Month: April 2015

Mother’s Day Gift Guide

May 10 is Mother’s Day! When we were young, our teachers guided us through drawings, cards, and small crafts to make Mom smile. Don’t forget to express that love as we grow older! This is the perfect occasion to pamper her. A perfect gift can be anything from a good book/musical album, to a spa experience, or a flight to her favorite travel destination. Or take a page from Thanh’s experience and gift Mom a painting you did! Below are a few more ideas to help you select that perfect gift for the most important woman in your life:

Bibelot Bakeware
Scarf-Print Sweaterknit Cardi
‘Mom’s’ Copper Mug
Tory Burch Eau de Parfum Set
Ocean Explorer Tea Set

Travels: Washington, D.C.

The capital of the United States is a city frequented by tourists for its many iconic landmarks and museums and populated by some of the most powerful people in the world (including the fictional characters on Scandal and House of Cards). It is probably one of the cities that are a “must-visit” in the US.

National Cherry Blossom Festival

Occurring usually in mid/late March to early/mid April, this festival celebrates the blossoming cherry blossom trees that populate the heart of DC, in particular the Tidal Basin. Thousands of visitors seek the elusive florals during the “peak bloom” before the petals all fall. The festival includes many events around the city which celebrate Japanese culture, including an annual National Cherry Blossom Parade (free) that runs along Constitution Avenue and a street festival (tickets required) with performances and people in traditional Japanese costumes, but honestly it is more like a place for vendors to sell over-priced merchandise and food. The DC Cherry Blossoms which were gifted from Japan are indeed beautiful. However, the blooms in DC lacks variety and abundance. The huge crowd is another drawback. Unless you happen to be in the area around the time they are blooming, we do not recommend going out of your way to see them.

Memorials

DC’s memorials honor the thousands of lives for which we all owe our freedom. Two stood out most to Nhi. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial designed by Maya Lin has always captured a solemnity that makes one reflect. Some memorials have boastful/flamboyant displays that distract visitors from the true meaning of a memorial. Lin employed simplicity to perfection, which always encourage us to have a minute of silence as we approach the many names that fought and died for freedom. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial also stood in an ideal location where the Washington monument can be reflected on its granite. However, the National Mall is under construction and there are plans to relocate the memorial. Hopefully its new home will be equally ideal.

Another memorial that greatly impressed Nhi was Lincoln Memorial (perhaps in part because Nhi and Lincoln share the same birthday). The exterior of the memorial echoed Greek architecture. Climbing up the steps, one cannot help but look back at the Reflecting Pool and Washington monument in the background. It is truly an iconic, picturesque view and a historic landmark where Dr. Martin Luther King once made his “I Have A Dream” speech. It also reminds one of a scene from Forrest Gump – a beautiful film that captured decades of America’s history within mere hours. Heading inside the memorial, an enormous and prominent statue of Lincoln awaits. On the walls are inscriptions of his famous speeches – The Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address. In A.P. Writing, Nhi once had to dissect Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and it was that year in High School that she learned of pathos and the brilliance of Lincoln’s writings.

White House

Home to the President of the United States, this is the most famous “family house” in the US. We are particularly excited that its glass ceiling may be shattered in the upcoming 2016 elections. It’s time.

Smithsonian Museums

The Smithsonian has several museums that you can visit in DC, all for free. There are so many different exhibits that it is probably a good idea to dedicate a day just for museums (especially if you have young children). Having heard repeatedly about the famous Giant Squid (and its axon) in her neuroscience courses, Nhi was mega excited to see the squid on display. It was indeed gigantic! The National Museum of Natural History also housed many interesting exhibits, one of which allowed you to create early human versions of yourself (think broad forehead and huge nose). The National Air and Space Museum is another great hit for children (but be forewarned it isn’t as special as Kennedy’s Space Center).

Smithsonian’s Enid A. Haupt Garden

The impressive cast iron Renwick Gates open their door to a charming garden. The Smithsonian Garden may be small, but it is no less captivating. Needless to say, it is only worth visiting when there are flowering plants. We found that this garden provided a more vibrant landscape of cherry blossoms (and Mulan magnolias) than the Tidal Basin. (Additionally, there is less of a huge crowd here.) The castle also offers a gorgeous backdrop.

National Arboretum

While most DC attractions can be easily accessed through public transportation of the clean and efficient Metro, the National Arboretum is not one of those. Not only is it difficult to get there by public transportation, when you are actually there, it is a hike to see the various gardens, which are inconveniently spread out. You really do need a car to enjoy the Arboretum. Consequently, we did not get to see much of the Arboretum. And most unfortunately, the parts we saw were quite bare/under construction.

