Tian Tan Buddha (Lantau Island, Hong Kong)

Tian Tan Buddha Statue

The majestic Big Buddha statue, sitting atop the peak of 479 m. high Mount Muk Yue, is sited near Po Lin Monastery.  At ground level, the statue was quite a formidable and imposing sight. Together with many other tourists, we were huffing and puffing on our way up, only catching our breath at a number of stair landings. The view of Lantau Island, the 934 m. (3,064 ft.) Lantau Peak and the South China Sea from the top was ’breathtaking.

Check out “Po Lin Monastery

This large bronze statue of Buddha Shakyamuni, a major center of Buddhism in Hong Kong and a popular tourist attraction, symbolizes the harmonious relationship between man and nature, people and faith.  The statue, skillfully mastered and conceptualized by the artist to shape the perfect design of the Buddha statue that we see today, was a culmination of the characteristics of Buddhist sculptural art of the Sui and Tang Dynasties (when Buddhism was at its prime).

Taking 12 years to plan and build, this bronze Buddha statue, an outstanding piece in Buddhist sculptural art in recent history, is now a major landmark in Hong Kong attracting numerous local and overseas Buddhists and visitors.  It symbolizes the stability of Hong Kong, prosperity of China and peace on earth.

The author at the foot of the stairs leading up to the Buddha

The Big Buddha Statue, combining traditional bronze art with modern science and technology, embodies the harmonious resonance of Buddhist spirit and modern civilization – a solemn epitome of human beings’ continuous and unyielding pursuit of moral happiness and peace on earth.

Grace (near left), Cheska (fifth from left), Bryan (sixth from left) and Kyle (right) making their way up the stairs

Here’s the timeline of the statues construction:

  • In 1974, the government granted Po Lin Monastery 6,567 sq. m. of land in Mount Muk Yue, at a nominal premium, for the building of the Buddha statue.
  • On December 26, 1981, the Committee for the Construction of the Tian Tan Buddha Statue was formally established, by Po Lin Monastery, to coordinate the project, including the artistic design and concept of the statue, building materials and details of construction.
  • On April 1982, the work on the 1:5 scale, 5 m. high plaster model of the statue, fashioned by Ms. Hou Jinhui of the Guangzhou Institute of Fine Arts, was started.
  • On February 1984, the plaster model was completed, the draft of which had been revisited eight times, following discussions and consultations with the artist responsible for the conceptual design of the statue.
  • On September 26, 1986, the plaster model of the statue was shipped to Nanjing from Guangzhou.
  • On April 1989, the bronze pieces were transported to Hong Kong by sea.
  • On October 13, 1989, the last bronze piece of the statue was put in place and a solemn topping ceremony was held on the same day.
  • On December 29, 1993, which the Chinese reckon as the day of the Buddha’s enlightenment, the statue was inaugurated, with monks from around the world invited to the opening ceremony. Also taking part in the proceedings were distinguished visitors from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, India, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and the United States.

Halfway up the stairs

The project was divided into six stages, with Nanjing Chengguang Machinery Plant of the China Astronautics Science and Technology Consultant Corporation principally carrying out the actual casting, finishing and assembly of the Buddha statue.  During the overall project design stage, over 5,000 drawings and 300 technical documents were produced within less than three months. The daily and monthly work progress for the subsequent three years was mapped out and prepared by system analysis.

The enlargement, carried out by the technical staff through a special “survey-controlled box enlargement method,” involved the use of stereoscopic photography to find out the position of the statue in space.  When over 3,900 coordinate points were established, the computer was then used to calculate the enlargement. At the same time, to form the inner frame of the statue, a traditional method of using boxes which were stacked up in layers was used. Then plaster was applied to the outer surface, producing a 1:1 scale model.

The body of the statue, cast in 202 bronze pieces after careful studies and surveying, was supported by an inner steel framework and fixed by connecting bolts. Auxiliary supports were used to connect the bronze pieces to the main framework.  The bronze pieces had thicknesses ranging from 10 to 13 mm. and the error margin of each cast piece was less than 3 mm..  Precision molds were prepared according to the different shapes of the pieces.

Halfway up the stairs

After overcoming numerous difficulties, the professional staff, in an effort to portray fully the splendor of Buddha Sakyamuni and to achieve a perfect artistic design, managed to finally cast the face of the Buddha in a single piece. To rehearse for the on-site assembly, a trial assembly was carried out in the plant where any problems that might occur on site were detected and solved.

View of Po Lin Monastery

The Buddha statue was trial assembled separately in three sections (upper, middle and the lower) and various necessary adjustments and trimmings were made to the bronze pieces plus initial mechanical finishing was also carried out.

Jandy with the Big Buddha in the background

On arrival at Lantau Island, the very large face piece and two other large bronze pieces were safely transported up to Mount Muk Yue with the help of the Transport Department who provided a large lorry and two large cranes (which sandwiched the lorry in the middle) for this arduous journey up the winding and narrow roads on the island. The arduous task of assembly and welding (the length of weld was over 5 kms.) of the statue was carried out, in open air, from bottom upwards in eight layers.

To ensure that the Buddha statue would not be damaged by strong winds, calculations on the wind pressure, imposed load and material strength of the various parts of the statue were conducted the specialists using computers and the Beijing Institute of Aerodynamics specially created a testing model, utilizing the wind tunnel employed for satellites and rockets, to conduct unidirectional as well as multi-directional wind tests on the statue as a whole and on the various parts.

The Offering of the Six Devas

The optimal coating for the surface coloring of the statue, carefully studied for over a year, was selected from various formulas for surface coloring.  Oozing an air of classical simplicity and solemn dignity, it is not susceptible to fading because of corrosion due to the exposure to the elements.

One of the halls inside the podium

Here are some interesting trivia regarding the statue:

  • The design of the statue was based on the 32 laksanas (“physical marks” of the Buddha as described in the sutras).
  • The Tian Tan Buddha is one of the five large Buddha statues in China and is the biggest sitting Buddha statue built outdoor.
  • The statue was named The Big Buddha because its base is a model of the Earthly Mount of Tian Tan (or Altar of Heaven), the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.
  • Enthroned on a lotus on top of a three-platform altar, it is surrounded by six smaller bronze statues known as “The Offering of the Six Devas,” symbolizing the Six Perfections of generosity, morality, patience, zeal, meditation and wisdom, all of which are necessary for enlightenment.  They are posed offering flowers, incense, lamp, ointment, fruit and music to the Buddha.
  • Every feature of the Buddha statue has a symbolic meaning of religious significance. The face, measuring 4.3 m. by 5.8 m., with a thickness of 13 mm. and a weight of 5 metric tons, was modeled after the Buddha Vairocana of the Longmen Grottoes for its fullness and serene beauty. The clothes and headgear had their inspiration from the soft and smooth flowing lines of the Buddha Sakyamuni image in Cave 360 of the Mogao Caves.
  • For the building of the Buddha statue, the original idea was to use reinforced concrete. However, due to artistic requirements, structural problems as well as the anticipated difficulties in quality and cost control, bronze was finally chosen as the building material.
  • The Big Buddha is 34 m. (112 ft.) tall, weighs over 250 metric tons (280 short tons) and was constructed from 202 bronze pieces.
  • Reputedly the figure can be seen across the bay from as far away as Macau on a clear day.
  • In addition to its exterior components, there is a strong steel framework inside to support the heavy load.
  • Visitors have to climb 268 steps to reach the Buddha. However, to accommodate the handicapped, the site also features a small winding road for vehicles.
  • The Buddha’s raised right hand represents the removal of affliction while the left hand, resting open on his lap, is in a gesture of generosity.
  • The statue faces north, which is unique among the great Buddha statues, as all others face south.
  • One of the statue’s most renowned features inside is a relic of Gautama Buddha, consisting of some of his alleged cremated Only visitors who purchase an offering for the Buddha are allowed to see the relic, entering to leave it there.
  • On October 18, 1999, the Hong Kong Post Office issued a definitive issue of landmark stamps, of which the HK$2.50 value depicts The Big Buddha.
  • In 2000, the Big Buddha Statue was elected as the fourth of the 10 Engineering Wonders in Hong Kong (the others, all public works projects, are the Lantau Link, the Hong Kong International Airport Passenger Terminal and the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre Extension). Of the projects in the private sector, the Big Buddha Stature came as the first.
  • On May 22, 2012, it was also featured on the HK$3 value of the Five Festival set, this one celebrating the birth of Sakyamuni Buddha. The MTR corporation also issued a souvenir ticket featuring a photograph of the statue.

