Business and Pleasure in Beijing

I was thrilled to be invited to meetings in China, and after completing the visa process and studying the professional culture, I headed to Beijing around the time of Chinese New Year. Experiencing the local business customs in person was very interesting…including proper business card exchanges and a traditional hosted dinner with heaping plates of food. Speaking of food, I enjoyed the cuisine I sampled, and absolutely fell in LOVE with Peking duck…the city’s specialty at the famed Da Dong Restaurant. One eats the crispy skin with sugar, and the chef prepares it tableside with a proper duck being cut 180 times.

Sometimes, I can’t believe my blessings, as I was in Beijing during the final days of the spring festival (Chinese New Year). This means fireworks every night and big red lanterns hanging from the buildings all over town. The last day of the festival, a big group of us headed downtown and had a delish dinner before enjoying the view of the celebrations from the penthouse bar of a swanky hotel. Imagine seeing a panoramic view of more than ten full-scale firework displays—underneath your feet! I also enjoyed an hour and a half foot massage for around $20 on Friday evening, as well as gallons of real jasmine tea…both quite the treat!

After the business portion of the trip, Saturday was a tourist day, as my Finnish colleague and I spent the day visiting some pretty famous sites: the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, a silk marketplace, a jade factory, and…the Great Wall. It was astonishing to see some of the ancient parts of the city and learn more about the mythical Chinese animals, like the lion statues that guard the entrances to palaces and buildings. A tour bus was the best way to see a lot in a small amount of time, and I felt completely at ease as discovering some of China.

 

Princess Cruising to Alaska

In my ever-exciting quest to visit all 50 state capitols, one of my dear friends and I set off for Southeast Alaska to hit Juneau via a Princess Cruise. We were thrilled to learn that the Golden Princess departed on a summer Saturday from Seattle during Seafair, and we spent the day prior to the cruise exploring the Emerald City. My friend and I hit the high points: Pike’s Market, a duck tour of Lake Union, Smith Tower, and drinks with a local friend. The following day, we headed for the largest US state as we boarded our ship.

Upon immediate exploration, we decided to make the most of our time at sea and filled up our days at sea with activities galore: TRX classes at the gym, treatments at the spa, bingo, shopping classes, card games (literally 15+ hours of Spite and Malice at the boat’s wine bar), and enjoying the ship’s big band music. Some things we learned about Alaskan cruising Princess-style: “all-inclusive” barely covers anything, never do the set dining (dull table mates), pack for warmth with layers, and always buy the full bottle of bubbles/make friends with the bartender. We loved the relaxation that we found away from it all, though, and we achieved Princess’ mantra of “escape completely.”

We hit Juneau on a drizzly Monday morning, and we immediately took off through the downtown area towards the state capitol. Upon arrival, a kind volunteer gave us a wonderful tour–did you know that Alaska has the only state seal with a seal on it?–and shared some wonderful stories about Elizabeth Peratrovich, one of the first civil rights activists. Shopping and a whale watching excursion completed our time in the capitol city.

Next stop was Skagway, which was a little town rich with gold rush history. We opted to go on an close-by adventure to a musher’s camp (picture: Alaskan sled dogs made famous by the Iditarod) to experience nature and cuddle the baby huskies. This was especially well-worth the trip when we came across a bear less than 30 feet away. Rar! We also stopped in the famous Red Onion Saloon–a former brothel!–and enjoyed the scandalous tour. The next day, the cruise ship sailed around Glacier Bay, and we happily shelled out more money to sit in the adults-only Sanctuary and watch the beautiful glaciers calving (breaking apart and falling into the water with a loud clap, which the Tlingits called “white thunder.”)

Our favorite stop was in Ketchikan, where we decided to forgo the tourist stops and do Stray Boots‘ art walk scavenger hunt. We saw wonderful galleries, watched the seals play near Creek Street, and discovered the best bar in town: the Arctic Bar, home of the lovely Paula and the best Bloody Mary in Alaska. My friend and I enjoyed going off the beaten path (read: away from fellow cruisers) before getting back on board and cruising onward to Victoria, BC. Having journeyed to beautiful Victoria before, we spent some time people-watching near the harbor during our quick stop in Canada before heading back to the Golden Princess for one final round of Spite and Malice.

 

Travel Photo of the Month: August 2014

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The famed Pike’s Place Farmers Market is in downtown Seattle, a stone’s throw away from the original Starbucks. Here at the market, one can buy gorgeous fresh flowers, and experience the energetic and charming fish-tossing gentlemen made famous in the Fish! book. I spent the summer of 2006 living in the Queen Anne neighborhood of the Emerald City, and I greatly enjoyed my adventures on foot in this walk-able urban area.

