Israel Impressions Part IV: Jerusalem, the Center of the World

We spent four days in Jerusalem, and it didn’t seem enough.  The city had so much to offer, there were so many sites to see in this mere 220 acres’ space.  To simplify things, I am focusing on three major sites: the Temple Mount, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Mount of Olives.

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While preparing the trip to Israel, I came across an article about Jerusalem being the center of the world, geographically.   I am not sure about that, but feel free to form your own opinion.  Judging from how long it took me to fly to Tel Aviv, America was definitely very far from the center. 🙂

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At least spiritually Jerusalem is the center of the three biggest religions of the world.

Temple Mount is the third most holy site for the Muslims, after Mecca and Medina (the Mosque of the Prophet), with Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque.  According to Muslim believe, Mohammad was taken up to heaven and received revelation of truth at this location.

For the Jewish worshipers, Mt. Moriah where the Temple Mount is now is also their holiest site too. It was there Abraham attempted to sacrifice Issac, Solomon built the first temple, Zerubbabel the second one after returning from the captivity.  The second temple was grandly enlarged by Herod the Great 500 years later, it was the temple Jesus stayed behind when he was 12 years old.  Today the only remain of the Herod’s temple is the Western Wall, aka the Wailing wall, here Jewish worshipers lament for the loss and pray for the renew and rebuild of the holy temple one day.

For the Christians, the most holy section in Jerusalem is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  The church was built on Golgotha where Jesus was crucified and buried, and three days later resurrected.  It has the last five stops of the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Suffering,  pilgrims from all over the world come to touch the ground, to meditate how much Christ suffered and paid for the penalty for the sins of the world, aka yours and mine.

Mount of Olives is the hill east of Jerusalem across the Kidron Valley. It used to be the burial ground of Jerusalem.  It became a very meaningful place for the Christians because Jesus was taken up to heaven from Mount of Olives, and he will be back the same way he left according to the writing of the Bible.  So you can imagine the numbers of the grandiose churches built on top of Mount of Olives.

A great view of the city of Jerusalem from Mount of Olives.

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Thank you so much for going through this series of impressions.  I hope my journey to Holy Land help you with your future travel planning and your growth in faith.

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Israel Impressions Part III: Dead Sea and Beyond

The Dead Sea has the world saltest body of water, with 34% salinity! It is 430 meters below sea level, which makes it the lowest elevation on Earth.  And today the water level is still reducing in an alarming rate, by three feet each year.  Dry land can be spotted especially at the southern portion of the sea.

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The fact that this extraordinary water may some day be gone is hard for anyone to stomach.  What can we DO?  We can’t just sit there blame on the climate change and global warming, right?

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Have you seen a picture of someone floating in the Dead Sea?  I used to roll my eyes, couldn’t imagine floating in the Sea until my own trip to the Dead Sea, yes, you could float, effortlessly!!  However it was recommended you keep the float time within 15 minutes and take a fresh water shower immediately after.

Driving along the west shore of the Dead Sea, we saw canals being dug, palm trees planted, and hotels built.  The people living in this salty land have definitely earned my respect and praise.  They are making history and changing the soil one section at a time.

Mount Sodom is a hill on the southwestern shore of the Dead Sea. The whole mountain is made of salty rocks.  Lucky us, we found a huge chunk of salt rock with beautiful layers.

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. Matthew 5:13”.

Jericho, the oldest city in the world, is located at the northern border of the Dead Sea.  There we visited the ruin of Jericho, and from there overlooked the Mount Temptation where Jesus was tested in the wilderness (Matthew 4: 1-11). Can you see the Israelites matching in silence around the tall city walls daily? Can you hear their loud shouts at the seventh day which bring down the walls?

The story of Masada was about an epic battle.  In 70-73 CE, Jewish rebels took over the fortress (used to be Herod’s extravagant palace in the desert) against Roman siege.  The ending was a heartbrokenly sad one.  All 960 men and women chose massive suicide to keep their dignity, refused to be slaves of their enemies.  Today it is a tradition for young soldiers to come to Masada to swear in when they graduate from the academy.

