Almost two years after the Manila to Geneva and return flights from Brussels, Etihad Airways gave me another reason to be impressed with its customer service. My choosing the airline at that time was unplanned. I was looking for the cheapest flights that will get me to Geneva, which is the nearest airport of entry for me to Aix-les-Bains in the Savoie region of France where I was headed. Etihad had the best price then so I picked it not knowing much about it.
The flight to Geneva was a pleasant experience. I was happy with the food and the in-flight services so I thought I got a good deal out of it. And it was the same on my return flight from Brussels. I cannot remember when they gave all the passengers the Etihad Guest miles programme form to fill up. But I recall filling it up not really thinking that I would be able to use it since I do not travel often.
Over the months following that trip, I have been getting regular email updates on flight deals and other information. I think I received emails every month or just often enough not to be annoying so I did not unsubscribe from the mailing list like I tend to do with other merchant newsletters and notifications I get.
Some of the most recent emails I got from them was to inform me that my miles were about to expire. I did not open the first three emails related to that and finally got around to checking the fourth one when I received it. I was clueless about what I was supposed to do with those expiring miles. But I was impressed by how they made it easy for me to figure out my options.
I started checking out the items in the Etihad Guest Reward Shop to see what I can get so I could use the expiring miles. I opted for a backpack since it is something I could always use, especially on future trips. As I was exploring my options, I was still half-expecting that getting whatever reward I choose will not be as easy as it seems to be. I was also expecting that I will end up paying something for it like maybe the shipping cost or whatever. So I was really surprised when the transaction was smooth and seamless. I also did not have to pay for the shipping. So I got a nice backpack for free all thanks to the frequent reminders that got me using my miles before they expired.
I was also happy with the reward merchant’s service. I had a change of mind about the backpack’s color I initially picked after I finished ordering it. I read from the confirmation of the order email I got from Etihad that I will have to contact the merchant directly for any changes. I sent an email the next day asking if they can change the color from black to navy. But I was not optimistic that it will be changed since a day has already passed and they might not be able to read my email in time. But a few days after, I got an email from the merchant that my request has been applied to the item and it has already been shipped via UPS. They also sent a tracking number that provided up-to-date information about the current location of the package.
Less than a week after I placed the order, I got my new Fjallraven backpack and in the color I requested.
I have been impressed by Etihad’s service during that trip in 2015. And I even wanted to travel with them again when I was booking my flight for the trip a month ago. But the airline was not among the options available. So I booked with another airline. I may not have traveled with them again this time. But I hope to do that again in the future.
The plane touched down the runway of Istanbul Ataturk Airport at 4:10 AM of the 31st of July, one hour ahead of the 5:10 AM ETA. I was feeling a bit worn out already as I have been technically on the road for over a day having left Davao on the 30th of July at 8:10 AM. I spent almost 11 hours at NAIA Terminals 3 and 1 waiting for my evening flight to Istanbul and spent most of the roughly 12-hour flight awake as my two seatmates sitting on the window and center seats kept making trips to the toilet.
But despite the creeping fatigue, I was buoyed by the prospect of seeing even a little of Istanbul. I was looking forward to the sightseeing tour that Turkish Airlines offer for passengers with at least six hours of wait time at the airport.
I wanted to take the 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM tour schedule that includes a visit inside the Hagia Sophia. But as my ETD to Kaunas, Lithuania from Istanbul is at 4:00 PM (which got delayed for 1 hour and 20 minutes), the much shorter 8:30 to 11:00 AM sightseeing tour will have to do.
With still about three hours to kill, I decided to explore the terminal and see if I could find a place to get a cup of coffee. But I had trouble finding a table at the many coffee shops I saw. So I decided to look for the Old Bazaar I read about where I could buy some souvenirs. I figured I should buy what I need already since I may not have the time to do it on my return flight.
Luckily, I quickly found the shop and spent some time there browsing a wide array of items many of which I really liked. I managed to stick to my list and bought what I needed except that I could not find the black soap I promised to buy for my friend Anna Liese and the Istanbul or Turkey mini-bell for my friend Chalyn.
