it’s no secret that China has been quietly building infrastructure around the world and buying political influence through the implementation of massive building projects. On recent trips on Zoom Southern Africa, Zoom Rwanda and Tanzania, Zoom India, Zoom Sri Lanka and Zoom Maldives I saw first-hand China’s involvement.
Zoom Vacations is constantly fine tuning trips to make them better and better each time. Some changes and additions are subtle but significant. Here is a list of current and upcoming changes to our roster of award winning trips:
Zoom China - Upgraded hotel location on the iconic riverside Bund. Great shopping area and great river and skyline views of the Bund from our new hotel in Shanghai.
Zoom Argentina - Added an insider tour of the Teatro Colon to the itinerary. If you have even been to the Paris Opera House, you won't want to miss this. The welcome dinner is now at one of the top restaurants in South America, which was likened by one guest to Alinea in Chicago, considered the world's best restaurant.
Zoom Rio Carnaval - Now this trip includes Samdadrome tickets for the main Carnaval parade.
Zoom New Years - A Zoom Lounge will be available on Ipanema Beach with beverages and snacks while you sun tan and watch the hot Cariocas enjoy the beach. Also, a private Corcovado tour has been added to the itinerary.
Zoom Southern Africa August - Cape Town upgraded hotel and confirmed dinner reservations at the hard to get in Test Kitchen.
Zoom Peru - Confirmed dinner reservations at some of the best restaurants in town such as Central and Astrid & Gaston.
Read about our tour to China this May
The biggest misconception about China is that the food is all the same or is weird.
For some, Chop Suey, mysterious, gooey, MSG, salty and deep fried come to mind. However, the reality is that China is a humongous country whose culture is one of the oldest in the history or mankind. So, its foods are just as varied, flavorful, elaborate, and delightful as its geographic locations.
Every city we visit on Zoom China offers a different cuisine. For instance, Shanghainese cuisine is punctuated with hot spicy peppers, and because of its location on the water it highlights ample seafood. In Beijing, Pekinese food incorporates a lot of vegetables; and in Xian the food has a middle eastern flair because Xian was the end of the Silk Road, a vast trading network that lasted for a thousand years, which started in Eastern Europe, snaked its way through the Middle East, and ended in China.
Of course, because cities in China, like Shanghai and Beijing, are very international, the food scene has changed and some of the best French, continental and fusion restaurants can be found in these cities. So, whenever you have a taste for home, western style restaurants are never far away and in fact are very popular with the locals.
Read about our tour to China this May
The world is changing faster than ever. Communism has been reduced to a philosophical ideology that does not translate well to running a government. These are the lessons learned by Cuba and China.
Cuba is finally set to openly embrace capitalism by welcoming more U.S. travelers to an island that has been frozen in time for over 50 years. This means that U.S. citizens will be able to travel there with more ease, use credit cards and bring back Cuban products like hand rolled cigars and rum. At this time all travel to Cuba is limited to fully pre paid packages, requiring a U.S. Department of Treasury permit and Cuba Visa to travel there from Miami. Cash is the only form of payment while on the island. Typically, only non touristic activities are allowed. However, a properly designed itinerary will take you to powder white beaches, the finest restaurants in Cuba serving locally caught lobster, and excellent Chilean wines. You can also visit pop up gay bars and the most exclusive art galleries. Currently, one can bring back as much art and books as desired from Cuba.
As Cuba becomes more accessible to the United States Cuba's old world charm may start to look more like Miami Beach or San Juan very soon. Luckily, you can join Zoom Cuba for New Years and see for yourself what it's all about before things change forever.
Likewise, China is acting more like the West than it's old former proletarian ways. The government ruling party may say it is communist, but the government machinery is very capitalistic. China's luxury hotel offerings are multiplying so quickly that Zoom Vacations upgrades hotels practically every year. Zoom China 2015 is no exception with the addition of the Waldorf Astoria on the Bund, offering magnificent Shanghai Bund river and iconic skyline views. Also as a sign that its doors are open to foreigners, China is making travel there easier with visa waivers. For instance, you can travel to 11 Chinese cities including Shanghai, Xian, Guilin and Beijing for 72 hours or less without a China tourist visa.
While China is ahead of Cuba in terms of capitalistic ventures, it will be no time at all before Cuba starts making visible efforts at catching up with the other first world economies.
Human beings are instinctively obsessed with the past and future, life and death, the yin and the yang. These reasons are why China is such a fascinating place to visit at the moment.
I just returned from China and was once again reminded why it is a country that shows you much about your past and gives us a glimpse of how the future will look. So much of what we eat, do, think, and how we live today took root in China many years ago. For instance, pasta has been incorporated into many of the world's delicious cuisines and without which many of the scrumptious Italian dishes would not be the same; paper which lead to books, printing and a vehicle by which to educate; silk which is omnipresent in fashion and house wears; iron and steel which is found in almost everything we use today and without which we could not build skyscrapers, large ships and bridges and other important structures; porcelain dishes on which we eat today; Buddhism's various philosophies such as Buddhism and feng shui.