At Qumran near the Dead Sea, the first ancient scrolls (manuscripts dated back two thousand years!) were discovered in a cave by a shepherd boy in 1947.  In the following years, more books in more caves were discovered one after another.  Up to now, pieces from every book of the Bible with the exception of Book of Esther were discovered, including a complete Book of Isaiah.  The cave #4 was the easiest one to access and provided the most scrolls.

If you just visit the Southern District of Israel, you may think the country is made of desert land! That is not true. Although the nation of Israel is tiny, only 8500 square miles,  the land is very diverse.

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When we were in the Northern District, Tel Dan Nature Reserve–the origin of the Jordan River, we walked along spring water and green forest.  And don’t forget the fresh water lake–the Sea of Galilee.

This trip has also left me everlasting impressions of the people in Israel.  Smart, tough, driven, they seem able to survive anywhere in any given situation.

Kibbutz is like the realization of communist ideal on Earth.  And currently they have more than 270 this type of communities in Israel.  In the Kibbutz we visited we were so impressed with their irrigating system–each banana tree was monitored electronically, watered and nourished according to its individual need! What about that!!

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A fruit stand by the street in Jerusalem.  Can you see the huge bananas and pomegranates the size of baby’s head?  Today Israel is the second largest high tech nation, second to US, and a fruit–exporting country.  The land has slowly and surely come again to her original state, flowing with milk and honey.  Salute!

One more thing before I let you go.  Young men and women serve in the army after high school for three and two years, respectively.  Only after the service they go to college with free tuition, of course.  They carry their weapon, OPENLY.  No comment…

Israel Impressions Part II: All About Jesus

One of the main purposes of our Holy Land trip was to follow the footsteps of Lord Jesus.  We visited Bethlehem, Jesus’s birth place, Nazareth, where he grew up, Capernaum, his hometown for 3 1/2 year ministry on Earth, and of course Jerusalem, Via Dolorosa and Golgotha where he was crucified and resurrected.  It was beyond amazing to visit those historical sites, where holy scriptures were brought to life.

The “little town” Bethlehem is six miles south of Jerusalem in Palestine. Thanks for the pilgrims and tourism, today it is a bustling city with 28,000 people.  From where we had lunch in Bethlehem we could see Jerusalem.  Although the Israel and Palestine relationship was complicated, visitors could get in and out of Bethlehem fairly easily.  Our tour company took care of the visa for us, it took us in no time to pass the security checkpoint.

The Chapel of Shepherd’s field and the Shepherd’s Caves

and the Church of Milk Grotto.

Of course, people from all over the world came to Bethlehem for the Church of Nativity, the very location where baby Jesus was born.  The entrance to the church was very small, I had to bend over to enter.  This design was to remind the pilgrims to be humble just like their king borne in a lowly manger.

Nazareth, the childhood home of Jesus, is the largest city in the Northern District of Israel, today known as “the Arab capital of Israel” with population over 75,000.

This grand Church of Annunciation was built on the grotto (lower level) where archangel Gabriel announced to virgin Mary that she had found favor with God, she would conceive and give birth to a son and He would save the people from their sins.  In the upper level of church there were collective displays of “Mary and Child” donated from all over the world.  The one from America was quite contemporary😉.

Photo Oct 27, 10 29 38 PMContrary to the Church of Annunciation,  the Church of St. Joseph was in the same complex, but much simpler.  It was built on top of Joseph’s grotto.  Mary and Joseph must had lived really close, almost like neighbors. 😀

The Nazareth Village was the re-creation of  first century Nazareth, away from the city on an untouched farm land with shepherds and sheep, olive trees and oil press, and a replica of first century synagogue.

South of the city stood the Mount of Precipice, it silently witnessed that the prophet was not welcomed by his own community.  Luke 4  told us how the people of Nazareth rejected Jesus, they wanted to push him off the cliff.  Since then he moved his ministry to Capernaum.

One of the highlights of this trip was the boat tour at the Sea of Galilee.  It was a beautiful sunny day.  Can you picture Jesus walking on this water (Matthew 14:22-33) and calm the wind and waves (Mark 4:35-41)?

