I 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 Centers either in Manila or Cebu. The visa 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 decided to book an appointment at the visa application center in Cebu since I will be traveling from Davao. Cebu is a cheaper and more convenient choice for me. I scheduled an 8:00AM appointment on a Monday last month and traveled to Cebu Sunday afternoon. I stayed at the New Era Pension Inn since it 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.
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
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.
A friend’s Facebook post yesterday made me look back to my own experiences booking train tickets online for my Geneva-Aix les Bains-Paris-Brussels-Antwerp trip last year. I have not thought much about the process at that time. It was just one of the whirlwind of activities I had to deal with prior to the trip. But now that I reflect on it, I would have to say that it was a bit confusing at first.
I remember spending some time looking for the best routes and transportation options. I had to figure out how to get from Geneva airport to Aix-les-Bains and book tickets for that as well as for other trips. I made all the arrangements on my own so I was initially anxious about how things would turn out. But I was pleasantly surprised everything went well — well, at least most of it. And these are some of the things that helped me through it.
Rome2rio is informative and user-friendly. I has been my go-to source of information when looking for the best routes. I find it helpful and reliable. I like how it made some of my past trips a lot easier to plan.
Booking tickets with Voyages-sncf.com was a breeze. And in hindsight, the “Ticketless” option I chose on my Thalys ticket was more convenient. I just saved the barcode ID they sent me on my phone and presented it to the inspector as instructed.
My TGV e-ticket, however, was another story. I thought that I just had to present the e-ticket I printed as stated on the confirmation email I received. But as I was sitting at the lounge area across the information and ticketing booths at Gare d’Aix-les-Bains-Le Revard, I noticed that most of the passengers I saw were holding what looked like boarding passes. So I approached the woman issuing tickets out to ask if I needed to confirm my reservation again. And this is where my Aix les Bains to Paris misadventure began. I had trouble conversing with the woman because she was talking to me in French the whole time. And whatever little I have learned in my French 10 class in college did not help. After a lot of pointing to the printed ticket and showing the email confirmation, she finally understood what I was trying to say and gave me a boarding pass. Too bad I did not get the chance to use it and enjoy the free Wi-Fi onboard the TGV train since I mistakenly went to the wrong platform and boarded the wrong train.
Fond Memories and Takeaways
What they say about booking train tickets online months before your trip is true. The Aix-les-Bains to Paris ticket I purchased on Voyages-sncf.com only cost me $42. The cost of the ticket from Bellegard to Paris that I had to buy after I missed the TGV train to Paris-Gare de Lyon was approximately EUR100 (give or take 1 or 2 Euros) not to mention the price of the ticket from Culoz to Bellegard. Boarding the wrong train was an expensive mistake on my part. But on the upside, I got to see more of France and met some of the kindest strangers I will never forget.
The beautiful scenery reminded me once again why I love traveling by train (Amsterdam to The Hague, Beijing to Hangzhou to Xiamen, Guangzhou to Hong Kong, and others)
The stranger seated next to me in the Thalys train who put (and retrieved) my heavy luggage on the overhead compartment
Paris-Gare de Lyon and Gare du Nord — the architecture, trains, vibe, and the people
Taking the train from Brussels Midi to Brussels Airport instead of heading straight to Antwerp. I chose that route because I figured it would be more convenient for me to take the shuttle from the airport that stops directly in front of the hotel where I will be staying. On the downside, I missed out on the chance to see the Antwerpen-Centraal railway station which was one of the city’s attractions.
Meeting a US-educated Tanzanian politician at the platform while waiting for the train and having an interesting conversation with him about education and politics during the trip from Brussels Midi to the airport.
My passport still has nine months in it before it expires. But since I don’t have any upcoming trip in the next two to three months, I decided to renew it while I have the time to spare. The last thing I want is to rush through the process when I suddenly have to travel.
So early yesterday morning, I went to DFA Davao located at SM City in Ecoland. There’s no appointment system so many choose to line up to get a priority number. I heard from someone that queueing starts as early as 6:00AM.
I arrived a little after 6:00AM in the morning. And I was already 87th in line. But only few came after me so the line wasn’t as long as I imagined it would be. We were waiting in like a covered pathway. There were some stone benches built a few feet from each other. There were also a limited number of blue monoblock couch-type chairs that can fit 4-5 people. Unfortunately, there weren’t enough for us farther back in the line could use.
