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!

 

Hiking the Billy Goat Trail on Father’s Day

This year Arthur’s Father’s Day present was to visit his family in Maryland and hike the Billy Goat Trail.

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Billy Goat Trail is a 1.7-mile section of Great Falls Loop (4.3 miles) along the Potomac River.  According to alltrails.com it is one of the most strenuous trails in the east coast.  There are many attractions along the Potomac River, C & O (Chesapeake & Ohio) Canal National Historic Park on Maryland side and Great Falls National Park on Virginia side are just a few we frequent.

The entrance fee for the C&O Canal Historic Park is $10 per vehicle, good for 3 days. Make sure to first visit the Tavern Visitor Center, which opened in 1830 as an inn.  Imagine to reserve a bed (a bunk) for the night for only 25 cents!  During the weekend the mule-drawn canal boat ride is a popular family activity, see NP website for schedule and pricing.

We began our hike from the canal towpath, which was flat and shaded most of the way.  On our left we counted at least five locks along the canal. This wide open section of the canal is strangely named as “Log Wall”, I am not sure why since the canal bank is full of rocks, no logs.

On our right, the Potomac river, gushing through boulders and bedrocks, glittering in the afternoon sun, was quite inviting.  We saw parents with little children in strollers lingering along the towpath, having a good time.

About a mile into the towpath, the Billy Goat A Trail forked to the right.  The trail turned into a narrow and arduous rocky path.  This section A was what made this trail famous. It was so steep in some areas, we had to get on all fours, hands and knees.  Obviously the trail was destined for an agile mountain goat! 🙂 If not for the clearly marked blue sign, we would easily wonder off track since there was no visible trail, only rocky cleft!

However, our hard work paid off, the reward was the incredible view! And I haven’t mentioned the feeling of appeasing accomplishment! 🙂

When C & O Canal Company broke ground in 1828, their original plan was to dig a 360-mile canal to connect Chesapeake with Ohio River.  Of course, we know the canal never reached Ohio river.  At the time of its grand open in 1850, the canal was 184.5 mile long, getting as far as Cumberland, Maryland.  Coals were carried down on boats from the Allegheny Mountains to Washington DC through the canal.

We stopped briefly at Cumberland, Maryland on our drive back home.  This little historic town, the west end of C&O canal, is worth of a longer trip to fully explore.  We will be back for sure.

Georgetown, Maryland, the east end of the canal. The pictures were taken during Thanksgiving 2015.

So glad that Arthur rose to the challenge on this Father’s Day to tackle the Billy Goat Trail!  Now he has one more thing to boast about. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Flat Lick Falls

Summer is here, it is time to hit outdoor again! Our friend Sarah told us about this hidden jewel, Flat Lick Falls, in Gray Hawk (Jackson county), Kentucky.  Last weekend we decided to check it out.  So glad we did! Thank you Sarah!!

Flat Lick Falls is 43 miles from Richmond, half way between Berea and London, pass McKee on KY-421.  A detailed direction is listed on their website.  From parking lot to the Falls is a short distance, very easy access.

Our first stop was the top view of the falls, then we took a stroll upstream. We were surrounded with lush green and untouched nature.

Across the top of the falls, there was a steep down-send to the base of the falls and pool. In no hurry we took the long route, a scenic and graduate descend, less than a mile long.

We were in the shade the whole time.  The temperature was at least 5-10 degree cooler.

Flat Lick Falls! What a great view! Other than a few people cooling on the left side of the pool, we almost had the whole falls to ourselves.

Facing the falls to our left, behind this fallen tree, Arthur discovered a huge, thin, curvy, free-standing rock, we called it potato chip!

Overall, it was a very enjoyable outing.

We noticed people started to come around two in the afternoon when we were ready to head back.  There was a large shaded BBQ area looking brand-new near the parking lot, and the last mile to the falls was paved gravel road.  Maybe the business is picking up, so make sure to go visit before it is getting too popular (crowded).

