Barefoot running in Prague

I was recently for business purposes in Prague, in Czech Republic (after transiting through Helsinki). As you may already know, I did some barefoot running while in Barcelona, and now try to keep running barefoot anytime I am abroad. While Prague certainly leads in the category of the most beautiful cities of the world, it is also a tough terrain for barefoot running. Barefoot running in Prague’s old city involves indeed running on disjointed pavements most of the time.

Barefoot acclimatizing

As you may know, I regularly run barefoot in Hong Kong and I also do hike barefoot. I also often do some quick runs to the mall barefoot, which gives me a quick exercise and the occasion of both, facing social awkwardness and using my bare feet in different contexts.

It is thus that while not being a full-time barefooter (work and social conditions do not allow it), I do try to do barefoot exercise as much as possible. This reinforces my leg muscles and my feet, and of course, also my social comfort being barefoot. But more importantly, it allows my feet to experience a variety of terrain, thus reinforcing skin and muscular structure of the feet.

The Old city

The old city of Prague is replete with historic buildings, and mainly old huge pavements. The sidewalks are filled with smaller cobbles, but are thus also an irregular surface for running. On my first run, I had the lovely surprise of encountering a barefooted statue of “harmony” on the banks of the Moldau. This was probably the best part, as running on the banks of the Moldau (or Vlatava as it is called in Czech), and the small gravel and sand did not cause any discomfort.

 

During the day, running in the old town is difficult due to the great number of tourists in the month of May. I thus started my runs generally towards 6 AM.

An idea of the tourists on Prague’s Charles bridge…

Prague's Charles bridge
Prague’s Charles bridge at tourist rush hour (Photo Anthony DELANOIX, from www.unsplash.com)

Anthony DELANOIX

 

If running in the morning took care of the tourists, the surface remained harsh to run upon. My first run took me right up to the Prague castle, which at 6.30 AM was deserted. Running that early allows you to use the warm morning light and it gave my picture quite a flavour of Tuscany. And no, I did not use any filter!

barefoot running to Prague Castle
Barefoot running until Prague Castle

Running in the city

For people who are paranoid about glass on the floor, I did not encounter any while running in Prague. Whether at the castle or in the city, there was no glass to harm my feet, nor other dangerous items. While I would not say Prague is as clean as Helsinki, it is reasonably clean.

However, running barefoot on disjointed pavement or huge coblestones requires some care, but I surprised myself by running about normally on that terrain. It did not cause any discomfort (testifying to months of barefooting and acclimatization of my feet).

Afterwards, however, my footpads were a bit sensitive, but I trust a few weeks of running on that terrain would have taken care of that too.

Social look on barefooting in Prague

With regards to the acceptation of barefooting, I saw a Czech lady barefooting in the park (and apparently, she did not carry any shoes with her), and a few English people also barefooting in the old city. However, despite encountering a number of runners, I did not see any who were running barefoot.

While I got some weird looks, just two openly negative reactions… A group of guys who saw me walking back to my hotel barefoot and started laughing loudly and openly after I passed them. And finally, the receptionist of the 5-star hotel where I was residing who told a customer : “yes, there are strange people”, after they saw me coming back barefoot.

Pushing back the comfort zone

When running barefoot, you must be ready to push back your comfort zone. Part of this implies being ready for and being unfazed with such reactions. I made the choice of a certain lifestyle and a given way of life and I am ready to accept the constraints that come with it. I also don’t mind being considered as weird or strange or “poor”. It is actually quite a luxury of having a decent lifestyle and being able to be careless about how you look.

Nevertheless, being a barefooter does not entail any philosophical or ethical consideration for me (not doing it because of “earthing” or whatever “hippie” feelings). It just is a lifestyle which helped me to overcome a physical issue and which has provided me a lot of satisfaction in various manners since I started it. I have the necessary self-confidence to put up with the abuse or curiosity. Running barefoot in various countries around the world allows us this comfort zone to be pushed back.

I would say however, that being shoeless and being able to run shoeless means that I need less things. In a way, this encourages minimalism and a more zen approach to life. It also increases tremendously self-confidence (ok, it must already be quite high to be able to do it).

Barefoot running anywhere

Contrary to popular fears, barefoot running in the city is not a solution for injuries provided you watch where you run and provided you take the time to condition your feet. Taking it slow initially is an essential requirement. Beyond the fear of injury, the most obvious issue you may be facing, would be the social awkwardness when running barefoot. People will stare or even comment or laugh at you. This is inevitable. For some reason, in Hong Kong, a lot of people run shirtless, but elicit no comment at all. Run barefoot and everybody stares or is uneasy. There is an almost freudian paradox in this aspect of society.

 

The Statue of Harmony

Statue of Harmony in Prague
The barefooted statue of “Harmony” in Prague.

