Archive for the ‘Shopping’ Category

Hong Kong – All About Shopping?

August 31st, 2010 at 12:14 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

“You can see all there is to see around Hong Kong in a couple of days, Mr. Richter.

People really come to Hong Kong for the shopping.”

So said one of the concierges at the Mandarin Oriental hotel on Hong Kong island, where we had just checked in after spending a couple of days in Macao (or Macau – both appear correct spellings) and a few more days across the harbor from Hong Kong island in Kowloon back in July.

The concierge was mostly right – shopping does seem to be the big draw in Hong Kong, with high end brands offered left and right in excess beyond compare. And while fashion – ranging from Coach, Louis Vuitton, and Versace, to Prada, Chanel, and Gucci – is ever present, even more rampant are jewelry (spelled locally as “jewellery”) stores. We thought Aruba’s dozens of jewelry stores were bad, but in Hong Kong shopping areas (which seems to be pretty much everywhere that tourists might wander), there are hundreds if not thousands of jewelry shops. Most numerous among those appear to be the chains of Chow Tai Fook and Luk Fook, of which there are dozens on the so-called Golden Mile of Nathan Road, Kowloon-side.

And expensive watches from Rolex, Piaget, Patek Philippe, and a host of others are easily found at either their own stores, or any of the countless jewelry stores.

While we are certainly materialists and capitalists ourselves (my weakness being technology “toys” and kitchen equipment), the sheer materialistic excess we saw in Hong Kong was beyond comprehension.

And more interesting is that the primary wealthy consumer who comes to Hong Kong to shop for jewelry and name brand couture is Asian, frequently from mainland China, a communist country. I won’t even pretend to understand the sorts of economics that would allow someone from mainland China afford one or more $20,000 Rolex watches.

The other thing we found prevalent in Kowloon (but not Hong Kong island) were touts, typically all of Indian background, offering replica watches, like Rolexes and bespoke (custom, made to order) tailoring services. It was almost impossible to walk down Nathan Road without a dozen approaches for a custom suit or a knock off watch.

In any event, not being consumers of fashion and bling, we had to find other ways to entertain ourselves. And we did. More on that in upcoming posts.

A small photo gallery is below. Click on the images to get slightly larger versions. Larger versions are on Flickr.

 

Newseum, Terra Cotta Warriors, and Food in D.C.

November 20th, 2009 at 1:09 am (AST) by Jake Richter

Our time here in Washington D.C. has been flying by quickly. Between museums, shopping, eating, and sleeping we have not had time for much else. Of course, there may not be much else we need time for.

I got a head start on the Newseum (day 2) yesterday morning, and by happy circumstance ended up meeting one of the technicians there who gave me an hour-long behind-the-scenes tour of the Newseum’s amazing electronic infrastructure. The Newseum prides itself on being the most interactive museum in Washington D.C., and the video and computer “farms” I saw attest to that. Thank you Mike! The family joined me after my serendipitous back stage tour, and I took the opportunity to ham it up in a fake newscast (see photo below).

Jake does the news report on the Woodstock presentation at the Newseum

Jake does the news report on the Woodstock presentation at the Newseum

After lunch at The Capital Grille next door and a few more exhibits at the Newseum the girls headed off for some shopping and Bas and I remained until closing time. We all met up at the National Portrait Gallery again, where we explored the Luce Foundation Center’s art archives.

The Luce Foundation Center at the National Portrait Gallery

The Luce Foundation Center archives at the National Portrait Gallery

Dinner was around the corner at Zaytinya, another of José Andrés‘ excellent restaurants. I’ll post more on that on A Foodie Moment in the next few days. We were joined there by old Richter family friends and virtual cousins Nell and Lauren Dennis.

Nell and Lauren at Zaytinya in D.C.

Nell and Lauren at Zaytinya in D.C.

Today was spent at the National Museum of Crime and Punishment as Krystyana’s current self-schooling interest is the field of crime scene investigation (CSI) and the museum has a pretty decent section on that topic as well as criminology in general. If you’re a crime buff or have a morbid interest in what sort of punishment was doled out for various crimes over the last millennium, this museum is for you.

