A business trip on 747

My company’s headquarters are located in Southern France, so occasionally, I can be asked to head to Europe for business. This happened last December. It was the occasion of both sampling the business class of Lufthansa (and its Boeing 747), and, at the same time, of admiring once again, the beautiful city of Nice during this business trip to France.

A 747-800 for the flight

The 4-reactor jumbo jet is much less in favor nowadays, as airways do prefer more economical bi-reactors, such as the Boeing 777 or the Airbus A350. I flew extensively on the B777, and sampled the A350 thanks to Finnair.

upper deck stairway
upper deck stairway on 747-8

The B747-8 of Lufthansa, although it has the pretension of being one of the latest models, still suffers a lot of its age. Indeed, on the upper deck (admittedly, the most private setting for the business class), window side seats are established with a two-row setting. This means that if you are sitting near the window, then you have to jump over your neighbor to go to the restroom. In my case, pretty delicate as there is no place to hold yourself when the seat is reclined and this bed is fully flat.

Business class Lufthanasa
Business class seating on Lufthansa’s 747-8.

Entertainment

The 747-8 has one of the latest screens, but managing to connect the noise-cancelling headphones can be difficult. I even had to ask the assistance of the cabin crew to find the connecting port. Beyond that, the movies choice is pretty updated, but of course, when you download, you are necessarily a bit frustrated by the offer.

Business class screens
Business class screens on 747-8 of Lufthansa

One of the more quirky sides of Lufthansa, is that they provide you a mattrass to be deployed on your seat when you want to sleep. Funny and not necessarily very convenient.

Food: uninspiring

Most people like business class for the food. I have to confess I have a low interest for food, except that I can tell choices are uninspiring.

Dinner on Lufthansa
Dinner on Lufthansa

You might call my choice very “German”, as it comes complete with the potatoes!

At any rate, it was sufficient to nurrish me and keep me satiated until arrival.

One hour before arrival, we were served breakfast. Although the beds are lie-flat beds, I am afraid my back does not allow me to sleep comfortably in the rather Spartan airline seats. Breakfast was a welcome awakening.

Breakfast on Lufthansa
Breakfast on Lufthansa

Once again, it looks VERY German, complete with saussages and eggs.

Arriving in Frankfurt

Of course, when flying from Asia to Europe, you are always bound to arrive at dawn. It was not yet 6 AM, and hence quite dark outside as we landed in Frankfurt after an uneventful flight. I managed to take a few shots of the cabin and the Christmas decorations on the upper deck, before deplaning.

Christmas decorations on 747
Christmas decorations on 747-8

You really get a measure of the majestic plane once outside. In the night, the 747 has still a majestic and royal presence which fills the whole berth.

B747-8 in Frankfurt
The Boeing 747-8 of Lufthansa at its bay in Frankfurt

Layover in Frankfurt

Unfortunately, being a hub for Lufthansa, Frankfurt’s business lounge gets quite crowded in the morning. And, of course, there is a quite a queue to use the lounge’s showers. After shower, it was the time to catch my connecting flight to Nice.

By that time, it had started raining and we took off in an Airbus A320 “neo”. Short plane, with winglets at the end of the wings, the A320 neo is the short range Airbus solution (something of a competitor to the B737 of Boeing).

A320 neo
A view of the A320 neo at its gate. Notice the winglets at the end, fuel-saving feature.

We took off in the rain, but not before seeing a streak of sunrise coming through the clouds.

Sunrise on the airport
Sunrise while waiting to take off to Nice on the A320 neo.

Short haul business class

Obviously, the short haul business class on Lufthansa, just as on Finnair is pretty spartan. Breakfast comes through as a typically German breakfast (again!). Cheese and cold cuts and bread…

Business class breakfast
Business class breakfast on Frankfurt-Nice

The flight was quiet and uneventful, but as the plane flies over the Italian alps in its approach to Nice, the views from the window were quite spectacular. A reminder of how beautiful it is to fly during day time.

View on Italian alps
The view on Italian Alps from the plane

Nice: a classical city

Obviously, I am not going to talk about my work here, nor what I did in Southern France in relation to business.

No, I instead wanted to talk a bit about the city of Nice: although slightly fresh, it was not yet the real cold and dreary days of December down south. I enjoyed a beautiful sun during my stay and, contrary to Asia, the skies were a magnificent blue.

My hotel being located next to the Notre Dame Basilica, I managed to visit this beautiful neo-Gothic church – deserted as about every church in these days and times.

Notre Dame de Nice
The beautiful Notre Dame de Nice Cathedral at night.

The Basilica itself, is a magnificent example of Gothic architecture… brought down to scale! In fact, ths basilica was built around 1864, after the city of Nice was returned to France from the Kingdom of Sardinia. So, quite new as a church, but still it maintains a certain intemporal beauty.

Inside the Basilica
Inside the Notre Dame of Nice Basilica

The whole area of the center of Nice is a bustling area of promenade and of animation of the Southern city. Cars are excluded from circulating, so the main transportation is the tram and bicycle.

Biking in Nice
A lady bikes on the tram rails in Nice

A missed sunrise

Sadly for a photographer, I was unable to stop and shoot a picture of the beautiful sunrise on the mediterranean coast near Nice. I did manage to grab a snapshot from my car’s window, though.

