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.

The Monastery of Monserrrat

During our trip to Barcelona, we took advantage of having a car to drive all the way to the Monstery of Monserrat. A beacon of Catalan culture since the IXth century, when it was founded, this Monastery survived one millenium of upheaval. The most serious threats to the monastery being the depredations by the Napoleonian troops in XIXth century and the Spanish civil war in the XXth century (23 monks were killed by Republicans). Today, it is a place of pilgrimage, of tourism and also of hiking due to its magnificent views.

Driving to Monserrat

The first part of the drive is pretty much boring, as it involves taking the highway C-58 out of Barcelona for about 45 kms. Ordinary drive, ordinary traffic, so not much to say about  it. It starts getting interesting when you reach the area of Monserrat, as you see high gorges arising and the road starts making twists and turns.

Driving in Spain
Driving in Spain

The gorges of Monserrat

As you arrive near Monserrat, the twisting road starts being surrounded by high gorges, which prepare you to the elevated position of the Monastery.

Gorges of Monserrat
The gorges of Monserrat seen by drone.

As we were around, we managed to take a “dronie” in those gorges.

Dronie in Monserrat
A dronie in the gorges of Monserrat

The beauty of those gorges cannot be stressed enough. It is a wild and beautiful area.

Monserrat river
Monserrat and the local river seen by drone


Monserrat as haven for Catalan language

Besides being an important monastery, Monserrat was also one of the first places where Catalan language was born and developed. In that respect, one of the most beautiful hymns in Catalan is “El Virolai”. While I did not get the chance of hearing this hymn during my visit, you can have a rendition below. It is absolutely profound and moving.


El Virolai sung by the boy’s choir of Monserrat

Taking the Cremallera

The monastery of Monserrat is built on the top of the mountain. To reach it, you can either take the cremallera, or you can also climb a hiking trail right to the top.

Monserrat tram
The monserrat tram passing above one of the earlier models near the station

The views from the cremallera are just gorgeous, so make sure you are sitting on the left side of the train for pics.

Mitchy in the Cremallera of Monserrat
Mitchy poses in the cremallera of Monserrat

The Cremallera goes all the way to the top of the mountain, near the Basillica.

Cremallera of Monserrat
Cremallera of Monserrat

The Basilica of Monserrat

Mitchy at Monserrat
Mitchy on the esplanade of Monserrat

The basilica of Monserrat was originally built according to the Gothic style. However, it was heavily damaged during the Napoleonic wars, and thus had to be rebuilt towards the end of the XIXth century. Today, it is thus not really the IXth century monastery and basilica that you will be seeing but something more recent, with the facade built in 1904.

Mitchy before the Monserrat basilica facade.
Mitchy before the Monserrat basilica facade.

The church itself is very beautiful. After WWII, a new area was built to hold the Black Madonna statue of Monserrat.

The Black Madonna

Mitchy praying at the Virgin of Monserrat.
Mitchy praying before the Virgin of Monserrat

This “Black Madonna” is not black by design, but the wood in which it is sculpted darkened with age. Thereafter, successive restorers painted the statue black. Originally, legend had it that it was sculpted in Jerusalem, in the early days of the church, some 2000 years ago. Although not as old as that, it seems the statue must be dating back to the late XIIth century. There are very few Black Madonna statues in Europe, the other most famous one being in Czestochowa in Poland.

Its importance in the Catholic religious history cannot be understated, as it is before this very Black Madonna that Ignatius de Loyola lay down his weapons, before creating the Company of Jesus or the Jesuit order as it is known nowadays. For Catholics, it is an important moment and something to be thankful for.

The Ave Maria path

After you exit the statue display area, you arrive at an area known as the “Ave Maria camin”. It is a long path alongside the exterior of the Basilica, where you can light candles (which my wife did, of course).

Mitchy and her candle
Mitchy about to light a candle in the Ave Maria path in Monserrat

The area is also interesting for some atmospheric pictures. Candles always have something warm, both in their light and in the symbol they represent for us.

Candles on ave maria path
Candles lit along the Ave Maria path

The multicolor view of the candles allows you to take a quite colorful picture of the area.

When you come out again in the main area, do not forget to look upwards to the funicular taking you to Saint Jerome, the highest point in Monserrat mountains…

Saint jerome, in Monserrat.
The vertiginous climb to Monserrat’s Saint Jerome.


Cony and Brown in Monserrat

Before leaving, we did take a picture with our alter egos, Cony and Brown in from of the Monastery. It was a way of expressing both, our appreciation for the place and our personal love stories with those lovely characters of LINE.

Cony and Brown in Monserrat
Cony and Brown in Monserrat

In conclusion, if you are in Barcelona, the Monastery of Monserrat is too unique to miss. The views and the location of the monastery are just amazing. The spiritual experience is also wonderful in this place, and you can understand the appeal of this monastery for so many centuries.

Peng Chau island: an oasis in Hong Kong

Everybody knows Cheung Chau and its crowded streets. Now go a bit outside of the beaten path and you may come across Peng Chau island, a small island which feels pretty much more like an oasis.

Originally, a lime production center

Until the 1970’s, Peng Chau was a bustling area of industrial production for two main products, namely lime and matchsticks.

Lime was obtained by burning oyster and clam shells, corals, to produce the final material which was then used in various other industries. After the 1950’s lime was used less and less in construction, and eventually the lime kilns went out of business.

The matchstick production faced a similar fate when disposable lighters appeared in the 1970’s. Today, all that remains are old buildings (which I did not visit on this occasion).