During the three years’ ministry on Earth, more than 80% of Jesus’ miracles were performed around the area of Capernaum/Galilee.  Wow!

The Church of St. Peter’s Primacy in Capernaum.  Jesus restored Peter after he denied Him three times before a rooster crowed.  “Do you love me? Feed my sheep.” also three times!

An other absolute highlight of the trip was being baptized in the Jordan River (Yardenit).  Not exactly on the same spot where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, he was in today’s Jordan across from Tel Jericho, but the proximity was still exciting.  We re-dedicated ourselves in the Jordan River, although symbolic, it was an equally emotional event.

Thank you so much for reading this far! I really appreciate you following my journey!  Hopefully I will finish this impression series this weekend.map4

Israel Impressions Part I: Along the Mediterranean Sea

I had long desired to visit the Holy Land, my dream finally became a reality last month.  What a journey following the footsteps of Jesus! It was overwhelming.  I’m not sure where and how to begin, so the easy route is to arrange my Israel impressions according to the geographic order–along the Mediterranean Sea (east #1), near Galilee (north #2), the Dead Sea and Beyond (southwest #3), and Jerusalem (center #4).

Tel Aviv represents the present time of Israel, very modern just like any other major coastal city in the world.   From the ways people dress to the ways they interact, Tel Aviv is quite different from old city of Jerusalem, like day and night.  We stayed in Tel Aviv for two nights, the day we arrived and the day before we departed since Ben Gurion International Airport, the only international airport of Israel, is about 10 miles from Tel Aviv.

Jaffa, known as Yafo for the locals, Joppa in the Bible, is at the southern end of Tel Aviv, much more interesting in my opinion.  Jonah left his footprint in Jaffa (Jonah 1:3). So did apostle Peter (Acts 9:36-43).

St. Peter’s Church.  This was where Peter prayed and brought back Tabitha (her Greek name was Dorcas) from death, and not far from this church was tanner Simon’s house where Peter stayed when he was in Jaffa.

We had our first Israel breakfast in Jaffa at Nour28.  They served lots of fruits, vegetables, cheese and freshly baked bread.  It was very similar to the Mediterranean diet we’d known, I could easily get used to this cuisine.

Along the Mediterranean Sea, 35 miles north of Tel Aviv is Caeserea Maritima. Herod the Great built the city in ~22–10 BC and the name was chosen to honor Caesar Augustus.  It used to be the booming capital of Roman Province Judea in the time of Jesus.  Roman governor lived in the lavish palace by the sea, and here archaeologists discovered a stone tablet with Pontius Pilate’s name on it.

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Many biblical events happened at this location: St. Peter came here to share gospel with Cornelius, a God-fearing centurion after seeing visions (Acts 10).  Apostle Paul passed by Caesarea many times, he was imprisoned here at Herod’s Palace before being sent to Rome (Acts 23:23-35).

Do you know the whole nation of Israel is about the size of New Jersey?!  So don’t be surprised that many sites are close to each other.  Meggido is 30 miles east of Caesarea, a key crossroads to ancient trades and military battles along Mt. Carmel range. “Capturing Meggido is as good as capturing 1000 cities!”  This location is mentioned couple of times in the Bible, and each time is related to critical battles because of the strategic location.

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The story of prophetess Deborah defeated the Canaanites was recorded in Judge 5, Joshua defeated the king of Meggido in Joshua 12, and Josiah, the last good king of Judah,  was killed here in a battle with Pharaoh Necho of Egypt (2 Kings 23:29-30).  Probably the most famous record is from Revelation 16:16, the battle of  Armageddon, the name literally meant Mountains of Meggido.  Bible prophesies the final battle of good verse evil will happen at this very  location.

The excavation of the site revealed at least 20 cities from different eras built on top of each other!  Mindbogglingly amazing!! There was a very impressive tunnel built in King Ahab’s time (~1000 BC) to access water underground.

We also visited Muhraka Monastery on Mount Carmel where prophet Elijah prayed for rain and challenged 450 prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18).  From the monastery, we had a beautiful view of Jezreel Plain, across the valley in the far distance were Mt. Tabor (also called Mt. Transformation) and Nazareth.