This statue on the banks of the Moldau, actually refers to Sri Chinmoy, an Indian sect leader who was active in the USA in the 1960’s. While you may wonder why such a statue was placed in Prague, it made for an interesting encounter in the morning.

Nevertheless, as a matter of fact, that particular day, I felt that running barefoot also allowed me to reach my own personal harmony.

Second trip to Kaohsiung: back to the island of smiles!

There has been a little bit of a hiatus in this blog, but that is merely because I was traveling quite a bit. In April, I returned to the city of Kaohsiung, in Taiwan. This time, as I had a drone with me, I managed to capture a drone view of Kaohsiung. This time, I was traveling with my wife and daughter. We had just one day for visiting all of Kaohsiung, so we tried our best to fit the most into our day. Incidentally, the proximity to Hong Kong and the low cost of the place makes it an ideal place for a week-end trip. For me, it was the occasion of being back to the island of smiles!

Kaohsiung an ideal place for vacations
Kaohsiung, an ideal place for vacations

Cathay Dragon

Previously, I had flown on China Airlines, which was an ok airline, but affected by several delays.

With Cathay Dragon, an affiliate of Cathay Pacific, the trip was smoother, but it still had hiccups. The gate was thus changed at the last minute, and we had to run to the new gate. The plane was ok, and the flight attendants quite nice too. Despite flying economy, the kindness and smile of the flight attendants was the main asset of the airline. On return, some plastic fittings were disarranged, giving the aircraft quite an old and used feel.

In Kaohsiung airport instead, it seems they had a single bus to transload passengers from plane to terminal. After all, it is just a small provincial airport (but very homely).

Despite these little hiccups, we did not have any issues in arriving in Taiwan.

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The Lees hotel

As I was with my family, I booked a more luxurious hotel, the “Lees hotel“. Located quite centrally, near to the Formosa Boulevard station, this hotel provides an excellent and lovely place and a very lovely position.

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The interesting part of that hotel is its position next to a rainbow-colored water castle with a motive “I love Kaohsiung”.

Water castle near Lees hotel
The Water Castle near the Lees Hotel

Everything is bigger in Kaohsiung: from roads to smiles

I mentioned earlier, that the Taiwanese and the people of Kaohsiung in particular are very friendly. My impression was confirmed on this second trip. People were warm and kind everywhere we went. What prevailed was a general impression of happiness among the population, which was very refreshing. When compared to HK, everything is bigger, from the roads to the smiles.

Art2Pier: “art” as a place for living

I mentioned in an earlier article about the Eslite library as a place for living. Art2Pier, the open air modern art exhibition has the same flavour.

Art2Pier container installation by drone
Art2Pier container installation seen by drone in Kaohsiung

A view by drone allows to see a bit more of the expanse of the art2pier installation.

Our daughter loved seeing the art and posing in front of the murals.

MS at art2pier in Kaohsiung
Maria-Sophia at the Art2Pier in Kaohsiung

We also visited the famous stationery shop located at Art2Pier. Unfortunately, they don’t allow pictures to be taken inside, but it is quite a lovely place if you are into Japanese cute stuff.

Grocery and stationery shop at Art2Pier
Mitch and Maria-Sophia before the grocery and stationery shop in Kaohsiung

We managed to have a dronie taken despite the very hot sun…

Family at art2pier
Our family by drone at Art2Pier

The scale of the metallic Optimus prime at the Art2Pier installation can only be appreciated from above:

Art2pier by drone
Art2Pier in Kaohsiung

Hamsan Railway museum

At a walking distance of Art2Pier, you can find another interesting place, namely the Hamsan Railway museum. “Museum” is a big name for a trainyard with a few old locomotives, but there again, the open space and views make it lovely to be seen by drone.

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As it is the city center, the flight height is limited to 60 ms, but that is plenty to take some nice pics (above 60 meters, land features become unrecognizable).

Cijin Island: the island of smiles

I did a periscope on my first trip where I shared my love of Cijin island. This time, not being in winter, heat was much stronger, but Cijin is truly the “island of smiles”. A lot of locals or tourists go to the island and rent “family bikes”, sort of 4-wheeled bikes allowing you to ride together through the (very flat) island. Our family only encountered smiles on the way, and this was truly a heart-warming experience.

Renting an electric “family bike” for two hours costs about 300 NT$ + 150 NT$ for every additional hour. The enjoyment and fun was truly worth the price.

The Kaohsiung lighthouse

Due to my time limitations on my previous trip, I had not gone to the Kaohsiung lighthouse. I realized it was a mistake, this time around, as the view up there is simply gorgeous, especially when shot by drone (in this case, my Mavic Pro).

it requires a short but steep hike up a cemented road (which I did barefoot, of course). The heat of the pavement was at the limits, though.