 

 

 

 

Jackfruit Is the King!

Have you seen this in the supermarket and wonder what it is?  The name is jackfruit, not durian.  It is not a huge monster but rather a delicious fruit. In fact, it is the largest tree-borne fruit on Earth.  Once you try it,  I promise you will come back for a second!

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One fruit can go up to 100 pounds! This “small” one I got at my local Meijer weighs more than 20 pounds. (FYI: $1.49/Ib for whole, $2.29/Ib for cut.)

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Cut open the fruit longitudinally to expose the yellow fresh (the avrils), the first thing that hits your nose is the fragrance!  The aroma! You will totally ignore the scary look of the cut surface.

First, I use a sharp knife to remove the white center core, this helps to expose the yellow fresh that in-bedded in the fibrous chambers (the rags). It is much easier that it looks, just dig in and get messy.  There are lots of fruits! So it’s time for jackfruit party!

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The avril is meaty and DELICIOUSLY sweet, with a taste all its own.  Some says it tastes like mango, some says peach or banana; while others say juicy fruit gum. It is not.  The literal Chinese translation of jackfruit is “pineapple honey 菠萝蜜”, it doesn’t taste like pineapple, not even close.  You have to try it yourself.

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Don’t throw away the leftover once the flesh is removed.  The rags are edible!

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Recently my mother visited us, she made this rag stirfry for us.  She removed the rags from the rinds, and soaked them overnight in water, and stir-fried with carrots. They are refreshing, but a bit bland to my taste.  Next time, I will try to stir-fry with some hot chili pepper or cumin to boost the flavor.

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There is a smooth stone inside each fruit, don’t throw it away since that is the third edible part of the jackfruit.  Collect the stones, cook them like you boil potatoes!  I boil them with little salt for about half an hour. They even taste like potato!  However the skin outside the stone is much harder than potato skin.

Lot of people confuse jackfruit with another tropical fruit, durian (a nasty fruit in my opinion).  They look similar, both are big with bumpy green skin.  But they taste different like day and night. It is also personal. My cousin in Shanghai thinks the flesh of durian resemble high-end quality soft cheese, such an delicacy to her; however, it smells and tastes like something rotten to me. Yikes!

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If a whole fruit is too much for you, especially for someone who never had this before. Meijer also sells cut jackfruit, a quarter or a piece of the whole fruit.  A good option to test the water.  Also if you can’t finish the whole fruit, the flesh and the stones freeze well, you can store away the fruits for later enjoyment.  Just make sure to remove the flesh from the rags and take out the stone, and freeze them separately.

My whole family love this fruit, even my picky teenage daughter! So give it a try and let me know what you think!

 

 

 

A Weekend of Broadway Show and Sight-Seeing at New York City

New York City is one of my favorite cities, I can’t get enough of her.  Last year alone we were there three times: college tour of NYU in the spring with our daughter, Broadway show in the summer with our son, and parent weekend in the fall. We also visited NYC in the winter months, one year we even attempted to wait for the Big Apple drop at Times Square on New Year’s Eve!  However, our children were not ready for eight-hour without bathroom break, around dinner time we declared defeat.

A friend of mine is planning to visit NYC this summer, I thought to share some tips for her.

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First of all, don’t attempt to drive in Manhattan. When we were there last summer, we parked our car on the Jersey side of Hudson river (Weehawken, NJ), the parking was indoor, very clean, and conveniently located near the ferry dock (Port Imperial Terminal).  Because we purchased the Broadway tickets from the NY Waterway-Your Key to the City, we not only got free round-trip ferry tickets, the deal also included 40% off our Broadway tickets.  Way to go!

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The ferry dropped us at the West 39th street of Midtown Manhattan.  There were public transportation nearby.  However we packed light since we planned to do a lot of walking in the city, it took us half an hour to walk to our hotel on 46th street.

