We are often left to ask what we want to do with our lives. Oftentimes we realize that in fact, life is but a series of choices, some black, some white, and some between the two, all exerting influence in our lives and deciding what kind of person we will become. Some choose to take life easy, letting things go as they are, while others gamble all they have to try something new, to find their way outside the usual. It is pondering on the idea of choice, why we are compelled to make choices, and the idea of us controlling our own destiny, that makes us truly human.
When we are given the opportunity of a lifetime, do we decide to back off and play it safe? Or do we take a leap of faith and gamble what we have in order to head into the great unknown? More often than not, we would choose to take the latter? But what if that choice upends whatever you've built, and in exchange, you return a changed man? Are the potential rewards worth it?
These are the very questions that I had to deal with when I decided to go to Poland, and it is here that I open this trip report: that fateful flight to Warsaw (via Amsterdam) from Manila on KLM. Yes, 'tis a long way from home my life has taken me.
The story of how I even got to Poland is a very perplexing one in itself, and it was the result of having taken a leap of faith I would have never thought of taking.
Sometime last year, posters started circulating around my university looking for potential applicants to the Erasmus Mundus Mobility with Asia (EMMA) program: a program funded by the European Union which facilitates student exchange between universities in Asia and partner universities in Europe. At that time, my university was soliciting applications for its own student exchange program, which I applied for, and I saw this poster, figuring that I should give it a shot. The poster was very informative, including the clincher that made me apply for it (aside from the chance to meet new people, that is): a generous €1000 monthly stipend for the term of my studies there.
It was December 2010 when I saw the poster, and so over the Christmas break, I was fixing my application, e-mailing the coordinators, and making sure my application would go as smoothly as possible, even going so far as getting three recommendation letters, to make sure that I can get that scholarship. By early January, the finishing touches were complete, and I anxiously submitted my application online on January 18, just three days short of the January 21 deadline.
For the next four months, I heard nothing from the people who received my application: in the meantime, I went to Zhuhai, China for a two-month language study program. However, on May 30, the day after I arrived from that program, I received an e-mail from the organizers. To my surprise, I was accepted for the scholarship, both for the first university I applied for (the University of Warsaw) and for the original term: ten months! I was speechless, and 46 comments later on the Facebook post that I put up minutes after reading that e-mail plus a few consultations here and there, I took the decision to go even if I will delay my graduation by a whole year.
Because of the scholarship, I had to go on official leave from my university, so while I was not officially a student, I was allowed to sit in class as if I was one so that I wouldn't be bored. In the meantime, I had to prepare: because there was no Polish embassy in the Philippines, I had to apply for my visa in Kuala Lumpur, which I (partially) covered in my previous report.
The scholarship does provide for my airfare: according to the person at the International Relations Office who handles Erasmus students at the bachelor level, the allocated budget for airfare was €2500 per student. Out of concerns that the costs me and my parents accrued in getting the visa would not be reimbursed (since the reimbursement will apparently come from the airfare budget), she suggested I go with the cheapest, but also most convenient, set of flights. That, of course, was with KLM, and so I got an itinerary that looks like this:
; departing 1025, arriving 1850
; departing 2055, arriving 2255
It looks like I'm all set, and off to Warsaw I go!
I. Pre-departure: MNL-AMS-WAW
What was completely coincidental about this entire flight was that on the same day I was set to leave for Warsaw, my dad was heading to Tokyo on DL
. So even if my flight leaves a full three hours before his flight was scheduled to depart, to save on gas, I decided to go with him to the airport, which happened to be at dawn. Although I have flown MNL
countless times on NW
(by that point, I have yet to experience flying DL
), and although my body should be used to waking up by now for 7:00-am flights, I'm still not fond of waking up at 4:00 am just to get ready.