At around half past six in the morning, I decided to start looking for the Hotel Desk where I needed to be at 8:00 AM if I do not want to miss the tour. I had a bit of trouble locating it so I asked one of the airport staff at the information booth just across the passport control area in the departures terminal. The girl told me to head out to the food court, take the elevator located at the left side, and go down to level 1.
As I reached level 1, I asked one of the airport personnel I saw there where the Hotel Desk is located. He told me to pass through passport control first. I was surprised to see the long queue. It took me more than 15 minutes to reach the line closer to the booths. But it was then that things got a bit frustrating. Some people were so eager to go first that there were double lines queueing for each booth and with many people who came much later than me who got through passport control before me.
I finally managed to get through after a little over ten more minutes of waiting. I passed through customs to get to the exit, turned right, and walked straight looking for Starbucks that serves as an easy-to-find landmark for the Hotel Desk that sits beside it. There was no one in line so I went straight to one of the windows and asked about the tour. The guy asked for my boarding pass, checked it, and told me that I will have to take the 8:30-11:00 AM tour. He then told me to wait at the cafe and wait for my name to be called.
I observed that there were already a handful of passengers that seem to be waiting for the tour as well. But Starbucks still have plenty of tables and seats so I was finally I able to get a cup of coffee that I have been longing for since I arrived.
Just before 8:00 AM, one of the Turkish Airlines staff started calling names. I was confused because I did not hear my name. As the group was about to leave, I went to the Hotel Desk to ask if that was for the tour and he told me that it was for the group going to the free accommodation. The hotel stay is for passengers with at least 10 hours of layover who probably prefer to sleep or rest than go for a quick tour of the city.
At about 8:20 AM, the staff called the names on their list. There were more than twenty of us in the group. We were told to follow the tour guide and we left at exactly 8:30 AM. We walked a bit to where the bus will pick us up and waited for about ten minutes there. We got on the bus as soon as it arrived and it left the moment everyone was on board.
I have read a lot of things about Istanbul and seen numerous photos of it over the years. I thought I have a fairly good idea of what I will see. But there was something about actually seeing some parts of the city that made me wish I have more time to enjoy the sights longer than the few seconds that it takes for the bus to pass by. What little traffic on the road was a welcome experience for a change for it meant slowing down to take in some of the views.
I was sitting in the window seat at the right side of the bus with a great view of the coastal scenery. We were coming from the European side of the city where the airport was located. On the left, there were many fascinating sights as well including the views of the Yedikule Fortress, Old Samatya Armanian District, the Walls of Constantinople (Istanbul City Walls), Hagia Sophia, and so much more. I was really hoping we could at least slow down or stop for a few minutes just to see more of them. But we were on a tight schedule. I just have to remind myself that the short tour is much better than just staying at the airport and not seeing any of it at all.
I did not take many photos as I did not want to miss the sights as the bus continues on its route. The first stop was at Galata Bridge. Our tour guide told us we will spend ten minutes there to take photos. The sight of birds flying and gliding gracefully against a backdrop of the water and the cityscape was among the most beautiful things I have seen as the bus journeyed along the coastal road. And I got to see it again as we spent time at the bridge. Birds were soaring above the Golden Horn that glistened as the thin clouds on the clear, blue sky offered little cover from the bright sunlight.
The second and last stop was at Dolmabahçe Palace where we spent twenty minutes wandering around taking photos. There was a cafe at the palace grounds with outdoor seating with a nice view of the European coast of the Bosphorus.
We left Dolmabahçe Palace at exactly twenty minutes after we arrived and continued the sightseeing tour, this time en route to the airport.
I have always been fascinated with the things I have read about Istanbul. While I thought of wanting to see it at some point, I did not really have that much of a strong desire to do it until that moment when the tour started last week. As the tour guide started telling us about the city, I found myself wanting to explore it at length, see its breathtaking architecture and landmarks, taste as many of the foods as I can, and drink plenty of Turkish coffee and tea, among many other things.
If there was one thing I was sure about as I stepped off the bus back at the airport, it would be this: I want to come back. I started the tour just curious about what I would see. And I finished it already in love with the city.