The last city we toured along the Mediterranean Sea was Haifa.  According to cliché, “Jerusalem is the city of the pastTelAviv is the city of the present and Haifa is the city of the future.”  Today Haifa is the silicon valley of Israel, very beautiful and clean.  It seemed a very safe place to live, we saw a little kid walking his dog at night all by himself.

DSC09766(1)Our hotel in Haifa “Bayview” was next to the famous Baha’i Garden.  Great location with good breakfast buffet, clean and nice service, we highly recommend it.  Make sure to take a walk in the evening to the German Colony nearby.  There were restaurants and bars, and unique boutique shops, the Garden was amazing at night.

One thing worth mention, especially with the current hypes in the media about moving US Embassy to Jerusalem, is our hotel in Tel Aviv, Lusky.   The hotel is right across street from the America Embassy in Tel Aviv!  It is also on our recommended list, great location–across from the beach and very nice service.

A word about security check in Ben Gurion airport: it is mandatory to be at the airport THREE hours prior to flight departure.  So keep that in mind when you book flight ticket–if your flight leaves 7:30 am you HAVE TO be at the airport at 4:30 in the morning!!  No kidding.  Lusky arranged taxi for us, when we got out at 4 am, the driver was already there waiting for us!

Taxi was abundant and reliable in Tel Aviv.  It costed us 180 NIS (New Israel Shekel) to Tel Aviv city from the airport.  One US dollar was 3.7 NIS.  We had exchanged about 1,000 NIS before we left.  In reality it was not necessary.  We found out US dollar was accepted anywhere in Israel and hotels accepted major credit cards. Actually you should use credit card as often as possible because you don’t pay local tax (VAT 17%!) when using foreign credit card.

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Huangshan, THE No.1 Mountain in China

We love outdoors, we love to hike.  Recently I hiked Huangshan, the Yellow Mountain, in Anhui Province in Southern China.  Let me tell you, there is nothing like it, nothing!

In China there is a well-known saying: 五岳归来不看山,黄山归来不看岳. Chinese people like ranking things, here five famous mountains are collectively called the “Five Mountains” with Mt.Tai in the East, Mt. Heng (衡) in the South, Mt. Hua in the West, Mt. Heng (恒) in the North and Mt. Song (famous for Shaolin Kongfu) in the Center.   The saying boasts that after touring these Five you can forget about the rest of the mountains in China; however if you come back from Huangshan, the Yellow Mountain, you can skip the big Five all together!!!

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Really?!! I was skeptical.  I had hiked to the top of Mt. Tai, the head of the Five Mountains, years ago when I was in college.  There was no cable then, I climbed the total 7,200 steps with my dad and my brother. Talking about steep and strenuous!!  There were temples dotted along the way which left the footprints and calligraphy of emperors and poets from various dynasties of past two thousand years. Talking about history! And we saw sunrise at the top of the mountain next morning.  Talking about glorious reward!!

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Well, I spent three days in Huangshan with my college classmates at the recent college reunion. I have to admit I am a new convert.  Huangshan blew me in every way! Check out my photos, if you are still not convinced, make your own visit! 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

We average hiked about nine miles or 15 km, 152-floor high, in a day.  To release the muscle spasm, I feed on ibiprofen three times a day! Many thanks to my sister Wendy who brought pain med for everybody.

 

 

 

This is 西海大峡谷 the Grand Canyon of the West Sea. Down down down, it took us a whole morning to go down.  Thankfully there was a cable ride to bring us up!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Huangshan is famous with 奇松,怪石,云海,温泉. The #1 attraction is the unique pine trees.

 

 

 

The #2 is the rock formations in all shapes and sizes.

 

 

 

The #3 is the sea of clouds. We were extremely fortunate with the weather.  The first two days were sunny, then cloudy, it rained on our last morning.

 

 

 

If you have extra time, the #4 attraction is the hot springs.

