From Tokyo to Hokkaido

In an earlier post, I talked about snow fun in Tomamu. Well, before getting to Tomamu, we had to fly from Tokyo to Hokkaido. Obviously, we were flying on Japan Airlines. The plane to Hokkaido was another B777.

Haneda airport

As much as international airports are perfectly organized, domestic airports can look a bit more tentative in Japan. When we tried to rebook my flight to be on the same plane as my wife and daughter, it was an incredible hassle with JAL at their domestic terminal. After paying a penalty fee (!) for the rebooking, we managed however to board the plane. That is where I managed to take the perfect shot in an airport. In terms of composition, all the elements were aligned.

Haneda airport
Haneda airport domestic terminal seen from a B777-300.

The one qualm about Haneda is that shops and eating places are far and few in between. In a way, Haneda is rather spartan, compared to Narita.

Japan Airlines connection to Hokkaido

While the staff are very kind and while the plane was impeccable, there was no screen onboard the B777. All they gave you was a headset to listen to some music.

No screen
No screen on the seat of B777 to Sapporo.

Thankfully, the flight is short, otherwise it might have been rather tedious.

You also have the occasion upon takeoff to see Mount Fuji in the distance (but you must sit down on the left side). A grandiose sight but I failed to take a picture (with an Iphone, you would see very little anyway). The industrial facilities of Tokyo Bay, which you can see upon takeoff are worth a shot, nevertheless.

Tokyo Bay
Tokyo Bay upon takeoff from Haneda airport

My family and me caught some quick shuteye in the plane.

napping in the plane
Mitchy with pillow

First glimpse of snow in Hokkaido

When initiating descent in Hokkaido, you can catch your first glimpse of snow on Hokkaido.

First glimpse of snow over Hokkaido
First glimpse of snow over Hokkaido on approach to Chitose airport

The landing was uneventful, just as the takeoff. Collection of our luggage was quick as I am a gold member of the OneWorld alliance. Once outside, we had to find a way of getting to our hotel, which was the Royton Sapporo. Fortunately, the airport has a limousine bus which visits all the main hotels in Sapporo. The price is a modest 1030 JPY per head. Please do check on your own flight if you are arriving to Chitose at the international terminal (we flew in through the domestic terminal). Unfortunately, the Royton is truly the very last hotel on this shuttle bus, so it takes around 1 hr to 1h 1/2. The roads were covered with snow, which made the airport transfer even more lovely. When departing, instead, the snow complicated everything, as the snowstorm buffeting Sapporo made it impossible to get to the airport on time with the airport limousine bus.

Royton Sapporo

Originally, we had been hesitating on whether to stay in Jozankei, which is a resort hotel near Niseko. The cost convinced us to abstain and we opted to be based in Sapporo without too many transfers around. Royton Sapporo was ideal as it is centrally located (although a bit far from the train station.

The hotel itself is quite crowded around new year and christmas, but still is a lovely place to pass the night. Upon arrival in our bedroom, I wasted no time in taking  a pic of our alter ego from LINE friends in front of the gorgeous snowy view.

Royton Sapporo with Cony, Brown and Sally
Cony, Brown and Sally at Royton Sapporo

This was the place where we were going to stay for the next few days, exploring Tomamu and Sapporo itself.

Barefoot biking from Shatin to Plover Cove… an occasion to shoot some marvelous landscape!

Last week-end, a friend of mine, Matthew, took me around on a bike ride, from Shatin to Plover Cove. The interesting part of this bike ride is that the whole ride takes place on biking lanes and in a very lovely seaside atmosphere. It is also an occasion to shoot some marvelous landscapes on the way, as the whole area has some gorgeous views.

Renting a bike

Renting a bike is very easily done near the river, in Shatin. The total price is about 60 HKD for a whole day. You can also rent “family bikes” (sort of 4-wheeled bikes for several persons to ride). All you need to do is to leave your id card information.

As I run and hike now more or less regularly barefoot, I decided to go for biking barefoot. Obviously, the pedals of a mountain bike do leave a dent, but my feet have become sufficiently conditioned now, not to suffer an exaggerated inconvenience.

After that, as long as you follow the coastline, it is an easy scenic ride along Tolo Harbour. Along the way, you can come across some interesting sights. Like for example, the wonderful Tsz Shan monastery.

 

Tsz Shan Monastery

This monastery is quite recent, as it was completed only in 2015. Its main feature is the statue of the goddess of mercy, Guan Yin. At 76 meters tall, this white bronze statue towers now over the Tolo harbour, being a recognizable landmark. The monastery is quite popular, to the point that it enforces a strict online booking policy to visit it. If you want to enter, bookings must take place at least one month in advance.