A famous social media symbol
A famous social media symbol for Nice.

Later, on the same road, I managed to see a fiery sunrise.

Sunrise in Nice
Sunrise in Nice

Return flight

The return flight to Hong Kong was as uneventful as the going. I flew again on a 747-8, but this time, I took the precaution of getting an aisle seat to avoid having to hike above my neighbors…

And when I arrived in Hong Kong, it was time to say goodbye to the 747 after two flights with Lufthansa.

Boeing 747-8
The Boeing 747-8 of Lufthansa at its gate in Hong Kong after the night flight from Europe.

In the “Golden Prague”

Last May, I was in Prague to participate to a meeting organized by my company. I seized the occasion to have my wife and daughter fly with me to the “Golden Prague” or the “golden city” as the Czech capital is known, occasion of seeing one of the most beautiful cities in Central Europe.

Reaching Prague

There are many ways to reach Prague from Asia, but we took Finnair, as it was the most convenient way of reaching the city. My wife and daughter enjoyed the business class on board the Finnair flight to Prague.

Business class of finnair
Mitchy and Maria-Sophia in the business class of Finnair

It was an excellent flight, with the habitual excellent food of Finnair. Mitch and Maria-Sophia both enjoyed this short but agreeable trip.

Meal on finnair business class
Meal on Finnair business class

The landing was smooth with the lovely Czech countryside developing for miles before the landing.

Landing in Prague of flight AY 1224

The “golden city”

Prague has often had the nickname of being the “golden city”, for its sheer beauty and baroque rooftops. Upon our arrival, we set out thus, to go and see for ourselves the beautiful city. My hotel was at the King’s Court, a very centrally located hotel in the old city of Prague. It allowed us to take a stroll immediately in the pedestrian center of the city.

Pretty Czech girls
A snapshot of a couple of pretty Czech girls in Prague’s historic center

We dropped our luggage and set off exploring the beautiful city of Prague right away

The Prague Castle

The obligatory passage of any visit in Prague is the Prague castle, of course. After meandering through the streets of Prague, we came across this magnificent IXth century castle, which is also the official seat of the President of the Czech Republic.

Maria-sophia before St. George basilica
Maria-Sophia before the St. George basilica in the inner courtyard of Prague Castle

While the IXth century St. Vitus cathedral presents undoubtedly gothic features, the surroundings of the cathedral have been heavily influenced over the centuries by various constructions and particularly in the baroque style, such as the St. George basilica featured above.

View over rooftops of Prague
This gorgeous view over the rooftops of Prague is available inside Prague castle

The best part in Prague castle is probably the magnificent view over the rooftops. To get this view, you must enter a little coffee shop which offers an excellent package of coffee + strudel for about 5 €. Unbeatable for the magnificent views.

Photo ops

Most people decide to take pictures on the ramparts of the castle, and that’s what we did with Maria-Sophia too.

Maria-Sophia over the ramparts
Maria-Sophia posing over the ramparts of Prague castle

We eventually came back to Prague castle on our last day for more photos. It is worth pointing out that Asian tourists (and particularly Korean couples) seem to affection Prague, both at the castle and the Charles bridge for prenuptial pictorials.

Asian prenup pictorials at Prague castle
Asian couples often come for prenuptial pictures at Prague castle

Besides couples, you have also a lot of Asian tourists visiting this historical city.

Two Asian tourists in Prague castle
Two Asian tourists in Prague castle

Heading to the Moldau

You have two ways to go back to the Moldau. The first is to climb through the Wenceslas vineyards, which offer also a magnificent photo backdrop.

Wenceslas vineyards
Maria-Sophia on the path of the Wenceslas vineyards

The other part involves exiting the castle at the opposite point of entrance and going down stairs in the old city. Many Asian tourists chose to take this route, just as these two Chinese tourists.

Chinese tourists climbing stairs to Prague castle
Two Chinese tourists climb the stairs to the Prague castle

Of course, we also had our own photo sessions on these stairs.

Maria-Sophia before the Prague castle stairs
Maria-Sophia poses on the stairs climbing to the Prague castle

Once we came back down to the historical center, we meandered again to the Charles bridge. This place is an absolute nightmare filled with tourists at any time of the day. The best moment to visit it is probably during early mornings, where fewer tourists are around.


The Charles Bridge

The Charles bridge is also famous for the saint who reportedly was executed on this bridge in the Middle Ages, namely Saint John of Nepomuk. Executed because, allegedly, he refused to betray the secret of the confession, it seems rather this execution was orbiting around the Western Schism. Saint John of Nepomuk supported a candidate wanted by the Roman Pope against the wishes of King Wenceslas for the attribution of a very rich abbey. This might be more of a motive than the romantic legend of refusing to violate the secrecy of confession.

As a reminder, the Western Schism was between the supporters of the Pope in Avignon, infeodated to the King of France and the Pope in Rome, who maintained the supremacy of the Church over earthly sovereigns. In short, the short-lived fight around theocracy, which came to an end under Pope Boniface VIII. This schism ended dividing European kingdoms across support for one or the other Pope, and sometimes even ran lines of divide within some nations, such as in present-day Czechia.

