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Travelling the world for 6 months... My sabbatical leave experience

Travelling the world for 6 months... My sabbatical leave experience

Old Oct 24, 18, 2:35 pm
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Subscribed. Looks like a once in a lifetime trip!
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Old Oct 24, 18, 4:11 pm
  #17  
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From Moscow to St Petersburg on board Sapsan business class.

Sapsan is the Russian name for the high-speed train service connecting major cities in the west of Russian, and the most famous route is between Moscow Leningradsky station and St Petersburg Moskvovsky station. The journey duration takes about 4 hours and 4 classes of service are available : Economy where you get just a regular train seat, Economy plus, where you get a drink and a snack, Business class where the seats are more roomy and confortable and you get a proper meal served and First class where the seats recline and the car configuration is organized in 1x2 seats (compared to 2x2 confirguration for the other classes). While First class looks very nice, it was out of my pricing range (more than 150 Euros). Business class was, however, very competitively priced and I paid about 45 Euros for this one-way trip, so just about 15 Euros more than Economy plus.
Finally, the train is produced by Siemens (similar to the German ICE).

I had a few issues departing my hotel this morning as 3 different Yandex taxi drivers never showed up to my hotel. Traffic was this time no excuse as it was 6 am and there was no traffic at all. Eventually, the hotel concierge called a different taxi service and I arrived at 6.52 in front of Leningradsky station. After placing my belongings into the X-ray and going through the metal detectors (standard practice everywhere in Russia), I got into the station and headed directly to the platform 9, where a second baggage screening was occuring. Fortunately, this entire security screening process is quite smooth and I did not wast too much time with it. I was on the platform 4 minutes before departure and was greeted by an English speaking agent from RZD (the Russian railways company) at the door who indicated me my car and seat number.


Leningradsky station in Moscow


The main departures lobby




Indications in Russian...


... and once in a while in English



Sapsan on the platform in MoscowI should also mention that business and first class passengers are eligible to use the RZD lounge in Moscow and St Petersburg stations. I was planning to do so, but due to my late arrival at the station, I was unable to do so. Sapsan 756AA October 19th 2018
Moscow Leningradsky station 07.00
St Petersburg Moskvosky station - 11.01
Business class, Car 12, seat 01

The luggage rack located near this seat was already quite full, but the overhead compartments can accomodate carry on size luggage quite easily. A wardrobe is located at the center of the car. Wifi service, which included a selection of movies and music was available, I did not use the latter, but the Wifi connection speed was decent.The car is equipped with central TV screens and the seats can partially recline, although this feature did not seem to be working on my seat. The seat was anyway comfortable enough that I was able to have a short nap in the normal position.Finally, each seat pocket contains a pair of earplugs and some sleepers.






Sleepers and earplugs

Shortly after departure, the crew, which consisted in 2 attendants per car, came to offer newspapers. Then a beverage service was done and a towelette was provided and about 30 minutes later the breakfast service was done. The crew spoke a bit of English, but for the sake of better understanding a paper menu was handed at the time of ordering. It would have been more comfortable to have this menu before hand, but this is a detail.I ordered the spinach pancakes with smoked cod and it was very good. It came with some egg whites omelette (I believe) which was ok and a bread roll and yogurt. A second beverage was offered on request.






Breakfast menu - Sapsan business class


Spinach and smoked cod roll with egg white omelette


Dessert and coffee

Half way through the trip, I decided to visit the center section of the train where the restaurant car is located and in the car next to it, a small shop is available. You could also order some items straight from your seat using the onboard entertainment system and those would be delivered straight to your seat. The selection of products offered was quite wide.


