Huangshan..China’s Magic Mountains

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Why visit Huangshan? 

Traditional Chinese calligraphy paintings often used Huangshan as inspiration to paint mountains shrouded with clouds.  Each peak has a smooth surface interrupted by jutting pines or other granite rocks.  They range from a coffee toned brown to gray, shifting with the intensity of sunlight.  Clouds are often drifting lower than the line of sight, adding a mystical air.  In fact, the standout features of these mountains are the pines, the rocks, the sunrises, and the clouds.
The scenery is plentiful and melts into a Rorschach that speaks to the imagination or level of drunkenness of whoever named the spot.  Each scenic spot tells its own tale.  Can you see the monkey’s back as he’s overlooking the ocean?  Do you see the soaring pines that are 2 tigers chasing one another?
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Best season to go?
The weather can be temperamental, with sudden bursts of rain from the low hanging clouds.  I took a picture where it looks like I’m blowing on clouds-they are THAT close.  I went the first week of September and the last week of April, and I lucked out with perfect weather both times.  Apparently the beauty of the mountains changes with each season, so it’s touted as a year round destination, even during the snows of the winter.  For temperature comfort I’d recommend the spring or fall (basically the times I went).  I was 1 out of 2 on a clear sunrise, but even shrouded in the clouds it was breathtaking.  It’s even better than the sunrise over Angkor Wat.
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How long do I need to visit?
Huangshan can be “seen” in a 3 day trip, spending one night on the mountain, if you’re in a rush.  Even a day trip is doable.  But I’d recommend spending 2 nights up on the mountain, one on the  western side near the Yuping “Jade Screen” cable car and one night on the eastern side near the Yungyu “Cloud Valley” cable car.  The eastern side is clearly where you watch the sunrise, and the shuffle from the Beihai Hotel begins before the crack of dawn.   Because there are a limited number of rooms on the mountain, after the day crowd leaves the mountain displays a serenity I would normally not associate with China.  I think even some of the tourists are fatigued from climbing, so when my Mom and I explored paths later in the day, we were alone with nature. It was her first time in China and the scenery and cleanliness have probably spoiled her for future travel there.  But then you understand why Chinese poets and painters scrambled up these cliffs without cable cars or paved steps.
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Where is it and why haven’t I heard of it?
Nearest airport is Tunxi.  3 hr flight from Shenzhen , 1
  hr flight or 4hr drive from Shanghai (also trains), 1.5 hr flight from Hangzhou.  Huangshan (Yellow Mountain in Chinese) is a marquee Chinese tourist spot, kept impressively clean.  It is a household name in China, but has not really been marketed internationally.  With a billion potential customers China doesn’t need to raise its international profile anyway.
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Balkans Trip Planning

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typical view along the Balkan coastline

How did you choose travel destinations?

During my year of constant travel, I tagged along on as many planned trips as possible.  After the 20th or 40th country, planning every little detail like where to stay or how to get around becomes tedious.  When a friend mentioned a Balkans trip with his banker buddies, it was a no brainer for me.  I’m pretty sure he invited me.

How did the trip come together?

The guys did a great job of drawing up a general plan.  One of them was living in Europe and had a helpful friend in Sarajevo.  My poor backpacker budget would find out later that because they work pretty hard, the guys like to treat themselves by staying in 5 star hotels.   I was making my way around Europe while this trip was planned-not much time for due diligence.  In fact I suggested a hostel my friend recommended for Sarajevo, which probably had them concerned about my judgement.
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resort in Budva, Montenegro
Itinerary?
–(Saturday) Meet in Split, Croatia for dinner. Book 2 hotel nights at Marmont
–(Sunday) Morning leave Split to drive down the coast of
Croatia to Dubrovnik (stop off at Omis for an hour for breakfast and to see the tower?). This takes ~3-4hrs but assuming there are other
interesting stops along the way, we’ll be in Dubrovnik by late
afternoon. Book 2 hotel nights at the Hotel Bellevue
–Hang out in Dubrovnik on Monday, leave on Tuesday for Montenegro.
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Entering Dubrovnik
–(Tuesday) explore Budva, Kotor, and Tivat in Montenegro–decide where to stay overnight
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Kotor Bay, Montenegro (view from St. John’s fortress)

–(Wed) head to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. This takes ~4hrs,

–Spend a full day there on Thursday, take a look at war history

–(Friday) drive back to Split, stopping off at Jablanica for a grilled lamb lunch, and then see Mostar in the afternoon (both are along the way). We can also loop in a place like this on our way back
–We could get back to Split for Fri night to go to Hvar, allow for a
Sat day trip north, etc., but will also have the flexibility to hang out
on the coast, south of Split, on Sat.
–End up back in Split on Sat night to drop cars. Fly out on
Sunday.

