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!

 

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).

 

 

 

 

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 fo allowed.  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 Natural Beauty of Taroko Gorge, Hualien, Taiwan

My First impression of Taiwan was her stunning beauty.  Although an island just about 14 thousand square miles, Taiwan has nine National Parks!

I visited Taroko National Park (太鲁阁国家公园) last November, it was a perfect time to avoid the island’s hot and humid summer. Taroko, a word for the Truku aboriginal tribe, Gorge is the main attraction of the national park, however there are other attractions in the park and surrounding Hualien City. So plan for at least two days, and be prepared to be blown away for there is nothing like it!

The park is free.  Most of the hiking trails are flat and paved, suitable to all physical conditions. Here is a short list of my must-sees and tips.

I recommend making Qingshui Cliff your first stop.  The morning is usually less crowded, and the lighting before 10 am is at its best.

Shakadang Trail has the most amazing blue stream running alongside the trail, with marbles, big and small, popping and scattered in the creek.  The best view is at the end of the trail.

The next one is Swallow Grotto Trail. It is mandatory to wear a helmet to walk the trail because there is an issue of landslide and falling rocks. Haha, I had the same thought–a plastic helmet vs falling boulders?! But a rule is a rule.

Lushui Trail is a bit more strenuous than the previous two. There is some climbing, here and there, and part of the trail is dirt road.  The words ‘Lushui’ mean ‘green water’. When we were on the trail, a gloomy cloud covered the sky, started drizzle.  As you could see from the photo, the water was not green at all.

The most iconic view in the Taroko Gorge is probably the Eternal Spring Shrine.  It was built to commemorate the lives lost during the construction of road through the Gorge. No one is allowed to enter the Shrine any more.

Looking for a quick stop for lunch inside the park? Look no farther than Tianxiang, a cute and colorful town inside the park. There are a couple of restaurants there with a reasonable price tag.  Since Hualien area is famous for rice, so I ordered purple rice steamed in a bamboo tube. To keep the bamboo theme going, I also had a broth made from the tender part of bamboo shoots.

Temples, marble gazebos, bridges and suspension bridges, the park has all, and many more.

A few words of cautions: we took Taiwan Railroad from Taipei to Hualien City.  The speed train tickets are usually hard to get for the individual travelers since travel agents often stock most tickets.  So remember to buy tickets ahead of time; an alternative route is to take the bus which takes 4-5 hours, double the time of the train. If you fancy Taiwan’s local food like me, make sure to have dinner at Hualien’s night market, 自强夜市. There are variety of local food, fruits and vegetables to choose from, I had the grilled squid (it was delicious!) and oyster as the island was famous for fresh seafood.

Also I highly recommend to hire a taxi for the day.  For $100 (New Taiwan $3,000) or less, you can hire a private driver for 8 hours.  Don’t pick up any from the train station, wait until you check in your hotel, the hotel staff can arrange one for you.  We were very satisfied with the service of our driver. He was not only our driver, but also our tour guide plus photographer, and he went the extra mile to please us. Simply decent down-to-earth people.

So with the spectacular natural beauty, stunning gorges, hiking trails, shrine, temples, waterfalls and bridges,  Taroko is not to be missed if you are in the area!