Just Back From... a Motor Home in Alaska
Great local meals... Alaska king salmon, beautifully prepared and presented at Anchorage's Simon & Seaforts restaurant, where we also enjoyed spectacular views of Cook Inlet. Then at Chair 5 in Girdwood, we had fresh grilled halibut for lunch—they really know how to cook it.
Fun surprise... The shops by the harbor in Homer [PHOTO] and the town's public library. When we stopped to check our e-mail, we came upon a wonderful library with a great view of the Kenai Mountains and quite a collection of books in Russian. We had spotted a Russian village along the Sterling Highway on our way to Homer. [PHOTO]
Our favorite part... The float trip down the Kenai River. Captain Nolan took us from Cooper Landing to Jim's Landing. The river rolled high and fast, the soaring bald eagles were out in force, and the endless row of fishermen casting for salmon was an unforgettable sight. Did we see 100, 200, or more? We lost count!
Wish we'd known that... We should have turned the furnace on in the motor home we rented from Great Alaskan Holidays. [PHOTO] On the first night, we went to bed warm and toasty only to wake up desperate for more blankets. Once we located the thermostat, we solved that problem.
Worth every penny... The six-hour wildlife-and-glacier cruise from Seward to the Aialik Glacier and back. Within minutes of leaving the dock—and still within sight of the city of Seward—we spotted a whale in Resurrection Bay. We encountered several pods of orcas that seemed to be congregating in the inlet, saw sea otters, harbor seals, gray whales, humpback whales, porpoises, sea lions, and, finally, puffins perched on cliffs on the islands off the Aialik Peninsula.
We're still laughing about... The wildlife we saw in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge—it amounted to a single gray squirrel. He was cute, though! We had better luck during a bus tour through Denali National Park & Preserve on a clear, blue-skies day. We spotted grizzly bears, [PHOTO] Dall sheep, and Mount McKinley in the distance. [PHOTO]
What we should have packed... A hairdryer. It would have made the cool mornings more pleasant for my wife. Cool weather, wet head, not fun.
The Ultimate App Tool Kit
Before the trip FIND FLIGHTS Kayak's website set the standard for streamlined searching, and its app delivers the same ease-of-use on the go. Simply enter your destination and travel dates, and the app spits back options sorted by price, time, or airline; a single click takes you to the corresponding booking site. Free. SCOPE OUT A HOTEL With thousands of user-generated reviews of hotels, restaurants, and attractions worldwide, TripAdvisor has long been a mother lode of unvarnished assessments. What it hasn't been is a model of simplicity. The app cuts through the clutter, bringing just the facts—er, opinions—filtered by price or neighborhood, to the fore. Free. TRACK YOUR ITINERARY Forget paging through printouts of confirmation codes and terminal info. The TripIt app culls flight numbers, gate information, and even loyalty-program account numbers from e-mail receipts you forward. From these, it assembles a master trip itinerary you can access from anywhere. Free. EXPLORE YOUR OPTIONS Lonely Planet has created the perfect pairing of inspiration and information. First, flip through the colorful, photo-heavy 1000 Ultimate Experiences iPad app for thumbnail takes on some of the world's most intriguing destinations. Then use the brand's dedicated guides (for nearly 58 cities) to hunt for specifics, like how to get a bus pass for the MUNI in San Francisco or when to catch the ferry for a visit to Alcatraz. 1000 Ultimate Experiences $4, San Francisco travel guide free, other city guides $6. SCORE A CHEAP ROOM If landing a rock-bottom rate ranks higher than remaining in complete control over where you stay, roll the dice with Priceline's Hotel Negotiator app. You choose a preferred star rating and an ideal price (recent successful bids in the area are listed as a guide), and the tool will lock in a room that meets your criteria. Bonus: The app uses GPS, which is priceless for lining up convenient last-minute accommodations for unexpected overnighters. Free. GET A BIRD'S-EYE VIEW You've probably already used Google Earth's satellite images to zoom in on your childhood home or your current residence—in almost scary detail—but the intuitive app also serves as an easy way to suss out a hotel's rooftop pool deck or the size and location of various parking lots at a big museum or other attraction. Free. En route MAKE THE MOST OF A LAYOVER Consider it Yelp for airports. GateGuru's app contains searchable directories for 92 U.S. airports and more than a dozen international hubs. They take the guesswork out of finding an ATM, a decent cup of coffee, or a 10-minute massage station—wherever you