Experiencing Davao

Spending time with friends who are visiting Davao, either for work or leisure, is a great time for me not just to touch base but also see the city with fresh eyes. The lure of reconnecting with friends I have not seen for some time overcomes my usual desire to avoid going out and being caught in the city’s increasingly worsening traffic problem.

So it was welcome news when a longtime friend told me she will be in Davao for two days to do some research work. She arrived just before midnight on the 30th of November and left early evening on the 2nd of December. It was her third visit, but she spent most of her time in her previous visits outside the city exploring Samal Island and climbing Mount Apo. The short visit was a good time to stay at the heart of the city and experience it. It also allowed me to see what has changed, what remained the same, and what I call the in-betweens — the subtle things that are easy to miss out when you are too busy looking and paying attention.

The Traffic Problem
What used to be a roughly 20-minute trip from home to Abreeza or Gaisano Mall on a weekday now stretches to at least 45 minutes. Weekends can be just as bad except early in the morning when it is much lighter. And it is even worse when I try to venture farther to Ecoland or Matina. I thought I have escaped the nightmarish traffic woes of Manila when I decided to go back home to Davao in 2009. I may have enjoyed a few years respite from it. But those restful days are over and I have to deal with living with heavy traffic again. This makes walking a much better option. But Davao City is not really what I would call a “walkable” city. It may be safer to walk here than in Manila. But walking here can be a far from pleasant experience when it is too hot or raining heavily.

Bankerohan Public Market
The perpetually busy and crowded Bankerohan Public Market can be overwhelming. And it has evolved into a tourist attraction in its own right. Known for its overabundance of cheap produce from across the Davao Region, it is a great place to find a wide array of fruits and food products. A lot of tourists go there to buy pasalubongs and/or try its famous tsokolate de batirol (sikwate) and puto maya.

Looking for Durian 
I was honestly surprised by some of the videos I have seen showing people’s reaction when they try to eat durian. I did not realize a lot of people hate it so much. The smell can be nasty but I thought that they would learn to appreciate it once they get to taste the fruit. I was wrong. I felt bad thinking about the people who received durian candies from me as pasalubong and promised to avoid doing that unless I am sure the recipient eats durian.

My friend’s visit sparked a question in my mind about how the city’s famous fruits seem to be in short supply lately. I  know it is not in season, but I find it unusual not to see a lot of them out there. Even during the last Kadayawan, durians were unusually expensive. The many small trucks and makeshift stalls selling them at roadsides that were familiar sights during the Kadayawan month were also conspicuously absent.

As my friend and I explored the fruit market in Bankerohan, we only saw a handful of stalls selling unripe ones. The famous durian restaurant just across the Fruitasan do not have them either. I was used to eating fresh durian all-year round and this was the first time I had trouble finding one. So my friend and I settled for the frozen D101 variety that one of the vendors in the fruit market was selling.

Trying out the beer and frozen D101 durian combo

My friend told me that eating durian in the hotel room is not allowed so we have to finish it off before she turns in for the night. We tried asking the hotel staff at the restaurant if we can it eat there but were told we have to take it outside the premises. Who would have thought that finding a place to eat [frozen] durian in a city famous for it can be so troublesome? Thankfully, there was a 7-11 nearby with an outside seating. I grabbed a beer and settled in to enjoy my first taste of the D101 variety which tasted amazing.

Davao’s Cacao in the Spotlight
Davao has long been known as one of the countries best places to find abundant and different varieties of durians. Not to mention the best and cheapest mangosteens when in season. It is also home to top quality bananas and mangoes. And in recent years, a new addition to the list has been stealing the spotlight — the region’s cacao which produces the finest tableas that a growing number of Dabawenyos are beginning to enjoy.

I was actually surprised that it took this long for it to get noticed. Cacao and tableas are part of my childhood. I remember learning how to make pure and rich tableas from the seeds of cacao fruits harvested from the trees in my grandparents’ backyard at their home in Davao del Norte. My grandmother makes enough to last for months and even send some for us living in the city and to my uncle who was based in Manila.

Some of the goodies at the Cacao de Davao stall at the ground floor of the SM Lanang Premier

 

More Cacao de Davao products
Cacao de Davao Tablea

I love cacao so it is great to see so many good quality products now being sold in stalls and supermarkets in malls here. I brought my friend to Cacao City which opened last month. I first heard of the store from my sister who gave me the deliciously divine Wit’s Sweets and Savouries’ Durian Granola which she bought from there.

