Name: Donna, aka "Donna Airoldi"
Web Site: http://prepareforcrosscheck.com
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- Decide whether to go by tour or on your own. If you go by tour, when reviewing prices, remember that the actual admission price to the museum is CNY90 (US$13).
- Getting there by tour. Whether you’re a luxury traveler or backpacker, odds are your hotel or hostel will be selling a day package to visit the Terra Cotta Warriors museum. Often these trips are paired with other nearby attractions, and prices will vary significantly. Make sure you choose a tour that includes admission to all the sites, gives you enough time at each place to actually see and enjoy them, and picks you up and drops you off at your hotel.
- Getting there independently. Save money and manage your own time by taking public bus No. 306 to the museum, which is the end point on the route. Cost is CNY7 (US$1) each way, with stops at the Tomb of Qin Shi Huang and Huaqing Hot Springs, and takes 30 minutes. Board at the Xi’an train station parking lot in the section to the right of the station as you face it.
- Bring binoculars or a camera with a telephoto lens. Except for a few figures enclosed in glass in Pit 2, you won’t get up close to any of the warriors in the three pits.
- Wear comfortable shoes. The ticket office is a long way from the parking lot, and the actual entrance even farther. It’s about a half mile in total, so not bad, but be prepared if you have any kind of foot troubles. Mini bus transport was available for some groups from the ticket office to the museum entrance.
- Audio guide. I enjoyed the self-guided audio tour, which includes about 90 minutes of information. Cost: CNY40 (US$4.85). As is the case in most museums in China, you need to leave a hefty deposit—CNY200 (US$30)—for the device, which you’ll get back when you return it. One drawback: Once you listen to a segment, you cannot go back and listen again.
- Hiring a guide. If you’re not already on a tour, you’ll be approached near the ticket office by independent guides-for-hire. Prices vary, so be ready to bargain. If you want a private tour, say so, otherwise you might end up as part of a small group your guide has pulled together.
- Be prepared for crowds. Bus loads of crowds. And these folks will not hesitate to push you out of the way for their perfect photo op. Busiest times are mornings and early afternoon. You can see the entire site in a couple of hours, so even if you don’t get there until 2 p.m., you’ll have plenty of time before the museum closes at 5.
- Skip the introductory film. Unless you want to chuckle at the 1970s made-for-TV production values of this film, head right to the excavation pits.
- View Pit 3 first, then Pit 2. The small Pit 3 has the lowest lighting and just 70 warriors and horses, but they were positioned face-to-face, suggesting this was the headquarters of the Terra Cotta Army. Pit 2 is larger, with more than 1,000 figures, including those kneeling while in a shooting position. Excavations are ongoing, and this is also the room where you can see five glass-enclosed warriors of differing ranks up close in order to appreciate the project’s craftsmanship and amazing level of detail.
- Save Pit 1 for last. This room is the most imposing and the most impressive. There are estimated to be about 6,000 figures buried here, most of which still haven’t been unearthed. You walk the circumference of the large pit, taking in the row upon row of warriors and horses. This room also is the hardest to maneuver through when the crowds are at their peak.
- Enjoy the surroundings. The area around the pits and other buildings is nicely landscaped with trees, flowers, paved paths, benches, and cafes and souvenir shops, for those needing a break or looking to take home a set of warrior miniatures.
- approximately 15 to 20 more dining establishments
- a 2,500-room luxury hotel
- more than 1.3 million square feet of meeting and event space, including what will be Asia’s largest ballroom
- two theatres—The Lion King will be the resort’s first production, opening in September 2010
- an ArtScience Museum
- an indoor ice skating rink
- more than 300 shops, including a Louis Vuitton island store that will “float” on the water, Hermès, Chanel, Tiffany & Co., and other noted luxury brands
- and the crowing feature, the Sands SkyPark, a 1,200-foot-long green space situated 650 feet above the ground on top of the project’s three high-rise towers. That’s four football fields in length folks. The park also will offer sweeping view of the Singapore skyline, three swimming pools (including an affinity pool), a restaurant and what will be the longest public observation cantilever in the world—cool and scary all at the same time. In the demo I viewed at the Sands offices in Singapore, from a distance it looks like a cruise ship landed on top of the towers.