happen to be delayed. Some locations even have user reviews, rankings, and photos. Free. CRAFT A CONTINGENCY PLAN For the frequent flier who has no time for snafus, FlightTrack Pro is an essential aid. In addition to storing and tracking your flights, it pulls vital info like gate changes and weather reports for 5,000 airports and 1,400 airlines. If your flight is canceled or delayed, it's easy to search for other connections while you're standing in line for the gate agent, or even from 30,000 feet—you can access the app's route-maps feature offline when you're in the air. $10. KILL TIME IN THE TERMINAL First, give yourself some elbow room. Then fire up Scoops, a highly addictive game even a technophobe could master. Your only goal is to position a virtual ice cream cone under colorful scoops that fall from the sky, using the phone's motion-sensitive accelerometer to direct the cone with a tilt of the wrist. Free. KILL TIME ON THE FLIGHT The perfect nervous-passenger distraction, Flight Control HD for iPad gives folks something to focus on while surviving a long-haul flight: an air-traffic-control strategy game that lets you manage planes' flight patterns by dragging them along the touch screen. If only getting to your real-world destination were so easy. $5. ENTERTAIN THE KIDS IN THE BACKSEAT Dr. Seuss goes digital with iPhone- and iPad-ready versions of his best-selling stories. Let The Lorax app be your on-the-road babysitter: It reads the story aloud, and when you tap an illustration, the machine will speak its name ("Trees." "Grass." "Pond."). $4. On the ground LOOK LIKE A LOCAL Because some things just require visuals, Howcast's user-generated video tutorials cover everything from taxi strategies in New York City to the proper consumption of soba in Japan to nude-beach etiquette. (Then again, maybe some things don't belong in a video.) The short clips load quickly and particularly shine on the larger-format iPad. Free. SURVIVE WITHOUT A PLAN So the museum you planned to visit was closed, and now you've got a free afternoon on your hands. Goby has you covered: The app searches events and activities near you—live-music shows, family-friendly outings, and outdoorsy pursuits—and plots them on a map with details and photos. Free. RUB ELBOWS WITH REGULARS It's no easy feat to cut through the restaurant-of-the-moment hype in an unfamiliar city, which is where the no-holds-barred user reviews on Yelp's app come in. Using your GPS-mapped location, the app reveals the highest-rated places near you, as determined by the people who know best. Search thousands of dining options in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Ireland by price, neighborhood, or the handy "what's open now." Free. SNIFF OUT CRITICS' FAVORITES If you're more interested in getting a recommendation on the spot, download Urbanspoon. The app makes a game of finding a restaurant: Search options are displayed slot-machine style, with neighborhood, cuisine, and price as the categories. Refresh with a simple shake of the device, or click off for critics' reviews and some menus. Bonus points for the spanking-new iPad format. Free. MAKE DINNER RESERVATIONS Instead of calling 12 restaurants to find one that can seat your party of four, let OpenTable do the work. Search more than 13,000 restaurants in Canada, the U.K., and the U.S. by the number of diners and your desired reservation time, and then sort by cuisine, price range and neighborhood. And in about five taps—voilá!—you've got a reservation. Free. SIP SMARTER With more than 750,000 bottles of wine from Chile to Cali cataloged, the Cor.kz app is like a pocket sommelier. Search by region or varietal, peruse an exhaustive glossary, or scan a bottle's bar code with your smartphone to call up expert ratings and tasting notes. $4. GET THE SHORTEST LINES AT DISNEY The Undercover Tourist app is the savvy best friend of any Walt Disney World visitor, delivering accurate wait times for every ride in the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Disney's Animal Kingdom. At day's end, a built-in GPS helps you navigate back to your car. $4. MAKE SENSE OF YOUR MONEY For up-to-the minute currency conversions, try ACTCurrency. It lists more than 190 exchange rates, updated with every tap of the refresh button. Tip: Turn off the auto-update feature while you're abroad to avoid sky-high roaming charges. $1. SPEAK FOR YOURSELF Overcome awkward lost-in-translation moments with World Nomads. The 25-language translator app covers keywords such as please and thank you, numbers up to 10, and a few phrases useful for other travel conundrums (our favorite: "Those drugs aren't mine!") in easy-to-scan categories like Introductions and Travel Health. Most phrases have audio clips. Free. FIND A PLACE TO "GO" Like it or not, Starbucks outposts have unofficially replaced service