View by drone on the ferry pier of Peng Chau
View by drone on the Ferry Pier of Peng Chau

An excellent light hike path

Cheung Chau might be appreciated and invaded by tourists, but Peng Chau has nothing to envy to its big neighbor. Actually, it might be worth saying that Peng Chau beats Cheung Chau by the peace on the island. Being a small island, the area to cover is pretty limited, but with less tourists around it is much more pleasant.

Beach in Peng Chau
Nothing beats the deserted beaches of Peng Chau

Nothing beats thus the deserted beaches of Peng Chau. Nothing to do with the crowds of Cheung Chau and the numerous glass pieces that can be found along the beach.

The island built a very convenient hiking path which was a pleasure to trod barefoot. You can also climb up to the Finger Hill view point on stairs which are quite easy to hike upon.

The Old Fisherman’s rock

One of the landmarks of the island, at its northern end is the “old fisherman’s rock”, a balanced rock formation, a bit similar to the one found in Tap Mun island.

This place is easily reached after 20 min-1/2 hour walk from the ferry pier. The interesting part of this rock is the view it affords on both, discovery bay (Disneyland) on the other side and the Tsing ma bridge in the distance.

Nearby, there is an even more secluded beach, where I managed to stumble upon a scene directly taken out from the 1950’s… A young lady smoking a cigarette in the middle of the sea.

Smoking beauty
A young lady smokes a cigarette in middle of the waves

A small island

Cheung Chau is said to be small, but it seems that Peng Chau is quite smaller. This is best understood when looking at it from a drone.

Peng Chau by drone
As can be seen, the relative size of Peng Chau is very comparable to Cheung Chau

The main island is connected by a land bridge to a tiny island called “Tai Lei”, on which are hosted most of the utilities for the island. BTW, there are no cars at all on Peng Chau, which makes it absolutely lovely.

Tai Lei island by drone
Tai Lei island by drone

On the opposite side of the Ferry pier, there is a, inviting beach inside a cove.

Peng Chau main beach
Peng Chau’s main beach

One warning however: there is a large infestation of big cockroaches all over the beach’s wall. Seem they have a huge pest problem on the island, and by the behavior of the insects they are not very scared of humans.

At night, that beach provides the ideal setting for some night photography with a magnificent view on the Tsing Ma bridge.

Tsing Ma bridge seen from the Peng Chau beach
The Tsing Ma bridge seen from the Peng Chau beach.

How to get there?

Getting to the island is pretty easy. You must go to pier number 6 in Central, and from there catch one of the two hourly ferries. It takes roughly 40 mins to navigate until Peng Chau, but the island itself is covered in half a day, depending on your walking speed.

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.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

From Tokyo to Hokkaido

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

Haneda airport

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

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

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

Japan Airlines connection to Hokkaido

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

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

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

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

Tokyo Bay
Tokyo Bay upon takeoff from Haneda airport

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

napping in the plane
Mitchy with pillow

First glimpse of snow in Hokkaido

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

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

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

Royton Sapporo

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

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

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

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

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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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”

 

Flight to Kaohsiung: it all starts with a delay…

Last Sunday, I was flying to Kaohsiung, in Taiwan. This trip took place thanks to a promotion of American Express and Zuji, which both offered tickets to various destinations around the world for 30,000 pts on your credit card. The offer was too good not to enjoy (although flights are always on inconvenient dates, but not a big deal if you are taking vacations anyway).

HK airport lounge

As you never know what you might find on the plane as food, I had my dinner at the Premium Lounge of the airport (which you can access with a priority pass card (often given for free by some cards issuers).

Chicken, rice and vegetables as well as mushroom soup were on my menu. Nothing to talk home about, but certainly more tasty than on the plane.

China Airlines nice staff, but chronic delays

China Airlines is the largest airline in Taiwan and is part of the Skyteam alliance (uniting some older European airlines such as Air France or KLM). I didn’t know that company or had never flown on their planes until now. In economy, the service is quite ok, even if the flight attendants had to be scrambling around to feed everyone given the short duration of the flight.

In business instead, I would be a bit more doubtful, as I saw them storing the food temporarily on the floor just outside the plane (all wrapped up, of course).

Food stored
Food stored on the floor for the flight to Kaohsiung.

Departing, we had a huge delay, so we arrived only at midnight in Kaohsiung, too late to catch any MRT. The worst part is probably that on the return flight, they were also delayed! In this case, however, the delay was less meaningful, as HK has plenty of transportation options until late at night (and even during the night).

I mentioned about the short duration of the flight? Well, given their seemingly systematic delays, China Airlines “pads” its flight time and for a flight time of 1h10, they announce actually 1h40.

Arrival in Kaohsiung: already welcoming!

I have had my share of experience with immigration authorities in various countries. However, Taiwan was one of the most welcoming immigration experience I ever had. You must just give your passport and affix your two indexes on a digital print scanner upon arrival as well as upon exit (and complete an arrival card). Less easy than the entrance for residents in Hong Kong, but still easy and fast. Of course, absolutely not comparable to the living hell that can be the Thai immigration.

Conveyor belt
Luggages were distributed pretty quickly from the plane to the conveyor belt.

I then had to catch an Uber which, of course, gouged me with a price of 429 NT$ for just six kilometers. My hotel was the Art Eyes Sunduo, a sort of serviced apartment, which, thankfully had someone on watch despite the late hour. Which pretty spacious as apartment for one person and with an excellent view, I was pretty put off by the sign warning not to dispose of toilet paper in the toilet…

Art eyes
The hotel room at Art eyes Sunduo.

The view from the hotel room was gorgeous, however.

Kaohsiung by night
The gorgeous view from the hotel at night.

The following day, I was getting ready to start a long hike…. Which I will relate in my next post!