View of Lantau Island and South China Sea

There are three floors beneath the statue – Hall of the Universe, Hall of Benevolent Merit and Hall of Remembrance.   In the show room, there’s a huge carved bell, inscribed with images of Buddhas and designed to ring every 7 minutes, 108 (symbolizing the release of 108 kinds of human vexations) times a day.

View of Lantau Peak

Tian Tan Buddha: Ngong Ping Rd., Ngong PingLantau Island, Hong Kong. The Buddha (as well as Po Lin Monastery) are open daily, 10 AM to 5 PM. Access to the outside of the Buddha is free of charge, but there is an admission fee to go inside the Buddha.

How to Get There: Visitors can reach the site by bus or taxi, travelling first to Mui Wo (also known as “Silvermine Bay”) via ferry from the Outlying Islands piers in Central (pier No. 6) or to Tung Chung station via the MTR, or via the 25-min. Ngong Ping 360 gondola lift between Tung Chung and Ngong Ping. Visitors may then travel to and from the Buddha via the Mui Wo ↔ Ngong Ping (NLB No. 2) and Tung Chung ↔ Ngong Ping (NLB No. 23) bus routes.

Old Quirino Bridge (Bantay, Ilocos Sur)

The old Quirino Bridge

The old Quirino Bridge

The scenic Old Quirino Bridge, also called Banaoang Bridge, is an old Parker-type (camelback) bridge named after the late former Philippine President Elpidio Quirino, who hails from Vigan. Spread across the Abra River, it majestically connects the two beautiful, transcending rocky mountain slopes of the town of Santa and the tail end of Bantay, both in Ilocos Sur.

The mighty Abra River

The mighty Abra River

Considered as one of the country’s most beautiful bridges, this arch bridge, next to the Vigan Gap,  is considered an iconic symbol of Ilocos Sur. Aside from its magnificent views, it is also widely praised for its marvelous engineering and grand architectural design. The approach to the bridge is as scenic as the bridge itself.

Quirino Bridge (5)

The original bridge trusses

At the height of Super Typhoon Feria (which devastated the province from  July 4-6, 2001), one of its steel spans was damaged and washed away.  The old, 4-span bridge was reconstructed, with a different third quarter K-truss portion, and is still presently passable.  However, on December 2007, Chinese engineers and a local construction company started to build a new, 456 m.-long replacement, a stone’s throw (350 m.) from the original bridge.

The replacement span

The replacement span

The new Quirino Bridge is a component of the Japan-funded Urgent Bridges Construction Project for Rural Development which plans to replace old bridges with new bridges, on national roads that lead to urban centers all over the country. On December 30, 2009, it was officially opened by then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The old truss type bridge, currently preserved as a tourist attraction, doubles up as a backup in case the new main bridge is damaged by typhoons.

The new Quirino Bridge

The new Quirino Bridge

Old Quirino Bridge: Vigan Gap, Bantay, Ilocos Sur

Rialto Bridge (Venice, Italy)

Rialto Bridge

The Rialto Bridge (ItalianPonte di Rialto), one of the four bridges (and the oldest) spanning the 3,800 m. long, S-shaped Grand Canal, is one of the architectural icons of Venice.  The dividing line for the  the sestieri (districts) of San Marco and San Polo, it is renowned as an architectural and engineering achievement of the Renaissance.

A gondola passing under the bridge

This pedestrian bridge had its beginning in 1181 as a pontoon bridge called the Ponte della Moneta (presumably because of the mint that stood near its eastern entrance) built, at the narrowest point of the canal, by Nicolò Barattieri. In 1255, the development and importance of the Rialto market on the eastern bank, necessitated its replacement by a timber bridge with two inclined ramps, meeting at a movable central section, that could be raised to allow the passage of tall galleys. The connection with the Rialto market eventually led to a change of the bridge’s name. The painting Miracle of the Relic of the Cross at the Ponte di Rialto, by Italian Renaissance artist Vittore Carpaccio, dates back to 1496, the time when the bridge was still in wood.

The painting Miracle of the Relic of the Cross at the Ponte di Rialto, by Vittore Carpaccio, can be found at the Gallerie dell’Accademia

During the first half of the 15th century, two rows of shops were built along the sides of the bridge, its rents and taxes bringing an income (which helped maintain the bridge in working order) to the State Treasury. In 1310, it was partly burnt during the revolt led by Bajamonte Tiepolo. In 1444, it collapsed under the weight of a crowd watching a boat parade in celebration of wedding of the Marquis Ferrara. In 1524, the bridge collapsed again.

In 1503, the idea of rebuilding the bridge in stone was first proposed. Over the following decades, several projects were considered. In 1551, the authorities, among other things, requested proposals for the renewal of the Rialto Bridge and plans were offered by famous architects such as Jacopo SansovinoPalladio and Vignola (Michelangelo  was also considered as a designer of the bridge), all involving a Classical approach with several arches (which would hinder the river traffic), and all judged inappropriate to the situation.

The present 48 m. (157 ft.) long and 7.32 m. (24 ft.) high stone arch bridge, designed and built by Swiss-born Venetian architect and engineer Antonio da Ponte (appropriately translated as “Anthony of the Bridge”) and his nephew, Antonio Contino (the architect of the Bridge of Sighs, Venice’s second most talked about bridge), was started in 1588 and completed in 1591.

Similar to the wooden bridge it succeeded, it consisted of a massive single 28.8 m. (94.5 ft.) long span, built on some 6,000 wooden piles driven under each abutment in the soft alluvial soil, with two inclined covered ramps lead up to a central portico. The bed joints of the stones were placed perpendicular to the thrust of the arch. The lower chord of the bridge has a length of 25 m. (83 ft.) and a width of 22.9 m. (75.1 ft.). Stone reliefs on the bridge depict St. Mark, the city’s patron, and St. Theodore and the Annuciation

Its design was considered so audacious so much so that architect Vincenzo Scamozzi predicted its future ruin.  However, the bridge has defied its critics and is now a significant tourist attraction in the city. The bridge has three walkways.  Two are located along the outer balustrades while the wider central walkway is lined by two arcades of small shops selling jewelry, linens, Murano glass, and other tourist items.

