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Trip Report (Very long) -- 5 days over Christmas 2003 in Olos, Finnish Lapland



 
 
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  #1  
Old January 8th, 2004, 12:29 AM
Ian
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Posts: n/a
Default Trip Report (Very long) -- 5 days over Christmas 2003 in Olos, Finnish Lapland

I'm not a regular poster or reader of this newsgroup; however I
thought that other may find this info useful when planning such a trip
in future.

In June 2003 my wife and I decided that this was going to be the year
we threw caution (and a large chunk of cash) to the wind and spend
Christmas with our three children in Lapland. After some long nights
spent googling, and after reading a similar post by Terry Watts
(http://groups.google.com/groups?selm...g .google.com)
we also decided upon a tour provided by Canterbury Travel. I'm not
connected with this company, other than as a mostly satisfied
customer.

We had more or less decided that we'd like to go for a log cabin on
the Luosto package, but after looking at the brochure and talking to
the CT booking staff, we changed our minds. The reason was that the
picture of the log cabin in the brochure showed the beds arranged as
bunk-beds which were built into the wall either side of the log
fireplace. The problem was that we couldn't see any side rails on the
top bunks. It may have been that the rails were removed just for the
purpose of taking the photograph, but when all is said and done we
didn't particularly like the idea of one or more children falling 6
feet onto the floor in the middle of the night. The person at CT that
we spoke to about this was unable to give us any guarantee that a rail
would exist when we got there, so this ruled Luosto out. Our next best
choice was either a log cabin or a bungalow at Olos, and in the end we
chose a 2 bed bungalow and were jolly happy with what we got.

Our outbound flight was at 11am on 23rd Dec with Air 2000 from
Stansted to Kittila and passed without incident. We had to travel from
the midlands so we actually started the previous day and stayed in a
hotel in Harlow overnight. I'd totally recommend this option to anyone
travelling at that time of year with children, and especially if you
have an 11am flight. The flight was 3.5 hours due to a strong
headwind, however the film (appropriate for the occasion, as it was
Santa Clause 2) and the goody bags handed out by the airline crew to
the kids stopped any boredom problems.

On landing at Kittila, everyone put on hats, gloves, and coats, and
then stepped out of the plane into -35 degrees of freezing cold air.
It's difficult to describe such temperatures other than to say that
you have to experience it to believe how cold that really is. There
are none of these fancy tunnels leading from the aircraft into the
terminal, so you will have to walk from the plane to the terminal on
foot in the cold. By the time I got down the steps onto the tarmac, I
was starting to wish that I'd put on my thermals back in the UK. The
other thing to do is make sure all people in your party have been to
the toilet on the aircraft before the seatbelt sign goes on for
landing, because you don't have much time to collect your luggage and
get onto the coach. By the end of the holiday the wife and I had come
to the conclusion that toilets in Lapland were an endangered concept.

Our itinerary from CT arrived about 5 days before departure; however
I'm willing to accept that the recent postal strike plus the extra
Christmas mail helped to delay it to this late stage. The itinerary
also comes with an information booklet which gives advice on clothing
and other stuff. My advice here is to keep phoning CT after the end of
October and ask them to send you a copy of this booklet early. I
phoned a few times at the start of October and they were still waiting
for them to arrive. When they finally did arrive, they were happy to
send us one.

The itinerary is supposed to tell you what coach number you are
supposed to get on at Kittila, but ours just said "to be advised on
arrival". Useful tip: If yours also says this, then whilst one gets
the luggage from the baggage carousel the other should be finding out
this information, as you don't have a lot of time to spare at this
point. Another useful tip: Don't pay any attention to what other CT
customers say is the correct coach, as someone told us coach A, but we
were actually allocated to coach D. I don't know where we'd have ended
up had we listened to that advice, but it probably wouldn't have been
where we were supposed to be.

So at this point we're on the coach and heading out into the
wilderness. I was impressed (or maybe it was just terrified
admiration) at how easy the coach driver made driving on snow-covered,
ungritted, unlit roads in the artic actually appear. In the UK, roads
like that would be closed; most likely due to accidents.