National Zoo

This is probably a must-visit if you have young children. Again, it is free. The vast zoo spans 163 acres and provides ample space for its animals. It also has abundant photo-ops. We got there around closing time and therefore did not see many exhibits. The famous giant pandas were also not on display (due to cold weather). On the bright side, this offers us the perfect excuse to visit DC again (when we have kids of our own)!

Paint Nite

The newest social craze is drinking & painting. You’ve probably seen it somewhere on social media. There are several different companies that offer this service; Paint Nite is one of those. It’s an artist-led “class” where you can have fun and go home with a painting. It is not truly a class, though, as there is very little instruction provided. More than anything, it’s a 2-hour social event with art supplies provided. Of course, there is probably variability depending on your instructor/crowd. Nevertheless, it is a unique and fun activity. We would recommend it and wouldn’t mind doing it again!

We Say
As with any big city, be prepared for big crowds, bad traffic, and to walk around for many miles. It is best to use public transportation to get around as parking can be difficult and/or expensive. The DC Metro is actually quite clean and much easier to navigate than NYC’s. Do take advantage of all the free attractions! And while a visit to the Nation’s capital is a must, do consider taking a stroll along historic Georgetown. Not far from the heart of DC, this quaint neighborhood features European architect, unique boutiques, and fine dining.

Travels: New York City, Revisited

Ever since relocating to Pennsylvania (for grad school), Thanh and I have made New York City our travel destination countless times. Our latest trip was this past Valentine’s weekend, where we decided to explore the “high brow” culture of New York City.

New York Public Library

Stepping foot inside NYPL felt like we were visiting a museum. The grandeur! I kept thinking if I had daily access to this library, I would be inspired to finish all my in-progress novels and crunch out my dissertation in no time! Unluckily for us, the Rose Main Reading Room was under construction so we weren’t able to experience NYPL in all its glory. We also felt some regret that this reference library wasn’t built with loaning books in mind. I’d love to be able to get a library card and check out books!

Broadway

Truthfully, neither of us is a fan of musicals. However, the allure of Broadway and its blockbuster Wicked was too great to deny. Indeed, we feel Broadway is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that should be checked off. However, the production value must be combined with a great cast to deem the experience worthy of your bucks. For this reason, we may hit up Broadway in May/June to see An Act of God starring Jim Parsons. Parsons brought the brilliant Sheldon from Big Bang Theory to life and I have great expectations for his upcoming role as the Creator.

Museum of Modern Art

One can’t mention the high brow culture of NYC without mentioning MoMA. Admittedly, the main attraction for us was Van Gogh’s Starry Night. When I visit museums, I like not only to appreciate the artworks, but also the overall atmosphere. I expect a certain level of solemnity when one appreciates masterpieces. My expectations were met at the Louvre. Despite the complaints of how small the Mona Lisa was, breaths were visibly drawn and taken away. Likewise, there was an air of excitement throughout the Art Institute of Chicago. At MoMA, on the other hand, I felt a tang of disappointment. There was no great sign for Starry Night. The painting wasn’t on display in its own room or encased in glass. It felt almost like a trifle — it was just there, neither boastful nor bold. I thought that to the very least, Van Gogh deserved his own exhibition room/hall. Aside from that, my main impression of MoMA is one of eccentricity. I was prepared for weird art, but their video clips were in a separate league of absurdity and inappropriateness.

The Water Club

We felt very lucky to have gotten off the waitlist and secured our Valentine’s reservations at The Water Club. The food, while beautifully presented, fell short of delighting our tastebuds. We have tasted better in Minnesota and Europe. Frankly, we felt like we paid the big bucks for the majestic riverfront view and live music.

Cafe Duke
On our way to Broadway, we spotted Cafe Duke and decided to grab lunch. Cafe Duke is the kind of cafeteria that anyone would love to have at their work/school! We were thoroughly impressed with the vast selections from Asian to Vegan. Everything looked fresh and were quickly served to order if not already prepared for you to grab & go. The portions were quite generous and the prices were reasonable for NYC. While the taste was nothing spectacular, it was quite good and made for a quick and filling lunch.

We Say
No matter how many times we visit the “Big Apple” we can never seem to cross off all that we want to do. This time, we concentrated our activities to Uptown areas. It was certainly cleaner (and more pricey) than our usual NYC trips that include a trip or two Downtown to Chinatown. We felt rather restricted in schedule due to being confined around our Broadway show and Valentine’s Dinner reservation. To enjoy a city like NYC, spontaneity without time constraints seems more enjoyable and exciting. We’re excited to explore again!