Monday/ on Boeing 737 Max 8 watch

A second Boeing 737 Max 8 was involved in an Ethiopian Airlines crash on Sunday by Addis Ababa, killing all 157 on board. And the causes of the Oct 2018 Indonesian crash are still under investigation .. but that tragedy revealed that Boeing and the FAA had not felt it necessary to tell pilots about updates to the 737 Max 8’s flight control system.

So I wondered today, what I would have done, if I had a flight scheduled on a Boeing 737 Max 8.  I would probably have tried not to think about it too much, and fly anyway. I did the same shortly after 9/11, since I needed to fly for work. And is that not what we do every time we fly, anyway?

Tue 3/12: On Tuesday, news came that the European Union’s aviation regulator had grounded all MAXes in the EU, and prohibited them from even entering the airspace of 28 nations. This airspace stretches from the Azores Islands in the Atlantic, to the Russian border. At this point I would definitely have changed my travel plans, if I were to board a Boeing 737 Max 8.

Wed 3/13: Even Canada grounded its Max 8 planes. The FAA finally issued an emergency order that grounded all Boeing 737 Max 8’s, worldwide. Who knows what exactly, transpired behind the scenes, yesterday & today between the Boeing CEO, Trump, and the acting FAA administrator. They don’t inspire confidence.

Graphic from the New York Times. Max 8 planes flew more than 8,500 flights worldwide in the week beginning Feb. 25, according to Flightradar24, a flight tracking service.  In the USA, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines have the most Max 8 airplanes. They have not grounded any of their Max 8’s, but many airlines around the world have.

Friday night/ home

It was a long day of traveling, but I made it home. I took the Sprinter train from Rotterdam Centraal station to Schiphol airport (24 mins), an Icelandair Boeing 757 from Schiphol to Keflavik (3 hrs), and another Icelandair Boeing 757 from Keflavik to Seattle airport (7 hrs). Oh, and then the Seattle Light Rail & No 10 bus to get home!

Boarding the airplane named the Dyngjufjöll, the Icelandair Boeing 757 that took off from Keflavik airport for Seattle.
Here’s a depiction of Dyngjufjöll by the aircraft door. The Askja caldera is a large volcanic crater, a popular tourist destination in Iceland.

 

 

Friday morning/ homeward bound

It’s time to go home!
It’s Friday morning and I am taking the train back to Schiphol airport to catch the flight to Reykjavik, and then on to Seattle.

Rotterdam’s Centraal Station on Thursday night. There was a blustery wind and a little rain.

Thursday/ Delft & Den Haag (The Hague)

I took the short train ride out to Delft and The Hague today. The sun and the balmy weather of Wednesday were gone, and it was foggy and cold until early afternoon.

Here is Delft train station building as I look back at it, with its 2015 remodeling. I am walking towards the Markt, the main square in Delft.
It was foggy and barely 10 am by the time I got to the Markt square, and the stall owners that sold food and souvenirs were still getting everything ready. ‘Lekkere Thee’ (tasty tea), says the banner in the middle. That’s the Delft Town Hall in the distance.
The Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) towers over the Markt town square at 108 m (356 ft). It is not new, of course! Its construction in the Gothic style was completed in 1496.
I took a look at the famous blue Royal Delft porcelain ware, but did not buy anything new. (I already have some). These hand painted pieces are much more expensive than the mass-produced ones.
Now on to The Hague. I was determined to get a glimpse of the North Sea, and found it at the beach and promenade at Scheveningen. There is also a pier with a Ferris wheel, and all the businesses are getting ready for the summer season’s visitors.
Nearby is the Kurhaus Hotel, with the flag of the Netherlands on its main dome, itself undergoing renovations for the summer.
The Vredespaleis (Peace Palace) was marked on my map, and I went out to check it out. Only the little museum was open though, and this is the closest I could get. The building (opened 1913) houses the International Court of Justice, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, The Hague Academy of International Law and the Peace Palace Library.
Here’s the entrance to the modern city hall of The Hague. The stork on the city’s coat of arms has a black eel in its beak. The words ‘Vrede en Recht’ (Peace and Justice) was added in 2012 – a nod to the city’s global recognition as the home of international justice and accountability.
In the foyer of The Hague City Hall building, there are pictures of several human rights activists.
The facade of the Grandcafé Haagsche Bluf in the city center. I love the art deco styling of the building.
Here’s the main entrance to Den Haag Centraal station, its 2015 renovation showing nice blue glass panels and a diamond pattern in the roof.