Queueing for long stretches of time isn’t a problem for me. I always make sure I’m armed with a good book and enough reading materials on my phone to ensure that I won’t get bored. I noticed that people have different ways to pass the time. Some just sit quietly doing nothing while others engage in conversations with people next to them.
I also noticed that some leave the line for a while without worrying about losing their spot. Everyone’s just being nice looking out for each other. It’s like waiting there creates a bond through the shared experiences of sacrificing time and energy just to accomplish an important task.
There was little activity between the time I arrived until around 15 minutes to 8:00AM when those in front started stirring. Some DFA personnel wearing blue collared shirts with DFA Security printed on the back arrived and started handing out application forms. The priority numbers everyone was after were actually the last two to three numbers on the application forms.
I was told that the first twenty for renewal will be given priority. We’ll be the first ones to be accommodated as soon as the DFA’s office at the mall opens. Thankfully, there were only a handful of renewal applicants so I was one of the 20.
They left as soon as they finished issuing the application forms to everyone in the line. Anyone who arrives after this will have to wait for the mall to open and fall in line outside the DFA office.
Another round of waiting begins after we got the application forms. Some left for a while to eat breakfast somewhere while others just stayed in the area. Finding a place to eat was no problem. Starbucks at the Annex was open and I saw some people holding McDonalds coffee cups so I surmised there must be one nearby. I also heard that there was a carinderia across the street from the SM.
Finally, the mall opened at exactly 10:00AM. It took us a long time to get in because of the security check. I found this mildly frustrating. While I commend the meticulous bag checks the security guards were doing, I just thought that given the number of people who flock to DFA Davao daily they could have developed a system to make the security checks less time-consuming. All three of the security guards seemed to be doing a job that one person could easily handle given that there’s already a scanner.
As soon as we’re in, it was a few minutes more of walking to the DFA office at the 3rd floor. I approached the guard calling out numbers and showed my current passport and told him I’m applying for renewal. He waived me in. There were three counters directly in front of the entrance doors. I think the duties of the three personnel there was to do initial checks of the application forms and requirements as well as to answer queries.
I was instructed to proceed to the passport renewal window. But before I reached it, I was told by one of the staff in the area to have my passport photocopied. I told him I brought a copy. After checking it, he said it wasn’t within standards so I need to have the original photocopied again. I fell in line at the photocopying area and waited a bit before proceeding to the renewal window to submit the requirements.
Luckily, I have an e-passport so I was only required to submit a photocopy of the 2nd page and a valid ID. I submitted the forms and the passport copy then I was told to proceed to Window 7 to pay for the renewal fee. I paid Php950 (20 days). Those who want to expedite the process will have to pay Php1200 (10 days).
Next stop was where I got my photo and e-fingerprints taken. I only waited for about 5 minutes before my name was called. It was a fairly quick process so I couldn’t believe it when I was finally headed to the exit after less than 20 minutes of processing my passport renewal.
I’ll have to say that the mall set-up was a definite improvement from DFA Davao’s old office in Jacinto St. And I guess I really got lucky yesterday for finishing everything faster than I thought I would.
I love going to supermarkets when traveling. They are easily the best places to find necessities that I opt not to pack when I want to travel light. I also find it comforting to find familiar items which remind me of home.
Staying for three months at The Hague entailed a lot of cooking and grocery shopping. This meant frequent trips to the nearest supermarkets like Albert Heijn, Aldi, and Konmar. There were also visits to the open-air markets that I always enjoyed.
It has been years since that short stay but I still miss some of the items that have special spots on my list of favorite things:
Nothing prepared me for my first taste of these delicious treats. And they quickly became part of my daily life while I was there. The chewy confections were the only snacks I made sure I had in stock. I took a particular liking to one brand that has the finest (at least in my limited experience) small-sized and scrumptious stroopwafels. I found them at the first supermarket I visited. Thankfully, they were also available in the other supermarkets and small grocer stores so it was easy for me to get them. Unfortunately, I cannot recall the name of the brand. But I still have a picture of the packaging in my head.