Opting to book with Turkish Airlines for my flight to Lithuania led to some really interesting discoveries. I initially had a reservation with KLM which was supposed to have a ten-hour layover in Amsterdam. I flew with KLM before so for me it was a good choice except that I was a bit iffy with the departure date and time from Kaunas, Lithuania because it meant staying another night in Vilnius then traveling at dawn to Kaunas to catch my flight.
I was not sure if the organizing committee of the event I was going to will arrange a transportation for us from Vilnius. And I did not want to risk getting lost like I did as I was leaving Aix-les-Bains in 2015 so I chose to be on the safe side and looked for other flights which will leave Kaunas on the 6th of August. I thought that I would be more comfortable traveling on my own to the airport in the afternoon than at the crack of dawn.
The Turkish Airlines flight came up on top as I was making comparisons with at least three different sites with KLM coming in a close second. The former was cheaper by almost a US$100 and the arrival and departure times in Kaunas worked for me. So I picked it.
But like KLM, the Turkish Air flight also had a 10+hours of layover. I was wondering how I will spend the long wait time at the airport in Istanbul so I started doing some research.
I was happy to discover that Turkish Airlines actually offers a choice of either of the two services for their passengers with over ten hours of layover in Istanbul Atatürk Airport — 1) a free hotel accommodation or 2) a free tour of the city (for those with waiting time of at least 6 hours). I immediately decided to take the second option and proceeded to learn more about it. I found out that I need to get a Turkish visa which, thankfully, I can get online.
Applying for a Turkish e-Visa is easy when you have the required supporting documents like a valid Schengen or US visa.
Here’s how to get a Turkish e-visa in three simple steps.
Go to the evisa.gov.tr website
Click the Red “Apply Now” Button located at the top left side of the screen
Fill out the form and make sure to double check all the information as anything that does not match what is on the requirements will make your e-visa invalid
Once you have completed the information, you will get a confirmation email. Check the email message and click the link provided to proceed to payment
I finally got my Schengen visa three weeks after I filed my application at the VFS Austria Visa Application Center in Cebu. The Austrian Embassy Manila also represents Lithuania so I applied for a visa there, or to be more specific, via the VFS Austria Visa Application Center. The requirements are the same as when applying for visa for travel to Austria and booking for appointment is done online through the VFS website.
I picked the visa center in Cebu since it is much closer coming from Davao. I booked an appointment for 8:00AM on a Monday last May. I traveled to Cebu Sunday afternoon and stayed at the New Era Pension Inn which was only a few minutes’ walk away from the Keppel building where the VFS Global office was located. I was happy with the accommodation and would stay there again if I have to apply for a visa through VFS Global again.
Monday morning I left the inn about 40 minutes before my scheduled appointment. I was so glad I did because I got lost on my way there. I was told by one of the staff of the inn to go straight, turn left, and just go straight until I reach the brown building. I followed the instruction to the letter and have been walking for over 15 minutes when I realized that there was no brown building in sight as far as I can see. Thankfully, I passed by a gasoline station and saw a group of people chatting. I asked them for directions and they helpfully told me how to get there. It turned out that I should have taken another left turn only a few meters after that last “just go straight” initial instruction I got.
So I retraced my steps and spent over 10 minutes walking to Keppel Building. I arrived a little before 8:00AM, signed my name on the appointment sheet handed to me at the reception, handed a number, and was told to turn off my phone and not to use it while I am inside.
I was number three so I spent more than two hours waiting for my turn. From what I observed, processing time for each of the two applicants before me was about an hour or so.
It was my first time to try applying for a visa through a VFS application center. My previous experiences have been directly with the countries’ embassies in Manila. I did not know what to expect. So I was happy that it was a fairly good experience. I realized that the reason the whole process stretch to at least 45 minutes was because the man in charge of receiving the applications was, not surprisingly, meticulously checking them. I also like how the person was being detached and professional without being rude.