Wednesday/ exploring Rotterdam

It was a gorgeous day here in Rotterdam, with the day temperature reaching 17°C/ 62°F. Here is a selection of sights from today.

This bike path & foot path is next to Het Park (‘The Park’), on the way to the Euromast.
Euromast is an observation tower (185 m/ 606 ft), built for the 1960 Floriade (an international exhibition). The tower is a concrete structure. It was built on a concrete block weighing some 2,000 metric tons, so that the center of gravity is below ground.
Here’s a view of the Erasmus Bridge (139 m/456 ft high, 802 m/ 0.5 mi long), from the panorama platform at 85 m (278 ft), drawn a little closer with my camera’s zoom lens. The bridge is a combined cable-stayed and bascule bridge over the Niewe Maas river. The bridge was named after Desiderius Erasmus, a prominent Christian Renaissance humanist. It opened in 1996.
Another view from the panorama platform. Look for the flat barge with the blue containers. It first entered the lock at the top (middle right of the picture), then water was pumped in to raise the barge by some 6 ft, and right now it is making its way under the second drawn bridge, into the canal.
This Egyptian goose (‘Kolgans’) is native to Southern Africa, but I guess one finds them in many other places in the world, as well. This is at a little lake in Het Park (‘The Park).
This eye-catching apartment building is close to Eendrachtsplein. I still have to look up its name and construction date.
This is the Metro train at Beurs station, a suburban train that runs to the outer suburbs of Rotterdam. It took me to Leuvehaven by the waters of the Niewe Maas river.
Here’s the Rotterdam Water Taxi, coming to pick up a couple at a stop on a canal close to Leuvenhaven station. The Niewe Maas river is on the other side of the buildings.
I started at the Erasmus Bridge (seen earlier from the Euromast), and then walked to the red Willemsbrug (Willem’s Bridge, named after named after King Willem III of the Netherlands, and of course, after ME too). Opened: 1981 | Height: 65 m 213 ft | Length: 318 m / 0.2 mi.
The gorgeous Witte Huis (‘White House’) is near Willemsbrug. It was built in 1898 in the art nouveau style, and was for long the tallest office building in Europe (the first ‘hoogbouw’ = tall build, at the time, with 10 floors).
This is the little Spanjaardsbrug (‘Spanish Bridge’) in the Oude Haven (‘Old Harbor’). The bridge was built in 1886, and I just love the art elements of the Victorian age, that went into it.
The crazy Cube houses at the Oude Haven is a set of innovative houses designed by architect Piet Blom. Yes, there are actually people living in them, and the design’s main purpose is said to optimize the space inside (hmm, OK). I was surprised to find out they had been built in 1977, already.
The Markthal (Market Hall) nearby, is a new residential and office building (2014) with a market hall underneath.
Beautiful and enormous mural artwork inside the Markthal. This depiction of a caterpillar might just be the largest in the world.
.. and finally, Willem says: Come to Willemswerf (Willem’s Yard) to park your car in Rotterdam!

Tuesday/ arrival in Rotterdam

It’s a 32 min ride on the Intercity Direct from Schiphol airport down to Rotterdam Centraal station. The Sprinter is a little bit cheaper but takes quite a bit longer since it stops at 5 or 6 stations on the way.

I arrived at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport at about 11.15 am this morning.
I had to spend a little time at Schiphol to figure out how to use my OV-chipkaart* for the train ride down to Rotterdam, but that’s OK. Now I know how to use it in Rotterdam, as well.

*Cannot load money onto it at the ticketing machine with an American credit card! (USA cards do not have PIN numbers). No need to buy a fare ahead of time, but if you travel 1st class, you tap the card once at the station/ platform entrance as usual, and then a second time on the platform next to the train, for the 1st class surcharge.

