Napa Valley Sunrise to Sunset (II)

I asked our hotel Concierge at Napa Valley Marriott Hotel & Spa for locations to see sunrise in Napa Valley, they recommended the Alston Park nearby.

The park was small, the trail about 1 mile or so. People were already there walking their dogs before sunrise. What a perfect location, thank you Marriott. The sunrise that morning was spectacular! ūüôā

Unlike the first day, We didn’t take any tours. Instead we picked wineries of our like and tasted on our own.

Domaine Chandon in Yountville.

It was very early in the growing season in February. Only bright yellow wild mustard blooms were abundant in the valley.

Among all the wineries we tasted, Opus One was the most expensive tasting we have ever experienced. And there was only ONE glass of red wine to taste!

2013 Opus One ***** (This one they sell for $399/bottle! No kidding!!)

  • Cabernet Sauvignon 79%
  • Cabernet Franc 7%
  • Merlot 6%
  • Petit Verdot ^%
  • Malbec 2%

I had to say it was DELICIOUS! And the tasting area upstairs had a great view, it was like a giant panoramic painting!

In comparison, other tastings all of sudden seemed “reasonably” priced! ūüôā However for a more reasonable price tag, go to Sonoma county, which we did the next day. The wineries there were much cheaper and very lay back.

Domaine Carneros in Napa Valley was very romantic tasting room, and they had the best sparkling wines.

These were the wines in Domaine Carneros we tasted:

  • Blanc de Blancs ****
  • Brut Rose (Cuvee de la Pompadour) *****
  • Brut Rose Late Disgorged *****
  • Avant-Garde Pinot Noir ****
  • Estate Pinot Noir *****

Just outside of Domaine Carneros, we had beautiful sunsets to end the day!

†

Napa Valley Valentine’s Weekend (I)

Napa Valley should be on the list of any wine lovers. Summer and fall are the best seasons to visit for an obvious reason: there are grapes hanging on the vines and wine harvest should be fun to witness! With that said, I think any season is a good season for Napa. ūüôā

Since we only had three days, we started from the northern tip of the valley: Calistoga–Sterling Vineyards and Castello di Amorosa on our first day.

Wine tasting was only part of the reason to visit Sterling Vineyards; the white building complex sit on top of the hill, the view of the valley from the winery is extraordinary! And the ride up to the tasting rooms itself was a great experience, too.

The following were the wines in our tasting:

  • 2016 Winemaker’s White Blend ***
  • 2015 Oak Knoll Chardonnay ***
  • 2015 Sangiovese ***
  • 2014 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ****
  • 2015 Petite Sirah ****
  • and California Malvasia Bianca *****

The entire Sterling Vineyards is best viewed from the Castello di Amorosa, and vice versa.

The Castello di Amorosa, the Castle of Love, is my #1 priority among Napa Valley wineries. The first time I heard about this castle was on Culture Trip, it was listed as one of the 12 most beautiful castles in America.

This Castle of Love has the best tour and tasting experience during our weekend in Napa. A fourth generation winemaker, Dario Sattui, spent more than 14 years to build this 13th century Tuscan-style castle to honor his Italian heritage and to share his deep love for medieval architecture.

Don’t let the look fool you, the castle was newly opened in 2007. There are 107 rooms, and no two rooms alike, wine caves, even a medieval armory and torture chamber, Castello has it all.

All the building materials were 700-800 year-old and hand-made, shipped from Italy! Talking about authenticity! Walking inside the castle we felt like traveling through time to Tuscany, Italy…

These were the wines we tasted at the castle:

  • 2017 Ferrington Vineyard Gewurztraminer ***
  • 2017 Simpatica Riesling/Moscato Blend ****
  • 2016 Bien Nacido Vineyard chardonnay ***
  • 2016 Pinot Noir Terra de Promissio *****
  • 2014 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ****
  • 2013 Napa Valley Il Brigante Red Blend ***
  • 2017 Anderson Valley Late Harvest Gewurztraminer *****

Assateague Island Wild Horse Quest

As horse fans we have to go and see the horses when we find out that wild horses are freely roaming in Assateague Island National Seashore.

The Assateague Island is located off the eastern coast, 15 minutes south of Ocean City. According to TripAdvisor, wild horses can easily be spotted driving inside the Assateague Island National Seashore. So we decided to pay a visit during our recent trip to Ocean City.

It was a beautiful morning, and we were there about 6:30. The gate was open, however no one there to collect fee yet. Since the Visitor Center opens at 9 am, we decided to rely on the Google map.

We spotted no horses driving through the entire length of Bayberry Dr. However, here and there, we detected horse drops, and they were fresh, which was quite encouraging.

South Ocean Beach

This beach is wide open, and very quiet. Too early for a Friday morning. The sand along the beach is incredible in height, almost like dunes to me.

Next we drove around near the Old Ferry Landing.

No horses there either. No ones except the two love birds to the right of the house.

Back to the road, this time we turned left onto Bayside Dr. The mosquitoes and black flies were quite abundant, ready to feast on us to break the fast.

Marsh Nature trail looked inviting, it was raised boardwalk overlooking the bay. Since we couldn’t find horses, might as well enjoy the trail. And we did. This trail itself had made the trip worthwhile.

While we were at the trail, we asked bypassers whether they caught sight of any horses, and one of the campers saw a few at his camp site.

Off to the campground we went. There were three of them! On the first impression they were just like domestic horses, shining fur coat, well-groomed mane. There was nothing “wild” about them.

They seemed quite used to people, nibbling around the tent and the rest area; some even tried to get food from the campers.

It was neat to watch them interact with people. A campground should be the first location to seek for wild horses! Happy and content, we headed back to Ocean City, not knowing the best was yet to come.

As we were pulling out to exit the park, we encountered two more horses. One was wandering at the PARKING LOT; the other literally came to us– crossing the road, we stopped our car to let her pass.

Obviously she owned the road!

It was a really fun day!

So you don’t need to get up super early to see horses, they have the same schedule as we humans. They stroll out during breakfast time, to parking lots and campgrounds.

A word of caution: keep distance, don’t get too close to them. They are wild horses after all.

The Kentucky Castle

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.

Photo May 01, 6 14 02 PM

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!

dragon

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!

 

 

 

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!