The below chart (L) is our hiking path, it proved to be a very wise design.  Thanks to my brother Chaoyang we did not waste energy on overlapping hike; and the chart on the right lists the hiking time between each sight.

 

 

 

If you want to reserve energy, take the cable up which drops you right in the middle of action, there is still lot of hiking once you get off.

Pack LIGHT.  A pound might feel like a ton after carrying it for eight hours uphill!! I was extremely grateful for my sister Lin who challenged me to a simpler mountain life without makeup and other accessories that I thought were “unpartable”.  You can leave your luggage at the train station or the hotel at the bottom of the mountain, start hiking early in the morning.  If I can live three days and two nights on a light backpack, you can too!  And a hiking stick is a must!

 

 

 


We stayed at Xihai Hotel西海饭店 on top of the mountain roof, an excellent choice both for the service and the location, highly recommended!

 

 

 

Go and conquer the most beautiful mountain in China!!  Enjoy!!!

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The Great America Eclipse 2017

Unless you live in rocks, chances are you’ve heard about the Solar Eclipse that swept across America on Monday, August 21st, the day the Sun disappeared for more than two minutes, from Portland, OR all the way to Charleston, SC.  Probably you were one in the crowds with the solar glasses on and stared at the sky waiting for the magic moment of totality.  Yes, we were too!

It is being called the “Great America Eclipse” for a reason, it hadn’t happened in 99 years! Last time the total eclipse occurred on June 8th, 1918 crossing the States from Washington to Florida. Since this was my first time to witness a solar eclipse, I was determined to scratch this off my bucket list.

 

Thanks for the modern technology, an app, Eclipse2017, calculated for me the starting times of Partial Eclipse and Total Eclipse to the accuracy of seconds. After careful study, we chose Fort Loudoun State Historic Park in Vonore, TN as our viewing site.  The park was surrounded with lakes and it gave about two and half minute of totality, and it was within 200-mile radius, three-hour drive from us.

 

I was impressed by how organized and orderly the Park was in despite of the fact it was packed with people and cars.  People from all over the country came to see the eclipse, we met people from Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois, Maryland, even Connecticut.

 

The partial eclipse started 1:04, you would notice no difference if not looking at the telescope or staring at the Sun.  Everyone in the park put on their solar glasses and looked up to the Sun.  What a wonder! The Sun looked like a Pac-Man been eaten up a tiny chunk.

 

Then the rest of the hour and half went by eventless, people chatting and having picnic on the lawn, the sky slowly but surely getting grayer, it was kind of weird quer.  Even with 99% of the Sun blocked by the Moon, we still can’t look at the Sun with our naked eyes. Then it happened, the Sun was completely blocked by the Moon, all visible was the halo of the corona of the Sun!

 

This was the MOMENTS we’ve been waiting for, I took off my solar glasses, gaped at the Sun, the time seemed stopped! Loud cheer of the crowd, I joined them, screaming from the top of my lung! Excitement, yes! Fear, definitely! In awe, you bet!

 

“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the Moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human being that you care for them?”

We got two and half minutes totality.  Before the Sun was swiped away, we heard loud chirping of crickets, we saw flock of birds frantically flutter by, i could hear my heart pondering as if to jump out of my chest! Theoretically i knew there was nothing to worry about, the sun would shine back in a minute, but I felt the unspeakable panic,  i could actually imagine the end of the world might look like this,  with no turning back…  I was on autopilot aiming my camera to the Sun and shoot; if it was not for the pre-set setting on my camera I would have missed the whole photographying, I was too dumbfound to think of anything!!

What an unforgettable experience!  Everyone should watch a solar eclipse totality at least once in one’s lifetime.  I realized how helplessly trivial and significant I was in His omnipotent presence!  Yet He loves me just the same!  The amazing grace!

 

 

 

 

A Birthday Celebration with Outdoor Concert and River Front Cycling

The celebration kicked off with an outdoor concert at the Riverbend Music Center with Rod Stewart, Arthur’s long-time admirer and fan. It’s dream come true to see the knight on stage. After overnight at Marriott, a lazy morning of too much breakfast, we picked up Cindy Red bikes to explore both sides of the Ohio River on two wheels.  It was a fun weekend!

