Heading home

I am in the final leg of the journey home. The tour was wonderful, but Piper and I are so very excited to get home. In flight I watched "Bad Moms", which seemed an appropriate movie to end the tour. And the funniest thing is that when I texted Liz from my flight she was watching the same movie on her flight. We are "bad moms" in the best way!  If you haven't seen the movie, that basically means we do our best to do "it all" and we are totally overwhelmed and our lives are insane and we love our kids to the moon and back.

Before signing off this travel blog, here are a few last highlights from the last couple days. Our hotel in Tainan was connected to a mall. The entire center of the mall was massage chairs and these hilarious exercise machines. Needlesstosay, we "tested" them all out:

 

In Taipei we went to the famous Soup Dumpling restaurant, Din Tai Fung. I don't love Chinese food, but I did fall in love with soup dumplings! I dropped my vegetarianism while traveling and I admit the pork ones are the tastiest. And the truffle pork ones are truly "wow".

One of the other food highlights was a homemade noodle soup. Check out this magic:

 

Taiwan shares Japan's love of the cute. The malls were full of toy stores with the most adorable figures and toys. The cuteness even spilled into the food court. Check out this cotton candy:

Here are some last shots of Taiwan, a crazy shot of my doing some barre exercises with a view of Tainan, and a funny picture from one of our airport arrivals.

Last but not least, a shot from our final concert at the beautiful National Concert Hall of Taipei.

 

 

Taiwan

Arriving in Taiwan was literally and figuratively a breath of fresh air. We saw the sun for the first time this tour. Not just the shadow of the sun behind dense smog, but warm sunny sun! And people were happier. The whole vibe was immediately more pleasant. And we took the bullet train from Taipei to Tainan and thus saw much of the countryside.

Piper and I were so lucky because the friend of my horn student's dad drove to Tainan from her hometown in central Taiwan and gave us a tour. We wanted to get out in nature, and specifically Piper wanted to see some rare birds. So off to the Spoonbill Conservation land we went. We saw beautiful egrets, herons, and a huge flock of spoonbills. We even pretended to be spoonbills! After bird watching we visited the Matsu Temple, which completely blew our minds. The elaborate carvings and intricate embellishments along with the devotion of the visitors made for an unforgettable experience. The cherry on the top was that today was the first day of an annual pilgrimage and the temple was full of drumming, dancing, and firecrackers.

After the temple, we visited a street market and saw and tasted some incredible food including, of course, the famous bubble tea! In these pictures, look for ice-cream served in crazy shaped popcorn, a potato cut into a spiral, grilled rays, fruit encased in a clear jello, a hilariously mis-spelled word, bbq pork filled buns, an ice cold taro dessert filled with red beans, and delicious bubble tea full of tapioca balls.

Tomorrow is our one and only travel and play day, which will be exhausting but at least does not involve a flight. We leave Tainan by bus to catch the bullet train to Taipei. Apparently the hotel is Taipei is one of the nicest hotels in the world. It's too bad we will barely be there. We get there in time to freshen up before a soundcheck and our final concert. Then it's out the door at 6am to travel home. Piper and I are sooooo excited to see our families!

Catch Up

Well we made it out of China. I could not access wifi the entire time we were on mainland China, so sorry for the blog silence. Despite the lack of freedom of the press, Piper and I had a good time exploring. The most impressive part of the trip was, of course, visiting the Great Wall. We got up at the crack of dawn to beat the crowds, which made for a pristine experience. When we first got there, we were the only ones for as far as you could see. By the end of our hiking, the crowds were starting to pour in and unfortunately for them, it was pouring and the fog eliminated the view. We felt very grateful for our timing! Enjoy these pictures from our Great Wall adventure.

One of the most striking things about China is that everyone has a job, and most of those jobs are incredibly menial. Every door in every building has someone ready to open the door. People seem to spend their entire working day keeping their designated few feet of sidewalk clean or garden trimmed. They seem to take pride in their work. The woman whose job was to clean a small stretch of walkway at the airport got down on her knees and used her fingers to pinch up the dirt left behind after using the dustpan. Here's a shot that I found compelling.

After Beijing we headed to Shanghai. I didn't have any previous ideas of what Shanghai was like and was completely blown away by the unbelievably modern architecture! Also, my hotel room was incredibly luxurious. For me alone, I had a guest bathroom, a mirror lined entryway, an office/living room area, and a bedroom with a king sized bed and french doors leading to a huge bathroom. The bathroom had a shower with a rain faucet that poured directly from the ceiling, a huge tub with built-in TV, and a separate door to the toilet. It was fun to live large for a couple nights, even though it seems strange to have such opulence in a communist country. I imagine most people do not enjoy this sort of space. 

There are sights to be seen, but also food to be eaten. We enjoyed incredible meals. Highlights have been soup dumplings in Shanghai, North West Chinese food in Beijing, and maybe the best meal so far, a dinner of Turkish food in Shanghai. All in all, we have been eating very well!