I was not a cheese person before that trip. But I became a convert during my time at The Hague. Not only because Holland/The Netherlands is the home to the famous Goudse kaas. It was also because it was the first place where I found a wide array of cheeses almost everywhere. The supermarkets and open markets were veritable treasure troves of so many cheeses in all shapes and sizes. I could not even pronounce or read the names on the labels of some of the cheeses I found at the supermarkets. I just grabbed whatever looked good to me. Later on, I decided to sample as many kinds and that has been one of the best things that I did in my brief stay there.
This sausage is not only tasty. The cooked variety is also the most convenient and easiest to prepare. It is excellent for meals any time of the day. And I even loved making sandwiches out of them — with whatever cheese I had on hand.
The supermarkets’ chocolates aisles are little slices of heaven on earth. The Hague’s close proximity to Belgium and its other European neighbors famous for their chocolates meant there was no shortage of delightful treats to try. I opted for brands that were unfamiliar to me. And I was never disappointed with my picks.
5. Ice cream
I am ambivalent about ice cream. I could probably live without it. But I developed an appreciation for it in my sojourn at The Hague. It was probably because of the many Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen-Dazs selections for me to choose from.
There is more to the city than these items that makes me yearn to go back. I may not have been to many places yet. But The Hague will always have a special place in my heart.
This year has been far from boring despite my lack of expectations going in. The Chinese horoscopes I have read hinted of little promise for my sign. Given the somewhat unfavorable predictions, I opted to block them from my mind (yes, I’m selective like that). So I welcomed the year a bit wary of what’s to come. But with a firm resolve that whatever happens, I will do my best to get through whatever life throws at me.
For a year that was supposed to have little to look forward to though all sorts of crazy things happened. The good, the bad, and everything in-between — they all made this year unpredictably eventful. Here are some of my 2015’s highlights. Every experience was an opportunity for gratitude, happiness, learning, and growth.
Family is Love
We don’t do showy love in our family. But we see and feel it. And this year, there have been several ways I’ve seen how they support me in what I do. They may not always understand my choices given the traditional beliefs some of them have. But I could count on them to be there for me. It has always been more than enough. My dad, mom, and sister each in his and her own ways have helped me a lot this year.
It was sad and scary though when my dad was hospitalized last November. He had to stay at the hospital for several days. It didn’t help that we were not really sure what was wrong with him. He’s been dealing with diabetes and high blood pressure for so long. Thankfully, he got better quickly and was able to go home a few days later.
Friends I’m Lucky to Have
I don’t often see my closest friends since I moved back to my hometown. So it’s always a happy occasion when I get to meet them. I had a chance to do just that this year for some friends I haven’t seen for a long time.
Early this year, I met up with Nathan, my brod who got me into arnis, dragonboat, and capoeira. It’s been almost eight years since I last saw him so I was happy to reconnect with him. I’ve seen him again after that when I went to Manila. I had dinner with Sis Lilet who was in Davao a few months back. I had a meet up with my kindred Karen and former workmate Ailene when I was in Singapore. I likewise had a chance to see my awesome Virgo friends Anna Liese, Babs, and Chalyn when I was in Manila last July. I stayed with my former teammates Belen, Jess, and Adrian when I was in Paris. A common friend from Pencak Silat also made time to visit us while I was there. And just a few days ago, I had lunch with high school friends Leonor and Deanna who are based in Cebu and Cagayan de Oro respectively.
I’ve also kept in touch with my best buddies Bixie (Seoul), Min-Min (Melbourne), Beth with Milo (Maryland) and Aileen (Singapore).
Getting an Apology I No Longer Expected
Early this year, I found a message on my Facebook account’s “other” inbox a few days after it was sent. I usually don’t check that inbox so I don’t know what prompted me to open it. I was surprised to find that message there, especially at a time when I no longer expected it. It was a most touching message that I’ll never forget. Here’s to closures and great stories that last a lifetime.
Health I Need to Take Better Care Of
I had at least two worrisome respiratory woes this year. Both required visits to a pulmonologist. During my first check-up, the chest x-ray showed some fluids in one of my lungs. I was worried about this because it was the first time that it happened to me. The doctor gave me a lot of medicines. I was advised to refrain from doing physical activities. This meant skipping kendo training for at least two to three weeks each time. The treatment worked so I was more than glad I stuck to it. But the problem recurred a few weeks later, but without the lung fluids. I got another round of prescriptions. I made sure I followed the doctor’s advice to the letter. This was a few days before I had to leave for jury/umpire duties at the Singapore SEA Games.
