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.

Sunrise on Lantau Peak

Last Sunday, the PASM photo meetup organized a hike cum photoshoot for the sunrise on Lantau Peak.

An event postponed several times

Owing to the spat of bad weather that had been affecting Hong Kong, this hike had to be postponed several times. Obviously, bad weather does not make for very interesting photos, especially when you are in the middle of the clouds.

As a reminder, we had something like 3 typhoons in succession over three weeks. The bad weather scourge unfortunately also affected us this time. In fact, we had another typhoon skirting Hong Kong during this hike (again!).

Stairs, stairs and more stairs

As to the hike, per se, it is not that difficult. You just have to keep climbing unending stairs. Contrary to Kowloon Peak, there are no real dangers here, provided you don’t feel adventurous and decide to test the edges of the cliffs.

The real difficulty instead is the physical effort of climbing hundreds of stairs at night. With humidity, some rocky passages might be pretty slippery. The other inconvenience was that a 30-odd group of youngsters decided to do the hike as well. Where this would be an ideal walk in the night, this became a very noisy occurrence, with yells and music disturbing the peace of the night.

Viewpoints

There are several viewpoints over the Hong Kong airport. Obviously, needless to remind, do not fly a drone over that mountain: it is prohibited by Hong Kong laws to fly a drone within 5 kms of any airport.

Hong Kong airport
The great view from Lantau peak on the Hong Kong airport.

The second interesting viewpoint (at the top of the mountain) is on sunset peak, the neighboring mountain. Apparently, this place can be the occasion of seeing the very interesting phenomenon called the “sea of clouds”.

This requires however certain atmospheric conjunctions which are not always easy to get.

A sleepless night

After having sweated all the way to the top of Lantau peak, we tried to rest a bit at the top, but the wind blowing on top of our sweaty clothes got as result that we could not shut eye. Around 5 AM, we got an alert by the HK observatory that a thunderstorm was headed our way. In order to avoid being too exposed to lightning, we decided to go lower and made our way to a protective rock somewhere lower from the top.

At nearly 6 AM, we got caught in a real rainstorm (with luckily no lightning striking around). The kids who remained on the top must have been even more drenched than us. As the rain stopped, we got lucky and caught a break in the sky with clouds parting to offer us some blue sky and the reddish reflection of the sun on the clouds.

That’s how we were lucky to see something very close to a “sea of clouds”.

sun rising
The sun rises behind the “sea of clouds” on Lantau Peak.

Sunrise on clouds
The sun shines on the clouds on Lantau Peak

Going down

Going down after the rain was an exercise in patience. We had the thirty-odd kids queuing behind, and that put some pressure on me to walk faster. That’s how I slipped and fell down at one point, despite my hiking stick. There are stairs all the way down, but those stairs are very slippery when it rained. I was wearing Lowe hiking boots, but the rigidity of the sole and the slippery nature of the floor meant it was not such a good choice.

However, while going down, you have an excellent view over the coast of Lantau, and in particular the giant Buddha of Tien Tan.

Giant Buddha
A view over the Giant Buddha of Tien Tan from Lantau Peak.

How to get there?

You must first take the MTR to Tung Chung station. From there, you must walk to a bus station where you can catch the bus 3 M. In general, it starts at midnight, and last one is around 1 AM. When climbing, tell the driver you want to go to Pak Kung Au, as the far will be reduced by a few HKD.

When you get down, cross the street, continue walking about 100 m in the same direction and you will find the trail entrance. Thereupon, the trail is very clear, just follow the stairs. To see the sunrise on Lantau Peak, you should ideally start your hike at midnight.

Wat Sanam Chai – An unknown ruin of Thai history

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Wat Sanam Chai, a temple in ruins in the city of Suphanburi, is an interesting visit, far from the throngs of tourists in the neighboring Ayutthaya.

Suphanburi is a city of historical significance as it is located on the direct pathway for invading armies from Burma. That’s why a number of battles were fought on those grounds, and Wat Sanam Chai is a reminder of one of these battles.

