By: Jiyi Zheng, Program Intern 

Spring, a time of renewal and growth. The cycle of life starts again. With the arrival of spring, the enchanting cherry blossom trees begin to bloom. As fleeting as the spring season, the cherry blossom’s life is very short.  

Japan is well-known for the cherry blossom as there are many wonderful sites to see them in full bloom. With this post, I am going to introduce you to some of the most cherry blossom sites in Japan! 

The most symbolic site is “The Three Great Cherry Blossom Trees of Japan.” These are the three oldest, ancient cherry blossom trees and were assigned as the nature memorial of the country. 

 

  1. Jindai-zakura

Jindai-zakura and its neighbor (Photo credit: Skyseeker) 

This is the oldest cherry blossom tree in Japan. It is more than 2,000 years old and is said to have been planted by the ancient hero, Prince Yamato Takeru. 

Location: Hokuto, Yamanashi 

The best time to view: late-March to mid-April 

 

  1. Usuzumi-zakura

Usuzumi-zakura (Photo credit: Toshihiro Gamo)

It has more than 1,500 years of history. What’s unique about this tree is that the initial color of the flower is light pink, turning white at full bloom stage, and changes to pale grey right before the flowers drop. 

Location: Motos, Gifu 

The best time to view: early to mid-April 

 

  1. MiharuTaki-zakura

MiharuTaki-zakura (Photo credit: Ayu Oshimi)

This 1,000 year-old tree is 12 meters high. The flowers point face down and look like a pink waterfall when it’s fully bloomed. 

Location: Miharu, Fukushima 

The best time to view: middle to late April 

  

Cherry blossoms are also beautiful at night. Night cherry blossom viewing is called “Yozakura” in Japanese. Many places hold light-up events and festivals. It feels very different at night! 

Here are some of the best night cherry blossom views you don’t want to miss! 

 

  1. Takada Castle

(Photo credit: annintofu)

This site is one of the “Night View Heritage of Japan”, with over 4,000 cherry blossom trees and 3,000 lights. 

Location: Niigata Prefecture 

 

  1. Chidorigafuchi

(Photo credit: Ryouhei Saita)

Beautiful lake view. Boating in the lake would be fun!

Location: Ina, Nagano

 

  1. Heian-Jingu Shrine

(Photo credit: Eddy Chang)

This is the biggest festival in Kyoto. Night views are also incredible, especially combined with a live music concert.

Location: Kyoto

 

If you ever have a chance to go to Japan during spring, don’t miss the beautiful cherry blossom views! Get more information online about the location, transportation, and the details of various events. 

Picture from Marc's Pittsburgh to New Orleans Trip, Courtesy of Marc Oddo

Marc Oddo is heading to Europe this Summer for an incredible kayak adventure

By Elena Shahen, 2019 Summer Intern

Marc Oddo, a Pittsburgh Native, will be embarking overseas on June 5th  to the Danube River. This is where he and a friend plan to kayak almost 2,000 miles. This is his second big Kayaking adventure.

Marc’s first big trip happened a few years ago. He saved up enough money working at Kayak Pittsburgh to paddle from the North Shore Kayak Pittsburgh location, all the way to New Orleans.

He first fell in love with kayaking when a friend gave him a kayak and he used it as a mode of transportation to get back and forth from work every day. 

I’m chasing clarity and a calm mind, and I feel like I should at least learn to appreciate life before I die
- Marc Oddo

Marc is inspired to take long paddling trips with two simple things in mind; the first being that he is going to die one day, and the second is clarity. Marc explained how kayaking allows him the space to think without worries of the past, present, or future. The river can pull his worries away on its current.

I’m chasing clarity and a calm mind, and I feel like I should at least learn to appreciate life before I die,” said Marc. More specifically, Marc has an appreciation for being able to wash his clothes and hair in the river every morning.

Picture from Marc's Pittsburgh to New Orleans Trip, Courtesy of Marc Oddo

So Marc takes to the water again, but this time he’ll be passing through 11 or 12 different Eastern European Countries. His journey will  begin in the Black Hills of Germany and end down at the Black Sea of Romania. This trip will take 2 to 3 months, with Marc averaging about 25 to 35 miles of paddling per day.

This is not new to him, being that he had paddled between 45 to 70 miles a day on the Ohio and Mississippi. Marc says he plans on steadily moving down the river, but looks forward to stopping in the bigger cities to check out any National Forests, Monastery Breweries, or other beautiful attractions along the way.

One of Marc’s favorite kayaking memories was when he pulled an overnight paddle during a full moon. He was coming from Louisville and was passing Fort Knox when Marc and his friend thought they both saw a UFO.

The rest of the night was eery, foggy, and quiet. By the time the sun rose and he could see the mile markers, Marc realized they had paddled over 70 miles. After that he found an amazing camp spot on the side of a cliff, and had the best sleep of his life.  

Picture from Marc's Pittsburgh to New Orleans Trip, Courtesy of Marc Oddo

“I’m still wary of taking on more exotic rivers of the world, so this is kind of a kiddie hill for me. I’ll get to understand logistics of travel better and hopefully it will lead me to other amazing river adventures across the world,” said Marc.