Getting sick sucks for a lot of reasons. I realized I need to take better care of my health from now on.
I once read an interview of an experienced umpire who said something like a good race for us jury members is when we remain “invisible”. And I couldn’t agree more. I think it’s every jury/umpire/referee’s wish that every race goes as smoothly as possible.
I’ve been generally lucky in the previous umpiring assignments I’ve had. But that all ended this year. I’ve had a lot of challenging firsts while doing jury/umpire duties in the past months.
This year’s SEAG was memorable for me because I got assigned as Responsible Judge at the Finish. I’ve done Judge at the Finish several times but not the responsible judge task. I was also Judge at the Start at one of the toughest days to be assigned in that post given the bad weather that was threatening to get worse by the minute.
During the last day of races (Final A), I was the only female umpire of the four out on the racing course. It was raining hard early that morning and quite windy too. The weather improved a bit so the races started as scheduled. But it was still raining. I was a bit worried about some boat classes like the coxless pair and four given the weather conditions.
As my luck would have it, I was the umpire for the women’s coxless four (W4-). It turned out to be one of the toughest events to follow that day. Some of the teams’ boats were already swerving as soon as the race started. The wind was not helping at all. Everyone was moving into others’ lanes. I was using my white flag and bullhorn almost throughout the duration of the race. I had several instances of near collisions involving not just one or two crews but most of them. Two teams were so close to colliding with each other as they approach the finish. I was surprised that the race ended without mishap.
World Masters Regatta
My first assignment as jury member for a world event was equally memorable. It was the busiest regatta I’ve been to. Over 3,500 participants were competing in different age categories (27 to 90+). Races were scheduled from 6:00AM to 7:00PM for three and a half days. Jury members were assigned to work in shifts. There were only 3 minutes intervals between races. I’ve never experienced calling out a false start before. But in that event, I had two false starts and one close call when I was assigned as Judge at the Start.
During my afternoon shift in the last day of races, I was static umpire at 500m (350-700m zone). A male single sculler in lane 1 stopped as his boat approached the 500m mark. I asked him if he was okay and he said he doesn’t want to continue anymore. He said he would like to leave the race course and go directly to the rental boat pontoon. Only a few races after that, a women’s pair boat in lane 6 capsized. The boat driver and I quickly went to assist the capsized crew. The rescue boat stationed near my umpire boat was gone and I wasn’t getting any response on my call for assistance on my hand-held radio. We had to assist the distressed crew fast because the next race was already coming in.
Despite pushing me way out of my comfort zone, I have to say all the umpiring experiences I’ve had this year taught me a lot. And most of all, it made me realize that there’s nothing to fear when I’m out there doing my job. That stepping up is exactly what we do, if needed.
It hasn’t been a great year for me in Kendo. I went on a long hiatus at least twice. I stopped training for a month during the first quarter of the year. Then I had to take breaks of at least two to three weeks each to recuperate when I was having respiratory problems and when I had to travel for jury duties. My second long break from kendo was from August to October. I only came back after a fellow kendoka told me about the kyu assessment scheduled for November. I thought maybe I should give it a shot and see if I’ve learned anything in all those months I’ve trained. Because honestly, I’ve always felt lost given the prevailing lack of feedback.
I wasn’t expecting much from myself for the kyu assessment. Still, I felt a bit sad and disappointed soon after I failed my first ever 1 kyu exam. But looking back to what I’ve been through, it didn’t seem bad at all. It was funny actually how everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong in the days leading to the evaluation. Failing the assessment on the last day of November seemed like a fitting end to the worst month I’ve had in 2015. Work-related changes that required learning some new skills, sleeping at the hospital for a few days when my dad was hospitalized, learning Kata 1-3 only a few weeks before evaluation, and cramming Bokuto 1-9 lessons in two days all took their toll in my performance.