Here is KLM Airlines’ Boeing 777 at the gate at Cape Town International airport. It took 11 hrs 20 mins to reach Schiphol in Amsterdam. It feels SO GOOD to walk off the plane and stretch one’s legs after all that time.
Here are the train tracks at Rotterdam Centraal Station, after I had arrived on the Intercity Direct from Schiphol (32 mins).
Inside Rotterdam Centraal Station. That’s a giant oblong strip of LCD TV screen at the top.
The main entrance to Rotterdam Centraal Station with its sweeping, metal-clad entrance.  This station building was designed by a team of Dutch architects and officially opened in March 2014.
Here’s a view from the 12th floor of the Marriott Hotel across from the train station, where I stay. Look to the right of the picture for the street cars that stop at Rotterdam Centraal. Watch out for them! they do not stop at smaller intersections. Another hazard when crossing intersections are the bike lanes with cyclists and moped riders.

Saturday/ the noon gun on Signal Hill

Table Mountain is at the bottom of this map, with Lion’s Head at the left and Signal Hill (elevation 350 m/ 1,150 ft) towards its northwest.

My friend Marlien and I went to see the firing of the noon gun on Signal Hill today. There’s a single-lane strip of tarred road that winds up to the top of the hill.

Here’s the Lion Battery with the two noon guns at the top. A time signal at noon has been fired by one of these guns since 1806. (Two guns so that one can serve as a backup). The two guns used are the oldest guns in daily use in the world.
Protect your ears! We all wore ear plugs. The cannon blast at close range reaches a sound level of 170 dB, the loudest bang many people would experience, ever. The bang is produced by a 1.5 kg/ 3.3 lb bag of gun powder.
The fuse is triggered remotely these days. Most of the on-lookers stood at the back of the cannon a good 50 ft away. The gunner that oversees the firing of the canon, announces ‘One minute’, ‘Thirty seconds’ ’10-9-8 .. 3-2-1′ . A few milliseconds before noon, an electrical signal is sent from the Astronomical Observatory’s atomic clock. The burst of energy zips across a telephone line, and ignites the firing cap on the cannon. At 12 noon sharp the gunpowder explodes with a loud Ka-Boom!

Every day – except Sundays and national holidays – the gun on Signal Hill is fired exactly at noon.

Monday/ in Amsterdam

My flight made it into Schiphol airport at 12 noon local time, after the connection I had made in Reykjavik.

From Schiphol, I took the train to Amsterdam Central station.
The OV chipkaart that I had bought there, does the same as the Orca card that we have in Seattle, and more. The passenger uses it to tap on readers at train stations and on trains and buses, to pay the fare. The cards can be used anywhere in the Netherlands on local trains, trams and buses, and even on regional trains. Just not on ferries, yet.

The Boeing 757 that got us from Seattle to Keflavik airport. It is 6 am, and we are stepping into the terminal shuttle bus. It was 5 °C (40 °F), but man! it felt 10 degrees colder, with the icy windchill that whipped across the tarmac.
This is Amsterdam Central station, and I had just stepped off the train called the Sprinter. It’s just a 17 min run from Schiphol to Amsterdam Central.
The main facade for the Amsterdam Central Station building. Built from 1881 to 1889, it was designed by famous Dutch architect Petrus J.H. Cuypers. I cheated a little by just aiming at the top: there is construction and remodeling going on at the bottom, behind a fence.
I just had a few hours until sunset, and so I took the No 2 tram line from Central Station down to Nieuw Sloten and back. It is a great way to check out the scenery and the city.  The No 2 runs by several canals and town squares (Koningsplein, Keisersgracht, Prinsengracht, Leidseplein), as well as by the grounds of the Rijksmuseum.
Outside of central Amsterdam, and looking out from the tram, one finds plenty of 60’s and 70’s apartment buildings. These are built in a much simpler, modern style (than the traditional Dutch style). I like this one a lot: all straight lines, rectangles and squares.

Sunday/ Amsterdam bound

I made it to the airport, and it looks like my flight is on time.
I had to negotiate two blocks of bumpy, snowy sidewalk to the bus stop with my roller bags, but it was not too bad. It was easy from there: bus to the Capitol Hill train station, and train to the airport.

