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A Pedal-Powered Bar Crawl

I know it’s spring in Pittsburgh when I can go to my 5:30 p.m. gym class and it’s light enough to people-watch through the second story floor-to-ceiling windows. I know summer is on its way when I see the Pittsburgh Party Pedaler roll by. This year I got so excited seeing it for the first time (much pointing and exclaiming “pedal pub!”), our Body Pump instructor was inspired to organize a class field trip.

So last week we all got together for our Friday night Body Pump class, hit the showers, grabbed a quick bite to eat, and then met up in Pittsburgh’s Strip District to climb aboard our very own 2-hour pedal pub tour.

My pictures aren’t the most fantastic images, but there was a lot of motion… and drinking… so I hope you’ll forgive me.

The 16-seat bike contraption is 100% powered by the people on board. We didn’t have many avid spinners on this ride, but together we made easy work of the streets in the Strip and Cultural Districts of Pittsburgh. Our first stop was a bar in the Strip District, where the bartender served up 16 shots for our enthusiastic group.

Shots for 16!

Then it was back to the bike to make our way down Penn Avenue straight into the Cultural District. John, our driver for the evening, deftly maneuvered the Dutch-built bike through traffic, ringing a bell quickly when he needed us to pedal and giving us two quick rings when we needed to coast.

With a top speed of 5 miles-per-hour, the Party Pedaler experience leaves plenty of time for dancing along to your choice of music and waving at everyone on the sidewalk (one guy even sang and danced along to some old school N’Sync with us — gotta love a guy who can get into boy band music with 16 crazy ladies on a four-wheeled pub).

After our second stop at a very crowded bar in the Cultural District, it was time to head back to the Strip. Since I live just across one of Pittsburgh’s famous bridges from where we stopped, I hopped off and made my way home (rather than having to call an Uber to get home). I heard the music and revelry continuing for at least two blocks down the street.

If you’re looking for a fun way to enjoy bar hopping in Pittsburgh (and get a little fresh air and exercise to boot!), the Pittsburgh Party Pedaler is a unique way to go. The cost averages out to $25/pedaler and it was well worth the price for a fun evening with the girls from Gold’s Gym. Just be sure to book well in advance; John told us business is booming this year!

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Bahamian Escape: The Planning Stage

Amanda's favorite part about sailing, the swimming.

A few days ago we decided to have a fun-in-the-sun trip in September since we didn’t head south in February.  We wanted to keep the budget small and go somewhere we could get to fast, even from Pittsburgh.  I tried my best to find something around our old haunts of the USVI and BVI, but getting there was costing us valuable time. And since our favorite hotel, Villa Olga, closed on St. Thomas we were a little less motivated. We could have made our way back to Playa del Carmen, Mexico but we’ve been there a few times and really wanted to try something different.

I opened up the aggregators like Orbitz and Kayak and even a few airline pages and finally found what we we’re looking for: a place that fits our budget and we can get there fast. We found a great deal on flight and hotel combo through JetBlue for Nassau, Bahamas. I’ve never been to the Bahamas and Amanda has only been to Atlantis on Paradise Island, so it even checked the “not been there box.”

We’re booking the British Colonial Hilton for 4 nights for $1,646 — including airfare for two. We had looked at one or two other places suggested but the location of the Hilton is what sold us. The hotel is near downtown and only 20 minutes from the airport, making it perfect for a day of exploring the sights of Nassau like the Straw Market (an open-air flea market), the water tower that gives you great vistas of the island from its highest point, as well as the many bars and restaurants catering to western, eastern and Bahamian palates.

I’d have to say one of the key selling points for Amanda is that the Hilton is right on the water, and we know how she loves the water.

We’ll keep you up to date with our Bahamian escape, and the planning for our other upcoming adventures to Italy and China.

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A Doctor’s Appointment

The theater was packed (the show sold out in 24 hours) and all 2,300 seats were filled as the lights dimmed and a hush blanketed the audience. The Bendum Center, which we’ve mentioned before, often hosts great acts from opera and theater to classical and rock music. The acoustic were designed more than 90 years ago, carrying the voices and notes to the back of highest tiers of seats.  So what amazing play or performance was the audience eagerly anticipating? This night, it was a physics lecture.

Yes, a lecture on astrophysics drew 2,300 people, and we were among them. Our professor for the evening was Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, world-renowned astrophysicist and director or the Hayden Planetarium in New York, host of Star Talk and Cosmos and half a dozen books.

His topic for the evening was achieving a Cosmic Perspective, the idea that we all need to take a step back and consider the world from a vantage point much larger than our daily existences. We looked at the Pale Blue Dot photos from 1990 and 2013 (pictured) and used that as an opportunity to step *way* back in perspective.

Image Credit:  NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Tyson stressed that, as humans, we tend to want to be seen as unique individuals; but the fact of the matter is we’re all much more alike than different. And we’re all far more similar to nearby species (in terms of genetic makeup) like rats and mice than most of us would care to admit.

