Shanghai Blue Sky – Sunset

Blue Sky

Earlier this morning I was amazed to see the Shanghai blue sky – rare occurrence – and this late afternoon, I had the pleasure of seeing that blue sky in the sunset as well.

Well, it is good to see that!

You can take a look at the photos below and decide for yourself – cool, right?

China Shanghai Zhabei

[caption id="attachment_8856" align="aligncenter" width="1000"]China Shanghai Puxi Sunset And Another Panorama Photo of Sunset in Shanghai, Puxi

What do you think?   Cool stuff, right?  Enjoy!

 

 

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Shanghai Blue Sky

Blue Sky

These days it seems to be the norm to be talking about the levels of pollution in China.  Some cities here seems like never get blue sky, so it is exciting to see a bright and sunny day happen.

Today is such a day in Shanghai….This morning the sky was clear and eventhough it is still pretty hot and humid – it was nice to see the clouds moving along and big swaths of blue sky everywhere 🙂

China Shanghai Puxi

Surprisingly also, the Air Quality Intdex – AQI – for Shanghai today at 9am was at 21…. For comparison, Austin, TX – which has very good air quality was at 37!

Good to see the progress the city of Shanghai is making!

 

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Puxi Views – at Night and in the Storm

Puxi Views

This weekend, in Shanghai, I had the good opportunity to experience an awesome thunder and lightning storm while at the 19th floor of our high-rise.  It was pretty impressive

Right before the stort, the night was quiet and relatively clear – so I was able to take a few shots (without a tripod) of the view from West Beijing Road towards the Bund.

China Shanghai Puxi

And another photo of this view but this time with a zoom…. Interesting skyline

China, Shanghai, Puxi China Shanghai Puxi

The storm came later that Saturday evening – with howling wind and tons of lightning strikes.  I managed to capture one of them with my camera – wish it was less blurry – but again – taken without a tripod…Manual controls, 4-second exposure….I am amazed I even captured this one.

 

 

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Visiting Venice: ATVO Bus Company – What a Great Experience!

ATVO Bus Company saves the day!

I had a very positive experience with the ATVO bus company in Italy / Treviso.  Last week, I arrived on a Ryanair flight from Sofia (Bulgaria) at Treviso.  Our objective was to get to Venice.  We had been traveling since 5:30am that day – first driving for 2.5 hours to the Sofia airport (from the mountains in Bulgaria) and then waiting and flying to Treviso. Perhaps the sequence of events that followed can be blamed partly on a lack of sleep, but personally, I think the blame lies primarily with the dangerous lure of the seat back pocket.

Italy  Venice

Once we boarded the bus (with luggage in the storage area of the bus) I had taken my laptop out of a backpack to make sure it did not get damaged.  For convenience, I had put it in the mesh pocket of the seat in front of me…..and somehow, I ended up leaving it there when we arrived in Venice and disembarked the bus. Note to self–never put anything in the seat back pocket that you don't want to lose!

It wasn't until the next morning that we discovered the laptop's absence, and needless to say, I was horrified!  We rushed to the hotel front desk to see if they could help us call the company and look for it.  The front desk could not reach anyone based on the phone numbers from ATVO's web site, but I eventually managed to find a number with a live person on the other end, and I passed the phone over to the front desk clerk, who subsequently relayed the information that we would need to call back later that day and see if anything found.

Too keyed up to simply wait until later, we decided to go to the main bus station in Venice and try our luck there.  Once we arrived, we spoke with an Italian clerk guy who really did not speak much English and who also told us to come back in the afternoon….at an undetermined time 🙂

Luckily, my wife found a number for the Treviso airport ATVO office where we had originally boarded the bus…and sadly the number was not correct.   But then the Venice clerk gave us a brochure that had a similar number but with one more zero – that worked!

Now came the very pleasant surprise. I called and spoke with 'Alicia', and shockingly, a laptop matching my description had been turned in!!!!  After several minutes of back and forth – mostly me trying to explain what a laptop was – Alicia, who was extremely helpful, concluded that this laptop was indeed mine and offered to send it to Venice on the next bus.   She was very eager to do so, and when I told her, "No I will come over to Treviso", she was somewhat surprised.  However, I just couldn't wait, so I jumped on the bus and an hour later I had my laptop in my hands…!

What an experience!   Once again, I must commend the ATVO Bus company, Alicia and the kind stranger who found and turned in the laptop to ATVO. There is so much negative news in the world that you sometimes forget the important fact that most people are kind and decent. This experience really brought that into focus for me.

Venice is a beautiful place – you can see it in my photo book available on Amazon.   But the people at ATVO made it even nicer.  Thank you!

 

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Venice – Sneak Preview

This gallery contains 4 photos.

Venice Through My Viewfinder  

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American Airlines International Business Class – Disappointment

American Airlines International Business Class

Do you have any experience with American Airlines International Business Class?

