Traveling in Europe by Train

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.

Screenshot of my friend's post
Screenshot of a friend’s post

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

My go to source of information for routes, transportation options, and more
My go to source of information for routes, transportation options, and more

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.

Voyages-sncf.com

Aix les Bains to Paris (TGV)
Aix les Bains to Paris (TGV) – Train tickets for me and my friend from Myanmar who asked me to book a ticket for her as well
Paris to Brussels (Thalys)
Paris to Brussels (Thalys)

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.

Davao’s Finest Fruits Fresh From Farms

The naive sixteen-year old probinsyana in me was shocked the first time I went to the market with my aunt the first few days after arriving in Manila several years ago. I was surprised at the prices of bananas and calamansi among others. Spending most of my early years in my grandparents’ home in the province made me clueless to the workings of a highly-urbanized city life.

I grew up in a place where a lot of things I wanted or needed were found and picked in my grandparents’ backyard. I lived in the midst of fruit-bearing trees like avocado, banana, cacao, guava, mango, pomelo, santol, and star fruit to name a few. I learned about drying and roasting coffee beans and cacao seeds after watching and helping my grandmother. My first taste of tablea and hot chocolate prepared in batirol was at my grandparents’ home.

Fast-forward to that day in a market somewhere in Manila, I stood there processing what I saw as my aunt paid for the things she bought. I think it was then that I realized that I was truly far from home and from everything that comfort represented. That moment gave me a glimpse of what my life would be in college and the years following that as I stayed in the big city.

Seven years after coming back to Davao for good, I still marvel at a lot of things that I used to take for granted — especially the fruits. Davao City may be urbanized, but it is not hard to find the finest fruits fresh from farms. And if you are lucky to find yourself in the city in August, you can have your fill of a wide array of fruits for cheap.

Fruits are among Davao’s treasures. This is why I was excited like many other Davaoenos when I heard about the Asian Fruit Market project. But I forgot about it until recently when I noticed that they have already initiated it. I passed by the area earlier but did not have time to explore the stalls. I noticed that at 11:00AM many of the booths were still empty. But I expect that things will be livelier later in the day. I think AFM is still at its initial phase. I cannot wait to see how it will look and feel like several weeks or months from now.

Taken from the covered area where some fruit stands were located.
Taken from the covered area where some fruit stands were located.
At the covered area near Seda Hotel in Abreeza
At the covered area near Seda Hotel in Abreeza
Some of the structures in front of Abreeza Mall
Some of the structures in front of Abreeza Mall

Kendo Musings: Grateful to those who have come a long way before us

Sensei. Amazing how one word holds so much meaning. I came across this article from one of the kendo blogs I follow. It made me reflect on how my sensei and all the others senseis I have met played a crucial role in my kendo journey. As a student who is still starting out in my path, I feel a deep sense of gratitude for all those who have come a long way before me. Now if only I can be more mindful of my thoughts and actions to reflect the gratitude I feel. It is something I have to work on.

I have taught myself to be silent about the many things I observed in our behaviors in the dojo. It is not an easy feat given my outspokenness. But it was a choice I made after noticing that many of us are quite selective in choosing who we listen to.

I think that as we progress in kendo, we are faced with the responsibility of being role models to our kouhais. Sometimes I reflect on what my kendo conveys to those who come after me. What value does my personal journey add to the culture we are cultivating in the club? I may be walking my own path. But how I walk it could influence and shape the kendo of the people who follow me whether I like it or not.

I have made many mistakes in this journey. And I expect to do more as I continue down the path. For this reason, I try (read: try really really really hard) to ask myself these questions:

:: Am I setting a good example first before I start “correcting” or “teaching” others?
:: Am I doing what I am telling others to do?
:: Am I showing respect to sensei by listening and doing what he says regardless of how I feel about it? Or am I using my “seniority” to influence others regardless of what sensei says?