- Water. Buy a big bottle before you board. Better yet, bring an empty bottle and fill it up from the fountain after you pass through security. Don’t forget a small spray bottle, too. Keeping your skin hydrated is as important as your body, especially after enduring several hours of enclosed stale air. Evian sells an ideal 1.7-ounce size for $5.50.
- Lip balm, hand cream and face moisturizer. See hydration note above. Reapply regularly.
- A travel set including a blanket, earplugs, eye cover and neck pillow (the cushioned ones are more comfortable, but inflatable ones save space). I’m a big fan of DreamSacks and its travel kits, especially the luxury set with a silk/cashmere blanket and silk carry-case that fits a travel pillow nicely. Prices from $59.
- Ear-covering headphones. Those in-ear plugs hurt like hell.
- Slippers. I get out of my street shoes before I even board the plane.
- A silk scarf/shawl to block those pesky drafts.
- A small toiletries bag with travel-sized deodorant, mouthwash, toothbrush, toothpaste, tissues, pain relievers, stomach aids and, for women, tampons or liners. Be prepared, even if between cycles. Trust me.
- Reading material, puzzles, MP3 player, laptop—anything to keep you occupied during your flight.
- Snacks. Even though most international flights are pretty good about supplying food and beverages, you never know when you’ll get the munchies. I’m partial to the trail mix packages from Trader Joe’s. Nuts and raisins—what’s not to love.
- Moist towelettes. Great for cleaning up before and after a snack and for getting newspaper ink off your hands.
- Makeup. Not a lot. A simple face powder and lipstick will do. Nothing helps you look less like a zombie after 15 cramped hours in the air than a bit of color on your face and lips.
- A carry-on bag or purse with multiple pockets for organization of everything listed above, and easy access to your passport and boarding pass.
With 8,000 thousand figures, 10,000 weapons, 670 horses, 130 chariots and three archaeological pits, it’s easy to see why the Museum of Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses of Qin Shi Huang in Xi’an is one of the most popular tourist attractions in China. I spent a half-day at the site on my recent month-long trip to the country and pulled together the following visitor tips.
First, A Brief History
This life-size clay army was buried near the tomb of Qin Shi Huang in order to guard him into the afterlife, as well as perhaps entertain him since figures of acrobats and musicians were included along with warriors. Qin Shi Huang was a bit of a badass who declared himself the first emperor of China after conquering the warring states surrounding his Qin state, thereby unifying them into the vast Asian country intact today. He ruled from 221 B.C. until his death in 210 B.C. Discovered by local farmers in 1974, the archeological site remains active, with ongoing digs and restorations.
(Photos: Donna M. Airoldi)
Even if Xi’an isn’t on your travel radar, you can get an even better look at these impressive figures at the Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor exhibit opening Nov. 19 at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C., with 15 soldiers on view until March 31, 2010. Read TravelMuse’s coverage of the show from when it was in Atlanta earlier this year.
In addition to Singapore, which I wrote about on Friday, Chicago is another great dining destination—I’m not saying that merely because it’s my hometown. You can get not only fantastic casual (pizza, sausages), ethnic (Mexican, Thai), and traditional (steakhouse, diner) meals there, but also some of the best fine-dining in the country, from the legendary Charlie Trotter (Charlie Trotter’s) to the innovative Grant Achatz (Alinea).
On my recent return visit, there were three new places both friends and strangers consistently mentioned: Xoco, Terzo Piano and Nightwood.
Xoco, 449 N. Clark St. (enter on Illinois), 312-334-3688, www.xocochicago.com
Xoco is the latest establishment from one of Chicago’s most famous chefs, Rick Bayless. It opened on Sept. 8, and the lines have been out the door ever since. Bayless made a name for himself with Mexican cuisine (at restaurants Frontera Grill and Topolobampo) and continues to do so with Xoco. This time around the focus is on Mexican street food.
The Almendrado chocolate and churros at Xoco. (Credit: Donna M. Airoldi)
I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of Frontera—I’ve enjoyed better food (and prices) in other Chicago Mexican restaurants that were more authentic and didn’t come with a room full of North Side and suburban yuppies—so I wasn’t entirely looking forward to the experience. However, I was pleasantly surprise this time. My two dining companions and I were all impressed, especially with the “Bean-to-Cup Chocolate,” quite possible the best hot chocolate outside of Spain or Mexico. Be sure to get the 3-for-$3 churros—crunchy and cinnamon-coated on the outside, soft on the inside—for dipping. I also was quite taken with the homemade tortilla chips.
