 km in 50 minutes when Eric Hartley, the boat skipper, decided to pull him out from the weather due to strong wind and waves to stay safe.

Canterbury City is a popular cultural and
 entertainment destination with great shopping, galleries
 and cafés, as well as attractions such as those focused
on Chaucer's medieval England and the city's Roman past.
Photo by Leo Udtohan
Pinoy Aquaman was surprised since he had endured strong waves and winds in the Philippines in many of his swims. The tidal current was too strong. He tried with all his might and determination, but took the pilot’s advice and aborted the swim to stay safe.

 “I feel disappointed that I was not able to finish it because of the weather,” he said.

It was Ingemar's second attempt. The first was last year but he was not able to swim due to bad weather.

But the Philippines' Aquaman will not give up. He will definitely make another try.

“Tuloy ang laban,” said Ingemar.

Blamed it on the English weather, as they say, is unpredictable and treacherous.

To mend a drooping spirit, Carmelo said, “This,” gesturing around the room where a videoke sing-along was going on. “Party!”

Then, the three of them— Carmelo, Ingemar and Roel—stood up to join the singing and dancing, enjoying the night, relishing the youth energy.

It was after the swim did I realize that Kent was beautiful.

For travellers, Kent is truly the Garden of England, with breath-taking countryside, stunning coastline, world-famous attractions and delicious food and drink.
Good food, drinks and company. Lawyer Ingemar Macarine, Carmelo Rebolos, Roel Catoto and Charles and Jay Berryman. There's never been a better time to eat out with new restaurants now popping up here at a faster rate than anywhere in the country. Photo by Roel Catoto
Incredible locations include The White Cliffs of Dover, Leeds Castle, Hever Castle, Canterbury Cathedral, The Historic Dockyards Chatham, Dreamland Margate and Port Lympne Reserve.

The place is also famous for its award-winning sparkling wine since vineyards are here in Kent. Britain's oldest brewer Shepherd Neame  can be found here.

Like so much of England, Dover was heavily influenced by its Roman heritage (the town suffered severe damage due to its role as a naval base during WWII), and you can explore a number of Roman-era attractions here, including the remarkable lighthouse on Castle Hill and the Roman Painted House.

The Dover White Cliffs are one of the great icons of British tourism and attract millions of visitors every year.  According to Carmelo, the iconic white cliffs of Dover are embedded in the national consciousness, and are a big ‘Welcome Home’ sign to generations of travellers and soldiers.

Cruise ships usually arrive in Dover so you could expect many Filipino seafarers roaming around the town.

The Dover Castle perched high above the English Channel built in 1168 is an English Heritage’s second most visited attraction in the country, with Deal, Walmer and Richborough castles making for a unique collection of coastal fortifications. 

The Dover Museum at the Market Square houses three floors of objects and displays recounting the town's rich history, from its Roman beginnings to the modern day. It's also home to the world's oldest known seagoing vessel, a Bronze Age wooden boat thought to be about 3,000 years old. Other highlights include an impressive collection of Saxon-era artifacts and jewelry.

In Dover, they take their food so seriously that it is easy to overlook the other charms of this picturesque town. Dover not only hosts a popular food and drink, but it has bewildering selection of fine restaurants like The Allotment where  we were treated for a sumptuous dinner by  Charles and Jay Berryman. They had travelled five hours from Exeter, Devon to Dover just to support Pinoy Aquaman.  It was my first time to order Roast lamb with spring herb crumbs and to get drunk and come home tipsy!

When Pinoy Aquaman was not practising or sleeping, we sneaked into the neighboring town of Folkestone, a 30-minute drive from Dover. The historic old center is charming, if small. Tourist attractions and things to do in Folkestone are plentiful and include spending time in seafront amusement arcades and pavilions, taking a refreshing stroll along the wide promenade with fine views across to France in clear weather, or dining in a restaurant or café in the town's trendy Creative Quarter.

The Church of St. Mary and St. Eanswythe, around Old High Street, is worth visiting for it houses the remains of St. Eanswythe. Also popular here is the statue and the house of William Harvey, who discovered the body's circulatory system.

On our last day at Kent, Carmelo brought us to Cantebury, an enchanting city full of history. He has been living in London for years so the tour was a big yawn for him. But he seemed to relish it as much as a promdi like me did.

It was summer but I was shivering from spring chill but I didn’t mind. Why would I when awesome scenes and sights are passing by---Canterbury Cathedral (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), St. Augustine Abbey, the Old Town and --- yes, yes, yes! --- Chaucer’s famous tales!

But Canterbury isn’t just a showpiece for the past – it’s a bustling, busy place with an energetic student population and a wide choice of contemporary bars, restaurants, venues and independent shops.

With huge skies and clear air, England offers freedom, space and a place to think. To be continued...


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Sunday, August 20, 2017

‘Pinoy Aquaman’ English Channel bid aborted

DOVER, United Kingdom — Environmental lawyer Ingemar Macarine, also known as the “Pinoy Aquaman,” was about  3.8 km (2.3 miles) from this town when his swim was stopped because of bad weather.