It's approximately 1 hour from Kittila to Olos, and on the way we were
stopped by Tricky Dicky, one of Santa's elves. He got onto the coach
and was apparently trying to trick us into going the wrong way. It
certainly got the attention of the younger generation, if the noise
level for the rest of the journey was any indication. When we arrived
at Olos the coach took a short trip around the complex so that the
guide could point out the relevant buildings etc. It then proceeded to
various drop-off points. Luckily people staying in the log cabins and
the bungalows are dropped off just outside the accommodation and there
are locals around to help with taking the luggage inside. Full marks
for that!

Useful Tip: During the trip on the coach to the resort, your guide
will reel off a whole bunch of times to be at certain places and do
certain things. Don't rely on remembering this info, write it down. We
didn't and later wished we had.

The bungalow is a large wooden building that actually contains 4
separate units with a shared corridor. The corridor has a main door
leading to the outside, and the front doors to each unit lead off the
corridor. There are hooks to hang up you outdoor clothing, which is
useful as it prevents melting snow finding its way into the
accommodation. The corridor has plenty of room to change into and out
off the outdoor gear. Each unit also has a large electric dryer, which
has plenty of space for items like hats, gloves, scarf, boot linings,
etc. This came in very useful indeed. Inside the accommodation was a
large studio type living room/kitchen with a breakfast bar, sofa-bed
and widescreen TV and real log fire which had a glass door so
thankfully didn't have an open flame. The kitchen contained a fridge,
microwave, 2 hob electric stove, oven, dishwasher and sink. There was
no kettle provided so we used the coffee percolator to make tea, and
very nice it was too. The two bedrooms each had two single beds side
by side, and wardrobes and widescreen TV. The only English speaking
channels were MTV and a BBC World channel, so we didn't watch much TV.
The bathroom had a toilet and shower and an inner door lead to the
sauna which was free to use as much as we wanted. Another separate
toilet was in a very small room next to be bathroom. It was very nice
accommodation; certainly better than we'd been expecting although it
was weird sleeping in a single bed again.

The two important things to do on the arrival day are to get your
artic outdoor clothing, and to deliver the items you have brought
along to the appropriate place (I won't elaborate any further on what
these items are). The clothing provided was an all-in-one artic snow
suit, a hat, a pair of gloves, and some very comfortable artic snow
boots and liner socks. If you can manage it, get your clothing first
as you will be given a large black refuse sack to take your own
outdoor clothing back to your accommodation. This sack comes in very
handy for the subsequent item delivery phase.

Oh, and there's a song! Each time you board the coach for the next 5
days, you'll hear this song. Once you get home, you'll be humming the
song. Each time you hear the words Santa, Elf or Lapland, you'll think
of the song. And your guide will give you a CD with the song on to
take home. Trouble is you won't get the CD until you are on the coach
going to the airport on the final day. This means you don't get chance
to pack it at the bottom of a suitcase out of reach. This means that
when you get back in your car in the UK... the kids! the song! Oh damn
that song! All the way home! :-(

Useful tip: Break (or remove) your in-car CD player before leaving the
UK.

Anyway, I digress and I now need to write something else to get that
song out of my head again.

At Olos, the restaurant is separate from nearly all the other hotel
buildings. This means that almost regardless of where your room is you
will most likely have to go outside at some point to get to the
restaurant. When you had to put on/take off all that outdoor clothing
a few times, you'll realise just how much effort this actually is. By
the end of the second day, we'd decided to forgo the effort of artic
clothing just to go to dinner, and just wore our normal UK outdoor
coats for the short journey to the restaurant.

The food was plentiful, and nicely cooked and prepared. Although any
fussy eaters might find themselves eating the same things day after
day. For breakfast there were typically a couple of cereals, porridge,
and muesli. There is also the more typical English type breakfast of
sausage, scramble egg, etc, plus plenty of fruits and continental
stuff too. For the evening meal, there was soup or salads. The main
course was either chosen from a set menu of three items or self-served
from a buffet table. Dessert was typically some sort of cheesecake,
cheese and crackers, or tea/coffee and biscuits. Only one day was
actually spent in resort for lunch, and this was very much like the
evening dinner menu. The kids had the choice of chicken nuggets, a
pasta dish, or they could choose from the adult buffet. There didn't
seem to be any monitoring of what was being eaten and by whom, so if
you wanted to miss starter and main, and instead have three desserts,
or mix and match, no-one would have cared. Tea and coffee was freely
available from the buffet, and in the morning various fruit juices
were also available. In the evening it was berry juice (a sort of weak
forest fruit tasting cordial). The only thing that had to be paid for
was drinks from the bar such as beer, coke, wine, etc. The price of a
small coke was 1.5 euros and a large was 2.5 euros. We took around
1000 euros in cash with us, and came back with a large portion of it
still unspent.