Rialto Bridge: Sestiere San Polo, 30125 VeniceItaly. As the bridge consists primarily of steps, crossing it is a challenge for tourists with strollers or wheelchairs.

How to Get There: From the train station or the Piazzale Roma or if you’re walking from St. Mark’s Square, simply follow the signs to “Rialto.” From the square,  head for the clock tower, cut through the arched passage, and follow the upscale shopping streets (known as the Mercerie) until you reach the Grand Canal, then turn right and walk two blocks to the bridge. Another option is to approach the bridge via the No. 1 vaporetto (water bus) which stops at Rialto on its way up or down the Grand Canal.

The Iconic Foot Bridges of the Grand Canal (Venice, Italy)

Grand Canal

Fascinating Venice, often called the “City of Canals,” is also known as the “City of Bridges” because of the 400-plus pedestrian bridges, both nondescript and practical, that crisscross its waterways and embody the city’s beauty and history.  However, only four of these bridges span the Grand Canal.

Rialto Bridge

The photogenic Rialto Bridge (Ponte de Rialto), the first and oldest of the four bridges spanning the Grand Canal, is still in use, connecting the sestieri  (districts) of San Marco and San Polo.  One of the city’s most famous landmarks, rows of shops (mostly jewellers and souvenir shops) line each side of this wide, stone arched bridge which is the gateway to the famous nearby Rialto (the name Rialto is derived from the words rivo alto meaning “high bank”) food market, the city’s principal food market since the 11th century located west of the span.  Built along the so-called “lazy bend” of the waterway (between its two highest points above sea level) and its narrowest point, tourists flock here to see this famous bridge and its views of the gondola-filled Grand Canal waterway. It has fairly steep flights of steps. Until the completion of the Accademia Bridge in 1854, this was the only bridge over the Grand Canal.

Check out “Rialto Bridge

The Academy Bridge (Ponte dell Accademia), so named because it crosses the Grand Canal (near the southern end) at the Gallerie dell’Accademia (one of the top museums in Venice after whom it  is named for), links the sestieri of Dorsoduro and San Marco.

Check out “Gallerie dell’Accademia

The original steel structure, designed by Alfred Neville and opened on November 20, 1854, was demolished and replaced by a wooden bridge designed by Eugenio Miozzi and opened in 1933 (despite widespread hopes for a stone bridge).

Ponte de Accademia

In 1986, when the 1930s bridge was deemed too dangerous, the total replacement of the wooden elements was necessary and metal arches, capable of supporting the structure better, were inserted. Interesting because of its high arch construction and the fact that it is made of wood, Venice authorities have attempted to crack down on lovers attaching padlocks (“love locks“) to the metal hand rails of the bridge.

Approach to Ponte de Accademia

The elegant stone arch Scalzi Bridge (Ponte degli Scalzi or Ponte dei Scalzi), named for the nearby Chiesa degli Scalzi (literally the “Church of the Barefoot Monks”), links the  sestieri of Santa Croce, on the south side, and Cannaregio on the north side. If you are arriving in Venice, via rail, to the Santa Lucia (Ferrovia) railway station, the Scalzi Bridge will be one of the first bridges you will cross after disembarking. Designed by Eugenio Miozzi, it was completed in 1934, replacing an Austrian iron bridge.

Ponte degli Scalzi

The Scalzi is located a mere stone-throw away to Ponte di Calatrava, the fourth and final of the four bridges to span the Grand Canal. Strategically located, it links the Stazione di Santa Lucia, on the north, to Piazzale Roma (the city’s arrival point by car/bus), on the south side of the Grand Canal, a bus depot (this bridge is closer to the bus station than the Scalzi bridge) and car park.  Designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and constructed by Cignoni, its design and installation studies were carried out by a specialized group – Prof. Renato Vitaliani (Padua University) and Prof. Francesco Colleselli (Brescia University) for geotechnical and foundation aspects; the company Mastropasqua-Zanchin & Associates Structural Engineering for the steel arch and weldings verification; and Fagioli Group and Giorgio Romaro (Padua University) for the installation activities.

Ponte della Costituzione

A controversial addition to Venice’s architectural landscape because of its cost (its official budget for the project of €6.7 million ballooned to approximately €10 million), its construction and inauguration was also delayed by heated criticism, walk-outs and protests by politicians and the general public, in part, due to controversy over its Modernist-Minimalist style (being incompatible with Venice’s decorative medieval architecture),  the lack of wheelchair access (its many steps, embedded in its relatively steep pavement, means that elderly people will have difficulty climbing it and wheelchair users are excluded from crossing) and lack of necessity (the distances between Scalzi and Rialto Bridges or between the Rialto and Ponte dell’Accademia bridges are severalfold longer, and with no other way to cross the canal besides the vaporetto or traghetto).

However, its basic span was finally moved into place by a large barge from July to August 11, 2007 and the bridge was opened for public use on the night of September 11, 2008. In 2010, a mobility lift system, resembling cocoons, was installed, incurring large costs as  it was not part of the original design.

This arched truss bridge, designed to be constructed off-site and installed entirely from the canal, has a large radius of 180 m. (590 ft.).  It has a central arch, two side arches and two lower arches, all joined together by girders (consisting of steel tubes and plates which forms closed section boxes) placed perpendicular to the arches.The bridge stairway, paved with pietra d’Istria (a stone traditionally used in Venice), has tempered glass steps illuminated from below by fluorescent lights. The tempered glass parapet  terminates in a bronze handrail with concealed lighting.

Formerly known as Quarto Ponte sul Canal Grande, the official name of Ponte della Costituzione (English: Constitution Bridge) was adopted in 2008 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Italian constitution. However, tourists and locals in Venice still refer to it as the Calatrava Bridge (ItalianPonte di Calatrava). Today, this bridge is important, both functionally and symbolically, as it connects arriving visitors to the city, welcoming them to Venice with a panoramic view of the Grand Canal.

Bangui Wind Farm (Ilocos Norte)

Bangui Wind Farm

Bangui Wind Farm

From Pagupud, Melissa, Almira, Albert, Jandy and I again rejoined the others in our bus as we returned to Bangui for our much awaited visit to its Wind Farm, fascinating landmark of the town. From the highway, we could already espy these gorgeous giant fans.

Bangui Bay

Bangui Bay

The windmills, officially referred to as the NorthWind Bangui Bay Project, is the first “Wind Farm” in the Philippines and is considered to be the biggest in Southeast Asia. The site, a graceful arc reflecting the 9-km. long and 100 m. wide shoreline of Bangui Bay, create a fusion of technological and natural elegance. Bordering the West Philippine Sea, it has a windswept area of 5,281 sq. m. (56,840 sq. ft.).

DSC08234

Its 20 units of 70-m. (230-ft.) high Vestas V82 1.65 MW wind turbine-generator units (WTGs), all arranged in a single row, were supplied NorthWind Power Development Corp, a Danish power firm.  Spaced 326 m. (1,070 ft.) apart, their three 41 m. (135 ft.) long, vertically-oriented rotor blades, on top of a 50 m. high tubular tower with a 6 m. diameter base, have a rotor diameter of 82 m. (269 ft.). The nacelle (casing), which encloses the generator, the gear box and the yaw mechanism (which turns the blades into the wind), is at the rear of the rotor blades.

