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.

DSC03759

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!

 

 

 

Israel Impressions Part I: Along the Mediterranean Sea

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

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

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

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

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

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

DSC09576

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

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

DSC09642 (1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

map