Day 2 was Christmas Eve. It's now only -23 degrees due to the cloud
cover and we're on the coach at around 9:30 ready to sing the song
again. There were 5 coaches all setting off at the same time, each one
going to a different activity, so depending upon which coach you're on
depends on the order you do things. Our first activity was
transportation by reindeer. Snowy Bowy (another elf) was also here,
and receiving lots of attention. Elves of course speak Elvish and not
English, so each time a child asked where Santa was, the reply came
back as gobbledygook which added to the mystery. Makes me wish I'd
paid more attention when reading the Lord of the Rings at school. Hot
drinks (chocolate and berry juice) were available at each activity
along with a real bonfire to warm up next to if the cold was getting
too much

The reindeer ride involved trying to get into a smallish wooden
sleigh, which was then pulled along by said reindeer. Remember all
those layers of clothing? Well you certainly will after trying to get
into the sleigh, since you can hardly lift your foot higher than about
knee high because you're suited up like a Michelin man (and that's a
grasshopper's knee I'm talking about). Whilst in the sleigh and after
trying to get as comfortable as possible, a chap with a video camera
started filming one of our two personal video moments for the souvenir
video. Filming over, we went for a short ride.

My main concern here is that there is one reindeer guy leading two
reindeer and two sleighs around the track through the trees, and the
second reindeer is tied to the back of the first sleigh by a short
rope. The reindeer, whilst a seemingly gentle creature had big antlers
that looked fairly robust, but for the entire journey through the
trees the antlers remained about six inches or so from the side of my
head. I was glad to be out of that sleigh.

Back onto the coach, and off to the next activity singing the song as
we go. We arrived at the husky dogs, and boy do they make a noise. You
hear them long before you see them. Noisy Nod was found here, and we
had about as much success at finding the whereabouts of Santa as we'd
had with the previous elf. I was beginning to see why Santa uses elves
instead of people. Elves can keep a secret, people can't. However, I
was still puzzled as to why he used reindeer and not husky dogs for
travelling, since the husky dogs covered the same amount of ground as
the reindeer but in about a tenth of the time. Fast and exhilarating.
Top Marks!

Back onto coach, and more singing of the song. Arrive at lunch. This
was in a Lappish Kota which is traditionally a kind of wigwam tent.
However I guess they couldn't find a tent big enough, so they built
this big Kota from lots and lots of wood. Inside of the Kota was lit
with candles and had a big open cooking area with a roaring fire in
the middle. Lunch consisted of vegetable soup for starters. The main
dish wasn't particularly hot, and was said to be pork with pasta but
at least it was edible.

After lunch we got into big wooden sleighs that could carry about
10-12 people each but this time they were pulled by a skidoo.
Thankfully, we didn't have to sing the song this time. It was off
through the trees, over the frozen lake (which we were assured had ice
1 meter thick, but how do you measure it without breaking it!) and
into the forest on the opposite bank. Our guide had heard that a white
rabbit was out and about in the forest, and if we caught it we might
find our way to Santa. This turned out to be another Tricky Dicky dead
end goose chase. Tricky Dicky ended up getting run out of the forest
by an angry mob of youngsters bearing snowballs. That'll teach him.

By this time our coach had caught up with us after taking to long way
around the lake. We boarded the bus, and sang a victory song. It still
sounded the same as "the song", but we were in good spirits and past
caring by this point. Our last activity of the day was actually onto a
frozen lake to do some skidoo driving, skiing, and sledging. It was
however dark by this time and it had started snowing. We were assured
by our guide that the snow was the work of Snowy Bowy, who we'd seen
earlier. A short while later and we were back on the coach, singing
and making our way back to the resort.

We hadn't found Santa but there was always tomorrow.

Next morning, excited whispers from the bedroom…. Santa's been! Much
ripping of paper… OK Mum is that all we've got? Where's the rest of
it? Kids ehh!