The economy class, adjacent section to the restaurant area


Small shop onboard Sapsan




Restaurant car


Maximum speed I saw during this trip was 210 km/h

The service on board was good (prompt and professional service, but dont expect useless smiles very Russian service). I was however surprised about the amount of crew members onboard between the attendants, conductors and security staff. I could count an average of 3 or 4 staff members per car. Something you unfortunately dont see anymore in western Europe.We arrived in St Petersburg a couple minutes early and it was a long walk to reach the station exit. I took this opportunity to take additional pictures of the train and even made my first crewfie of this trip ! (ok, it was sunny that day hence the glare on the pic).


Thanks for letting us know !


The business class cabin of Sapsan


#crewfie !


Sapsan in St Petersburg


Moscow station in St Petersburg

All things considered, I think that taking Sapsan is an excellent option to connect between both cities. The pricing was very adequate, and multiple trains operate daily between both cities, with a couple intermediate stops in between.
For more information about the different classes onboard, there is a nice YouTube video (in English).
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Old Oct 24, 18, 4:20 pm
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Does anyone knows an easy way to convert all my pictures to a better resolution. Let's say that all my pictures have a resolution of 3000x4000 px but attaching those to a new post will make them huge. Right now I am changing on the source code of the post the resolution for each picture to 1000x750 manually, but this is quite tedious to do...
Thanks !
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Old Oct 24, 18, 6:07 pm
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Looking forward to the rest!
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Old Oct 24, 18, 8:01 pm
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very inspiring, really would love to do this in some point of my life.

looking forward to every part of the journey. safe travels!
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Old Oct 25, 18, 1:12 am
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Thanks everybody for the nice comments!

Originally Posted by blueferrari View Post
very inspiring, really would love to do this in some point of my life.

looking forward to every part of the journey. safe travels!
All you need is to be in good terms with your boss :-) (or be the boss)

Last edited by palmanfr; Oct 25, 18 at 2:02 am
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Old Oct 25, 18, 2:02 am
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"Positioning to Riga"

After my 4 days in St Petersburg, I needed to reach Riga in Latvia. From what I’ve seen so far, Riga seems to be a nice little capital to visit. However, visiting was not (yet) part of the equation here… (Yet – because I will be back for a week end in May to visit for real this city).I need to go to Riga for a simple reason : I’ve found (or at least read on FlyerTalk) several months ago a good deal to go to Dubai in business class on Air France/KLM, departing the Latvian capital. While business class tickets to Dubai from Europe typically cost a minimum of 2000 Euros round trip, I paid here a bit less than 1000 Euros, but I could have gone as low as 930 Euros since I decided to include a couple of nice segments and adjustments for a minor surcharge.

Add to the picture the fact I wanted to try different cabins and airlines, and maximize the amount of frequent flyer points I wanted to earn out of this trip and I ended up booking the following itinerary :
- Riga to Paris CDG via Amsterdam onboard Air Baltic and Air France on October 24th
- 24h connection and then Paris CDG – Dubai on Air France
- Return Dubai-Amsterdam on KLM just before Christmas
- Then a 200 days connection for Amsterdam to Riga on Air Baltic.

This Business class fare requiring to fly back to departure point, I will enjoy a nice weekend in Riga in May, as the way to get there is included in my ticket. (One also can drop this last segment, but I don’t typically do this). Considering I had 700 Eurosof AF/KLM vouchers for different issues I experienced in the past, this trip costed me only 300 Euros. Hardly beatable price-wise, especially considering that you still earn the right number of miles and tier points for future travels. J

Now that I found my ticket, I needed to get to Riga. I could have flown on Air Baltic from St Petersburg for about 150 Euros one-way, take a 12 hours bus ride for 30 Euros or take the Allegro train to Helsinki and then a flight to Riga. I choose the latter option as I felt more comfortable. I paid about 40 Euros for a second class ticket to Helsinki airport from St Petersburg, and then used 4500 British Airways miles (also known as Avios ) + 25 Euros of taxes to book a Finnair flight between Helsinki and Riga.