Broadway at Times Square Hotel is only two blocks from Broadway and Times Square.  Great location with walking distance to all actions.  Staying in the center of attractions has always been our strategy when visiting big cities. It may cost a bit more for hotel stay, but the right location save us from the hustle of commute.  Why wastes time and energy on driving and fighting traffic?  After checked in and left our luggage, we were ready to explore the city.IMG_4465_1

Depending on the hours of the day and days of the week, such as crowded evening at the weekend or early morning rush hour of a weekday, Times Square has very different vibes.

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Highly recommend “Something Rotten”! A great musical, very funny!

As always, there are lot of things to see in this magnificent city, too little time. Manhattan is very walkable, and metro was reliable most of the time.

We could easily spend a whole day at Central Park and the nearby Metropolitan Museum.

Know ahead that there is no way you can do it all.  Pace yourself, save something for the next time.

Brooklyn Bridge is a favorite for many.  If you pick one bridge to walk through, make it Brooklyn Bridge! The view is amazing in any time of the day no matter which season. But it is spectacular at sunset.  So linger a bit longer, you will see the brilliant light of Manhattan as the night falls.

We walked cross Brooklyn Bridge in a cold afternoon last spring.  That time we took the New Jersey Transit train to Manhattan. Very nice ride.

One last tip to save money on Broadway tickets: if you don’t mind staying in lines to wait for the same day show, you may visit tkts Ticket Booth at Times Square (or other booths).  You may not have a huge selections, however the catch is you pay only half the regular price!

Cherry Blossoms in Washington DC

Every spring, visitors from all over the country come to Washington D.C witness the Cherry Blossoms near Tidal Basin. The beauty of Yoshito cherry blossoms captures the hearts of visitors, as they linger, admire, and marvel at the delicate blooms.  The visit often leaves an everlasting remark in their memories.  I know, because I am one of them.

The chase of the perfect blossoms is a constant battle. Timing is the key.  Because of the nature of the cherry blossoms, the forecasting peak bloom is near impossible more than 10 days in advance. As few have the luxury of leaving at the moment of calling, most of us often feel helpless with the situation.  We carefully research the weather trend of the current year, closely follow the online update, book our vacation to the best of our knowledge, then pray for the best.

Every year Cherry Blossoms in D.C. fall any time between March 15 to April 15. The blooms last from two days to two weeks depending on the weather conditions.  This year spring arrives early in east coast. The original prediction of the peak blooms fell on March 19-22, overlapping with my visit to Maryland!  Imagine the excitement when I found out that!!

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Then winter came, just two days before my arrival.  Long story short, the snow storm and the extreme coldness on March 14-16 tarnished most of the just out blooms and destroyed more than half of the flower buds close to final stage of opening.  Some even announced up to 90% of destruction and no Cherry Blossoms this year…

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I didn’t know what to expect, and didn’t dare to get my hope up. So imagine my delight when I spotted the first blooms after finally arrived in Tidal Basin!  Delicate white with faint pink, yet unmistakable, some cherry blossoms survived the storm, they insisted to let the beauty shine! What fighters they were!

We joined the Cherry Blossom Ranger Talk near Tidal Basin. It was very informative, we learned a lot about the history of the cherry blossoms and the lore of the annual Cherry Blossom Festivals in D.C.  The best photo spots in Tidal Basin are near the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Franklin Roosevelt Memorial, and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

Besides the obvious, the beautiful blossoms, there are a couple of highly recommended sites near Tidal Basin: the location of the original Yoshino tree dated back to 1912, planted by First Lady Taft and the Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese Ambassador, on the northern bank of the Tidal Basin. There you can also find a stone lantern, also a gift from  Japan (1954). Lighting this lantern by the Cherry Blossom Princess picks off the annual Cherry Blossom Festivals in D.C. If you like the lantern, make sure to check out the Japanese Pagoda, a stone statue, just outside of FDR memorial.

Other places also offer beautiful sights of cherry blossoms, such as along the shoreline of East Potomac Park all the way to Hains Point and Kenwood neighborhood in Bethesda, Maryland.