Today, a statue is erected on the Charles Bridge, at the place where the saint was thrown in the river.

Maria-Sophia at the statue of Saint John of Nepomuk
Maria-Sophia pays respect to the statue of Saint John Nepomuk

The Charles Bridge, in itself was closed to circulation after WWII, as its age and multiple damages from flooding had weakened its structure. Its modern-day restoration which ended in 2010 is strongly criticized for failing to respect the ancient character of the bridge and mixing older and newer materials.

The Charles Bridge in Prague
The Charles Bridge in Prague

Along the Moldau

I guess that when you come to Prague, you suddenly understand the famous “Moldau” symphonic poem by the Czech composer, Bedřich Smetana. The river and its flow do really evoke the powerful and peaceful music of Smetana, and for a classical music lover, it is quite an emotional moment.

“The Moldau”, by Smetana
Maria-Sophia on the banks of the Moldau
Maria-Sophia on the banks of the Moldau

Prague is also the birth city of another great Czech composer, Anton Dvorak.

A golden city… with disagreeable people

After our travel to Prague, we came to the conclusion that while the city is magnificent, Czech people instead are mostly disagreeable and lack common customer service sense. The general attitude was rather rough and rude in shops or cafes, not to mention there is none of the friendliness we encountered for example in Finland or Spain.

A photographic excursion to the Kap Shui Mun bridge

Old ambulance at the Kap Shui Mun bridge
Just before reaching the bridge, you can see this old ambulance parked under a shed.

The Kap Shui Mun bridge as well as the Tsing Ma bridge, which it prolongs are some of the marking signs of Hong Kong. Everybody entering to Hong Kong, never mind how, must pass through this bridge. Incidentally, the viewpoint near to the bridge offers quite a spectacular view over the bridge and Hong Kong as well.

A viewing pavilion, but no official trail

Although there is a viewing pavilion which can be seen from a distance when crossing the bridge, it is obvious that there is no official trail to go there. So, you can get there only by taxi or bus. Bus being probably the most convenient, as long as you can one of the E-xx buses heading to the airport. You must alight at the Lantau Link bus station and then walk back. One of the paths starts at the Lantau link and leads up to a mountain. Another involves following the highway back to the bridge, and this was the one I took.

Getting to the bridge.
To get to the bridge, you must walk alongside the highway.

If you are barefoot, you will note that the blocks on which you are walking are sometimes disjointed, but no danger.

Just before reaching the bridge, you will see an old sort of airport ambulance parked under  a shed.

 

 

Upwards or downwards

Once you arrive at the bridge, you have two choices: you may either climb to be level with the bridge for photography… or you may walk down beneath the bridge to try some of the filming experiments I did with my drone.

View from the top
The view from the top

At any rate, here is a view from the top, and as you can see, while the bridge still keeps you in awe, it is nothing to write home about. The true dimension of the bridge really comes to light by drone.

I did not manage to go to the pavilion, mainly because I felt that the best view of the bridge was close by to it. The beauty of the setting of the bridge is being able to see what is behind it.

A drone view

I launched my drone a first time to get a visual impression of the area.

Drone view of Kap Shui Mun bridge
Drone view of Kap Shui Mun bridge

While the general view gives a good picture of the whole structure of the two bridges (Tsing Ma bridge in background), it does not give as dramatic an effect as I would have wanted. I later experimented more with pictures. In this case, I was able to include one of the ships which just sailed under the bridge.

Ship after the Kap Shui Mun bridge.
Ship sailing after passing the Kap Shui Mun bridge.

But the most dramatic picture probably came at dusk and much closer to the bridge, which is the picture I chose as featured image. It is to be noted that this bridge is a marvel of engineering as even the MTR to the airport and to Tung Chung passes underneath! When you are near the bridge, you can hear the MTR screeching in the underbelly of the bridge.

Kap Shui Mun bridge
The Kap Shui Mun bridge at dusk

And here is a dronie of yours truly as he operates the drone barefoot.

Dronie near Kap Shui Mun bridge
Dronie near Kap Shui Mun bridge

As there is very little haze right now on Hong Kong, visibility is pretty clear. You can even see Central Hong Kong from the bridge!

View from the bridge
The view from the bridge can extend until Central HK when there is no haze.

The video

All in all, a great experience, both with the easy hike to the place and the images captured. Here, a drone video for you to see the bridge in all its glory. To be noted: the hike can be continued uphill to a rock resembling a vase. However, as you will be further away from the bridge, the dramatic effect of the structure is lost.

Barcelona: the “other” Spain

In a previous post, I alluded at my trip to Barcelona as being one of the last trips obtained thanks to American express and Zuji. This trip was the occasion of seeing Barcelona, a facet of the “other Spain”, or if you prefer, Catalonia. If you remember, 2017 was quite agitated with a half-baked “referendum” organized by the Independence claimants to ask for a declaration of independence of the region.

We arrived a few months later, when the excitment had somewhat died down and we were able to visit Barcelona in an appeased atmosphere.

Arriving in Barcelona

B737 Ist to Barcelona
The B 737 we took from Istanbul to Barcelona.

The passage at the airport immigration was basically a breeze. We got our luggages and recuperated our rental car, a seat. Having some issue with finding the components of my gps, I had to drive using google maps and it was something of a troublesome venture.