I have been a loyal AA and OneWorld frequent flyer since 1998!  You can imagine the miles I have accumulated over that time.  Let me put it this way – I have been at Executive Platinum for the last 10 years or so, and have a life time Platinum due to the number of miles flown.

So, when my family decided to take a vacation to Europe this summer, I decided that we will fly on American  – of course – and use some of my system wide upgrades to have us in international business class across the Atlantic between the US and Heathrow.

All of us were excited…Lie-flat seats, Entertainment, Premium dining….!

This is what we expected:  

American Airlines International Business Class

This is what American Airlines advertises on their Web page

Well, turns out our experience was less than great.  On the flight to Heathrow, our meals were inedible!  I kid you not. I had a wedge salad and roast beer.   Please see the pictures below and you will know what I am about to say:

American Airlines Premium Dining International Business Class

Premium Dining? Really?

American Airlines Premium Dining International Business Class

Would you consider this Premium Dining..? I do not

American Airlines Premium Dining International Business Class

How does one cut this Wedge salad with a butter knife? I could not

The wedge salad was impassible to eat – it was a hunk of lettuce which I had to slide with a butter knife… .How?!?!  Others on the plane could not either….

Then, the main course – Beef sounds exciting — well, it was NOT!   It was shoe leather like, no taste, and please see the dish with sauce – it was spilled all over the place.

All in all – the dishes went back to where they came from.  I barely touched them…

The flight attendant noticed (I think others were in the same boat) – and asked me with an apology – “Should I bring you something else?”   I thanked her and did not take her up on the offer… I could not imagine the rest was any better.   

Our flight back from Heathrow, 9 days later, was not much better.  There was no wedge salad.. Thanks for small mercy!

The entertainment system was another story – on the flight from Heathrow to DFW, most of the business class passengers had the same experience – the system was not working properly… Oh, well – it is a premium experience 🙂

Needless to say – American, your service has SLIPPED big time!  I would not call our experience – all of my family flew business – anything to write home about!

 

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Bulgaria Off the Beaten Track – Karanovo Thracian Tomb

Karanovo Thracian Tomb

Several years ago I went to this site when it was relatively new and even less known.  So this year, on our recent trip to Bulgaria, I decided to bring the family, especially given that my daughter had developed a relatively high interest in ancient Greece, and the ancient world overall…

Guess what !?!? – Bulgaria is full of antique places, ancient ruins are all over the country, and there are plenty of places to visit and experience archeological finds which are rare and to a large extent inaccessible in most parts of the world.   Here you can see excavated artifacts which are usually accessible in such form only to archeologists with a lot of experience and while on specific digs.

See the pictures below and you will know what I mean

Bulgaria Karanovo Thracian Tomb

Four-wheeled chariot of Thracian Aristocrat – 1st century AD

Two horses and a dog accompanied the disassembled chariot placed in the ancient tomb.  It was really interesting to get so close to the dig and the findings…

Here is one more photo from the tomb and the vista at the entrance of the tomb – very impressive sight overall….

Bulgaria Stara Zagora Karanovo Thracian Tomb

Thracian Tomb at Karanovo

The tomb is located about 29 kilometers from Stara Zagora in Southern Bulgaria.  Finding the place is NOT easy.  Finding Karanovo is relatively speaking OK – just use Google maps and you will find the road to the village.  Getting to the tomb is a feat on its own.  No signs point to it.  Enter the village with your car and start heading towards the Northeast part of the settlement and plan to exit the village.  Most likely you will have to ask somehow – ask for “Mogilata” phonetic pronunciation…

Unfortunately Google Maps failed us on finding the exact path to the tomb.  We asked some local guys and one of them guided us on his motorcycle with us following in a car…

I will plan to publish more photos soon. 

Bulgaria Karanovo Stara Zagora Thracian Tomb

View from the Karanovo Eastern Tomb

 

Here is a link to a brief guide and photo book I setup on Amazon.com – hopefully you will find it useful.   Thanks!

 

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Beijing Airport – United Star Alliance

Beijing Airport

I have always relied on my frequent flyer knowledge and status to be able to get quickly and efficiently through most airports around the world.  That usually works!  However, it absolutely does not at the Beijing airport…

Earlier today (or rather 17 hours ago) I pulled in into the airport following a long ride from Shandi (in North West Beijing) with a very comfortable 3 hours buffer before my flight to Chicago.

The rude awakening started right after I got my boarding pass – which was very fast indeed.  I kid you not – going through immigration control and security took such a long time that by the time I was in the departure halls of the airport I had about 35 minutes before boarding.

Next, I needed to send several emails before boarding the plane.  Easy task in most cases – just find the first available United or partner club.  I did – Air China Business Lounge.  Here, another case of “wait…and wait…and wait some more….” – the situation was slightly better than the picture from the waiting masses at the intersection of JianGuo Ave and 3rd loop road access road…below

China Beijing Guomao

The crowd waiting to cross the street …near Guomao

Eventually I was able to check-in into the lounge and ask for the WiFi access code.   In case you do not know – in China WiFi access is strictly controlled by the government.  You need to get access code either via your mobile phone or via your passport – so big brother knows who is accessing the Net.

