Fall brings a tale of pandas, apples, and founding fathers

Carol Timblin

Fall in the Shenandoah National Park brings a blaze of color, creating great views along Skyline Drive. (National Park Service)

With interest in traveling to China at an all-time high and the promise of cooler temperatures in September and October, fall is the perfect time to take that long-awaited trip to the other side of the world. 

While some first-timers put Beijing and Shanghai high on their list, other travelers head for lesser known parts, such as Chengdu in Sichuan Province or Wenzhou in Zhejiang Province. From Shanghai, our group flew to Chengdu, located on the Tibetan plateau. 

A city of 12 million residents, Chengdu is the home of the world-renowned Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, a nonprofit research and breeding facility for pandas and other rare animals. Unfortunately, the newborn panda nursery had closed a few minutes before our arrival, so I recommend you visit early in the day. But, we were able to see several of the adults in their natural habitat. 

Long known for its Shu embroideries and brocades, Chengdu is more than 2,400 years old and marks the beginning of the Southern Silk Road. Today’s visitors are attracted to its ancient villages and famous Sichuan cuisine. 

After visiting Chengdu for several days, we flew to Wenzhou via Shanghai. Located on the East China Sea, Wenzhou has a population of 6.6 million. 

The city’s rich cultural heritage includes ceramics, silk textile manufacturing, embroidery, and boat construction, and it has long been a popular destination for poets, writers, and other luminaries. 

We marveled at 5,000 years of Chinese culture at the Wenzhou Museum. We learned about the birth of opera during the Song and Yuan dynasties and posed for pictures in costumes at the Wenzhou Southern Opera Museum. And, at the Wenzhou Arts and Crafts Research Institute, we met artists who practice ancient methods to create fine-line paper engravings, Yueqing boxwood carvings, Ou embroidery, oil clay sculptures, Chinese porcelain, rice sculpture, and other handicrafts, many for sale at reasonable prices. 

Following the opening exhibit of the Sino-U.S. Travel Photography Exhibit at the Epoch Art Museum, we boarded sightseeing boats for a dazzling nighttime tour of the Nantang area of Wenzhou. 

We took a short ferry ride across the Ou River to see Jiangxin Islet, also known as the “Island of Poetry,” and traveled by bus to Yandang Mountain, or “Wild Goose Pond Mountain,” northeast of Wenzhou. Considered one of the top 10 mountains in China, it is a designated UNESCO Global Geopark. A guided bamboo raft trip on the Nanxi River, the “Cradle of Chinese Landscape Painting,” included stops at the ancient villages of Furong and Cangpo. 

Though the Great Wall, Beijing, and the Silk Road were not on the itinerary, my first trip to China was an unforgettable experience. 

Around the Mid-Atlantic

With summer and the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse behind us, it’s time to look toward fall festivals and scenic drives around the Mid-Atlantic.

Celebrate autumn by spending a few days exploring Skyline Drive or the Blue Ridge Parkway, Shenandoah National Park or Deep Creek Lake, the Appalachian Trail or the Delaware Water Gap, or the Pennsylvania Dutch Country or Gettysburg. Or, take a day trip closer to home and visit places such as the C&O Canal National Historical Park, Rock Creek Park, the U.S. National Arboretum, or Mount Vernon.

The 2017 Shenandoah Valley Apple Harvest Festival is expecting more than 7,500 people the weekend of Sept. 16–17. Held at the Frederick County Fairgrounds in Clear Brook, Va., the festival will celebrate the apple harvest in a variety of ways. 

Visitors can begin a weekend of apple-frenzy fun by visiting the apple-themed booth in the fairground’s arena. While there, indulge in a free apple and apple cider samples. You’ll also be able to watch apple butter being made the old-fashioned way, and then buy a jar or two (still warm) to take home. And, an apple pie baking contest will crown one winner, while an apple pie eating contest later in the day will crown another. Representatives of the Virginia Old Time Apple Growers Association also will be on hand, displaying 60 varieties of apples. 

On Sunday, those 21 and older can pay a tasting fee to sample hard ciders and craft beers at the Tap & Cork Tasting. All ages can enjoy a variety of food, including apple dishes, donuts, ice cream, kettle corn, and more. Attendees can shop for crafts made by more than 100 local and regional artists, admire vintage cars in the antique car show, and have fun in the Kids Zone. Family-friendly entertainment will be performed by The Shockers, Robbie Limon, The Wayfarers, The Judy Chops, Jimmy Lee, and others. 

Other travel news

Reflecting the continuing popularity of the Broadway hit Hamilton, the newly renovated Caravelle Hotel & Casino in Hamilton’s native Christiansted, St. Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, is partnering with Crucian Heritage and Nature Tourism to offer a Hamilton Tour Experience. 

The three-night package for two includes a bottle of rum and two tickets to the Alexander Hamilton Christiansted Historic Tour, which takes 2.5 hours. Package prices start at $485 (through Dec. 14) and $640 (Dec. 15– April 14), plus taxes. 

Appropriate for all ages, the tour takes visitors through a typical day in the life of the young man who grew up on St. Croix and went on to become one of this America’s Founding Fathers. It begins at the Old Danish Customs House, a five-minute walk from Caravelle, and continues through Christiansted, with stops at the site of the dry goods store Hamilton’s mother owned and the lower middle-class neighborhood where they lived. The tour also includes visits to some of the places Hamilton lived and worked after he was orphaned at age
13. 

Carol Timblin welcomes travel news at ctimblin@gmail.com.

 

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