 

 

 

A real highlight of the tour so far was visiting the fabric market with my good friend Benji Karp. This market in Shanghai was floors and floors of hundreds and hundreds of fabric sellers and tailors. We picked out fabric, designed our clothes (or used their displayed ideas), chose our tailor, got measured up, and had new clothes tailor-fit delivered to our hotel 24 hours later. It was really mind-blowing!

 

 

On tour, there's lots of exploring, but of course we also play concerts! Though Piper was very concerned when we ran across this sign in front of the concert hall in Shanghai:

Here are the few shots from the musical side of things, including a group shot of the Brevard Faculty that are on this tour! Also you'll see  some pictures of my colleagues out and about. In Shanghai we even got to meet up with an old college friend who now plays in Shanghai symphony.

Beijing

Yesterday we flew into Beijing. Piper was really excited to be flying on Dragon Air, but she was less pleased when we landed. The smog is truly unbelievable. At the airport, Piper found some friends while I got a local coffee special: Matcha Espresso Fusion! 

Today was a very busy day. Piper and I went to the Forbidden City. The ornate paintings on the fortress were exquisite. The crowds were also impressive, but we had a great time nonetheless. Around the fortress there's a square waterway with these weeping-willow style trees. If it wasn't for the suffocating smog, it would really be a peaceful place.

We also went to the Beijing Dirt Market, which is basically a big flee market for antiques, craft, and art. We bought a selection of beautiful art.

In the afternoon we rehearsed and performed in the Beijing Poly Theater and then headed to a Setchuan dinner that was fabulous, thanks mostly to the fact that a bassoonist in the orchestra had lived here years ago and did all the ordering for the table.

Tomorrow we are getting up at the crack of dawn to get to the Great Wall. It is sure to be eventful, so until then, you can enjoy some of the more bizarre scenes (laundry in my hotel tub, weird jacket, construction scaffolding made of bamboo, "yellow wine anyone", airport cartoon, and yikes?! :

Day 2

Last night we went on a harbor cruise. Jet lag was making Piper and me feel pretty sick, but we rallied to go on the cruise. We are glad we did. The views were beautiful:

For lunch we had Cantonese Dim Sum. So far I haven't been a fan of anything I have eaten, but this was definitely the best meal yet. The fried turnip cakes were delicious and the vegetable dumplings were works of art:

 

I have still been in a lot of back pain so I found an amazing massage place. I have never experienced anything like it. You start out with tea and a warm towel, then you smell various lotions to choose your palette, then you enter the massage room where they clean your feet in hot water. Piper liked that part. While the masseuse steps out, you are allowed to shower with beautiful toiletries and toners. Then we got a 90 minute massage that was a mix of deep tissue and Thai massage. She made some serious progress on my tight muscles. I can't say I feel much better but it was very enjoyable and I hope did some good.

Today we reconnected with our instrument trunks and played our first concert on tour. It was a marathon of a concert lasting 2 1/2 hours with 4 encores. It was hard work because Jet lag makes early evening the hardest time of the day. Looking around the orchestra, everyone looked a little woozy, but the orchestra sounded great and the audience loved it.

After the concert we hit the town to check out the Night Market and get some food. The excursion itself was a letdown (food was mediocre and the market closed early) but the company was fabulous. And we found Waldo!

 

 

First day

Today Piper and I went on an adventure. We took the ferry and then the Peak tram up to Victoria Peak for incredible views of Hong Kong. Much of the views are impressive city-scapes, but we also enjoyed some serene natural beauty. 

Hazel's pics:

Piper's pics (Can you find her in every picture?):

Longest Flight

Traveling to Hong Kong was a time warp. The flight from Chicago to HK is over 16 hours! Luckily Piper found a rest area for her before we left:

On board the long flight, Piper was thrilled to be given an Economy Plus seat. And when she got tired, she used my foot rest as a hammock:

The view over the North Pole was stunning. Piper looked down longingly at her ancestral home

When we finally arrived it was night time. We grabbed some dinner and enjoyed the skyline before bed.

Outside the hotel was a cute art exhibit all lit up. Can you find Piper?

Goodbyes

Before the families (Piper's and mine) headed home to Boston, I took everyone to the zoo. It was a brisk day but the sun gave us the courage to complete the main loop at the zoo. The animals did not disappoint.

Saying goodbye was hard but the timing ended up working out perfectly and Steve and the kids got to get home before the Noreaster hit Boston.

Family Visit

Piper and I were excited to welcome Steve, Diana, Nadia, and Kalle to Cincinnati for the weekend. Together we have eaten some great food, checked out a museum exhibit on the Vikings (the historical voyagers, not the MN football team), explored Northern Kentucky, visited some old college friends, and bowled with the Freimuths. Most importantly we have snuggled and played together, soaking up some love before the big trip to China. Piper has enjoyed time with her family as well. Piper's mom and dad came along in Diana's suitcase and have been enjoying their family snuggles as well. 