After checking all the requirements, he proceeded to ask me a set of questions that was on the document where he also wrote down my answers. The next step was the biometric fingerprinting and finally I was asked to pay the following fees:
Php3,240.00 – Visa application fee
Php2,710.00 – Logistics + courier + SMS fees
Some thoughts about the visa application and the requirements:
It was really convenient that there was a visa application center in Cebu. I hope that VFS Global will also set up a center here in Davao to make it easier and more cost-efficient for applicants coming from Mindanao.
Personal bank statement balance should cover six months unlike the three months requirement for visa application at the Embassy of Belgium Manila
I had to submit the travel insurance with the requirements unlike before at the Belgium embassy when they only required applicants to submit a copy by email before they released the passport with the visa in it
For the second time, I got my confirmed flight reservation from here. And once again, I was happy with how quickly they sent it to me
VFS Global Cebu
Location: 503, Keppel Building, Cardinal Rosales Avenue Cor Samar Loop, Cebu City, 6000 Cebu
I grew up in Mindanao during Martial Law days. I have a lot of memories of truckloads of soldiers passing by my grandparents’ house that sits along the highway somewhere in Davao del Norte. I am used to hearing gunshots even in Davao City. I have seen dead bodies with gunshot wounds or riddled with wounds from a machete.
I am no fan of Martial Law. I have heard of the atrocities it has caused. I know of military abuses. I have listened to stories of people who have become victims by it. I have seen my share of abusive paramilitary groups. And I have lost friends in summary killings — killed and buried in shallow graves for their ideologies somewhere in the hinterlands.
I have several military friends and teammates who are either military men and women also serving as national athletes or have been recruited to the military through our sport. I’ve heard soldiers lament about why they feel like human rights advocates are deaf to their own suffering in the hands of the enemies.
I may not be politically savvy. But my interactions with people who have different views and experiences with Martial Law helped me gain a broader perspective on the issues related to it.
I am against Martial Law because of what it represents to me. I fear for the possible repercussions of the recent proclamation covering the entire Mindanao region. I could not help but look back to the realities and the stories of the past.
But as a daughter of Mindanao, living in a region that has been largely neglected by the central government, I also understand that this time the threat is even more sinister. Local groups that have long been identified as terrorists have openly proclaimed allegiance to ISIS. They seem to be growing in numbers. And even more alarming, reports of them uniting and collaborating to pursue their cause have been surfacing since last year. And if the recent skirmishes in Marawi City indicates, these groups are indeed working together.
I see Martial Law now from the perspective of someone living in a land of so much promise but trapped in a seemingly never-ending conflict. A place of possibilities long hindered by underdevelopment, poverty, and lack of opportunities. An island where most people are really just trying to live peacefully together regardless of differences in cultures and beliefs. The promise of solutions to the terror problem makes Martial Law seem appealing, especially if you are looking at it through a lens that fails to capture the risks and dangers it may pose to the marginalized and the most vulnerable — people from far-flung areas with no access to government IDs, the uneducated, and the uninformed about their fundamental rights.
But fear from the growing threats from terrorists who have repeatedly shown how savage they can be seems to make a lot of us here in Mindanao blind and deaf to reason.
I have been silent about the issue since the president proclaimed Martial Law a few days back. Not because I do not care. But because I may be among those who are still trying to process everything in a place where the safety and security threats are much too real. I am in that place right now where emotions seem to trump logic. I am trying to put myself in the shoes of people who have direct experience with the continued war against local terror groups, those who live in remote areas who have no access to government services and aid, and everyone who has no benefit of the privileges many of us enjoy. With so many factors at play, I begin to hesitate more about saying things I may not truly understand.
I’m an INTJ with Type 5 Enneagram who has a longstanding fascination with zodiac signs. And no, I don’t think that astrology or personality types should shape and define people’s lives. But I’m a great believer in the insights they give to help me understand myself and others better.
I’ve long been interested with astrology. I even know what my moon sign is and has been in countless conversations about the topic with friends. It helped me gain a better understanding of myself and the people around me. It helped me in times when I just want to make sense of people’s actions and motivations. But this interest did not extend to psychology’s different personality types until much later.