I have been struggling with my training in the club for a long time now given its culture. It is something that I have not been able to fully understand. There have been several instances of blatant disregard for basic rules. I find it superficial how we approach learning the teachings of kendo. But I am trying my best (and hardest!) to continue training even if I have to drag myself to the dojo to do it. I just wish we can be more mindful of our ways, especially when it comes to dojo etiquette and how we treat sensei.

I realized that it is important for every student to know their teachers more. Only then can we truly appreciate our time with them as we take on our individual kendo journey. I guess only a few of us know what our sensei has done at the get-go. Looking back, I am grateful for the things he did for us like:

He hit the ground running. He just relocated in Davao at that time when he started meeting with our club manager to form Davao Kendo Club (DKC). Shipment of his stuff has not even arrived yet when he started training students already.

He unfailingly attends practices. He did this from the beginning when he was busy setting up his business. He made time for practice even if he had to travel all the way from Mati or from his other out of town business trips. He was, and still is, always there unless there is really an important reason for him to miss training.

He quietly procured over 30 sets of donated bogu by his friends. He paid for the shipment himself. Those were the bogu sets many of the club members are using now.

He is not paid to do it.  We do not even pay for gas money. When only three of us (Jasper, Pinky, and I) were training for at least 2 months before our club manager came back from Singapore — we each had to pay Php300-500 per session to cover for the venue rental fees. Sensei paid his share as well. That was how dedicated he was to teach us.

Most of the younger batches in the club may not be aware of this. But I hope we can think of the things he did the next time we see him. To feel gratitude and to express it in our actions, that is a part of the kendo I want to learn.

 

Davao Kendo Club Turns Two

Davao Kendo Club turns two today. What started out as a fledgling group of six pioneer members has now over thirty kendokas in its ranks. Led by our founders Phillip Lim sensei and Mr. Johnny Teofilo Lardera Jr, DKC spent a fun weekend celebrating its second year.

As the club celebrates another milestone, I think that its fitting that we look back to the person who in behalf of his club has helped connect our founders together. I'm also personally thankful to Kristopher Inting senpai for sending me this email several months after I first sent him one inquiring if there was a kendo club in Davao. I wasn't expecting the message, which made me appreciate the gesture even more. I think it showed commitment to promoting kendo in the country. I wasn't able to join the club's first practice on May 31, 2014 -- four days after receiving this message. But I was finally able to join the second about two or three weeks after soon after Lim sensei returned from a business trip abroad.
As the club celebrates another milestone, I think that its fitting that we look back to the person who in behalf of his club helped in connecting founders Phillip Lim sensei and Sir Johnny together. I’m also personally thankful to Kristopher Inting senpai for sending me this email several months after I first sent him one inquiring if there was a kendo club in Davao. I wasn’t expecting the message, which made me appreciate the gesture even more. I think it showed commitment to promoting kendo in the country. I wasn’t able to join the club’s first practice on May 31, 2014 — four days after receiving this message. But I was finally able to join the second about two or three weeks after soon after Lim sensei returned from a business trip abroad.
Davao Kendo Club with guests from Cebu Kendo Club and Ono Masahiro sensei. (Photo credit: Reida Renovilla)
Davao Kendo Club with guests from Cebu Kendo Club and Ono Masahiro sensei.
(Photo credit: Reida Renovilla)

Gracing the club’s two-day celebration were Cebu Kendo Club members together with 4th Dan Masato Kosuge sensei. Hong Kong-based 6th Dan Ono Masahiro sensei likewise made a suprise visit with his son Kotetsu-kun. It was Ono-sensei’s fifth visit to the club and a second for his son who joined us this time as a kendoka. At six years old, little Kotetsu-kun impressed many of his much older senpais. He carried himself in his kendo-gi and hakama well. And he looked especially adorable when he folded them all by himself after practice.

