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Friday, February 27, 2009

Yes, you can afford to travel abroad

Here's something I've been saying all along, and today it made the headlines in the Travel Daily News: "International travel need not be costly, says travel agents."

The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), which recently surveyed its members about the best budget friendly international destinations, found that the following places are the cheapest:

1. Cancun, Mexico. Its close proximity to the U.S., a multitude of all-inclusive offerings, a favorable exchange rate and affordable airfare all contributed to its top ranking.

2. Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.
Inexpensive package deals make Punta Cana a low-cost destination.

3. London, England. Reasonable airfare and plenty of hotel rooms that fit any budget helped London make the cut.

4. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Although Puerto Vallarta was cited as being “cheaper than other Mexican cities,” the destination came in at number four.

5. Bangkok, Thailand. This destination may be on the other side of the world, but it has an exchange rate, strong value for the dollar and shopping.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Taiwan Redux

In the following video, I've boiled down a 10-day Taiwan vacation into a three-minute video. I was inspired by Eric Testroete, a Canadian guy who posted a quick-cut slideshow video of his trip to Japan set to the music of the LCD Soundsystem. While this video doesn't even come close to the brilliance of "This is Japan!", it is quite a bit shorter. Enjoy! Oh, and if anyone has any tips on how to improve video quality, please let me know!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Travel is the tonic for turbulent times

"When the going gets tough, the tough get traveling."

No, that's not my new motto now that I've been laid off. It's the latest marketing effort from Australia-based outfitter Intrepid Travel, which is offering anyone who's lost a job since last September a 15 percent discount on its tour packages.

"Take advantage of a bad situation if you can," the website states, "and take off to Africa, Asia, Australia, the Middle East, Latin America or North America."

Budget Travel's blog, "This Just In," reports that some folks have "optimistically referred to their layoffs as extra vacation time." After losing her job as en electrician in December, one woman seized the opportunity to take a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Thailand. The tour will last four weeks--something that would not have been possible with the limited amount of vacation time Americans get each year.

Need more ideas to do with unplanned free time? Jaunted (the Pop Culture Travel Guide) has launched a new series on "where to go when you don't have somewhere to go from 9 to 5." Their first suggestion: "If you work in an unstable industry, try flying Flybe, where if you get canned, you can cancel your flight free free."

There are other deals and discounts available for the unemployed, too. SkyRoll is offering a 50 percent discount off the price of its luggage for people who plan to be traveling to a job interview.

"We know the economy is rough and want to do our small part to help."

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Eat Your Art Out

On a recent trip to the National Palace Museum in Taipei, I discovered its most famous objet d'art is a head of cabbage made of jade.

It's true.

The "Jadeite Cabbage with Insects" belonged to a consort of the Emperor Kuang-hsu during the Ch'ing Dynasty (late 19th century) and was kept at Yung-ho Palace in Beijing's Forbidden City. By that time, the cabbage and insect motif had become an auspicious symbol and was a recurring theme in a variety of different art forms.

And now you can add culinary arts to the list.

The new Silks Palace restaurant at the National Palace Museum features an Imperial Treasures Feast that includes dishes that resemble some of the treasures in the museum's holdings, including the Jadeite Cabbage.

The artwork is re-created with baby bok choy (the larger version takes too long to cook) boiled in a a broth of chicken and ham. The kitchen staff trims the leaves of the selected cabbages to make them appear similar to the the original art. And the insects are recreated using dried shrimp.

The Imperial Treasures Feast consists of eight courses and costs $100USD, plus a 10 percent service fee.

Other featured dishes include:
• The Meat-shaped Stone is made with pork knuckle, which is marinated for several hours in a mixture of sugar, soy sauce and scallions, then carved perfectly to mimic the artwork it represents.

• Chicken Wing Stuffed with Glutinous Rice. The wings are drizzled with vinegar and maple syrup, dried, then deep-fried to a golden crispy brown.

Classic Desserts in Chinese Curio Box include snacks such as Red Bean Pastries, Bird’s Nest Egg Tart, Donkey Rolling (red bean and glutinous rice snack), Wan Do Huang (yellow soybean snack) and more.

Fruity Mao-kung Ting. Ice sculpture is used to recreate the “ting” cauldron, which has a wide, flared mouth, a linked ring motif decorating the rim, upright handles and three hoofed feet.