No surprise, we’ve been to many attractions in Cincinnati, but this was our first visit to Riverbend Music Center.  The Riverbend located adjacent to Coney Island Recreation Park, along the north side of Ohio River Front.  The concert tickets included parking, we were surprised by how organized and orderly this place was,  from parking to going through security, to find our spot on the lawn, the lawn was synthetic, nice and dry despite the heavy rain in the afternoon.

Cyndi Lauper opened for Rod Stewart.  She still wore her iconic pink hair, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I googled and found out her being 64 years old!  Her voice was still amazingly girly.  She rallied the crowd with songs, like Time After Time, Girls Just Want to Have Fun, and True Color, etc.

 

The weather was so nice, evening breeze, beautiful sunset, everyone was in high spirit when Rod Stewart got on the stage!  He promised an hour and half nonstop fun, boy! He knew how to deliver!  Definitively world class, totally different caliber than Cyndi Pauper.  The crowd wouldn’t sit down, singing and dancing along, you couldn’t help but get pulled and sucked into his vortex.  With his raspy voice, he captivated the audience with one song after another, Rhythm of My Heart, Have I Told You Lately, Forever Young, Tonight Is the Night, Maggie May, Reason to Believe, You Are In My Heart, Da Ya Think I Am Sexy, Young Turks, and many more!!!

Superstar he is!  The way he controlled the air flow, the charisma that flew through his songs, his body language were so electrifying!  He himself was the magic, the total package!  Seeing him on stage in person totally has converted me, now I join my husband, am a die-hard Rod Stewart fan!

With Sir Rod’s amazing voice hanging in our heads and ringing in our ears way past midnight, a lazy morning was expected; we did not leave the hotel until noon!  Thank the Lord for a beautiful sunny day with high of 77F, couldn’t beat that for a summer day.  We waited no more time to pick up our Cindy Red Bikes.

The Purple Bridge (shown above, in blue color actually) is a traffic-free pedestrian bridge, especially for walking and biking. I liked the convenience of its connecting Cincinnati, OH and Newport, KY.

The city of Cincinnati has newly renovated the river-front bike trail.  However, we had to forfeit the plan to bike the whole length because we lost the whole morning.

If you need a hotel in Cincinnati area, I strongly recommend SpringHill Marriott, newly opened in July.  The furniture and bedding, everything smelled fresh and new! The furnishing and decoration was very tasteful and modern.

If you haven’t tried Cincy Red Bike system, similar to the pay-and-go cycling system in many big cities, you should give it a try. We used similar system in Chicago, IL, and Montreal, Canada. For a fixed starting fee, you can get a bike, as long as you return the bike or exchange to a new one, at any station within 60 minutes, you will not be charged for more.  We love how the system works, because it usually takes less than an hour to bike from one destination to another, we never go over the time limit.  You drop your bike, visit the museum or park or whatever, when you are done, pick up another bike, keep going. A fun and economic way to tour a city!

If you ever go to an outdoor concert at Riverbend, one thing to remember that the lawn chair has to be lower than 9-in, which is much lower than your ordinary lawn chair. The soccer chairs we brought were too high, we had to drop them back to our car.

Since the traffic to the city was so congested because of the construction, we had to cancel our pre-concert dinner reservation, relied on concession food to hold off the hunger.   The concession food was typical: burger, hot dog and snacks like nacho and pretzel, pricey yet nothing special.  If not for the detours and stuck in the traffic for hours, we would not have eaten concession food for dinner.

Another way to save money at Riverbend is to buy lawn tickets.  For Rod Stewart concert, the lowest ticket price for a seat was $195, which located at the last roll with obstructive view; the front seat ticket was $388.  Since it was so expensive, we thought about purchasing two front seats for us and leaving the kids out in the back on the lawn for $40 each.  So glad that we eventually decided to stay together on the lawn. The lawn was clean and soft, dry despite the heavy rain in the afternoon.  With the lawn tickets, we not only saved money, we could walk around freely, singing and dancing with the crowd when ever we felt like.  It was really fun!