stations as America's favorite rest stops. Fortunately for travelers, both are mapped on the SitOrSquat app. More than 92,000 restrooms are represented (concentrated in larger cities in the U.S. and Europe), with details like hours, changing-table availability, and, of course, a "sit" or "squat" recommendation. Free. SEND A PERSONALIZED POSTCARD Nothing says "wish you were here" like a good old-fashioned postcard—with your face smack in the center. For about $1 per note, HazelMail turns your photo into an actual paper card complete with a custom message and then stamps it and sends it off within about two business days, saving you the trouble of hunting down a local post office. Free. DOCUMENT YOUR ADVENTURES It may have been invented for students, but Facebook's ubiquitous app has become an invaluable tool for all kinds of folks. Travelers can share crazy vacation moments on the spot, either in the live feed of status updates or in a mobile gallery where they can instantly dump cell phone pictures. Free. FAKE PERFECT PHOTOS Fancy effects can turn even the most amateur photos into works of art. Use Photogene for iPad to add background colors, crop out mistakes, or just remove red-eye from that otherwise-flawless family portrait in front of the Eiffel Tower. $4, iPhone version $2.
5 Tasteful U.S. Trips
LOUISIANA'S CAJUN COUNTRYFocus: 100 miles west of New Orleans.All too often, Cajun cuisine serves as shorthand for generic "spicy comfort food." But that's a gross simplification. According to Donald Link, a chef and author of cookbook-memoir Real Cajun, the cuisine "is a one-pot cooking style based on country-French cooking roots, German sausage making, and the resourcefulness of African slave cooks." Loosely translated, that means perfectly spiced (though not spicy) sauces; deep, rich gumbos; and novel creations like boudin (a meat-and-rice-stuffed sausage) that are rarely seen outside central Louisiana. The heart of Cajun country lies between Baton Rouge and Lake Charles, but the culinary center is inside a rectangle that has I-10 as the southern strip, White Oak Highway and I-49 as parallel bookends, and Highway 190 as the northern stretch. Three essential stops: In Breaux Bridge, Café Des Amis is a can't-miss stop for Saturday breakfast. Order the oreille de cochon, fried dough shaped like pig's ears, stuffed with boudin. Then dance to music played on the guitar, washboard, and accordion (140 E. Bridge St., 337/332-5273, $7 stuffed). Drop in for the state's best crawfish boil at Hawk's in Rayne, just off I-10. Quick-cooked mudbugs (a.k.a. crawfish) go best with a side of Denise's boiled potatoes and a cold beer (416 Hawks Rd., 337/788-3266, hawkscrawfish.com, open only during crawfish season, starting around Dec.; $18 for three pounds). About 50 miles from Breaux Bridge is the cute town of Jennings, home to Frey's Crawfish House—a must for its shrimp and corn bisque, chicken and sausage gumbo, and Mrs. Shonda Zaunbrecher's bread pudding topped with whiskey sauce (919-A N. Lake Arthur Ave., 337/824-6004, freyscrawfish.com, chicken and sausage gumbo $12). SOUTH CAROLINA'S LOW COUNTRYStart in Charleston and the counties surrounding it.This might come as a surprise, but the cuisine of South Carolina's low country has a lot more to offer than shrimp and grits. The region is named for the southern counties along the coast. True low-country food is a complex mix of fresh seafood, native rice, and legumes, and is seeing a renaissance unlike any other cuisine in the U.S. "The food and products available in this region are completely different from what was around ten years ago," says Sean Brock, chef of McCrady's in Charleston. Farmers are reintroducing many of the crops that were lost after the Civil War, such as original breeds of wheat, corn, and benne, and many kitchens are reviving long-neglected recipes. This reenergized food scene has earned Charleston chefs the James Beard Foundation awards for Best Chef in the Southeast the past three years. For thorough exploration, start in Charleston and wind south among the moss-draped oaks that line coastal Route 17. Three essential stops: If you think grits are a mushy breakfast food, you've never had Robert Stehling's worthy version. Hominy Grill, in Charleston, delivers creamy perfection: local shrimp sautéed with bacon, scallions, and mushrooms over cheddar and Parmesan-spiked Old Mill of Guilford grits (207 Rutledge Ave., 843/937-0930, hominygrill.com, $17). In McClellanville, Thornhill Farm (Hwy. 17 N., 843/887-3500, ourlocalfoods.com) is a store, not a restaurant, but its supply of local meats, artisanal cheeses, and fresh veggies is unrivaled. Grab some fixings for a sandwich, and don't forget to get a Coke as well. In between the two, Charlotte Jenkins' Gullah Cuisine restaurant is a tribute to the low-country's African-American