A quick wash and brush up later, and we were suited up and off to
breakfast. Even though our guide had advised everyone not to wash
their face in the morning to prevent frost-bite, we decided to be
awake and frost-bitten rather than asleep on our feet. Face creams
that contain water should also be avoided where possible. We never
actually got frost bite anywhere, so in the end it didn't matter.

After breakfast it was on to the coach, and it's only -19 degrees and
snowing! On Christmas day, the white stuff is falling from the sky.
Now I remember some snow around Christmas time when I was a small kid
many years ago, but as far as the wife and I knew, we'd never had a
white Christmas before so this was extra special.

First stop was another frozen lake. I figured this was the same one
we'd crossed the previous day, but one frozen lake surround by snow
covered fir trees looks the same as any other so who knows. Here we
found Tricky Dicky again, and this time he seemed a little less intent
on mischief. Perhaps he'd remembered the previous day too! He still
got snowballed though. We had more skidoos, mini-skidoos, ice fishing,
snowballing, hot drinks and sledges here for a while.

Then those big sleighs pulled by the skidoos arrived, and everyone
jumped in and we went off over the lake on another search for Santa.
Next thing we know and we've stopping outside some log cabins in
amongst the trees. Speedy Sam was here, and our guide had been telling
us to keep an eye out for this elf, because it usually means Santa is
not far away. We found some sledges to play on and eventually an elf
called us into one of the log cabins. Inside was Speedy Sam's desk
which looked rather like my own, meaning it was difficult to actually
see the desk itself under all of the paper on top. On the wall was big
world map and next to it was the naughty list. It was a rather big
list, so those elves must know an awful lot of naughty children out
there. We couldn't see the nice list, so we assumed that Santa
probably had it. In the next room was Santa's workshop and it was
crammed full of toys from top to bottom. An elf was in there sitting
behind a desk. We waited in the toy workshop for a while before being
lead outside and across to another log cabin.

This was Santa's log cabin, and he was sitting waiting for us. One of
his helpers took our camera from us whilst we talked to Santa. The
helper took a number of photos for us, and they have turned out very
nicely indeed. One of them clearly shows Santa holding the Christmas
lists that the children wrote. We spent about 5 minutes with him, and
he knew all of our three children by their first names and didn't get
them mixed up either. This was probably the only 5 minutes of the
entire holiday where the children were actually quiet, listening very
intently to everything being said to them, and taking it all in. All
in all it was a very magical experience for everyone young and old,
which couldn't fail to bring a tear to one's eye. Just before we left,
Santa pointed out the camera crew who'd been sitting quietly in the
corner filming the whole thing. We all said merry Christmas (in
Finnish) to the camera and left (except for Santa).

The unfortunate part of the experience was that we were actually the
last party in to see Santa and our guide wanted us to start walking up
the road to wait for the sleighs which were bring in the next load of
punters. However the kids wanted to open their presents just like all
the other children had who'd gone in before them. In the end we put
our foot down and said that we were opening the presents and the
others would just have to wait like we did. Our guide quickly backed
down and didn't make a fuss which meant our children were oblivious to
all this, and we were thankful for that. In the end, if we had wanted
the in and out, thank you and goodbye experience we could have gone
down to our local superstore to see Santa and saved ourselves a small
fortune, so this kind of tainted what would have been an otherwise
perfect day for the wife and myself.

Useful tip: Put a plastic carrier bag into your pocket and keep it
with you so that you can put the opened presents into it when the kids
don't want to carry them anymore. We'd also taken a bag, but left it
on the coach.

Anyway, with ecstatic children who were overjoyed with actually
getting a present from Santa on Christmas day itself, we joined the
rest of our party. The skidoo sleighs arrived and took us to lunch
which was back over the lake and through what could only have been
Santa's reindeer farm. Whilst we waited for the previous group to
leave the lunch Kota, Noisy Nod entertained the children. There were
also more reindeer sleigh rides to be had along with the usual hot
drinks. Lunch was mushroom soup followed by another meat and pasta
dish, which was then followed by pancakes.

After lunch it was onto the coach and off to our final activity for
the day, which was more husky dogs. By this time it was getting dark
and my 4 year old daughter was unable to stay awake, so I stayed with
her on the coach whilst my wife took the other two for a ride with the
huskies. They had a great time and the dogs were as fast and noisy as
the previous day.

