Sunday, December 30, 2012

Home For The Holidays

It is hard to believe I have been home for almost five months. This is the longest I have been in Ohio since 2009. I have to admit, although there is not a lot to do in our hometown, I have enjoyed just being home. Having time to visit with family and friends and hanging out on my comfy couch. You don't realize how much you appreciate "your stuff" until you live out of two suitcases and in hotels most of your life. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love traveling but at times it is just nice to be home.

When Scott wasn't traveling for work, we took a couple trips. First we went to Pawleys Island, SC over Thanksgiving to see my brother and his family. Pawleys Island is roughly 20 miles south of Myrtle Beach, SC. My parents were there too so it was nice to have my entire family together, which is not often. For Thanksgiving, we decided to have dinner at House of Blues in Myrtle Beach. I actually worked for House of Blues (mostly in Chicago) for 12 years so it was a nice treat. House of Blues is located in an area called Barefoot Landing which has a ton of shops and restaurants. Before dinner we stopped in and had drinks at Greg Norman's Australian Grille which I would highly recommend if you are ever in the area. 

Drinks at Greg Norman's Australian Grille
Mom and Dad
We had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner at House of Blues. They offered a southern style spin on Thanksgiving. Some of the menu offerings were hand-carved turkey, roast beef, peeled shrimp, macaroni and cheese, cornbread stuffing, red beans and rice, white chocolate banana bread pudding and pecan pie. They also provided live jazz which was a nice addition to a wonderful day.
We lucked out with some great weather so Scott and I enjoyed walking on the beach.
My niece loves hanging out with Scott. I thought this was such a sweet picture of them walking on the beach together.
If you are ever in Pawleys Island / Murrells Inlet area, here are some
restaurant recommendations. Clicking on the name will take you to their website.

Pawleys Island

Chive Blossom Cafe
Frank's Outback
Bistro 217
Nosh
Perrone's Reataurant, Beer and Wine Bar
Pawleys Island Tavern (P.I.T.) great place to hang out and listen to live music

Murrells Inlet

Twelve on 17
Drunken Jack's
Bubba's Love Shak
Bovines
Divine Fish House

VEGAS HERE WE COME!
Right before Christmas, we booked flights to go and visit Scott's Mom and Stepdad who were in Vegas to celebrate her birthday. The last time we were in Vegas was early 2009 so we were looking forward to going back. 
Although not the newest casino, the Bellagio is one of my favorites. First I love Dale Chihuly's blown glass and Bellagio has a huge exhibit throughout their hotel. I also enjoy visiting their Botanical Garden and Conservatory to see their newest exhibit.
Ceiling by the front desk of Dale Chihuly's work.
Botanical Garden and Conservatory Exhibit. Don't you just love Christmas? I do!
The bears are made entirely of flowers.
Hash Hash A Go Go is a popular restaurant especially known for their huge breakfast entrees and sandwiches. I learned about this restaurant from the TV Show Man vs. Food where the shows host, Adam, ate the Fried Chicken Farm Benedict. So, we decided to head over to The Quad Resort and Casino to have breakfast. All I can say is WOW! The portions are huge and there are so many choices it was hard to pick just one. Scott had the Griddled French Toast dipped in Banana Cinnamon Cream with Pecan Maple Syrup, two scrambled eggs and bacon.
I attempted to eat Andy's Sage Fried Chicken with 2 eggs, bacon, mashed potatoes and a biscuit. Both breakfast dishes were very good but it was just too much food. Glad we went to experience it and next time I want to try one of their sandwiches.

After four great days in Las Vegas, we are back in Ohio and ready for Christmas!
I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season. We head to Baku, Azerbaijan sometime in March. Really looking forward to visiting Baku and I have no doubts I will have a lot of photos to share with all of you! 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Forbidden City

Our last day in Beijing and we finally made it to the Forbidden City. Excluding today, we had amazing weather so unfortunately my pictures are a bit on the gray/hazy side. 

Built in 1415, Tiananmen Square is the third largest city square in the world and located across the street from Forbidden City. Tiananmen Square can hold more than 300,000 people. It is a gigantic plaza with government buildings so I was not overly impressed but I do understand why the square is so important to the Chinese.
The Forbidden City lives up to expectations. It was the palace for 24 emperors from the Ming to Qing dynasties and now houses the Palace Museum. The place is absolutely massive, covering 720,000 square meters (90 football fields) and China's largest architectural grouping of ancient halls. When you first enter, it is very stark; no trees, shade or grass which I found out was on purpose. Trees were not allowed because intruders might hide in the branches.

To tour the museum, you enter at the southern entrance gate with the recognizable picture of Chairman Mao Zedong.
 After purchasing your admission ticket, $9.50 US or 60 RMB, you enter through the Meridian Gate (Wu Men)
 Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihe dian)
 The grounds around Hall of Supreme Harmony



 Hall of Heavenly Purity (Qianqing gong)
 Palace of Earthly Tranquility (Kunning gong)
 Hall of Union
Grounds around the Earthly Tranquility and Union Halls.
 At the very northern end of Forbidden city is the Hall of Imperial Peace (Qin'an dian).
 Alas, our time in Beijing has come to an end. I feel like we definitely packed in as much as we could in a weeks time. It was an amazing trip but most memorable will be us getting engaged. Looks like our next destination might be to Osaka, Japan which will definitely be another fascinating city to see. I have a feeling a few of our friends and family might want to visit us on that trip.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Good and Some Unusual Food in Beijing

For anyone who follows my blog, you will know that I love posting food during our travels. There were a few "must try" food items I wanted to experience in Beijing with Peking duck being at the top of the list. I have only had Peking Duck once at Mr. Chow's in Los Angeles and I was not "wow'd" by it; however, I thought I should give it another try and what better place than Beijing!