For his Europe trip, Marc is preparing for anything that could happen, from bad weather to gypsy robberies,  or maybe even some aggressive wildlife. He has only packed the essentials, tarp, hammock, bug net, cooking supplies, and rain gear. As for clothing he is taking a more unconventional approach and plans on having one pair of zippable pants, water shoes, and one or two shirts. One shirt reppin Venture Outdoors 🙂

Marc feels that his first steps at Kayak Pittsburgh is what lead him to go out and take big adventures like this one. Not only does he credit Kayak Pittsburgh for helping him learn how to judge if a river is save to paddle, river navigation, kayaking techniques, and general safety, but how Kayak Pittsburgh taught him about being okay with being an amateur.  

Picture from Marc's Pittsburgh to New Orleans Trip, Courtesy of Marc Oddo

“Seeing people kayak for the 1st time and coming back with huge smiles on their faces made me feel like if they can do it for an hour out there, I can do or a few hours anywhere,” said Marc.

So what is next for Marc Oddo? He definitely wants to plan for another big river trip next spring or even travel to the Southern Hemisphere for a paddle in the winter. Marc tells us he has something exciting brewing up in Sicily in September and will update us more when he can talk about it.  

I know everyone here at Venture Outdoors and Kayak Pittsburgh look forward to seeing Marcs updates on this journey, and if you want to learn more about his last big trip you can check out his blog 

Marc Oddo

When we look back at how we are today and our successes, we tend to think of our hardships first. So I say bring it on, and hopefully there will at least be a cold beer waiting for me somewhere.”

-Marc Oddo

Hey! Feeling inspired from Marc's Story?

Want to learn how you can get on the river? Get your feet wet and become a member at Venture Outdoors!

By: Kaitlyn Gallagher

Mornings are not my time. Every morning, I set at least five alarms and snooze them all. I am a miserable person in the mornings; I am grumpy and will say some things I don’t actually mean if someone crosses me the wrong way. I have definitely slept in past 2pm, and I consider any time before 10am early. In summary: I hate mornings.

I had just begun my semester abroad in Cape Town, South Africa when my new housemates suggested we take a sunrise hike on a mountain called Lions Head. Honestly if I had known my housemates better I would have laughed in their faces, but I was trying to be adventurous and make new friends so I agreed. When my alarm went off at 4am, I wished that everyone else in my house had forgotten about the ambitious plans. I wanted nothing more than go back to sleep. Against my wishes, my housemates were up and ready to take on the hike.

When we got the bottom of the trail, it was still pitch black. I thought of all the lucky people in the city around me who had more hours of sleep ahead of them. My friend told me that there were people who ran up the mountain every morning, and I assumed that those people were absolutely crazy. I personally clung to the side of the mountain and cursed myself for leaving my bed. As we approached the top of the mountain it was a scramble, and I was passed by more experienced people who were used to racing the sun. The whole way up the approximately hour long trek I didn’t get the whole point of the hike. Why did I have to wake up so early? Why couldn’t we have done this just a few hours later? Then we got to the top and I got my answers.

The sun slowly crept over the horizon, stretching through the valleys and into empty streets. It was beautiful. Watching the sunrise was a truly amazing experience which cannot be accurately described in words. My head was clear, and I was able to take a deep breath for what seemed like the first time in a long time. There were all sorts of people at the top of the mountain, old groups of friends, couples, and those crazy people who ran up the mountain. I felt bad for the people in their beds who were sleeping through such a precious life moment. I realized those people who ran up the mountain were probably not crazy, because starting the day off on the top of a mountain watching the sunrise is arguably the best way one can start a day. Realistically, I will not be a person who runs up a mountain every morning, because I still cherish my sleep. However, when the opportunity arises to take a sunrise hike I gladly set my alarm.

So from the bottom of my heart, set an alarm, grab some friends and get out there. I don’t remember the days that I slept the morning away, but I remember every second of that first sunrise hike. It’s worth it.

By: Matt Morris

About a year ago, I had the opportunity to study and travel in Uppsala, Sweden for a month. The trip was very amazing and provided me with experiences which the United States didn’t quite have to offer.

One of the first, and in my opinion, one of the biggest and most memorable differences that Sweden had to offer was purely in the country’s age. Sweden was founded in 1397; inhabited much earlier; and is rich in history, culture, architecture, and art which the United States simply doesn’t have. For example, just a five-minute walk from where I stayed in Uppsala is a 16th century castle which, has housed royal families for much of Sweden’s long history. Waking up to a castle just outside was an amazing feeling and very exciting. Unfortunately the United States has few, if any comparable castles of such age and importance.

Royal Castle in Uppsala, Sweden

Similarly, close by is a prominent church which is still home to the Archbishop of Sweden.One of my favorite trips (and pictures) was taken in Sigtuna, Sweden, the oldest town in the country founded in 980. The town was home to Viking runic stones, medieval churches, and original homes which have been continuously repaired yet maintained to stay as close to their original state as they could.