Now it’s 7½ hours to Reykjavik on Iceland Air, and another 3 to Amsterdam, where I will overnight on the way to Cape Town, South Africa.

I found this snowman in the little Spring Street park on Saturday afternoon.
Here’s the view at Othello station as my Link Light Rail train passed another on the way to the airport today.  I don’t think the Transit Authority had to take special measures to clear snow from the train tracks on Saturday. The Light Rail operated its normal Saturday schedule – unlike the metro buses, which had to switch to limited snow routes (routes that steer clear of the steeper inclines made slippery by snow and ice),

Saturday/ souvenirs from my trip

Here is an ensemble of the souvenirs that I found stuffed into my bags, as I unpacked them.

Clockwise: Red & blue north-south bar magnet (polar opposites, so a perfect metaphor for Republicans & Democrats in American politics, right?), mini set square, 28.57 mm steel ball & perspex cube, all these from Tokyu Hands store | white porcelain tray from Muji store | chimpanzee, banana in hand & white solid polyhedron set from Akihabara | origami Starbucks coffee filters | porcelain mug by Koransha (Japanese porcelain) | platypus piggy bank with ‘combination lock’ as a belly button from Commonwealth Bank | the ‘Red King’, an ultramonster with oversized fists (No 57 in the Ultraman series) | melamine tray with Australian kookaburras | diecast model of N700 series bullet train

Friday afternoon/ now in Seattle

I’m home! .. but it’s going to become a stretched-out Friday for me!
That’s what happens when one flies east across the international dateline. Let’s see: 18 hrs in Japan on Friday + 9 hrs flying + 14 hrs in Seattle until Friday midnight. That’s a 41 hr day. Whoah.

Here is our All Nippon Airlines 787 bird sitting at the gate at Narita airport. It left well after the sun had sunk below the horizon (Friday in Japan at 6.15 pm), and then flew almost due east for about 9 hours ..
.. to meet the sun on the early side of the night we had left. Here we are starting the descent for Seattle airport, to arrive there at 10 am Friday morning Seattle time.

Thursday/ time’s up, time to go

Today was my last full day. I will head out to the airport after lunchtime tomorrow.
It was gloves-scarf-skull cap weather: no sun and only 6°C/ 42°F for a high. I went out to the very touristy surroundings at Asakusa Station (pagodas and shrines), and then made a stop at Omotesandō Station (glass and steel) as well.

Here comes the next train, this at Asakusa station. For once, there are no fencing panels, and no humans on the platform that spoil the clean lines of the picture :).
This 5-story pagoda near the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, is a 1973 reconstruction of the 942 original which was itself rebuilt in 1648. At 53 m/ 173 ft high, it is the second tallest pagoda in all of Japan.
On to newer constructions, though! This is the AO building in Aoyama, completed in 2008, and designed by renowned architectural firm Nihon Shikkei.
And how about the 6-story crystal glass tower nearby, showing off Italian luxury fashion house Prada’s offerings? Architects Herzog & de Meuron, constructed 2003.
Across the street, there’s a La Perla store on the corner (high-fashion lingerie, loungewear, bridal intimates & sleepwear), and an Anya Hindmarch store behind it (English fashion designer).
If you’re going to convince well-heeled people to part with lots of money for their threads, you’d better have some eye-catching store fronts, right? Tsumori Chisato (64) is a Japanese fashion designer, an ex-collaborator with famous Japanese designer Issey Miyake (80).
My last stop for the day was at Akasaka (not the same as Asakusa!). Nice vanishing edge on the SKI building (infotech office tower) on the left.

Wednesday/ day trip to Nagoya

My day trip to Nagoya went well, but man! there was an icy wind blowing in the city today. I was so glad I had packed my woolen skull cap.

Here’s the Tōkaidō Shinkansen (bullet train line) that runs from Tokyo to Nagoya, that I took. It continues its run from Nagoya on to Osaka. A more direct line to Nagoya will open in 2027, and be extended to Osaka by 2045*.
*Assuming Earth had not been utterly destroyed by humans, by then.