The tortas (served after 11 a.m.) come on traditional Mexican breads: bolillo, similar to a baguette, for those from the wood-burning oven; telera, slightly rounder and softer, for the pressed sandwiches. My conchinita pibil—wood-roasted suckling pig with achiete, black beans, pickled onion and habanero—was tender, tasty and, when dipped in the fiery accompanying sauce, tingly. The caldos (soups) sounded divine—shortrib red chile soup with braised tallgrass shortribs, red chile broth, roasted vegetables, epazote, wild arugula and lime, anyone?—but are served after 3 p.m., so we were too early to taste those. The breakfast menu, served until 10:30 a.m., tempted as well.
Xoco is the smallest and most casual of Bayless’ restaurants: no reservations accepted, and you stand in line (plan on at least an hour or longer), then place your order at the register—but not before you’re handed a card, indicating that there is a seat available for you. It’s daunting/annoying at first, but works surprisingly well, provided you don’t mind the long wait.
Average prices: Breakfast, $2 to $7.50; Tortas, $8 to $12; Caldos, $10.50 to $12.50; Salads and Sides, $3 to $8.50; Hot Chocolate, $2.50 to $3.25. Hours: Tue. to Thu., 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Fri., 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sat., 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.; closed Sun. and Mon.
Terzo Piano, 150 E. Monroe St. (third floor of the Modern Wing, Art Institute of Chicago), 312-443-8650, www.terzopianochicago.com
We called for a Monday reservation, but the restaurant was booked full. No surprise since the place is overseen by chef Tony Mantuano, of fame, and open for dinner just one night per week (Thursdays). We tried our luck with a cancellation, showed up at noon, and were seated in the slick, modern (natch), all-white-décor dining room within 15 minutes. Not bad.
Dietzler Farm stead salad; interior at Terzo Piano. (Credit: Donna M. Airoldi)
The food wasn’t bad either. My friend and I were each in the mood for healthy greens. She tried the Mizuna salad with Miller’s organic chicken breast, avocado, cilantro, lime and ginger cashew dressing. My Dietzler Farm steak salad with arugula, orange, kalamata olives and almonds with a caper-mustard dressing was quite good—and I was thrilled with the hefty amount of meat included, which was cooked perfectly rare. I preferred the steak over the chicken (which was a tad bland), and while chock full of fresh ingredients, we both agreed that each salad suffered from a heavy-handed pour of dressing, and mine was a tad too salty. Lesson learned: ask for the dressing on the side.
The dessert selections were spot on, however—light, with just enough sugar to satisfy a sweet tooth. It was difficult to decide between the local wildflower honey panna cotta with autumn fruit compote and rosemary, and the almond financier with blueberry thyme compote and crème fraîche sorbet. We chose the latter, which came instead with cranberry compote since the kitchen was out of blueberries.
Lunch prices: Appetizers, $7 to 16; Sandwiches/Salads, $15 to $19; Pasta/Entrees, $18 to $25; Desserts, $9. Hours: Lunch, Mon. to Sun., 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Antipasti and Aperitivo, Thu., 3 to 5 p.m.; Dinner (ala carte or $45 3-course prix fixe), Thu. only, 5 to 9 p.m.
Nightwood, 2119 S. Halsted St. (Pilsen neighborhood), 312-526-3385, www.nightwoodrestaurant.com
No fewer than five individuals recommended this place, open since May. And how could they not, when the owners are the husband-and-wife team (Jason Hammel and Amalea Tshilds) behind Lula Café, a fantastic restaurant in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. It has been getting raves since it opened 10 years ago (and is where, I’m told, local chefs go to eat when they’re not working in their own kitchens).
