Destination: Washington, D.C.

A Vertical Tour of Hong Kong

A Vertical Tour of Hong Kong Photo by travlinman43 via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo by travlinman43 via Flickr (Creative Commons)

I read the current New Yorker profile of urban climber Alain Robert—aka “Spiderman”—expecting to learn the whys and wherefores of the Frenchman’s quirky obsession with scaling the world’s skyscrapers. There was plenty of that, but what surprised me was the extensive description of Hong Kong’s built environment, a kind of vertical canvas for Robert’s peculiar talent.

Writer Lauren Collins does a wonderful job describing how Hong Kong’s residents interact with their surroundings:

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Wine and Dumplings: An Overlooked Match?

Wine and Dumplings: An Overlooked Match? Photo by Bernt Rostad via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo by Bernt Rostad via Flickr (Creative Commons)

When I’m out for Chinese food, I don’t think twice about my drink order: it’s almost always a Tsingtao. But cooking school owner/author Jen Lin-Liu says beer doesn’t have to be the default accompaniment every time you pick up chopsticks.

For a piece in the New York Times, she recently convened a group of Chinese tasters and found that semisweet Rieslings were the best all-around choice for spicy dishes with strong flavors, while a Pinot noir paired well with twice-cooked pork.

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Manga Madness

For all you manga fans out there, here’s a round-up of breaking news from both coasts. A San Francisco-based publisher recently released seven translated volumes of the classic Oishinbo series, which follows the adventures of a young food journalist as he searches for the “ultimate menu.” (Tintin meets sashimi?) The New York-based Japan Society is running an exhibit called “Krazy! The Delirious World of Anime + Manga + Video Games” through June 14. And in Washington, D.C., the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery is showing “The Tale of Shuten Doji,” an exhibit of scrolls and screens depicting the popular Japanese folk tale as action thriller—an Edo period art form considered a forerunner to manga

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Five Best Mood-Matching Museums

Five Best Mood-Matching Museums (c) Sam Buxton, courtesy Kinetica

What kind of art do you feel like today? Hayden Foreman-Smith knows where to go to match any mood.

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Washington, D.C.

washington dc REUTERS/Larry Downing

A tourist walks under cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin in Washington.

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A Global Rite of Spring

Ah, springtime in the nation’s capital.  I saw my first cherry blossom of the season near the Washington National Cathedral a couple weeks ago, and it immediately lifted my will-winter-never-end mood.  The blossoms are right on schedule here—peak period is expected to be April 1-4—but over in Tokyo, the much admired sakura are early for the fourth year in a row, prompting hand-wringing about the effects of global warming.  According to the Telegraph, Japan’s national “blossoming line”—the latitude at which the trees start to flower—has shifted 125 miles north over the last 40 years. Kind of alarming.

If you missed the window in Tokyo, I’d recommend a visit to Washington’s National Arboretum instead of the Tidal Basin (way too crowded) or a virtual viewing via this web cam.  Of course, there are plenty of pink wonderlands unfolding beyond the Beltway.  Check out the cherry blossom festivals in San Francisco, Philadelphia or Brooklyn.  And don’t forget the sake.

Morning Links: Mexico Travel Alert, Mardi Gras Tips and More

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Christopher Lee: ‘I Can’t Recall Visiting any Countries I Hated’

So where does one of the most omnipresent movie villains of the past half-century (who also popped up in our list of the best travel horror movies) like to go on vacation? The veteran actor recently dished to the Independent about his ideal travel experiences—and it turns out, solitude is high on his priority list.

Lee’s favorite country is Finland, “because once you get to a certain point, you can drive for hours without seeing a single person.” His worst-ever journey was a rough ride from Washington, D.C., to Charlotte, N.C.: “It was only a 45-minute flight,” he told Sophie Lam, “but I have never known anything like it—including during the war when I was shot at in planes.” And as for New Zealand, where he spent a few months during the filming of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy? It’s “the most beautiful country I have ever been to in my life.”

D.C.‘s Magic Carpet Ride

D.C.‘s Magic Carpet Ride Photo by Julia Ross
Photo by Julia Ross

My affection for Oriental rugs is as much aesthetic preference as childhood nostalgia. I grew up in a household padded with Bukharas and Isfahans, and I remember when my mom first showed me how to tell a hand-knotted rug from a machine-made doppelganger by flipping the carpet over to examine how the fringe is attached. As an adult, my taste has tended toward flat-weave rugs—Kilims and Soumaks—in dark browns, burnt oranges and blues, woven in tribal patterns that speak of dusty villages in Turkey and Iran. In fact, when I moved into a new apartment last spring, I treated myself to two Soumaks purchased from a weathered Afghan at a flea market outside Washington, D.C. I love them; they make the place home.