I booked a Yandex taxi to get from my hotel to the Finlandsky train station and this time, it worked fine. I arrived about 45 min before the train departure time. And this time, there was no lounge to visit, just a very boring waiting room after the security check-point, guarded by several, and not so friendly - security guards. About 30 min before departure, the boarding gate opened and we were allowed to board the train. A small duty-free shop is available after the boarding gate.


Finlandsky station international departures


The waiting room - super boring


Boarding controls



4 services operate daily and the train was not full that morning, although I booked second class, I had the pair of seats just for me, and I found those seats to be very comfortable, and can recline. Note that I booked this ticket on the RZD Russian railways website instead than the VR Finnish trains website. Reason for this is that I wanted to select my seat, and the VR website does not allow you to do so for departures out of Russia.






Allegro second class car number 4




The second class seat in reclined mode

Immigration and customs formalities are carried onboard the train in two steps : Between St Petersburg and Vyborg, the Russian immigration officer will perform the exit check, stamp your passport, and a few minutes later, a Russian customs officer will ask you if you have anything to declare, with a drugs sniffing dog going through the train at the same time. In Vyborg, the last Russian station before the border, the Russian team leaves the train and about 10 minutes later, in Vainikkala, which is the Border town on the Finnish side, the Finnish border patrol and customs board the train, as if you zere entering the Schengen area and the same process begins again. The process is typically over before the train reaches Kouvola but as most of the passengers were holders of a Russian passport (takes longer time to proceed due to finger prints checks etc…), the immigration procedures were finished just when we reached Kouvola.



Russian immigration and customs between St Petersburg and Vyborg



We are both ready for passport control !



Vyborg, last Russian station before the border



This blue and white pillar represents the Finnish border. Right next to it, there is a similar one painted in red for the Russian side



Vainikkala station, first Finnish stop

I was suprised to see that I was NEVER asked for my ticket starting the moment I got into the station. I guess this is maybe because the ticket is liked to your passport number and you are required to show it before getting into the train?Maybe it was because I booked a second class ticket but there was no service onboard whatsoever. A restaurant car is available for breakfast, but the section is not as wide as what is offered on the Sapsan.





The restaurant car



"Scandinavian" breakfast...





Finnish landscapes...

I exited the train at Tikkurila station, just before Helsinki central station as there is a direct and faster connection to Vantaa airport. The Allegro ticket offers free transportation within 80 minutes of arrival in Helsinki region, so there was no need to buy an additional ticket, and I reached the airport 15 minutes later only after I left the Allegro. Very convenient as this new train station arrives directly into the airport !




Helsinki airport station

I used the Finnair priority check-in counter and priority security upstairs as I am a OneWorld Emerald card holder and this entire process could not have been swifter as only a few minutes later I was seated inside the Finnair Schengen lounge.



Premium check-in and security in HELThe lounge was extended since last time I visited some years ago, it now has been extended to the space occupied by the former Priority Pass lounge. I think that Finnair really upped their game recently, wirth newer aircrafts in the fleet and better lounge offerings than in the past. The priority check-in and security channels are also a great example of their wish to improve the experience of premium passengers.
Here below are some of the pictures of the lounge, I personally like the Scandinavian design and love the big tail wing at the entrance !



Finnair lounge Schengen area HEL airport



Love the tail wing !

















Tarmac views - the Air italy 330 was operating the ORD-HEL route for FinnairAfter some lunch, it was time to go to the boarding gate for my flight to Riga, which was a bus gate due to the fact the aircraft was an ATR 72-500, operated by Norra.Boarding was swift and when I asked the gate agent if my carry-on should be tagged, he answered… well… I don’t think that will be necessary… .
I understood later that the loading of the aircraft was very low today and we will be only 10 passengers on board !