Cafe Dulce

Rating:4/5

Headline : Interesting selection, green tea donut’s a winner2014-05-11 14.13.54

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What: 
Walked into this little Tokyo cafe in downtown Los Angeles by chance. Side by side, you will find bacon topped doughnuts (and bacon doughnut holes ) next to spirulina cakes.  I ordered the relatively more neutral green tea doughnut, which has a sugary exterior and light green tea flavor.  Doesn’t feel that healthy, but hey, you are eating a donut!!

Service :Very attentive..4 different people waited on us within the first 10 mins.   The chef/owner also came out to greet everyone, which was nice.

Parking: Have to find street or garage parking in the area

 

  • 134 Japanese Village Plz
    Bldg E
  • Little Tokyo, Downtown
  • Phone number(213) 346-9910
  • Business website cafedulce.co

Glam Dubai

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It’s easy to draw parallels between glitzy Dubai and tropical expat cities like Hong Kong/Singapore.  They attract foreigners (the population of Dubai is 80% foreigners), entertainment is built around malls (a sensible shield from the sun), and the landscape is littered with new construction.  Although in Dubai there are remnants of the housing bust from unfinished sprawling condos, a number of sites are being brought to life again.

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Burf Khalifa by day
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Burj Khalifa by night

Tourist Attractions?

Burj Khalifa is the tallest man made structure in the world at 829.8 m (2,722 ft).  The architecture reminded me of the Petronas towers in Kuala Lumpur.

Close by you’ll find the Dubai Mall, which has a fountain show accompanied by music that’s the largest of its kind.

As far as malls go, the Ibn Battuta Mall was actually fairly interesting because of the displays about early age exploration.  Ibn Battuta was a Moroccan explorer from the 1300s who traveled over 30 yrs.

Fountain show by day
Fountain show by day
Fountain show by night
Fountain show by night

 

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interior of the Palm Jumeirah
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walkway to one of the malls or the metro
The Palm Islands are two artificial islands constructed in the shape of palm trees, and while we didn’t get the aerial view, we visited the hotel Palm Jumeirah.  Great Lebanese restaurant there called the Al Nafoori.
From here we also saw sand poured into a lake to make land.
We stayed at the Cosmopolitan Hotel Dubai, a clean, reasonably priced hotel close to the metro, our primary form of transport.
How was the food?
The food was typically international (expensive hotel food)  or middle eastern.  The food didn’t seem incredibly different from middle eastern food I’ve had elsewhere.  Order fattoush, a delicious salad with toasted pita (lower left corner below).    In general, appetizers of hummus, baba ghanoush, and stuffed grape leaves would pave the way for grilled meats.   To make up for the conspicuous lack of vegetables, these plates of whole veggies would be brought out like we were shopping at a grocery store.  Well I suppose this whole pepper can be dipped in hummus!  The veggies were practically an after thought.
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top right corner plate saves us some grocery shopping
Verdict on the world’s only 7 star hotel?
Burj Al Arab
Burj Al Arab
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Bugatti for valet ($2mil USD car)

Burj Al Arab is the world’s only (self proclaimed) 7 star hotel since 1999, because no one else has dared create such ridiculous expectations.  Aside from seeing 2 Bugattis ($2mil USD car)valeted in the front, the hotel was a let down.  The interior was dated and a bit tacky, and the multicolored panels had the air of lost decade.  If you just want to peer inside the hotel, you still need a reservation at the hotel or restaurant to get past the guard.  Otherwise you won’t even get past the bridge before the hotel( well, unless you’re driving a Bugatti, maybe).  Smart way to rev up the hype and ensure visitors will be duly disappointed by the decor.  We should have cut our losses when we walked in, but we ate at the Sky View Bar.  I didn’t want to see the surcharge for cancelling a reservation.  Service was slow: 2 on a 7 star scale.

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looking up from the lobby
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inside Sky View Bar