He started his longest solo, unassisted swim at the English Channel, “Mt. Everest” for open swimming, at 2:45 a.m. on Sunday, August 13, (9:30 a.m. Philippine time) after facing high winds during his swim from Dover town, United Kingdom to France.

Environmental lawyer Ingemar Macarine who was 
almost an hour in the waters of the English Channel 
on Sunday, August 13, 2017, had to cancel his effort due
 to bad weather.  Photo by Leo Udtohan
The shortest distance between England and France over the English Channel is 34 km (21 miles).

Macarine, 41, was swimming freestyle. When he lifted his head to breathe, he could vaguely make out his destination on the horizon, Cap Gris Nez, a promontory on the French coast due to strong waves and gusty winds.

He was only wearing a latex swimming cap, an ordinary swimsuit and goggles. His shoulders and armpits, neck and crotch are coated with sunblock and petroleum jelly, to keep his muscles flexible and prevent chafing.

If he succeeded Macarine, an election officer of Tubigon town in Bohol province, would be the first Filipino swimmer to swim across the Channel.

Many swimming enthusiasts were tracking Macarine’s progress on the social media.

The journey was expected to take 15 hours in a 16 degrees Celsius temperature, but Eric Hartley, skipper of the support boat from the Pathfinder Charter, called off his bid when he noticed that the wind was getting stronger and colder.

Shortly after stopping his swim across the English Channel, 
Ingemar Macarine (right) chats with Pathfinder skipper
 Eric Hartley and Channel Swimming Association observer 
Keith Oiller on Sunday, Aug. 13, 2017. 
Photo by Leo Udtohan
Also with Hartley in the boat was CSA observer Keith Oiller who detailed to Macarine the rules of the English Channel.

“I stopped the swim really for safety grounds. “Because wind was blowing, it’s hard to control the boat with the current condition,” Hartley said. “The wind speed is too strong than what was forecast at 3 knots. It’s important to keep him beside the boat,” said Hartley.

Hartley said the wind that was gusting and it was unsafe for everyone involved.

“Safety is always first,” he said.

There have been less than half a dozen fatalities in the 137 years that it has been taking place, the CSA said.

Last week, two fatalities were recorded.

His goal had to swim the English Channel to promote clean seas, Philippine tourism and international friendship.

Macarine – who has swum seas in the Philippines and the United States – had waited patiently for days to swim the Channel.

Since arriving in Dover on July 28, he has been practicing for two hours daily at the port.

Although he didn’t finish the swim, he said he was satisfied with what he was able to accomplish.

Macarine said he would come back next year to fulfil the ultimate swim of his life.

“Tuloy ang laban toward reaching that goal,” he added.

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Sunday, August 13, 2017

From Bohol to the World- ‘Pinoy Aquaman’ to swim English Channel

From Bohol to the World
‘Pinoy Aquaman’ to swim English Channel on Sun

 DOVER, UNITED KINGDOM- For mountain climbers, Mt. Everest is the ultimate challenge. For swimmers, it's crossing the English Channel.

And only a few people who try this succeed.

But for environmental lawyer and tri-athlete Ingemar Macarine, who earned the moniker “Pinoy Aquaman”, he will attempt to swim the English Channel at 2:30 a.m. on Sunday, August 13 (August 13, 9:30 a.m. Philippine Time).

If he succeeds Macarine, 41, will be the first Filipino swimmer to swim across the Channel.

Environmental lawyer Ingemar “Pinoy Aquaman” Macarine 
will be the first Filipino swimmer who attempts
 to swim the English Channel which is considered as the "Mt. Everest"
 of swimming on Sunday. He is practising two hours a 
day swimming in almost freezing water at Dover Port.  Photo by Leo Udtohan
The swim will be the first crossing by a Filipino swimmer of the sea passage that separates the United Kingdom and France to test of physical and mental strength and courage.

Fewer people have swum the English Channel than have climbed Mount Everest.

Macarine, who is swimming to promote clean seas, Philippine tourism and international friendship, spent two hours every day since he arrived in the United Kingdom last July 30.

He said hopes to complete the 21-mile (34 km) swim in under 15 hours.

The wind and weather are also a problem - as the Dover Straits are prone to local weather conditions that can change very quickly and which do not match the forecasts.

The water is nearly freezing water (15-16 degrees Celsius) though Britons have anticipating summer this month.

“I have been training at the Dover Harbor for two hours every day. The water temperature is around 16 degrees so it is very cold compared to the Philippines where I trained in the 30 degree water temperature,” said Macarine, an election officer of Tubigon town.

Hypothermia is an issue for swimmers, but swimmers are unclothed and exposed to the elements unlike any other endurance athlete.

“Hypothermia would be my number one challenge as I am used to the tropical waters of the Philippines,” he added.

Captain Matthew Webb made the first unassisted 
and observed cross-channel swim in 1875; 
he made landfall in 21 hours and 45 minutes. 
Dover Museum 
There are a lot of factors that combine to make the swim hard but the cold is the biggest hurdle, said Eric Hartley of the Pathfinder Charter and Channel Swimming Association (CSA) observer Keith Oiller.