I first heard of the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) in high school when the guidance office administered the test to us. The result indicated that I was an INTJ but it was something that was really not clear to me at that time. Fast forward to college, I took the same exam at the university equivalent of a guidance office and I still got the same result. Still, it was not something that I gave much thought about.
In recent years, I noticed an uptick of interest on these topics. I often see a lot of Facebook friends’ post about their zodiac signs and MBTI types. I started to develop a keen interest on my MBTI. I took some of the online tests I came across and was surprised to get the same result. I’ve heard of friends whose MBTI type changed over the years. It seems that I’m so set in my ways that even after all these years, I’m still an INTJ.
Lately, I’ve been in a most frustrating situation. It has been building up for almost three years. And I don’t know if it’s a good thing, but the last straw happened. I’ve been through similar frustrations on this particular issue in the past which prompted me to step away from the least empowering environment I’ve been in. But there has always been a part of me that still felt like I was not ready to completely let go. This time though, something just snapped that I could almost literally feel it. The first thing I did was to disconnect from all the people associated with it. I even deactivated my Facebook account to give myself time to process things without coming across anything that might fuel all the negative feelings I had at that moment. I didn’t plan to go offline for long. But curiously, one day stretched into almost a month, give or take three days, and I still don’t feel like activating my Facebook account again. And I realized that even in the past, it’s that feeling that indicates that I’ve reached saturation point.
Looking back, here are some of the INTJ struggles I can totally relate to in the context of my personal experiences in that environment that I now choose to leave behind.
Being judged for not being “friendly” or sociable
I’m not really good at social settings. Some people may think that I use this as a psychological crutch or an excuse not to try. But I do try. But expecting me to be as bubbly and “friendly” as everyone else will not change who I really am. I’m more of an observer. And I don’t enjoy gossip and neither am I good at small talk. My keeping to myself or not joining conversations is not arrogance. It’s just my default mode, especially when I’m focused on the task at hand.
Some people assuming I’m a cold and heartless bitch
I find it easier to deal with logic than emotions. But that does not mean I lack empathy. I just show it differently. I can actually relate with a lot of things people around me go through. I may not be good at offering words of comfort. But I focus my energy on how I could make things a little bit better for others. And if I could improve something in my environment that will make it a better place for others, then I will gladly take on that challenge.
I’m used to being misunderstood. I can’t really blame people when I find it difficult to articulate what’s truly on my mind. And talking in a straightforward and cold manner only adds to the impression that I’m a bitch.
Focusing on logic and issue rather than emotion and personality
Fighting with someone who focuses on personality rather than the issues at hand is extremely frustrating and draining. It doesn’t make sense to me why someone has to focus on my negative traits and personality when I could easily do the same to that person. I find it mindboggling how my personality is more important than the issues when even without me in the picture the same problems that affect other people still exist. I didn’t even create those problems and yet I’m made to feel like it’s my fault for being a bad person. And the most frustrating thing was I began to believe those things being thrown my way. It made me feel helpless and unhappy. But thankfully, I got to realize that there were many people around me who actually believe and support me in their own quiet ways.
Dealing with a person who gossips and says a lot of bad things behind people’s back
I recently learned that the person who attacks my personality every time we have a rift has been saying a lot of really bad things about me behind my back. This was even after two years have passed since our last major rift. And for someone in a position of power to do that to someone who chooses to keep silent about the issue is not only unfair. It also eroded whatever little respect I was trying to preserve. I don’t have to like you to work with you. And I will tell you what the problem is in your face. That’s how I tend to approach anything that needs to be done. So I find it difficult to understand how some people can attack from behind instead of confronting the person head-on.
In the end, there are some things that just don’t make sense that are better left behind. If it’s not helping me grow or become a better person, then it’s high time I remove myself from that situation — to heal and devote myself to things that support my growth.
With the release of the ARF jury list last week, I now can prepare for my assignments for this year. It’s quite a coincidence that I’ll be doing jury duties for two junior championships. From what I understand the Asian championships will also serve as the qualification regatta for the 2018 Youth Olympic Games which will be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Umpiring may not be an easy job, and often a thankless one too, but it is something that I always look forward to. The constant challenge and being around people who are driven, committed, and passionate about what they do make every stint a worthwhile experience.