Cebu Kendo Club and Masato Kosuge sensei (Photo credit: Reida Renovilla)
Cebu Kendo Club and Masato Kosuge sensei
(Photo credit: Reida Renovilla)
With Ono Masahiro sensei (Photo credit: Reida Renovilla)
With Ono Masahiro sensei
(Photo credit: Reida Renovilla)
Kotetsu-kun with a friend
Kotetsu-kun with a friend

It was a fun and fruitful event of people who share the same passion and dedication for kendo. Some of the highlights include:

May 28, Saturday

Kyu Exam

Screenshot from DKC's Facebook page
Screenshot from DKC’s Facebook page

Grading panelists:
3rd Dan Philip Lim sensei
3rd Dan Matsuda Kazuya senpai
1st Dan Johnny Teofilo Lardera

Assisted by:
1st Dan Paul Minoza
Ikkyu Jasper Lardera

Kihon and Jigeiko with Ono sensei sharing tips and insights to the bogu class and visiting kendokas.

Ono sensei with the bogu class (Photo credit: Reida Renovilla)
Ono sensei with the bogu class
(Photo credit: Reida Renovilla)

Dinner and party at Ponce Suites

Group photo of some of the first and second batches (Photo credit: Reida Renovilla)
Group photo of some of the first batch and second batch members
(Photo credit: Reida Renovilla)

May 29, Sunday
Team and Individual Shiais with Ono sensei, Masato sensei, and Kazu senpai serving as shinpans

Medals and certificates (Photo credit: Reida Renovilla)
Medals and certificates
(Photo credit: Reida Renovilla)

Robert Carabuena’s team won the group shiai. He also snagged the top spot for the individual event after besting second-placer Jasper Lardera in an intense final match.

Jigeiko with the senseis and DKC’s two shodans who will be seeing action in the upcoming ASEAN Kendo Tournament in Bangkok this July.

Jigeiko (Photo credit: Reida Renovilla)
Jigeiko
(Photo credit: Reida Renovilla)

As I look back to the two years, here’s a shout out to everyone who has been part of the club:

  • Founders, instructors, officers, and ALL active and inactive members of Davao Kendo Club (1st to 6th Batch!)
  • Ono Masahiro sensei
  • Naoko Morishima-sensei, Tomo Akita-sensei, and all our Senpais from Manila Kendo Club
  • Kristopher Inting-senpai, Rikki-senpai, Gek-senpai and Igarashi-sensei of IGA Kendo Club
  • And recently met fellow kendokas from Cebu Kendo Club and Masato Kosuge sensei

Domo arigatou gozaimasu!

A Fascination for Tenugui

I have developed a deep fascination for tenugui ever since I started my kendo journey. I now regret the times that I did not take a closer look at all  those tenuguis I have seen in various stores and at the airport souvenir shops in previous trips to Japan. The few ones I own were either gifted to me or given as freebies for some kendo gears I bought. So it is really a happy day for me when a good friend who is in Kyushu sent me a message earlier followed by photos of tenuguis for me to choose from.

 

The first photo my friend sent. I liked it. But I was not sure if it would be appropriate for kendo so I asked if there's anything that's used specifically for kendo.
The first photo my friend sent. I really like it. But I was not sure if it would be appropriate for kendo. So I asked if there’s anything that comes with a more kendo-related design
Sakamoto Ryōma ("a Japanese prominent figure in the movement to overthrow the Tokugawa shogunate during the Bakumatsu period in Japan." - from Wikipedia)
Sakamoto Ryōma (“a Japanese prominent figure in the movement to overthrow the Tokugawa shogunate during the Bakumatsu period in Japan” – from Wikipedia)
In black
In black

I took the “safe” route and picked the black tenugui. Next time, I will definitely go for anime-themed designs. I would love to have a Naruto and Totoro tenugui — among many others. For now, I am excited to have another one to add to my small collection. I am happy to say that each piece comes with a tale that brings back good memories.

An Unexpected Gift During the Asian Championships in Aioi
DSC_0023
DSC_0023.2
My first tenugui. I did not even know what it was for when I got it. I cannot recall who gave it to me. But it has to be one of the athletes, organizers, or volunteers I met during the Asian Championships in Aioi in 2002. I received it on the day of the Opening Ceremony. It never fails to bring back great memories that include a marching band that ended their repertoire with the Doraemon song.