A restaurant with viewing deck

A restaurant with viewing deck

The sight of the giant man-made wonders was astonishing and any picture with the windmills, whether near or far, is truly charming. You can come close to them, touch them to feel its vibration but you can’t hug them as they are just too big and wide. A must-try experience, there’s definitely no other place like it in the country. Locals even picnic under them and they could hear the whirring of the blades of these tall and imposing structures from above, all of them rotating in unison.   However, the picturesque beach in the area is not good for swimming as its waves are too strong.

The windmills as a backrop for photo shoots

The windmills as a backrop for photo shoots

Now a busy tourist spot, along the stretch are restaurants with viewing decks where you can eat and stalls selling souvenirs like windmill key chains, bags, T-shirts, ref magnets, miniature windmills and pen holders. Seaside horseback riding is also being offered here. You can also watch the spectacular sunset and ocean view while listening to crashing of the ocean waves. The best part o our visit here is that there are no entrance fees. You can shoot all you want. There are no restrooms though. Prepare yourself for the unrelenting winds that batter you from the open sea. There’s not much of an adventure there but it’s still worth visiting.

Souvenir shop

Souvenir shop

How To Get There From Laoag City, take a Cagayan-bound bus (a 1.5-hour trip) towards Burgos. After reaching Burgos, watch out for the directional marker on the left side of the road that leads to the Bangui Bay. Follow the dirt road leading to the bay. Some wind mills will already be visible from this point then make a right turn to the bay.

Paris (France) to Stuttgart (Germany) via TGV

The high-speed TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) train

The high-speed TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) train

At Gare de l’Est  Train Station, Grace, Manny, Jandy, Cheska, Kyle and I boarded the 7:50 AM high-speed TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse or “high-speed train) train bound for Stuttgart (Germany). One of the fastest high-speed trains in Europe and the pride of the French rail system (it is operated by SNCF – the French  national rail network), the iconic TGV serves around 150 destinations across France, as well as a number of international destinations.  Our 629.5-km. long journey to Stuttgart was to take about 3 hours and 40 mins., with stopovers  at Strasbourg in France, and Karlsruhe, Ulm and Munich, all in Germany.

The First Class, second level cabin

The First Class, second level cabin

Much of the TGV service, recently redecorated (the interiors were said to have been designed by French fashion designer Christian Lacroix) and rejuvenated to provide comfortable and clean interiors. The service offers a range of train types plus three classes of travel available to passengers – Standard Class, First Class and TGV Pro (Business Class).

Stairs leading to the second level

Stairs leading to the second level

The gangway between carriages

The gangway between carriages

In First Class, passengers can choose to have Solo seats, which are single seats, which each facing the back of the one in front. Duo seats are available to all classes (two seats next to each other, facing the backs of the ones in front). Pairs of seats facing each other across a table are available in all classes, whilst first class also offers single seats facing each other. TGV Pro customers get the extra legroom as well as a welcome service on some services, as well as access to business lounges, dedicated carriages and travel packs.

Electrical socket for portable device charging

Electrical socket for portable device charging

TV monitors indicate time and train speed

TV monitors indicate time and train speed

We all rode First Class on a dual-level, TGX Duplex train, Grace, Cheska and Kyle in one coach (Coach 11) while Manny, Jandy and I stayed at the adjoining Coach 12. The TGX Duplex was first built in 1994 to increase TGV capacity without increasing train length or the number of trains. They weigh 380 ton and are 200 m. (660 ft.) long, 2.9 m. (9.5 ft.) wide and is made up of two power cars and eight carriages. They have a maximum speed of 320 kms./hr. (200 m./hr.).

Jandy

Jandy

The author pensively looking out the window

The author pensively looking out the window

Our carriage had two levels, with access doors at the lower level that took advantage of the low French platforms.  All of us stayed on the upper level where the gangway between carriages is located. A staircase gave us access to the upper level.  We were allowed to bring two bags or suitcases on board (unlimited weight), as well as one piece of hand luggage.  Beat that low cost airlines!

Our meal

Our meal

Our carriage, with 512 seats (it also has a wheelchair accessible compartment), was very spacious and comfortable. We chose pairs of power-assisted seats facing each other across a table, with plenty of legroom, plus drop-down tables and access to electrical sockets for portable device charging. First Class and TGV Pro Class customers may choose to have their meal served at their seats, if travelling between Monday and Friday.

The French countryside

The French countryside

The German countryside

The German countryside

Since we travelled on a Monday, our meals were served at our seat.  Our meal (croissant, omelet, jam, butter, coffee, Tropicana orange juice, yoghurt, etc.), which showcase local cuisine, was tasty and balanced.  Everyone also has access to a buffet car which serves hot and cold food, as well as drinks. There are also vending machines for snack purchases.

Karlruhe Hauptbahnhof (HBF)

Karlruhe Hauptbahnhof (HBF)

Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof

Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof

If there is one word to describe the TGV, it is “Fast!”  The TGV train is a world speed record holder.  It zips from city to city at up to 322 kms./hr. (201 mph), sweeping you from Paris to Saarbrücken in under 2 hours, to Mannheim in 3 hours 15 minutes, and to Frankfurt in under 4 hours.

Kyle, Grace, Cheska and Manny

Kyle, Grace, Cheska and Manny at Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof

This high-speed French  network, with Paris as its hub, offers passengers the chance to travel anywhere within the country in a matter of hours, making it an attractive alternative to the plane. The service was fast, efficient, comfortable, reliable and cheap (Paris to Stuttgart or Munich fares start from €25 single if booked in advance, closer to the day of travel, this rises to more like €80 each way).

Eiffel Tower (Paris, France)

The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower has become both a global cultural icon of France and one of the most recognizable structures in the world. This iron lattice tower, located along the Champ de Mars, was named after the French engineer Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed and built the tower in 1889. Erected as the entrance arch to the 1889 World’s Fair (which celebrates the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution), it was started on  January 26, 1887, completed on March 15, 1889 and opened on March 31.

L-R: the author, Jandy, Grace, Kyle an Cheska

L-R: the author, Jandy, Grace, Kyle and Cheska

It was initially criticized by some of France’s leading artists and intellectuals for its design (saying it had too much engineering and not enough art to be considered good architecture) but now is widely considered now to be a striking piece of structural art, often featured in films and literature. Here are also some interesting trivia regarding the Eiffel Tower:

  • Gustave Eiffel did not design the Eiffel Tower – senior engineer Maurice Koechlin did.
  • The design for the tower was decided by a contest. Contestants had to submit their designs for consideration. Eiffel’s design won.
  • It took 3 years of lobbying to approve the Eiffel Tower in 1887.
  • Public funds only covered a quarter o the cost of the Eiffel Tower.
  • On February 14, 1887, all the big names of the world of arts and literature, including Charles Garnier (who built the famed Opera house), Guy de Maupassant, Alexandre Dumas Jr., Leconte de Lisle, and Sully Prudhomme, united to stop its construction in what is known as the ‘Artists Protests.”
  • Eiffel’s firm produced 5,329 drawings (1,700 generals an 3,629 detailed) of the Eiffel Tower
  • Only one person died in the construction of the Eiffel Tower
  • The French name for the Eiffel Tower is La Tour Eiffel. It also has the nickname La dame de fer which means “the iron lady,” the same nickname as Margaret Thatcher’s.
  • Famed novelist Guy de Maupassant hated the tower but ate lunch there every day. When he was asked why, Maupassant answered that the only place in Paris where he couldn’t see the Eiffel Tower was the Eiffel Tower itself.
  • It is the most-visited paid monument in the world.
  • The tower, the tallest structure in Paris and the  second tallest structure in France (not including broadcast aerials), after the Millau Viaduct (completed in 2004, the world’s tallest bridge is  taller, at 343 m.). It was the tallest until the construction of a military transmitter in the town of Saissac in 1973.
  • During its construction, the Eiffel Tower surpassed the 555-ft. high Washington Monument to assume the title of the tallest man-made structure in the world, a title it held for 41 years, until the Chrysler Building in New York City was built in 1930. In 1957, after the addition of the aerial, the Eiffel Tower it is now taller than the Chrysler Building by 5.2 m. (17 ft.).
  • Famous visitors to the tower during its opening included The Prince of WalesSarah Bernhardt“Buffalo Bill” Cody (his Wild West show was an attraction at the Exposition) and Thomas Edison.
  • Eiffel had a private apartment for entertaining friends at the third floor of the tower. He  made use of his apartment at the top level of the tower to carry out meteorological observations, and also made use of the tower to perform experiments on the action of air resistance on falling bodies.
  • Gustave Eiffel was also behind the design of the Garabit Viaduct (1884), the Pest Railway Station in Hungary, the dome of the Nice Observatory and the interior elements for the Statue of Liberty‘s spine. He was also involved in a disastrous attempt by the French to build a canal in Panama, and his reputation was badly damaged by the failure of the venture. He died while listening to Beethoven‘s 5th symphony.
  • The Eiffel Tower was originally intended for Barcelona, Spain, but the project was rejected.
  • It served as a military radio post in 1903, transmitted the first public radio program in 1925, and then broadcast television and digital TV.
  • Sir John Bickerstaffe, Mayor of Blackpool and an attendee at the 1889 World’s Fair, was so impressed with the Eiffel Tower that, in 1891, he had a similar structure (Blackpool Tower) designed and built on the English seafront to surpass the Eiffel Tower in height.  However, it was unsteady, never completed and demolished in 1907.
  • Eiffel’s permit for the tower allowed it to stand for only 20 years (it was to be dismantled in 1909, when its ownership would revert to the City of Paris). As part of the original contest rules for designing a tower was that it should be easy to demolish, the city had planned to tear it down. However, the tower was proved valuable for communication purposes (it was repurposed as a giant radio antenna) so it was allowed to remain even after the expiry of the permit.
  • In 1905, local newspaper L’Equipe organized a stair climbing championship at the tower. A M. Forestier won a bike, taking three minutes and 12 seconds to reach the second level.
  • On February 4, 1912, French tailor Franz Reichelt attempted to fly from the first floor with a spring-loaded parachute suit of his own design. However, he crashed 187 ft. to the ground instead.
  • During World War I, using the Eiffel Tower’s wireless station to intercept enemy messages from Berlin, the French military, in 1917, intercepted a coded message between Germany and Spain that included information about ‘Operative H-21’ otherwise known as the Dutch-born exotic dancer Margaretha Geertruida Zelle  MacLeod (stage name: Mata Hari) who was spying for the Germans. Based on this message, the French were able to arrest, convict and execute Mata Hari for espionage.
  • At the First Battle of the Marne, in 1914, the tower played a part in the Allied victory when one of its transmitters jammed German radio communications, hindering their advance.
  • By 1918, after Guillaume Apollinaire made a nationalist poem in the shape of the tower (a calligram) to express his feelings about the war against Germany, it became a symbol for Paris and for France
  • In 1923, Pierre Labric cycled down the stairs of the tower, winning a bet but was arrested by local police.
  • On February 28, 1926, 23 year old French aviator Leon Collot attempted to fly his plane under the tower but was killed when he was blinded by the sun and became entangled in the aerial from the wireless station, crashing in a ball of flame.
  • On 2 separate occasions in 1925, con artist Victor Lustig, pretending that he was the deputy director-general of the Ministry of Posts and Telegraphs, “sold” the Eiffel Tower to a scrap metal dealer.
  • Between 1925 and 1934, French car manufacturer Citroen used the tower as a giant billboard (recorded as the world’s biggest advertisement by the Guinness Book of Records), the company name was emblazoned on the tower using a quarter of a million light bulbs.
  • During the German Occupation in World War II, when Adolf Hitler visited Paris, the French cut the lift cables on the Eiffel Tower so that he would have to climb the steps if he wanted to reach the top. Nazi soldiers also attempted to attach a swastika to the top, but it was so large it blew away and had to be replaced with a smaller one.
  • In 1944, as the Allies approached Paris, Hitler ordered Gen. Dietrich von Choltitz, the military governor of Paris, to demolish the tower, along with other parts of the city. The general refused.
  • In 1960, Charles de Gaulle proposed temporarily dismantling the tower and sending it to Montreal for Expo 67. The plan was rejected.
  • In the Beatles song I Am the Walrus, Semolina Pilchard climbs the Eiffel Tower.
  • For its 75th anniversary, there was a televised broadcast of mountaineers climbing up the tower.
  • The tower appears in the 1985 Bond film A View to a Kill. There is a scene in the Jules Verne Restaurant, and a fight in the stairway.
  • In 2007, a woman with an objects fetish named Erika La Tour Eiffel “married” the Eiffel Tower, changing her name to Erika La Tour Eiffel in honor of her “partner.”
  • According to the Societe de la Tour Eiffel, since the tower first opened in 1889, there have only been 349 successful suicides. Some were jumpers, while others were people hanging themselves from the beam. Those who did attempt to jump from the first level don’t always die.
  • At night, it is illegal (you can be fined) to take a photograph of the tower because the light display is considered artwork and therefore protected under copyright law.
  • Zoning restrictions in Paris limit the height of most buildings to 7 storeys high. Thus, only a small number of taller buildings have a clear view of the tower.
  • The Eiffel Tower being so popular, its design has been recreated around the world, with over 30 replicas including the half scale replica at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel in Nevada, USA, the full scale Tokyo Tower in Japan and one at the Window of the World theme park in Shenzhen, China.
  • To counteract atmospheric perspective, multiple types of colors are used to paint the Eiffel Tower. Darker shades are used at the top and, gradually, lighter hues are painted toward the bottom.
Names of 70 scientists and engineers inscribed in surrounding panels

Names of 70 scientists and engineers inscribed in surrounding panels

  • The names of 72 engineers, scientists and mathematicians are engraved on the side of the tower, each of whom contributed to its construction.
  • To mark the 125th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower’s completion, the British Virgin Islands has launched a special tower-shaped $10 coin.
  • In the computer game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, the tower is toppled by an airstrike.
  • Lego set number 10181, containing 3,428 bricks, are for those who wanted to build your own Eiffel Tower.
  • To keep the operations up and running 365 days a year, the site requires a large staff of 280 people.
  • To validate admission, cashiers sell 2 tons of tickets every year and the cleaning crew uses 25,000 garbage bags annually.
  • More than just a tourist attraction, the tower also houses gourmet restaurants, art exhibitions, concerts, a newspaper office, a post office, scientific laboratories, and the first level becomes an ice rink every year.
  • In 1984, two Britons parachuted from the tower without permission.
  • The Eiffel Tower Light Display, dating back to 1985, was invented by Pierre Bideau, an electrician and lighting engineer. Consisting of projectors equipped with high-pressure, yellow-orange sodium lamps, when illuminated, they give the impression that the Eiffel Tower is sparkling with gold. In under 10 mins., the projectors are turned on and activated by sensors. In 2004, they were replaced with energy-efficient projectors, resulting in 40% energy savings.
  • For the landmark’s centennial, tightrope walker Philippe Petit walked the 2,296 ft. between the Palais de Chaillot and the Eiffel Tower.
  • In 2002, Hugues Richard climbed the tower on his mountain bike , breaking his own 1998 record.

