After much back & forth (are you sensing a theme here with how we make decisions), the itinerary for our upcoming trip to Ireland has been finalized.2 nights in Dublin at the Shelbourne Hotel
1 night in Thomastown at the Conrad Mount Juliet
After much back & forth (are you sensing a theme here with how we make decisions), the itinerary for our upcoming trip to Ireland has been finalized.2 nights in Dublin at the Shelbourne Hotel
1 night in Thomastown at the Conrad Mount Juliet
Last Christmas we debated buying a fake tree in lieu of dealing with fresh cut trees that may or may not make it through the holiday season. Our tree last year put forth a valiant effort, but we haven't always been so lucky. A couple of years ago the tree was dead, dead, dead come mid-December and we were pissed, pissed, pissed. We hemmed and we hawed but in the end we didn't really love any of the trees we saw. There was one at Target that was 7.5 feet and came pre-strung with lights but it was a bit too blue spruce for my liking and if one light went out, all the lights went out (which isn't to Alan's liking). We saw a 9 foot one that was gorgeous and pre-lit with lights that will continue to function even if one burns out or breaks, but at $400 and 9 feet tall, it wasn't really a great option for us either (it would have been amazing in the loft, I'm sure). So, we went ahead and got our 7.5 foot douglas fir from the Delancy Street Foundation like we have most years since moving back to CA. And it was a beauty, to be sure. But ... it was a pain in the kiester to keep looking alive and vibrant, especially once presents started blocking the water bowl and then after Christmas it took FOREVER to clean up after. In fact, I found 4 needles last weekend when we flipped rooms.
About a week ago we were talking about Christmas (yes, we're early planners) and I brought up the topic of evaluating fake trees. Surely we could get something beautiful and maintenance free if we just looked earlier in the season? We chatted about it for 5 to 10 minutes and quickly moved on to another subject.
Until, that is, we spied a 7.5 pre-strung stay-lit tree at Costco today. Yes, in September. Again, we hemmed and we hawed and we considered the alternatives and then we grabbed the box and made our way to the check out stand. In September, I have purchased what really amounts to a giant decoration for December. I feel awful just saying it, but as we were leaving the receipt checker assured me that we were smart to get it early as apparently they sell out in 2-3 weeks and people come in around Halloween looking for the Christmas trees but they're long gone.
Wow. Consumerism at its worst, and I am part of it. At least I'll have a pretty tree.
While this meal was certainly a case of all's well that ends well, it wasn't nearly as successful as it could have been.
Alan informs me that the post I linked to previously for cooking pizza on the grill is not the one he used to make the dough or obtain the cooking directions. I don't know which one he used, but whatever it was it vastly overestimated how much time the pizzas would need to be on the grill. Three minutes in and they were a little darker than is advisable.
Because the dough cooks so quickly it's important to have all of your toppings prepped BEFORE you start cooking, otherwise your husband will be yelling at you to hurry up and why are you so far behind and you're going to ruin the meal if you don't get the toppings down here right this instant.
Or something like that.
Tonight we're making pizza from scratch on the grill. We've made our own dough/crust a couple of times but this is the first time we've ever attempted to cook it on the grill. I read a couple of blog posts about it this summer and I figured, why not?
We're making them relatively small and going with the following combos:
Last winter as we sat in our living room, a roaring fire going IN THE DINING ROOM, we talked about the possibility of switching the two rooms. I mean, our dining room table doesn't care if it gets all nice and toasty when it's 40 degrees outside and raining, but we certainly do. So we talked about it some more, and some more, and put the idea on the back burner.
Then our TV broke and we had to buy a new one that suddenly didn't fit in the "TV space" (even though we tried) and so the idea came back - should we switch the rooms so the TV can go along a flat surface instead of sitting at this awkward angle? The answer, yes.
The verdict? We like it. Well, except for that bright orange paint. It's a bit of an eyesore, especially now that we're spending so much time in that room. I have visions of painting it a deep olive green, but those visions don't involve me actually doing the painting so it won't get done anytime soon.
Ever since we've moved in to casacaudill we've hated the front door. Alas, it will cost over $1000 to replace it with one that we'd like more, especially because of the sidelights. While the door itself is well made, the stain, glass & brass peep window and shoddy placement of the panels is a whole other story. Not much we can do about two of those things but we can change the color. And we did.