Our hotel was very near to the Ramblas, the main Barcelona avenue. Despite there having been a terrorist attack last year, Spanish went along quite peacefully.

Mitchy enjoyed shooting some nice street photography with her brand new Fuji. And for a first-timer at it, she did shoot some nice pics.

Locals on a bench in barcelona
Locals sitting on a bench in Barcelona (by Mitchy)

 

Two strangers
Two strangers talk to each other in a park in Barcelona (pic by Mitchy)

Sagrada Familia Basilica

Our first goal was to hit the Sagrada familia basilica, in the center. To get there, we loitered in the center, then finally got onto a metro.

Barcelona metro
Barcelona metro

As you can see, metro in Barcelona is just similar to other cities, with a cosmopolitan population.

When we arrived to the Sagrada Familia basilica, the evening was already setting in, but it allowed me to take some lovely shots in the warm sunset light. I used my 20mm lens to shoot the basilica, but being a lens which is not exactly made to compensate for architecture, obviously the perspectives are somewhat elongated.

 

Sagrada Familia Basilica
Sagrada Familia Basilica

The basilica is the fruit of the imagination of the great Catalan architect Antonio Gaudi. Born in 1852, this genius of architecture was commissioned in 1893 with realizing this church. He completely changed the original design, and obviously, his genius made of a church a monument of human ideals.

Gaudi was also involved in the fight for Catalan autonomy. So, today, while Gaudi’s work define Spain to some degree, his creations are purely the creation of a free mind, with an exquisite inspiration from nature. As such, he is also a symbol of Catalunya.

We could not miss taking a pic of our alter egos, Cony and Brown in front of the Basilica…

Cony and Brown before the Sagrada Familia
Cony and Brown in Barcelona before the Sagrada Familia

I believe however, it was Mitchy who got the best shot of the Basilica.

 

Walking through Barcelona at night

Temperatures were ranging from 12° to 14° C during the day, and moving towards 8° C in the night. Nevertheless, Barcelona, like many European cities is an ideal city for strolling at night.

Thus, instead of taking the metro, we decided to walk back to the hotel.

While walking, we came across a shop selling Ham (the famous Spanish “Iberico”). This shop, “Enrique Tomas” sells original Iberico ham, which is made of pigs having being fattened on a diet composed of acorns (hence giving the meat an exquisite taste).

Iberico in Barcelona
Iberico, the delicious Spanish ham in a sandwich

The taste of that ham sandwich was unparalleled and I finally understood the speciality of Spanish ham.

We went back on foot from Enrique Tomas, walking through the streets of Barcelona (which seems to be pretty safe and perfect for walking).

We arrived on the “Champs-elysées” of Barcelona, the Paseig de Gracia. A long and wide avenue, it hosts many luxury shops, and of course, the main attraction, the Casa Battlo, of Antonio Gaudi.

Paseig de Gracia in Barcelona
The famous Paseig de Gracia in Barcelona

And it was our first time to see the Casa Battlo…. But telling you about our visit inside is another story.

Casa Battlo in Barcelona
Casa Battlo in Barcelona

 

Gamcheon Culture Village in Busan: between art and local life

On my visit to Busan, one of my targets was the Gamcheon Culture village. While being the first place I visited after the Gwangandaegyo bridge, I have waited a while to write about it. In fact, the place is very famous in Busan and the beauty of the setting is so lovely, that it requires some effort to give it justice.

The history of Gamcheon

Originally, Gamcheon did not really have an artistic legacy at all, but was placed in a very interesting spot, against a mountain, with the associated curves and complex turns. Interestingly, most of the inhabitants are refugees from the Korean war and followers of the Tageukdo religion. The Tageukdo is the symbol which is part of Korea’s flag (also known as the yin and the yang).

Taegeuk in Naju Hyanggyo
The Tageukdo symbol (origin: wikicommons)
 Nowadays, the followers of this religion are few in Gamcheon. Since 2009, the city of Busan attempted to redevelop this area by focusing on making about 300 empty houses the center of street art. This gave a new  impulse and made of Gamcheon one of the symbols of Busan.

Art in the street

The beauty of Gamcheon is that the redeveloped art project is closely mixed to the city life of the inhabitants. You can walk along the main street which circles all around the little village. Or you can delve into the city and try some shopping, like for these cute little bears (3,000 KRW each).

Cute Korean bears
Some cute bear dolls in Gamcheon Culture village

 

You can find some murals such as the “wall of love”.

The Wall of Love in Gamcheon
The Wall of love in Gamcheon Culture village

There is also a lot of subjects for detail shots in the village. Such as an old and worn out roof.

Worn-out roof
A worn-out roof in Gamcheon culture village

When looking at details, the tightly packed houses make also for interesting photographic subjects.

Houses in Gamcheon culture village
A detail of the tightly interspersed houses in Gamcheon Culture village

Gamcheon Culture village
Gamcheon Culture village from the photo viewpoint

Selfie in Gamcheon
A selfie in Gamcheon (as you can see, it was quite cold, despite the sun!)

You can also check my periscope account to find a live video I made walking through the village.

How to get there?

