13 Hours in Istanbul

The plane touched down the runway of Istanbul Ataturk Airport at 4:10 AM on 31st 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 the day before at 8:10 AM local time. 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 middle 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 offers 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 my flight to Kaunas, Lithuania was 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.

Turkish Airlines’ TourIstanbul 8:30 to 11:00 AM Sightseeing Tour Schedule

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 jampacked 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.

Old Bazaar at the airport

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 and Turkey mini-bell  I promised to buy for my friends.

At around half past six in the morning, I decided to start looking for the Hotel Desk where I needed to register for 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 on 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 jumping lines to get ahead.

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.

The scenery along the coastal road from the European side of Istanbul coming from Atatürk Airport.
The scenery along the coastal road from the European side of Istanbul coming from Atatürk Airport.
The scenery along the coastal road from the European side of Istanbul coming from Atatürk Airport.

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.

View from where I was standing at Galata Bridge

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.

Dolmabahçe Mosque

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.

Dolmabahçe Clock Tower (Dolmabahçe Saat Kulesi)
The main gate (Sultan’s Gate) at Dolmabahçe Palace
Outdoor seating, and just a small section, of the waterfront cafe in the palace grounds that offers a great view of the Bosphorus.
Another view from the cafe
View of the clock tower from the Sultan’s Gate
View from the exit

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.


How will your 2016 be?

So a friend took this quiz and it got me curious. I thought I might as well give it a try for fun. I’m loving the results  although I’m curious about number 1. I haven’t really thought of owning a car. I even flatly refused my dad’s attempts to convince me and my sisters to let him buy a new one. This was about two years after he wrecked his car in an accident that traumatized us.  Still, I don’t mind it being there. One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that nothing’s absolute. Who knows, I might develop a liking for driving and owning my own car. For now, I’d be happy with the rest.

2016 for me

[How will your 2016 be? quiz]

[Photos] One Fine Night at the The City of Light

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.

Eiffel Tower mesmerizes at night.
Eiffel Tower mesmerizes at night.
Near the fountain
Near the fountain
Pyramide du Louvre (Louvre Pyramid) at the Palais du Louvre (Louvre Palace) courtyard.
Pyramide du Louvre (Louvre Pyramid) at the Palais du Louvre (Louvre Palace) courtyard.
Facade of a section of the Louvre Palace.
Facade of a section of the Louvre Palace.
One of the smaller pyramids around the Louvre Pyramid.
One of the smaller pyramids around the Louvre Pyramid.
The lights dazzle. A lovely night for a walk. Autumn seemed to have come early in Paris.
The lights dazzle. A lovely night for a walk. Autumn seemed to have come early in Paris.
At a street near the Louvre. With my Paris-based friend and former teammate.
At a street near the Louvre. With my Paris-based friend and former teammate.


4 Things To Do. Just Because.

A friend posted this video on Facebook and asked an interesting question, “What does settling down mean nowadays anyway?” I am curious to know the answer to that as well. I have checked 23 out of the list so does that mean I am close to settling down? I think not. My current lifestyle does not exactly fit the more popularly accepted concept of being “settled”. But times are changing and I see more people who have chosen to challenge the stereotype.

Many things in life are worth doing. Just because. And this video further inspired me to do more, especially the four things I am still working on:

3. be financially independent ~ I consider this a work in progress. While there are indeed things that money cannot buy to achieve happiness and fulfillment in life, having some makes it easier to get things done sooner.
12. live somewhere else ~ I am not counting the almost two decades I spent away from home when I was living in another part of the country. Living somewhere in Europe for three months to make the most of the trip does not count as well. I am thinking more of staying in a different country, preferably the one closest to my heart, for at least a year or two.
13. learn to drive manual ~ I have not really been keen on learning to drive for as long as I remember. But it is a practical thing to learn. Maybe soon.
23. apply for your dream job ~ A job that involves writing, traveling, and serving others would be a dream. I am currently doing my best in doing all three although it would be great to do them while being paid handsomely.

Carpe diem.

Hello, 2015!

vision board 2015

Because everything is possible.


Being in the Moment, Self-Reflection, and Looking Ahead

“Anyone who makes significant progress in a sport or art, has to be to a greater or lesser degree, self-centred; putting in extensive time for training and reflection. Kendo is by nature an introspective pursuit. The character, do or michi, tells us that it is not just a pastime but a way, a path or roadmap for our lives. If we travel even a moderate distance down this path, we tend to invest an enormous amount of time and mental space in the pursuit of our kendo goals.”http://goo.gl/CilpsR

sketched by Bixie Villavicencio
sketched by Bixie Villavicencio

My friend Bixie drew a sketch of a Men (Bogu) for me a few days ago. We had a laugh about it. Or more like a kind of shared laughter over something that we both find fascinating and awe-inspiring. She’s been really excited and supportive of my Kendo journey. I told her that one of the things I like about Kendo is the inner calmness I’m beginning to develop, a more sustained and deeper sense of peace I  seldom get to enjoy. And that’s a revelation for me given how I always find the water sport I’ve devoted several years of my life (and will continue to do so for as long as I can) a calming, meditative, & intense pursuit. The sport I love and Kendo have their similarities. But it’s the differences that I couldn’t quite put into words yet that fascinate me.