Stepping back and considering our existence from that cosmic perspective may help us become better stewards of our blue dot — and maybe even better co-inhabitants of our home.

Tyson also talked about Pluto (and his part in the planet’s demotion to dwarf planet status) and the decline of scientific thought leadership in the United States between as recently as the 1990s and today (both moves we’d like to see reversed).

I have to admit Tyson has a gift for taking complex theories and making them understandable. He may be the most high-profile science educator in the U.S., and possibly in the world. He has used his platform as advocate for science literacy, stating in an interview with The Science Network,

“[A] most important feature is the analysis of the information that comes your way. And that’s what I don’t see enough of in this world. There’s a level of gullibility that leaves people susceptible to being taken advantage of.  I see science literacy as a kind of vaccine against charlatans who would try to exploit your ignorance. “

It’s a philosophy that applies to understanding cultures, and is cured by travel as well an understanding of the laws of nature.

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National Harbor Food and Wine Festival

corks

If you’re looking for a great gastronomic experience this weekend and happen to be in the Washington, DC metro area, the National Harbor Food & Wine Festival is definitely your destination.  The development of National Harbor sits just across the DC border in Maryland along the banks of the Potomac River and has, in its short life, attracted festivals, foodies and a Ferris wheel.

This waterfront wine tasting is in its 8th year, and now boasts 150 different international and local wines, craft beers and spirits. You also don’t have to worry about finding something you like and remembering to buy it later, the festival permit allows you to purchase the bottles you like best.

If you live in DC and have always wanted to get a reservation at that trendy restaurant (or just have a taste to see what all the fuss is about) or track down a popular local food truck, this might be your chance. The festival attracts chefs from some of the hottest restaurants in the area along with some of the best of the DC food truck scene.  The food trucks in DC are a far cry from the “roach coach” experience a decade ago; these mobile kitchens have food for every taste from Pho to BBQ.

A headliner of the wine selection is from Stags Leap of Napa Valley, California. In 1976 Stags Leap was the first US wine to win the Judgement of Paris, a moment that’s now considered a watershed moment for American wines. The win is considered so important the Smithsonian included the wine in its 101 objects that made America.

Stags Leap

A bier garten will also be set up so you can taste some special craft beers, or head to the whiskey and bourbon lounge for spirits and hand-rolled cigars.

You will even get the chance to sit in on cooking demonstrations and book signings from some of the best chefs in the area like Mike Isabella, author of Crazy Good Italian, Bryan Voltaggio, Top Chef finalist, and Rock Harper, winner of Hell’s Kitchen.

General admission and your souvenir tasting glass are $55 on Saturday and $45 on Sunday. The hours both days are from 1pm to 6pm. Admission gives you access to unlimited samples, cooking demos and several workshops.

So bring your blankets, chairs and plenty of cash (most of the vendors will take credit cards, but not all).  You’ll be asked to show your ID many times over, so keep that handy, too.

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The Birthplace of Earth Day

I find it fun to learn about surprising things right in your own backyard, and the connection Warrenton, VA has to Earth Day was unexpected.

Airlie is a hotel and conference center tucked away in the rolling hills of the Virginia Piedmont region. That’s where Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, a US Senator from Wisconsin, was inspired to take the social consciousness of the 60s anti-war movement and channel it into a message of environmental stewardship. It was also at Airlie that Senator Nelson revealed his plans to formally announce Earth Day to a group of students at the conference center. It became a defining moment for Airlie’s identity.

The main house of the Hotel and resturant

The main house of the hotel and restaurant.

The center began the Airlie Local Food Project in 1998 as a way to demonstrate sustainability by creating a 4-acre garden. A farm-to-table attitude is used in the hotel kitchens; the chefs and gardeners plan seasonal menus based on the time of year and what they can grow (and what they can find locally) to not only shorten the distance between farm and table but put money into the local farming economy. You can also learn about the food that’s headed to your plate on one of the garden tours, which include explanations of organic gardening, tours of the green house, chicken coop and a recently started orchard. You need to make sure you book in advance in order to have the chance to snack on some appetizers made from ingredients grown on the very plot of land you explored. You can also wash them down with a wine from one of the area’s many vineyards.

wine and horderves all sourced locally

Wine and hors d’oeuvres all sourced locally

Airlie isn’t just focused on the helping save the planet by feeding you well, they also continue a decades-old recycling and composting  program and they’ve upgraded all of their lighting  in the main building and all of the cottages to energy-efficient LED lighting. The parking lot even has PEP stations for your cars plug-in power needs.

You truly find yourself immersed in nature on the 1,000-acre estate. Much of the property is designated as a Certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. The hotel has bikes that are free to use for exploring the property as you do your best to get back to nature.