Kaohsiung lighthouse by drone
The Kaohsiung lighthouse by drone

I managed to capture the lighthouse, with a boat heading out at sea, which provided a nice composition element for the picture.

The view on the island from up there is also interesting (some comparison with Cheung Chau island in Hong Kong, might be warranted).

View of Cijin island by drone
Cijin island seen by drone from Kaohsiung’s lighthouse

 

But the lighthouse is not only a place for scenic pictures. It is also an ideal location for capturing pictures of ships passing by, like this empty tanker.

 

Ship entering Kaohsiung Harbour
A ship enters Kaohsiung harbour

The rainbow chapel

Another must-visit location and a preferred location for selfies is the “rainbow chapel”, located near Cijin Island’s shell museum.

The museum, in itself, is magnificent when seen by drone, as you can appreciate its architectural form, vaguely reminiscent of a shellfish.

The shell museum of Cijin Island seen by drone.
The shell museum of Cijin island seen by drone

The rainbow chapel, itself, provides its best effect when seen from above.

Rainbow Chapel
The Rainbow Chapel in Cijin island (Kaohsiung)

We then pushed with our bike to the windmill farm, but by then, our daughter was already exhausted from running around in the sun. After a quick photo pause at the windmill farm, we headed back to return to the city.

Of course, being in Taiwan, we had to try their famous bubble tea. Taiwan being the place that invented this delicious drink, it was only logical that the milk bubble tea we drank was probably the best ever!

taiwanese milk bubble tea
Taiwanese milk bubble tea

How to get there?

There are regular flights on both China Airlines and Cathay Pacific, at least twice daily. China airlines costs roughly around 864 HKD, while Cathay Pacific is slightly more expensive at 1080 HKD. The difference in price might be worth it for more convenient departure times.

Uber is functional in Kaohsiung, but taxis are also quite cheap. Otherwise, using bicycles might also be a good way of traveling around.

Barefoot hike with a little girl on Kowloon Peak

Kowloon peak is close to the place where I live and so, it is a very easy hike, when you do it via the stairs. I did it previously via suicide cliff shod and barefoot. I did go back up barefoot and at night. This time, I wished to satisfy my daughter, who had been demanding a hike for a while now. It is not often that you see a child on Kowloon Peak.

Children on Kowloon Peak?

Although it can be dangerous on the Suicide cliff side, some parents do take their kids up on suicide cliff.

Japanese family and daughter
A Japanese family brings along their daughter on Kowloon peak.

However, given that my daughter was only aged six and had never been there before, I did not wish to confront her immediately with the challenge of climbing suicide cliff by herself. We thus headed for the stairs, but walking until those did already put a couple kilometers in the legs of my daughter. We had to stop several times to make a break along the way. Finally, we got set to start climbing.

Bottom of Kowloon Peak
At the bottom of the stairs with the ominous warning

The trail on the stairs

The big inconvenience of the trail was that it had rained the day before. As a result, on the shaded part, a number of very hungry mosquitoes took us as targets. My daughter ended with about 12 bites, despite having used insect repellent. I had a few less, but the presence of aggressive mosquitoes is a new factor (they were less of a nuisance the previous times).

While it climbs continuously, the presence of stairs does not make it as challenging as the climb on suicide cliff.

Nevertheless people who are not trained may find the climb arduous (as I did the first few times I climbed Kowloon Peak). We made several stops along the way, to allow Maria-Sophia to take a breather.

Once arrived at the top, Maria-Sophia was totally exhilarated.

On the top

At the top of Kowloon Peak, there is usually quite a strong wind, so caution must be used when flying a drone. Despite this, we managed to take some “dronies”.

Dronie
Dronie on Kowloon Peak

Later, we moved lower down, closer to suicide cliff. When there is no fog, the views are spectacular.  However, with the fog, the spectacular views on the side of the cliffs were hidden under coton-like clouds. We passed near a radio tower and the passage is a bit tight, but my daughter handled it marvelously and with confidence.

Cliffs on Kowloon Peak
On either side, spectacular cliffs on Kowloon Peak

As can be seen, I continued hiking barefoot all the way, while my daughter kept her hiking shoes.

Going down

Going downstairs proved much slower than climbing. In part, this was because my daughter was unaccustomed to the place, so sought my hand to climb down from rocks or stairs. Myself being barefoot, I took extra care. On the way down, we encountered two groups who admired my daughter for her fortitude. Being aged only 6, it was quite a feat for her. The length of the hike took its toll, in the end, and she started showing signs of fatigue, once we got down, despite frequent halts.

In the end, it was a wonderful bonding moment for father and daughter, with my little girl enjoying the possibility of catching the clouds on the mountain. You should never hesitate taking your kids with you when going out, whether barefoot or not!