I have been craving for Milky Cakes and Sweets’ matcha mille crepe as soon as I saw some photos of it on their Facebook page. So I finally headed out to their stall at the ground floor of SM Lanang this morning after I finished with my errands. I bought a slice for take out and had it after lunch.
There are three things in matcha mille crepe that I love — matcha, crepes, and layers. But there is something about all of them together that did not quite work for me. I could taste the matcha and the crepe which is good. And yet there is something that I seem to be missing. Maybe it is all about the layers. My choices in cakes have always been simple. Maybe all that layering made it complicated for me. It got me thinking why I like layers in the first place.
Last Sunday’s trip to Cebu was not for leisure. But it proved to be a welcome break to what has been a most stressful month. Not only was I able to accomplish what I needed to do there. I also got to spend time with my high school friend
The flight was delayed by about an hour so I arrived at Cebu at around 2:00PM. I took a taxi to the inn where I was staying. I chose the place because it was near the building where the office I needed to visit the next day was located. My only plan for the day was the meet-up with my friend later in the evening after her coaching training. I spent the rest of the afternoon catching up on some much-needed rest and sleep.
My friend and I later had dinner and a long chat somewhere at Ayala Terraces.
Taking care of business
Early Monday morning was for taking care of my main reason for traveling to Cebu. I finished what I had to do by 10:00AM and headed back to the inn to rest and get ready for check-out.
Lunch at Zubo Chon
Eating lechon is part of a Cebu experience. And I was not planning on leaving without having one. My friend brought me to Zubo Chon after I told her I want to eat it for lunch. I was happy with the restaurant’s lechon although my friend told me she prefers the one she buys in one of the city’s public markets. Something to keep in mind for next time.
A Glimpse of Casa Gorordo
My friend wanted to have coffee at the cafe in Casa Gorordo so I could look around the old house/museum. But it was closed when we got there. We were told that it does not open on Monday’s. Luckily, there are other spots worth exploring nearby so the trip was not entirely wasted.
Location: No 35 Lopez Jaena, Cebu City
Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House
From Casa Gorordo, we walked to Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House. This old house may not look as grand as Casa Gorordo. But it was impressive in its own way. The house is said to be one of the oldest Chinese houses built outside of China. More than 90% of the original roofs and walls are still intact. One of the volunteer guides there told us that since it was built, the house has withstood some of the strongest earthquakes that struck Cebu.
The interior is filled with things — from old everyday household items to religious sculptures and images that made me think about some of the collection I saw at the Baclayon Church in Bohol when I was a kid.
According to the guide, the owners still live in the house on weekends.
Location: Parian District, Cebu City
Admission Fee: Php50.00
The Jesuit House
Located only a few meters away from the Yap-Sandiego ancestral house, the 1730 Jesuit House stood hidden in no-so-plain-sight. I love the story of how it was “discovered” by the son of the owner who was studying at the Ateneo in the 1980’s. According to the story my friend told me, the son was looking at photos of the old Jesuit House in a textbook when he suddenly realized that it looked familiar. It turned out that the building has served as the bodega or warehouse for their family’s business for many generations.
The first and second level of the Jesuit House are made of coral stones. It has many interesting features including the wood reliefs and floorboards.
Location: 26 Zulueta St, Cebu City
This monument immediately captured my interest as my friend drove past it on our way to Casa Gorordo. It was our last stop in our unplanned culture and heritage tour. Heritage of Cebu monument was stunning up close as it was from afar. I love the details and the way all the sculptures seem to blend so well together. I could have spent more time gawking at it if it were not for the merciless heat of the sun that was already beginning to make my head ache.
We made a quick stop to my friend’s home in Mandaue before we headed to Mactan International Airport to catch my 5:55PM flight to Davao. I like how there are many trees on the side of the road leading to the airport as well as the many cafes, restaurants, and shops inside the terminal. Those are just some of the things I hope to see in Davao’s airport in the near future.
Twenty-eight hours in Cebu may not be enough to see what the Queen City of the South has to offer. But it was enough to enjoy some of the city’s best.