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Tim Boxer

Nina Boxer

[ Wuhan and Jingzhou ] [ Travel Guides ] [ Ventura ]

Tim takes notes in Wuhan’s Riverside Promenade

There’s More To China
Than Just Olympics

HEN you go to Beijing for the Summer Olympics starting August 8, do yourself a favor. Plan to discover a little more of the country that’s fast transforming itself into the colossus of the 21st century. I toured part of the eastern central region a couple of years ago and am still basking in spectacular memories.

After exploring the capital of the country I flew down to Wuhan, the capital of Hubei, one of 22 provinces. This stop brought me closer to the Three Gorges Dam, my ultimate destination.

Wuhan, an industrial beehive of 4.5 million official residents plus an equal number of migrants, is the business hub of inland China. It became a major port as this is the furthest place on the Yangtzi River that seagoing vessels could sail. With such automakers as Citroen, Nissan and Honda churning out foreign cars, the city is becoming known as the Detroit of China.

Hotel in Wuhan
Photos by Tim Boxer

The mighty Yangtze cuts through the city, dividing it into three parts: Wuchang, Hankou and Hanyang. The three parts of Wuhan is stapled together by magnificent bridges.

You will want to spend time in Wuchang with its five-story Yellow Crane Pavilion on Seshan (Snake Hill) and the marvelously scenic East Lake (Donghu), a pleasant urban environment that attracts tourists and natives alike for its beauty and serenity. Take a stroll for a warm soothing escape from city life.

I checked into the luxurious Shangri-La Hotel at 700 Jianshe Avenue in Hankou, phone (86 27) 8580 6868, www.shangri-la.com. This marvelous tourist palace offers all amenities you expect at a luxury location: 507 rooms including 22 suites and 13 apartments, health club with all the regular facilities such as indoor pool, outdoor tennis court, steam baths, gym and massage, and restaurants.

Entering Jingzhou

We drove to the ancient city of Jingzhou, built in the third century. It is a thriving metropolis with a population of 6.3 million, with more than a million residing inside the walled city.

Jingzhou has six gates. Key cultural sites are the Xuanmiao Taoist Temple inside the Small North Gate, and the Taihui Taoist Temple on the Taihui Mountain outside the West Gate, and the Kaiyuan Taoist Temple in the Jingzhou Museum.

Getting Started

China National Tourist Office
350 Fifth Avenue, Suite 6413
New York, NY 10118

Mr. Pista Nadj
Ritz Tours
463 Lexington Avenue, 3rd floor
New York, NY 10017

Jingzhou Museum, at the West Gate, was built in 1954 and houses some 100,000 pieces of cultural relics representing cultures in this region through 6,000 years. On display are terracotta miniatures of animal and human figurines which are thought to have been sacrifices to a deity. Bronze pieces include pitchers, spears and daggers. There are jade masks, trays with dragon and phoenix patterns, and ancient silk fabrics.. Also a male corpse from 167 BCE, discovered with a jade seal in his mouth that identified him as Sui.

You may want to stop in at the Jingzhou Hotel for the grand buffet. I like the idea that every setting has a moist towelette and sealed toothpick. The waitresses are beautiful, friendly and extremely accommodating. They’re so attentive that they clear each dish as soon as you finish, without you even noticing.

Statuesque guard on the wall

Residential street in Jingzhou

Going home after school

Inside Jingzhou Museum


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Travel Guides

National Geographic Traveler: China is a handsome book illustrated profusely with outstanding photographs that you’ve come to expect from the National Geographic Society. All the highlights of the country are conveniently outlined in this handbook of 400 pages, $27.95 Amazon.com Price: $18.45 

Travelers’ Tales: China is a compilation of wonderful experiences brought back by travelers. Reading their stories will open your eyes to look for the unexpected on your road to adventure. I especially enjoyed James Michael Dorsey’s visit to the Terra Cotta Army of Emperor Quin in Xi’an. His description brought me face to face with the hundreds of troops ready to march into battle. Travelers’ Tales, soft cover, 384 pages, $18.95 Amazon.com Price: $12.89

China: Renaissance of the Middle Kingdom, regardless of its title, is an excellent resource for any traveler to the country that’s home to one-quarter of the world’s people. The authors list recommended reading with books and websites, and offer loads of information on visas, customs, currency, health, clothing, transportation and much more. Odyssey Books/W.W. Norton, soft cover, 352 pages, $22.95 Amazon.com Price: $17.90

Lonely Planet: China is a bulging paperback, jam-packed with maps, pictures and so much information that you’ll have to spend two months touring the country. Of course Lonely Planet publishes individual guidebooks for many of the areas covered in this tome, such as Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai and other destinations. This is a wonderful overview of the entire land. Lonely Planet, soft cover, 1028 pages, $31.99 Amazon.com Price: $21.11

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Nicole Cabell

Discover California’s
Fantastic Secret

By Ivor Davis

O ONE has threatened to waterboard me so this is a voluntary confession. Or maybe I should call it a revelation.

Are you ready for Ventura? Not Ventura Boulevard. Not Ace Ventura Pet Detective. I’m talking about the seaside town of Ventura, one of California’s secret vacation destinations.

Ventura is a fabulous beach town 60 miles north of Los Angeles and 25 miles south of Santa Barbara. Malibu is just a 35-minute drive down Pacific Coast Highway.

For years millions of motorists have whizzed by on the freeway barely noticing that Ventura was quietly building its own reputation. Now they’re stopping, amazed at what they’re seeing.