I expect the next post will be from Asia. Ta ta until then!

Around town

It's been a busy couple days of rehearsals and teaching. The Cincinnati Symphony is an exceptional orchestra, not just because their playing is top notch, but also because the musicians and conductor are friendly and seem honestly supportive of each other. And without exception, everyone I have met has been welcoming.  Piper was very excited to get her picture in front of the official CSO backdrop:

For me, the best part about playing with Cincinnati is that two of the horn players are very dear to my heart. There is my good friend Liz, of course, who I get to play with every summer at Brevard. And there is Lisa, who I hadn't really seen since we were at TMC together in 2001. A lot has changed since then! Today I got a chance to meet Lisa's beautiful son Hollis. He is an absolute joy, full of laughter and smiles. Hollis showed his excitement at meeting Piper by sucking on her ear. Piper was relieved when Hollis decided that she didn't taste very good after all. 

Lisa lives in a spectacular 4-story house on a hill in downtown. The view from her top floor is impressive! 

IMG_4500.jpg

After the second rehearsal, Piper needed a snack so we went to Deeper Roots Coffee where they sell a variety of bird-themed treats. 

We finished off the day at Piper's favorite work-out studio, Pure Barre. She was a little disappointed that there weren't any sticky socks that fit her, but they let her in anyway.

 

Free Day

Today was our last free day before tour. Piper and I slept in until 10am, which was an incredibly rare treat. We had a crazy time playing with Stella and Lily in the rain while Liz was in a meeting.

 

It was a dreary day but the Ohio river was still impressive. We found this unbelievable chart on the side of a riverside school showing how high the river has flooded throughout history. You can use Piper as perspective.

 

We were pretty wiped out by mid afternoon and headed to M-5 Espresso. The coffee was excellent but the chocolate selection was extra-ordinary!

 

Since it was our final free day, we pampered our toes. Piper went for a more neutral color and I went for sparkly green. 

A visit to the Zoo

Piper and I had a blast exploring Cincinnati today. This town is way more vibrant than I was expecting. The North Side, where I am staying, is a cool mix of young hipsters and ethnically diverse families. We started off the morning in a coffeeshop with a most mysterious and intriguing entrance. There's a vintage metal door that leads into an alleyway. Just when you've convinced yourself that you are walking into a trap, you round the corner to find a sunny window-filled coffee shop. Here's a picture of Piper on the Collective Espresso doorway:

Next we headed off to rehearsal. Piper tried to take Liz's seat, but we told her she wasn't quite ready for prime time.

After rehearsal, we headed to the famous Cincinnati Zoo. The snow from the morning had melted and it was turning out to be a beautiful day. 

My favorite part was, of course, watching the bonobos. Four were out today: an adult male, an adult female, and their two children aged 3 and 6. I sat for about 45 minutes and watched them interact. The 3 year old, Kabibi, loved to play, especially with his toy frisbee. The 6 year old, Zeke, was mostly interested in sneaking in some nursing time with mom while Kabibi was distracted. Mom stayed busy keeping tabs on everyone, and dad took some turns playing chase with the kids. The scene looked really quite familiar actually!

The bonobos got a kick out of Piper. I don't think they'd had an owl visitor before.

We saw some other beautiful animals as well, but I bet you can guess Piper's favorite. See below to find out.

We have eaten excellent food, too much really! Our favorite find was this sidewalk counter called "Whole Bowl". They serve up one dish, a bowl (surprise) full of rice, beans, avocado, sauces, cheese, and sour cream. I guess a woman from Cincy opened up a bunch in Portland and her brother decided to open up one here at home. Simple, healthy, and delicious!

 

Did you find Piper?

Back to Cincinnati

Piper and I have arrived in Cincinnati for a week of rehearsals. We are staying at an Airbnb, which is proving to be absolutely adorable and perfect. It is a basement room in this Frank Lloyd Wright style house in Northern Cincinnati. The couple that owns the house are passionate about music and even know some members of the CSO. Piper is thrilled because in addition to the double bed, there's a little bed that she assures me is "just her size". I don't expect this week in middle America to warrant too many blog posts but I will take some photos as we explore the coffee shops...I mean the city. 

IMG_4406.JPG

Pre-tour Trip

This week Piper and I headed to Cincy for some pre-tour rehearsals. It was Piper's first flight, so she was a little nervous, but once she got buckled in, she was ready for the adventure.  

 

Pipers looks out at our plane from the Boston terminal

Pipers looks out at our plane from the Boston terminal

 

 

All buckled in and ready for take-off

All buckled in and ready for take-off

Piper the Owl Goes to China

I, Hazel, am headed to China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong with the Cincinnati Orchestra in March. To help my kids follow along with my trip, Piper the Owl is coming along. I am writing this blog to chronical Piper's adventures.