Looking Back: Travels in Asia – Yangshuo, China

First post in more than two years! I certainly have some catching up to do. This post and to come will allow me to catch up on the last year of activities. As some of you may know, I recently spent eight months living Hong Kong with my wife, Maria, while she completed an eight month rotation for her job. This will be the first in a “Looking Back” series documenting our time in Asia.

We traveled to mainland China for the first time last fall. While a trip to a major city might have made the most sense for our first effort, we opted for the country side of the Guangxi province. More specifically, we spent a long weekend in the Yangshuo region. The photo above was taken from the balcony at our hotel, the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat, which is located along the Yulong River.

We flew into the city of Guilin and after a quick overnight, we made our way to Yangshuo via a four-hour cruise down the famous Li River. The collage and photo below include a few highlights from the trip.

The scenery along the way was truly breathtaking. Similar to Krabi, Thailand and Halong Bay in Vietnam, this region is marked by countless karst formations. When you’re floating down the river, the formations seem to go on forever. The above photo highlights a famous scene along the river, the image of which is featured on the backside of the Chinese $20 bill (the front side features Mao, of course).

The photo above features West Street (and Maria) in downtown Yangshuo. This area was mainly geared toward the tourist crowd, with typical “Asian” cuisine restaurants, Western bars and markets to buy cheap trinkets and gifts. We only spent the first evening in town and instead opted to spend most of our time in the countryside. You’ll see why below.

The photo above features the the riverside view of the Yulong River in front of our hotel. Not a bad place to spend a few days.

For our first full day in Yangshuo, we went for a guided biking tour of the countryside. It was pushing 90+ degrees and we rode for nearly 20 miles, but it was worth it. The scenery is spectacular and traveling by bike was a perfect way to get up close and personal with the region. I’ve included a few highlights in the photos below, along with a few quick descriptions.

The first photo was taking shortly after we started out on our journey. While we traveled on a variety of roads and dirt paths, there was also a nice network of paved trails. Above you see a few of the many water buffalo throughout the area and a cool looking old truck. Below is a photo of Maria with our guide. Note that we were sweating bullets all day and our guide didn’t seem to sweat a single drop!

The collage above highlights the small village of Fuli, which is famous for being home to several artisans that paint classic images of the Yangshuo region on fans, screens and scrolls. We bought a scroll painting from the gentleman in the photo.

I don’t recall the name of the village in the collage above, but it was located along the Li River and featured several older buildings. The photo below was taken from a highway as we were winding our way through the karsts. It was one of the most scenic moments of the day.

Shortly after taking that photo, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant just below the famous Moon Hill. We also visited a cave with mud pools and fake “natural” hot springs in the afternoon, but the photos for those two spots didn’t make the cut for this post.

The next photo features a path along the home stretch as we made our way back to the hotel.

And here we are at the end of our trip – exhausted and hungry, but it was well worth the effort.

We spent our last evening dining outside along the river and catching another fantastic sunset.

And to wrap-up the post, the last photo features a China red evening view of the entrance to the hotel.

Many thanks to Chris, June and Crystal & Karl for the travel tips.

Up next will be a few posts on living in Hong Kong and travels in Japan and New Zealand.

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Dupont Circle Farmers’ Market in Photos

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Beautiful weather in DC yesterday. Crisp air, not a cloud in the sky, pleasantly warm temperatures – about as good as it gets for a Sunday in October. My camera and I ventured to the Dupont Circle Farmers’ Market and before I knew it I had snapped off nearly 100 photos. A tremendous amount of fall colors, vegetables, fruits, flowers, and more were on display. Here are a few highlights.

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Weekend Escape: Linden Vineyards

Grapes on the Vine, Linden VineyardsGrapes on the vine, Linden Vineyards

I ventured out to Virginia for a wine tasting tour this past weekend. My parents were visiting and we were looking to escape the city and do something other than visit the standard DC sights. And I’m never one to turn down an opportunity to go wine tasting. In fact, this was my second Virginia wine tasting trip in the last month.

The highlight of our day was Linden Vineyards – a low key, off the beaten path, and blissfully scenic hillside winery in Virginia’s Shenandoah Wine Region.  Shortly after arriving, we were able to take a free 45 minute tour of the vineyard and wine making facility before visiting the tasting room. I highly recommend the tour, which gives you an inside look into the wine-making process and a better understanding of the Linden’s overarching approach to wine-making and operating a winery.

It might sound cliche, but Linden is very much a wine-focused winery. Yeah, I know, that seems like a no brainer. But believe me, there are plenty of wineries that prefer to play the “destination” role while just barely skating by when it comes to producing quality wine. Whether it’s the free tour and tasting, the lack of kitschy souvenirs, or the limits on groups and tour buses, Linden has clearly made an effort to maintain the integrity of their vineyard while also providing an enjoyable experience for visitors.

And the wine is pretty good too. Of the current releases on the tasting menu, the 2008 Vidal Riesling and 2007 Claret were the highlights for me. Both were well balanced wines that showed an ability to produce quality white and red wines, which in my experience, can be hard to come by at many Virginia wineries.  The prices were reasonable as well, with both selling for around $20 per bottle.

The basic tasting at Linden is free, which is also rare find among most Virginia wineries, and includes 6 wines.  A private Cellar Tasting featuring single vineyard wines is also available for $15/person, and reservations are required. The vineyard tour is offered on Saturdays and Sundays at 11:30am. Linden’s facility also features a beautiful deck just off the tasting room that overlooks the winery and surrounding hills. One downside though, the deck is only open to Case Club members during the weekend. But hey, if you enjoy the wine, membership in the Club is just a case of wine away.