Pike's Place Fish Market

Business Trip to Bangalore

Although I’ve had the pleasure of journeying to India before (you can read about my trip to Delhi here), I was thrilled to go on a business trip to Bangalore last month. Part of my excitement was visiting the tech hub of India, and after my previous visit to “Incredible India!”, I wanted to experience more. The similarities: the hustle and bustle of daily life, the kindness of the people I encountered, and the incredibly delish cuisine. Speaking of cuisine, I enjoyed some of my favorites–masala, paneer, dosas!–multiple times throughout the visit. I also learned to love Indian tea.

With a packed agenda of meetings and not much time to see the city after it took nearly two days for me to arrive, I hired a driver to take me into the city center on a Sunday afternoon. I visited the quaint Bangalore Palace, which had guided tours and quite a bit of history to learn about the families that lived there in the past. (Note: if you are vehemently against the shooting and displaying of wild game, I’d skip it.) My driver also took me to Shiva Temple, and he was kind enough to tour it with me to explain some of the Hindu traditions. It was there that I took the majority of my photos in Bengaluru, and it–along with some religious history from a kind colleague–I got the best picture of local worship.

The majority of the week was spent in cars going to and fro my hotel–the swanky Zuri Whitefield–and the many meetings I had. The negative side of the Zuri: I did take the opportunity to go to the hotel’s spa (where the masseuse asked me if I ever exercised…I cringed); and the positive:the kind waiters tried to show me which foods were spicy. The one late afternoon I had off, I got to explore a local mall and try on some fabulous clothes at Biba, where I bought a really pretty shirt.

The main difference between this trip and my 2011 trip to India was sadly time: I did not have near enough of it to explore as I would have hoped.

 

Travel Photo of the Month: July 2014

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This gallery contains 1 photo.

This month’s favorite stems back from a trip I took to Washington DC for work in July two years ago. Much like the weather this week in Las Vegas–where I have learned there is an actual monsoon season–the day started … Continue reading

Des Moines: French for The Moines

For our second annual Mom/Daughter Eating/Drinking/Touring Extravaganza, my mother and I visited Iowa and Nebraska this weekend. Friends and acquaintances asked why we’d make a specific trip to visit what is known as the “flyover states,” yet I am glad we did–Des Moines is quite a cosmopolitan treasure to explore! We arrived on a Friday morning, and after some navigation of the downtown area’s easily explorable streets, we hit the gorgeous state capitol building.

Iowa was my 36th state capitol to visit, and it was well-worth the trip: a beautiful 23 karat gold dome, a collection of miniature inaugural gowns of Iowa’s first ladies, and an incredibly gorgeous law library. If I lived in Des Moines, I’d try to figure out a way to have my wedding in the library–from stunning spiral staircases to rows and rows of books, it’s no wonder that international dignitaries and politicos regularly visit.

We enjoyed bloody mary drinks and lunch at a local spot before heading back out for a visit to the Center Street Pedestrian Bridge and the Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens. Free to the public, this was a nice way to burn off lunch…another of which being some light shopping on Locust Street. My favorite store was RAYGUN, which sold wonderful Midwestern-themed graphic products, including wares with this week’s blog headline “Des Moines: French for The Moines” emblazoned across them.

We drove by the well-known Salisbury House and walked through the Pappajohn Sculpture Park–worth a stop. Our evening was spent relaxing at our hotel’s evening reception (a perk to staying at the Embassy Suites) before heading to a delish prix-fixe meal at Lucca, both ideally located on Locust Street, with a beautiful night view of the capitol. We were in town during Iowa’s Capitol City Pride Fest 2014, as well as during an evening concert on the river, so our night ended with a glorious fireworks display. With or without the pyrotechnics, we found Des Moines to be charming!

 

Czastles, Czulture, and Czhurches in Czech Republic

I’ve long heard of Prague as one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, and a week long trip to the Czech Republic in 2004 certainly proved that theory true. During this trip, the Hilton Prague Old Town was my home away from home, and it was the perfect spot to walk to many of the city’s beautiful sites: Karlov Most (the Charles Bridge), Old Town Square and its famous astronomical clock, and Hradčany, which is the castle district. Highlights of my time in Prague were dinner at an underground cellar restaurant (which we were told popped up during World War II) and seeing the public art via the Cow Parade.

My trip to the Czech Republic was primarily for a good friend’s wedding, and it took place in the quaint Southern Bohemian town of Třeboň. Picture a quaint city square with cafes, beautiful churches, and a trip to the Bohemia Regent brewery, and you have this darling little historical town. Experiencing a wedding–and the local customs that surrounded it, like a full-fledged parade through town of the wedding party–was quite unique. Prague is a beautiful European city and holds up against the oft-compared Budapest; I also really enjoyed visiting a town outside of the city to experience more of the local culture and history.

The Rooftops of Prague