Gamcheon is not a lost place, but I elected to walk up there instead of taking transportation, and it was a quite strenuous climb.

Climbing to Gamcheon Culture village
Climbing to Gamcheon Culture Village

You must first take the metro to Toseong station and take exit 6. From there, either you catch a minibus, or you can climb all the way to the top. It was frisky on that day, so a good day for a walk! Taking the minibus down sets you back about 1,000 KRW, but the driving is quite vertiginous in those steep streets!

 

Helsinki, the city where I would love to live

Recently, my travels took my back to Helsinki, in Finland, also called the “White City of the North“. I loved Finland for a long time now, ever since I prepared and published a full student newspaper on the country. Visiting Helsinki last year was another occasion of appreciating the real country.

A business flight

To fly to Helsinki, I was lucky enough to be able to use the business class of Finnair. While being somewhat bare bones (amenities are few except a Marimekko pouch), the comfort is pretty ok. As I was gold member of Finnair, I managed to take my family to the Qantas lounge. Later, however, my wife and daughter were flying in economy, while I was flying business. The presentation and taste of the Finnair food is quite good, although I will confess that Turkish Airlines does make better food.

 

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The whole flight was uneventful, and we arrived at around 6 AM in Helsinki. Passing through immigration was also a breeze, and eventually we collected our luggage. The best option for reaching the center was taking the Finnair bus which has its terminus at the central train station of Helsinki. We then had to walk a few hundred meters to reach the hotel, but it was tough, as we had to drag our suitcases.

 

A family trip

As this time, my wife and daughter had accompanied me to Finland, I decided to reside in the center of Helsinki. Ever since my first trip, they had wanted to come and see the lovely city of Finland. We stayed at the Glo Hotel Kluuvi. This hotel is very centrally located and for our requirements, it perfectly fitted the bill. Upon check-in, we were offered the option to upgrade to a suite for 165 € for the three nights (vs 165 € per night). We seized the option and got into a lovely room with the reputed Finnish design.

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However, as it was only 6 AM, we had to leave our luggage at the hotel, and we decided to already go on a first tour of the Finnish capital.

Excitement among the two girls was at its top.

Later, walking in the old city, we enjoyed the old cobblestones, sharing the road with trams and simply walking along the city.

Mitch and Maria-Sophia
Mitch and Maria-Sophia in a side street near Tuomiokirkko

The best part being probably have their portrait taken on the steps of Tuomiokirkko.

Before the Tuomiokirkko
Arriving in Helsinki: before the Tuomiokirkko

Tuomiokirkko is always a favourite place for portraits. Two girls were also shooting on the steps.

Girl has picture taken on stairs of Tuomiokirkko
A girl has her picture taken on the stairs of Tuomiokirkko

A little model

Maria-Sophia does some child modelling. As such, she was happy to pose in her warm outfit of Nicholas and Bears (which she already sported in Japan).

Padlock bridge
Near the Orthodox Cathedral of Helsinki, Maria-Sophia poses on the padlock bridge.

The red ship in the Helsinki habour echoes nicely her outfit.

Maria-Sophia at the Helsinki harbour
Maria-Sophia at the Helsinki Harbour

At that point, between jet-lag and tiredness of walking around, our daughter was already exhausted… I then offered to carry her on my shoulders, thus starting a new habit for her.

But walking in the historical center already gave us a taste of the beauty of the city. The weather was also quite temperate.

No drone zones

Finland is very liberal in the matters of drone laws. Nevertheless, they have a few “no drone zone”, and one of these encompasses Tuomiokirkko and the historical center. This is a pity, as the center of the city is very photogenic, but was implemented because of the presence of government buildings.

No drone sign in Helsinki
A large area of Helsinki center is prohibited to drones

The eastern part of Helsinki harbour is interesting for the wooden yachts moored there.

Wooden yacht moored in helsinki harbour
Wooden yacht moored in Helsinki harbour

A city pleasant to live into

This little early morning and afternoon stroll gave us the feeling that Helsinki is the one city where I would love to live. It has a perfect mix of architectural beauty, perfect weather, and “joie de vivre” that makes it so lovely.

Even though as tourist, you don’t put up with most of the daily issues of locals, you can tell that people are happy. And the sheer beauty of seeing the sunset at midnight in summer is enough to get you excited (even if in winter, you almost never see the sun!).

Drone in Helsinki

Later, at  night, I went out for a barefoot walk with my drone. The streets are quite easy to walk barefoot, but if you go into the Kaivopuisto park, you must beware. The whole park seems to be a gigantic toilet for dogs, with pieces or dried excrement all over the grass. Something of annoying for what is otherwise a lovely place to be.

Restaurant in Helsinki harbour
A lovely sight at sunset, with this restaurant located just in the Helsinki harbour

 

Drone view over Helsinki
This is the best you can do in terms of taking a picture of the historical center in Helsinki. In the distance, you can see the Tuomiokirkko

A famous statue, the Rauhanpatsas statue of peace faces the South harbour.

Rauhanpatsas statue of peace, by drone
The Rauhanpatsas statue of peace in Helsinki seen by drone

When you walk beyond the immediate proximity of the south harbour, you can come across a magnificent jetty which provides a lovely view in the setting sun.

