The day I ate scorpions in Beijing

Chinese food is one of the world’s great cuisines. There’s hardly a Western country where “going out for some Chinese” isn’t a part of culinary life. Trouble is, what we know as Chinese food doesn’t even scratch the surface of what the Chinese really eat. Sure, most of the dishes eaten in Beijing do feature stir-fries, but when it comes to the featured ingredients, it’s a whole other ball game. In a week of eating at restaurants and browsing the Continue Reading ››

The bicycles of Beijing — and other traffic tales

Take more than 20 million people, crowd them into one city with places to go every day, and the result can be chaos. That’s pretty much fhe picture in Beijing — and somehow, despite itself, it all seems to work. The first thing you notice in Beijing is that the streets are full of bicycles. Not only regular bicycles but motorized bicycles, bicycle delivery carts, motor scooters, motorcyles and just about anything else that can travel on two wheels. You Continue Reading ››

The old man who stalks Beijing

Beijing is being stalked by an old man. He’s a happy-looking old fellow with a little beard, and you see him so often here you start to think he’s Beijing’s patron saint. Confucius? More like Colonel Sanders. It’s almost impossible to go more than a block or two in downtown Beijing without seeing the Colonel’s unmistakeable face staring out at you. He’s on the streets, he’s in the malls and office buildings, he’s even in the train station (seen above). Continue Reading ››

Beijing, city in the smog

Seventeen hours in the air, and my first glimpse of Beijing is a crazy quilt. Ragged fields and grey factory buidlings give way to futuristic buildings that look like the Lego creations of a kid with a wild imagination. As we approach the city, the grey sky looks even greyer, and the road ahead is clouded by a mist that seems to swallow everything whole. The air is thick, and the sun is nowhere to be seen. This is Beijing’s Continue Reading ››

Beijing, city in the smog

Seventeen hours in the air, and my first picture of Beijing is a crazy quilt. Out the windows of the airport bus appear ragged fields and low grey workshops, then a jumble of futuristic high-rise buildings that look like the Lego creations of a child with a wild imagination. And as we approach the city, the grey sky looks even greyer, and the road ahead begins to look misty, as if there were a cloud settling in on us. The Continue Reading ››

The ins and outs of great travel deals

It’s September, and I’m off to Beijing to take advantage of the great travel deal I found recently (you can read about it here). So my next post may be from China. Or not — I’m still not certain how easy or hard it will be to post from the shadows of the Forbidden City. But with great travel deals still available for China, it might be a good time to offer some advice on how to proceed when you see Continue Reading ››

Ever wondered how to get a blurred background in your photos?

Most of us who travel take a lot of pictures, and over time we like to increase our photography skills. One of those skills is taking photos with those soft, blurry backgrounds that make the subject stand out in bold contrast. Maarten Heilbron, owner of the Maarten website, and I have tackled that problem with a simple how-to video that makes it easy to get a blurry background without being an expert. It’s called Blurry Backgrounds in Six Easy Steps, and Continue Reading ››

Want to enrich your travels? Learn the language

You spend a lot of time and money on your travels, so it makes sense to get the most out of the experience. One way is to read books about your destinations, as I wrote about here. But an even better way is to learn at least a little of the language they speak in the places you’re going. It seems like a lot of work, especially if you’re taking a short trip. But if you’re going to be in a country Continue Reading ››

Why booking with the hotel still makes sense

Booking a hotel room in the internet age is pretty simple: go to an online booking site, look through a list of hotels in the area, find the best one at the best price and click. It’s easy, and not only that, you get the best price — or do you? I’ve always thought so, but an increasing amount of evidence is leading me to believe that booking directly with the hotel may be the best way to get the best price — as Continue Reading ››

Lost cities, floating towns and little reed horses: Peru!

When they hear the word “Peru”, most people think of one thing: Machu Picchu, the familiar landmark in the photo above. But like Panama, Peru is a country that has a wealth of sights and experiences most people have never dreamed of. If you like history, it has the legacy of the Incas, with their amazing cities and incredible architecture. If you like scenery, it has river valleys, lakes, giant canyons and the majestic Andes. If  you like colonial cities, it has classic examples. Continue Reading ››