Rug lovers like me will find nirvana at an exhibit currently on show at Washington’s under-appreciated Textile Museum, in the city’s Dupont Circle neighborhood. Timbuktu to Tibet: Rugs and Textiles of the Hajji Babas, includes 90 rugs and other textiles—salt bags and bridal veils—collected by the 77-year-old Hajji Baba Club, a New York-based society of rug collectors. It’s a feast for the eyes and expansive in scope: deep pink diamond patterns from Uzbekistan, blazing tiger pelt motifs from Tibet, black and white checkerboard rugs from Mali. I spent a long time just letting the colors soak in, marveling at the hours spent in pursuit of beauty and wondering at the rituals—births, prayers, long journeys—that inspired such attention to detail.

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Exiled to America

Exiled to America Photo illustration by Adam Karlin

Adam Karlin tries to reconcile his love for the road and his love for home

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John Baxter Likes Him Some ‘Poor Food’

In the latest issue of Food & Wine magazine, prolific author John Baxter waxes in the travel column about his history with “poor food,” taking us first to a long stew-filled meal at a rural tavern on a Greek island, then to his childhood in Australia, and Paris. The most unlikely experience: Christmas dinner at the Georgetown house of a government official who had lost his job due to a change in administrations. Baxter doesn’t say it—though I suppose it’s implied—but we don’t need a downturn in the economy to see that “poor food” has managed to quietly work its way into eaters’ appetites of all incomes these days. Which—in all its irony—is a good thing. Pub grub, soul food, most of the Italian food we know and love, and the current hankering for all things street food (being served at upscale restaurants around the country) all sprang from the same place: necessity. 

What We Loved This Week: Street Food, Obama’s Inauguration and More

Our contributors share a favorite travel-related experience from the past seven days.

Frank Bures
I loved my new cookbook, The World of Street Foods: Easy Quick Meals to Cook at Home, which has everything from Tanzanian mango fritters to Thai tom yam to Libyan almond cookies to Mexican hot chocolate. Based I what I know, these recipes look like the real deal.

Jim Benning
Malcolm Gladwell’s hour-long talk on Book TV—you can watch it online here—about the role culture and communication can play in plane crashes. It’s utterly fascinating and changed the way I think about such things. (It’s also, it turns out, quite controversial.) Still, it makes me want to pick up his new book, Outliers: The Story of Success.

Valerie Conners
The inauguration of President Barack Obama, of course! But really, as I’ve tried to absorb the enormity of Tuesday, I’ve been moved by images from around the globe, particularly in this slideshow from, which have offered such great perspective on how this moment has affected people well beyond U.S. borders.

Michael Yessis
Going to the National Mall and watching the inauguration. So, so cold out, but an overwhelming, beautiful experience.

Julia Ross
Of the many high points this week, I loved that Obama hightailed it over to the State Department on day two in office, bucked up our diplomats, and broke out his Indonesian. A global president = priceless.

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Morning Links: Buffalo-Wing Boycott, Nashville’s English-Only Measure and More

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Barack Obama and the White House Shaka

obama shaka REUTERS/Larry Downing
REUTERS/Larry Downing

Maybe you caught it. Our new president, Barack Hussein Obama—and his little daughter, Sasha—threw the “shaka” at the Punahou School Marching Band during the inauguration parade. If you’ve driven in Hawaii, you’ve seen the shaka more than once—when you let the guy merge in front of you or stopped to let someone cross the street to the beach. Wikipedia has the most consistent origin story for the greeting which means, depending on context: it’s cool, hang loose, right on ...

One theory according to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, prevailing local lore credited the gesture to Kalili Hamana of Laie, who lost the three middle fingers of his right hand while working at the Kahuku Sugar Mill. Hamana was then shifted to guarding the sugar train, and his all-clear wave of thumb and pinkie is said to have evolved over the years into the “shaka.”

I can’t help but wonder what other signs of island culture the 44th president is going to bring to Capitol Hill.

The Inauguration’s Triumph for Geography

On the intersection of place, politics and culture

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