J.R. Tolkien

"Not all those who wander are lost." - J.R. Tolkien

Friday, August 29, 2014

Labor Day Weekend Festivities

It’s Labor Day Weekend and if you’re stuck staying in town, there are a lot of wonderful events going on that’ll keep you busy!  Here are two of my favorites:

An event near and dear to my heart, WorldFest is a four day celebration of the unique and diverse cultures in our fair city.  The event features a global village showcasing the various ethnic groups in Louisville.  Stop to talk to the representative of these communities and learn something new about your international neighbors.   Come say hi, I’ll be manning the Vietnam booth.  You can also sample international foods from local restaurants, buy unique international gifts from local businesses or swing and dance to international beats at the three stages.

Saturday is a unique experience, come at noon; claim a spot around fifth and main to see colorful displays of world fashion and peoples at the Parade of Cultures. If you want the action early on and a photo op, head over to Congress Alley (Behind Metro Hall on 6th and Jefferson) around 10:30 a.m., everyone is lined up there.

  • Cost: Free
  • Date and Time: Friday 8/29/2014 – Sunday 8/31: 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.; Monday, 9/1 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.
  • Parking: Parking on the streets is free Sunday.  I usually park at the 6th street garage by Main.

Mayor’s Hike, Bike and Paddle
One of my favorite Labor Day activities! Repost: Every Memorial and Labor Day 10,000+ people get together to bike on closed of streets, hike the waterfront or paddle on the Ohio River.  Start your day early, from 8 a.m. – 10 a.m, various vendors provide free health information along with free t-shirts

(first 3,000), bike helmets (500 helmets), snacks and other goodies.  Bike doctors are available to service your bike, provide you with free lights and bell.  You can also participate in yoga, Zumba, and tai chi sessions.  The bike (15 miles), hike, and paddle starts at 10 a.m at Witherspoon and Preston (Waterfront Park).   I love the feeling of community as I ride alongside thousands of my Louisville neighbors and seeing my town on a slower pace. If you get back before 1 p.m., head straight to the marina by the Great Lawn to participate in the canoe demonstration by the guys at Jefferson Memorial Forest. It’s free and you get to canoe the Ohio River for ~20 minutes.

  • Cost: Free
  • Date and Time: 9/1, vendors open at 8:30 a.m. Bike, Hike and Paddle start: 10 a.m.
  • Parking: All street parking are free this day.

 Here's a list of other activities going on around town at WDRB or Louisville.com

Yelp Elite – My gateway to free events and new experiences

So, you want to learn how to get free cool free swags, attend new free events every month, and eat for free at a restaurant? My secret: Become a Yelp Elite. ( I promise it's not as pretentious as it sounds)

You’ve probably hear or use a little something call Yelp.  It’s a site/app that allows users to share photos, post reviews, leave tips for local businesses, restaurants, etc.  More than likely, you’ve probably look at the reviews on Yelp before making a decision on where to dine.

Some people really hate it, commonly citing that biased and hateful reviews ruin businesses.  Sure, there are some really unfriendly condescending Yelpers out there that gave all other Yelpers a bad name but overall most yelpers are fair and conscientious, leaving fair reviews and helpful tips.

I can’t speak for others, but as a Yelper I want to provide people with helpful information to make their dining experience out a little better. I don’t judge a restaurant solely on its service, but the overall experience.  Rather than slamming a small business, I focus more on reviewing restaurants that are good. When I write bad reviews, I provide my reasoning but it’s up to you to make your own judgment.

What does it mean to be Yelp Elite?

Free Foods: As a Yelp Elite, you get to attend a free event every month with your +1 (anyone you choose).  These events are scheduled and planned by the Yelp Community Manager, a Yelp employee.  If it’s a restaurant sponsoring the event, you’ll get free food, sometimes a full meal, other times appetizers.  It’s a great way to try food from new restaurants you’ve never been to or try a new dish at a local favorite. Since becoming Elite a year ago, I’ve been to Bourbon Bistro, Meridian Café, Marketplace Restaurant, Mitchell Seafood Market, El Camino (next week), Earth’s Friend Café, and the Sweet and Savory Food Truck.