It used to be Iowa on Sea, with a wide range of hotels from a Holiday Inn to a no name motel and food that ran the culinary gamut from burgers to overcooked steaks.

Nuvi Mehta

It seems almost overnight it’s become a gourmet’s delight, with a line-up of great uncrowded eateries in charming venues from the beach to the pier to the quaint, historic downtown. There are restaurants with every conceivable choice from Fusion to Mediterranean, Japanese to Cajun, haute French to Northern Italian, with fabulous wine lists.

Some of them are still pretty undiscovered. But not for long.

Ventura grew up as an oil and citrus town. Slowly refugees from cluttered L.A. found it great as a weekend retreat. Eventually they decided to live there forever.

Not surprising. You can still park outside your favorite restaurant downtown. The traffic is manageable and the small town atmosphere encourages friendly smiling welcomes all round.

Once it was a cultural desert. The natives and visitors had to travel to Santa Barbara or downtown L.A. for theatre, art galleries and music. Today the arts are booming. Why, they even have an annual Jewish Film Festival!

First let me tell you about my favorite arts group: The Ventura Music Festival, now about to unspool its 14th annual May festival which runs from April 30 to May 10.

This year they’re serving up a delicious array of music, with an open air picnic atmosphere (think Hollywood Bowl) on Sunday, May 4, headlined by the incredibly versatile international group Pink Martini.

Shopping on Main St.

This year’s Grammy-winning group, Turtle Island Quartet, will perform on Friday, May 9. Next day the dazzling soprano Nicole Cabell—winner of the BBC’s Singer of the World—performs with the Ventura Music Festival orchestra. A homegrown star, having graduated from Ventura High School, Nicole returns in triumph—as a fully fledged international diva who many compare to Renee Fleming and Maria Callas.

Throughout the year artistic director Nuvi Mehta, of the famed Mehta family, brings the best in the world to Ventura. She also stages a series of popular Crossover Concerts outside of the festival (like Arturo Sandoval last year and Poncho Sanchez in February 2008). Check them out at www.venturamusicfestival.org and come visit.

Besides music we now boast a top-of-the-line professional theater, Rubicon, which has brought major names to Ventura. The New West Symphony concerts are a monthly feature during the fall and winter season. And the visual arts scene has boomed. There are probably more artists per head of population in Ventura than anywhere else in the state. The works of local painters and sculptors can be seen in a growing assortment of galleries from main stream to avant garde mushrooming in the downtown area.

"Ventura is a unique destination," notes Jim Luttjohann, executive director of Ventura Visitors and Convention Bureau.

"It offers visitors the best of what California used to be and what it promises to be. It’s a real town with no pretense. It still revels in the fact that it is not changing from being what it has always been. We haven’t succumbed to bulldozers and high rises or urban sprawl. We have amazing natural beaches, and the perfect climate in a still unspoiled atmosphere."

Strolling on the pier

Where To Stay
Crowne Plaza
(450 Harbor Blvd.) on the promenade, just steps from the sand and a stroll to the famous surfing destination, Surfer’s Point. Great view rooms with great prices and a top cafe restaurant, C-Street.

Ventura Beach Marriott ( 2055 E. Harbor Boulevard), a short block from the beach.

We like the historical Pierpont Inn and Racquet Club, 550 Sanjon Road, a classic California Craftsman building where good food and killer martinis await you in its Austin’s Restaurant.

Smaller hotels include the Clocktower Inn, 181 E. Santa Clara Street or the Bella Maggiore Inn, 67 S, California.

WhereTo Eat
For superb country French fare there’s 79 Palm and for Italian cuisine there’s Café Fiore on California Street. Brooks Restaurant at Thompson and California attracts the chic crowd. On downtown’s Main Street you can sample French fare at Riviera Bistro, Argentinean goodies at Café Bariloche.

If your taste runs to hearty Irish grub and grog there’s the lively Dargan’s Pub, and for great wines and food the West Side Cellar or Jonathans. There’s Tutti’s Off Main—a classy deli restaurant with take-out. There’s even authentic The Greek at the quaint Ventura Harbor. For the best steak in town stop in at the Aloha Steak House on the promenade steps from the Crowne Plaza Hotel. But be sure to try Eric Ericcson’s Fish Co. on the pier.

One of the locals’ favorites—and that’s only because it’s slightly off the tourist beat—is Café Zack, 1095 East Thompson. The food is fabulous, the service friendly and the wine list intelligent.

Walking to the beach

For lighter and more casual fare try My Florist, 76 S. Oak, where they bake their own bread and cakes on the premises and are open ‘til midnight, a rare thing in this town. The Savory Bakery on Main is great for breakfast and lunch and a good spot from which to watch all of Ventura pass by.

Where To Shop
Stroll downtown where you will find everything you ever wanted and then some. In between checking out the historic 18th century mission and the impressive County Museum of History and Art, 100 East Main Street, browse antique and decorating stores where L.A. designers flock to pick up bargains, furniture, some fabulous original jewelry and trendy clothes for men, women and babies. Don’t worry about driving anywhere because everything is within walking distance.

It’s a town with a woman mayor: Christy Weir who likes to talk about "the new art city." And it’s obvious why.

For further details call Ventura’s Tourist and Convention office at 1-800-483-6214 or visit www.ventura-usa.com.

It will come as no surprise when we note that our longtime columnist Ivor Davis and his writer wife Sally Ogle Davis have lived in Ventura for more than 20 years. He is president of the Ventura Music Festival.


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