Saturday, September 21, 2013

Up, up, and away: Hot Air Balloon Ride

Hello from The Golden State! That's right, I'm in California!

My dear sister is officially a freshie in UC Davis and to celebrate her 18th birthday, we secretly booked a hot air balloon ride from Balloons Above The Valley.

None of us have been on a hot air balloon before so we were extremely thrilled about it, except for waking up at 4am in the morning...

The crew was very professional and organized. The check-in location was at a Marriott hotel. They had us sign agreements regarding the ride and provided us with pastries, muffins, cookies, coffee, and tea before we head off to the balloons.

Getting into the basket was a little "un-glamorous". There were step holes on the side of the basket and we literally need to climb to get in. I've always imagined the basket to be bigger and there's a door or gate that opens for us to get in. 

On second thought, climbing into a hot air balloon basket was pretty fun too.

Photo Credit: Jackie Leonardo

It's not scary. It actually felt like we were floating on air. No, I take that back. We "floated" on air! It's like someone on the ground said "Wingardium Leviosa" and we float up, up, and away! 

However, due to the foggy weather, our initial route over Napa Valley was changed to Winters. A little disappointing but they assured us that it will still be lovely.

And apparently it was pretty colorful!

Doesn't that look just like carpets? Winters has more variety of sights as compared to Napa Valley. We saw rice fields, sunflowers, stone fruit fields, vineyards, empty fields, and greeneries.

The landing was smooth. We only had 2 small bumps, which felt like a thud.

After we landed, the balloon was quickly deflated and re-packaged while we were still in the basket. The pilot opened a small opening to release the air inside the balloon while 2 other men pull down a rope attached to the balloon.

Photo Credit: Jackie Leonardo

After the ride, we had a full champagne brunch!

So that was my first ride, but it definitely won't be my last! 

And by the way, Happy 18th Birthday, Jackie!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Travel Notes: Virginia and Tennessee

Two weekends ago, I went South-bound to Tennessee with friends from Sunshine Travel. I've never been down South, so I was pretty excited about this 4 day tour, and as it turns out, it was super fun!

This was the last Tennessee bus tour for the year so I guess they've taken down the itinerary online, but they still have a lot of other interesting tours!

We visited a few different nature attractions, check it out!

1. Virginia's Natural Bridge

This attraction in Rockbridge County, Virginia was our first stop. Over the years, water flowing on the Cedar Creek carved out this geological formation which shaped a bridge out of a rock. The natural arch is over 200 ft high and is now known as a National Historic Landmark. Some also believed that when George Washington came and surveyed the bridge, he left his initials on the bridge!

And if you follow the walking trail, there's a mini waterfall at the end of it!

2. Ober Glatinburg (Great Smokey Mountain National Park)

We drove through the Great Smokey Mountain to reach our next destination. Ober Glatinburg is located at the top of the Great Smokey Mountain. It's a ski arena during the Winter time and a small attraction park during the Summer time. We went on the Aerial Tramway to the top and played the Amaze'N Maze and the Swing Chair.

3. Dixie Stampede Dinner & Show

This was fun and was the highlight of the Tennessee trip in my opinion. Dixie Stampede is a dinner show (arena style) and it's extremely audience-interactive! We had a 4 course meal, which includes one whole roasted Cornish hen, that we ate with out hands! The show includes live animals such as horses, ostriches, baby pigs racing, plus Sunny and I making a fool of ourselves in a volunteer "horse stick" race! Haha..

4. Ruby Falls

This is by far the most magnificent thing I've ever seen in my life. Who knew there are waterfalls in underground caves?! I thought water fall from mountains tops... Ruby Falls is such an eye opener! It's beautiful especially lit with colorful lights and music. However the guide only turns on the light in the falls room for 5 minutes. So snappy, snap, snap!

4. See Rock City

Like it's name, it is literally a rock city. We walked through suspended bridges and gigantic rocks on the hour long walking trail. Look at this narrow pathway between 2 natural rocks! It's called the "Fat Man Squeeze" and yup, one of my friends really had a hard time getting through.

I think waterfalls are becoming a trend in this trip. This is the Lover's Leap waterfall. It rained a little earlier in the morning so it was extremely foggy at the summit, but trust me, if you were there you'll agree with me that it's really beautiful and that this picture does not do justice to its magnificent view.

6. Lost Sea Adventures

Another cavern tour! This cave was previously used by Native Indians since its discovery. The caves maintain a temperature of 58 degrees Fahrenheit which makes it the ideal resting place to hide from the heat outside.  

Why "lost sea"? Because at the bottom of the cave is America's largest underground lake and we get to "explore" the lake on a guided boat tour. I was kinda hoping that the boat ride would last longer but apparently the lake we circled was kinda small.

7. Shenandoah Caverns

This was the last cave attraction for the tour. This is the home of the famous "breakfast bacon" formations. On the other hand, this picture below is really cool too. It's the Diamond Cascade. This particular formation sparkles like glittering diamonds! Can you believe that some people even had their wedding ceremony in front of this formation?!

This is the Rainbow lake! The pool of water underneath mirrors the formation above making it look as though its symetrical and deep. Of course the colorful lights lends a hand to its beauty too!

That was the end of our 4 days Tennessee trip. I made a few friends along the way and saw a lot of amazing sights and nature's wonders. Our world is a pretty place underground, isn't it?

P.S. I'm heading west to California for a few weeks, more travel posts coming your way!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Inspiration is like pixie dust

How do you get yourself inspired, to keep your dream vivid, colorful, and alive in your imagination...

Do you travel, explore, and experience new things? Or do you go to Pinterest like me?

I am a self-confessed Pinterest-addict. I can't help it, it's just filled with beautiful inspirational photographs of all things possible!

Here's what I've pinned for the past couple of days...

This is a rather interesting one from You Are My Fave.

Send someone a box of where you are! Isn't it delightful? 

I really want to do a Providence box if anyone is up for it! Leave me a comment below!
(and leave me your email too)

This is super cute and adorable stack up kitty measuring cups from Urban Outfitters
Sadly, they're out of stock!

They're the Mokomoko fluffy alpaca hug dolls from Luvocracy!
I visited an alpaca farm 2 weeks ago and fell in love with these gentle creatures.
OhMyGoodness. It's calling me... "buy me, buy me!" 

Let's bring out the child in all of us. 
Balloon lights called Memory by Designer Boris Klimek

Warms my heart hand warmers from Mod Cloth.
Such a cute way to keep your hands warm when it's cold out!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Osso Buco with Mushroom Risotto

A while back, I visited the Hope Street Farmer's Market and purchased some Osso Buco from Pat's Pastured. Osso Buco is also known as veal shank and it really isn't that difficult to deal with. Don't be intimidated by its fancy name!

Let's break it down step by step. First, season with salt and pepper.

Do you see that white sheen wrapping the meat? Actually you should take that off. I didn't know. I left it there. Also, Jamie Oliver hinted that it's a good idea to tie the meat so that it will sit tight and stay on the bone.

Dredge it with all purpose flour.

Sear the Osso Buco in some olive oil.

Get your mirepoix ready. It's really just carrots, onions, and celery.

Chop them up, leave it on the side and grab a cute little tomato.

Get your herbs. Rosemary, thyme, and a bay leaf. All aboard!

Add white wine and beef stock and let it simmer in the flavor jacuzzi. Cover and leave them alone on low. Do not disturb their spa session. Let them braise for at least a good 2 hours.

Do a little magic dance and make some risotto or mashed potato for the side.