My dad and I left the house at around 5:30 am, always with his penchant for arriving late. Well, he's flying in J, so it doesn't really matter what time he arrives since he can check in at his own convenience anyway (provided, of course, he arrives at least an hour before the counters close), and since I'm leaving a full three hours after he is, I might as well spend my last few hours in the Philippines with him. Soon enough, in the midst of empty Manila roads in the hour or so before morning rush hour, we arrive at NAIA Terminal 1.
II. Pre-flight: KL 804, MNL-AMS
The thing with Terminal 1 is that it will always be full in the morning because of a plethora of flights that always depart between 6:00 am and 10:00 am. My dad's flight, DL
172, was to depart at around 7:30, while KL
804 was to depart much later. So while my dad lines up at the Sky Priority counter, I ask if I may check in for my flight, given that first, DL
are in the same alliance, and second, DL
use the same ground handling agent in MNL
does have MNL
-based ground staff). The answer, apparently, was "No", and so I was redirected to the KL
counters (right beside the DL
ones), and inside a then-cordoned off area reserved for World Business Class passengers and elites, while my dad checks in and heads off to the pre-departure area, though not without the obligatory hug that a son gives his father before he (meaning me) leaves the country for the better part of ten months.
At the rate this is going, I must have felt like royalty among the throng of people waiting beyond the cordon. KL
's counters open at around 7:30: surprisingly not, after my dad leaves for NRT
The only airline with counters whose position never changes is CX
. Because of its small size, airlines at Terminal 1 will set up and pack up as the day progresses: KL
packs up and gives way to SQ
packs up so QF
can take over, DL
packs up so KE
can set up, and so on, and so forth. I call this the "rondalla". But since CX
carries a lot of traffic to MNL
, with six daily flights to HKG
(and counting, too!), their counters are more-or-less fixed in the same position.
So today, I'm carrying what's supposed to be a carry-on suitcase on the left, and a check-in suitcase on the right. The latter gets checked in just fine, but apparently, someone within the depths of the MIAA decided that we should weigh people's carry-on luggage before they enter the immigration area, and when that time came when both my backpack (which I normally pass of as my computer bag) and the little suitcase came to be weighed, they forced me to check in the small suitcase! Inasmuch as I don't mind that happening, I don't think airport authorities are in the best position to judge these things, right?
While waiting in line to pay my passenger service charge (also known as the terminal fee), my dad gives me a call, telling me that they're boarding his flight already and I won't get to see him when I get to departures. He says he'll miss me, and, as a bonus treat, he has arranged for me to get access to the MIASCOR Lounge, arguably one of the best lounges in Terminal 1 (he gets access because of his credit card). Things might turn up for the better after all, and after waiting in three separate lines, I was finally in the pre-departure area.
-SQC is firmly parked in its gate while N662US, the 747-400 my dad's taking to NRT
, passes right behind it.
Meanwhile, this SkyTeam banner was right across from the MIASCOR Lounge, by the door of Southeast Asia's only Delta Sky Club. However, not all SkyTeam airlines use the Sky Club (which my dad says is not that good for a lounge): Korean Air and China Southern Airlines, for example, use the Sampaguita Lounge, located on the third floor of Terminal 1 (and which used to be the flagship Mabuhay Lounge until PR
moved out of Terminal 1 in 1998).
The receptionist asks me if I was allowed to enter the lounge, and she checks through her records when I told her that my dad was here. Surely enough, she let me in, and finally, I was inside a non-PR airport lounge!
For starters, the lounge does get a lot of sunlight, and it's not that crowded today. The TV
, meanwhile, was running the news.
Now, the one dish which is a fixture in Philippine airport lounges will always be the country's most famous airplane dish (similar to the bibimbap on KE
flights): arroz caldo (chicken congee). And with milk to boot, too!
Because my flight doesn't leave until 10:25, I got to spend some time in the lounge, and of course, stock up on breakfast (I had bread and apple juice after the arroz caldo). Over time though, the lounge started to empty, which meant more chairs near outlets for me, which also meant I could charge my electronic devices before that long 13-hour journey to Amsterdam, and ultimately to Warsaw, gets to my nerves.