I had a tough time even during the two days of pre-evaluation training with the visiting MKC senpais and senseis. My shinai was damaged on the first day so I couldn’t use it. The only available replacement I could use was Lim sensei’s carbon fiber shinai. Apart from the difference in size, it was also a lot heavier than I expected. I experienced using men’s size shinais before. But sensei’s shinai was quite heavy. I could feel my shoulders protesting the whole time I was using it. The next day, one of my male dojo mates lent me his extra shinai. While it was lighter than Lim sensei’s shinai, the grip was different so I had to adjust to that as well. Just when I thought that nothing could go wrong anymore after what I’ve been through, I was proven wrong. The night before the evaluation, our club manager told our batch that we can only take up to 2 kyu. This was perfectly fine with me given how ill-prepared I was. So I was surprised when the next day he told us that we’ll be taking the 1 kyu evaluation instead. And as the results show, I messed it up big time.
Despite the disappointing results though, I couldn’t help but feel motivated. Ono sensei’s unexpected feedback inspired me to do better. Because he doesn’t seem the type who’d say something without meaning it.
Strangers to Remember
The kindness of strangers is another highlight for me. I’ve met several in my travels this year. I may not know or remember their names, but my interactions with them have been unforgettable.
-The young accountant I met at NAIA Terminal 1 while I was waiting to check-in. We’re on the same flight going to Abu Dhabi. He’s a new addition to the country’s growing number of OFWs. We ended up as buddies until we had to go our separate ways in Abu Dhabi. He was on his way to Jeddah and I was traveling to Geneva.
-The dedicated volunteers met at the World Championships in Lac d’Aiguebelette, France and the World Masters Regatta in Hazewinkel, Belgium
-The old lady who chatted with me at the boulangerie near the hotel in Aix les Bains
-The owner/chef of a restaurant where I had one of the sumptuous dinners I’ve had in Aix les Bains
-The teenage kid who helped me when I got on the wrong train on my way to Paris
-The train conductor on the same train who kindly looked for a new and detailed route for me (which was not easy given the train schedules)
-The couple at the train station in Culoz who helped me after the teenage kid left me in their care. They made sure that I get to Bellegard as smoothly as possible so I could catch the train to Paris Gare de Lyon
-The guy seated next to me on the Thalys train going to Brussels who kindly put and retrieved my luggage for me on the overhead compartment.
-The US-educated Tanzanian guy I chatted with on the way to Brussels airport
-The rower who took the time to give his thanks saying that we’ve all been really nice and that it was the best masters regatta he’d been to.
-The girl I met at Brussels airport going home. It was like we’ve been friends for a long time. She was on her way home to Tarlac after a 6-month visit with his father, stepmother and stepsiblings who live in Liège, Belgium.
All these encounters left me with stories and memories that inspire me.
I didn’t expect to travel this year except maybe for the SEA Games. The notice of my selection as one of the jury members for a world regatta came in the first quarter of 2015.
My first trip was to Singapore for the SEA Games. Unlike my previous trips, I didn’t have to go to Manila this time. The Davao-Singapore direct flight made it more convenient for me. Soon after I returned from Singapore, I traveled to Manila. While Manila’s been home for me for almost two decades, I haven’t been there much in recent years. It was like traveling to somewhere familiar, but feeling like everything has changed.
Two months after, I traveled to France to attend a conference. The trip took me from Davao to Manila to Abu Dhabi and to Geneva. The view during the plane’s approach to Geneva airport was simply breathtaking. It was one of the most beautiful scenes I’ve seen from a plane’s window. The hour-long road trip from Geneva to Aix-les-Bains was delightful. I still remember the picturesque scenery on both sides of the road. I stayed at a hotel in Aix-les-Bains with my friend and fellow umpire from Myanmar. She booked with the same airline so we could meet at Abu Dhabi airport then travel together to France from there.
From Aix-les-Bains, it’s only about 20-minute bus ride to Lac d’Aiguebelette which is part of one of the communes in Savoie, France. It’s one of the most beautiful lakes I’ve seen. This year, it was the venue for the world championships and the conference.