Here are some amazing facts about the tower:

  • The Eiffel Tower is 324 m. (1,063 ft. including antenna) tall (about the same height as an 81-storey building) and its base is square, 125 m. (410 ft.) on a side.
  • 98 million people ascended it in 2011 and the tower received its 250 millionth visitor in 2010. In 2012, there were 6,180,000 visitors (75% foreign) and an average of 25,000 people ascend the tower every day. The majority of visitors are French (10.4%), followed by Italy and Spain (8.1% each), USA (7.9%), Britain (7.4%), Germany (5.8%) and Brazil (5.5%).
Bottom of first level platform

Bottom of first level platform

  • The tower has three levels for visitors, with restaurants (including the internationally renowned Jules Verne Restauranton the first and second. The third level observatory’s upper platform, the highest accessible to the public in the European Union, is 276 m. (906 ft.) above the ground,
  • 1,665 steps are needed to climb all the way to the top of the Eiffel Tower. The climb from ground level to the first level (187 ft.) is over 300 steps, as is the walk from the first to the second level.   The height of the third level is 905 ft.
  • There are 336 floodlights and 20,000 (5,000 per side) special light bulbs that twinkle (for 5 mins. on the hour, every hour, from nightfall to 1 AM) on the Eiffel Tower. Its light beam can be seen 50 miles away. 25 mountain climbers were required for the 5-month lighting installation. 50 miles of electrical cable and 60 tons of metallic parts cover the tower. Total cost was over $5 million
  • Its 6 elevators make 100 climbs per day. Every year, elevator trips total 103,000 kms. (64,000 mi.), enough to go around the globe 2.5 times.
  • Annually, it consumes 7,500,000 KWH of electricity, the same amount of electricity used by a small village annually.
  • Every 7 years, around 50 to 60 tons (49 to 59 long tons; 55 to 66 short tons)of paint, weighing as much as 10 elephants, are needed to paint the 2,690,750 sq. ft. surface of the Eiffel Tower to protect it from rust.
  • It cost 7,799,401 gold francs to build. If the Eiffel Tower was built today, it would cost about US$35 million.
  • It took a total of 2 years, 2 months and 5 days to build 180 years fewer than Paris’s other great attraction, Notre Dame Cathedral.
  • Despite its height, the Eiffel Tower was designed to be wind resistant, swaying only a few inches in the wind.
  • Depending on the ambient temperature, the top of the tower may shift away from the sun by up to 18 cm. (7.1 in.) because of thermal expansion of the metal on the side facing the sun.
  • The Eiffel Tower weighs 11,133 tons, around 7,300 of which represents the metallic structure..
  • The height of the Eiffel Tower varies by 15 cm. (5.9 in.) due to temperature.
  • 300 workers, 18,038 pieces of wrought iron and 2.5 million rivets were needed to build the Eiffel Tower.
  • The puddled iron (wrought iron) structure of the Eiffel Tower weighs 7,300 tons, while the entire structure, including non-metal components, is approximately 10,000 tons. If the 7,300 tons of the metal structure were melted down it would fill the 125-m. square base to a depth of only 6.25 cm. (2.5 in.), assuming the density of the metal to be 7.8 tons per cu. m.
  • A cubic box surrounding the tower (324 m. x  125 m.  x  ) would contain 6,200 tons of air, almost as much as the iron itself.
One of the main pillars

One of the main pillars

Eiffel Tower: Champ de Mars, 5 Avenue Anatole France, 75007 Paris, France. Tel: +33 892 70 12 39.  Tickets can be purchased to ascend by stairs or lift (elevator) to the first and second levels. To avoid long queues, tickets can also be purchased online. Although there are stairs to the third and highest level, these are usually closed to the public and it is generally only accessible by lift (€15).

Notre Dame Cathedral (Paris, France)

Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral

We arrived at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle International Airport on a Sunday morning and, after checking in at the Ibis Paris Gare de l’Est 10th, we decided to hit two birds with one stone by taking the Paris Metro to get to the historic  Notre Dame Cathedral, among the largest and most well-known church buildings in the world, where we plan to hear Mass and do sightseeing later.  It was already raining when we left the hotel and, when we arrived,we still had to queue to get into the cathedral through the right door.  The Gregorian Mass we attended was said in French.

The Gothic-style facade

The Gothic-style facade

The magnificent, awe-inspiring Notre-Dame Cathedral, also called  Notre Dame de Paris, (French for “Our Lady of Paris”) or simply Notre-Dame, is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture, its pointed arches, thinner walls and the naturalism of its sculptures and stained glass  in stark contrast with earlier Romanesque architecture. The cathedral treasury is famous for its reliquary which houses some of Catholicism‘s most important first-class relics including the purported Crown of Thorns, a fragment of the True Cross, and one of the Holy Nails. The cathedral, with a cruciform plan, was made famous by Victor Hugo’s famous, larger-than-life novel “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame” (about the hunchback bell ringer, Quasimodo, who falls madly in love with the beautiful gypsy dancer, Esmerelda). Notre-Dame is composed of a choir and apse, a nave with double aisles and square chapels. It is 226 ft. high, 420 ft. long and has a total surface area of 5,500 sq. m. (interior surface 4,800 sq. m.).

The pointed Gothic arch of the main entrance

The pointed Gothic arch of the main entrance

Construction of the cathedral began in 1163, during the reign of Louis VII. Bishop Maurice de Sully devoted most of his life and wealth to the cathedral’s construction. Throughout the construction period, numerous architects worked on the site resulting in differing styles at different heights of the west front and towers. The choir was built from 1163 until around 1177 and the new High Altar was consecrated in 1182. After Bishop Maurice de Sully’s death in 1196, Eudes de Sully (no relation), his successor, oversaw the completion of the transepts.

Gallery of the Kings of Judah

Gallery of the Kings of Judah

He also pressed ahead with the construction of the nave which was, at the time of his own death in 1208, nearing completion. The western facade had also been laid out by this stage but it was not completed until around the mid-1240s.   Between 1210 and 1220, the fourth architect oversaw the construction of the level with the rose window and the great halls beneath the towers. The cathedral was essentially complete by 1345.

The rose window

The magnificent rose window

In the mid 13th century, the transepts were remodeled in the latest Rayonnant style and, in the late 1240s, Jean de Chelles added a gabled portal to the north transept, topped off by a spectacular rose window. Shortly afterwards, from 1258, Pierre de Montreuil did the same on the southern transept. Both transept portals were richly embellished with sculpture.  The south portal features scenes from the lives of St Stephen and of various local saints, while the north portal featured the infancy of Christ and the story of Theophilus in the tympanum, with a highly influential statue of the Virgin and Child in the trumeau.

Gargoyle waterspouts

Gargoyle waterspouts

In 1548, features of Notre-Dame were damaged by rioting Huguenots  who considered them  idolatrous. During the reigns of Louis XIV and Louis XV, as part of an ongoing attempt to modernize cathedrals throughout Europe, the cathedral underwent major alterations. In 1786, a colossal statue of St Christopher, standing against a pillar, near the western entrance, and dating from 1413, was destroyed, as well as tombs and stained glass windows.  However, the north and south rose windows were spared.