Rows of vines, Linden VineyardsVines awaiting harvest

Chardonnay Vines, Linden VineyardsRows of chardonnay

Harvest Bins, Linden VineyardsBins ready  for harvest

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Cellar Tasting Room, Linden VineyardThe Cellar Tasting Room

No Groups, Linden VineyardsAs low key as they want to be

While this sign and the overall sentiment behind it is probably a turn off for many people, it endeared this winery to me. In fact, it made me like the place before I even set foot in the door. Combined with the rest of my experience, I’ll be sure to visit again.

Linden Vineyards
3708 Harrels Corner Rd
Linden, VA 22642
http://www.lindenvineyards.com/

Maine Vacation In Photos

Steaming steamers

I already put up a post on my visit to J’s Oyster Bar, but that was just the beginning when it came to my seafood-themed vacation in Maine. And since I had my new camera with me, I took a lot of pictures. 200+ to be exact.  So I thought I’d shared a few of the highlights of my trip.

It all began with that big bowl of delicious steamers when I arrived at my brother’s house to start my vacation. For those of you that might be wondering, steamers are clams in New England speak. Give them a good soak or rinse, put them in a big pot with an inch or two of boiling water, cover, and steam until all of the shells open, and serve with melted butter and some of the broth on the side. It’s as simple as that.

After wondering around Portland all day on Monday, my brother and I went out to dinner at The Grill Room. It’s a great little spot on Exchange Street in the Old Port that specializes in wood-fired grilling. If you’re lucky, and don’t mind dining side by side, you can sit at a small bar overlooking the open kitchen and take in all of the action while enjoying your meal.

The Grill Room – Portland, Maine

I don’t have any photos of the meal to share, but here’s a quick rundown. We started with two well-executed appetizers of pan-seared oysters and crispy sweetbreads, which both paired well with an Oregon Riesling from the by the glass wine list. For the main course, my brother had a grilled tuna special served with shrimp. I went with the grilled swordfish over a lobster and sweet pea risotto. The wood-fired grill added a great layer of flavor to the fish. The risotto was a nice touch with a few good chunks of lobster meat, but slightly dry for my liking. All in all though, it was a great meal and I was glad to finally get a chance to check out the Portland dining scene.

As I made my way to my parent’s house the next day, I stopped at Belanger’s Drive-In for lunch. I needed a clam basket. Belanger’s is located in Fairfield, and it’s been around forever. In recent years, as more and more chains and big box stores have moved into the surrounding community, Fairfield has seen plenty of businesses shutter. But there are a few mainstays that have stuck around, and, thankfully, Belanger’s is one of them. I mean, look at that fried clam basket – it’s huge!

Fried clam basket from Belanger’s Drive-In

Now onto the lobster feast! On Wednesday afternoon we cooked up a bunch of soft-shell lobsters (1 1/4 pounders) and some corn from a local farm. The lobsters were $4.50 a pound! Seriously. $4.50, a pound! Can you say sweet deal?

Nothing better than Maine lobsters and fresh corn at the peak of summer. A couple of  tips: eat outdoors, have plenty of napkins on hand, and a keep a big trashcan nearby.

Maine lobster and fresh corn

And of course you need something to drink with your lobster. I went with the aptly named Vacationland summer seasonal from one of my favorite Maine breweries, Gritty McDuff’s.

Gritty McDuff’s beer – Vacationland in a bottle

After a few days at my parent’s house, we all headed north to our cabin on Lake Moxie, which is not very far from the Kennebec River Gorge and the lovely little town of The Forks, population 30. No joke. On Friday afternoon, a few of us went on a hike up Bald Mountain, seen below. The Appalachian Trail runs along the southern-most point of the lake and up over the mountain. It’s a great little hike, not too strenuous, and offers some great panoramic views from the top. And when you’re done, you get to say that you’ve hiked the Appalachian Trail.

Moon over Bald Mountain viewed from Lake Moxie

At the top of Bald Mountain

Appalachian Trail marker on the top of Bald Mountain

After all that hiking, we needed to eat something. Luckily, we had a bunch of leftover lobster meat that we used to make lobster rolls for dinner. There are three very important things to remember when constructing a true Maine lobster roll. 1) Use lots of meat. 2) Go light on the dressing, just a little bit of mayo. 3) Use a traditional hot dog bun, pan toasted in butter. That’s it. Delicious.

Homemade lobster roll

We were out on the lake the next day and saw this bald eagle. It was flying between perches in two different trees and we were able to watch it for about 20 minutes. It was a great opportunity to use my 200mm lens and practice shooting something in motion. It was challenging and the zoom wasn’t quite powerful enough to get very close in, but I did manage to get a few photos that turned out well, including this one. The eagle is slightly out of focus, but not bad for a novice.

Bald Eagle on Lake Moxie

That’s it. It was a great vacation. Plenty of great food and lots of time spent with my family.

I’ve got some more pictures from the lobster cookout that I’m planning to turn into a post soon, so stay tuned.

Oysters at J’s Oyster Bar

Oysters on the half shell at J’s Oyster Bar.

I spent Monday afternoon in Portland and stopped by J’s Oyster Bar for lunch. J’s is something of a salty, ramshackle and barebones local institution along the Portland waterfront. And with a raw oysters priced at $12 for a baker’s dozen, you really can’t go wrong. So on a rainy, overcast day, I saddled up to the bar, ordered some oysters and an Allagash White, and had no complaints.