heritage. Jenkins has been ladling out the region's tastiest she-crab soup since 1997. If crab's not to your liking, opt for a plate of Gullah rice, a cousin to paella (1717 Hwy. 17 N., 843/881-9076, gullahcuisine.com, a cup of she-crab soup $6). NORTHERN NEW MEXICOGateway: Santa Fe.Whatever you do, don't call it Tex-Mex. Folks in New Mexico are justifiably touchy about their food, a fusion of Native American, Spanish, and Mexican traditions. Instead of insulting locals by asking for a burrito, win their hearts by ordering green-chile cheeseburgers, Frito pies, whole-wheat sopaipillas, or grass-fed beef enchiladas—all flavored with that quintessentially New Mex ingredient, chile—the hotter, the better. The center of the food scene is still Santa Fe, which made its name back in the '80s with new New Mexican fare, but great options abound across the state, especially to the south toward Albuquerque along Highway 14, a.k.a. The Turquoise Trail. This scenic byway is not only home to a disproportionate number of authentic New Mexican restaurants, but it's also one of the prettiest stretches in the Southwest. Three essential stops: Stock up on green chile bread ($8) and biscochitos, an anise-flavored shortbread that is New Mexico's official state cookie ($3 per dozen), at the Golden Crown Panaderia (1103 Mountain Rd. NW, 505/243-2424, goldencrown.biz), near Old Town Albuquerque. In Cerrillos, on Highway 14, you'll recognize the San Marcos Café from the gaggle of chickens, peacocks, and turkeys noisily clucking about an Old MacDonald–type ranch. The croissant-like cinnamon rolls are essential (flaky and sweet), but for something more traditional, order the muchaca: a scramble of eggs, beef, and pico de gallo (3877 State Hwy. 14, 505/471-9298, cinnamon roll, $4; muchaca $11.50). Santa Fe's Coyote Café (132 W. Water St., 505/983-1615, coyotecafe.com) has been around since 1987 and is responsible for new New Mexican cuisine. So skip the green-chile cheeseburgers and opt instead for barbecued duck quesadillas ($12) and Eric's New Mexican Meatloaf, with its requisite green chiles and spicy chorizo gravy ($12). CENTRAL MAD RIVER VALLEY, VERMONTHead there via a four-hour drive northwest of Boston.Vermonters were eating locally grown food long before the media injected the term "locavore" into the national lexicon. And nowhere is farm-fresh food more deeply rooted than in the 30-mile Mad River Valley between Waitsfield and Stowe Mountain Resort. Hemmed in by the Green Mountains, the valley has been a hotbed for the local foods movement since 1987, when George Schenk opened his now renowned American Flatbread pizzeria in Waitsfield. These days, small-scale farms, family dairies, and New American bistros are popping up like dandelions along Mad River's main drag, the winding Route 100. Three essential stops: At Three Shepherds Cheese, Larry and Linda Faillace's raw milk cheeses include Cosmos, a soft-ripened cow's-milk cheese covered in organic Italian herbs, garlic, and red pepper flakes, available at the Waitsfield Farmers' Market (108 Roxbury Mountain Rd., 802/496-3998, threeshepherdscheese.com; Mad River Green, 802/472-8027, waitsfieldfarmersmarket.com; $20 per pound). While Whole Foods stores nationwide sell frozen pizza from American Flatbread, the real thing is just outside Waitsfield at the company's first location. Naturally, the restaurant serves Ben & Jerry's for dessert (46 Lareau Rd., 802/496-8856, americanflatbread.com, pizza $17.50). Nab one of 15 or so outside seats at Hen of the Wood, a charming restaurant in a converted gristmill in Waterbury. It's a bit of a splurge, but well worth it for sheep's-milk gnocchi ($16), local rib eye with fingerling potatoes and grilled leeks ($31), and a mostly Vermont cheese list (92 Stowe St., 802/244-7300, henofthewood.com). DOOR COUNTY, WISCONSINFind your bearings 170 miles north of Milwaukee.The upper Midwest does not leap to mind as a crucible of culinary genius, but you might want to think again. Across western Wisconsin, there's a minor revolution afoot, a movement to bring back the traditional pies, small-batch gin, Cornish pastries, and Danish kringles the area was once known for. Any given Saturday, particularly on the Door Peninsula sandwiched between Green Bay and Lake Michigan, you're almost guaranteed to happen upon roadside fish boils and farm stands loaded with fresh apples, juniper berries, Montmorency cherries, and, of course, artisanal cheeses (it is Wisconsin after all). Three essential stops: Fruit wines are gaining popularity among oenophiles, and the county's top-rated quaffs are at Door Peninsula Winery (5806 Hwy. 42, 800/551-5049, dcwine.com). Just north of the town of Sturgeon Bay, the 36-year-old winery recruited California vintner Paul Santoriello, who has made wines for the likes of David Bruce Winery, a pioneer of cutting-edge production techniques. At the northernmost tip of the peninsula, the Voight family has been smoking fish since 1932 at Charlie's Smokehouse. There are other fish on the menu—trout, salmon, and chubs—but the maplewood-smoked local whitefish is the item to order. Grab a table overlooking the water (12731 Hwy. 42, 920/854-2972, charliessmokehouse.com, whitefish $5.50 a pound). Also just off the northern tip, small-batch gin, vodka, and white whiskey are distilled from Washington Island's wheat and juniper berries by the award-winning Death's Door Spirits (920/847-2169, deathsdoorspirits.com; bottle of Death's Door Vodka, $35).