You can spend a lot of time researching the "best" place to get Peking duck. I know because I spent what felt like hours reading reviews as well as asking people we met, in Beijing. After all my do diligence, I decided we would try Dadong Restaurant. Dadong stands out from the rest because they claim they offer leaner roast duck. There are three locations and we chose the one on Jinbao Dasha Street. Every review I read says you must have a reservation but it was a Monday so we gambled and just showed up around 8pm. As luck would have it, they were able to accommodate us within 15 minutes of our arrival. During our wait we got to review the 106-page menu which was extremely overwhelming so I am glad we already knew we wanted the duck. 

The restaurant is beautiful and very modern which I was not expecting. Walking to our table we passed the area where the ducks are cooked in the wood burning hung oven.
Very modern dining room.
Dinner has arrived and I could not believe we actually ordered an entire duck!
One of the chefs carves the duck at your table.
Delicious Peking duck! Since we had a whole duck we got two plates full of meat.
We also ordered the accompaniment for the duck which included thin pancakes along with hoisin sauce, garlic, sugar and thin strips of scallion, cucumber and melon. The server demonstrates the different ways you can eat the duck. First she said to take a piece of the thin, crispy skin and dip it into the sugar. It is a very unusual combination but somehow it works and tastes amazing. The other popular way is to place pieces of duck into the thin pancake, drizzle hoisin sauce on top and add a few scallions. Roll like a egg roll or taco. Delicious!!
Our entire meal including a couple of beers and tip came to $55 US. The most expensive dinner we had in Beijing but we did eat an entire duck and it was worth it!

MR. SHI'S DUMPLINGS
I did some investigating of casual places to eat around our hotel before we arrived. Mr. Shi's Dumplings was given great reviews on TripAdvisor so we went one day for lunch. It is located down a hutong alley on Baochao not too far from Drum Tower.
The menu has a variety of food but we wanted to try the dumplings. They come either boiled or fried so we ordered one of each. The restaurant is very small and there appears to be a strong local clientele. Each order comes with 15 dumplings which we had not expected but we were pretty hungry. The boiled dumplings had pork and the fried dumplings were beef and mushroom. Both were very good and we wanted to come back one more time before leaving but never made it.

Fried dumpling with beef and mushroom.
LUO GU DONG TIAN
Luo Gu Dong Tian Restaurant was located on our favorite hutong alley, Nan Luoguxiang. We ordered one spicy chicken entree and a side of vegetables along with two beers. I could not believe how big the portions where and including tip our bill came to $16 US. Good food at a great price.

GHOST STREET (GUI JIE)
A popular street about a mile long filled with over 200 restaurants on Dongzhimen Nei Street. About an hour before sun down, colorful lanterns illuminate the street. You can get almost anything here from spicy Sichuan, grilled seafood chuan'er to Peking duck. I really enjoyed walking around this area at night. Such a different feel from a lot of the other neighborhoods. 
MATSUKO
If you love sashimi and sushi rolls along with other Japanese/Chinese dishes you will go crazy at this place! Matsuko was recommended to us by a co-worker of Scott's in Mongolia. The restaurant has a few locations but we were told to go to the one on the 3rd Ring fairly close to Sanlitun Bar Street and Yashow market. We went for lunch and for $15 US you can eat an endless amount of sushi rolls, cooked seafood, chicken and beef dishes, soups, desserts, tea and BEER! Yes unlimited beer is included in your meal. I was in heaven when the plate of sashimi arrived to our table.I would only recommend this place if you like sashimi and sushi rolls because the rest of the main dish items were "okay" and I not worth it for the price.
NIGHT MARKET
No trip to Beijing would be complete without venturing to Donghuamen Street to see the  night market. Down one side of the street you will encounter numerous food stalls offering some delicious food items and then some very different types of "food". All the stalls display their food in Mandarin as well as English. 
Some of the food stalls offer more Westernized items you would actually EAT. Chicken, beef, lamb or tofu skewers, crab cakes, stir-fry, dumplings, candy fruit etc. 
Pork Buns
Fried dumplings
We ordered the lobster dumplings.
Other food stalls offered more unconventional items and I often wonder if the Chinese actually eat most of this stuff or it is more novelty for tourist. This is part of the sheep's "particular parts"
Silk worms
Pigeon
Starfish
The guy didn't want me taking a picture so he tried blocking it with a snake on a skewer! I believe the reason was because he said the other to items in the pan were dog and cat. Umm NO THANK YOU!
Scorpions
Well I ended up not trying any of the unconventional food items. I have had a fried grasshopper before so I figured that was good enough for my bug taste testing. Perhaps next time I will get a little more venturous.

In the same area as the night market is a booming area with tons of shopping malls, restaurants and upscale hotels. Such a huge difference from where we are staying in Old Beijing. I felt like I was in a completely different city and was very happy to have chosen our location for the week. 
09 10 11 12
Blogging tips
Blogging tips