China is one of the most ancient civilizations in the world. While the Chinese are proud of their legacy, they are busy creating a new future for themselves and the world. China is changing so quickly that the China we know today will probably be a different place in our lifetime. The Chinese thinking is also changing almost as quickly as the urban landscape. Every time I return to Beijing and Shanghai I am amazed by the newest skyscraper and the ever present cranes, which guides love to refer to as China's new national bird. China is also taking steps to decrease pollution in Beijing which is a source of a lot of discussion.
China is a fascinating country. The time to go is now. Zoom Vacations recently upgraded all hotel offerings in China with the best service and locations at each destination. Check out the detailed itinerary and you will see why.
It was a busy year for me and the Zoom team. I traveled a total of 161,014 miles, the equivalent of over 6 times around the world, on 69 flights and a mega yacht to 31 countries.
In addition to the scheduled tours we offered all year, 2013 had a few highlights that made it particularly special.
A couple on Zoom Peru got engaged on Machu Picchu (read about them in our Featured Travelers section).
We celebrated many birthday celebrations, honeymoons and long term relationships in exotic locations around the world on Zoom Southern Africa and our Zoom cruise. And for the first time, broke the Zoom record for longest lunch (6 hours) of eating, laughing and imbibing on Zoom Argentina.
Zoom's Marie-Noelle Marechal was invited to attend a travel convention in China to get new ideas for upcoming Zoom China tours.
I received a very exclusive invitation to attend the International Luxury Travel Market Americas in Mexico, where I met one-to-one with the best travel luxury hotels and suppliers and industry leaders from around the world with whom we will partner to continue developing the bespoke experiences you have come to expect from Zoom Vacations. I then continued my research to Mexico City and the West Coast of Mexico on a most luxurious Four Season educational trip where they pulled all the stops. They know that our clients only want the best, so they gave me a big taste of it.
Zoom's Bryan Herb and I researched the Orient Express Luxury train, the Royal Scotsman, through Scotland, and made great connections with London hoteliers for future trips.
Bryan attended the largest tourism convention in Africa as the guest of the South African government, and continued on to Botswana and South Africa to research upcoming group and private tours in some of the world's top lodges.
Zoom Vacations acquired its adorable new mascot, Ms. Buddha-Licious, a rescue puppy who reminds us every day what it means to give and accept unconditional love.
Bryan led a lively educational panel discussion on travel to Asia at the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Convention in Chicago with guests from all over the world attending.
Team Zoom raised over $7,000 for the American Cancer Society, by participating in the Chicago Marathon.
One of the greatest joys of traveling is trying new dishes, authentic to the destination. Even better, is when we have the opportunity to learn how to make these dishes ourselves.
For instance, on our trip to China, a woman we know named Mrs Woo invites us into her home and teaches us how to make traditional Chinese dumplings, or Jiaozi. Here is a recipe that we adapted a bit in the Zoom Kitchen. Perhaps this recipe can become a special addition to your next dinner or cooking party!
* 3 cups all-purpose flour
* up to 1 1/4 cups cold water
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 1 cup grated carrot
* 1 TB soy sauce
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1 TB Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
* 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
* 3 TB sesame oil
* 1/2 green onion, finely minced
* 1 1/2 cups finely shredded Napa cabbage
* 4 tablespoons shredded bamboo shoots
* 2 slices fresh ginger, finely minced
* 1 clove garlic, peeled and finely minced
Stir the salt into the flour. Slowly stir in the cold water, adding as much as is necessary to form a smooth dough. Don't add more water than is necessary. Knead the dough into a smooth ball. Cover the dough and let it rest for at least 30 minutes.
While the dough is resting, prepare the filling ingredients. Add the soy sauce, salt, rice wine and white pepper to the grated carrots, stirring in only one direction. Add the remaining ingredients, stirring in the same direction, and mix well.
To make the dumpling dough: knead the dough until it forms a smooth ball. Divide the dough into 60 pieces. Roll each piece out into a circle about 3-inches in diameter.
Place a small portion (about 1 level tablespoon) of the filling into the middle of each wrapper. Wet the edges of the dumpling with water. Fold the dough over the filling into a half moon shape and pinch the edges to seal. Continue with the remainder of the dumplings.
To cook, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add half the dumplings, giving them a gentle stir so they don't stick together. Bring the water to a boil, and add 1/2 cup of cold water. Cover and repeat. When the dumplings come to a boil for a third time, they are ready. Drain and remove. If desired, they can be pan-fried at this point.