Outside of architecture and history, another major difference which has left a lasting imprint on me was found within the culture. In Sweden, the word Allemansrätt refers to Outdoor Access Rights – the right to walk, bike, ski, or camp on nearly any land in the country. Swedes simply call it the Freedom to Roam. Early on during my trip, I learned the importance of Allemansrätt in everyday Swedish life. Coming from America I found it hard to believe that well over half of Swedes own a lakeside home or cabin where they spend their vacations. This means that from birth, most Swedes likely spend a portion of their year immersed in the outdoors, moving away from any metropolis or surrounding urban areas.

While traveling throughout Sweden, aspects of Allemansrätt were apparent throughout the country, whether in the actions of the people or their infrastructure. During lunch breaks at work, people would spend a portion of the time exercising or spending time outside. Most Swedes rode their bikes to work – so many that some stats estimate over half the population are cyclists. Nearly all towns that we visited had plenty of green spaces creating stunning scenery.

Church and home of the Archbishop of Sweden in Uppsala, Sweden
River and trees in Uppsala, Sweden

Allemansrätt, or perhaps just the general appreciation and healthy use of the outdoors by the Swedes was something that I value greatly. It reminded me of the importance of the outdoors and nature, something that I realized I was slowly losing by living in a city. Today, I try to keep the outdoors in my life each and every day, something I absolutely recommend to everyone.

Partial picture of Stockholm, Sweden, in all its beauty.
house in countryside of sweden
By: Anastasia Bonifate, Kayak Pittsburgh Attendant

I have always loved road trips.

I believe that is something I need to get out of the way before I spend the next 800 or so words unabashedly geeking out over America and all of its hidden gems. From what I have learned from friends and family, you either love road trips or you absolutely despise them. Some have horrible memories from childhood road trips trudging around in museums that their parents wanted to go to, spending waaay too long in kitschy tourist trap gift stores, or eating their fifth McDonalds meal of the week in yet another rest stop.

That’s not me. I’m someone who is excited to sit in the car all day and can’t even will myself to fall asleep lest I miss some interesting roadside attraction. There’s something special in staring out of the backseat window, watching the trees turn into corn, which turns into grasslands, which turns into hills, which turns into full blown mountains, which turn into mesas and buttes and giant red rocks. It truly is America the Beautiful and even though the internal workings of this country can be ugly and vicious, the outdoors are calling and are the best place to place to think, dream, explore, and create.

This country is highly accessible by car, and gas prices get lower with literally every mile that you head away from Pittsburgh. The National Parks and recreation areas are a wallet friendly family vacation. You can get the “America the Beautiful” Annual pass good for entry to 2,000+ federal recreation sites for just $80 per car (free for military families, citizens with permanent disabilities, and for fourth grade students)! If that isn’t enough to entice you to pack the whole family into the car, as of this summer there are now 60 National Parks (Hey, Gateway Arch!), none of which are in Pennsylvania. So we better hit the road!

Starting this summer’s Great American Road Trip, we were gassed up, snacked up, and mapped up due to some very diligent planning. However, the first family squabble came on only the second of 10 days. After visiting the Antique Archeology store from the show “American Pickers” my sister decided to take some pictures of riverboats on the Mississippi. We had to cross some train tracks to get there, were there for about five minutes and started to walk back to the car. A freight train came across the tracks, and it was an oh-so-American moment. Until the train stopped. For the next 15 minutes we brainstormed whether or not you can crawl under a train (my mother’s common sense told us no). Then we finally called the police who made some calls to eventually MOVE! THAT! TRAIN! After the train incident we had two more stops in Iowa, and the fact that both the Field of Dreams movie site and the Buddy Holly plane crash site were located on dirt roads just felt like the Midwest. Walking through a corn field at golden hour listening to “American Pie” on the way to the plane crash memorial was a better way to end our day then where it started at the train.

For the rest of the trip we steadily gained elevation, but even if we didn’t I would still call it breathtaking. There are moments that I can never forget that I am so glad I got to experience on this trip, with these people, and at this time. Next year I will be graduating high school and off to college. I am thankful for every time that my family did not follow my intensely planned out binder full of maps and that we went off course. Being spontaneous was the reason that we got to watch elk drink out of a crystal clear lake in Rocky Mountain National Park and then calmly walk no more than five feet away from us. Setting down the Triptiks and Google Maps to instead listen to a barber from Colorado who directed us down the scenic route to Arches National Park. This scenic route was a highlight of the trip. We drove through a ghost town in Utah before coming upon massive rock formations and eventually stopping to cool off in the Colorado River. Canceling a motel reservation to avoid more driving led to being able to sleep in an Oregon Trail style covered wagon, falling asleep in Utah with the brightest night sky ever.

Robert Frost knew a thing or two when he took the road less traveled. It’s 2018, and so so easy to get caught up in our daily lives. When we stop to actually go on vacation, it’s more of a death march from photo op to photo op and less of a vacation. On the flipside, it’s already 2018, what are you doing with your life? It’s not about the money spent, or the pictures you will take. Just get out there and go. Your eyes, ears, nose, heart, and soul are the best cameras you will ever have. I am proud to say that after this experience, I still love road trips and my family. Maybe even a little more.