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.

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.

To the snow in Vancouver!

Last night, I flew for one of my last trips obtained through the Zuji and American Express 30 K points tickets. This flight was to Vancouver, in Canada. It must be said however, that my wife was unfortunately part of the trip as the Canadian immigration delayed her visa examination.

Air Canada: not a great flight

I flew on Air Canada, as that was the airline on which the promotion carried.

I understood better why they had to partake in similar promotion: the plane was not even filled to capacity. I chose a “preferred” seat which entailed I could stretch my legs in full, but as to having space for moving around… It was not a perfect seating either. The average age of the flight attendants was quite high and kindness and service seemed to have gone away just as much as their youth.

Food was disastrous as they come, both in the presentation (trays that a canteen would be ashamed of serving) and the taste. There was no menu, no explanation. All the flight attendant would tell you is: “chicken or beef?” Drinks would be served an incredible amount of time after the food.

Chicken or beef
“Chicken or beef?” was all the explanation or menu provided…

Landing in a snowstorm

Our landing in Vancouver took place in the middle of a snowstorm, which was a refreshing occasion of seeing another landing in the snow.

Not a big deal, but it allowed once again for interesting pictures of my plane at the gate.

B777 of Air Canada
The boeing 777 of #AC8 at its gate in Vancouver

Snow fun in the center of Vancouver

Of course, I let myself be fooled by the change date line when traveling from east. As such, my reservations are only valid… tomorrow! I had to find a temporary hotel for the night. Later, I went out again to shoot some pictures of the snow storm along with some videos of the kids and adults sledding on the snow. It was lovely to see so much fun being had in the center of the city!

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Here is a video of the kids and adults sledding in Vancouver:

Tomorrow, I will be grabbing a rental car and exploring the surroundings.

Encountering Taiwanese photographers near “Love River”

After I finished my barefoot hike in Shoushan national park, I went back to the hotel, refreshed myself and then, went right back out! In fact, the goal was to visit a place I had seen while returning on bike back to Aozhidi MTR station: the Love River. And that’s where I encountered two young Taiwanese photographers. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Biking along “Love River”

A real iconic feature of Kaohsiung, the “Love River” is a place where couples come for a lovely evening stroll, and despite the river being very polluted, it is a beautiful setting.

Love river
Love river, its dilapidated buildings and its flower-covered banks.

While the motionless river (actually, a canal) may seem romantic, it is however also the sign of a lack of life. There is no fish hopping in the water or the habitual signs of aquatic life. This can be explained by the fact that, for a long time, industrial waste from Kaohsiung was thrown back into this canal.

Today, efforts are being made to cleanse the canal, but it will still take some time…

Love river's banks
The banks of love river in Kaohsiung are an ideal place for strolling or riding a bicycle

During the day, “Love River” is charming enough, especially as flowers still adorned the river despite the closeness of winter.

Beautiful view of love river
The beautiful view on Love river

Coming back at night

Obviously, for a romantic place, the best moment is at night, but I came a bit late, towards 9 PM. There was none of the animation supposed to be (like boat rides, etc). Love river signage

The sign of love river reflecting in the still water are a must shoot!

However, couples were still out strolling on this bridge and with some reason: this place is a very romantic place to come and walk together with your beloved.

Couple on overpass of Love River
A couple takes a stroll on the overpass of Love River in Kaohsiung

 

Later, I moved on the overpass over the road and that is where I met two other Taiwanese photographers, Paul and Jimmy, who were shooting the passing cars in the city. We took some pics, talked (gear, of course!). We then exchanged our respective instagrams and finally, took a common selfie with my camera and the remote.

Photographers selfie
Our selfie with Paul and Jimmy

Night Photography

Obviously, the story would not be complete, if I did not share the picture I took on that bridge…

Kaohsiung by night
The view from the overpass over Kaohsiung by night. Large roads!

While “Love River” is an interesting place for photography, there are not many shops or restaurants around past a certain hour, and by the time we were done with photography, it was already nearing midnight. I had a meal quite late that day, I carried out my barefoot hike, without eating.

I hence took leave from my new friends and while walking towards the MRT station, I found out “The Plus”, a homely little restaurant mainly frequented by bikers at that late hour.

The plus restaurant
A view of the inside of “The Plus”.

I must say that while simple, their menu has some tasty bits, like this cheeseburger (beats Mc Donald’s by a hundred leagues).

A local cheeseburger
A (very) late dinner.

Going back: a bicycle adventure

Obviously, by the time I had finished my dinner, it was too late, as the last MRT had already passed. I then walked from Houyi MRT station to Central Railway station… It was however impossible to use a bicycle to ride through the construction site cutting the direct road to the hotel (Sunduo).

I hired a city bike and started a long ride to the hotel, which took all of one hour. In fact, I had to take several turns to finally join the main road. Despite being tired from the day’s hike, this was quite a pleasant ride. In fact, Kaohsiung has a lot of biking lanes and drivers are considerate, and the temperature was just temperate. Furthermore, the main avenues reserve the right lane for scooters and bicycles, so all in all, even at 1 AM, it is still safe.

I saw quite a number of “spas” and night entertainment places on my way, but mostly at provincial level, so nothing sleazy outside, thankfully. Before a gaming place, I spotted this little LINE car. This proves that LINE has penetrated much more in Taiwan (one of its biggest markets – the app is blocked in mainland China).

Line car
A card decorated with cute line stickers parked outside a gaming arcade in Kaohsiung.

I finally got to the hotel at 1 AM and went immediately to sleep in preparation for another day of exploring in Kaohsiung.

Despite being tired, that first day in Kaohsiung had been more than promising! The next day, I was going to visit the “art pier”