Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Albuquerque for the holidays: singing dogs and such

Hi everyone, from the frozen tundra of Albuquerque. Decided to pack up the teenager and the pooch for a ROAD TRIP! [ROAD TRIP must be yelled, of course.]

I have the week off from work as we shut down the office (yay!) so decided to take advantage of it. It took around 7 hours, so it wasn't too bad. We left at o'dark thirty to avoid any holiday traffic on Christmas eve and sailed right on through. Once we hit the NM border the snow was piled up, but it was mostly cleared when we got to Albuquerque and on to Rio Rancho. For the teenager, there was a nice little patch in Dad's backyard.

We woke to 18 degrees-- yes, 18 tiny little degrees. Oh, it's been a while since I felt that kind of cold, living in Phoenix now. Dexter, my dog, did a lot of singing and dancing for his walks given that I wasn't willing to go at our usual 6 am. Did I mention it's 18 degrees then?

Decided to introduce Jamie to a Jewish Christmas with a movie and chinese food. Of course, the movie that we selected was.. well, let's just say that while I enjoyed it immensely and it was very well cast, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo may be best not viewed with three generations of family sitting in the theater. Jamie, at the end, looked at us and said 'That was kind of like watching a porno with your mom and grandfather.. how awkward!' lol!

There's a nice little off-road hiking trail a few streets over that we've been enjoying. While the dogs are very nervous around each other and we've been keeping them on leash for their own good, they've been doing fairly well overall. The house is filled with teenagers, furry and non-furry!

Heading back to the animal shelter today to visit some of the critters there. I'm in love with a spunky senior dog there [go figure!] and Jamie is in love with two cats, a preggers dog, a pig and a goat. She's only asked 99 times if we can take them all home, so we're doing ok!

Not much to tell from this trip, but it's been nice and relaxing. Colder than I expected and I've been hibernating a bit, not wanting to go outside too much until the temps hit 40 mid-day. It's been nice to catch up on some sleep from my busy Phoenix existence, even with a singing and dancing dog..

New Mexico Christmas 2011

Thursday, November 17, 2011


My computer tried to eat them, but I managed to save 'em. Good thing!! Enjoy.

Hawaii trip November 2011


My computer tried to eat them, but I managed to save 'em. Good thing!! Enjoy.

Hawaii trip November 2011

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

DAY 8: Kona

Another beautiful day here in Kona. It was a bit overcast when we got up (oh, and dark!) but beautiful walking weather. We both headed out on separate journies for a bit, then met up at the pool for some r&r. And so I can work on my freckles. :o) It was sunny and warm with a light breeze so perfect! But I never have patience just laying out, so did that for a bit then went back up to the room to get ready for lunch. We skipped breakfast as we had a big dinner last night.

We headed for the Hulihe'e Palace down the road, and right on the water. Built by the second governor of the Island of Hawaii, John Adams Kuakini, it was completed in 1838, a hear after he built a chuch across the street (of course!) called the Moku'aikaua Church. The Palace has two floors and six rooms with an engry hall, parlor, dining room, second floor sitting room and two bedrooms. Yes, the kitchen is noticeably absent.

The Palace is filled with the most stunning and intricately carved wood furniture I've ever seen. After Kuakini's, and his son's death, the property passed to Princess Ruth Ke'elikolani, half sister to Kins Kamehamena the Fourth and Fifth, and became a favorite retreat of the royal family. Pictures of the royal family adorn the walls. The grounds are beautiful with two lanais (long decks) overlooking the ocean. I should mention that the home was built with native lava rock, coral lime mortar, koa and ohia wood (the floors are wood and gorgeous! So nice, that you have to leave your shoes at the door!)

Across the street, as I mentioned, is the Mokuaikaua Church, the first stone church built on this island.

Today there's a large cruise ship in the harbor, so lots of people from the ship are milling around!

We headed to a place recommended for local cuisine, but I wasn't very impressed, nor did I have a lot of cash on me (it's cash only) so we headed over to the Kona Inn, where we were recommended to get fish. Specifically, the calamari sandwich, which Lorrayne got and loved. (Sam, who usually hates calamari, actually thought it was ok!) I got a salad with a papaya dressing and seared ahi tuna. Yum!

We decided to head out to Greenwell Farms, the largest Kona coffee plantation, comprised of 25 farms. In the Greenwell family for four generations and 160 years, it's still owned and run by a Greenwell today. There are 25 miles of Kona coffee belt, otherwise, it's just plain Hawaiian coffee. Kona coffee is picked by hand, and while it's very good, that fact sure reflects in the price! This Farm buys coffee cherries from around the Kona region, after certifying the farms, and will sell back the roasted beans if they choose. We got a guided tour and got to learn about the farm and the coffee growing, and roasting, process.

some facts I remember: it takes 7 lbs of coffee beans to make 1 lb of coffee. As I mentioned, kona coffee is picked by hand, and this farm has 35 workers that do all the picking. We got to taste one of the berries and saw the process in action. A skinny dog wandered through the group, so of course I had to pet him (yes, I miss my Dexter!!) We also got to taste 10 different coffees.

The farm grows 25 different kinds of avocado and gives them away, along with bananas, oranges and anything else grown on the property.

We then started down the road to the next place I really wanted to go to, but it started to rain. So, we decided to turn back and brave the school traffic. So tomorrow we'll hit that site, and will go to the farmer's market so I can get Jackie's tahitian lime ginger jelly (that was oh-so-good!!) We picked up some coffee as well today, of course.

I think a mini-nap is in my near future, then a yummy dinner for certain!


Day 9: kona

Hi everyone! Lazy morning after all the driving we did yesterday. Don't get me wrong.. we were still up at 5, but lazed around a bit listening to the sound of the waves. While we don't have a sand beach at this hotel, which is a little disappointing, having the sound of the water crashing on the rocks is quite a nice thing to enjoy in the early hours!

We ate last night at a place called Huggies, right by the hotel on the water. Without a reservation we got prime seating overlooking the lava rocks and the tide pools, so must have scored with a cancellation. We got this killer mushroom dish and an arugula salad with strawberries, goat cheese and candied macadamias. We both got the cioppino, which was a bit of a disappointment. It had a heavy red broth, which really overpowered the seafood. It had a kona lobster tail, small but great, shrimp cooked to perfection, and two types of clams. It was ok and the seafood very good, but would have been good with a light saffron broth as I've usually had.