Now, if only we could do something (cheap) about that damn ugly window.
We received a call at 7:45 a.m. from our friend Kevin letting us know that he had received a call at 7:37 a.m. telling him the van would be around to pick us up at 10:05 a.m. First thought, "what van?" Second thought, "why so early?" It turns out the groom had arranged a limo van to pick us his dad's family from their hotel and then swing by our hotel on the way to the reception location (we had thought we'd take a taxi). While the gesture was incredibly gracious and totally unnecessary (as far as we were concerned - not so sure about his family feeling the same way), it also meant that the timeline of our morning was thrown WAY off and what was supposed to be a leisurely breakfast and then getting ready at a nice mellow pace was instead something resembling an episode of The Amazing Race, and there's a reason you won't see me on that show - I don't do well under that type of pressure.
The reception was at the Shilshoe Bay Club which is a banquet facility right on Shilshoe Bay overlooking the Puget Sound. As far as scenic locations go, this was pretty nice and I spent a good majority of my time out on the patio watching the boats come & go.
Following the reception our group drove back downtown via Fremont to check out the Fremont Bridge Troll and then on to Elliott's Oyster House for more sweet, salty, briny succulent oysters. My camera ended up completely crapping out at this point so I don't have any more photos to share. It also probably meant I was more focused on the conversation and less on getting a great shot of the oysters or the bay.
We got an excellent seat on the patio and our waitress was warm, welcoming and accommodating without being overbearing. After stuffing ourselves to the gills we met up with the bride & groom and some additional friends for drinks at the bar at the top of the Renaissance Hotel and sometime around midnight called it a night so we'd have time to pack before our late morning flight the next day.
On Sunday we made our way back to the Renaissance for a big group breakfast where I stuffed myself with homefries and we debated the merits of which card to give the bridge & the groom and how to go about presenting the group gift (representing about 12 people) to the happy couple without it coming off strange or awkard. In the end we opted for both as we said goodbye and made our way back to Sea-Tac for what was yet again, a rather turbulent and crappy flight. Thank goodness I have Twilight on my iPhone to distract me.
Originally we had talked about renting a car, driving up to Anacortes and taking the ferry to San Juan or Orcas Island on Friday but decided it was far too much effort for a couple of hours on the island and instead decided to go see the fish swimming up the ladder at the Ballard Locks and wander around the neighborhood since several people have told me that if we were to ever move to Seattle Ballard would be the perfect neighborhood for us.
Before heading off to explore potential future neighborhoods we stopped at The Athenian for breakfast. Unfortunately, I made a terrible call by ordering the oyster hangtown fry which is basically a frittata with a shit ton of cooked oysters. It tasted like licking a rock at low tide - just typing this makes me throw up in my mouth a little bit.
From Pike Place we walked up a massive hill to catch the 18 out to Ballard. A lot of people have asked me what I love so much about Seattle and aside from how simply gorgeous it is, I find the people to be very warm and hospitable, as evidenced by a bus driver who saw that we were hemming and hawing about which bus to get on and stopped to give us information/directions. This is unheard of in San Francisco - MUNI drivers would sooner run you over than help you. Well, except for the driver on my old 71 route - he used to ask me if he could drop me off directly at my apartment but I think that's only because he wanted to come in with me. Seriously, the difference in attitude toward their job and their riders is night and day.
So, back to Ballard ... could we live there? Emphatically no. Sure, I love the locks. And the park there is absolutely gorgeous. And some of the shops on the main street were even cute but the rest of the 'hood just didn't do it for me and we walked a ton looking at side streets. C'est la Vie.
It was another incredibly hot day and sometime around 3pm I was wilting and becoming generally very moody so we made our way back to the hotel for some a/c time before grubbing on some fried seafood and taking a sunset sail of Elliott Bay. Oh sweet air conditioning, how do I get you in Oakland?
While at Ivar's Alan made friends with the local birds by feeding them bits of french fries, all highly encouraged behavior by the staff. In fact, they have their tables set up so that you can better feed the birds and interact with them. Very strange, but as an observer pretty damn funny. Just like in "Finding Nemo" there was a whole lot of "mine!" "mine!" "mine!" going on.