The cathedral interior

The cathedral interior showing the sexpartite vaulting on the ceiling

In the 1790s, during the radical phase of the  the French Revolution , many of Notre-Dame’s religious imagery and treasures were either damaged, destroyed or plundered. For a time, Lady Liberty replaced the Virgin Mary on several altars. The 13th century spire was torn down and the statues of the biblical kings of Judah , located on a ledge on the facade of the cathedral, were beheaded as they were erroneously thought to be kings of France. Many of the heads were found during a nearby 1977 excavation and are now on display at the Musée de Cluny. However, the cathedral’s great bells managed to avoid being melted down.  In 1793, the cathedral was rededicated to the Cult of Reason, and, later, to the Cult of the Supreme Being. The cathedral came to be used as a warehouse for the storage of food.

The altar area

The altar area

In 1845, a controversial  and extensive  25-year restoration program was initiated and overseen by architects Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus and Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc (responsible for the restorations of several dozen castles, palaces and cathedrals across France, he always signed his work with a bat). The restoration included a taller and more ornate reconstruction of the flèche (a type of spire) as well as the addition of the chimeras on the Galerie des Chimères.

Stained glass windows

The very beautiful stained glass windows

During the Second World War, several of the stained glass windows on the lower tier were hit by stray bullets but were remade after the war.  They now sport a modern geometrical patterns not the old scenes of the Bible.  In 1991, a major program of maintenance and further restoration intended to last ten years was initiated.  It included the cleaning and restoration of old sculptures which is an exceedingly delicate matter. By 2014, much of the lighting was upgraded to LED lighting.

Ornate wooden pulpit

Ornate wooden pulpit

Among the first buildings in the world to use the flying buttress (arched exterior supports), Notre-Dame was not originally designed to include the flying buttresses around the choir and nave.  However, after the construction began, the thinner walls grew ever higher and stress fractures began to occur as the walls pushed outward. To remedy this, the cathedral’s architects built supports around the outside walls.  Later additions continued the pattern.

The cathedral's pipe organ

The cathedral’s pipe organ

Around the exterior, many small, individually-crafted statues, including the famous gargoyles and chimeras, were placed to serve as column supports and water spouts. Most of the exterior as well as the statues were originally vividly colored but the paint has since worn off, exposing the  gray stone.

The huge bronze equestrian statue of Charlemagne et ses Leudes (Charlemagne and his Guards)

The huge bronze equestrian statue of Charlemagne et ses Leudes (Charlemagne and his Guards)

As we were on a tight schedule, we didn’t have time to join the extremely long queue climbing several narrow (387 step total, no elevator) spiral staircases, in 3 stages, to the top of the 90 m. high South Tower.  Upon reaching the top, it is possible to view, in close quarters, the cathedral’s Emmanuel Bell, the largest and most famous bell, the flying buttresses and its gargoyles as well as have a spectacular view of the Ile de la Cite. At Notre-Dame, there are 14 millions visitors per year or an average of 40,000 tourists per day.The area around the cathedral has lots of book stalls and cafes.

The author at the Zero Point Marker

The author at the Zero Point Marker

One of several interesting things I did see around Notre Dame was the huge bronze equestrian statue of Charlemagne et ses Leudes (Charlemagne and his Guards), created by brothers Louis and Charles Rochet in 1878. Charlemagne, the King of the Franks and the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire from 800 A.D. until his death in 814 A.D., is holding a lance or staff while being guided by two leudes, which are believed to be the figures of Oliver and Roland.  Also within the square in front of the cathedral is the Zero Point Marker where all mile markers start from.

L-R: Manny, Kyle, Cheska, Jandy and Grace

L-R: Manny, Kyle, Cheska, Jandy and Grace

Notre Dame Cathedral: 6 Parvis Notre-Dame – Pl. Jean-Paul II, 75004 Paris, France. Tel: +33 1 42 34 56 10. Website: www.notredamedeparis.fr.   Open daily, 7:45 AM – 6.45 PM (7:15 PM on Saturdays and Sundays). Photos without flash are allowed. For those who want to  visit the South Tower (admission: 8,50 €, open 10 AM), the entrance is located outside the cathedral, on the left side of the front at Rue du Cloître Notre-Dame. Even with a Museum Pass, you still have to wait in line just like anyone else.  There are also free organ recitals at 8 PM on most Saturday evenings.

How to Get There: the closest Paris Metro stations to the Notre Dame Cathedral are St-Michel Notre Dame (RER B Train Line, blue), the St-Michel Notre Dame (RER C Train Line, yellow) and the Cité – Line 4 (fuschia). By bus, Lines n°21, 38, 47, 85, 96 (Stop Cité – Palais de Justice);  Line n°47, Balabus (Stop Cité – Parvis de Notre-Dame); Lines n°24, 47 (Stop Notre-Dame – Quai de Montebello); Lines n°24, 47 (Stop Petit Pont); Lines n°24, 27, Balabus (Stop Pont Saint-Michel – Quai des Orfèvres); Lines n°24, 27, 96, Balabus (Stop Saint-Michel); and Lines n°21, 27, 38, 85, 96 (Stop Saint-michel – Saint-Germain).

Ambuklao Dam (Bokod, Benguet)

After lunch and freshening up at Ambangeg Country Road Restaurant in Bokod,  we continued on our way back, along winding zigzag roads, to Baguio City.  About 36 kms. (22 mi., an hour’s drive) northeast of the city, we made a short stopover at Ambuklao Dam, in Brgy. Ambuklao.

Ambuklao Dam

Ambuklao Dam

One of Southeast Asia’s earth and rock-filled dams, is is one of the oldest power plants in the country and was among the first large hydroelectric power plants constructed in the Philippines. It impounds the waters of the upper portion of the turbulent Agno River (the longest waterway in Northern Luzon) which originates from Mt. Data, and its tributary, the Bokod River.

View of the dam from the lake

View of the dam from the lake

The adjunct irrigation system on the delta of the Agno River, it was the first in the Philippines to be served from a reservoir dam and it dams the river with 6,504,000 cu. m. of rocks, gravel and cement together with 1,000,000 cu. m. of clay earth at its core.  Its picturesque, manmade lake has a small picnic area along the shore (no restaurants though) and boats can sometimes be hired for pleasure rowing.  It is also teems with freshwater fish such as crimson snapper (maya-maya), tilapia and silver carp.

Ambuklao View Deck

Ambuklao View Deck

The dam, once ranked among the world’s tallest dams, is 131 m. high, 426 m. long at the crest and has a base width of 565 m..  The elevation of its crest is 758 m. and the roadway that runs through the top of the dam has an elevation of 756 m.. It was once the highest power dam in Asia and the second highest of its kind in the world.

Ambuklao Dam and Lake (8)

As early as the late 1940s, the development of the Agno River, for purposes of hydroelectric power generation, flood control and irrigation, had been conceived and preliminary investigations for development at Ambuklao and Binga Dam sites were undertaken, under the direction of Pres. Manuel A. Roxas, (in cooperation with Westinghouse International) as early as January 1948.