Full Kee in D.C.'s Chinatown

Full Kee in D.C.'s Chinatown

We took time out for lunch in nearby Chinatown, at a Chinese restaurant a local friend had recommended – Full Kee. It offered a very diverse menu selection, including a number of Chinese dishes we had never seen stateside before (e.g. pork intestines and duck blood dishes), and the dishes we ordered were tasty and filling. I will note that I could not convince the rest of the family to try the more exotic dishes.

The highlight of the day, however, started in late afternoon when the real purpose of our trip to D.C. commenced.

We are here in Washington D.C. for something called the National Geographic Grosvenor Council Weekend, as the result of a donation we made to the National Geographic Society last year after spending a week on the National Geographic Polaris in the Galapagos.

The weekend is an event (for extra cost) set up to inform donors about the on-going activities of the National Geographic Society, and includes some additional and special events not available to the public at large.

The fossil skull of BoarCroc - Kaprosuchus saharicus

The fossil skull of BoarCroc - Kaprosuchus saharicus

The first of those events was a presentation by paleontologist Dr. Paul Sereno about his recent discovery of three new species of crocodiles from the Cretaceous era at a couple of sites in the African Sahara, plus additional fossils from two more species. That discovery was publicly announced this morning. Paul explained how the fossils were found and how, based both on the fossilized bone structures as well as the physiology of modern day crocodilians, he discovered that these ancient species – dubbed BoarCroc (see skull above), PancakeCroc, DuckCroc, DogCroc, and RatCroc – had distinct capabilities, including rapid movement on land in the form of galloping. He supported his research with his observations of a galloping freshwater crocodile from Australia (the video of this was just too cool – unfortunately it’s not on-line, at least not that I can find).

The BoarCroc skull with with paleontologist Dr. Paul Sereno

The BoarCroc skull with with paleontologist Dr. Paul Sereno

After an extensive question and answer session, we moved to a reception where we got to say hi to National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Sylvia Earle. With the various marine environmental and educational efforts Linda and I have been involved in over the last decade and a half we have met Sylvia several times – she’s a wonderful lady and pioneer in ocean exploration and conservation, and you may want to check out her new book, The World Is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean’s Are One. It should also be noted that our home island of Bonaire recently honored Sylvia Earle with a lifetime achievement award when she was there this past summer for the Bonaire Dive Into Summer Festival.

Terra Cotta Warriors presentation at the National Geographic Society

Terra Cotta Warriors presentation at the National Geographic Society

Following the reception was a presentation on the Terra Cotta Warriors exhibit which opened here at the National Geographic Society’s museum today. We were told that advance ticket sales to the exhibit as of early morning today were close to 106,000 – completely exceeding expectations, but a real delight to anyone supporting the noble goals of the National Geographic Society.

The Terra Cotta Warriors are part of a three and half decade excavation near the city of Xi’an in the Shaanxi province of China. They were created in clay by command of the First Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, to protect him in death, over 2,000 years ago, and only rediscovered in 1974 by local farmers. The terra cotta statues include archers, chariot drivers, soldiers, performers, armor, horses, and a variety of animal forms as well. And we have wanted to see the Terra Cotta Warriors ever since we had first read about them in National Geographic Magazine decades ago.

So naturally we were delighted when our evening ended with a private tour of the Terra Cotta Warrior exhibit for our group of about 50 people. We were guided by a pair of doctoral candidates from George Washington University specializing in Chinese history. Alas, we were not permitted to take any photos, so there are none to share in this blog entry. That small disappointment aside, we’re pretty certain that all those people with advance tickets, as well as the thousands of others planning to attend will enjoy the exhibition, which contains the largest number of Terra Cotta Warriors to be seen anywhere outside of China. It also includes a variety of supporting artifacts, models, and explanations to help attendees get a better grasp of life during the Qin dynasty more than 2,000 years ago.