The view was amazing and we dined to the sound of the surf crashing on the rocks. The water is incredibly clear, and the sand white, which was striking against the black lava and blue ocean. I got a glass of malbec, one of my favorites. Yum. The lady at the table next to us got the mudpie, and omg the piece was the size of her head! She ate it all! Much as I love desert, I passed when I saw the size of the deserts!

We decided to walk a bit to walk off dinner, and headed back to the hotel. The luau at the hotel was ending. I'm glad we booked the luau at the other hotel! That was ok, but much better than this! We watched some of it from our balcony.

Lorrayne is tired of driving so she decided to stay by the pool today. I can certainly understand but hey, there are still sights to see! So.. off I go!

I decided to see some of the local sights today in the Kailua-Kona area, and started out to drive through the cute little towns just south of town, and then on to Pu'uphonua o'honaunau. This is a place of refuge, where ancient temples and kiwi (wooden images) whisper stories of the page. It provided refuge to Hawaiians who came here. It's a 180-acre National Park in south Kona, around a 30 minute drive from our hotel (it's only around 20 miles, but it's a bit congested in our area.)

The ranger said I was lucky to get in early before all the tour busses got there, and I had the place mostly to myself. It was so beautiful! The crystal clear water against the lava flows and bright green of trees and plans peeking through the lava again was a stark contrast in the landscape. This place of refuge was because it was considered holy ground, and blood could not be shed within its confines. So a sign posted a mental image of a battle-worn warrier swimming to the shores, once reaching it, collapsing on the shores knowing that he was safe. People who broke a kapu would come here, defeated warriers and those too old to fight. The priests would forgive them so they could go back out to their former lives free of the kapu.

There were royal grounds, home of the ali'i, or royalty. For hundreds of years, this was a favorite place for the royalty. The land was segmented and within the 'great wall' only royalty tread. Outside, all were welcome. I walked the grounds and saw temples (heiau), Hawaiian fishponds and the "Great Wall", a 10 foot high and 17 feet thick wall. There was a sign warning people to stay away from the turtles, though unfortunately I didn't see any! Signs marked some of the sights including kanoa, bowls carved into the rock which may be used to hold dye. Also the Ka'ahumanu Stone-- legend says that Queen Ka'ahumanu, favorite wife of King Kamehemeha I, swam to the pu-uhonoa after a quarrel with her husband. She hid under this large stone, but her barking dog gave her away. The king found her, and they ended their quarrel.

The walk wound through the area, by remodeled thatched buildings and a rebuilt section of the stone wall. The color contrasts were striking and the site offered beautiful ocean views.

I headed back to town stopping at a few scenic turn-offs for pictures before heading back to town. I then walked down Ali'i, the main drag, to the farmer's market to get the jams I eyed the other day. I got two of the Tahitian ginger lime (you're welcome, Jackie!) and one called calomondin. I had never heard of it, but it was amazing! The farm produces all of the fruit and honey for these products, and they are jarred on site. Yummy!

I then walked back and decided on sushi for lunch. Yum! I love sushi and getting fresh fish on the ocean seems a great idea. I decided to work on the freckles a bit by the pool, then met up with lorrayne for some drinks by the pool. With a clap of thunder the rains came in, and we chatted with some great people, one of which, Rick, was holding an umbrella up to block the wind and rain. Ever thankful, I told him he'll now be 'famous' in my blog! Rick, if you're reading this, it was nice to meet you!!!

somehow lost the last half of this post, which is frustrating as I lost the first half this afternoon. In summary, we went back to Lava Java for dinner and I got the signature salad with butterfish-- will say that the lettuce here is really great, and I'm not a big salad person! We then headed for Huggos to try their mudslide dessert (which you may remember is the size of your head!) yum! We made a good dent and enjoyed some Kona coffee with baileys, and chatted with a couple of locals here for 20+ years. She's in real estate, and he works at a golf resort.

Another great day! We head to the airport tomorrow but will enjoy some time at the pool before we go. We heard the breakfast at Lava Java is excellent, and since we haven't done breakfast since coming here, we may check it out. Get leaded up on some great kona coffee before we go.. yum!!

Thanks for reading.. until the next adventure... aloha and mahalo!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Day 7: Kona

Hello from Kona, 'the big island!' We woke up early and decided to get an early start driving to the other side of the island to Volcano National Park. Hey, let's go hike a volcano today! Woohoo!!

The ride was over 2.5 hours, winding through some cute little towns that we may go back to if we have time. We decided to take a detour to visit a black sand beach, and it was well worth the trip! I snagged a mini shell for a friend of mine who collects them (yes, past the sign that says it's unlawful to remove black sand from the beach. well, it's not black sand, thus justified!!) We also saw several green turtles swimming in the waves and the little wading pools. It was really striking to see the black beach next to the gorgeous blue ocean. The sand was very course and felt almost like little beads.

We hit the road and went to Volcanoes National park. We stopped at the visitor's center to get our bearings and recommendations, and to see if we could shake off the rain cloud that seemed to be following us (no such luck!) We stopped at the Jaggar Museum and it was really interesting! We learned about the different kinds of lava (the smooth and rough stuff), and the difference between some of the lava from the Mt. St. Helens explosion and this Hawaii site. We also read about a town on the big island that was absorbed by the lava.

We stopped at a gorgeous lookout site and took some pictures. As soon as we got there it started pouring and the skies unloaded, so we raced back to the car. I was glad I got a windbreaker at the visitor's center! We then stopped at the Kilauea Iki Crater overlook, which erupted for five weeks in 1954. It was amazing to see and steam was floating from the top of the crater. We hiked through the woods to the Thurston Lava tube (Nahuku). It took about five minutes to walk end-to-end, but was really impressive with how long and wide is is. Simply amazing that the lava left this!

It was pouring when we got out so we made our way back to the car and continued the drive. Unfortunately a good bit of the park is closed due to sulfur levels, but there was a path with several things to see. Our next stop was to see the Pu-uloa Petroglyph trail. Slipping past the 'people with lung issues, please do not continue due to the sulfur levels' (I have asthma), and feeling the comfort of my inhaler in my pocket, I decided to venture on. We walked over lava field for around a half a mile to the petroglyphs. We somehow beat the rain cloud and it was sunny and gorgeous!