Back onto the coach for the journey back to the hotel. Our guide told
us that the temperature had climbed to an unseasonal -6 degrees, and
it was still snowing. Dinner that evening was a more traditional one
with turkey, Christmas pud, etc.

This holiday allowed us to decide what we wanted to do for Boxing Day.
We had the choice of more of the same activities that we'd done the
previous days (although there wouldn't be any reindeer or husky dogs),
or we could spend the day on our own as a family and do whatever we
wanted. It turned out that the organised activities were actually on
another frozen lake only about 200 meters from the bottom of the Olos
resort ski slope. This meant we actually had the option of doing
either one we pleased.

It was snowing hard all through Boxing Day, so we decided to just play
with a toboggan in the snow just outside our bungalow. This meant we
could go in and warm up as often as required. It was a real treat to
just mess around and play in the snow with the kids. Later that
evening, on our way to dinner, we took the toboggan to the resort ski
slope and used the small floodlit slope provided just for tobogganing.
It was a great day and the perfect way to end three really enjoyable
days in Lapland. The next day was spent packing and getting ready to
go home and didn't really provide much time to have fun.

Final thoughts...

It's certainly the most expensive holiday we're likely to take for a
long while to come. All in, it cost just over 6000 pounds. I suppose
this high cost was more to do with the fact that the cost per child is
not much less than the cost per adult. I guess on package holidays to
Spain, there is more of a difference between child and adult prices.

Would we recommend it? Most definitely.
Would we go again? Yes, but not on one of these organised trips. Next
time we'd want to do our own thing, and explore where we want at our
own pace and five days doesn't exactly leave much spare time to
explore adequately. We never got to see any northern lights as most of
the time it was cloudy and snowing. Whilst this was a small
disappointment, it didn't change our feelings about the experience we
had and in the end we bought some postcards with suitable pictures to
make up for it.

Is it suitable for grandparents? That depends. Anyone who is able to
walk unaided would be able to cope with this kind of holiday. I added
this because my parents were originally going to come with us.
However, my mum walks with the aid of crutches and my dad spoke at
length to the people at CT. In the end my parents decided that it was
too risky and in my own opinion they made the right choice. Hats off
to CT for telling it like it is and not just trying to sell the places
to two people who were actually quite determined to go for this,
come-what-may.

Optional excursions? They were available if you wanted them. The CT
information desk at the hotel had all the details, but no-one ever
tried to sell us one. To be honest after each days activities, you'd
have to be nuts to want any more.

Recommended clothing: Apart from the night we arrived, the temperature
was actually fairly warm for that part of the world. As a result we
ended up wearing less and less layers each day. However, I'd still
recommend that you go prepared for the worst, as there was no-where
that I could see that sold winter type clothing. Maybe the ski-rental
shop at the bottom of the ski slope in Olos sold that type of stuff,
but since I never went in, I can't say for sure.

I took the following specialist clothing bought from a local ski shop
in the UK: Thermal base layer in socks, long johns and vest. Silk base
layer also in long johns and vest. Silk layer inner gloves. Thick
woolly socks, Goretex gloves and thermal balaclava. Pull on hat with
covers for ears. Long sleeved zip up lycra sweatshirt.

Other more usual items were simply a number of jumpers, tee shirts and
vests. These were all worn as follows (from inner to outer layer).
Thermal base, Silk layer, jeans, tee-shirt, lyrca sweatshirt, jumper.
By xmas day, the silk layer had gone. We were told the golden rule was
not to wear anything with cotton next to the skin as it makes you
sweat, which makes you cold. The thermal layers are designed to remove
any sweat from the skin, and they do seem to work as we did lots of
sweating, but never felt cold. The children all had much of the same
clothing as myself and my wife. We all wore balaclava's and were very
glad of them when riding the skidoo sleighs and the huskies, since the
wind-chill is quiet severe on these rides and the balaclava could be
pulled up to almost eye level when required.

If anyone has specific questions, please reply to the group as the
hotmail account gets so full of spam I hardly bother checking it
anymore. I'll do my best to keep checking the group for replies as
often as I can, and you will most likely find others in the group can
answer better than I can anyway.

