Photo of the Day – Hong Kong Junk

I don’t know that any city in the world can match the sheer “wow” factor of Hong Kong’s harbor. The city’s massive skyscrapers sit precariously perched on the lips of mountainous islands, always looking as if they’re about to fall into the sea. There’s probably no better way to take in the incredible view of this marvelous city than from the confines of a boat, particularly aboard a line like the Star Ferry. Flickr user wesleyrosenblum provides us with a fine example what the view from a Hong Kong boat ride might look like. In front of you is ancient Chinese Junk, its bright red mast floating in the breeze. Behind, Hong Kong Island aglow at twilight, a shimmering sea below and a sky of dusty orange and soft blue above. Perfect.

Taken any great travel photos of your own? Why not add them to our Gadling group on Flickr? We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.

Cleveland in 36 hours and some

This past Sunday’s New York Times’ article “36 Hours in Cleveland” did the city proud. Writer Brett Sokol captured most of the must-sees of Cleveland’s many faces that range from the down home blue collar to the artsy and highbrow. I was particularly pleased to see a nod to Lilly Handmade Chocolates in the Tremont district. The pink-haired owner is a delight and the chocolates exquisite. Think manna from heaven. Please go there because I so want this upbeat business to succeed.

For anyone planning a few days trip to Cleveland, print off Sokol’s article as a basic guide but add to the itinerary. The places I’d add to round out the mix are top notch and next to the ones that Sokol highlights. You’ll have to add a few hours to fit everything in though, otherwise you’ll be racing through Cleveland without enough time to enjoy the view–or savor the food.

Even if you don’t want to pay admission to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, take time to enjoy the building. The atrium and gift shop are free. The building, an I.M. Pei creation, is one of my Cleveland favorites. Some hotels like the Embassy Suites may have a package deal where tickets to the museum are part of the deal. The view of Lake Erie from inside the museum is wonderful.

Next to Rock and Roll is the walkway that heads down to the lake. This is where artist Spencer Tunick set up his shots of naked people. At the end of the walkway you can catch a trip on the Good Time III, the sightseeing boat that travels up the Cuyahoga River. The tour passes under a series of Cleveland’s movable steel bridges that turn and raise to let tall boats through.

This part of Cleveland that edges Lake Erie is also where the Great Lakes Science Center and the Cleveland Browns Stadium are located. The science center boasts a wide range of hands-on exhibits that suit people of all ages. Along the outside wall of the Browns stadium are bronze relief plaques that pay tribute to Football Hall of Famers who played with the Browns.

Before you head to Lilly’s for a chocolate fix, if it’s a Sunday, go to Lucky’s Cafe for brunch. Lucky’s is also on Starkweather Avenue. Be prepared to hold your ground when it comes to getting a table. It’s first come, first serve. Don’t lose your place in line. If you’re with another person, one of you should stake out a table while the other person orders at the counter. The fruit salad with yogurt is absolutely gorgeous and sublime. Personally, I’d have them go sparingly on the honey.

At Lolita, Iron Chef Michael Symon’s restaurant, one of Sokol’s recommendations I second, order appetizers and a pizza for dinner. It’s one way to cut down on the price of a meal and still be able to savor Symon’s brand of creative cooking paired with a glass of wine.

Sokol’s choice of Sokolowiski’s University Inn as another meal location was a brilliant call as a way to contrast Cleveland’s upscale cutting edge creations with its comfort food and ethnic roots. Here I dug into the pirogies and cabbage rolls . Plus, as Sokol notes, the view of Cleveland from this restaurant encapsulates what makes the city unique.

Another area of the city that Sokol captured in his 36 hour spree is University Circle. Although it was “built on the backs of the working people,” as my husband, the son of an auto worker, is fond of saying, wealthy industrialists did put their money to excellent use. For example, The Cleveland Museum of Art, I think, is the grandest museum in Ohio–and it’s free. Recently renovated, the 1916 building is an architectural gem. October 4- January 18, 2010, Paul Gauguin: Paris features 75 of Gauguin’s paintings. Although the main museum is free, this special exhibit has an admission.

Nearby are the Cleveland Botanical Gardens and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Each are also worth a visit. The glass house at the botanical garden features a wonderful canopy walk that is a chance to pretend that you’ve gone to Costa Rica–the version without the rain as Katie recently experienced.

Another of my Cleveland favorites that garnered a Sokol nod is the Westside Market. Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous place. If you want to see the bounty of Cleveland’s ethnic heritage, it’s clearly evident in the mix of food stalls. Asian food newcomers have found their way here as well. Here you can pick something up to take on the road or chow down on there.

Ohio City, where the Westside Market is located, is a restaurant mecca. Within view from each other–most on West 25th Street are Phnom Penh, Bar Cento, and Nate’s Deli and Restaurant . Around the corner on Market Avenue are Great Lakes Brewing Company and Flying Fig. Each of these are excellent. Take your pick depending upon your mood, time of day, financial situation and appetite. There are more eateries than these, but these are the ones I’ve been to and can give a rousing thumbs up.

I.M. Pei creations: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Museum of Islamic Art

When I was recently visiting my friend in Denmark, she remembered going to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum when she visited me 10 years ago. The day we headed inside this I.M. Pei designed building, we didn’t have time to see the museum’s exhibits and films, but I wanted her see Lake Erie from the building’s unique perspective and to enjoy the angles, light and concept of I.M. Pei’s design.