There was a wooden pathway over the petroglyphs spread out in a fairly large area. There were a lot of circles, and concentric circles, but also something that looked like a bird and the moab man. It was really cool, especially given my obsession with petroglyphs! We walked back and a minute before we got to the car, our cloud caught up with us. As we opened the door the rain went from mist to deluge. Woohoo!!

We continued our drive to the end at the ocean, where the road was blocked and closed by a lava flow. We saw the Holei Sea arch, a large arch carved in the cliffs overlooking the ocean. Again, walking on the lava flows to get there, it's a really impressive way to consider the power and beauty of the lava fields. The lava is such a deep black and absorbs the sun, but where it shows flows and ripples it's often a bit shiny. It's really beautiful.

We drove back through the rain (our cloud again caught up with us!) and left the park. I forgot to mention that we also stopped by some steam vents, just an opening in the ground with warm steam seeping out. Cool stuff!

On the way back we decided to stop by the green sand beach, and the southern-most point in the Us. First the green sand beach-- we drove for 20 minutes on a rather bumpy road, past a car farm (there were several areas where dilapidated cars in various levels of decay were left in fields of high grasses-- so I speculated that the owners may be trying to grow a new car. ?? Why not?) Anyways, we passed a really cool windmill 'farm' and came to a fork in the road. I decided to hit the green sand beach first, so off we went! We got to an area that was very pitted and sandy so we stopped and walked down to the beach. It had a good bit of green sand, but we learned that THE green sand beach was a way down a rutted dirt road, and two miles away! Given that nightfall was approaching, we gave up and enjoyed the green sand that blew onto the beach we were at.

We then went to the southern-most point of the us. There were these interesting wood pillars near the cliffs by the water, that people jumped off from. There was no sign, and really nothing to let you know it was anything special if you didn't drive down specifically to see it! A guy was fishing along the water with a milk gallon jug-- interesting!

We drove back and stopped by Lava Java for dinner, which was recommended. It was great! We both got a macadamia nut crusted butterfish which was really good! We stopped for drinks at our hotel bar-- the mai tai sampler, and called it a night. Long day but lots of fun!!!

Night all! s

Sunday, November 6, 2011

day 6: Maui and Kona

Our last morning in Maui!! It hazy and humid but still gorgeous! We packed and snacked then decided to head out. We stopped at a lookout point and watched seals playing in the water on the coast. We decided to stop in the Maui Ocean Center to check out the aquarium in Wailuku Maui. It was worth seeing! We walked through a lot of interesting and educational exhibits showcasing the local fish, mammals, corals and other sea life. There was a shark exhibit with several hammerheads, which always amazed me as they look so strange! There was a huge aquarium that you walk through, which was really cool, especially as there was a diver in the tank! There were a bunch of different sharks, fish, manta rays and others. It was well done.

We stopped for a bite to eat on the way to the airport and got the kahlua pork (barbequed pork). The flight was only 30 minutes and we got out with our bags quickly. The airports here have large open-air areas, and this airport landed us on the runway and we walked in on the tarmac.

The hotel is less than 30 minutes from the airport. It's interesting here as there are grassy yellow fields with these clusters of volcanic rock littering the fields in jagged piles. We then drove along the water a bit once we got to Kailua-Kona. It's a very touristy area with lots of shopping, bars and restaurants.

We checked in to the hotel, which is the sister hotel of the one we stayed at in Maui. It's the Royal Kona here, and not as nice a hotel as the Royal Lahaina. Right on the water, but much older and not recently renovated. Our room overlooks the water with a partial water view, which is quite nice! There are few sand beaches in this area, and most of it is the black volcanic rock.

I decided to walk around a bit and Lorrayne went to the pool. I got my bearings a bit, and walked down to a farmer's market where I got a magnet and wandered around. There was a woman with jellies that sounded great-- all grown on her organic farm, she had one that really sounded amazing (and tasted amazing too!) called Tahitian lime ginger. Oh, was it good! I didn't feel like carrying it back so will go back on Wednesday to check it out.

I am craving sushi, so we got a recommendation and the place is a five minute walk from our hotel. It's really nice to be this close to town! The sushi was really good! yum. We walked a bit and explored the galleries before heading back.

Another early night, but we should get an early start as we're driving across the island to Volcanoes National Park! I can't wait to see it!


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Day 5: maui

Last full day in Maui before we head to the big island tomorrow! We headed to Lahaina harbor to catch our boat to our snorkeling destination.

Another wonderful outing! I should mention that the hike was through Hike Maui, and I'd recommend them. Ask for Kate as a guide if you can! This excursion was through Maui Adventure Cruises and was excellent! Our captain, Jeff, learned everyone's name on the boat, which was impressive. There were probably 24 people or so. He was personable and knowledgeable. Rob (Bob?) our guide was great too. He has crazy curly blonde hair (think Carrot top, but with blonde hair.) He was fun and really engaging.

We set off in our raft to the island of Lanai, enjoying the view of Lahaina Harbor from the water. We saw a half-capsized boat in the harbor, which apparently sunk seven year ago, however, it cannot be cleared now because the coral grew around it so now it's part of the reef. It sits at a 45 degree angle or less, not quite flat on the water surface.. Not quite there to Lanai, we came upon a huge school of dolphin! They were spinners, or Hawaiin spinner dolphins, named for the vertical spins they do in the air. There were hundred of them around the boat, and we watched them play for a while! It was really amazing to see. They got really close to the boat so we could see their graceful gliding through the water and their acrobatics in unison. We then went to our first snorkeling site, where we found several giant tortoises.

The water was an amazing color and very clear-- some areas were a royal blue and others were a blue-green or jade color. Really beautiful. The area that we stopped at for our first dive was over a coral reef often known as the 7 mile reef. It's the largest reef in Hawaii which made for incredible snorkeling.

I've snorkeled twice in 20 years, and not in over 10, so it took a little getting used to. Of course you sound like Darth vader with your breath in the tube, which freaks me out a bit! I hyperventilated a bit, but calmed quickly and really enjoyed it. There were so many types of coral and fish, it was really amazing. And we saw several tortoises which was amazing as well. So large and graceful, it just glided along the bottom of the coral.

