We are flying from Seoul, Korea, to London, UK, and the most direct route is a great-circle route that passes over China, Mongolia, Russia and Finland, and maybe within a hundred kilometres of the Arctic Circle. It's late March, so it's early spring in the Arctic and the land that we fly over is still very much in the winter freeze. I've flown this way before (via Japan) and I know that the frozen scenery is spectacular.
Here's a Google Earth view showing our expected route (in red).
This may not be the exact route that we took – I can’t equate any of the photos that I have taken with the terrain on Google Earth to locate it – but as is this the shortest route between Seoul and London, I expect that it's pretty close. The pilot may have had reasons to deviate from this route, especially as we fly over China and Russia; for instance, note the little bend in the route at the beginning – that's a dog-leg over the Yellow Sea to avoid flying too near to North Korea.
I took plenty of photos between Seoul and London – the view of the frozen landscape is as amazing as I expected it to be. I wish I could give you names and places but I can't find a single one of them on Google Earth!
First up though, here's another view of Korean apartments blocks disappearing into the smog, as we take off from Seoul:
I don’t have a lot to say for the following pictures, just the captions; but, as pictures are reputed to be worth a thousand words each anyway, look on, and enjoy the frozen beauty in silence! (Hover your cursor over the picture to pause the slide show or to go full-screen.)
In several of these pictures there are many billabongs (oxbows): cut-off loops that the river leaves behind as it moves around across the flood plain. As the billabongs get older they fill with sediment, are taken over by vegetation and get progressively fainter, and with even more time the river may cross over them again creating beautiful interlocking and rhythmic patterns. This detail picture clearly shows these patterns:
You may think that this is a vast inhospitable frozen wilderness where no humans have a reason to go – however, almost every one of these picture has a tell-tale sign of human involvement in the landscape. While I expect that it may feel like wilderness on the ground in many places, that would be an illusion – depending on how you define wilderness, this is no wilderness at all!
This flight provided plenty of beautiful cloudscapes, too: (hover your cursor over the picture to pause the slide show or go full-screen.)
You may have noticed that some of these photos have a haze over them, usually towards the top of the picture; this haze is the contrail forming behind the engine as its exhaust cools and condenses. Most of the photos that show this effect are taken from a small window in the emergency exit between the toilets in the rear galley of the plane, which is well behind the engine giving the exhaust that little bit of time that it needs to cool and condense. I used this window when all of the window blinds are shut during the Korean Air-imposed artificial night-time. The contrail looks like a writhing, fast moving cloud when seen close up, as you can see in this short video:
That's a huge frozen landscape! Here's a closer view of those frozen meandering rivers:
Again, you can see many billabongs, those cut-off loops that the river leaves behind as it moves around across the flood plain. While you know intellectually that you must be going fast to get halfway around the planet in twenty-something hours, it usually doesn’t feel like it while you are in the plane. A video like this gives you a real gut feel for how fast you are covering the ground in a modern aeroplane.
As we approached Heathrow Airport, London, we started to descend over lots of cloud (no surprises there!) They're very beautiful; here's a short video of them:
Those clouds really do look like giant balls of cotton wool! And yet, sometimes they also manage to look like islands and peninsulas that you could walk on, floating semi-submerged in foggy water.
And here we are at London, circling around waiting in the queue to land at Heathrow Airport, with an actual break in the cloud illuminating the outskirts of the city. The view here is back downstream along the Thames River towards the English Channel. In the middle of the picture is the Thames Barrier, which protects the centre of London from flooding in very high tides, and, in time, the rising sea level.
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