I agree that “Kendo is by nature an introspective pursuit”. Every after practice, I find myself reflecting on what I did and on how I can improve myself. It’s like once you become a kendoka, you live and breathe the Way. Last night’s post-practice reflections touched on humility, stoic acceptance, the desire to master the basic, the importance of not hurrying through the process, and the admirable discipline Kendo tries to teach each and every one of its students. I realized after last night’s practice that I’m like a dust mote among the giants of this sport/martial art. And I’m perfectly happy with it. I think it’s slowly dawning on me why they say that Kendo is a lifelong process.

Post-First Kendo Practice Thoughts

I’ve wanted to learn Kendo for years now. I even made inquiries early this year from the club manager of the dojo in Manila if there’s Kendo club in Davao. Unfortunately, there was none at that time. So I decided to wait. I have always believed that something worth pursuing is worth waiting for.

About a few weeks ago, the same club manager contacted me. He said that a Davao Kendo club is already being formed. He then gave me the link to the Facebook page and that was how it all started for me. I missed the club’s first practice session. But I was finally able to join last night.

Trying something new is without a doubt one of the most edifying experiences anyone can have. Doing Kendo for the first time last night made me think about a lot of things. And here are just some of them:

Metaphor for life. Sports and martial arts are a metaphor for life. Practicing Kendo reminded me of that. I was particularly struck by what our  teacher said about the importance of always looking at our opponent’s eyes. He emphasized the importance of never, ever taking our eyes off the target or turning our heads away even for an instant. It made me think that whatever it is that tries to bring us down, whether an enemy or life itself, we should face it with courage regardless of how we feel in that given moment.

Never go down without a fight. Samurais face each other not always knowing how the confrontation would turn out. Every fight could essentially be to the death. So you stare at your opponent’s eyes and try to anticipate his next move and act appropriately. It takes unflinching resolve to keep on fighting to the end when the stakes are at their highest.  You have to enter any fray with a mindset that you will never go down without a fight.

Strength of spirit and will matters big time. Kendo is probably the noisiest sport I have tried. As a former water sport competitive athlete, I’m used to making a lot of noises myself (i.e. exhaling and grunting loudly, shouting while catching a breath at the end of the finish line, etc.). I think most of my athlete friends from other sports do it, too. But usually, not everyone in the boat with me does it. In Kendo though, it seems like every kendōka shouts everytime he or she wields the shinai (bamboo sword) or bokutō (wooden sword) to strike. Our teacher said that is like an expression of the warrior’s spirit or will, which is essential in any battle. The one with the stronger spirit and will has a better chance of winning.

Intense focus. There’s something meditative and intense about Kendo practice. I realized a few seconds into the basic training that I can’t afford to lose concentration if I want to do it right. The drills looked simple while I was watching the others do it. But it was far from easy when I was already doing it. I noticed that the more I focused, the more I could execute them correctly. I felt my mind emptying itself of other thoughts leaving me so deep into every moment. While I am used to focusing, there was something about the experience that was totally new to me.

Some of the many other things I learned include the importance of mastering the basics and staying relaxed while doing the routines. These are familiar concepts that I am sure anyone who has played a sport or martial art would know. But it was a great experience to learn them again.

I have to admit that my first Kendo practice was a most challenging one. I love being a beginner again, but it does not change the fact that it can be painful at times. The two-hour session was mentally and physically demanding for me. I’m not sure if it was because I have been sedentary for some time now or if Kendo itself is by default that difficult to learn in the beginning.

But all the hard work was worth it. It was both tiring and motivating. It was also a humbling experience. Because no matter how much I think I know about a lot of things, there are still more I need to learn. It was a good reminder to me that cultivating the important teachings I learn over time and being in the look-out for more would help define me as a person.

I’m seeing Kendo and its practitioners in a whole new light right now. And I’m so loving this sport/martial art already.

Something worth learning is never easy

I really want to learn Kendo. Unfortunately, I’ve just confirmed what I suspected since I started Googling a long way back. The club manager of the dojo in Manila said that there’s still no club or teacher offering classes here in my little corner of the universe. Apparently, some people have already asked him the same question before. He did suggest a few things that might help generate interest among qualified, potential senseis to start teaching it here.

Some of the things worth learning are often never easy at the get-go.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty on Living a Fulfilling Life

“Beautiful things don’t ask for attention.” ~ Sean O’Connell in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber

This movie made me think that perhaps a good question to constantly ask ourselves would be: When was the last time you were deeply moved by the beauty of anything that you see and experience?

Everyday, it is easy to get lost in the many details of our existence. It is only in the moments we consciously or inadvertently immerse ourselves into that we see the beauty of our lives.

No matter how boring we think the life we live, the opportunity for adventure and discovering more about ourselves is always there. All we need to truly live, do meaningful work, and find joy is to put our heart and soul into the things that we do.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a beautiful and poignant film. LIFE at its best. What a great way to remember that life is good, all is well, and there’s so much to be thankful for. Also, it just made me want to just go and travel to anywhere.

The Story – An Ode to the Master’s Sun

there’s this absurd story
that makes me inexplicably happy
a tale that defies logic
woven around fantasies
that one would expect from fairy tales

and yet it’s that same story
that reminds me that happiness
doesn’t have to be explained by reason
it can sometimes be about embracing stories
that unfailingly put a smile on one’s face

someday i’d  like to write the kind of story
that can make others feel what I feel now
when reason and imagination can flourish
where being happy has a place
in the minutes that tick by as I happily lose myself in the story.