We swam for a bit then headed back to the second site. We learned that Lanai was bought by Dole to plan pineapples, but when the venture wasn't profitable, it was sold to Murdock who built not one but two Four Seasons hotels!

We went to our second site, in a cove, though the water was a bit choppier. It was in the bay near the Four Seasons hotel. The water was fairly cold and after maybe 10 minutes, I, with my thin Phoenix blood, was quite cold and called it quits. I sat in the sun a bit to try to warm up. The fish in this area were different, and both sites had a lot of fish and coral which was really beautiful.

We got some sandwiches for lunch, and rode around more of the island, where we heard the story of Sweetheart rock. A princess fell in love with a warrior, but her father the king didn't feel he was worthy of her and banned their being together. They started sneaking outings in the caves along the water. The warrior went above to get some water, and when he got to the top, he saw some huge waves approaching. He raced down to the cave, grabbed his sweetheart, and pulled her to the shore. Unfortunately he learned he was not fast enough, and she died in his arms.

tradition is to perform a burial ceremony right away, but he insisted on one more night with her. So he threw her over his shoulder and scaled this 80 foot vertical face on sweetheart rock. In the morning, he buried her under some rocks at the end of it, and plunged to his death as it wasn't worth living without her. You can see the rocks that mark her grave at the end of the rock, standing vertically, as they stand out from the rest of the rock.

We then saw the hotel then headed back towards Maui. I should mention that on the way, we could see several other Hawaiian islands. Maybe 20 minutes from the Maui shore, we were surrounded again by the playful spinner dolphins! It was so great to see them again and we enjoyed the show they put on! They are so graceful and what was so impressive was the large clusters of them that swam in unison, then every now and then you'd see them jump up from the water and spin, or smack their fins on the water as if they are playing with us! What a great show!

We pulled into the harbor and said our goodbyes, and decided to check out a couple of the historical buildings in Lahaina. First up was the baldwin house. on Front street, the main road by the water. It's the oldest house still standing on the island of Maui. Originally a four-room dwelling, it was built by the Reverend Ephrain Spaulding in 1834. In 1836 Rev. Spaulding fell ill and went back to Massachusetts, and the reverend Dr. Dwight Baldwin and his family moved in. They also were from New England and traveled around South America's Cape Horn on a six-month voyage to O'ahu. Then they were reassigned on Maui in 1835. They had 8 children, two of whom died young. The home was expanded to accommodate their growing family, and a second level was added. Baldwin served as the leading minister, as well as government physician, dentist and veterinarian. Due to his foresight in vaccinating the people of Maui, Moloka'i and Lana'i, they were spared the smallpox epidemic which devastated the other islands.

We then walked down the street to the Wo Hing Museum, also on front street, affiliated with the Chee Kung Tong, a Chinese Fraternal society. The Chinese were among the earliest immigrants to Hawaii, brought in to work in sugar cane fields. The building has two floors, and some beautiful chinese sculptures, screens and items, as well as photos of some of the original members, and the chinese grocer that used to be across the street.

We wandered back to the car to go back to the hotel to relax. We're debating where to go for our last dinner on Mau but decided to stay at our hotel. Laid by the pool a bit then grabbed a bite at the hotel restaurant to watch the beautiful dancer and enjoy the sunset over the ocean. Not a bad way to end the day on Maui.


Friday, November 4, 2011

Day 4: Maui

Hi! We got up and out early to head to Hana on the other side of the island. We were told that going to Hana is all about 'the road to Hana'.. the trip and not the destination. Since we were up early, we figured we'd get an early start to beat traffic. Ha! Ok, so tourism is the top business on Maui, so the idea of beating traffic is pretty funny, actually.

We stopped at the Shell gas station at the Hana road turnoff to get snacks and the CD that points out things to see on the trip. We set off, and drove through Paia town, which I described yesterday as the surfing capital here, and home of the hippies. On a sign on the way into town, there is a sticker that says 'please don't feed the hippies'.. it's pretty obscured with other stickers, but we saw it! We drove a while then stopped at a road stand for our first lookout point and some fresh fruit smoothies. Yum! When we went down to the lookout, we found 'dogface', a cute boxer/pit dog who was quite shy. Lorrayne got a piece of banana bread (think: HUGE!) and dogface sat there staring at her. She even said 'oh, I don't think you'll like this..' and the girl who worked at the stand laughed. So I, of course, fed him a piece, that he gobbled down, then he continued to do his best 'sad puppy' face for more (which he got, of course!)

The view was very nice of the greenery and the ocean in the far distance. We then set off. When this road is described as windy, well, that doesn't give it justice. There were several hairpin turns where the speed limit is 10 mph. This would have been SO much fun to drive in my car! There are also a lot of areas that are only one car-width, especially over the small bridges that run by streams and waterfalls. There are supposed to be 600 turns in the road, and 40 bridges, though the guy on the CD said he's unsure if that's been validated! Sounds about right, though.

It drizzled much of the day which, given that we were in the rainforest wasn't a big surprise. The waterfalls had plenty of water rushing through them, which was beautiful. We saw the ocean off in the distance for a good bit of the trip. Stopped at a little state park for a hike-- which we thought might lead to another waterfall but nope! It was a nice hike anyways. We meandered over the winding road past many waterfalls, and rose until we got really majestic views of beaches and cliffs, all covered with thick and lush green vegetation.

The drive takes 2 and-a-half to three hours and offers some of the most breathtaking views I've seen. When we got to Hana the skies opened with a major deluge, which made it hard to drive. We drove a bit further but realized that our time in Hana was being washed out, so we decided to turn around to head back. We'll have to wait for a black sand beach on the big island!

We stopped at a roadside stand as we were tempted by a sign with fish tacos, but they weren't open. We snacked on some toasted coconut then headed back. When we got to Paia, we took our guide from yesterday, Kate's, recommendation to try the Paia Fish Market. Not what we expected, it was absolutely packed and had a counter where you order, and crammed tables and benches. We each got two of the yummiest fish tacos, then walked around the town a bit to check out the stores.