Cacao City at Palma Gil

The everything-Davao cacao products store is located beside the Pasalubong Center at Palma Gil just beside People’s Park. It showcases local brands like Malagos Chocolate, Cacao de Davao, Cacao Culture Farms, Rosario’s Delicacies, Wit’s Sweets and Savouries, and more.

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An Exhausting Trip to Singapore

My travel misadventures this year seem to share a common woe — airport pickup fails. The first one was in July at the Kaunas airport where a mix of a flight delay, miscommunication, and whatever fateful reason left me stranded there alone waiting for the transportation that unbeknownst to me has already left with the Greek team that was on the same flight as me. I had no idea that I was supposed to leave with them. I must have missed seeing the person holding the sign in the midst of all the noise and excitement from the crowd waiting at the airport for the Lithuanian gold medal-winning team coming home straight from a successful stint at the 2017 Summer Deaflympics.

After almost an hour of waiting, I finally managed to locate the volunteer tasked to pick up delegates from the airport. She told me I was not on her list of arrival schedules so she thought she got everyone on board the bus that already left. She made some calls and later told me to take the bus plying the Kaunas airport-Vilnius route then just take a cab to the hotel from where it will make its final stop.

Solo trips are not new to me. But there is something about being unprepared that unsettles me. I berated myself for not thinking of a contingency plan trusting that all arrangements have already been taken cared of. Thankfully, the over one hour trip to Vilnius and the few minutes taxi ride to the hotel went smoothly.

Little did I know that two months after I would find myself in the same predicament. What happened in Kaunas was still fresh in my mind so I made sure to confirm the arrangements with the event organizers in Singapore at least twice.

The October 9 Davao to Singapore flight was scheduled to depart at 7:20 pm but got delayed for almost 30 minutes. To quote the pilot who told us the reason when we were finally on board, “A bird was ingested by the engine” (I assumed during landing on arrival from SG) and they had to make the necessary safety checks. It is one of those things that are guaranteed to stress out a nervous flyer like me. It was far from a relaxing flight with several instances of turbulence throughout. We were scheduled to arrive a little over 11:00 pm. But the arrival was further delayed by thunderstorms over Singapore. The aircraft spent over 20 minutes just circling around unable to land.

The plane touched down past midnight and it was almost 1:00 am when I finally came out of the arrival hall to look for the person who was supposed to pick me up. I had this bad feeling that no one will be there so I was not really surprised when I could not find anyone there to meet me. I did not get any response to my messages to my contact so I had to make my own arrangements. I looked for an ATM to withdraw money for cab fare. Because there was no way I am going to wait there for hours when we have an early start the same morning. I was so tired and needed a few hours of sleep before our work there start.

The only good thing I remembered thinking while I was dealing with all of it was that I was in Singapore so I felt safe with the idea of leaving the airport at past 1:00 am to go to the hotel on my own. Finding a taxi was easy because Changi has an excellent airport transportation service.

The taxi rates are not cheap though. But they at least have options so passengers can take the least expensive ones. I found out that taxi rates are higher past midnight. The elderly driver was nice but he could not speak much English.

A few minutes out of the airport, the rain poured heavily. I could not see anything in front of us and I figured the driver must be having a hard time as well despite the windshield wiper doing a good job of clearing the waters cascading down the glass. The trip took over thirty minutes and as we reached the deserted roads going to the hotel, the driver asked me why I chose to stay somewhere so far and without access to public transportation. He told me that the I will have to take a taxi every time I have to leave if I want to go sightseeing. I told him that I have no choice since the organizers booked me and my colleagues from other countries there.

Frankly, at that moment when the taxi stopped in front of the hotel entrance, I was just happy to finally arrive, get my key from the front desk, and get some much-needed sleep.

One More Reason to Love Etihad Airways

Almost two years after the Manila to Geneva and return flights from Brussels, Etihad Airways gave me another reason to be impressed with its customer service. My choosing the airline at that time was unplanned. I was looking for the cheapest flights that will get me to Geneva, which is the nearest airport of entry for me to Aix-les-Bains in the Savoie region of France where I was headed. Etihad had the best price then so I picked it not knowing much about it.

The flight to Geneva was a pleasant experience. I was happy with the food and the in-flight services so I thought I got a good deal out of it. And it was the same on my return flight from Brussels. I cannot remember when they gave all the passengers the Etihad Guest miles programme form to fill up. But I recall filling it up not really thinking that I would be able to use it since I do not travel often.

Over the months following that trip, I have been getting regular email updates on flight deals and other information. I think I received emails every month or just often enough not to be annoying so I did not unsubscribe from the mailing list like I tend to do with other merchant newsletters and notifications I get.