Nightwood interior. (Credit: Jason Little Photography)
The menu changes daily as all ingredients are sourced from local farms and markets, for a locavore’s dream meal. One consistency: many dishes are wood-grilled. Those that have impressed local critics in recent months: “anything with chicken liver … potato gnocchi with tomato and corn … spit-roasted pork loin accompanied by roasted apricots and topped with a delicious blend of chopped olives and crème fraîche,” suggested Phil Vettel in the Chicago Tribune. “A brioche bread pudding appetizer was homey and inspired … the woodsy scent of the cheeseburger (worth ordering for the crisp french fries alone) hints at the meat’s earthy flavor,” wrote Time Out Chicago’s Julia Kramer.
Alas, I was unable to make it to this South Side newcomer before my visit ended as I staying on the North Side and was carless. However I have no doubt the trip would have been worth the effort via public transportation, had I had the time, given how much I adore Lula (where I did manage to get in an amazing dinner last week). Readers, next time you’re in Chicago, you’ll just have to try it and let me know how it goes.
Prices: Appetizers, $7 to $10; Entrees, $13 to $26; Desserts, $2.50 to $8; Brunch entrees, $6 to $14. Hours: Dinner, Tue. to Sat., 5:30 to 11 p.m.; Sun. Brunch, 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Closed Mon.
Singapore has long been known as a great dining destination, and it just keeps getting better. During my third visit to the island city-state two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of enjoying some of the most memorable dining experiences I’ve had in a long time at Michael Han’s FiftyThree and the Tippling Club, which takes gastro-chemistry to a new level.
Today I’m excited to share the news that the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore has signed on six of the world’s best (and most famous) chefs to open restaurants in the new mega-resort, which is slated to open next year. Daniel Boulud, whose New York restaurant Daniel recently earned three Michelin stars, announced his participation yesterday. The remaining five chefs announced today include two more Americans, Mario Batali (New York) and Wolfgang Puck (Los Angeles), along with Santi Santamaria (Barcelona), Guy Savoy (Paris) and Tetsuya Wakuda (Sydney).
It’s a real coup to have three of the six chefs from the United States. As Boulud—who, yes, is from France, but has more than half of his 10 restaurants in the United States—noted during a press luncheon yesterday, “Before, only French chefs had the chance to travel to work outside their country. Today, we’re seeing more U.S. chefs have that opportunity, which means we just keep getting better.” Great news for food lovers the world over.
There were no immediate details on the specs for the six eateries, but Boulud said that his restaurant will be a DB Bistro Modern serving French food, with about 120 seats, including a decent-sized bar, where guests also can order food.
Photo: Courtesy of Marina Bay Sands Singapore
The Marina Bay Sands project is a massive $5.5 billion development along the Singapore waterfront that will bring the first casino to Singapore. It is being developed by Las Vegas Sands Corp., owner and operator of the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas and other casino resorts around the world. In addition to the six destination restaurants and a casino, the project will include:
Photo: Courtesy Marina Bay Sands Singapore
According to Las Vegas Sands Corp. president Michael Leven, the target opening date of Phase I of the project is late Q1 2010, but that depends on the delicate engineering process of raising the sections of the SkyPark, which began on Oct. 1, and hopefully will be completed by the end of November.
To learn more about the Marina Bay Sands Singapore project, visit www.marinabaysands.com.
Hardly anyone looks forward to being trapped on an airplane for hours on end, but long-haul flights are unavoidable if you like to travel the globe, as I do.
I’m writing this from Tokyo’s Narita Airport on my three-hour layover while waiting for my nine-hour connecting flight to Singapore, fresh(ish) from my 13.5-hour flight from New York. That’s about 25 hours of transit folks, not counting time to and from the airports.
I’m usually pretty good with these marathon itineraries since I often doze off prior to takeoff, but today I’m suffering from a triple whammy of discomfort: a sinus headache, which is threatening to become a migraine; that time of the month; and an upset stomach. Oh, and did I mention that I’m in coach the entire way, and my seatback entertainment system broke about two hours into my initial flight? What a way to spend a birthday.
TMI? Perhaps. But I’m writing this because I made the mistake of packing when I was tired and inadvertently put my carry-on toiletries kit in my checked luggage, plus forgot to pack a book—silly me—so all this forced meditation time got me thinking about just what carry-on items are essential for long-haul flights, at least for me.
So here’s my preferred in-fight packing list—“perfected” over the past 25-plus years of international travel.
Well, that has me covered. What are your essential carry-on items?