The tarmac, meanwhile, was similarly quiet today.
At around 9:45 the lounge receptionist approaches me and informs me that my flight was about to board, so I got my things and headed off to the gate, where the famous PH
-BVD, the SkyTeam 777-300ER which greeted me the first time I ever flew KLM, was to bring me back to Europe.
Now, although this is my third time (and fifth flight) flying KLM, I wonder what surprises will be in for me as I return to this wonder beauty of an airplane.
III. In-flight: KL 804
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines Flight KL 804
Manila (Ninoy Aquino International; MNL/RPLL)-Amsterdam (Schiphol; AMS/EHAM)
Boeing 777-300ER, PH-BVD (SkyTeam livery)
Seat 30-A (window, left side, back section, bulkhead)
ETD 1025 / ETA 1850
What greets me upon entering this now-familiar airplane is the wonderful aura of bright lights (and sunlight) emanating throughout the cabin. One of the reasons why I love KLM is because every time you step onto one of their planes, you will always feel happy and relaxed: seats in shades of blue (from navy blue to sky blue) are a fairly radical departure from the bluish-purple seats of PAL
or the black-and-green ones on Cebu Pacific. And with that said, I made it to my seat: a "special" bulkhead seat known as 30-A. Why is it special: Well, in this case, it's because by this time, KLM started charging passengers for pre-reserving bulkheads, yet this one wasn't charged. Reason: the cabin door.
KLM's pillow and blanket (one of my favorites among airline blankets) are set aside temporarily so I can sit down and take a snap of the wing, and ultimately the tarmac at MNL
Passengers start flowing into the plane, and the person beside me happens to be a retired Filipino-American headed to Barcelona for vacation. Luckily for us though, 30-B was vacant, so he took 30-C instead. When the doors close, a flight attendant got settled into her jumpseat, asks me a few questions about where I was going, and soon enough, the plane takes off.
At 11:30 am, the snack service begins with some nice roasted almonds and a crisp, cold glass of apple juice, complemented by my PTV and very, very generous legroom as provided for by this seat.
Later on, at around noon, lunch was served. This was roast beef with rice, chicken salad and a lemon cake: arguably a very excellent meal for a flight out of MNL
. Oh, and more apple juice.
The beef was soft and the sauce was tasty, the vegetables were fresh, the rice was soft and the salad was decent for its type, though the dressing could have been better. Still, not bad at all, and, since it's KLM, I was also treated to a second roll, which was very soft (unlike the last time I flew KLM to AMS
, when it was hard as a brick).
A second drink service means my usual cup of tea on board this flight: it should help me stay awake long enough so I can get some work done (like writing a paper which, up to this day, I have yet to finish).
After the meal service, I had to pay a little visit to the lavatory, where I snapped this picture of myself.
Meanwhile, there was lots of cloud cover over central China.
Because this is a 13-hour flight, the blinds come to a close, and the cabin goes dark. that doesn't mean though that another drink service was coming around, this time handing out water to parched passengers.
And later, more water, but this time, with a nice cup of Philippine ice cream too! Very, very delicious, and very, very creamy.
On the other hand, I was working on my paper, and yet another snack service comes, this time handing out sandwiches. I got a chicken sandwich with mango slices, and it was absolutely fantastic: put chicken and mangoes together and you have the perfect combination of sweetness and tartness in a single sandwich. I wish they served this on their short-haul intra-European legs!
After a while, writing a paper can be a total drag. Let me rephrase that: when you're o 13-hour flight to the great unknown, then obviously it is
a drag. So I close up the computer and do something else instead: in this case, I decided to watch The Matrix
When the movie was over, I got to thumb over September's Holland Herald
, which, coincidentally, features the Philippines. Who says we don't advertise?