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All in all, the lovely evening stroll and the beauty of the environment contribute to make you love Helsinki and wish to come back.

A layover tour in Istanbul

I am currently on my fourth trip paid uniquely with American Express card points thanks to a partnership with Zuji. Basically, you could book trips to various locations around the world for 30,000 Amex points (+ taxes!). My previous trips were to Kaohsiung and to Korea. This time, it is a trip to Barcelona (of which you can already have some idea on my instagram feed). The interesting part (or not so interesting!) is that you are obliged to travel with the airline they select, in this case Turkish Airlines. It was my first time flying with this airline. The best part is probably the fact that Turkish Airlines offers you a free layover tour of Istanbul, provided you have at least six hours on your layover.

The TK flight

As usual with flights from Hong Kong to Europe, the TK flight departed at 23.15. The plane was quite packed, but although climbing onboard was a bit chaotic, the remainder of the flight and arrival was quite peaceful, with passengers being courteous enough to unload and give me my camera bag from two rows away.

Food on board was pretty good even in economy. The choices of food were limited to fish, as by the time they served our row, they ran out of chicken, but that was my first choice.

Dinner on TK
The dinner on the TK flight

Sorry if the picture above does not do justice to the meal, but I had a very cramped space to operate.

Sleeping on economy class for 10 hours is an ordeal instead. Last time I had to do an intercontinental flight was in business class, so quite a difference this time. I woke up sore, but still rested.

In the morning, breakfast was as good as the evening dinner.

Breakfast on Tk flight
Breakfast in the morning

Istanbul Airport and its lounges

For a first visit to Istanbul, the airport was infuriating as could be. It was easy enough for us to find the lounge. Thanks to our Priority Pass card, we managed to get into the Prime Lounge, after passing through security.

The lounge itself had showers of which we took advantage after the long night sleeping. However, you had to wait for the staff to have cleaned first the toilets then the showers… Anyway, the shower was a welcome relaxation.

The food at the lounge was mainly Turkish-oriented, so it was the occasion for me to experience some “Turkish delights”.

A delicious meal at the Prime Lounge
Yogurt soup, cheese and black bread

After our meal and our refreshment, we took off to find the tour, and that’s where the airport gets properly infuriating. There is no clear sign on how to get out of the airport. If you ask staff, they just don’t answer you and tell you to go to the information desk. Eventually, we got some succinct information on how to get out and managed to find our way out of the airport after clearing immigration.

The Turkish layover tour

 

Obviously, once outside, signs are again lacking, and there is a wealth of tour agencies around, so I suspect many tourists might get snared by the tour agents when searching for the TK tour. Actually, you must turn right and walk all the way to the TK tour counter. TK also offers free hotel in Istanbul if your layover is long enough to warrant it. Anyway, when we got to the counter, we originally were refused by the lady at the counter… Then nevertheless added to the 8.30 tour by the supervisor. The tour lasts from 8.30 (Turkish time, so that means 8.45) to 11 (surprisingly they are punctual with that part). As our flight to Barcelona departed at 12.35, that meant we could do the tour and not be stressed.

Turkish Airline layover tour
8.45 and we are en route for Istanbul!

Sultan Ahmet mosque

The layover tour focuses on the old city of Istanbul (by far the most interesting). It also helps that the major attractions such as the “Blue Mosque”, also called “Sultan Ahmet mosque” and Saint Sophia (“Hagia Sophia”) are both within a short walking distance of each other. On the way from the airport, there are several sunrise spots (and we saw some “angel lights”, but the bus’ windows were too dirty to make anything out of it.

The Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque as seen from outside.

The Blue mosque, inside is even more beautiful than from outside. A lovely marvel of architecture and art.

The Blue Mosque of Istanbul
The inside dome of the Blue Mosque of Istanbul

Mitchy before the blue mosque of Istanbul
Mitchy before the blue mosque of Istanbul

Mitch, herself, took a pic of me before the mosque:

 

Myself before the blue mosque of
myself before the Blue mosque of Istanbul

Saint Sophia

Immediately outside Sultan Ahmet mosque, you come across the famous Saint Sophia. Originally an Orthodox church, it got converted into a mosque by the Turks then finally now is nothing more than a museum. It is sad that the tour being concerned about time, Saint Sophia was not available to be visited. I managed nevertheless to capture a shot.

Saint Sophia
Saint Sophia in Istanbul

It was then time to go back to the airport, but not before our guide managed to drag us into the bazaar.

 

Flight to Barcelona

Although the subject of the tour was mainly to talk about our layover tour in Istanbul, I cannot skip the part of our flight to Barcelona. Mainly because Turkish airlines provided us with… a chef on board! We were flying on a Boeing B-737-800, with a new and pretty modern upholstery and entertainment system.

Interior decoration
Interior of B737-800

Later on, the service was ensured not only by the flight attendants, but also by the chef himself!

Chef on board
A chef in a plane.

Finally, while flying above Greece, I shot the lovely perspective of the plane’s wing… one interesting perspective on flying.

View on the wing
A lovely view on the wing of the B737-800

If you are flying Turkish Airlines and your layover is at least 6 hours, then you definitely want to grab the chance for this tour. You can find more about it here.