I’m now going to pop a few of the over-priced Tylenol pills I snagged at the airport drugstore and hope to pass out until just before we land in Singapore. More to come on this island city-state next week.
Hot on the heels of my Israel trip in March, the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) outpost in Napa Valley offered a one-day class on how to make Middle Eastern street foods. I signed up immediately, and the $75 half-day class was one of the best cooking lessons I’ve ever taken.
What made it great was its intense hands-on experience—no pre-prepared dishes, no watching the chef demonstrate steps, no slacking off while your partner does most of the work. After he taught us where to find the needed ingredients and equipment, along with some basic rules—how to handle knifes (from cutting to cleaning), operate the ovens, and properly maintain and clean your work space—our chef instructor Andy Wild treated us as if we were regular full-time students and knew our way around a professional kitchen.
Burns and cuts were entirely likely.
Eleven of us showed up that April morning and were paired into groups of two, with less than 90 minutes to prepare, cook and display our dishes, after which we would get to enjoy the fruits of our labor. I drew the proverbial short straw and worked alone, which meant if my dish was inedible, there was no one to blame but moi.
I was charged with making Lamb Kofta With Raita (skewered ground lamb with yogurt-cucumber sauce), which also meant I had to prepare two items, alone, so I needed to haul ass. The sauce needed to chill for at least 30 minutes before it could be served, so I began with grating English cucumbers then mixing them with yogurt, fresh squeezed lemon juice, minced mint leaves, kosher salt and freshly minced garlic made into a paste.
Sounds easy enough, yes? It was, save for the garlic. It takes more strength and repeated mincing to get garlic cloves into a paste than I had anticipated, but I’ve since become a pro at it and regularly include the tasty treat in other dishes.
The raita chilling in the fridge, I moved onto the lamb, which also wasn’t too difficult to prepare since I was able to use packaged ground lamb as opposed to grinding it myself. The time sink is in mincing all the ingredients—Italian parsley, green onions, mint leaves—while the clock keeps ticking. If you’re the type of cook who makes sure all your slices are even, this can take a while—and end up frustrating non-perfectionist (read: less anal) cooks in the kitchen. Chef Wild kept glancing at my slow slicing and at one point offered to speed up my process by cutting the onions for me, but I politely declined. I could do this!
Once kneaded with the salt, cumin, cinnamon, cayenne pepper and freshly ground black pepper, I shaped the lamb paste into little sausages, slid them onto skewers and placed them over a medium-hot fire, turning regularly until all sides were brown, about eight to 10 minutes. I started cooking the koftas with about 12 minutes to go.
Tip: If using wood skewers, make sure to soak them in water first so they don’t catch on fire while over the flames.
As Chef Wild called out how much time remained, we scurried around trying to avoid crashing into each other as we finished our dishes and scrambled to find just the right serving plates to garnish and perfect our presentations. We finished with seconds to spare. Burn-free, fingers intact.
Our feast also included Watercress and Tabbouleh Salad, Falafel, Muhammara (a red pepper dip), Green Harissa (a green pepper dip), Kibbeh Samak (stuffed fish fritters), House Made Pita Chips and Luz Biskwe (almond and cardamom biscuits). CIA provided a red Gamla 2005 wine from the Golan Heights Winery. All was excellent.
Each of us agreed that the class was well worth the investment and significantly helped improve our cooking skills. It took place at CIA’s beautiful Greystone campus in St. Helena, Calif., located 18 miles north of Napa and 8 miles south of Calistoga on Highway 29 (about two hours from San Francisco). CIA began to offer its culinary continuing education classes this year, as local laws changed recently to allow nonprofessionals to participate.
Greystone was built in 1889 as a cooperative winery, and from 1950 to 1990 it was home to the Christian Brothers, a Catholic teaching order, which produced its own brand of wines. Be sure to walk around the grounds and take in the vineyards and flower and herb gardens. Students also get a 10 percent discount in the CIA store.
CIA offers weekend culinary enthusiast classes at its Hyde Park, N.Y., and San Antonio, Texas locations, too. Upcoming courses: North African Spice Kitchen, Baking at Home—The Desserts, and Sharpening Your Knife Skills. I think that last one has a space reserved just for me.
For schedules and additional information, visit www.ciachef.edu.
(Photos: Donna M. Airoldi)