Finnair AY1073 – October 23rd 2018
HEL – Helsinki Vantaa 12:45
RIX – Riga 13:55
ATR 72-500 – Operated by Norra – Economy class – Seat 08A (initially 02D)





Norra ATR 72-500The ATR has always been a bizarre aircraft to me. The cargo goes in the front and the passengers are loaded in the back… That’s not natural right ? Well, that’s the way it works on the ATR, which means the cockpit is not in direct contact with the cabin crew.Right after boarding the flight attendant came to me and asked me to move after row 7 as, due to the light loading of the aircraft that day, we had to balance the weight.We took off on time, under the rain and the service was pretty much uneventful… A glass of blueberry juice and water later, we landed at Riga airport… still under the rain (and lots of wind, hence the bumpy approach)



Why is she still doing the safety demo at Row 1 ??



Sky bistro menu





Almost the entire cabin for both of us!



Think about it...





Another quote to meditate about...

Since I landed early afternoon in Riga and departed the next morning, I decided to maximize this stay and visit the city in the afternoon (that ended up to be a couple hours visit due to the bad weather that day), and booked an hotel next to the airport for the early departure.

I guess (and hope) the weather will be better during my weekend in May !

Last edited by palmanfr; Oct 25, 18 at 2:20 am
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Old Oct 25, 18, 7:51 am
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Loving this.
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Old Oct 27, 18, 2:47 am
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Very nice!
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Old Oct 28, 18, 3:01 am
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Really great report so far - I'm looking forward to following along!
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Old Oct 28, 18, 9:57 am
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Wow, what a trip planned.
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Old Oct 28, 18, 10:35 am
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what a great read.

Keep it coming!

by the way I never realized the ATR didn't have direct access to the cockpit from the cabin! That is amazing and somewhat uncomfortable.
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Old Oct 29, 18, 3:51 pm
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Moving to warmer seas... (Part 1)

I was extremely lucky with the great weather I had in Moscow, and to some smaller extent in St Petersburg. But the trend was there at the end of the trip… Fall was there, and it started to get pretty cold and humid. Fortunately, and as I tried to explain in the post 0 on my blog, I considered which were good parts of the year to visit some countries, and my next stop will bring me to a much warmer destination… Dubai and the Emirates, followed by South Africa.
I got a pretty good deal as explained before departing Riga to Dubai, which will allow me to come back home for Christmas (and also get enough tier points to qualify for Air France / KLM Flying Blue Platinum status at the same time)My flight from Riga to Amsterdam was operated by KLM partner on this route, Air Baltic, which is the national airline of Latvia. This airline follows the low cost model when it comes to economy class bookings : you need to pay for beverages, food and luggage to be brought on board. However, they have a business class. And also brand new planes, as they were one of the first airlines to get the Bombardier CS300, nowadays called Airbus 220-300.



Disappointment = Expectations – Reality, as a good colleague and friend of mine usually says... I was honestly not having many expectations out of this flight. I was just curious to fly an aircraft and an airline I never flew before with.I was booked to get to Paris CDG via AMS, with a flight to Dubai the next day. Since I was not feeling spending a day in Paris, I decided to book a cheap one-way on Air France to see my family for one evening in Lyon and then a train ticket to get to CDG the next day. So at the end, I had two different reservations to get to my final destination, Lyon and inquired the evening before to the Air Baltic counter if I could have my luggage checked through to Lyon (I also called Air France a few months ago when I booked my trip to confirm this could be done and the agent confirmed). After 5 minutes explaining my situation, the agent confirmed this was possible and added a note the file so I would not have to ask again the next morning.The next morning, I showed up at the business class counter of Air Baltic and the check-in of my luggage to Lyon was very swift. The agent was, however, unable to issue my boarding pass to Lyon, but only for the first couple flights. The luggage tag though displayed the 3 segments and LYS as the final destination…


RIX airport terminal



Clearing security was a swift process thanks to the premium security lane and I then went to the only lounge located in Riga airport for a quick breakfast. The lounge was quite nice, and operated by TAV (who operates some Turkish airports). There was some space available and it was clean. The buffet was ok, with a selection of a few hot dishes and the toilets were located within the lounge and were properly maintained.


