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Another interesting story is worth telling. As we know that the Yoshino cherry trees were the gift of City of Tokyo to Washington D.C..  More than three thousands trees were shipped and transplanted in D.C. in 1912, and many more trees in the years followed.  Throughout the years, they flourished and eventually called D.C. home.  Today Yoshino trees are the most common cherry trees in D.C area.  Did you know the bombing of WWII destroyed the trees in Japan, at one point Yoshino trees were extinct in Tokyo?  Sending back the propagated tree from the 1912 donation after the war helped Japan to revive their Yoshino trees, and the genetic lineage of the original trees is preserved and continued in Japan.  It is through the cycle of giving that the cherry trees have fulfilled their role as a symbol of friendship of US and Japan.

What an uplift of spirit from Cherry Blossoms! No matter how short the life span, the cherry blossoms persevere and let out the beautiful blooms, even facing the storm.  How marvelous!!

The Alhambra of Granada, the Last Moorish Stronghold in Spain

Granada is one of the best places to explore Moorish civilization in Spain. Above all attractions–the flamenco shows, tapas, fresh market, old town walking tour–the highlight of the city is the Alhambra, one of the finest Moorish palaces in Europe, the last stronghold of Moorish kingdom in Spain. Granada could be done in one day with an intense schedule, but why? We were there for two days, it was nice to slow down, smell the roses.

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The Alhambra consists of the Palacio Nazaries (The Nazarid Palace), Generalife Gardens and Alcazaba fort. The Nazarids were ethnic groups of Spanish Muslims who ruled the last Moorish kingdom till 1492. The palace is the absolute highlight, a beacon of light in the Dark Ages of Europe. Be aware that the admission ticket is often sold out because of the restriction of the number of visitors per day. So purchase your ticket online EARLY and your allotted time shown on the admission ticket. Don’t be the sad left-out tourists who miss the main sight!

The most striking element of the palace was water, the purest symbol for life.  Ceaseless cascading flow, elegant dancing fountains, quiet mirror-like reflections, water was the main theme.  This mere necessity of the modern life was true luxury in the dessert climate then.

Another obvious, different from other palaces we visited in Europe, was there was NO personal portraits or deity paintings anywhere in this palace.  Moorish people forbid idol worship, instead the palace was decorated with intricate patterns and elaborate geometric shapes and wonders, which covered EVERY square inches of the marble walls, tile floors and wood ceilings.

Generalife was the area outside of palace, including the manicured Gardens. At the end of the garden was a small summer palace.

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The Alcazaba fort was quite empty, but from the top we could overlook the city of Granada.

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At the night fell, the palace became a mysterious place.

 

The best sunset view of the Alhambra was from the San Nicholas Viewpoint on the hill across from the palace. Go early to find a nice spot. Be patient, the reward would be a view you wouldn’t easily forget!  With the palace glistening in the golden light, strong and dignified, I understood why the Christian Charles V (the Holy Roman Emperor who ruled as Charles I over Spain), the king who conquered Granada, chose to siege the palace to force Moorish into surrender. This was his way to show his respect to this splendid palace and preserve its glory.

Two more minor points:

Granada was very walkable. But taxi was very cheap if you were tired of walking.  The local people here didn’t speak much English, similar in other southern parts of the Spain we visited, definitely less than the people in Barcelona. So be sure to download a English-Spanish dictionary on your phone, it proved to be very useful for us.

We did this trip, just the two of us, because our children had gone there with their Spanish classes the year before. We started out from Madrid and surrounding cities, such as Avila, Segovia and Toledo, then took a train to Seville, continued to Granada, and flew out from there to Barcelona afterward. The airport at Granada was not very big, only a dozen flights a day. A train to Barcelona would be a much preferred transportation in the hind sight, however our schedule didn’t allow us to do that.

This trip gave us a chance to try a selfie stick for the first time.  You could tell we had a ball, haha.