Almost two years after the Manila to Geneva and return flights from Brussels, Etihad Airways gave me another reason to be impressed with its customer service. My choosing the airline at that time was unplanned. I was looking for the cheapest flights that will get me to Geneva, which is the nearest airport of entry for me to Aix-les-Bains in the Savoie region of France where I was headed. Etihad had the best price then so I picked it not knowing much about it.
The flight to Geneva was a pleasant experience. I was happy with the food and the in-flight services so I thought I got a good deal out of it. And it was the same on my return flight from Brussels. I cannot remember when they gave all the passengers the Etihad Guest miles programme form to fill up. But I recall filling it up not really thinking that I would be able to use it since I do not travel often.
Over the months following that trip, I have been getting regular email updates on flight deals and other information. I think I received emails every month or just often enough not to be annoying so I did not unsubscribe from the mailing list like I tend to do with other merchant newsletters and notifications I get.
Some of the most recent emails I got from them was to inform me that my miles were about to expire. I did not open the first three emails related to that and finally got around to checking the fourth one when I received it. I was clueless about what I was supposed to do with those expiring miles. But I was impressed by how they made it easy for me to figure out my options.
I started checking out the items in the Etihad Guest Reward Shop to see what I can get so I could use the expiring miles. I opted for a backpack since it is something I could always use, especially on future trips. As I was exploring my options, I was still half-expecting that getting whatever reward I choose will not be as easy as it seems to be. I was also expecting that I will end up paying something for it like maybe the shipping cost or whatever. So I was really surprised when the transaction was smooth and seamless. I also did not have to pay for the shipping. So I got a nice backpack for free all thanks to the frequent reminders that got me using my miles before they expired.
I was also happy with the reward merchant’s service. I had a change of mind about the backpack’s color I initially picked after I finished ordering it. I read from the confirmation of the order email I got from Etihad that I will have to contact the merchant directly for any changes. I sent an email the next day asking if they can change the color from black to navy. But I was not optimistic that it will be changed since a day has already passed and they might not be able to read my email in time. But a few days after, I got an email from the merchant that my request has been applied to the item and it has already been shipped via UPS. They also sent a tracking number that provided up-to-date information about the current location of the package.
Less than a week after I placed the order, I got my new Fjallraven backpack and in the color I requested.
I have been impressed by Etihad’s service during that trip in 2015. And I even wanted to travel with them again when I was booking my flight for the trip a month ago. But the airline was not among the options available. So I booked with another airline. I may not have traveled with them again this time. But I hope to do that again in the future.
The plane touched down the runway of Istanbul Ataturk Airport at 4:10 AM of the 31st of July, one hour ahead of the 5:10 AM ETA. I was feeling a bit worn out already as I have been technically on the road for over a day having left Davao on the 30th of July at 8:10 AM. I spent almost 11 hours at NAIA Terminals 3 and 1 waiting for my evening flight to Istanbul and spent most of the roughly 12-hour flight awake as my two seatmates sitting on the window and 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.
With still about three hours to kill, I decided to explore the terminal and see if I could find a place to get a cup of coffee. But I had trouble finding a table at the many coffee shops I saw. So I decided to look for the Old Bazaar I read about where I could buy some souvenirs. I figured I should buy what I need already since I may not have the time to do it on my return flight.
Luckily, I quickly found the shop and spent some time there browsing a wide array of items many of which I really liked. I managed to stick to my list and bought what I needed except that I could not find the black soap I promised to buy for my friend Anna Liese and the Istanbul or Turkey mini-bell for my friend Chalyn.
At around half past six in the morning, I decided to start looking for the Hotel Desk where I needed to be at 8:00 AM if I do not want to miss the tour. I had a bit of trouble locating it so I asked one of the airport staff at the information booth just across the passport control area in the departures terminal. The girl told me to head out to the food court, take the elevator located 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.
I was sitting in the window seat at the right side of the bus with a great view of the coastal scenery. We were coming from the European side of the city where the airport was located. On the left, there were many fascinating sights as well including the views of the Yedikule Fortress, Old Samatya Armanian District, the Walls of Constantinople (Istanbul City Walls), Hagia Sophia, and so much more. I was really hoping we could at least slow down or stop for a few minutes just to see more of them. But we were on a tight schedule. I just have to remind myself that the short tour is much better than just staying at the airport and not seeing any of it at all.