At around 5:00 pm (11:00 pm PST), the second meal service starts. This time, it's chicken with yellow rice, a pasta salad and fresh fruits. The chicken was soft to my liking, the rice complemented it very well, and the fruits were fantastic. The salad, though a little on the salty side, was also great as well.
As is usually the case, the flight today was almost full: very few seats were left empty. This is KLM's reputation at work, particularly since it has served the Philippines for the sixty years (and counting too!).
Finally, the plane arrives, and we make it to Amsterdam safe and sound.
IV. Arrival in Amsterdam/Pre-flight: KL 1369, AMS-WAW
Upon stepping out into Schiphol, aside from its ubiquitous yellow signs, the first thing that greets me is this very long line of people on the walkalator heading towards Schengen departures. KLM carries a lot of connecting traffic from MNL
: I'm headed to Warsaw, while there's this family headed to Oslo, the person who sat beside me on the plane headed to Barcelona, another person headed to Paris, and so on. It seems that only a minority of passengers were terminating in AMS
There seems to be quite a mess though at the immigration counters located just outside Holland Boulevard. In fact, the lines got so long that one line was cut into two, with half moving to a newly-opened queue. Lots and lots of people, but few immigration officers, it seemed. At least, however, this was not Paris.
Somewhere in the Schengen departures area, I run into my friend (who's also going to be studying in Warsaw, but only for six months), and we head toward the gate. She got to stay in Amsterdam for a few days and look around the city, while I got my affairs straightened out in Manila. In the meantime, here's some planes from near our gate!
And there's PH
-BVD over at non-Schengen departures! The SkyTeam livery is very pretty on a 777.
8:00 pm was approaching and we made it to the gate. Turns out that we were not the only Filipinos on the flight: Creative Commons was having a conference in Warsaw the week we were flying in, and we just happened to run into the officer-in-charge of Creative Commons Philippines, which is great for me (as part of Wikimedia Philippines). As I was also going to attend the conference, it was nice to meet people who I'm going to be expecting there.
Anyway, boarding was about to begin, and so we all lined up to enter the 737 waiting in front of us.
V. In-flight: KL 1369
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines Flight KL 1369
Amsterdam (Schiphol; AMS/EHAM)-Warsaw (Frédéric Chopin/Okęcie; WAW/EPWA)
Seat 5-F (window, right side)
ETD 2055 / ETA 2255
Since I was a Silver Medallion with Delta, I was among one of the first to go in, while my friend was in line with the other passengers (apparently, they wouldn't allow me to bring her). The convenience of boarding first means no people when I got to my seat.
I'm very amused by the dividers on this plane: normally, KLM uses curtains. These look more like blinds.
Very nice legroom on this flight. Earlier in the year, a friend of mine said that since Dutch people are tall (and growing taller at that), KLM has to lay seats out in consideration of this factor. Of course, this means a lot of space for the legs.
Meanwhile, beside us was PH
As the plane takes off, we're welcomed by a wonderful sight: a wonderfully-lit Amsterdam. Still baffled though why the sun sets to late in summer: last time I was in Poland, the sun set at 8:00 pm. While latitude has something to do with it, if you're from the tropics, it can be mighty disorienting.
At around 9:45, the food service comes and look what's in store for people in the back: two sandwiches: one cheese, the other ham. Still, both are very filling, and since I'm arriving late at night, might as well take it so I don't hassle myself with looking for food later. And to top it all off, there's of course the glass of apple juice.
The sandwiches apparently also come with a little stroopwafel
-type cookie, which i had with my second serving of tea. In any circumstance, both help me stay awake.
Soon we were descending on Warsaw, with all those lights in the distance. It's my second time in Poland, but my first in the capital, so I can't wait to actually be on those streets in the future.
The plane arrives and parks at the terminal. Finally, after a long day in a metal tube, I was in Warsaw, and oh, look who comes to greet us: SP
-LDF and another LOT E-Jet, plus lots and lots of baggage handling equipment!
[Edited 2012-01-24 15:46:42]