Tsz Shan Monastery
The statue of Guan Yin at Tsz Shan Monastery

The other way of taking a peak inside this monastery, is to fly a drone above or around, which is what I did with my Mavic Pro. The monastery was built thanks to financing from Li Ka-Shing, one of the richest men in Hong Kong. It was even rumored that the Guan Yin statue would be his tomb in the future, but he denied the story.

I also filmed the various places we visited, from Tsz Shan Monastery to Plover Cove:

 

Plover Cove

Plover Cove is another interesting spot, pretty much at the end of the 30-kms ride from Shatin. Originally, a piece of Tolo Harbour, this portion of the sea was drained in order to make it a reservoir of freshwater for Hong Kong. Its dam is reputed for having been the greatest such work at the time of its construction (in the 1960s). Today, the place is an ideal vacation spot for many hongkongers who enjoy riding bicycles on the dam, or flying kites.

Plover Cove reservoir
Plover Cove, with on the left the freshwater side and on the right the sea

Of course, I had to take a “dronie” with Matthew on that occasion.

Plover cove dronie
A “dronie” of Matthew and me on Plover Cove reservoir dam

Tolo Harbour is also used for quite a number of nautical sports. Some people use a sailing board, others prefer waterskiing. Here, you can see a group practicing sailing board with the Tsz Shan monastery appearing in the background.

Tolo Harbour
Sailing Board in Tolo Harbour

 

Getting back

After the exhilarating 30 kms ride to Plover Cove, now came the time to ride back! Although the path was as flat going as coming back, of course, muscles started feeling the effort.

Also, if you can do it at all, do leave in the morning. In the afternoon, plenty of people who do not know to ride start appearing and are a real hazard on biking paths. In that, the return was rather more stressful than the first leg of the trip.

Once we got back to Shatin and returned the bikes, my feet were slightly tender from biking for several hours barefoot. I thus decided to go home barefoot. And obviously, this involved the challenge of taking the MTR… barefoot!

Barefoot in the MTR
The escalator does not feel painful at all, contrary to what you might expect.

I went barefoot all the way, until home. Most people didn’t look at my feet, those who did, didn’t care. I was in a sportive attire, so I guess this attracted less attention too.

The reason for doing this was partly to challenge my own comfort zone, partly also to test my limits too. I did use a public toilet in Shatin, but I wore my sandals (could not conceive walking in the urine of others).

Nevertheless, the whole experience was interesting and liberating. I might swear I had more looks from other bikers on my biking barefoot than while in the MTR!

After the exercise, my glutes were quite tired as it had been quite a few years since I had done a long bike ride (I used to ride for long distances in Belgium). But this shows the different facets of Hong Kong. A city where biking or hiking is just a few MTR stations away from the urban sprawls of the center.

 

 

Easter in the Philippines

Being a Catholic country, obviously, Easter in the Philippines is something special. With great fervor and intensity, Filipinos are known to celebrate the Holy Week to a higher degree then elsewhere. Most people have heard about the crucifixions and other shows made around people who impersonate Christ on the cross. Such practices, however, are really in minority and strongly frowned upon by the Catholic church. No, Easter in the Philippines is something else. It ranges from Good Friday processions to an early dawn mass on Easter morning.

Good Friday Processions

Of course, Good Friday is an important occasion, but far from the hysterics of the people doing repeats of the crucifixion. No, an ordinary Good Friday is simply having the family follow the Good Friday procession and the carts of your barangay (local government unit).

Good Friday procession
Good Friday procession in Lapu-Lapu

This procession takes typically about one to two hours, because there are a lot of people and it is difficult to circulate in the tight streets of the Barangay.

Each area has its own statue and cart, behind which they walk, and the atmosphere, while fervent is also good-humored.

 

Easter dawn mass

The Good Friday processions are fokloric enough, but the real core of the atmosphere and the Easter feeling can be found in the easter dawn mass.

Following an old Catholic tradition, the very first mass of the day takes place at 4 AM in the morning. Whole families, including kids come out to assist to this mass.

Easter morning mass and candles
The atmospheric light of candlight fasinates kids at the easter morning mass.

The focus of the moment is not so much on adults as on children who are literally fascinated by the candlelight, making it a magical moment to shoot pictures.

Little girl with candlelight
A little girl with candlelight

The mass starts at night, where the candlelight provides a lovely intimate setting. As it ends, and people go to communion, the daylight breaks and shines on people, with a lovely pink hue.