We decided to head back then and sat out by the pool for a bit, before showering to get ready for dinner.

we got a dinner recommendation from out hotel and headed out to lahaina. We drove through the town, which is a Mecca of tourism and found the place. Right on the water, the location was perfect. And there was a luau at the place next door called the fires of pele. The women wore two-foot high headresses which were impressive! Dinner was really god. Lorrayne got mahi mahi with local greens, avocado, onion, goat cheese and macadamia nuts. I got seared ahi with daikon, mushrooms and greens. Both were good and my ahi melted in your mouth, but my dish was incredibly salty.

We stopped in a shop and got a few things. I got my magnet- I seriously wonder if this one will take down my fridge!! Headed back to the hotel. I got a Mai tai and sat by the pool for a bit and watched the beautiful and graceful hula dancer. We met her a couple of days ago. In her sixties, she looked twenty years younger. Her hair went past her butt, and she is slim and graceful. She shared how much she loves her job and that she has been doing it for over 25 years.

Lorrayne was up today before five. I tried so hard to stay asleep but no luck. We head over to Lahaina harbor at 6:30 to Catch a raft to our snorkeling. We're both excited for that. I've never swam with dolphins, and we were told that they are common on this trip. Just hoping the wind dies down a bit so it's not too choppy!


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Day 3: Maui adventures

Hi! Day three started off insanely early (like day two) but that's ok! Caught up on my blog, and was ready well before we had to be to meet the van for our hike. Did the 45 minute drive and met Kate, our guide. She was really amazing! Interesting and fun and really informative. We Drove through the small town of Paia, and she explained that it was created to house the sugar plantation workers, but then in the 60s became a hippies and surfers paradise, due to the strong surf on the north shore of Maui.

Hawaii is made of shield volcanoes, which provide a slow lava flow and not a huge burst from an eruption of a composite volcano. The west Maui mountains are young by comparison at 1.3 million years old, and are extinct, though Haelakela is the large volcano on the island, which is dormant, but could erupt.

We drove through areas of sugar cane fields, and but the sugar cane museum. They take 2000 gallons of water to produce 1 lb of sugar. The farmers them shut off the water and burn the fields to harvest. Sugar is harvested year-round.

The north shore, as I mentioned, is a world-renowned surf area. Jaws is what it's called when there's huge waves ranging from 10 feet to 100 feet twice a year, in January or February. It's not announced when Jaws is to keep most people from going there, as the waves are so huge and really require a lot of talent and experience to navigate!

Oh, and the person I was referencing yesterday in Iao State Park is King Kamemea, who united the islands as ruler. Oh, and I learned that Captain Cook was the first westerner to arrive at the islands!

There are no native fruit trees-- all of them were brought from elsewhere.

We went to H'o'lava valley to the rain forest for our hike. It was drizzling when we set off-- hey, it's the rain forest.. go figure! We saw a ton of flowers and fruit, and Kate showed us them all. We got to snack on lots of interesting things like guava, and tried something called an ice cream pod which was described to us as a coconutty-banana flavor with the consistency of a q-tip. Serious, but interesting! We saw shy grass, which if you smack, the water gets sucked out of it into the stem and it looks shriveled to protect it. We saw a jackson lizard, which is similar to a chameleon and has horns on its head. It turned green when we put it back on the tree it came from. We saw several types of ginger, avocado, papaya, apple bananas and more.

We hiked through the woods for a couple of hours and saw three waterfalls. The second of which was by a large cave, where we enjoyed lunch. There was a big pool under it and some people swam. Brrr! We had to wade across a low stream and it was ankle deep-- my poor hiking shoes! But hey, it was worth it. The third waterfall was very intense and we couldn't get all that close to it.

It poured for most of the day, and we were quite ready to be done at the end. By the time we got back to our cars and out of the rainforest it was warm and sunny! So strange how different the two sides of the island are weather-wise!

Tonight we went to a luau at our hotel. It was ok.. about what I expected: very commercial. Food was so-so but the folks at the table were quite entertaining. A couple from Wisconsin who were a hoot! A couple from CA that we were chatting up in line, and a couple from Boston who just got married. Man, did I sound like that when I lived in Boston??? He had such a strong accent. She was a total b*tch and we are speculating how long it will last if she's already that unhappy. Yikes.

We had a mai tai or five, and stumbled over the the restaurant for our ahi tuna tacos that we are hooked on. Yum! Another early night and got up by 6 to get ready and head out for the ride to hana. It's POURING so we're hoping today won't be a total wash out given that this is the dry side of the island!!! The ride to Hana is supposed to be quite windy and twisty, so this may be interesting in the rain!

Have a great day! Sam

Hawaii Days 1 and 2: Maui

Aloha, and welcome from Hawaii! As usual, I completely packed everything I could in and neglected my blog for a couple of days-- but I'll catch up now! My body clock is off, and I've been waking up at 4 or so given the three hour time difference. Eek!

Left Phoenix at 8 am and did a quick stop in Honolulu, Oahu, before landing in Maui. Very bumpy landing, though Lorrayne said her flight actually did a 'touch and go' where the pilot tried to land, and had to pick up and circle the airport before trying again. We landed within minutes of each other and were greeted by Drake with a gorgeous bright purple and white lei. We got our bags and we were off! Tried to talk the car rental guy into an upgrade, and apparently I'm losing my touch. Dang. But the car is a little white subaru and good enough.

It was a 45 minute drive to Lahaina, where we are staying. It was a really nice drive winding along the ocean, but a surprise in that the island, at least this side, is much dryer than either of us expected. There are a lot of brown mountains and fields. But the drive did circle the ocean and we were teased with glimpses of the shoreline. The Royal Lahaina was renovated within the last few years and the tower rooms are nice. Not easy to find, and we drive past twice before we were able to find it! We have a partial ocean view and can see it from the balcony. They also have cottage rooms, and what I read suggested not staying in them as they haven't been renovated for a bit. This is one of the oldest hotels in the area.

We're right on the beach, which is great! We checked in and after a delay trying to get into our room (the first two room keys didn't work!) we got in, unpacked quickly, changed, and headed down to grab a bite as it was late afternoon and neither of us had eaten since breakfast. We got a shrimp appetizer and ahi tuna tacos, which were both great, along with mai tais. Yum! Then we decided to explore and walked a good bit on the beach to get our orientation and walk off the apps. We had expected to be closer to places to go, but did hit several hotels and a really upscale shopping area during our walk. Nothing appealed to us to dinner, and everything is really expensive! So we headed back to the hotel and got two different ahi tuna sandwiches. Looks like we'll be enjoying a lot of ahi here! And why not? It's fresh and good.