Confessions Of...A Rome Tour Guide
Our anonymous Confessor led private walking tours of Rome's museums, ruins, and churches from 2006 to 2008, and again in 2010. Your tour company is "top-rated"? Ha!A high TripAdvisor ranking translates into fat profits, and tour companies will do almost anything for glowing reviews—besides run great tours. The first company I worked for pressured its employees to solicit raves from its customers. Guides who were frequently praised by name were rewarded with better pay, but one of my colleagues was axed because she hadn't been mentioned on TripAdvisor enough. Then she sent her résumé to a rival tour company, which contacted her with an unusual business proposition: She'd get paid for every phony, positive review she planted abouttheir tours. Given such underhanded tricks, praise for brand-new operations by online reviewers is especially dubious. Some travelers could learn a lesson or two about boundariesMy most awkward tour involved a client who was on a two-week honeymoon—by himself, after being stood up at the altar. At lunch, he downed an entire bottle of wine while blubbering over his ex. I felt sorry for him until he began licking a scoop of gelato and staring at my chest, mumbling, "I bet you get lots of guys like me on your tours." Resisting the urge to tell him jilted creepy drunks were, in fact, anomalies on my tours, I said, "Actually, I get a lot of families." Most of what he said next can't be repeated...because I've blacked it out from my memory. But I do remember that he called me "sweetie," mentioned he was "frustrated," and said he was all by himself "in a honeymoon suite with a big Jacuzzi." The silence broke only when he quickly apologized, shoved a sweaty €100 tip into my hand, and melted away with his gelato across Piazza Navona. First rule of tour guides: Never say, "I don't know"I always strive to maintain my integrity. But I know of tour guides in Rome who pull facts out of thin air whenever they're stumped by a question. Travelers seldom check, for instance, whether Vatican City has only 232 residents as their guide says. They simply nod. (In case you were wondering, Vatican City has 829 residents.) Myths and authoritative-sounding details are often more entertaining anyway. One classic ditty passed along by guides has it that the tyrannical emperor Nero played a fiddle while Rome burned in 64 A.D. But the fiddle wasn't actually invented until centuries later. "What luck! We've stumbled upon a store that sells authentic crafts!"Tourists sometimes wind up paying for a lot more than the fee and a tip. A former colleague of mine was a master of the swindle, bringing retired couples to lunch at an "authentic" restaurant—so authentic there weren't any menus or listed prices. The restaurant just happened to be owned by the guide's friend, who gave him kickbacks. After a two-hour feast, the guide excused himself to the bathroom just before the €500 ($660) check hit the table. Another colleague mysteriously morphed her tours of the Vatican Museums to include stops in a nearby fashion district to visit boutiques she knew all too well. Every time I complimented her on the new purse in her arms or a new pair of heels on her feet, she winked and said, "Compliments of the client!" We get back at obnoxious travelers in ways they're not even aware ofOccasionally, we mislead clients or make fun of them behind their backs—but we do this only to the few who are rude. One woman hijacked my tour with painful stories about her energy-drink business. When the Arch of Constantine came into view, she took a break from her ramblings to say, "Oh! The Arc de Triomphe." I happily let her think she was seeing the famous Paris landmark. "Indeed it is," I breezed, before she started yet another longwinded anecdote. My least favorite clients are the loudmouths who feel compelled to make lewd commentary. To that annoying couple from L.A, if you're reading this: Please don't joke about "defrocking" priests the next time you're touring Roman churches. It's disrespectful. Likewise, I never want to overhear another joke about the pop celebrity Madonna while guiding travelers through a gallery of artistic representations of the Virgin Mary.
