Archive | May, 2012
May 30, 2012

POTD: Wangfujing

This is a random shot I took while exploring the Wangfujing area in Beijing. Wangfujing is one of Beijing’s most famous shopping streets, and an interesting mix of both the old and new China, where you will see vendors selling heaping bowls of noodles on one block, and cheerful young employees flipping burgers at the gleaming McDonald’s on the next block. Or, at one market you’ll find everything from herbal remedies to traditional Chinese dress, and at the nearby shopping mall, Prada bags and the latest iPhone 4S deals.

Located in downtown Beijing, Wangfujing has served as an area of commerce since the middle of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). Today, the area is home to nearly 300 famous Chinese brands and is a very popular place for both tourists and locals alike. One of the biggest draws is the Wangfujing Snack Street, located in traditional hutongs that are densely packed with restaurants and food stalls that line the streets. The restaurants and food stalls serve some very common dishes, but some offerings seem downright bizarre to a Western tourist; I passed by several stalls offering starfish and scorpions on a stick. While I am open to trying just about everything, I couldn’t imagine gnawing on a scorpion, so opted for a snack of noodles and veggies wrapped in a moo shoo pancake (like a Chinese burrito). I’m pretty sure it tasted a million times better than a scorpion on a stick! If you are ever in Beijing, definitely stop by Wangfujing, especially to visit the Snack Street. Whether or not to actually partake in the “snacks” is entirely your decision, however.

May 22, 2012

Seaplane over Seattle

Did you know that Seattle’s Lake Union has its own three letter IATA airport code? Yep, it’s LKE, for the Lake Union Sea Plane Base. From there you can take flights to destinations such as Friday Harbor, WA or Victoria, BC. We didn’t go quite so far, instead opting to take a 20 minute scenic flight around the city. My dad has always wanted to fly on a seaplane, so when my parents came up to visit last month, we booked a flight with Seattle Seaplanes.

Home of Seattle Seaplanes on Lake Union

Our ride

Taxiing to the runway, er lake

Mount Rainier

Over Lake Washington

Looking towards the downtown area

CenturyLink Field, home of the Sounders and Seahawks (and during this shot, a motocross race)

The Space Needle. It recently received a layer of “Galaxy Gold” paint, which is why it appears to be orange. Galaxy Gold was the original color of the Space Needle when it opened for the 1962 World’s Fair.

A view of the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Ballard, which move boats between Puget Sound and Lake Union

Amazingly, the weather was cooperative – sunny and clear skies, which is not typical for Seattle in April. If you’re visiting Seattle, or you’re a local who has never seen the city from the skies, I’d highly recommend booking a scenic flight on a seaplane. The views of the city skyline, Puget Sound, Mount Rainier, the Cascades and the Olympics are incredible. And really, how often do you get to take off and land on a lake?

More photos here.

May 9, 2012

POTD: Giant elk at Yellowstone

When we relocated from Washington DC to Seattle, we made a two day stop in Yellowstone National Park. I’ve always wanted to visit Yellowstone, and the 3,000 mile cross-country road trip presented the perfect opportunity to do so. We camped near Lake Yellowstone, and spent most of our time driving all around the park, stopping at the usual sights (Old Faithful, etc) and taking the occasional hike.

The giant elk in the above photo was always hanging around the entrance to our campground, usually foraging by the side of the road while dozens of cars slowed down or stopped to take photos (ok, myself included). One evening, as we drove back to our campground, with no illumination except for our headlights and the moonlight, we nearly hit this giant elk as he crossed the street in absolute darkness. Thankfully, we hit the brakes just in time. (I wonder how often insurance carriers like Geico and receive claims for damage done by ridiculously large animals).

I would love to visit Yellowstone again, although next time I would probably go during the winter, when you are less likely to be stuck in a traffic jam. I hear the snowshoeing is pretty amazing as well.

May 8, 2012

Travel Wishlist: Alaska

One place that has consistently fascinated me, and has been at the top of my travel wishlist for the past few years, is Alaska. Although it has been a state for over 50 years, for many Americans, Alaska still represents the untamed wild frontier that we read about in the Jack London books from our middle school days.