I did not take many photos as I did not want to miss the sights as the bus continues on its route. The first stop was at Galata Bridge. Our tour guide told us we will spend ten minutes there to take photos. The sight of birds flying and gliding gracefully against a backdrop of the water and the cityscape was among the most beautiful things I have seen as the bus journeyed along the coastal road. And I got to see it again as we spent time at the bridge. Birds were soaring above the Golden Horn that glistened as the thin clouds on the clear, blue sky offered little cover from the bright sunlight.
The second and last stop was at Dolmabahçe Palace where we spent twenty minutes wandering around taking photos. There was a cafe at the palace grounds with outdoor seating with a nice view of the European coast of the Bosphorus.
We left Dolmabahçe Palace at exactly twenty minutes after we arrived and continued the sightseeing tour, this time en route to the airport.
I have always been fascinated with the things I have read about Istanbul. While I thought of wanting to see it at some point, I did not really have that much of a strong desire to do it until that moment when the tour started last week. As the tour guide started telling us about the city, I found myself wanting to explore it at length, see its breathtaking architecture and landmarks, taste as many of the foods as I can, and drink plenty of Turkish coffee and tea, among many other things.
If there was one thing I was sure about as I stepped off the bus back at the airport, it would be this: I want to come back. I started the tour just curious about what I would see. And I finished it already in love with the city.
Opting to book with Turkish Airlines for my flight to Lithuania led to some really interesting discoveries. I initially had a reservation with KLM which was supposed to have a ten-hour layover in Amsterdam. I flew with KLM before so for me it was a good choice except that I was a bit iffy with the departure date and time from Kaunas, Lithuania because it meant staying another night in Vilnius then traveling at dawn to Kaunas to catch my flight.
I was not sure if the organizing committee of the event I was going to will arrange a transportation for us from Vilnius. And I did not want to risk getting lost like I did as I was leaving Aix-les-Bains in 2015 so I chose to be on the safe side and looked for other flights which will leave Kaunas on the 6th of August. I thought that I would be more comfortable traveling on my own to the airport in the afternoon than at the crack of dawn.
The Turkish Airlines flight came up on top as I was making comparisons with at least three different sites with KLM coming in a close second. The former was cheaper by almost a US$100 and the arrival and departure times in Kaunas worked for me. So I picked it.
But like KLM, the Turkish Air flight also had a 10+hours of layover. I was wondering how I will spend the long wait time at the airport in Istanbul so I started doing some research.
I was happy to discover that Turkish Airlines actually offers a choice of either of the two services for their passengers with over ten hours of layover in Istanbul Atatürk Airport — 1) a free hotel accommodation or 2) a free tour of the city (for those with waiting time of at least 6 hours). I immediately decided to take the second option and proceeded to learn more about it. I found out that I need to get a Turkish visa which, thankfully, I can get online.
Applying for a Turkish e-Visa is easy when you have the required supporting documents like a valid Schengen or US visa.
Here’s how to get a Turkish e-visa in three simple steps.
Go to the evisa.gov.tr website
Click the Red “Apply Now” Button located at the top left side of the screen
Fill out the form and make sure to double check all the information as anything that does not match what is on the requirements will make your e-visa invalid
Once you have completed the information, you will get a confirmation email. Check the email message and click the link provided to proceed to payment
2. Make Payment
3. Download the e-Visa
Japanese and Korean dramas are among my guilty pleasures. But I have not written much about the ones that I like. The first and last time I wrote about something I watched was back in 2012 soon after I finished watching Warrior Baek Dong Soo. In the past few weeks, I have been following K-dramas currently airing. Here are my top five picks:
5. Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo
Genre: Historical drama, Fantasy, Romance
One name: Lee Joon‑gi. The first teaser of this drama popped up on my radar a few months ago. And I was hooked the instant my eyes clapped on Lee Joon‑gi. I have been a fan since his stint at My Girl in 2005. There was a lot of hype surrounding this drama months leading to its first episode. I find it a tad disappointing though. With so many actors at play, there were certain episodes that it felt like the lead actor was left at the sidelines. It was tedious and heavy at some points. But things seem to be picking up lately. One thing that keeps me happy is that Lee Joon‑gi never fails to deliver.
4. Moonlight Drawn by Clouds
Genre: Historical drama, Coming-of-Age, Romantic-Comedy
It took me a while to check this one out. I decided to make a quick peek out of curiousity. I was not really expecting to get past the first episode. But I was surprised how it somehow got to me. It has all the makings of a cliche but Park Bo-gum and Kim Yoo-jung pulled it off. I stopped watching on the 10th episode not because I was no longer enjoying it. Limited time and that feeling of dread that it will not have a happy ending made me stop. But only for now. I intend to finish it when I have the time.