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Checking out China

We’ve been doing a little planning the last few months, setting our travel priorities for the next few years. We both know that many things can get in the way of our “jet-setting” lifestyle. Things like new jobs, unexpected expenditures (new cars, new HVAC systems), or even political events (I’ve wanted to visit the ruins of Babylon for years but they’re in Iraq).

For the things we can control, like budgets, we find it’s best to start doing planning a couple of years out, like we did with our trip to Tanzania.  I find it’s always easier to save the money if you have a specific goal in mind, much like a PBS telethon. We did a little talking during one of our coffee dates and decided that China is our next big trip. We have a European adventure in the planning stages for next year, but we’ll get to that another time.

We (I) start out planning a trip to a place we’ve never been like most people do, with research. I admit some of the fun has gone out of that research; which used to involve going to a bookstore and perusing book after book as you sipped a cup of coffee and got to know your traveling companion (my friend — now wife — Amanda and I did a lot of that planning our first trip). I now just hit the sterile internet for faster and more varied results (especially if you have a specific reason you are taking a trip somewhere, like something your wife wants to do more than anything in the world).

Panda Search

You often get the paid adds right off the top, my instinct tells me to ignore them and go straight to the top searched sites. I, like most consumers, start the clicking and weeding out the results that don’t fit my needs. I also take a look at travel sites like Frommers and Fodor’s to see what they suggest as the must-sees and best itineraries and compare them to what’s offered by the tour companies.

I took a look at Wendy Wu Tours, which has a top-notch China tour that includes a visit to the Panda breeding facility in Chengdu, though the prices were in British Pounds and a little steep. The trips from Beijing Holiday and China Tours both had packages running around $2,300 (excluding air form the US). All three of these tours offer trips to Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding  where you can actually hold a panda and volunteer (for a fee) taking care of the cute balls of black and white fur.

panda in tree

One of the best things about the internet age is if a company offers a crappy tour, they can’t easily hide it. Our next search is through review sites like Trip Advisor. The Beijing Holiday, China Tour.com and Wendy Wu Tours all got good reviews, giving us a lot to think about as we plan.  I’ve said it before, the planning of a trip is just as fun as taking it. We will keep you updated as we plan this next big adventure.

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A World Full of Cherries

Cherry Blossoms The cherry blossom (Sakura) is a well-known and ubiquitous symbol of Japan frequently depicted on traditional Japanese goods and art. The cherry blossom is particularly important in Japanese culture as it represents the end of the winter and the new life and growing season of spring.

The most popular cherry blossom in Japan is the Somei Yoshino, which has nearly pure white petals, with a hint of pink close to the stem. This variety of cherry blossom takes its name from the village of Somei (now part of Toshima in Tokyo). It was developed in the mid- to late-19th century at the end of the Edo period and the beginning of the Meiji period. The Somei Yoshino is so widely associated with cherry blossoms that jidaigeki and other works of fiction often depict the variety in the Edo period or earlier. Each flower has a short life; lasting for about a week. That lifespan can be cut even shorter by strong winds or rain. The short, dramatic and potentially fickle life of the cherry blossom influences its role in traditional Japanese culture.

Himeji Castle Cherry Blossom Viewing Festival Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan

The castle was constructed in the mid-14th century and is said to resemble a White Heron. The castle hosts the Himeji Castle Cherry Blossom Viewing Fair. The castle grounds, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is located 60 miles northwest of Toyko and has more than a thousand cherry trees, many of which are illuminated at night. The festival and typical peak blooming time takes place during the first two weeks of April.

Copenhagen Sakura Festival, Copenhagen, Denmark

The Sakura Festival in Copenhagen is scheduled for April 25-26th this year, so you still have time for a last-minute trip. The Dutch cherry blossom festival is one of the youngest, only in its 8th year. The two-day festival is full of events from drum shows to martial arts demonstrations.

International Cherry Blossom Festival, Macon, Georgia USA

The city of Macon considers itself the Cherry Blossom Capital of the World with more than 300,000 Yoshino cherry trees. It holds the Pinkest Party in the south. The dates for this year have already passed so you should check back for the dates next year around the end of March or the beginning of April.

Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival, Jinhae, South Korea

This festival gives you a rare look at the Republic of Korea Naval Academy as the grounds are opened to the public to show off the hundreds of blooming cherry trees. The city of Jinhae is also lined with cherry blossom trees creating a “flower tunnel” in some areas immersing you in the delicate petals.

The National Cherry Blossom Festival Washington, DC USA

The festival, which we’ve mentioned on this blog before, runs this year between March 20th and April 12th. The celebration of Japanese culture and friendship with the United States (along with the simple pleasure of viewing the more than 2,000 trees along the tidal basin) has become a signature event in the nation’s capital.

 

The Cherry Trees in bloom along the tidal basin in Washington, DC.

The Cherry Trees in bloom along the tidal basin in Washington, DC.

photo 4 (21)

The Jefferson Memorial

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