So, I got a code – I rushed to find a spot with an electrical outlet to plug in and send my emails.  The frustration came back again.  Multiple outlets not working ….and the code for the WiFi access did not work either.  I rushed back to the front desk.  The original employee who gave me the 8888 code still insisted it is the correct one.  Another lady stepped in – typed in  1111 and magic, the WiFi connected.   The first dude calmly said – “Oh, the code has changed…!”  No way professor – was my retort… Really, you think?!?!

At any rate, when in China – do not forget to push hard – or you wont get what you need!

Other than that – China is great!

China Beijing Guomao

 

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Air Travel – Not Great These Days

Air Travel 

Optical effect of high speedI believe over the last few years all of us, no matter whether frequent or leisure flyers have experienced progressive troubles with Air Travel.  Gone are the days (I think I never saw or experienced them) when traveling by plane was supposedly glamorous.  Today, while accessible to larger and larger percentage of the world’s population, flying has become tedious and borderline uncomfortable.

Personal experiences and those of others described in multiple articles are uncovering tons of issues that the traveling public experience while taking flights, especially in the US.  

Why is the number being so large these days?  What drives this apparent increase in frequency of occurrence?   

I do believe the issues have existed all along – but previously, the boiling point had not been reached.  Now we have tons of actions being taken by the airlines

  • Reducing seat pitch – i.e. the between seats distance.  American Airlines is reportedly cutting the space from a spot in the seat to the same spot on the seat in front of it (otherwise known as seat pitch) from 31-inches to 29-inches.    This is a big deal!  For most traveling people – this will hugely impact comfort — i.e. forget about comfort…Period!  (these changes are apparently only on American’s Boeing 737 – so most likely only on US flights – but still – you could be on a plane with that seat pitch across the continent – i.e. 5+ hours!  Ouch!   
  • Then you have United with multiple issues:  They completely misdirected a passenger – sending her to San Francisco instead of the ticketed – Paris – destination.   Beats me!  How can that happen – with all the security checking and intrusion in your time at the airport – to send a passenger on a completely wrong plane!  Incredible…
  • Ready for a fight?  Literally…!  As per American Airlines’ certain employees, that is how problems can be resolved!  In the case described in multiple articles and YouTube posted video, it is seen how aggressive some employees could be.  




The list can be continued, but I think at this point in time you get the picture.  There were certainly mess ups before.  I have encountered on multiple occasions when the airline personnel was not aware of their own airline rules and would hold on tight to their belief and be pretty snotty all the way up to the point in time where I would have a supervisor from the call-in center speak with a supervisor at the airport to correct things….!  This has happened to me (and I am a frequent flyer with multiple airlines) – American Airlines in Chicago – the situation was pretty tense – I decided to hold my ground and eventually had a supervisor from the exec platinum desk on the phone with a Chicago airport supervisor to correct the view of a gate agent!!!  So I can fully believe the situations we just read about and saw in publications – links above….

High-Above-AsiaWhat I am very curious about is why so fewer issues with air travel on Asian airlines.  I certainly fly frequently with Air China, JAL, China Southern, China Air (Taiwan), EVA and some times with Singapore Airlines and JET Air….Rarely had the experiences listed above.

Do you think there are similar issues there?  Comment on this article….

In the mean time, try to be patient and hopefully things will improve now that there is so much pressure on the airlines to get their customer service in order….Let’s hope!

 

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Voss Water – Crazy Expensive

Voss Water

I thought I had seen it all – not really – but an interesting saying nevertheless… Voss water shocked me.  A couple of weeks ago my family and I traveled to the Bay area.  We stayed in a Marriott hotel, downtown San Jose.  This was all uneventful until I came across a bottle of water, for sale, in the hotel suite we stayed in.

What is special about this water?  Nothing, based on what I understand….except for the PRICE!  Please see the picture below

Voss Water

So, what is on the photo – the PRICE of $4.00.  Yes, the water is transported from Norway.  But still…!  $4 for 500ml 




Now, what does this translate to – well, to a humongous price.  Let’s compare it to price of gasoline.  In the US, the price of gas is about $2.5 per gallon.  OK, in California it is $3.5 per gallon.

So, do the math…. This 500ml bottle of water is approximately 1/8 of a gallon.  Therefore 7-8x the price of the bottle of Voss will be the volume of a gallon of gasoline.  7-8x $4 is $28~$32 per gallon!  –> so the price of VOSS is about 8-times higher than that of gasoline!

What a great deal….NOT!

Well, I am not buying it.  But then, that is the beauty of market pricing.  There must be enough folks who are willing to pay….Good luck!

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