I am a bit of a building nut. A city’s buildings can be one of a city’s selling points. Cleveland has several, but the Hall of Fame is one of my favorites. It’s worth visiting for the architecture alone.

The building juts out onto Lake Erie affording a gorgeous view, creating the sense that the lake is part of the design because of the lobby and atrium. The atrium reaches upwards in a stunning span of glass past each floor’s balcony.

To get the full effect, take the escalator down from the lobby to the ground floor. Although, there’s an admission fee to see the exhibits, you can enjoy aspects of the building and the gift shop for free.

In this New York Times article, Nicolai Ouroussoff waxes poetic about the new Museum of Islamic Art, the latest I.M. Pei creation. The museum located in Doha, Qatar sits on a man-made island.

The way the water is part of the building’s design, reminds me of the Hall of Fame’s positioning. This past November, the art museum opened with fanfare and a plan to be the site of the first Tribeca Film Festival in Doha thanks to plans by actor Robert De Niro.

After reading both Ouroussoff’s article and this Al Arabiya New Channel article about the museum, I felt refreshed.

What both articles point out through their explanation of I.M. Pei’s work and the creation of this museum is that, despite the steady drone of what is horrible in the world, when it comes to conflicts and people’s penchant for not getting along, there’s a whole different side to humanity that gets far too little press. The collection and the building are one way to show the endurance of people’s humanity and vision.

For Doha, the museum offers a broader look at the vastness and scope of Islamic culture. The collection certainly interests me. Because of I.M. Pei’s connection to the building and the vision he describes in the article, Qatar has made it on my list of places to go one day.

* The photo of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is courtesy of the museum’s Web site.

Chinese Buffet – Part 15: Suzhou Museum & Gardens

Chinese Buffet is a month-long series that chronicles the travels of an American woman who visited China for the first time in July 2007.

Located less than an hour from Shanghai by train is Suzhou, a water town that’s been called the “Venice of the East.” One of China’s most ancient cities, with a history that dates back 2,500 years, Suzhou is known for its canals and gardens. I took a day trip (50 RMB round trip via train) to see for myself.

I had hoped to find one of the sightseeing boats I’d read about. Supposedly they depart from the canal near the train station and run through the city’s network of waterways. But there was massive construction taking place in the canal right across from the station — it was dry and full of work crews. Instead, I set out on foot down the main street that cuts through the city – Renmin Lu. Eventually I snuck down some side streets and walked along the canals, sensing a slight resemblance to Mediterranean life here and there along the waterway:

I suspect in cooler weather it could be great fun to spend several hours exploring the alleyways and bridges of Suzhou, but since my time was limited, I wandered with a fairly tight agenda. I wanted to be sure to fit in visits to some of Suzhou’s famous World Heritage recognized gardens. I took a shortcut across the main pedestrian shopping street (Quanqian Jie) and headed south, in search of The Master-of-Nets Garden. Tucked away down an alley full of trinket vendors, this quaint garden was nice and quiet when I arrived. Several guidebooks say it draws the most tourists because it is so charming:

The only group roaming around the grounds was a sketch class. I sat and observed some students as they drew. The crickets sang softly and a slight breeze cooled me down. It was exactly what I expected an ancient garden to provide — shade mixed with silence. I would have liked to linger longer, but I was in desperate need of water…and had an appointment.

I headed off to meet with Peter Goff and see the site for The Bookworm’s newest location. Superbly located along a canal just off Shiquan Jie (a popular bar and restaurant strip), the latest branch of this English-language lending library cafe is set to open in September. We took a short tour of the prime canal-side location where the building renovation is underway:

After our meeting I asked Peter to point me in the direction of the Blue Wave Pavilion. I liked the sound of this garden and knew it was nearby. He directed me towards Canglangting Jie. The garden is also known as the Canglang Pavilion. Spacious and peppered with rock formations, it was also quite empty. I think the hot temps were definitely keeping folks away. But the greenery of the garden actually made it a perfect temporary escape from the hot sun:

At this point I knew I still had a few hours to spare and decided I would switch gears from gardens to museums. Renowned for its silk manufacturing, I debated a visit to the city’s silk museum. But I had recently read an article about the new Suzhou Museum and was craving a contemporary art fix. I jumped in a taxi heading north:

Designed by international architectural superstar I. M. Pei, the new Suzhou Museum opened in October 2006. The original museum, established in 1960, was the former residence of Prince Zhong Wang Fu. This older part still exists at the rear of the museum, but the new “face” created by I. M. Pei brings a bold new look to this corner of the city:

The contemporary design takes its inspiration from the traditional courtyard and ancient gardens that Suzhou is famous for. It houses over 30,000 works from Suzhou and the surrounding Wu region. The four permanent collections include sections on Wu calligraphy, painting and relics.

I. M. Pei’s family lived in Suzhou, in an area that neighbors this museum and is part of another of the city’s ancient gardens. Fans of modern architecture or the work of I. M. Pei should not miss this masterpiece:

I sat by this creative wall waterfall and lotus pool, reflecting on the design elements I had encountered during the day:

From ancient gardens to renovated buildings to modern museums, I sensed a continuity to my Suzhou travels — it seems that what’s old is always new again.