Swimmers said that it's not about the distance since lot of people can swim but the cold water.

Last Tuesday, a man died during an attempt to swim the English Channel as part of a gruelling triathlon. Newspapers reported that Douglas Waymark, 44 from Cheltenham, got into difficulty about half way across, 12 nautical miles from Dover.

Oiller said the tides are also hard to predict as they are strong and change direction approximately every six hours.

They also change in height and flow speed every day.

There is also the problem of the number of ships using these waters - because to go from England to France you have to swim across the shipping lanes.

CSA requires swimmers to attempt the challenge clad in nothing more than ordinary swimming trunks, swim cap, and goggles.

Wetsuits and other floating devices are absolutely not allowed. The rules also dictate that a swimmer should not touched the boat nor can be touched by another person during the entire course of the swim.

Your VRS with (l) Channel Swimming Association (CSA) 
observer Keith Oiller, coach Roel Catoto, 
Lawyer Ingemar Macarine and Eric Hartley
 of the Pathfinder Charter at Dover Marina. 
Ever since Captain Matthew Webb's first successful Channel swim in 1875, thousands of swimmers have attempted to emulate his feat. Most are content to complete the swim, others are determined to set new records.

It all started in 1872 when JB Johnson tried to swim the Channel, but failed, abandoning his attempt after 1 hour and 3 minutes. Reading of his exploits, Captain Webb (1848-1883) became inspired to try it in 1875 for 21 hours and 45 minutes.

Since then, interest has grown in Channel swimming, and there is always a waiting list of people booking places with pilots from the Channel Swimming Association and the Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation in the hope of adding their names to the list of those who achieve it.

So far 1,753 swimmers have made a total of 2,280 solo crossings across the channel since 1875, according to the CSA.

15 Things you probably didn't know about
swimming across the English Channel

Swimming the English Channel is a lot more complex than it seems.  Read on...

1. First recorded crossing of Channel was by an Italian prisoner-of-war in 1817; Giovan Maria Salati made his escape from a prison barge in Dover and swam to Boulogne using straw as a buoyancy aid.

2. Captain Matthew Webb made the first unassisted and observed cross-channel swim in 1875; he made landfall in 21 hours and 45 minutes.

Pinoy Aquaman “meet and greet” the Filipino community in UK. 
Photo by Leo Udtohan
3. In 1926, the American Gertrude Ederle (pictured) became first woman to swim the Channel - her time was 14 hours and 34 minutes.

4. The record for fastest-ever cross-channel swim is held by the Australian Trent Grimsey, who managed six hours and 55 minutes in 2012.

5. King of the English Channel is Kevin Murphy, with 34 solo crossings.

6. The Queen of English Channel Alison Streeter who swum the English Channel 43 times - more than anyone else in the world.

7.   For a swim to be officially recognised, you must not be assisted by any kind of artificial aid – and you are only permitted to use goggles, one cap, a nose clip, ear plugs and one costume, that must be sleeveless and legless. For Macarine, he will be using swimming cap, trunks and goggles.

8. You are allowed to grease yourself up for insulation. Macarine will use sunblock.

9. You must enter the sea from the shore of departure and finish on dry land at the other side, “or touch steep cliffs of the opposite coast with no sea water”, according to the Channel Swimming Association, founded in 1927, which regulates attempts.

10.  Swimming the Channel is not cheap and will set you back a few thousand pounds, the largest chunk of which goes towards a registered pilot and escort boat. Macarine has already spent £ 10,000 or half-million pesos. He swim is supported by the Philippine Sports Commission thru Chairman William Ramirez, Commissioner Mon Fernandez Maxi Green & Ramsey Quijano; COMELEC courtesy of Chairman Andres Bautista; Speedo Philippines thru VP Manish Mahtani May Valentino Crissa Brozas; Maldita Man thru Irene Chan;  First Consolidated Bank (FCB) thru Pres. Argeo Melisimo Pie Puerto;  Martello Building Consultancy thru Andy Cruttenden; Kennington Masonic Lodge 1381 thru Worshipful Master Michael Duque Carmelo N. Rebolos; Bohol 2nd Rep. Erico Aristotle C. Aumentado; and Sparklab.

11. The distance swum is approximately 34 kilometers (21 miles), but changes according to the current. Tides need to be taken into account and most swimmers tackle a sort of S-shaped course.

12. Swimmers usually start at or near Shakespeare’s Cliff or Samphire Hoe at Dover and aim to finish at Cap Gris Nez (between Boulogne and Calais), France.

13.  Because you are not allowed to touch another human during the course of the swim, any fuel in the way of food will be passed to you by a long pole from your escort boat. That is feeding time.

14. The Channel is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, with 600 tankers and 200 ferries passing through every day. Your escort and pilot’s job is to make sure you don’t get mowed down.

15. You must book one to two years ahead for a slot to attempt a crossing. In the case of Macarine, he booked last year.


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