My friend and I went our separate ways after the conference. Her friend who’s based in the Netherlands picked her up in our hotel on our last day in Aix les Bains. They were traveling to Barcelona together while I’ll be traveling to Paris. But what could’ve have been a simple trip became a circuitous journey when I got on the wrong train. I ended up in Culoz before traveling to Bellegard to catch a train to Gare de Lyon in Paris. Thanks to the kindness of strangers, what could’ve been an unpleasant experience became a happy sightseeing side-trip and memorable adventure.
My former teammates who now live in Paris picked me up at Gare de Lyon. I stayed with them during my short visit. No matter how short though, I was still able to see the Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, Sacré-Cœur, and the Arc de Triomphe. I enjoyed exploring a little bit of Place Charles de Gaulle and ventured on my own to the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise to visit Oscar Wilde’s tomb.
From Paris, I took the Thalys train from Gare du Nord to Bruxelles-Midi then transferred to another train going to Brussels Airport. I chose that route because it seemed more convenient for me. I wanted to take the Airport Express shuttle that stops at Crowne Plaza Antwerpen where I’ll be staying. In hindsight though I wished I just took the train to Antwerpen-Centraal to see the station’s beautiful architecture. I didn’t know then that I won’t have the time to explore the city given our busy schedule. I didn’t see much of Belgium much to my regret. The only sightseeing I’ve done while in Antwerp was the long walk I did soon after I arrived and the daily trips from the hotel to Willebroek where the Hazewinkel rowing venue was located.
I may not have been able to see much of the places I’ve been to this year. But in each place I’ve discovered more than I expected. All the experiences and things I’ve seen made me want to travel more. It also made me realize that traveling solo is one of the best experiences one can have.
Work I Enjoy
I was happy with work this year. I had to learn new skills to adapt to constantly-changing requirements. But it was all fun despite the long hours I have to do sometimes. More importantly, I’m grateful that the work I do now allows me to pursue my passions. It may not be as financially rewarding as my last “regular” job. But venturing out on my own was a risk I was prepared to take on so as to have more freedom to do what I love.
It’s been year of ups and downs. But despite the struggles, the good things far outweigh the bad. At the end of the day, I learned many things along the way.
So I’ll end this with a quote: “Trust me, I never lose; I either win or learn!” Unknown
The early evening rain did not last long. It trickled down to a drizzle after the initial downpour. In less than an hour, it stopped. The fierce wind that gripped La Ville Lumière that day seemed to have blown it away. It was a good night for a walk. Chilly but romantic — the sort of romance that makes you fall in love with life again. Walking the streets of Paris made me realize again that true beauty is the sum of all the good and bad. The City of Light lives up to its reputation. And in many ways, it exceeds it.
Two cities and not many photos to show for it. It was a hectic time in Belgium. All I could do was soak up every moment and try to remember what I have seen and experienced in Antwerp and Brussels. It was a lot like that trip to The Netherlands where not a single image on the old-school camera film survived the airport’s x-ray machine.
The roughly 4-hour trip to Paris from Aix-les-Bains started with a misadventure, which still left me with good memories. I was supposed to travel with my friend from Myanmar who will be visiting her sister who lives there. But her plans changed after her longtime friend in The Netherlands told her that she would pick her up. They will be traveling to Barcelona together from there. So I ended up traveling to Paris alone.
While I was initially anxious about going to Paris on my own, I was mostly confident since I felt that I have prepared well for it. I already booked train tickets online and researched the route going to my friends’ place once I get there. I also know where the train station in Aix-les-Bains was located. It was the first thing I checked soon after I arrived.
I checked out from the hotel early and walked to the train station on my last day in Aix-les-Bains. This gave me plenty of time to get the tickets I booked online from the train station’s service center. I had my first trickle of concern when I had trouble conversing with the person behind the ticket counter. But I soon forgot about it after I got what I came for.
It was the first time I would be traveling on a European train alone. Someone took care of my previous train trips while I was in The Netherlands several years ago. So I was a bit worried about my journey to Paris. It did not help that there were several platforms and the signage for each was a bit confusing for me. I asked someone how to get to the correct platform. She pointed to the opposite side of the tracks. We both took the stairs going down to transfer to the other side.
I did not hesitate in boarding the train that stopped in front of me thinking that I was on the right platform. It was only when it was moving that I realized that I may have made a mistake. I asked a young man where the train was headed and it was then that I found out that I took the wrong train. I went into full-blown panic mode for about a minute. Curiously, this was quickly followed by a numb feeling. It was like my brain took over completely and drowned out the fear. It turned out that the platform for the TGV train going to Paris was on the other side. I was at the right place the first time.