For us, if anything, the exhibit created an even greater yearning to visit Xi’an in person to see the huge excavations and the many thousands of warriors that have been painstakingly reassembled from a multitude of broken pieces. A visit to the Terra Cotta Warriors exhibit at the National Geographic Society is something we would highly recommend if you’re in Washington, D.C. in the coming months.

 

Washington, D.C. – Food and Learning

November 18th, 2009 at 2:18 am (AST) by Jake Richter

We arrived in Washington, D.C. on Sunday afternoon, and so far have eaten at four great restaurants – Makoto, Jaleo, Ten Penh (for lunch), and Rasika.

There’s also been a fair bit of shopping done by the girls, my Alienware M17x monster notebook computer has finally been repaired so that my screen doesn’t shimmer in super graphics (SLI) mode, and we spent several hours today at the amazing Newseum followed by a too-short visit to the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. And we’ve been doing lots of walking between places with the beautiful weather we’ve been experiencing here. In fact, Krystyana and I enjoyed a great nighttime stroll from Rasika back to our hotel tonight, taking in sights like the White House.

Krystyana in front of the White House in Washington, D.C.

Krystyana in front of the White House in Washington, D.C.

We’re planning on spending more time at the Newseum and the National Portrait Gallery on Wednesday, and hoping to hit the Museum of Crime and Punishment on Thursday before the National Geographic events we’re participating in start in earnest.

 

More Berlin – Nazi Terror, Bavarian Food, and Chocolate Delight

October 14th, 2009 at 5:57 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Tuesday, October 13, 2009 – Breakfast at the Hotel Adlon was included as part of the Fine Hotels and Resorts hotel package we had booked through our American Express TeamOne travel service group, and what a breakfast it was! A dozen different kinds of cold cuts, a half dozen kinds of French soft cheese (including several family favorites), a handful of different Meuslis, fresh fruit juices (such as pineapple, coconut, and ginger blended together), eggs to order, different sausages, and all sorts of fruit, as well as carb-evil pastries and breads. Champagne, coffee, and tea were available too.

By 11am we were finally on our way, with the intent to see the famed Checkpoint Charlie, and more specifically the museum there.

A performer dressed as a statue shills for for tourist tips at the Brandenburger Tor

A performer dressed as a statue shills for for tourist tips at the Brandenburger Tor

We started by tracing the path south from Brandenburg Tor where the western part of the Berlin Wall used to be, and found ourselves at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, a memorial created to remember the Jews killed by the Nazis during World War II.

Cement blocks of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Cement blocks of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

The memorial consists of 2,711 blocks of cement of identical width and depth, but varying height. These blocks fill a plain of undulating brick, spaced equally apart, thus creating walkways. The feel is that of a cemetery when you first enter it, but soon you feel like you are in an oddly symmetric warren as the rectangular blocks start to reach the height of your head and beyond. Disconcerting and eerie, which was no doubt at least part of the intent of the memorial’s designer, Peter Eisenman.

A Berlin Wall exhibit at Potsdamer Platz

A Berlin Wall exhibit at Potsdamer Platz

By the time we hit Potsdamer Platz a bit to the south we were so cold we needed to warm up, so we chose a local café for some Café American, tea, and a cookie for Bas, as well as free Internet service. After waiting through a massive rain storm, we continued on towards Checkpoint Charlie, stopping at an outdoor museum entitled “Topopgraphy of Terror”, dedicated to provided a history of the prison and torture facilities at that location, run by the SS, Gestapo, and Reichssicherheits Dienst (Empire Security Service) during World War II.

Part of the exterior exhibits at the Topography of Terror museum

Part of the exterior exhibits at the Topography of Terror museum

However, the exhibits at the Topography of Terror covered much more, explaining the evolution of the Nazi party and their plans for systematic deportation and killing of Jews, Gypsies, and other “lower races” (pretty much anyone that was not Aryan German) in order to claim their lands and property for German expansion and resettlement. It was a frightening and sobering exhibit, as well as violently graphic, picturing hangings, executions, and many photos of people being marched off to certain death. More astounding was that the Nazi bureaucracy maintained meticulous records of all their actions, and many of the ledgers and memos used to both record their actions as well as direct those actions were shown (with translations for English readers). A number of the Nazi leaders were profiled, as were dozens of victims of “Nazi justice” who were interned in the prison at the site on Prinz Albrectstrasse at the behest of the so-called “People’s Court”, a bureaucratic body used to justify arrests and executions in the name of the people of Germany, but truly to simply further personal and political goals of the Nazi leadership.