After 30 minutes, I left the lounge to reach my departure gate at the end of the pier C, a good 5 min walk away.

Boarding started a couple minutes later, with a priority boarding announcement made for business class passengers but no enforcement.



Air Baltic BT617 – October 24th 2018
RIX Riga – 07:40
AMS Amsterdam Schiphol – 09:55
Airbus A220-300 (ex. Bombardier C300) – YL-CSC – Seat 2A, Business class, window.

It was my first time on a C300 and I immediately liked the cabin atmosphere, in addition to the greeting from the purser standing at the aricraft entrance (btw, the cabin crew on that flight were 3 very good looking flight attendants J). I was however a bit surprised by the relatively small size of the overhead bin opening. I had to force a bit to fit my carry on bag inside. The cabin is configured in a 2-3 configuration with the seats B and E neutralized for the business class seats. I selected the seat 2A for this flight, which corresponded to a bulkhead seat. There was no class divider between economy and business and only 2 passengers, including me, where in business class. Economy class started at row 4 and looked pretty full. A predeparture drink was offered (water, apple or orange juice) and the paper menu was given. Finally, a nice blanket and a pillow were located under the table located in place of the neutralized seat.This aircraft has larger windows than the similar aircrafts for this category (Embraer 190 series for example), and each row is equipped with a small color screen (about the size of a smartphone screen) to show the flight route and information and broadcast the safety instructions before take off.















We pushed back on time and took off under the rain (but I don’t really remember that part as I fell asleep J)I woke up somehow 45 min later and the purser came to me asking if I was interested in having some breakfast and stating she did not want to wake me up as I was sleeping like a baby . She then informed me this would take about 10 minutes to warm it up and offered me another drink, green tea this time. This nicely came with all the toppings you would expect on a plate, including some lemon slices.The breakfast main (omelette) was good, so was the starter (although I never ate duck mousse for breakfast !). The dessert was ok but pretty small.




Legroom on row 2...










Lavatories are actually quite large on the CS300...

Half way through the flight, the crew came with some duty-free sales to offer. At this moment I also asked the purser, Laura, if I could visit the cockpit after landing in AMS and she told me she would ask the captain, but later added Erik is pretty cool, so I think it will be fine after everybody would have disembarked (I like the fact this airline is like a family business J).We landed ontime, right next to a British Airways aircraft, and taxied for a good 5 minutes to our gate in Pier-C of AMS.








Spot the BA aircraft...After everybody left the plane, I was invited to visit the cockpit, and felt again like a 10-year old kid for 5 minutes




CS300 cockpit



As the agent in Riga was not able to print all my boarding passes for my journey, I asked the transfer desk of KLM if my boarding pass to Lyon could be printed, as the self service kiosk was showing me error messages when attempting to print any boarding pass. After trying to explain for a good 5-minute to a KLM agent that I wanted to print a boarding pass and arguing why I would need it (she kept saying Yes but your itinerary does not go to Lyon but to Paris and tomorrow Dubai… - I don’t think I am the first passenger on AF/KLM to ever travel on two different reservations), she simply refused to print the boarding pass to Lyon, stating she cannot do it (LIE !), and that I should do it in Paris.That’s the usual story with KLM. They will never (or rarely) try to go the extra mile. And that’s pretty annoying.I then went to the Crown lounge to find it as usual, crowded, with lines to get pretty much everywhere, dirty (especially the restrooms), and with a mediocre catering. Still better than waiting on a bench, but not really the premium experience one would imagine. I anyway think that no lounge is good in AMS.









I went to the boarding gate C5 (the usual one) about 30 minutes before departure, to find the boarding area very crowded and messy (again – as usual), and the boarding eventually started 20 minutes before departure.







