Springtime Sorties

It has been almost a whole season since I’ve posted here. Spring has passed and the hot and humid summer of the Southeast is now here. It’s time look back at all the fun activities I managed to do during the spring (despite having little in the way of vacation days) and show some photo highlights.

Sharp Top Summit
Wonderful view from the top of Sharp Top. (click to enlarge)

Hiking and Outdoors

Spring is a good time to be outdoors since the weather is warmer, but doesn’t come with the stifling heat that occurs in the summer. I got in two nice mountain hikes, and a little bit of kayaking as well.

South Mountains State Park High Shoals Falls
High Shoals Falls, the most popular attraction in South Mountains State Park.
South Mountains State Park
The lonely tree in the center anchors this panorama (click to enlarge)

Early in spring, I went with a group to South Mountains State Park. The park is in the mountains of western North Carolina, but not quite to the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was my first time at the park, and we did a long and strenuous hike. The effort was worth it as there was a nice waterfall and some good elevated views.

Abbott Lake
Abbott Lake with Sharp Top in the background (click to enlarge)

I did hit the Blue Ridge Mountains as well, but this time it was at the Peaks of Otter areas in Virginia. There are three peaks that hikers can access, and we chose the most popular Sharp Top. The 1.5 mile one way hike has some steep sections, but the payoff is unobstructed 360 degree views for miles around. There are some rocks up near the top that we scrambled onto for some cool photos. Definitely high on the scenery to effort ratio. The only minor gripe is that since it was warm and later in the spring, there were a lot of bugs on the peak. We also took a little stroll around the small lake in the area as well, and saw plenty of deer and even a snake during the hike.

Neuse River Kayaking
Easy kayaking trip down the lazy Neuse River

Other than hiking, I started the water activity season with an easy kayaking trip down the Neuse River. It was just a three mile trip, so it didn’t require a whole lot of paddling. It was more about relaxation and enjoying nature on the easy flowing river. There will hopefully more water sports to come now that summer is hear and the weather is heating up.

Beach Time

Wrightsville Beach
Wrightsville Beach on an early spring day.

As the weather warms up, the beach is another fabulous option. I managed two beach outings in the spring, once to Wrightsville Beach and once to Kure Beach. Both of them are in the Wilmington area. When I went the Wrightsville in April, the water was still a little cold, although there were plenty of wind-surfers and kite-surfers enjoying themselves. By the time we went to Kure Beach, the water was plenty warm enough to go in the water and get splashed on by the waves. I think I got a little bit of a tan and maybe some sunburn as well from the trips. There is a good chance that there will be more beach trips during the summer, but I’ll probably head to a different area for subsequent trips.

Kure Beach pier
The long fishing pier at Kure Beach. We just stayed on the beach though. (click to enlarge)

Washington DC

Washington Monument
The Washington Monument continues to stand tall. (click to enlarge)

During the Memorial Day long weekend, I headed up to Washington DC. Being the capital of the USA, DC has a ton of museums and attractions to visit, many of which are free. This was my fourth time in DC, and even after this trip there are a few museums that I have not visited.

National Archives
The National Archives Building that contains the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights. No photos allowed inside though.

On this trip, I went to the National Archives, the East Building of the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery, the Sackler Gallery and Museum of African Art. The National Archives had a good sized line going into the building. I guess the popularity probably came from the National Treasure movie, and now more people than ever want to take a long at the Declaration of Independence and other historical documents. Too bad no photography is allowed inside the building, and one can barely get a look at the documents due to the crowds.

National Gallery tunnel
The lighted tunnel that connects the two buildings of the National Gallery of Art
Smithsonian Museum of American Art and National Portrait Gallery courtyard
The beautiful courtyard area at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art and National Portrait Gallery

In comparison, the art galleries were not nearly as crowded, and I spent my time strolling at leisure. I am not really an art connoisseur, but I like strolling around museum. It was good exercise if nothing else. Each of the art museums I visited had their own unique theme. All of the museums were in the National Mall area except for the American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery, which is located to the north in downtown DC.

DC Chinatown
Washington DC has a small but lively Chinatown. I did hear that the best Chinese food in the area is not in Chinatown though.

Speaking of downtown DC. This was the first time I explored the city of Washington DC to any extent. All of the prior times I’ve been there I was just in the National Mall area. DC’s downtown is pretty big as you’d expect from the capital of the USA. The most notable characteristics I found about DC’s Downtown was the wide streets, and the fact that none of the buildings are more than 7-8 stories tall. I guess there must be a law where none of the buildings can be taller than the Washington Monument. I stayed in the Rosslyn area of Arlington, VA for this trip (because I didn’t want to pay $30 per day for parking), and Rosslyn has actual skyscraper and tall buildings, while you don’t see that in the city limits of DC. Rosslyn was a convenient location though since it was easy to get into the National Mall area and downtown via the Metro.

In addition to the museums, I also went to the National Zoo. I met up with a friend there, and our goal was to see the giant pandas at the zoo. The weather wasn’t very good that day, and many of the animals in the outdoor exhibits were hiding from the rain. However, we did see the male panda munching on some bamboo, so mission accomplished for us. The National Zoo is a good-sized zoo. I actually enjoyed their indoor exhibits better than their outdoors since you could see a greater number of exotic species without walking around as much. By the end of the day I was a bit tired from all the walking and standing around to wait out the rain.

National Zoo fish
A big arapaima and other large Amazonian fish at the National Zoo.
National Zoo panda
First time seeing in person a live panda chomping on bamboo. So cute~~~

The last place I explored on this trip was the neighborhood of Georgetown. Georgetown is a neighborhood in the western part of DC, and it was easily accessible from Rosslyn by walking across the Potomac River on the Key Bridge. It’s a cute neighborhood with a lot of historic houses, and lots of shopping and dining options. There were plenty of people walking around at night during the long weekend. We didn’t quite have time to visit the nearby Georgetown University, so that’ll have to wait until next time.

Georgetown Cupcakes
Had to try the famous Georgetown Cupcakes. The frosting on top is what stands these apart from other cupcakes.
Memorial Day Georgetown bike ride
By sheer coincidence we saw this Memorial Day bike ride while walking in Georgetown

Concerts and Events

To conclude this post, I also went to a few events and performances in the Triangle area during the spring, as seen in the photo highlights below.

Distillery tour
Touring a distillery in the area. The clear liquid shown in the cup was very potent indeed.
DPAC
Went to the Durham Performing Arts Center for the first time, to watch Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs… and he sang them pretty well.
Train, Natasha Bedingfield and O.A.R. concert
Attended a concert by Train, Natasha Bedingfield and O.A.R. Pretty good turn out and the fans were really into the performance.
Raleigh Food and Wine Festival
Won free tickets to the Raleigh Food and Wine Festival and stuffed myself with food samples. Also got a buzz too from the booze samples.

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