Early to bed and horrifyingly early to rise, we were up and ready to start our day by 5 am! What a great way to wake up for my *birthday*! I digress for a moment-- but wow, huh? 40. Certainly not a bad place to enjoy it! Lorrayne jumped up and gave me what she brought: a hilarious card (which for those of you who know me well, you know that I LOVE spending time reading shoebox greeting cards and laugh my tail off, so I really appreciated it!) She also got me a beautiful necklace from a cute shop in Seattle.

We headed downstairs for the orientation from the travel organizer that we used, and got both an island orientation and review of the tours available. We decided to sign up for three: a rainforest hike, a snorkel trip and a dinner/show.. also a luau. They had a raffle and drew names, and I won a dinner show!! So we changed the show we were going to see-- yay! What a great birthday present!

We headed out to safeway where we bought water, breakfast stuff and coffee, and a couple of toiletries. Somehow a bag that I had disappeared, so I needed a couple of things. Then we headed off to the Maui Tropical Plantation. It was gorgeous! There was a 15 minute 'train' ride to orient us, and to show us everything grown there. We passed large fields of taro, a staple crop here, and sugar cane. We could see the sugar cane mill in the distance belching smoke-- the only one on the island now. There are zip lines running through the plantation, offering amazing views. We also saw ti leaf plants used for red dye, and the leaves are used for wrapping fish and cooking, pineapple, starfruit and jackfruit trees, coffee. The guide did a coconut demo, and shelled a coconut and showed us that the thick fibers in the casing were used for ropes and netting. She then cut into the coconut, showing us that the 'water' inside should be clear (otherwise a bug likely got in!) and let us try some. Yum, and very different than what I've had before.

We then saw flowers that make leis, papayas, bananas with the large purple 'flower' hanging from the top, avocado trees, mango, guava (with 5x more vitamin C than oranges) Rambutan, like lychee, macadamia trees brought from Australia, red, pink and blue ginger. The flowers there were lush and gorgeous! There is a gazebo where they do weddings, with beautiful flowers draped all around.

We got off the tram and walked around the fields, by the ducks and the pond and through an area marked 'river garden' with more gorgeous flowers. Unfortunately my allergies are pretty bad here, and worse with all the flowers, so it was time to head off! Before we left, we walked through the gift shop and were drawn by an amazing smell that turned out to be a guava. Yum! We packed up a bag with a couple of guava, rambutan (why not?) and apple bananas. Lorrayne got a coconut coffee, which was amazing, and I got some pineapple ice cream as I've never heard of it before. Yum!

We headed out towards the Iao Valley State Park and the drive in was gorgeous. The landscape was rippling green mountains shrouded in mist, as the cloud cover was low. Intensely beautiful, it reminded me of the mountains in Peru around Macchi Picchu (though not nearly as high!) We hiked off through the woods on well-worm paths and meandered through the woods for an hour or so. The views were gorgeous of the forest and the needle. Unfortunately I'm on an ipad and getting used to it, so opening a window to do my research isn't happening now. There was a battle here with King Maha-something, and the top of the needle, a green-covered spire, was where the battle was won and the land claimed. You want to look it up now, don't you? :o)

There was an area that was well irrigated and different plans laid down including water taro, which we heard about at the plantation (where the dry taro was planted.) We decided to drive back to the hotel and I tried to lay down for a power nap, but phone calls kept waking me so I gave up and we dressed for dinner.

The package we got had dinner at Ruth's Chris steakhouse, which was wonderful. I get one or two steaks a year, and this was it! Neither of our steaks ended up medium rare, but they were very flavorful and tasty. My desert came with a candle and I made my birthday wish (and no, I won't tell you!!) The show, Ulalena was very good and beautifully done. It was about the story of Hawaii's people. The chanting, dancing and music were really beautiful. We headed back to the hotel.

Up again well before 5, we made a pot of coffee and opened the slider to enjoy the ocean breeze and birds singing. We're going hiking today in the rain forest to waterfalls. I unfortunately didn't bring my keen water shoes, which would have been perfect for this hike. Will be interesting to see just how wet my hiking shoes get! Looking out from the balcony I see the beautiful green canopy of plants and trees-- everything here is so lush and green by the water, though inland is very arid. I am looking forward to seeing with leeward side of the island to see what it's like, and expect it will look more like I expected of Maui.

Have a great day! I'll write again soon! And yes, it was a wonderful birthday full of beauty and fun, and I wouldn't trade a thing!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Balloons and timeless art

Took a quick long weekend trip to Albuquerque to visit Dad. He lives right near when the balloons take off in the Albuquerque balloon fiesta.

We got to see what looked to be a couple hundred hot air balloons hovering overhead. There were some interesting ones including bottles and a flying pig. Yes, I've now seen a pig fly! It was a really cool site.

We took a trip to Santa Fe to walk around the square, browse and check out modern art.

Then we decided to check out Petroglyph National Monument to check timeless (historic) art done close to a thousand years ago. It was really beautiful and they were nice little hikes. When I have more time, I'd like to check out some of the other hikes!


Petroglyph National Monument, Albuquerque, NM

Sunday, June 26, 2011

NYC Adventures 2011

It’s that time! For a NYC excursion. Planned with the ‘Ya-Yas’, my friend’s crazy mom and mom’s best friend, the ‘Ya-Ya’s in Training’ (aka. Ya-Yits) are all that remain. We made the best of it, slinging raincoats in tow, to seek out our own adventures in the city that never sleeps. And yes, managed to get a nap in.. the city that never sleeps. Oh yeah..

I got here Thursday night. When isn’t transportation in the city an adventure, you ask? Certainly not when the electricity in the train system is down. So, Bussing it I went, as trying to get a cab from Newark to the upper east side seemed a little, oh, I don’t know, INSANE. It took a bit of time, which gave me the time I need to think about the kindle that I left resting comfortable in the seat pocket in front of me. Is Southwest as honest as they are friendly? We may soon learn, however, it has been beyond the 24 hours in which I was promised an answer. Moving on..