Some of the most recent emails I got from them was to inform me that my miles were about to expire. I did not open the first three emails related to that and finally got around to checking the fourth one when I received it. I was clueless about what I was supposed to do with those expiring miles. But I was impressed by how they made it easy for me to figure out my options.

I started checking out the items in the Etihad Guest Reward Shop to see what I can get so I could use the expiring miles. I opted for a backpack since it is something I could always use, especially on future trips. As I was exploring my options, I was still half-expecting that getting whatever reward I choose will not be as easy as it seems to be. I was also expecting that I will end up paying something for it like maybe the shipping cost or whatever. So I was really surprised when the transaction was smooth and seamless. I also did not have to pay for the shipping. So I got a nice backpack for free all thanks to the frequent reminders that got me using my miles before they expired.

I was also happy with the reward merchant’s service. I had a change of mind about the backpack’s color I initially picked after I finished ordering it. I read from the confirmation of the order email I got from Etihad that I will have to contact the merchant directly for any changes. I sent an email the next day asking if they can change the color from black to navy. But I was not optimistic that it will be changed since a day has already passed and they might not be able to read my email in time. But a few days after, I got an email from the merchant that my request has been applied to the item and it has already been shipped via UPS. They also sent a tracking number that provided up-to-date information about the current location of the package.

Less than a week after I placed the order, I got my new Fjallraven backpack and in the color I requested.

package arrived
The packaged from the Etihad Guest reward merchant in Latvia arrived
My new navy Fjallraven backpack
The reward from the miles that almost expired ^^ Thanks for the constant reminders about it, Etihad!

I have been impressed by Etihad’s service during that trip in 2015. And I even wanted to travel with them again when I was booking my flight for the trip a month ago. But the airline was not among the options available. So I booked with another airline. I may not have traveled with them again this time. But I hope to do that again in the future.

13 Hours in Istanbul

The plane touched down the runway of Istanbul Ataturk Airport at 4:10 AM of the 31st of July, one hour ahead of the 5:10 AM ETA. I was feeling a bit worn out already as I have been technically on the road for over a day having left Davao on the 30th of July at 8:10 AM. I spent almost 11 hours at NAIA Terminals 3 and 1 waiting for my evening flight to Istanbul and spent most of the roughly 12-hour flight awake as my two seatmates sitting on the window and 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 as my ETD to Kaunas, Lithuania from Istanbul is at 4:00 PM (which got delayed for 1 hour and 20 minutes), the much shorter 8:30 to 11:00 AM sightseeing tour will have to do.

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 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 I promised to buy for my friend Anna Liese and the Istanbul or Turkey mini-bell for my friend Chalyn.

At around half past six in the morning, I decided to start looking for the Hotel Desk where I needed to be at 8:00 AM if I do not want to miss the tour. I had a bit of trouble locating it so I asked one of the airport staff at the information booth just across the passport control area in the departures terminal. The girl told me to head out to the food court, take the elevator located 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 to Get a Turkish e-Visa

Opting to book with Turkish Airlines for my flight to Lithuania led to some really interesting discoveries. I initially had a reservation with KLM which was supposed to have a ten-hour layover in Amsterdam. I flew with KLM before so for me it was a good choice except that I was a bit iffy with the departure date and time from Kaunas, Lithuania because it meant staying another night in Vilnius then traveling at dawn to Kaunas to catch my flight.

I was not sure if the organizing committee of the event I was going to will arrange a transportation for us from Vilnius. And I did not want to risk getting lost like I did as I was leaving Aix-les-Bains in 2015 so I chose to be on the safe side and looked for other flights which will leave Kaunas on the 6th of August. I thought that I would be more comfortable traveling on my own to the airport in the afternoon than at the crack of dawn.

The Turkish Airlines flight came up on top as I was making comparisons with at least three different sites with KLM coming in a close second. The former was cheaper by almost a US$100 and the arrival and departure times in Kaunas worked for me. So I picked it.

But like KLM, the Turkish Air flight also had a 10+hours of layover. I was wondering how I will spend the long wait time at the airport in Istanbul so I started doing some research.

I was happy to discover that Turkish Airlines actually offers a choice of either of the two services for their passengers with over ten hours of layover in Istanbul Atatürk Airport — 1) a free hotel accommodation or 2) a free tour of the city (for those with waiting time of at least 6 hours). I immediately decided to take the second option and proceeded to learn more about it. I found out that I need to get a Turkish visa which, thankfully, I can get online.