Just Back From... a Girls' Trip to China
Great local meal... Kong Yiji in Beijing. It was the only truly local, non-touristy meal that we had the whole trip, and it was absolutely worth it! Emily and I found it in a New York Times article and had the aniseed-flavored kidney beans, braised rice, and the scallion-oil yellow fish soup. We ordered everything through hand gestures. [PHOTO] Our favorite part... The South Bund Fabric Market in Shanghai, without a doubt. [PHOTO] The market has row after row and booth after booth of gorgeous, handmade winter dress coats, suit jackets, traditional robes, and slacks. The craftsmanship was impeccable, and everything was at bargain-basement prices—a shopper's paradise! After honing our haggling skills, we had oxford shirts and trench coats made to order for pennies on the dollar. [PHOTO] Wish we'd known that... Not all restaurants and shopping venues have Western toilets. Eek! What we should have packed... No regrets here! Emily and I were expert packers on this trip and brought only one bag each. I suppose we could have packed less, but I'm thrilled I brought granola bars and bite-size Snickers to keep me sated between meals. Worth every penny...The Peony Aroma spa in Shanghai. It was recommended to us by a Brazilian expat we met in a convenience store. (Always talk to the locals!) For about $35 each, we had 90-minute full-body massages—the perfect way to end any long day. [PHOTO] Fun surprise... A tiny tea parlor in Beijing. We were attempting to go to a steak place one night, but the storefront looked deserted, so we strolled down the street. A few shops down, tucked away, was the shop. The curator spoke no English and we knew no Chinese, but he begged us to come in; we happily obliged and experienced our first tea ceremony. [PHOTO] He heated the electric kettle and poured water over the host cup full of oolong tea leaves. He pointed to maps and spoke passionately about the tea (we assume!), and we laughed and drank and had a grand time. We walked out with a stash of loose-leaf green tea and a great memory. Overrated...Suzhou, about 90 minutes or so outside of Shanghai. It's commonly known as "the Venice of China." There was a lovely garden, but the air quality was poor, and the canals were full of brown water and crumbling homes. [PHOTO] Moment when things got tense... When I was adjusting to the time difference. The beginning of the trip was so tough—I was literally waking up when I would normally go to bed, and vice versa. I think there were moments when Emily wished she could have gone out to do some exploring, but couldn't because I was out cold. We're still laughing about... Our trip to Lotus Thai in Beijing. We were wandering around looking for a place for dinner when we spotted a hotel and decided to get a suggestion from an English-speaking concierge. He said that if we wanted Thai food, we should "turn left, walk to the KFC, and go downstairs." What?! KFC? But those were the exact directions. Thinking of it as an adventure, we forged ahead. Sure enough, we spotted the KFC several blocks later and realized that it was next to the entrance of a gigantic underground mall. Of course, the concierge had not said anything about a giant mall! The mall had several stories full of brightly lit, high-end shops, plus an indoor skating rink. [PHOTO] It was a wonderful find! And there, on the bottom story, was Lotus Thai. Hotel we liked... The Beijing International Hotel. It had the most comfortable bed of the three hotels we stayed in across the country, and its proximity to great shopping and sightseeing spots like Tiananmen Square was perfect for us.