Documents at the Topography of Terror show Nazi plan of conquest by extermination

Documents at the Topography of Terror show Nazi plan of conquest by extermination

The exhibit also covered the atrocities the Nazis carried out in the territories they captured. For us, with our Czech ancestry (Jake’s parents were born in Czechoslovakia shortly before the invasion by the Germans leading up to World War II), it was particularly poignant, as the exhibit documented how the entire Czech village of Lidice was slaughtered and then taken completely apart, leaving virtually no sign that there ever had been a village there. And all this in retaliation for the attempted assassination of a high ranking Nazi officer.

The Traveling Richters pose with Maximilian the Bavarian

The Traveling Richters pose with Maximilian the Bavarian

Jake’s brother Mike joined us as we finished going through the exhibition and we proceeded to Checkpoint Charlie, passed it by to get on the U-Bahn (Berlin’s subway) for one stop and then have a late lunch at Maximilian’s, a Bavarian restaurant. We gorged ourselves on Bavarian food – Schweinshaxe (pig knuckles with crispy skin), wurst (sausages) of all kinds with both sharp and sweet mustard, leberkäse (a slice of a loaf of meat made with liver), and goulasch of two sorts. And beer, of course. For Jake, this brought back memories of his childhood, growing up in Munich. We finished up with coffee and tea at the Café Einstein (a coffee shop chain which appears to be Starbuck’s main competition in Berlin) next door.

A model of the Titanic in chocolate at Fassbender & Rausch

A model of the Titanic in chocolate at Fassbender & Rausch

Instead of actually going back to Checkpoint Charlie, our intended destination for the day, Mike instead gave us a personal tour of other nearby parts of Berlin (and we managed to hit Checkpoint Charlie a couple of days later instead). We visited Berlin’s biggest chocolate shop, Fassbender & Rausch, followed by a walk around a plaza called the Gendarmenmarkt (police market). The Gendarmenmarkt features a number of large historic buildings from the 19th century, including a church, a performance hall, and a government building, surrounded by “plattenbau” apartment buildings. These were apartments built by the East Germans using a modular construction methodology which allowed for buildings to go up very quickly. Functional but rather unattractive.

From there we moved on to a collection of three buildings known as the Galeries Lafayette. These buildings feature high-end fashion shops and a delicatessen area, all connected via an underground shopping passage.

Tne New Synagogue in Berlin - note the Moorish archictecture

Tne New Synagogue in Berlin - note the Moorish archictecture

Mike then took us to Oranienburger Strasse, an area featuring a synagogue with Moorish architecture, as well as an artists’ commune and numerous coffee shops and eateries. At a small Italian restaurant in one of the many small courtyards, we enjoyed some Glühwein (hot spiced wine – great in cold weather) while we waited for Mike’s son Mat to join us. Mat is 21 and is training in the field of event management, and also has his own band called “Danke” (“thank you” in German).

We continued our walking tour with our personal family guides, exploring more courtyards and sights, including an old dance hall that is still in use today, ending up for dinner at Pan Asia, a restaurant with Asian-themed food. Quite good and enjoyable, with a great ambiance.

Unter den Linden in Berlin lit up during the Festival of Lights

Unter den Linden in Berlin lit up during the Festival of Lights

We walked all the way back to our hotel, enjoying the lighting of various buildings and objects as part of the Festival of lights that had just started in Berlin that night (and running for a full week). Again, as we strolled, Mike and Mat both gave us some history of the parts of Berlin we were walking through, helping feed our ever present desire for knowledge about the places we visit. We arrived back at the Hotel Adlon full (both food and information-wise), tired, and happy.