Air France AF1341 – October 24th 2018
AMS Amsterdam Schiphol – 10:35
CDG Paris Charles de Gaulle - 11:55
Airbus A321 – F-GTAY – Seat 1A, Business class, window.

The plane was quite full that day and due to some luggage handling delays, we had to wait an extra 10 minutes before starting the engines. Then, the captain informed us that our runway was the furthest away, resulting in a long taxi time. We eventually took off at 11.25, so almost an hour late. A towelette was given after boarding to business class passengers.The light lunches were distributed, consisting in some hummus with zucchini sticks, a piece of smoked salmon with a blini, a warm pizza muffin and apple mousse as a dessert. For a 45-min flight, I think this is ok, although the dessert could have been more elaborate. The paper menu coming with the tray was obviously containing the wrong information…Note that this aircraft was equipped with the new cabin so USB ports were available at every armrest.We landed at 12.05 in CDG, and after almost 15 minutes of taxi time we reached our gate in the terminal 2F.The cabin crew was not very friendly on that flight, but we managed to pick up some of the delay on the way to CDG.






Leg room in row 1


6 aircrafts before us...


Obviously the menu description is wrong...


The iconic Concorde in CDG


I was finally able to print without any issue my boarding pass for the flight to Lyon to one of the self service kiosks and headed to the lounge in the terminal 2F. It was quite crowded but the staff was nicer and it felt also cleaner. The catering was also better.










Boarding to Lyon started 25 minutes before departure, and although automatic gates were in use, the gate staff was checking ID’s of all passengers, and were very polite.

Air France AF7644 – October 24th 2018
CDG Paris Charles de Gaulle – 14:05
LYS Lyon Saint Exupry – 15:15
Airbus A319 – F-GRHT – Seat 3C, Economy class, aisle.



The plane in CDG...


... and one hour later in LYS

My flight to Lyon was pretty uneventful, I slept during most of the flight, and got the usual tomato juice with the butter cookies. We landed ontime. But to my greatest surprise, my luggage was… not on the belt !

According to the luggage service agent, my luggage was correctly tagged to LYS, but the system of AF evacuated it from the system in CDG (so i was standing on the arrival belt in CDG) as there was no indication that I had another ticket to LYS. Would have been nice if, for instance, the agent in AMS would have though about this. Would have been nice…I ended up with the usual PIR form indicating my luggage was delayed and the agent in LYS added to the system that LYS was the final destination – to have it picked up from CDG.

So to make a long story short, they were ready to load my luggage on the last flight of the day to LYS, but this would have meant having it delivered in the next morning. Unfortunately, I was supposed to take the train at 8 am the next day to go back to CDG, so I asked the luggage service to keep it in CDG, and I eventually managed to pick it up the next day and check it in again to Dubai this time, after sending some Russian souvenirs by post (!) to my parents in Lyon…
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Last edited by palmanfr; Oct 29, 18 at 4:12 pm
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Old Oct 29, 18, 7:53 pm
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Originally Posted by palmanfr View Post
Does anyone knows an easy way to convert all my pictures to a better resolution. Let's say that all my pictures have a resolution of 3000x4000 px but attaching those to a new post will make them huge. Right now I am changing on the source code of the post the resolution for each picture to 1000x750 manually, but this is quite tedious to do...
Thanks !
Enjoy reading your adventure. Thanks for sharing.The Russian train experience from Moscow to St. Petersburg was quite interesting to me. Would love to do it someday.

Regarding your post #18. Please consult this thread from the Travel Photography Forum.How (and where) to embed your pictures in the Travel Photography forumIn general, I think if you have a cloud storage and re-size your images from it would be easier. I use Smugmug, and re-sizing is quite easy. Hope this help. If not, try to PM the moderator (s) for assistance.
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Old Oct 29, 18, 9:11 pm
  #30  
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Great photos. Really interesting to read an article about Air Baltic as I just finished reading an article in a recent Airways about this airline and the A220. Thank you for sharing!
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