I hope I've covered everything here, and well done to you if you read
down this far.

Best regards
Ian
  #2  
Old January 8th, 2004, 01:39 AM
Gregory Morrow
external usenet poster
 
Posts: n/a
Default Trip Report (Very long) -- 5 days over Christmas 2003 in Olos, Finnish Lapland


Ian wrote:

[...]

So at this point we're on the coach and heading out into the
wilderness. I was impressed (or maybe it was just terrified
admiration) at how easy the coach driver made driving on snow-covered,
ungritted, unlit roads in the artic actually appear. In the UK, roads
like that would be closed; most likely due to accidents.



This is one of my favorite webcam sites (Finnish Road Administration) -
there's a webcam near Kittila so maybe you can rekindle your memories here
:-) . Despite the snow and cold in Lapland, the roads are decently
maintained even in the depths of winter; Finland appears to have a great
road system:

http://www.tieh.fi/alk/english/frame...rat-frame.html

Very nice trip report BTW. IIRC weren't there such trips utilising Concorde
flights up until recently?

--
Best
Greg



  #3  
Old January 8th, 2004, 01:57 AM
DCHeretic
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Posts: n/a
Default Trip Report (Very long) -- 5 days over Christmas 2003 in Olos, Finnish Lapland

Thank you for the wonderfully informative trip report. People on this
newsgroup are often so jaded. I enjoyed reading about a trip filled with love
and fantasy.
  #4  
Old January 8th, 2004, 03:16 AM
Traveler
external usenet poster
 
Posts: n/a
Default Trip Report (Very long) -- 5 days over Christmas 2003 in Olos, Finnish Lapland

I agree. This whole Christmas Lapland concept sounds like it could be hokey,
but it sounds like it was executed very nicely. I almost wish I had kids who
were young enough to appreciate such a trip. The price sounds dear, but I
agree that for what you got and for typical Finnish prices it could not
really be much less.

Traveler

"DCHeretic" wrote in message
...
Thank you for the wonderfully informative trip report. People on this
newsgroup are often so jaded. I enjoyed reading about a trip filled with

love
and fantasy.



  #5  
Old January 8th, 2004, 10:26 PM
Heikki Kantola
external usenet poster
 
Posts: n/a
Default Trip Report (Very long) -- 5 days over Christmas 2003 in Olos, Finnish Lapland

Gregory Morrow informed
rec.travel.europe with the following:
Very nice trip report BTW. IIRC weren't there such trips utilising Concorde
flights up until recently?


Yes, or it might been that Corcorde was used for one day trips (to
Rovaniemi I think) only.

--
Heikki "Hezu" Kantola,
Lähettämällä mainoksia tai muuta asiatonta sähköpostia yllä olevaan
osoitteeseen sitoudut maksamaan oikolukupalvelusta EUR100 alkavalta
tunnilta.
  #6  
Old January 9th, 2004, 07:14 PM
Heikki Kantola
external usenet poster
 
Posts: n/a
Default Trip Report (Very long) -- 5 days over Christmas 2003 in Olos, Finnish Lapland

Ian informed
rec.travel.europe with the following:
[...]
by side, and wardrobes and widescreen TV. The only English speaking
channels were MTV and a BBC World channel, so we didn't watch much TV.


I think it is worth a mention, that Finnish channels broadcast quite a
lot of programmes from English language countries and most are shown
with subtitles, usually only children's programs and some documents
are dubbed.

Back onto the coach for the journey back to the hotel. Our guide told
us that the temperature had climbed to an unseasonal -6 degrees, and
it was still snowing.


I want to mention that in southern Finland temperature went above 0°C
on that Christmas day, which meant that snow cover was almost gone few
days later. Even as only the previous Monday there was blizzard, which
brought quite a lot snow and caused severe interruptions to train and
road travel. :-\

--
Heikki "Hezu" Kantola,
Lähettämällä mainoksia tai muuta asiatonta sähköpostia yllä olevaan
osoitteeseen sitoudut maksamaan oikolukupalvelusta EUR100 alkavalta
tunnilta.
 




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Trip report CX/VN: AMS - HKG - HAN - HKG - AMS Sjoerd Air travel 5 October 8th, 2003 06:00 PM


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