A Surprise Freebie When I Bought My First Kendo-gi and Hakama
DSC_0022
There was no mention of any freebie when I ordered my kendo-gi and hakama. So I was surprised to see this when I opened the box. I have used it since I started wearing bogu so it has faded quite a bit.

The Free Tenugui That Came with My Bogu
20253
I got this free tenugui when I bought my bogu. I do not usually go for red. But it was the only available color for the freebie they were giving away at that time.

A Gift from the Japanese Umpire at the 2015 World Rowing Masters Regatta
DSC_0019
There were only three of us jury members from Asia during the World Rowing Masters Regatta. It was great to see that the Japanese was a familiar face. I have previously worked with him during the 2008 Asian Olympic Qualification Regatta in Shanghai. On the last day of the master’s regatta, he gave all of us umpires a tenugui each. It was an unexpected and pleasant surprise. It seemed like a fitting parting gift for a memorable event.

I may not have many tenuguis right now. But every piece I own is precious to me. I cannot wait to collect more. And hopefully, each one will come with its own story.

The Hague Supermarket Items That I Miss

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:

1. Stroopwafels

stroopwafelNothing 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.

2. Cheese

cheese-shopI 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.

3. Rookworst

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.

4. Chocolates

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.

 

After Kendo Practice Thoughts: The Simple Things are the Toughest to Learn

My first shiai.
My first shiai. (Photo credit: A sensei visiting from Hong Kong)

It has been twenty-two months since I took up Kendo. In that time, I have been on a total of about 4 months of hiatus. Considering that our club’s regular training is only once a week, I would say that I have not journeyed far enough from my path as a beginner.

Yesterday after keiko, our sensei had some words to say to us. It is rare for our sensei to indulge in long talks like that. Apart from the language barrier that makes it hard for him sometimes to articulate what he wants to say, he is really a man of few words. In the almost two years of training with him, I observed that he is one of those martial arts teachers (and sport coaches) who can teach a lot of invaluable lessons for those who persevere enough to dig deep beneath the surface. Most times, it is not about what they say but what they do.

I first met sensei during the second day of the newly-formed club’s practice. I was with the two other students who were there the first day. One thing I learned then was he likes pushing students past their limits. And it has never changed. Last night, it seemed like he felt the need to remind us of that once again — in words. He reminded us that Kendo is more than a sport. He said that it requires a lot of self-discipline and always giving our best regardless of how tired we feel.

It has been said that the simplest things are the hardest to learn. I could not agree more. In Kendo’s context, there are things beginners are taught early on. Some of them seem simple enough, but they could be quite a challenge to sustain.

I have been feeling demotivated in kendo for months now. But I held on because I love it and I really want to learn it. A few weeks back, I decided to review the things expected of me as a kendoka. I challenged myself to keep doing them regardless of circumstances outside my control. It may not be easy most of the time. But I find it fulfilling to do these things, especially on days when I do not feel like doing them:

  • Clean the dojo floor – I have to be honest that it can be frustrating to see that not many people do this despite repeated reminders from our officers. Initially, it was supposed to be the beginners’ (read: youngest batches) job. But a recent memo from club officers stated that everyone should do it. I have only recently read said memo. Even before that though, I already promised to myself that I would make it a part of my pre-practice routine. And I have been delivering on that promise since. (I found a thumbtack while cleaning the dojo floor yesterday.)
  • Practice footwork before training starts – Sensei first issued this instruction about two months after the club was formed. He told us to try arriving at least 30 minutes before keiko starts so we could do this. As the club membership grew, he has been repeating the same instruction over and over again. But only a few actually do it without anyone prompting them. I understand why anyone would want to avoid it. It can get really tedious. I am not even good in kendo yet but I find it boring and painful most of the time. But knowing that I am not good served as motivation for me to keep doing it. I told myself that maybe someday, something good will come out of it. For me, it has been one of the challenges I have to overcome even before keiko starts. This is one of the things I made sure to follow since that time sensei told us to do it.
  • Aim for beautiful kendo – This is one thing that sensei said that really stuck to me. It is what I want as well. I find it helpful to keep it in mind. I use it as a guide on how to approach my training. It is not a pleasant feeling to be struck in practice or in shiai (match). It can be tempting to keep blocking (without the intention of doing a counter-strike), tilt my head to avoid being hit, or do things that would compromise proper form and technique. So every training, I challenge myself to receive every hit straight on. I know I suck at matches. But I would like to think that getting into that shiai-jo with the goal of playing beautiful kendo is worth the pain of losing.
  • Push – Sensei’s training can be brutal. I may not look forward to it, but I appreciate its true value. There have been occasions in the past that I took a rest even before the official break has been called. To be fair, those were times that I really cannot seem to carry on anymore. Each time, it felt like I let myself and sensei down. It was not a good feeling. I decided to try not doing it anymore. Lately, there have been times when it seemed like I was about to faint. But I chose to carry on. Surviving that feels like a reward in itself.