Seoul: a walk through Bukchon Hanok and Gyeongbok

When in Seoul, an obligatory part of your visit as a first-timer, should be the traditional village of Bukchon Hanok and Gyeongbok, the old Korean Royal Palace. With the majestic background of the Bukhansan mountain, this palace is in a magnificent position. The Blue House, the presidential palace is also located in the same area, in what is considered as “auspicious” grounds. The position of the palaces is also favorable in Feng Shui terms (back to the mountain). Bukchon Hanok, by contrast is an area of Seoul which retained its traditional architecture houses and hence offers a glimpse into traditional Korea.

Bukchon Hanok, a place for selfies

With its traditional buildings still inhabited by locals and by local businesses, Bukchon Hanok is a perfect location for selfies. Inhabitants are kind, welcoming and gentle and take a great care of their environment.

Bukchon Hanok and flowers
A side street of Bukchon Hanok with lovely flowers

In fact, the area itself is absolutely lovely and can be the object of nice pictures across the board.

Bike in Bukchon Hanok
A bike rests against a wall in Bukchon Hanok

Riding the wave, a number of businesses rent out the Hanbok, the traditional Korean dress for tourists.

Obviously, it is only Asian tourists who give into this mania, Westerners would be far less credible… But still, some pretty Japanese girls love to dress up, a bit like foreigners do in Japan with kimonos.

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With its quiet areas and lovely settings, Bukchon Hanok is an ideal place for intemporal pictures. Some details betray the girls trying to play the game, though, like the shoes… Or posing next to a very modern plastic radish!

The Blue House

On one end, Gyeongbok heads towards a gigantic avenue of Seoul, Saejong-daero where is located the US embassy. On the other end, it faces the Korean presidential palace, the famous “Blue House”. With its back to the Bukhasan mountain, the setting is quite majestic and throws back to the former royal palace built on the same area.

Blue House in Seoul
The Korean “Blue House”, the presidential palace of the South Korean president.

Of course, security is tight in that area, as back in 1968, North Korean agents had attempted to kill the Korean President by infiltrating commandos at the Blue House. However, the touristic nature of the area and the sheer beauty of the surroundings is absolutely not comparable to the tension that can be felt in France, for example.

A rebuilt palace

Gyeongbok was built originally in 1395, under the Joseon dynasty. Abandoned a first time in the 1500s, after a fire, it was rebuilt in the XIXth century. On that occasion, it drew its inspiration from the traditional Korean architecture used in the original palace.

In the beginning of the XXth century, when the Japanese invaded Korea, they undertook the destruction of Gyeongbok, as it was a symbol of the independence of Korea.

As a consequence, the current Gyeongbok is a reconstruction of the original palace from its ruins. Despite this sad fact, the reconstruction did a good job of showcasing the traditional Korean architecture that you can already glimpse in the Bukchon Hanok area.

Hyojagak building
A building called “Hyojagak” and its gate, erected to protect a special stone for a son of a Korean King

The gardens are very peaceful, despite the huge number of tourists.

To the right, you can see the main 5-level pagoda before which many tourists have their picture taken.

Main pagoda
The main pagoda of Gyeongbok

A very complex and photogenic palace

As you delve into the various alleys of the palace, you realize that the sprawling complex was almost a small city in its own. A whole area is devoted to the royal harem (and the paradox is that many female tourists love to have their picture taken there).

Picture in the concubine area
A young Asian tourist in Hanbok has her picture taken in the concubine area.

The most interesting was to see the food storage area. Apparently, the builders of the palace used a natural slope to  move food from the jars in the storage area to the palace itself. This complexity and the intricacy of the development give you a small hint of how developed the Koreans were in their golden age.

Central throne hall
The central throne hall of Gyeongbok

A fusion of history and modernity

The view around Gyeongbok is mostly free, especially towards the mountain. When you turn towards Saejong-daero, however, the nature of the view changes. It is a moment where you realize that Korea is also a place where history and modernity are intimately linked. The modern buildings towering above the gates of Gyeongbok announce a return to the bustle of Seoul before you even set your foot outside.

Gyeongbok history and modernity
Gyeongbok gate seen on the side facing Saejong-daero

Another interesting shot on that side are the guards standing watch at the gate. However, the difficult part is managing to snap a shot without tourists standing by their side.

Guard Gyeongbok
The guards of Gyeongbok are a must shoot with their traditional costume, if you manage to catch a moment without tourist by their side.

When returning to modernity, I came across a memorial for the victims of the Saewol disaster, but I will talk about it in another post.

How to get there

When visiting the area Bukchon Hanok and Gyeongbok are easily combined. Most people start their tour through Gyeongbok as it is on the main Saejong-Daero avenue. My choice was rather to start walking through Bukchon Hanok, then moving to Gyeongbok. It is a lovely transition, especially if you go there in the morning. Indeed, I was fortunate enough to capture girls in Hanbok and relatively empty streets. It is difficult to give instructions on how to get there, but there is no train station or bus stop within Bukchon Hanok, so it will always involve a short walk to get there.

 

Dragon and Tiger pagoda

In my previous post, I mentioned about visting the Eslite bookstore. Thereafter, I decided to visit one of the main landmarks of Kaohsiung, namely the dragon and tiger pagoda. Built with two giant figures of the said animals through the mouth of which you must enter, this pagoda is another must-see in Kaohsiung.