Communion at the dawn mass
Communion at the dawn mass

In the most popular areas, there is quite a crowd assisting to the mass. It is the occasion of witnessing the popular fervor among less favored classes. Religion is often the only steadfast security these people have in front of life’s challenges.

Some technical details

The pictures in this post were all shot in 2010, during my first travel to the Philippines, in the city of Lapu-Lapu. At the time, I used a Canon EOS 40D, a 17-85 zoom and a 50mm f 1.8. Obviously, all the night pictures were shot with the 50mm. This caused some issues with framing in such a packed setting, but I still managed to use some interesting pictures.

Lapu-Lapu is located in the island of Cebu, and is the place where the Spanish explorer Ferdinand de Magellan met his death at the hands of local tribes under the leadership of the chief Lapu-Lapu (who transmitted his name to the island). Easter traditionally is very packed with all overseas Filipinos returning to the island.



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A night barefoot hike on Kowloon Peak

After having climbed suicide cliff barefoot and by night, I still had to more. That’s why, last Sunday, I decided to do a night barefoot hike on Kowloon Peak to catch the sunrise.

Starting off at 3 AM

Although I live very close to Kowloon Peak, arriving at the top on time still requires starting off early. I thus left my home at 3.30 in the morning. Being night time as since I was alone, I decided not to climb via the Suicide cliff, as it would have been too risky. I took the stairs on Fei Ngo Shan road. As I do now more or less regularly barefoot running, my cardio has improved. I managed to climb without making any pause. This being said, being barefoot also requires me to be slower and to watch where I set my feet. I had a headlamp as hiking by night requires you to see where you walk, all the more as you hike barefoot.

Upon arrival, it was still dark, although the first embers of dawn could be glimpsed. However, very annoyingly, the tip of the mountain was covered in clouds (and was quite windy too). Topping 500 meters, Kowloon Peak is often shrouded in clouds.

Helipad kowloon peak barefoot
Taking a pic on the helipad of Kowloon peak with my walking torch.

I then sheltered from the wind. As the daylight was slowly increasing, I attempted to shoot some pics of the city. Unfortunately, given the strong winds, my tripod was not so stable, so several shots were spoiled. I still managed to shoot some  pics with my iphone on a moment where the clouds parted.

View from Kowloon Peak
A veiw from the topmost part of Kowloon Peak at dawn, as the clouds parted for a short instant

Dawn breaking

Later, towards 6 AM, as the dawn was breaking, and the sky started taking the “blue hour” color. Fortunately, the clouds and the fog also started dissipating.

Kwun Tong in the clouds
Kwun Tong emerging from the clouds like a modern fairy tale castle

The blue hour also manifested itself in this picture.

Blue hour on Kowloon Peak
As dawn breaks, the blue hour shows on Kowloon peak

It must be said that the clouds kept covering the top of Kowloon Peak. This gave however a lovely feeling to the area, as Kowloon peak is one of the few places where you can be said to be “walking in the clouds”.

Drone view of Kowloon Peak

The winds at the top were quite strong, so I was not too adventurous when flying my Mavic Pro. I tried however to take some context pictures that would show the area and how it really feels.

For example, an iconic shot at the top of Kowloon peak is the helipad on the top. A “dronie” with the helipad helps to show the path down from the top of the mountain.

Dronie from Kowloon Peak
A dronie from the platform of Kowloon Peak.

Kowloon peak also has very gorgeous view on Kowloon itself.

Dronie and view on Kowloon
A dronie with a view on Kowloon

As the dawn advanced, the clouds started to clear up, but on the other ridges of Kowloon peak, it gave a lovely Chinese watercolor effect.

Clouds shroud middle peak
Clouds shroud middle peak.

Going down

Normally, going down should be quicker than going up. That’s true but when barefoot, you have to be more careful, obviously. The danger is not so much about hurting your feet as of losing your balance. The technique I used is to land on my forefoot (similar to barefoot running) and being watchful when resting the remainder of my foot; indeed, landing on a pebble might be discomfortable (or even slightly painful), but with training, you take it in stride (your foot redistributes the weight differently). If you jump or land too heavily, there is a risk of losing balance (I had a rucksack and a tripod) and falling. That’s why, barefoot hiking should be done with as light gear as possible.

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On the whole, the sunrise experience was perfect in the timing and the pleasure of hiking barefoot in the mountain, but a bit marred by the lack of sunrise. I only got to see some sun when going down.

Rising sun over Sai Kung
A rising sun shines over Sai Kung