Food galore at Marketplace Restaurant
Free Events: Some events are activities sponsored by local venues, we’ve been to a painting and wine class at Pinot's Pallette, a play at Actor’s Theater, Bourbon tasting at Bourbon Barrels Foods, a make-up and hair session at Bennie’s and Friends.  Some are unique experiences in itself, like an indoor picnic and Shakespeare in Central Park or a trip to a magic shop (Alchemy).  Almost always, there’s free alcohol and drinks involved.
Unique events around town
Free Giveaways: Yelp Elite are also eligible for some great giveaways.  I’ve won the Humana Festival of Plays Season Pass, tickets to the opening of Mercury Ball Room, dinner and wine pairing at Mitchell’s, tickets to Abbey Road on the River, etc.  You also get some cool free merchandise!
California Uncorked at Mitchell's Fish Market

New Friends and Experiences: The best part for me about being Yelp Elite is that it introduces me to new experiences and people I would not otherwise meet.

How do you become Yelp Elite?

Here’s the official guide from the Yelp website.  But basically this is what you need:
  • Create a yelp profile, using your real name and real photo
  • Start writing reviews, good reviews should be informative and more than a couple of sentences
  • Post photos and leave tips.  Over all, show that you’re actively involved
  • Nominate yourself or have a friend nominate you for Yelp Elite.  Explain why you would make a good Yelp Elite. There’s no set number of reviews you need to have before you qualify, there are people who are Yelp Elite with only 20 reviews.

If that’s too much work, find a friend who’s Yelp Elite and tag along.  This strategy works out really well for my husband!

Weekend Away – Gulfshores, Alabama

My least favorite part about living in Louisville? The beach is way too far away.  Landlocked, a trip to the beach means 8+ hours  of driving or at least two flight connections away.  If you’re looking for a new beach to explore, I’ll let you in on a worst kept secret, Gulf Shores, Alabama.

I’ve been coming here since college and find new reasons to love it every time.  A relatively short drive away, 8 – 9 hours, Gulf Shores Alabama is clean, not touristy and super family friendly.  Miles of beautiful white sandy beaches are perfect for those loving long walks on the beach.  The water is full of wildlife, great for crabbing, fishing, and dolphin watching.  Being less well known means never having to fight the crowds and having many favorite spots to yourself.  Here’s my short guide to this gem.

When to go

I’m a sucker for the beach, so any time I have an excuse to go is a good time!  For the budget conscious, these are the times with the best hotel rates:  Fall (September – March).  You can get some hotels as cheap as 50% off.  But the water tends to be colder these months.  The best time to swim is in the early fall and summer (April – August). 

Where to stay

A beach front condo is a must.  It might be more expensive, but the view of the ocean as you wake up

Orange Beach view from condo balcony
every morning and the sound of the crashing waves as you go to sleep at night is priceless.  You also have immediate access to the beach without having to find parking or packing up every time you want to go for a swim.  Condos also have fully equipped kitchen, so you save a lot of money by cooking your own food. There are a lot of resorts/condos available so check online for the best rate. 
We usually stay at Regency Isle.  Managed by Meyer Realty, we save money by renting only one 2 bedroom condo that sleeps 6 and sharing it with a larger crowd.  All Meyer Realty condo guests check in off site, so you can sneak in more than the allowable limits and save money by bringing sleeping bags :)

What to do

I’m still exploring all the things you can do in Gulf Shores, but here are a few of my favorites:

Dolphin seen from our Pontoon
  • Crabbing/Fishing: The water is teeming with fish.  Swim on any given day and you’ll see schools of fish right on the beach.  If you love to fish, you can do so right off the beach or head to the piers, pay $8 for an all-day fishing experience.  There are also a lot of deep sea fishing excursions with opportunities to catch larger fish.   Our favorite free activity is crabbing right off the beach, early morning or late at night.  You just need net and flash lights.  We had a lot of luck at this location: intersection of Kiva Way + Fort Morgan Road
  • Swimming at the Beach:  Completely free and fun for everyone.  In parts where the waves are crazy, buy a body board and do some body surfing.  Or just float and relax.  Perdido Beach, Orange Beach and Fort Morgan Beach are all great.  The beach at For Morgan is shallow and goes out pretty far, great for the little ones.
  • Dolphin Watching: If you wake up early, around 7 or 8 a.m., you can see these majestic animals right off the beach.  I’ve seen them from the balcony of our condo and less than 20 feet from the beach.  If you want to have longer sightings, there are several dolphin cruises.
  • The Wharf: Light show every night makes this a fun place to hang out after spending all day at the beach.  There are several shops, restaurants, movie theaters and ice creams shops.  The lively music and DJ got the kids involved in activities and dancing all night.
  • Pontoon: A cheap way to do a lot of stuff all in one day.  For approximately $20/a person you can rent your own private pontoon and cruise the waters. You’ll see dolphins, sneak in some fishing, and find your own private beach island to swim. 
Where to eat

  • Meals at home: Our favorite place to eat is at the condo.  We shop for the week and prepare all our meals at home.  Delicious, cheap and hassle free if you have a large group of people.  If you want sea food, head to Bon Secoure to get fresh shrimps, crabs ($10.99/dozen), crawfish ($3.99 cooked) and oysters.  Billy’s Seafood, Aquila, and Safe Harbour are my favorite places.  You’ll get sea food off the boat for half the price.  An unlikely place to get really cheap fish? Don’t be shy, ask one the fishermen at the piers, we got these babies for $15 each.
  • Lambert’s: if you have to eat out once, head to this fun restaurant where the portions are large and the atmosphere lively.  The food is decent but the fun part is the waiters throw freshly made rolls across the room right to you.  The prices are reasonable and they bring out unlimited side dishes. 

Have fun!

August Recap

It’s been a full month since I made updates on any activities.  It’s been a busy month! So I’m rolling out four posts for each of the week I’ve missed.   What’s been going on lately?

My husband finished his first Ironman ever this past weekend, that’s 2.4 miles swim in the Ohio River, 112 miles of biking and 26.2 miles of running, all in one day! I’m proud of his accomplishment and so is he.  So proud in fact that you’ll see him decked out in Ironman gears for the rest of the year!

This year marks the 20th year our family has been in the U.S. and the first time vacationing together EVER as a family.  A little bit hectic now that there are several editions to the family.  But we had a great time at the beach and spending time together as a family.  My favorite of course is that my sisters did all the cooking.

We’re involved in several community projects that I’m super excited about.  I’m currently working with a group of amazing ladies revamping our Oral History Project.  We’ll be interviewing and recording stories of Vietnamese living in Louisville, sharing them on-line and archiving them at the U of L library. Our project won the Kentucky Historical Society Award a few years ago.  Check back for updates on this.  We’ll also be participating in the WorldFest and the first ever Louisville Dragon Boat Festival.

I can’t wait for other adventures awaiting us the rest of the year.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Chasing Waterfalls in Kentuckiana

We went biking one beautiful afternoon and found a pleasant surprise.  Twenty years living in the area and I'm still amazed at things I haven't seen or experience.  

It's not a real waterfall but it's still beautiful. The best part? It's only 5 minutes from downtown Louisville! 

Here's the easiest way to get here.

1.  Drive to Ashland Park (415 E. Riverside Dr, Clarksville, IN 47129), this is the same park that's across from the Widow's Walk Ice Creamery. Park your car and get on the side walk heading West toward the Falls of the Ohio.  The river should be on your left and the road on right.
2.  Shortly you'll see a train bridge ahead.  Right before that is a small dirt path to your left, made by frequent foot traffic, follow it towards the river bank.

3. At the end of the path is this small drop off.  This is where it could get slippery, so be careful.  Walk down to the river bank and head towards the river.  
The bottom is covered with driftwood and some parts are muddy.  Take your time walking as some wood pieces might shift and you'll find yourself sitting on your butt.  This is what the ground looks like.  So be careful! Wear tennis shoes if you can.

4.  Continue to follow this path towards the river.

5.  On your left you'll see large bushes and vegetation.  The waterfall is just beyond that, follow the sound of rushing water, you can't miss it!

Have fun exploring.  Please be careful and enter at your own risk.  For your safety, please read posted signs regarding sirens and flooding of the area.