A bit out of the way

To be honest, reaching this pagoda takes some effort as it is located quite some way from any MRT station.

I will provide instructions at the end of the post, but in short, it takes a long walk from the MRT Kaohsiung Arena to reach the pagoda. I was lugging of course, both my camera bag and a tripod. On the way to the pagoda, I came across a railway crossing manned by a guard. Originally, I wanted to shoot the rails extending in the distance with the sunset light, but the guard asked me to pass behind the barrier.

The guard was so kind as to propose me to set up my tripod at his place, as a train was passing. Thanks to him, I managed to get a spectacular shot of a train rushing in the sunset.

Train at a railway crossing in Kaohsiung, Taiwan
Kaohsiung: a train rushes at a railway crossing while a guard stands watch

I continued walking on that endless road, and carried on the last bit of the road barefoot, as my feet were truly tired from dragging in my flip-flops. It is strange how my feet got less tired thereafter.

A pagoda built pretty recently

The pagoda’s colors come across as extremely gorgeous during the day as well as at night. This is probably due to the Pagoda not being very old, as it was built in 1976.

At night, the effect is quite stunning, especially if you take the time of using a long exposure. The lights and the color take a special golden hue which makes it look quite special.

Dragon and tiger pagoda
The magnificent dragon and tiger pagoda in Kaohsiung

Other sights

The dragon and tiger pagoda is not the only point of interest to see around the lake where it is located. A bit further is another pagoda, called the “Spring and Autumn pavillons”, which was built in 1953. It thus predates the dragon and tiger pagodas, but it is still the same gorgeous style.

Near the Tiger and dragon pagoda, the spring and autumn pavillons
Near the Tiger and dragon pagoda, the spring and autumn pavillons rise.

This is not the only sight. If you just turn your back to the dragon and tiger pagoda, then you can play on patterns and lines as in this picture.

Patterns near the Tiger and dragon pagoda
On the gangway to the dragon and tiger pagoda, you can see these decorations which make for a nice pattern.

Again, from a technical point of view, the best results are obtained with a tripod and long exposure, which may run counter to the expectation of some people of “traveling light”.

An old temple.

In the same area, you can also see an older temple, the Tzu Chi temple, the facade of which is heavily ornated.

Tzu Chi temple
Just opposite the Dragon and Tiger Pagoda, stands the Tzu Chi temple.

Tzu Chi is one of the four major Buddhist sects in Taiwan, hence not astonishing that they have a temple in such a prominent position. In this very syncretic typical aspect of Asian Buddhism, the temple hosts Chinese gods as well…

But after coming to this place for shooting the pagoda, I was not going to linger. Up on my list was the Ruifeng night market. So, to save time (and also because I was tired!), I caught a marauding taxi to that place. But that’s the subject of a next post…

First day in Kaohsiung: dome of light and getting acquainted

Breakfast : finding a place

After arriving the day before, I decided to do some hiking for my first day in Kaohsiung. The goal was to visit the Shoushan national park. Despite my desire of getting out early and filling my day with activities, I only got out of the hotel towards 9 AM. Of course, I helped myself to some coffee with the gorgeous view and the lovely temperature on the balcony of the hotel.

First coffee
First coffee in Kaohsiung

I loaded my heavy gear, my tripod (why or why, did I take it?) and headed out to search for a breakfast place.

In the end, I fell back on the local Starbucks where a croissant and latte were the occasion of a first picture. Somehow, this Starbucks became my go-to solution for breakfasts every day of my stay.

Bfast at Starbucks
A view of my first photographic breakfast at Starbucks.

Kaohsiung MRT

Surprisingly for a provincial city, the MRT system is quite perfected. They even have such marketing gimmicks such as selling “Justice League” MRT cards (also called Ipass). You buy it for 100 NT$ and for another 120 NT$, you can charge it with a full day pass (250 NT$ for two days). Otherwise, you pay per each trip (generally, the maximum being 30 NT$ for one trip).

Justice League Ipass card
In Kaohsiung, the MRT sells “Justice League” Ipass cards

The MRT itself is very fast and convenient. I have one qualm however: the last train passes at midnight, so if you are out late (not a lot of people at that), not many options: bicycle or taxi.

Kaohsiung MRT
This looks very much like the Hong Kong MTR.

The dome of light

Kaohsiung is probably most famous for its “dome of light” in the MRT station Formosa Boulevard. This decoration, made of painted glass and conceived by Narcissus Quagliata has been the main attraction of the tourists and visitors to Kaohsiung. Made of several pieces of painted glass, this is an impressive reflection of the personality of Kaohsiung and its openness.

Dome of light
The dome of light as seen in Formosa Boulevard station.

In Formosa Boulevard station, they have a white grand piano. A sign advises people that they are welcome to entertain travelers by using the grand piano, should they feel like it. Of course, they must request permission in advance, but it is a cute idea, showing how open this city is.

After taking some pics with long exposure (to enjoy the smaller aperture and also lower ISO, I took back the MRT towards Aozhidi, my next stop on the path to Shoushan national park. The real challenge of my first day in Kaohsiung was just beginning…. But you can read that in my next post!