Applying for a Turkish e-Visa is easy when you have the required supporting documents like a valid Schengen or US visa.

Here’s how to get a Turkish e-visa in three simple steps.

1. Apply

Go to the evisa.gov.tr website
Click the Red “Apply Now” Button located at the top left side of the screen

Fill out the form and make sure to double check all the information as anything that does not match what is on the requirements will make your e-visa invalid


Once you have completed the information, you will get a confirmation email. Check the email message and click the link provided to proceed to payment

2. Make Payment

3. Download the e-Visa

28 Hours in 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

DAY 1

Can’t it be just “new driver”? ~ Seen on the way from the airport to Mabolo

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.

DAY 2

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

Zubo Chon
The placemat
Delicious crispy skin and flavorful meat

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

Casa Gorordo Museum
Outside looking in

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.

A little about the old house
Some of the many items to find at the ground floor of the house
Dining table at the ground floor
One of the windows at the ground floor
Tempted to play a game of sungka ~ at the 2nd floor of the house
View of the garden below
An old radio that’s still working
An old harp
A banggera with a clay jar that stores drinking water. I remember a similar jar at my grandparents’ home and how the water stored there was always cool to drink.
Wishing well
An old boat used as a window planter. View from the garden
Not sure why there’s a portrait of a couple at the cooking area. But I love these old pots.
At the ground floor again

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

Inside the compound where the old house and the hardware business are located

At the second level of the house

An old movie projector
How the Jesuit House looked like in the past
The newly opened Cafe Parian inside the compound

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
Admission: Php50.00

Heritage of Cebu Monument

One section of this impressive monument

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.

Homeward-bound

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.

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.

Words of Advice from a Brod

Joining a sorority in my first year in college not only meant being part of a sisterhood. It also gave me the opportunity to meet some of the best male friends I have from our sorority’s partner fraternity. One of the things I like about my brods, especially the ones I’m closest with, is their brutal honestly. I can rely on them to call me out on my bullshit and dish out sage advice if needed.

Nates_editedOne brod has become a coach and confidant over the years. He was the one who got me into arnis. And I remember that time when he had enough of my wallowing over my first heartbreak so he brought me to his dragon boat training. He was also my teacher in capoeira. As a longtime practitioner and teacher of martial arts, he’s been one of the few people I can really count on when I need someone to talk to when I’m having a tough time in kendo. When it comes to words of advice, he unfailingly gives me a lot to think about:

I think you are being too dependent on what is taught in class. Do you train morning and night on top of the regular class? It’s not about 1 hour before class additional training. It’s about lifestyle. Are you thinking like a kendoka? Or as someone who does kendo. You were an elite rower. You know what it takes to be elite. Apply your knowledge from other disciplines that you have been elite in to this one. The formula is the same.

Complacency kills. Keep the edge sharp. Train like the old men of war. They survived real combat. Not like this pretend fighting crap. Read Musashi and his book of the 5 rings. There is real wisdom in there.

you don’t do a martial art. you are the martial art. you don’t wield a weapon. you are the weapon. you don’t have a rank. you are the rank.

“the true master of an art reveals it in every action” – samurai maxim from the book ” zen in the martial arts ” by Joe Hyams

Actually having too many techniques for attack is not an advantage. It’s about how many techniques you have mastered. In tourneys I have a maximum of 3 techniques that I have mastered. The trick is having a defense that can’t be breached. When you can’t get hit, you’re only concern will be scoring.

Find the strike you like. Then create a defense based on that strike

Just train until your art is your philosophy. You need to be the sword .

A Samurai will recognize a fellow samurai among simple swordsman.

The body mind and spirit must be one in a fight. You need to allow the art to take over. That is Why you train to embody the art so that you can move without conscious thought. If you are focused on making something work then that is conscious thought.

Skills will tell everyone how to identify a senior. Not skill because of power , strength , and speed but because of simplicity and effortless ease of movement and execution with intent. You can be in a corner alone and your movement will show who you are. I repeat. Work to understand your art. Find the essence of it

A martial artist’s road is a solitary one sis. Who cares what anyone else thinks? You are your own sword . They will not wield yours and vice versa.

And it’s not a sport. It’s a way to enlightenment via understanding the blade. Never degrade your system by calling it a sport.

It’s the mindset sis. The objective is to kill your opponent without getting hit. So how do you that? When you know what method of killing your opponents you prefer then you practice it to the point that it becomes second nature for you. When you fight or spar you will be responding without conscious thought.

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