A train conductor approached. I explained that I got on the wrong train then asked him how I can get to my original destination. I think that it was during this point that I felt like everything will turn out well in the end. The train worker started checking his mobile device for routes. He then wrote down detailed directions on how and where I can catch the train to Paris-Gare de Lyon. He also made a note on that piece of paper for the ticket inspector. He told me that I should get off at Culoz and get on the train to Bellegard (heading to Geneva). I only had 10 minutes to catch the train at Bellegard so I had to make sure that I would not be left behind.
The young man told me that he was disembarking at Culoz and that we will just go together. He also promised to assist me so I can continue with my journey to Bellegard. We arrived in Culoz in a few minutes.
I was alarmed when I saw that the ticket booth was deserted. The young man told me not to worry and offered to purchase a ticket to Bellegard from the machine. There were only a handful of people waiting inside the station among which was a couple who kindly volunteered to help me when the helpful teen left. The wife then told me to buy my ticket to Paris from there. She said I will not have much time to do that when I get to Bellegard. She also made sure that everything was ready and we waited a bit for the train to arrive.
As the train slowed down to stop at Bellegard, the woman stood up and went with me to the door. She then pointed to where the platform for the TGV train was located, which was in a building several meters away. I was so grateful beyond words for the kindness she and her husband showed me. I felt like I could not thank them enough.
With less than 10 minutes to spare, I ran as fast as I could with my luggage in tow. I had to carry the same luggage down a flight of stairs then walk-run again for a few minutes. I climb to the elevated platform and got on the train which was ready to leave. I was still walking in one of the many coaches I had to pass through to get to my seat when the train started moving. Even as I was already settled in my seat, a part of my brain was still thinking if I was on the right train. But despite the niggling doubt, I was able to enjoy the fleeting scenery outside my window. I then received a call a few minutes before the train from Aix-les-Bains was due to arrive in Gare de Lyon. My friend told me that his husband along with a common friend were already at the station waiting for me. I told my friend that I will be arriving after 40 minutes and quickly explained what happened.
I felt a surge of intense relief when we finally arrived in Gare de Lyon. I loved it at first sight. There was something memorable about all those trains emptying a tide of people coming from different places. It made me wonder about their stories. I also liked the atmosphere. It felt like there was a sense of purpose in all that busyness. It was beautiful and organized chaos.
I was surprised to see not just my friend’s husband but also their daughters and our common friend waiting for me at the station. It has been several years since I last saw them. And it was the first time I met the kids. I was happy to see their faces and also because I finally arrived after all I went through to get there. We took the metro to get to their place. My friend was already there and we spent some time catching up. After a few hours, we left to have dinner at a Chinese buffet place a few metro stations away from their home. Dinner was scrumptious and was quite memorable as my first meal in Paris.
It was already dark when we left the restaurant to go sightseeing. Our first stop was at Champ de Mars to see the Eiffel Tower. From there we moved on to the Louvre then called it a night. The next day, we went to Sacré-Cœur and Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile. We spent most of our time hanging out near Place Charles de Gaulle.
My friends and their kids were all off to work and school early morning of Monday. I planned to spend the day at their home. I wanted to review the rule book to prepare for my upcoming umpiring assignment in Belgium. But I just had to see Oscar Wilde’s tomb so I braved the metro on my own for the first time.
I love Paris metro for being tourist-friendly. It was easy to navigate even for someone as spatially-challenged as me. I looked for the best route to Cimetière du Père-Lachaise using Google maps.
I was not sure what I expected, but whatever it was could not compare to the impressive sights I saw. I enjoyed a solitary walk along the massive park-cemetery. I took a picture of the map near the entrance then started looking for Oscar Wilde’s tomb. I thought it was just going to be a quick trip to see the tomb. But I ended up spending a few hours just walking around and marveling at the many tombs inside. It was like being in that cemetery unconsciously makes you slow down and be mindful of every moment.
The next day, my friends accompanied me to Gare du Nord where I had to catch the the Thalys train to Brussels.