The dam's spillway

The dam’s spillway

Started in July 1950, it took 6 years and 5 months, at a cost of PhP132 million, to complete and the operation of this hydroelectric facility finally started on December 23, 1956. Its civil works contractor was the Guy F. Atkinson Company and the engineering consultant was Harza Engineering Company of Chicago. To build this engineering feat, a diversion channel was first cut to allow the Agno River to flow naturally away from ongoing work.  Then the gorge was narrowed through a series of blasts inside a mountain, thus trapping the water and forming a manmade lake.  Its water turbines, loaded on huge flatbed trucks (operating in tandem), was brought up the coast via the Naguilian Rd. and brought down via the specifically-built Ambuklao Rd. from Pacdal (Baguio City).

Tainter gates

The 8 Tainter radial gates

The dam has 8 Tainter radial gates at the dam’s spillway. Each spillway measures 12.5 m. by 12.5 m. and is 127 m. in length. The gross storage capacity of the dam’s reservoir is 327,170,000 cu. m. (265,240 acre·ft) and it has a usable storage capacity of 258,000,000 cu. m.. The drainage area is 686 sq. kms. and is 11 kms. long with a maximum width of 1 km..  It once generated 75 megawatts (MW) via three 25 MW generating units placed in an underground 17-m. high, 30-m. long and 9-m. wide power house cut from the solid rock.

Manmade Ambuklao Lake

Manmade Ambuklao Lake

On July 16, 1990, a massive earthquake hit Luzon, damaging the dam’s spillways, turbines and reservoir, resulting in siltation and technical problems that affected the plant’s operations.  In 1999, the Ambuklao Dam was decommissioned.  However, on November 28, 2007, SN Aboitiz Power-Benguet, Inc. (SNAP-Benguet), a joint venture between SN Power of Norway and Aboitiz Power, won the public bid for Ambuklao Dam and Binga Dam, its neighboring power facility in Itogon, which were sold (for US$325 million) as a package under the power sector privatization program of the Philippine government.

Transmission towers bring power from the dam to the Luzon grid

Transmission towers bring power from the dam to the Luzon grid

In December 2008, SNAP-Benguet began a massive rehabilitation project that restored Ambuklao Dam to operating status, increasing its capacity from 75 MW to 105 MW. The project required the construction of a new intake, headrace and penstock, elevation of tailrace tunnel outlet, de-silting of tailrace tunnel and replacement of electro-mechanical components. On June 1, 2011, Unit 3 became the first turbine unit to go on-line, followed by the other two units. On October 2011, Ambuklao Dam was formally inaugurated. Ambuklao Dam, designed as a peaking plant, is capable of delivering energy and providing ancillary services needed to maintain the grid.

Nicole, Violet, Rose, Almira and Lorelei at another dam view point

Nicole, Violet, Rose, Almira and Lorelei at another dam view point

How to Get There: The dam is accessible from the inter-provincial road going cross-country to Cagayan Valley through a scenic 36-km. mountain highway stretching across the crest of the dam to Kabayan.

Drive Back to Baguio City (12)

For group tours, you must apply one week in advance at the following:

National Power Corporation: Bonifacio St., Baguio City, Benguet.

National Power Corporation: Agham Rd. cor. Quezon Ave., Diliman, Quezon City.  Tel: (632) 921-3541.  Fax: (632) 921-2468.  E-mail: postmaster@napocor.gov.ph.

The Taipei 101 Building (Taiwan)

The rain had stopped when we returned to the mall and, after snacks at a MacDonald’s outlet at Jason’s Marketplace, the mall’s 1,000-pax basement foodcourt, Jandy, Isha and I exited the building to avail of this window of opportunity.  We all walked, some distance, to a nearby park to appreciate the enormity and grandeur of the 357,721 sq. m. Taipei 101, the first record-setting skyscraper to be constructed in the 21st century. From afar, its repeated segments and inclined  tiers simultaneously recall the rhythms of an Asian pagoda, a tower linking earth and sky (also evoked in the Petronas Towers of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)’ a stalk of bamboo, an icon of learning and growth (also emphasized by  its blue green-tinted windows) or a stack of ancient Chinese ingots or money boxes, a symbol of abundance.

Our worm’s eye view of Taipei 101 Building

In 2004 (until the opening of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai in 2010), Taipei 101, formerly known as the Taipei World Financial Center (until 2003), was officially ranked as the world’s tallest  building, displacing the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (check out my visit here at http://worldstotrek.wordpress.com/2010/12/31/kuala-lumpur-new-years-day/), by 56.1 m (184 ft).  It also displaced the 85-storey, 347.5 m. (1,140 ft.) high Tuntex Sky Tower in Kaohsiung as the tallest building in Taiwan and the 51-storey, 244.2 m. (801 ft.) high Shin Kong Life Tower as the tallest building in Taipei. That same year, it also  received the Emporis Skyscraper Award. In July 2011, the building was awarded the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED Platinum certification, becoming the tallest and largest green building in the world.  Its own roof and façade recycled water system meets 20–30% of the building’s water needs.

Curled ruyi figures, appearing throughout the structure as a design motif, are ancient symbols associated with heavenly clouds that connote healing, protection and fulfillment. Each ruyi ornament on the exterior of the Taipei 101 tower stands at least 8 m. (26 ft.) tall.

An icon of modern Taiwan ever since its opening, the structure appears frequently in travel literature and international media.  Taipei 101 was designed by C.Y. Lee & Partners and  constructed primarily by Samsung C&T and KTRT Joint Venture.   It  comprises 106 floors, 101 above ground and 5 floors underground.

The circular motif, the “zero” in Taipei 101, is also the shape of a traditional Chinese coin, a potent symbol of wealth

Architecturally created as a symbol of the evolution of technology and Asian tradition, this building’s Post Modernist approach to style incorporates traditional design elements and gives them modern treatments. Designed to withstand typhoon and earthquakes, Taipei 101, upon its completion, claimed the official records for:

  • Ground to highest architectural structure (spire): 508 m. (1,667 ft.). Previously held by the Petronas Towers 451.9 m. (1,483 ft.), the record  now rests with the Burj Khalifa in Dubai (UAE): 828 m (2,717 ft).
  • Ground to roof: 449.2 m. (1,474 ft.). Formerly held by the Willis Tower‘s 442 m (1,450 ft), the record briefly passed to the Shanghai World Financial Center in 2009 which, in turn, yielded it to the Burj Khalifa.
  • Ground to highest occupied floor: 438 m. (1,437 ft.). Formerly held by the Willis Tower 412.4 m. (1,353 ft.), the record also briefly passed to the Shanghai World Financial Center and then to the Burj Khalifa. .
  • Fastest ascending elevator speed: designed to be 1,010 m. per min., which is 16.83 m./sec. (55.22 ft./sec.) (60.6 kms./hr., 37.7 miles/hr.),  34.7% faster than the 12.5 m. (41 ft) per second (45.0 kms./hr., 28 mile/hr.) speed of Yokohama Landmark Towers‘ elevator, the previous record holder.
  • Largest countdown clock which was displayed on New Year’s Eve (fireworks launched from Taipei 101 also feature prominently in international New Year’s Eve broadcasts).
  • Tallest sundial: The  design of  circular Millennium Park, which adjoins Taipei 101 on the east, allows it to double as the face of a sundial. The tower itself casts the shadow to indicate afternoon hours for the building’s occupants.
  • Taipei 101 is the first building in the world to break the half-kilometer mark in height.

Taipei 101: Xin Yi Rd., Xin Yi District, Taipei City, Taiwan. Tel: (+886-2) 8101-7777. Website: http://www.taipei-101.com.tw.