Busan Gwangandaegyo Bridge

One of the main sites upon arriving in the city of Busan, in Korea, is the Gwangandaegyo Bridge. Spanning 7.4 kms over the Busan bay, from Namcheon to Haeundae, it offers a gorgeous sight from the Gwangalli beach. Obviously, that was the first spot I hit upon arriving in Busan.

A bridge which looks its best at night

The bridge is illuminated at night, so it is no wonder that it looks its best then. Beyond the spectacular view on the bridge spanning across the bay, this bridge can also be seen from a mountain nearby, called the Hwangnyeongsan.

But on my first evening in Busan, I just went down to the Namcheon beach, as it was the more accessible area to shoot the bridge. That evening, I was lucky as the moon shone over the sea, giving the whole area a perfect flavor.

Busan main bridge
Busan’s main bridge under the moon and by -3° C

To the left, there are a number of buildings, offering an interesting contrast to the bridge, and further down the animated area (where I confess I did not go).

Busan bridge
The bridge and the apartment complex before which it passes in the distance

But the real best shot can be taken after a short hike up Hwangnyeongsan.

 

The view from the mountain

As mentioned, Hwangnyeongsan has the best views on the bridge and the bay.

The climb up Hwangnyeongsan
The climb up Hwangnyeongsan in the sunset

The climb is steep, but the whole road is paved, so not much of a challenge.At a point, you will find a viewpoint platform. In winter, not a lot of people do this hike, so I had the whole place all to myself.

In the sunset and during the blue hour, Gwangandaegyo Bridge then becomes magical. Obviously, you must use a zoom to exclude all the trees in the way, but still, the general view of the bridge is quite impressive.

Busan's bridge at dusk
Busan’s bridge at dusk

As the night sets in, the colors and the impression gets closer from what you you can see when you are on the Busan beach.

Busan Gwangandaegyo Bridge
A view on Busan Gwangandaegyo Bridge

After this, I went back down, this time looking for some food.

How to get there?

There are two places where I shot the pictures in this post. The first one was near the MRT Geumnyeonsan, and involves walking down to the beach.

The second place is up on the mountain, but I could not retrace exactly the place; suffice it to say that at a point, after climbing Hwangnyeongsan, you will come across a viewpoint on Gwangandaegyo bridge, on the right of the road.

 

 

 

Japan trip: First evening in Sapporo under the snow

Upon arrival at Royton Sapporo, we quickly unpacked and got out to find decent gloves for my daughter. We also wished to experience our first evening in Sapporo under the snow.

After going to Odori, we ended searching for an eating place in the central arcade gallery of Tanukikoji.

Ramen as first meal in Hokkaido

Food has (quite rightfully) a great reputation in Hokkaido. Mitchy thus took us on a wild goose chase for the perfect ramen. The first place we tried to find based on Google was closed. In the end, Mitchy found a place, namely, a ramen place where you have to make your order and pay… via a vending machine! They also have a website.

Ramen Vending machine
Ramen vending machine

Despite the quirkiness of the ordering system, the ramen were absolutely delicious! The presentation too, true to Japanese tradition, was without fail.

Hokkaido ramans
Hokkaido Ramen

The deliciousness of the ramen made me understand why Hokkaido is so reputed for them. I particularly recommend the pork bone soup version!

As to Mitchy, she was literally in ecstasy before the ramens:

Mitchy in extasy
Mitchy in extasy before Hokkaido ramens

After our meal, we took a walk in the gallery where the restaurant was located, noting the stuffed bear on display (bears are quite common in Hokkaido, being a pretty wild island).

Bear in Tanukikoji
A real life-size stuffed bear in the Tanukikoji gallery in Sapporo.

Winter lighting in Sapporo

The culmination of the visit was probably the winter lights of Sapporo. In the thick snow, the winter lights took a magical turn.

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Our daughter got so overexcited, that she kept playing and digging in the snow until she was totally exhausted. We then had to move back to Royton, trudging across the heavy snow on the sidewalks. Being cold, the whole family was on the lookout for toilets. Fortunately, with regards to the availability of toilets, about every 7/11 has one available for customers, so we were not caught out in the open. While cold (around -1°C), the weather was pleasant and quite enjoyable as it was everyone’s first encounter with snow after several years.

As a side note, Sapporo city organized a photo shoot gallery, where you could have your picture taken then framed for a small amount, or made available in digital  manner for  free. But this was only the first day of our trip…  The following day was the Japanese emperor’s birthday, and it was the day where we were going to the mountain resort of Tomamu to enjoy some snow fun.

How to get there?

For the ramen restaurant, it is a bit difficult to find, as the website is in Japanese. Nevertheless, I marked the address for you on this map:

 

The Sapporo winter lights (also called “Sapporo White Illumination“) are all along Odori park, culminating with the TV tower. Obviously, the illuminations start only on the 25th of November. Nevertheless, I marked the Odori park on this map, so you can refer to if you are visiting Sapporo for the first time.