I saw the city lights for quite some time before making it in, only to learn when I got there that el Pres is in NYC, in the very area, for a fundraiser. Finding a cab was a joyous adventure, but finally with comfy shoes and perseverance, I did. 20 blocks later with my bag in tow. Made it to the apartment and we took the liberty of kicking up our feet and ordering in. The only memorable part of the meal was our black and white ‘half moon’ cookies that you simply must get when here.

The next morning we went to the diner around the corner for a speedy and traditional breakfast. We recognize all of the wait staff, even though my last visit here was two years ago. With a gruff ‘take any seat’ we sat down and ordered some great eats. I got blueberry pancakes and a gallon or more of coffee to get my day started well. The coffee kept coming, and my smile grew with every pour. When we were leaving, we got a gruff ‘see you tomorrow!’ and of course, we did. Nothing like a two block crawl for breakfast.

We headed down to Canal street for the shopping and people-watching. With the 'magic' raincoats in tow, the rain stayed away except for a light mist that did, ahem, wonders, for our hair. ('Magic' raincoats being the phenomenon when you are prepared for foul weather, like the 70% chance of rain expected, it doesn't happen. It's strangely more likely when you are entirely unprepared for it.) I got a couple of things, and no, we did not get stuffed in a back room for the knock-off coach bags. Instead, they carry a laminated copy of the pictures of the bags. Thought that was an interesting change. The recession has apparently hit hard here too, as the folks with the knock-offs were quite persistent, and downright assertive in some areas.

We found our way to Mulberry Street, the heart of Little Italy, and ate in a lovely little restaurant that reminded me a lot of Rome. Tables spilling out onto the street and all facing the street, they served up amazing dishes of fresh-made pasta. Lisa got lasagna and I got cannelloni, which is just as good as I remembered it from my visit to Rome. We them went to our favorite pastry place (that I have yet to remember the name) and got sweets: lisa a cannoli (pre-piped, which gave us pause). I got tiramisu as it was so beautifully displayed, with a tiramisu center surrounded by lady fingers all around. Yum! We went back for a nap in the city that never sleeps (ha!) then dined in Eataly, Mario Batali’s market concept restaurant complex. There are 5 or 6 restaurants, and a complete market with everything including a fishmonger, butcher, dairy and cheese area, gelato, chocolates, breadmaker, fresh pasta, dried goods and canned/bottled goods. There are quite a few restaurants but since we had a big lunch, we decided to split a pizza. It was a brick oven ‘za and quite good.

Today I went to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, probably the last touristy thing left in the city that I hadn’t previously done. The sun started to shine between the clouds (unfortunately after I left our room, and my sunscreen behind.) I cabbed it to Battery Park, got a ticket and proceeded to stand into what appeared to be the longest line I’ve ever seen. Thankfully, as always in New York, there was excellent people-watching and some entertaining musicians to keep my mind occupied.

It was a short ferry ride to Liberty Island, and worth seeing. The statue is quite large, and just so impressive up close. The island offers a wonderful view from all around the base of the statue. The sun was shining now so it was truly beautiful. I then took the ferry to Ellis Island, which was incredibly interesting. You walk up to this huge building with the though of the millions of immigrants who’s first glimpse of the Unites States was this building. With the hoards of people, how intimidating it must have been! I did do the audio tour and was glad I did. The tour starts you at the large exhibit of bags and trunks, talking about the people who came through there with their most prized possessions stuffed in the small bags.

Next you walk upstairs to the registration room. It’s simply huge, and the tape describes the thousand-plus people coming off the ship to be routed through the hall. Going through medical inspection, where the inspectors wrote in chalk on their jackets if they had any concern. There was a legal inspection and others, ultimately pulling out around 2% of the people going through to be deported back to their country of origin. It could be for things like insanity and medical issues that were not treatable (otherwise you might be detained until healthy), or if it was believed you would be unable to find work.

People had to have somewhere to go and to essentially be claimed before they could leave. The tape described the families coming over, and that the journey even for third class passengers was the current equivalent of $2000. So often a man would go over, and then send money back until the family could come, or possibly they would come individually.

It’s hard to imagine what it would be like for a person, alone, not understanding the languages around then, being poked and prodded, quizzed and interrogated in order to enter the country. I think of my great-grandfather who came in and wonder what it was like. I wish I asked my grandfather for more details, and wish I wrote down what he did tell me. I believe he had said he came over in one of the last boats from Poland before WWI. His name was changed to Abrams (he had a long Polish name ending in ‘sky’, go figure, and Abrams meant ‘friend’ in Yiddish and was a common name given.) He ended up in Philadelphia and was a cobbler. I saw a picture of him years ago with my grandfather and a great-uncle, standing in front of a wall of shoes. What was the journey like? Did he talk about it? Sadly, I’ll never know.

The museum was very well done, and one of the rooms showed some of the family items that passed through Ellis Island: woven dresses and blankets, religious items like books, crosses, and other items. It also talked about some of the people and families that came through. There also was a wall of people and their pictures: Sarah, Hungarian, 19 years, servant, Charles, Scottish, 23 years, mason.

It was a really amazing and interesting morning. I made my way back on the ferry, deep in thought, when a man sitting next to me asked for some restaurant suggestions in the Time Square area. How funny that I was able to help him!

I met Lisa at Pipa, one of my favorite little Spanish tapas restaurants that I recommend to people frequently and we enjoyed several tapas (the dates were amazing!) and a glass of red sangria. Ahhh! I went on a mission to get my macarons, a French confectionary treat of amazing goodness that I get every time I’m here as, until recently, I never found them outside of NYC. (I just found a little café 2 minutes from where I work with a French-trained chef who makes them… ooh lala!!) I found our usual place, and to my discontent, they sold out of everything except for vanilla and passion fruit. Bah! I got a nice walk in, of course, meeting several lovely dogs and missing mine quite a bit!