A mausoleum

Wat Sanam Chai nowadays is in ruin. Originally built as early as 1203 AD, the current ruins date back to the Ayutthaya period. The main feature is a sort of tumulus, or pagoda, originally thought to have been 70-80m high. In 1961, during restoration works at that pagoda, human remains and ashes were found inside the tumulus. It appears that beyond being a temple, it was also the resting place of warriors who had been killed during the frequent clashes with the Burmese armies. Several battles were fought with Burma in this province in the Ayutthaya period. The symbol of the province is, after all two war elephants fighting…

Peacefulness

Wat Sanam chai sunrise
Sun rising in the morning fog is an unforgettable experience at Wat Sanam Chai.

Where Ayutthaya has too many tourists for its own good, Wat Sanam Chai appears to be out of time itself.

Peacefulness imbues this place, mainly because of its remoteness and the lack of visitors. However, the presence of some Buddha statues do remind that this is still  a place of worship for Buddhists. You should also remember it is a place of rest where dead warriors lie. Just let the peacefulness imbue you and think about the centuries of history and war about which these ruins talk in their silence.

Another Buddha statue located behind the Pagoda itself.

How to get there?

Several ways, the train being the most inconvenient. You are better off if you can drive or have a driver take you there. As this place is a bit off the track, you will have to follow the google maps provided below to reach the ruins. It is not far from the main highway from Bangkok, but you must have nevertheless to make  a dangerous u-turn on the highway…

Ideally, this visit would be combined with the artisanal drum-making village of Ekkarat, and a tour to Ayutthaya.

Helsinki: the white city of the North

A recent trip was the occasion of dropping by the Finnish capital, Helsinki. Often unknown, even among Europeans, the other name for Helsinki is “the white city of the North”. The Finnish capital has a vibrant atmosphere and culture which impregnates the whole city.

Helsinki, a city replete with sights

From its iconic Tumiokirkko, to the statue of the three smiths in the center, Helsinki is replete with sights, culture and a lovely architecture. During my visit, they even had a mass choral before Tumiokirkko (see featured photo), with an incredibly blue sky.

Tumikirkko in Helsinki
Tumiokirkko is also known and the Lutheran Cathedral of Helsinki and is one of the landmarks of the gorgeous Finnish capital.

But Helsinki has something else that makes it even more lovable. For being a Nordic capital, it has a truly laid back culture and inhabitants seem keen on enjoying life as, for example, enjoying cafes even when it is as cold as 12° C outside.

By 12° C, Finns are enjoying a drink in the harbour of Helsinki.

 

The impressive Finnish culture

When visiting Finland one must also pay attention to their impressive culture, and in particular their main work developed in the XIXth century, namely the Kalevala. An epic poem written by Elias Lönnrot after collecting oral tradition from the region of Karelia, the Kalevala is still very much at the foundation of the Finnish national spirit.

A copy of the Kalevala in front of the statue of Elias Lönnrot in Helsinki.

In a somewhat ironic twist of history, nowadays, Russians are trying to surf on the Kalevala myths and history for tourism, as the greater part of Eastern Karelia has been occupied by Russia during WW II. Still, the Kalevala is very much a Finnish work and only Finns can truly talk about it in full knowledge.

Culture is very important for Finns. Look at this library, for example, and the number of philosophical works translated into Finnish.

A must see museum!

Finally, if you have the time (and make it if you don’t have it), go and visit the marvelous little museum of Sinebrychoff, which boasts a small, but exquisite collection of classical European art. They even boast a Rembrandt in their collection!

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The midnight sun

In summer, finally, an unforgettable experience is to wake up at 3 AM and go and see the midnight sun on Helsinki’s harbor. See below for an idea of what it is like.

How to go there? Well, the obvious answer would be to catch the Finnair flights which take you there from any corner of the world and enjoy as well the Finnish welcome as soon as you board the aircraft. Otherwise, plenty of solutions are available to go to Helsinki from Europe (even a week-end or a day trip is largely worth it).