The Kentucky Castle

Slow down Spring, it’s not Summer yet. #sunnday #springtime #relaxation

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There are castles in Kentucky.  The most impressive one in my opinion is the one in Versailles, not that Versailles of Sun King Louise XIV outside of Paris, of course.  Nevertheless this castle of Versailles, Kentucky is quite fabulous, and no lack of fairytale story.

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Not far from the castle, there was a lovely orchard where you could pick apples and my favorite Asian pears.  So every time we passed by this castle to the orchard, I wondered out loud what could the inside like.  So my dear husband took notes,  a few years ago, he surprised me for an overnight stay in this caste for our wedding anniversary!

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At that time, the castle was called the Castle Post.  It hosted special events, only open to public occasionally.

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It was December, the castle was decorated for Christmas.

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Our suite was at the left turret, the Executive Terrace Suite with a huge study.  The suite was tastefully decorated in rich burgundy color with traditional furnishing.  It was classic and upscale.  The king-size poster bed was lovely!

The breakfast was not large, but delicious with pastry, eggs and my favorite smoked salmon.

The castle has gone through chances in management and ownership, it was open again last year after renovation.  On their Facebook, there were morning yoga on the roof top, weddings and various events, so we decided to go back to try their farm-to-table restaurant.

And we were impressed.

We stayed past sunset.  The castle was truly magical at night.

So pay a visit when you are in the area, you may discover a new spot of romantic gateway.

 

 

 

Spring Break in Washington D.C

Spring in Washington D.C for me is all about cherry blossoms!  If you remember the sad situation of Cherry Blossoms in Washington D. C. last year, you would be like me, anxious about the bloom this year.  But we got extremely lucky! We actually hit the peak bloom!

The peak was originally anticipated in late March, but kept being postponed because of consecutive winter storms in March and April this year, until last weekend!  And we got sunny day on Sunday! Despite the well below zero temperature, we got up at 5:30 and arrived at the north shore of Tidal Basin well before sunrise. There were a lot of people already there, with tripod setup, waiting.

The sunrise was beautiful, not exactly ‘spectacular’, but it was a great experience.  Chatting with fellow photographers and enthusiasts alike, figuring out optimal setting on the camera and sharing gadgets were the best part of the waiting.

It was a delightful day! The Sun was out, it got warmer.  We strolled along the Tidal Basin with crowded people, snatching shots after shots. Every direction your eyes could see filled with clusters and clusters of blossoms, from white to various shades of pink!

I am a cherry blossom fanatic, even you are not particular into bloom, walking among thousands of cherry trees, sprinkled by tiny flower petals is a happy feeling no one can deny.  The Japanese Pagoda (up right) locates outside of  Roosevelt Memorial, an gift from the mayor of Yokohama, Japan in 1957.

No cherry blossoms pictures are complete without the signature shots of the Washington Monument framed by the delicate blossoms.

Everything was coming up roses that day. We run into Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run on Independence Ave.  While we were by the roadside cheering for the runners, we learned that it was rather hard to gain entry to the race, only 2500 random applicants got picked by lottery this year!

It is events like the Cherry Blossom Festival and the Ten Mile Run attracted me to this wonderful city. I love the vibrant energy of the city life. The sounds of the running steps and the fun costumes people put on when they run never cease to amaze me and put smile on my face.

We usually take metro to D.C. because parking near the National Mall can be hectic and hard to find.  However since we were there so early in the morning, there were plenty parking around the Tidal Basin area.  We parked behind Jefferson Memorial on the East Potomac Park, along Ohio Dr.  For sunrise shots you want to stay on the Northern shore of the Tidal Basin, that way you can include Washington Monument or Jefferson Memorial in the photos with the cherry blossoms.

In my previous blog I cited the best locations for Cherry Blossoms besides the Tidal Basin, I like to add one more to the list: the Basilica of National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.  This basilica is the largest church in America and North America, one of the ten largest churches in the world.  It is located in the Brookland area of D.C. at the Catholic University campus, there are 150 cherry trees around the church, another great locale for cherry blossoms.

Romanesque style on the outside and Byzantine style inside, the amazing architecture alone is worth the visit.  And this magnificent church has over 70 chapels and oratories! The mosaic image of Christ in Majesty contains more than 4000 shades and colors,  unfortunately I couldn’t take picture of the mosaic because of the ongoing mass.  They offer six masses daily and many informative free tours.

Since its first mass on Easter Sunday in 1924, Pope Francis, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II had visited the basilica, you can check out their chairs and other items they used during their short visit displaying proudly inside the church.  Also Mother Teresa and many other famous spiritual leaders have also left their footprints there too.

Only two artwork in this massive church are from outside of America, the one on the top right “Our Lady of China” is one of the two.

While you are in the Brookland area, I highly recommend you to visit Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America, only a mile away from the Basilica.  They have beautiful garden and the church inside is very impressive as well.

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Tours are offered daily at various hours, no reservation is needed unless for group larger than five people.  Garden tour is only on Saturday during summer time. You may have a taste of the Monastery through their visual tours online before you go.

So enjoy the wonderful weather and beautiful Washington D.C.; there is so much to see!  And the spring is finally here, to stay!

 

 

 

Puerto Vallarta Winter Getaway

It is very easy to fall in love with Puerto Vallarta (PV).  Warm weather, clear beach, great food and show, and extremely friendly people.  Here are the things we loved and things we could have skipped in PV.