After the cruise we went to Pike Brewery for a beer sampler and some Penn Cove mussels. I think the brewery is terribly touristy but the beer was good and we love to try out the local microbrews if time allows.
On Wednesday, September 9, Alan and I flew out of SFO to Seattle for a few days of vacation prior to attending a friend's wedding reception in the city. Unfortunately, the timing was probably as bad as it could possibly have been given our 4 days in Hawaii just two weeks prior, paired with the fact that I have a new client that is ramping up for a major product launch next month. Alas, our flight & hotel were booked and away we went ... and oh how we went. I truly think the 2 hour flight was the worst I've ever experienced where turbulence is concerned. It was bumpy and jumpy nearly from the time we took off until we landed, with a nice sharp drop in altitude at one point for good measure. I was terrified and it clearly showed - apparently the stewardess asked me if I was okay. I don't remember this exchange because my eyes were shut tight and I was trying to go to my happy place, but Alan assures me that I assured her I was fine.
Upon landing in Seattle we finally found our way to the taxi stand - for those who've never gotten a taxi at Sea-Tac before but will in the future ... it's INSIDE the parking garage. Intuitive, no? The drive into the city was uneventful which is exactly what I needed after such an awful flight. We checked into the Alexis Hotel, located on 1st Avenue midway between Pike Place Market and Pioneer Square and heaved a huge sigh of relief. We got an excellent rate on Expedia, but there's always a big concern when you pay so much less for a hotel than its counterparts in the same vicinity. We had a King Deluxe room on the 3rd floor with no view to speak of which was perfectly fine because the view inside was quite nice enough.
(Please ignore the quality of these pics as they were taken with my phone at midnight after a very long and tiring day - my hand was less than steady.)
We woke up the next day around 10am and putzed around the room a bit before deciding what we were going to see and where we were going to go. Unfortunately, I had some additional work I wanted to get done but the Internet was completely down and with no way to respond to emails or send documents, I put my computer away and vowed to actually be on vacation. I even turned off the syncing functionality on my phone so that I wouldn't see how many new emails I had in my inbox.
For lunch we walked over to one Pioneer Square's Salumi for some of the best damn sandwiches you'll ever eat (if you're not a vegetarian). If the name sounds familiar it's because the small restaurant is owned by Mario Batali's dad and it has been featured on Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations (which is where we first heard about it). Now, you might be thinking that because it's the restaurant of the father of one of the world's biggest celebrity chefs that it's just a gimmick and not really worth all the fuss. You'd be wrong, and the locals would be more than willing to tell you about how they'll gladly wait in a 30 minute line on their lunch breaks to grab a bite to go. We were fortunate enough to be able to dine in at a communal table in the back of the restaurant where you can poor yourself water, or a glass of wine or two (not gratis, mind you).
You might be able to tell from these pictures, Seattle was experiencing inordinately warm weather. Thursday had highs in the mid-to-upper 80s and it was HOT. People were exclaiming how unnatural to Seattle the weather was. We just kept laughing because when we were there in February it was warm and sunny as well. Unfortunately, I don't do very well in the heat so it wasn't as pleasant for me as it was for the residents and other tourists. Whereas I actively wanted the stereotypical Seattle weather to descend from the skies, they all were basking in the rays in short shorts and tank tops.
Also, shortly after this last photo was taken my camera's battery - even though it was funny charged in the morning - suddenly lost all its charge. And the zoom was acting all funny by freezing up when it shouldn't and randomly turning off the display. We bought the camera shortly before we went to Italy in November 2006 and used it all throughout Paris in February 2008. It's generally been a great camera but the last time I used it all the photos were soft and only a few turned out well. That paired with this sudden crapping out had me worried as to whether or not I'd have any photographic evidence of this trip. If not, there's always iPhone.
Earlier this week I got a bee in my bonnet about wanting to remodel the blog. I've stumbled across a lot of really great sites lately that I probably read not so much because of the content but rather because aesthetically they spoke to me. They looked interesting, therefore they must be interesting.