Courtesy Lonely Planet

It now seems even more accessible since I’ve moved to Seattle, long known as the gateway to Alaska. One of the primary reasons for Seattle’s transformation from a small backwater town to thriving center of trade was due to the Alaska and Yukon gold rushes in the late 1800s, when Seattle merchants sold equipment to gullible miners headed north. Although the gold rush is over, in many respects Seattle still serves as the gateway to Alaska. It is the home of Alaskan Airlines, with direct flights to Anchorage several times per day. Further north, in Bellingham, Washington, you can catch one of the Alaska Marine Highway System’s ferries to Ketchikan, Alaska. If you don’t book early enough to reserve a cabin, however, you may find yourself pitching a tent on the ferry’s deck, which could be quite adventurous, albeit cold.

(Courtesy PRWeb)

Another option is to take a cruise. Several cruise lines operate out of Seattle for their Alaska bound cruises, including Princess cruises, Carnival, Holland America, and Celebrity. Now, I am not your typical cruise ship aficionado. In fact, I’ve never been on a cruise ship as none of the typical Caribbean or Greek island hopping itineraries have appealed to me. However, I think I would quite enjoy an Alaskan cruise. Walking onto a ship that is departing from the Seattle waterfront just a few miles from my apartment, and (for once) not having to hassle with airports, the TSA, delayed flights, rental cars, etc sounds ideal. A typical cruise ship itinerary includes Ketchikan, Tracy Arm Fjord, Juneau (home to one of my favorite breweries – Alaskan Brewing Company), Skagway, and Victoria, British Columbia (a great little city that we previously visited this past New Year’s). The only downside of the cruise is that you wouldn’t see much of the Alaskan interior – I’d like to visit Denali, for instance. So if I could just find a cruise that would let me disembark and wander around Alaska for a few weeks then hitch a ride back to Seattle, then that would be perfect 🙂

May 6, 2012

POTD: Big Sur

One of my favorite places in the United States; I’d live here if I could. That would likely require a few million dollars, though, so I might have to be content with moving to one of the larger California coastal cities and taking the occasional weekend trip to Big Sur.

The last time I made the drive up the coast was in January 2010. There wasn’t much traffic then, but in the summer it can be pretty crowded with droves of tourists in rental cars and motorcyclists outfitted in gear from surdyke packing the two lane highway, gaping at the amazing views and pulling over to take the occasional photo. On a pleasant weekday in the winter, though, it can be miles before you pass another car. The weather is still relatively warm during the winter (compared to much of the U.S., anyways) so it is a perfect time to visit. Pack a picnic lunch, fill up the gas tank, and bring your sunglasses – you won’t regret this roadtrip.

May 5, 2012

POTD: Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park

speakers corner hyde park

When I lived in London and my friends from the US would visit, I would always take them to Hyde Park. The park itself is lovely, especially on a warm summer’s day when you can enjoy a Pimm’s Cup at one of the hotels near Hyde Park, but the main attraction is really the Speakers’ Corner. Located in the northeast corner of the park, Speakers’ Corner is an area where you will find a number of people standing on stools, yelling about whatever subject they are most passionate about. Since most of the subjects tend to be controversial (politics, religion, etc) you’ll often find audience members arguing with and heckling the speakers standing before them. Robert’s Rules or Order definitely don’t apply here.

Londoners have been debating and heckling each other at Speakers’ Corner since the late 1800s. Some of the most well-known people to drag their soapboxes to Speakers’ Corner have been Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, and George Orwell. These days, you’ll often find, within mere feet of each other, a Christian preacher and Muslim imam arguing over religion, a socialist railing against the European Union, and a dejected football fan complaining about his team’s latest loss. Some speakers will have large crowds gathered around them, while others will find themselves ignored entirely. It’s an interesting, and always entertaining, showcase of London’s diversity, so if you find yourself in London on a pleasant Sunday morning, I’d recommend a visit to Speakers’ Corner. The closest London Underground station is Marble Arch on the Central Line.

May 2, 2012

POTD: False Klamath Cove

Taken during a morning drive through the Redwood Empire located on the foggy Northern California Coast.