Marietas Islands Hidden Beach tour is the #1 on my list, an absolute must-do! These groups of isles are more than an hour ride from PV, they are beautiful with rugged rocky shore.  Boats can’t dock there, you have to swim to get on the islands.  The tour company provides life jackets and gaggle gears for the swim.  The water is so blue and the islands very beautiful.

There is a hidden beach, you can’t see the beach from outside sea, have to swim over the low overhand to get on the beach, so check the tide table for low tides.  Only 80 people per day are allowed to get on the island, six people to get on the beach in any given time. Make sure to book early.

On the way to the islands we saw whales and many dolphins.

We also highly recommend the Rhythms of the Night Dinner Show! The show is on Las Caletas, an hour boat ride to the south of PV, a place of sporty recreation during the day and romantic candle-light dinner and entertainment at night.  There is no electricity there, four thousands lit candles were waiting for us when we reached the shore!

The food was great and the show was full of amazing acrobatic moments.  Each evening there are two dinners and one show in between, so make sure to specify which dinner you want for the evening when booking.  I wish I knew more about Mexican culture and language to understand the show.  What a wonderful way to spend the night.

Puerto Vallarta is a very artsy tourist town.  There are many wonderful art displays over every corner of the city especially the one-mile long El Malecon Boardwalk along downtown water front.  Every Tuesday morning there is a guided art sculpture tour, it costs $15. Although you can easily do a self-guided tour, just walk along the boardwalk you won’t miss anything.  The dance of the Flyers, Danza de los Voladores, is a preserved ancient Mesoamerican ritual.

If you have children, the Turtle Camp is a wonderful and fun educational activity with the whole family.  You learn about the life of turtles, at the end you can hold a baby turtle and release it back to the ocean.

The Puerto Vallarta City tour is suitable for someone who wants to see the whole city in one day.  It is too crammed in my opinion.  The bus picked us up from our hotel and everybody else, it was a bus-ful of tourists.  We stopped at many attractions briefly including Malecon boardwalk, the church of Our Lady Guadeloupe etc.

We had lunch at a family-owned restaurant near Mismaloya, very unique setting in the wood.  Afterward we walked to a nearby tequila distillery for tasting.  They even blocked big chunk of time for us shopping for souvenirs, twice!  It was a whole day tour.

We stayed at Marriott.  Everywhere we travel, I like to book Marriott for lodging, just love the bedding and pillows and their affordable price. This resort offers many water activities and have a couple of restaurants and nice pools.

I like the location, walking distance to food and market.  There is a public bus stop outside of the resort, the bus fare to downtown is only 7.5 pesos. (The exchange rate $1=19 pesos!)  Our bus ride was fun, we met many snowbirds from America and Canada on the bus.

And taxi is very convenient and reliable, about 80 pesos from hotel to downtown.

When we were in Mexico City two year ago we fell in love with the real Mexican food.  So this time in Puerto Vallarta we were searching for authentic seafood at the places where the locals went.  We tried a handful of the local favorites, and liked most of them, especially fresh seafood, even the food from street vendors and night market were excellent.

The Cafe des Artistes is on the top list of my recommendation. It is at the high end, about $50 per person.  Really romantic, perfect for anniversary or any special occasion.  The restaurant is beautifully decorated, the exquisitely prepared food is accompanied with romantically serenaded music.  They have the best pumpkin soup, the fish dish is so flavorful, and the dessert is to die for.

Another restaurant on my recommendation list is La Langosta Feliz (The Happy Lobster), a seafood restaurant.  If you don’t order the gigantic seafood platter (shown on the picture above), we didn’t, the price was very cheap–four of us spent about 1,500 pesos, less than $80!

We had quite adventure there, I had to share this story!

As I mentioned before, our love of food always push us to search for authentic local food.  One taxi driver highly recommended the Happy Lobster, so we decided to give it a try.  We left from Malecon boardwalk thinking it would be a pleasant walk, it turned out way too far to get there on foot.  As we were asking a local woman how much further we needed to go, we were approached by an elderly man who warmly volunteered to take us there.  Not only that, he also acclaimed to be the owner of that restaurant and offered us 20% discount!  Apparently he owned a couple of restaurants in Puerto Vallarta, the Happy Lobster we were going was currently managed by one of his sons! “Just wait here!” he said, “Let me go and get my car, I take you because I am going there anyway.”

What do you think?  If in your shoes, would you wait and go with him, in a city where you were a stranger?!

As soon as he left, we waved down a taxi.  We couldn’t get out there fast enough! It turned out we were only half mile away.

The restaurant was awesome! Seafood was great, fresh and tasty. Lots of locals and tourists like us were there.  The waiters spoke good English. The service was prompt and warm, the food portion was decent. I had octopus ceviche and freshly caught snapper (see the pictures above), loved both.  If I had to pick on something, the music was a bit too loud to our taste, especially the band came to the table side and played.

By the time we ordered and chewed on our appetizer, lo and be hold, that elderly man walked in and straightly approached our table, padded my husband’s shoulder “haha you made it.” !!!

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The manager (on the right) was indeed his son!!

We are so accustomed to not trust strangers; we teach our children that and we model those teachings ourselves.   We may be safer but how we miss otherwise great opportunity to make friends!   People are much more genuine and loving than we portray them! Especially in Puerto Vallarta!

So if you visit Puerto Vallarta, please go and eat at the Happy Lobster.  If you see him, ask for a discount, I guarantee you will get it.  (I didn’t get the discount he promised since I didn’t even want him to remember our prior conversation.)    His heart is made of gold.

 

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

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!