Here’s the Nozomi Super Express again. I’m about to step into the one on the right. Tokyo Station is its one terminal, so it sat still for 5 minutes to get cleaned by the cleaning crews. Then, and at all other stations, there is ONE MINUTE for passengers that need to disembark and for new ones to board. The train has 16 long cars, so if you are in the wrong place, or almost late, immediately board the car, right where you are. You can reach your correct car and assigned seat from inside.

 

This steel spiral and traffic circle is by the east exit of Nagoya station. The spiral tower behind it in the background, is the Mode Gakuen Spiral Towers, home to three vocational schools. Nagoya is a manufacturing and shipping hub, and Toyota City, home of the beloved Japanese cars, is not far away to its southwest.
This is by the exit from the Shiyakusho Station, on the circular Meijo Subway Line. It is the closest stop to the Nagoya Castle – the city’s main tourist attraction.
Here’s a little history of the castle and its adjacent palace.
And here it is, the castle itself (a 1959 reconstruction). It was bitterly cold, and 30 minutes from closing time, and a dozen or so of us took a few pictures. Those black birds are crows, as far as I could tell.

Tuesday/ along Meiji-Dori avenue

I spotted some unusual buildings along Meiji-Dori avenue today, while walking from Shibuya to the Harajuku station.
Some days I run myself ragged with too much walking! So for tomorrow, I plan to take the Nozomi Super Express to Nagoya. It’s 1h 40m in one direction.

The not-quite Art Deco building for the Pink Dragon store sells 1950s retro clothes, accessories and clocks. Down below is Cat Street Cafe, and a golden egg perched on a pillar .. but what that stands for, I am not sure!
Here is the swank new WeWork co-working space called The Iceberg, which opened in Aug 2018. They have offices around the world, also in Seattle.
An older apartment building near Harajuku station. I don’t know the name – I just liked the angled columns of bay windows.
A window display that shows Pepper the robot* coming to grips with his new Google Pixel 3 smartphone. (Does he ask: ‘OK Google, who is the smartest robot?’ ?).  *Manufactured by SoftBank Robotics.
The Tokyu Plaza shopping mall near Harajuku station has a faceted entrance covered with mirrors. It is only 3 pm, but the sun is already low. It sets at 4.40 pm.

Sunday/ visited friends

I ran out to Saginomiya station on Sunday, to visit friends of ours from Seattle, that live here in Tokyo.
The transfer I had to make at Takadanobaba station was a little ugly*, but I was fine after asking the station attendant for directions.

*The Seibu-Shinjuku line is from a private operator, and not shown on my Tokyo Metro app.

It took three lines to get me where I wanted to be: the grey Hibiya line, the blue Tozai line, and the green Seibu-Shinjuku line.
Here comes the train, at Kayabacho station. Yes, the inside is a little rough, but I’m sure it will get fixed up when they install its platform fences.
When faced with a long complicated station name to remember, I just say to myself remember ‘Taka-something’. (Of course, the risk is that the line has other station names that also start with Taka- !
Billboard for a fancy new train that will start operating on the Marunouchi line, in February. The line carries about 1.35 million people every day. (That character in front of the train is Doraemon, the robotic cat from the 22nd century, from the manga series by Fujiko F. Fujio).

Saturday/ the Yurikamome line

This morning, I took the Yurikamome line’s train to the new Toyosu fish market from Yurakucho Station (not much to see there), and then went on to Shimbashi Station. The line offers plenty of great views of the waterfront and of Tokyo Bay.

The Yurikamome line was completed in 1995, and is Tokyo’s first fully automated transit system – controlled entirely by computers, with no drivers on board.  It looks like a monorail, but it is not: the trains run with rubber-tired wheels on an elevated concrete track guided by the side walls.