I would like to share some excerpts from an article written by one of the celebrities I admire. His writings are among the reasons why I’m a fan. I enjoy reading about his thoughts on travel, food, and Brazilian jiu jitsu. Here are some of the things he shared in a blog post that resonate with me:

As I say at the top of this episode, as I tape my fingers (in the forlorn hope that it might mitigate the osteoarthritis and Heberden’s nodes associated with grip fighting), I will never be a black belt. I will never successfully compete against similarly ranked opponents half my age, I will never be great at Brazilian jiu jitsu. There is an urgency to my training because I’m sure as shit not getting any younger, or more flexible. I’m certainly not getting any faster. And as I head down the highway on my jiu jitsu journey, the likelihood of the wheels coming off the car grows stronger every day.

But I am determined to suck less at this jiu jitsu thing every day if I can.

I do it because it’s hard. Because it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And because it never ends. Every day presents me with a series of problems that I spend the rest of the day thinking about how I might solve — or at least chip away at. Next day same. And the day after that. ~ SWEEP THE LEG, JOHNNY! by Anthony Bourdain

I am still in the earliest stages of my kendo journey. I am still far from being good at my level. I do not know what my future in this martial art will be. But to borrow Anthony Bourdain’s words: I am determined to suck less at this kendo thing every day if I can.

March Highlights – Inspired. Reconnected. Empowered.

I welcomed March, which also happened to be Women’s Month, with a simple goal of doing something, no matter how small, for the women in sports advocacy. Somehow, along the way, small milestones just piled up. I couldn’t think of a better way to end it than how it did – being with like-minded people who inspired and re-energized me to dream and do more.

March 6 – Davao Kendo Club’s 1st Women’s Shiai/Tournament

(Photo credit: Jesh Juson)
(Photo credit: Jesh Juson)

March 8 – Women in Rowing PH featured in our IF’s website and International Women’s Day video

Screenshot from the World Rowing website
Screenshot from the World Rowing website

March 28-30 – IMPULSE Seminar: Empowerment of women in sports in the Philippines

(Photo credit: Krizanne Ty)
(Photo credit: Krizanne Ty)

Looking forward to more collaborations with all the inspiring women and men around me.

Work on a Maundy Thursday and Good Friday

As far back as I can remember, Holy Week has always been a time of quiet and self-reflection in our family. My childhood memories include hearing my devout Protestant grandmother telling us to refrain from making noises and instead use the time to reflect on the meaning of Lent. She also taught us to respect Catholic traditions during the Lenten season that may be different from our own.

I am not deeply religious like my grandmother or the many friends I have from different faiths. But Holy Week has become a time of slowing down for me. I often end up spending it in solitude, reading books, or writing in my journal. This week though, I find myself working on a Maundy Thursday and Good Friday just so I can take a few days off work next week to attend this seminar:

(Screenshot from the Powerful Change FB page)
(Screenshot from the Powerful Change Coaching Training International Facebook page)

I was happy to see some familiar names on the email addresses in the communications I received in the past weeks. Giving up my off days from work may not exactly be how I planned my 2016 Holy Week would be. But it is a fair exchange for the opportunity not just to attend the seminar/training but also to see some of the athletes and sports leaders I have not seen for a long time.