In an effort to make my blog look really how I wanted it, I upgraded our account to the Pro level and set out trying to find CSS code that would help me out. I'm still a novice when it comes to the customizations, but things are moving along - if not at a rapid pace - quite nicely.
As of this morning, I have a new banner and background. I'd love to become savvy enough to design some buttons (about us, photos, contact us, etc) to place in the margins. My other goal is to update the background so there is another element between the bright white of the blog and the polka dots of the background. I know what I would want to use but not how to make it so that they are positioned exactly just right. Probably beyond anything I can learn since when I do read how to do stuff I feel like I'm back in 3rd grade trying to understand fractions.
Finally, my other goal is the lock the background so that only the blog scrolls on the page. You would think this is simple to do (and I've done it before in LiveJournal and other places) yet it eludes my pee brain.
In the meantime, here's what I've accomplished since last night. I think it's a pretty good first iteration of the look & feel I'm going for.
(And yes, I realize I just wrote a post about what my blog looks like which might seem counterintuitive since people look at our blog ... but I'm wanting all you tricky Google readers to see what I mean.)
Our last day in Kona we decided to take it easy and just relax and unwind, because, you know, it takes Type A personalities like me several days to "go with the flow." Too bad we were leaving just as I was relaxing, but what's a girl to do? Well, since it was my birthday, any gosh darn thing I wanted to.
We started the day off with breakfast at the Aloha Theater Cafe based on the recommendation in the Lonely Planet guidebook - they also advised us to get there early as it is incredibly popular and the wait can be long. Figuring we'd deal with whatever was thrown at us we arrived to find only one other couple there and they were paying their bill. After perusing the menu we decided on french toast and loco moco to share.
Unfortunately right as our food arrived a family (not local) came in with a gaggle of kids that were loud and obnoxious. Well, to give credit to the two oldest, they weren't loud or obnoxious. In fact, at around eight years old the oldest seemed a bit embarrassed by it all. The toddler was a shrieker to had learned that if she shrieked louder she got exactly what she was demanding and the infant was crying non-stop the entire breakfast. The family's approach to dealing with this wasn't to (1) try to sooth the baby or (2) go outside with her but rather to just let her scream. I say I hate kids a lot, but I think really it's the parents I hate. How is that acceptable behavior? How is your breakfast experience any more valuable or important than mine that you feel you can impinge upon my vacation in such a way? Clearly I don't have the answer, but this family was very comfortable with this behavior.
After breafkast we decided to hit a couple of the local beaches for some snorkeling and swimming. I had noticed that the beach immediately adjacent to the Outrigger in Keauhou Bay had a lifeguard tower which usually means it's used, so I thought we'd stop there before heading further down the street to another one I saw with palm trees and clear, crystal blue waters.
I'm so glad we decided to go to Kahaluu Beach as the snorkeling there was some of the best we've ever experienced, so quickly, in all of our trips to Hawaii. And we saw a honu (turtle) before we were even in the water!
Even though you're not supposed to feed the fish I'm pretty sure several people do because these guys (and the first ones I posted) were VERY comfortable with humans, to the point that I was uncomfortable with how comfortable they were with me. The little guy in the top of this picture swam right up into my face and was staring at me from just an inch or two away. As I started swimming away they all followed me. I looked back and there were at least 50 fish in my wake ... I was like the fish whisperer or the pied piper or something (and it was a bit too freaky for my blood).
By the time we reached the next beach it was HOT outside, but we could see that at some point during the afternoon the skies were going to open up and dump a lot of water on the island. Before that happened though, swimming!
This beach had a lot of boogie boarders so you had to be careful where you went into the water so that you didn't get taken out. Unfortunately - again - there was a lot of bad parenting on display at little girls that barely came up to my knees were out in the 4 foot waves by themselves getting plowed over left and right. There was this one girl who was a real tough cookie, but regardless could have drowned. At one point the wave took her out and slammed her right into Alan. She got up and went back out for more only to get slammed into by a boogie boarder and held down under water. I ran over and picked her up and told her she should be more careful - it was only then that her mom decided to pay attention. You know if something worse had happened to that little girl the mom would have blamed the lifeguards for not doing enough to protect her child, meanwhile she's chatting it up with her friend and not paying attention at all.