I had just stepped off the train at the Shijo-mae station close to the Toyosu fish market, and waited for the next one to arrive (to take a picture, of course). Note that there is no rail or rails on the track. The train runs on rubber wheels, controlled by computer.
The bidding for blue-fin tuna happens early (5 am to 6 am) at the market, so by late morning there was no action to be seen through the double-pane windows for visitors. This is a model of the largest tuna recorded (at the old Tsukiji fish market), 496 kg/ 1,094 lbs, in 1986. It just so happened that early today, a Japanese sushi tycoon paid a whopping US$ 3.1 million for a giant tuna at this market – by far the most ever. Let’s also just note that blue-fin tuna is an endangered species due to overfishing. Oy.
The upside down pyramids of Tokyo Big Sight, officially known as Tokyo International Exhibition Center. That’s a giant wood saw in the foreground.
The Yurikamome line runs under the Rainbow Bridge, a suspension bridge crossing northern Tokyo Bay. The railway line is encased in fencing, seen in the middle on the right of the picture.

Friday night

I am in the Marriott Courtyard Ginza this time, a better Courtyard than the one at Tokyo Station.
I’m going to stay a whole week! (Long story: I purchased the ticket back to Seattle a long time ago, and now it’s very, very expensive to change).
No matter: there are lots of interesting things to do and see in a great city such as Tokyo.

Happy New Year! These yummy rice crackers were my welcoming gift in the hotel room. (I already chewed up 2019).
The Higashi-Ginza station still does not have platform doors – which means I can still take a clear picture of the train as it arrives.
Call in an emergency if you see a person obviously impaired on the platform, says this poster. There was a fatal accident in August 2016 along the Tokyo Ginza subway line, in which a visually impaired man was struck by a train after falling from the platform. There are plans to install platform doors at all 882 train stations in the Tokyo metropolis before the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
I hopped off the train when I saw it was the station near the National Diet Building (the ‘parliament’ where the House of Representatives and House of Councillors meet). To see anything more than this view at all, though, one has to sign up for a guided tour, like these people. The entire block of government buildings is fenced in and guarded by a heavy security presence. I stuck my camera lens through the barriers in the fence (with the approval of the guard!) to take this picture.
I’m happy to report the Christmas decorations are gone from the window displays and lamp posts in Ginza! The lamp posts now have Japanese flags on: nice.

Thursday morning/ at Hong Kong airport

I’m at Hong Kong airport.
I took a taxi from the hotel. I had just too much luggage to lug to Sai Ying Pun station & transfer to the Airport Express!
Besides, it’s nice to experience the serious infrastructure that gets one to the airport by car: first the Western Harbor Crossing (an immersed tube tunnel under Victoria harbor), then the Tsing Ma suspension bridge, followed by the Nam Wan Tunnel and another suspension bridge, the Kap Shui Mun bridge. And let’s not forget the entire Hong Kong airport was built on a man-made island.

Approaching the Nam Wan Tunnel. It is a twin-tube tunnel 1.2 km long (0.75 mi), with three lanes in each direction.
Here’s the departure hall in Terminal 1, as one steps into the airport after getting out of the taxi.

Wednesday/ more Hong Kong

Here are more of my favorite pictures of this Hong Kong visit.
I am leaving for Tokyo in the morning, to stay over again for a few days. It is the final stop on way back home in Seattle.

I love this eye-catching mural. It is at the entrance of the World Trade Center shopping arcade in Causeway Bay.
Oh Deer X’Mas‘ indeed.  On the buses, in the stores, in open spaces: Christmas trees and decorations are still found everywhere in the city as of today. One even hears Christmas music in the stores. People! Christmas is O-V-E-R. Maybe I need to send an SOS message ahead to Japan: N.O. M.O.R.E. Christmas.
I love the little snacks that the Marks & Spencer food stores purvey around the city.
The view across from the Tsing Yi station’s promenade: phalanxes of forty-story apartment buildings. These apartments might be small, but are still OK, I guess. Newspapers still report on the plight of thousands of Hong Kong residents living in tiny subdivided housing units known as “coffin homes’.
These beautiful gleaming blue pillars at the Admiralty station on the blue Island Line (the line is blue on subway maps).
The Star Ferry runs across Victoria harbor between Hong Kong Island, and the Hong Kong mainland. This cute little sailor welcomes passengers as they board the ferry.
This was on New Years Day: a Lion Dance festival at the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade. The yellow lion has two kids in that make it perform all kinds of moves.