3. The K2
Genre: Political drama, Action, Romance, Thriller
I am a Ji Chang-wook fan so it makes sense that I would watch this. I also like Im Yoona so that makes two reasons already to get me curious. But the biggest draw is that its being an action drama. I am a huge fan of action, adventure, detective, mystery, and thriller dramas so there is no way I am going to miss this.
2. Woman with a Suitcase
Genre: Legal drama, Comedy, Drama
This one was another surprise. The curious cat in me just wanted to know what it is about. The lead actors (Joo Jin-mo! and Choi Ji-woo) are rocking it. It has an interesting cast with Lee Joon delivering like he always does.
1. On the Way to the Airport
Genre: Romance, Melodrama
The last drama that I started watching turned out to be the one I like best, at least for now. It took me a while to finally decide to see it. But it has been an INTENSE ride right from the first episode. The extra marital affairs theme is touchy. But the writer and production group seem to be pulling it off splendidly. I am into this for the rawness of emotions it squeezes out and the complexities surrounding the lives of the characters. Kim Ha-neul and Lee Sang-yoon are superb in making their characters come to life. I also love how Lee Sang-yoon does this romance thing. He has a knack of making me fall for him in every role that he plays. I am not sure if rooting for their characters to end together is bad. But that is what I have been doing from the get-go.
Have you ever ran so far that you begin to wonder if you would ever make it back? When pain dogs your every step that it becomes a constant struggle to the finish. When you eventually find yourself learning to cope because it is either that or crumble on the dirt road.
Running changes you in many ways. Subtle changes that may go unnoticed for a while. But sooner or later, you begin to see the telltale signs of a different you.
One day you will realize that you are not the person you used to be. You begin to yearn to be out on the road and watch the world come to life. And regardless of your skill level or the distances you run, you feel a strong sense of kinship to every runner you pass or see on the road.
You learn that the only way to finish what you set out to do is to ignore that annoying voice that tells you that you can’t do it. You drown the voice by focusing your mind to the beauty you see around you. The subtle shift from dark to light as the sky welcomes the sun. The silence gradually broken as everything around you stirs in preparation for a new day. The soft caress of the wind as it hits you from all sides and the way it makes every nerve in your body come alive. All that and more are the sights and sounds that you begin to look forward to each time you run.
The struggle between your mind and body is still there. But you begin to live with it. You know that it is the ever present challenge that would define your decision to stretch yourself beyond your limits or not. Then it just happens one day that you realize the voice in your head urging you to stop and rest have gone quiet. It is as if by sheer will and courage of spirit you were able to silence it.
But perhaps the most amazing thing about that sense of quiet you achieve is that you’re now able to listen to that part of you that pushes you to go farther. It tells you that you’ll always find a way to go back no matter how far you go. That the only way for you to know how far you can go is to not worry about how you’re going to get back. Because you will.
Only after you’ve gone and pushed yourself beyond your limits that you’ll realize you had it in you all along. The ability to make it happen.
[Posted on my other blog last January 29, 2011]
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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:
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.
It is not every day that I find a Happy Place to add to my list. Maybe it is for lack of trying on my part for I do not venture out much. Or maybe, that inexplicable feeling that hits me when I find it does not surface easily. I prefer places away from the crowd or big enough to give me plenty of personal space where I could experience simple joys.
Among my happiest places in the world include the lakes where rowing has brought me over the years, the parks where I do my daily runs in The Hague, the pathways of Tokyo, the quiet roads of Aioi, Aizuwakamatsu and Minimi-aizu. The tree-lined streets of Jongno-gu, the old post town of Ouchi-juku, the ancient water town of Zhujiajiao, and the old village inside the vast park in Mungyeong likewise give me that deep feeling of contentment. The quaint cafes and restaurants found in towns and cities I have wandered into are also on that special list.
Manga Toshokan is a new addition to my happy place list. I have been planning to visit it soon after it opened last year. But I never got around to doing it.
The place is a book cafe with an extensive collection of manga as well as some good selections of classic and contemporary novels. The omurice I ordered was delicious and filling. The desserts were tempting. I opted for the chocolate chip cookies, which I found satisfying. The iced cafe latte could have been better. But I had no complaints. I was there for the manga. I did not do much reading though. There are plenty of time for that in future visits. Instead, I soaked in the simple pleasure of being there.
I do not know how different the experience would have been if the place was busy. But the quiet time I had there was a big draw for me. I can imagine myself spending hours there. I just have to time my visits well to avoid the crowd.
Manga Toshokan is located at Doors 4 and 5, Belfran Bldg., Palma Gil St. cor. CM Recto St., Davao City