Brandenburger Tor lit up at night for the Festival of Lights

Brandenburger Tor lit up at night for the Festival of Lights

Our final achievement for the day was discovering that our shower in the Hotel Adlon also featured a steam bath button, allowing us to thoroughly warm up after freezing all day long. What a brilliant feature for showers in cold climates! (Note: The kids’ shower did not have this feature – something we teased them about incessantly.)

Note: Larger versions of the above photos as well as a dozen additional images can be found at Jake’s Flickr Page.

 

The Harraseeket Inn in Freeport, Maine

October 22nd, 2008 at 11:40 am (AST) by Jake Richter

While we’ve not had any new adventures since we arrived in Freeport, Maine a couple of days ago – other than lots of shopping for clothing and other goods we want but probably don’t need, I wanted to mention a gem we did discover, courtesy of our travel agents at American Express.

That gem is the Harraseeket Inn on the northern end of Main Street, just two blocks from the massive L.L. Bean store. The Harraseeket Inn happens to also be the only lodging right on Main Street near all the shopping, but this exclusive situation has done nothing to diminish the quality of the service and offerings at the Inn.

The Harraseeket Inn has approximately 90 rooms, each featuring quarter canopied beds in spacious rooms with well appointed bathrooms. And, very important to us, they were able to confirm connecting rooms for us, with a king bed (and a two person jacuzzi tub) in one room and two double beds in the other. The rooms are out fitted with a variety of “green” things, including special lightbulbs in the fixtures, green bathroom products such as soap with a hole in the middle to cut down on waste (weird but true), and indeed, if you leave your towels hanging, housekeeping will not replace them.

Even though the three story inn is huge in terms of rooms, there’s a sort of quaintness one associates with smaller New England bed and breakfast properties. Part of that is due to the trim and fixtures, such as the well distributed (and lit) fireplaces (there are 23 of them throughout the property). There’s also a heated swimming pool and an exercise room.

And the best buffet breakfast of our entire trip so far was included with our stay. A nice, and unexpected, benefit.

But one of the real treats we discovered last night was the Maine Dining Room, one of the Inn’s two restaurants. The Maine Dining Room offers fine dining featuring locally produced and grown goods, from meats and cheese to produce and berries. Everything is freshly prepared in the kitchen, including the pasta for the lobster ravioli served to us. They also have a nice selection of wines by the glass and bottle. Linda and I enjoyed a wonderful 2004 Marilyn Remark Marsanne from Monterey County in California.

Our meals included parsnip and celery soup, a Caesar salad made table side, red snapper, duck confit wrapped in cucumber, and scallops. And deserts sampled by the table included a relatively low-carb lemon marscapone tort and home made blueberry pie a la mode. And the service was quite good as well.

As an extra bonus, it turned out that the server who prepared our Caesar salad for us knew of Bonaire, and more interestingly, her sister and brother-in-law owned a house on our island. And, we discovered that we actually knew her brother-in-law, as he was a fellow artist (photography) on Bonaire. Small world!

We also had lunch in the Broad Arrow Tavern, a rustic looking place with creaky floors and quite tasty food. Although we must say that the lobster stew there was not nearly as good as that at Chester Pike’s Galley up in Sullivan. But the tavern’s great atmosphere, good service, and menu variety is a treat.

One other plus of staying at the Inn is being able to walk to pretty much all the hundred plus stores, many of them designer outlet stores, found in the shopping mecca that Freeport has become. That also means you have a safe and convenient place to drop off your shopping if your loads get too heavy (as happened a couple of times during our stay).

In summary The Traveling Richters highly recommend a stay at the Harrseeket Inn during your next Freeport shopping pilgrimage, or at the very least a dinner in the Inn’s Maine Dining Room, should you be in the area.

At present we’re driving to New Hampshire (and on-line thanks to a Sprint Data Dongle). We’ve just crossed the 2000 mile mark for driving on our Northeast tour. Works out to 1000 miles/week that we’ve had the vehicle. That’s about what we put on our truck on Bonaire in three months of heavy driving. Wow.