We made reservations at Les Halles, Anthony Bourdain’s restaurant, and were really looking forward to it. It’s a French brasserie, and walking in very much reminded me of Paris. Sadly, that’s where the similarity ended. I will say that I LOVE Bourdain and everything about him: his caustic wit, his intellect, his snobbishness about, and passion for, good food. Bourdain and French cuisine: how could you go wrong? Well, it started with waiting over an hour to get our entrees. Everyone around us seated after us got theirs, and the waiter came over twice to say it would only be another minute. Finally a woman came over to apologize for the wait and that it was coming. Ten minutes later, it did.

I got a steak, which I only eat once or twice a year, figuring that it would be amazing here. I got a sirloin with a red whine shallot butter. It was a decent cut, though not impressive by any means, cooked medium, not medium-rare, and didn’t have the red wine sauce on it. I did say something to the waiter but wasn’t interested in waiting another hour for a steak. Someone else came by to examine the steak and agreed that it was medium-rare, but offered to get me another. Lisa got macaroni and cheese French-style, but didn’t like it and barely ate it. Then they did offer us a free dessert, but offered us a choice of two and not the dessert menu, which I thought was interesting. Anyways, I won’t openly bash the place as they did attempt a recovery, but would absolutely not recommend it as I’ve gotten a better steak at Outback for much less! I will say that the crème brulee was spectacular.

Today, on our last day in the city, we walked around Rockefeller Plaza area so Lisa could do some shopping. On a mission for ‘our’ macarons, the French pastry made of two meringue cookie shells filled with a flavored crème covered in ganache.. my passion started in Paris, and until recently, NYC was the only place I’ve found them. So my trips to NYC have become on obsession to find macarons and pizza, as only NYC can do well. Yes, we’ve eaten our way through the city, but such in the fun of it! We took a cab down to a new place that was open on Sunday (according to their website) only to find they lied and were not open. So we found a café and had breakfast, then headed to Rockefeller. I was pleased to find a new French place opened, called Bouchon, and was quite pleased with their macarons. We sat overlooking the plaza and the flags, eating the macarons making ‘num num’ noises and savoring every bite. I’m not quite sure why I’m so obsessed with these confections—they are good, don’t get me wrong, but still. I drooled over one of the new Movados while Lisa look at shoes, then we made our way over to Radio City Music Hall to pursue my other obsession: Cirque.

This show, Zarkana, marks my tenth Cirque show. I’ve never been to this venue so was curious, and we were not let down. Zarkana is unlike any other Cirque show I’ve seen. It’s coined a rock opera, and the music was very different. The colors were bold and gem-like, vibrant and beautiful and the music was wonderful as well. For those Cirque ‘virgins’, it’s unlike anything you’ve seen: artistry, beauty in music, voice, costumes, music and bodies performing amazing acts of strength, agility and flexibility weaving creativity and plot. Ahh.. Cirque.

We left to find a pizza shop to enjoy the city’s finest ‘za, you know, the kind that stands straight out when you hold the crust so you can fold it over to eat it, then lisa headed back via cab while I walked back to the apartment. On the way I found that “The World’s Best Chocolate Cake’ was open, though the website said closed on Sunday! Too tempting to resist, I bought two pieces, a milk and a dark chocolate. They certainly don’t give it away, and $18 lighter, I staggered home, thinking that these tiny slivers of cake certainly should be the BEST I’ve ever had. Made of a mixture of chocolate cake, mouse and meringue, they were good and interesting, but sadly, I wouldn’t say the BEST. Harumph. Good advertising, though.

Today was a perfect day in NYC and definitely easy to fall in love—it was a bit muggy, but around 80 degrees with a nice breeze blowing. I heard it’s supposed to be 116 in Phoenix tomorrow, so I’m tempted to stay here. Maybe I’ll collect a fund to see if any of my readers will send money for a good cause… Hell, I did give a guy with a sad story on the street today $5.. I’ll work on it!!


Friday, April 29, 2011

San Francisco... here I am!!!

It's been four long months since I've written on this (gasp!) I know, I know, but usually visits with family doesn't count. However, I'm seeing my second family now in northern California.. my sister from another mister (so to speak.) Tanya and I have been friends for close to 18 years. I've known her husband since right after she met him, and her kids since they were concepts. I come here once a year to reconnect, enjoy and continue to adore them. The two kids, Mitchell and Isabelle, are precious, precocious and lots of fun when they aren't being bratty (oh hell, even when they are!)

We've been doing lots of family time with the kids and I've seen a glimpse of 'soccer mom' life: walking the kids to the bus stop, going to a field trip (to a one room schoolhouse, think: Little House on the Prairie.) We, of course, played our parts complete with boots and bonnets (pictures may possibly follow) and had a great time. Tanya and I went into San Francisco today to kick around. I wanted to see a city: big buildings, street folks and hear horns blaring. I was disappointed by the lack of tooting though Tanya sure gave it her best effort. We walked by pier 39 and watched the sea lions frolic, saw a view of Alcatraz, went to Ghiradelli (of course) then found the falafel truck for a 'little loving' (two falafel balls in a pita and sweet potato fries, in a paper wrapper addressed to us specifically.) Sat in a park with lots of grass and flowers watching the dogs play and feeling the cool breeze. Ahhh.. very nice.

Walking back from the pier we met Gloria and Flat Stanley. Apparently it's a book that gets mailed around the country, which has become a great young school project where kids draw and cut out 'Flat Stanley' then friend and family pass around Flat Stanley to take pictures of him on their travels. Gloria asked us to take a pic of Stanley and her in front of a street car. Of course we got a shot with him as well (Why not?) then talked with her for a bit. It's always great to meet interesting folks!

We planned to go camping but instead decided to enjoy the hot tub, sit on the grass and talk, watching Bill and Mitchell tossing a ball back and forth. It's lush and green here in San Fran suburbia. Friendly neighbors, lots of dogs and kids... pretty cool. We did make s'mores in the fire in homage to our camping trip that didn't happen this year. There's always next time. Oh, and we did get to go to not one, two but THREE baseball games for Mitchell. Now, those of you who know me know that baseball is my least favorite sport, and if not for cracker jacks, I wouldn't probably ever go. But there's something interestingly fun about seeing 9 year olds playing that kept me enjoying it. At least the first couple of games. :o) Family fun always keeps me coming back.

This year won't be big for international trips, but lots of family and long-time friend trips to reconnect with those I care about most. When it comes down to it, isn't that what makes travel so special? Those connections.. old and new....