One of the local guys was a bit of a loon - he stayed in the water for a couple of hours, never really saying anything to anyone but rather barking and whooping like a sea animal. By the end of the afternoon I was calling him The Walrus because he was making this low yelping noises that I couldn't identify as any animal I'd heard and since I hadn't heard a walrus, there you go. Alan reports that while out there next to The Walrus practicing his body surfing he saw another honu that hung out with him for awhile before swimming away to chill out with someone else. This whole time I'm completely absorbed in the book I was reading and was slowly frying parts of my body that only see sun once a year.
With the tropical storm rolling in we packed up and drove into town for lunch at L&L Hawaiian BBQ. Yes, I know it's a chain, but I like it and gosh darn it if it wasn't better than the "best mix plate" in Kona then I'll eat it for a month.
We rounded out the night with dinner at Huggo's (not on the rocks) but unfortunately by this time my bottom left molar/crown was hurting something fierce and eating anything was a challenge. I ordered a some island style fish (ono, I think) over a bed of yams which was right up my speed on the texture front. The ambiance of the restaurant was good and for the price was on par with what we ate at Alan Wong's - maybe we just ordered the exact right thing but comparing $80 or so to $325 for a meal, it's a no brainer if you're in the area.
When we got back to the hotel I was exhausted, but in considerable pain from my tooth. Unfortunately at this point I was taking 4 ibuprofen every 4 hours and only experiencing minor relief. Knowing that a root canal was in the cards for me two weeks after we got back, I knew when I'd be bumping the appointment up to the day after we came home.
That night I slept like utter crap. I dreampt that I lost all my molars and that my jaw was falling off - basically, if there's a bad dream about one's mouth, I had it. I woke up very early and popped more ibuprofen but this time it took over an hour to kick in and then faded as quickly as it came on me. Too. Much. Pain.
We had breakfast that morning at the Sheraton Keauhou Bay before our flight out and my mouth was so messed up that I was reduced to spending $25 for a plate of rice and a bowl of miso soup.
I didn't want to complain too bad because I didn't want to ruin our trip but I was ready to grab the nearest pair of plyers and rip out the loose crown and the little stub underneath it. Before heading back to our condo down the street we walked around the Sheraton for awhile, happy that we hadn't decided to stay there instead. There's nothing wrong with it, necessarily, but for the price it's not where I'd choose to stay when there's a much better Marriott and Hilton up the road on the Kohala Coast. It does have an amazing view though.
We checked out of our hotel and drove to the airport to catch our puddle jumper back to Oahu only to be met with the rudest employees of Go! Airlines. Suddenly the bags we brought on the plane on the way there just a few days earlier were "way too big" and we'd have to pay to check them. When we tried to explain that last time they let us carry them on we were met with blank stares and "so what?" attitudes. Then when Alan asked for clarification on why the rule had changed the other lady got really mouthy and started talking to us like we were imbicles with 3 brain cells between the two of us. He kept asking questions that were going right over her head and she kept answering whatever the heck she wanted to and I was in pain and getting more and more frustrated by the second so I just asked him to check the damn bags and we'd be on our way. That said, I'll never willingly give another dime to Go! Airlines. If we go to book free tickets using our reward points, I'll look for every alternative before I'll fly with them. If their t-shirts and the sign behind them is any indication, they were former employees of Aloha Airlines and having lost my job once because the airline couldn't make enough money, I might rethink my customer relations skills. Or maybe they're the best out there, in which case all the commuter airlines are in trouble.
On the flight from Kona to Oahu I was in so much pain that I started to tear up. Not only did I want to rip my tooth out, but now I would have willingly given my entire head. Much to my horror, Alan also pointed out that my face was swelling up. By the time we landed, I was full on crying and begging my dentist to call in a prescription for me. Unfortunately, we was out of the country and the other doctor filling in for him would have to review my case and get back to me; the receptionist also recommended that I could call my doctor. I never heard from the dentist but I did get a rather long voicemail from one of the doctors in my practice telling me that I needed to connect with my dentist. Gee, thanks! And I'm one of the people in this country that supposedly has good healthcare. Ha!
By the time we got home I was crazy out of it with pain so I took as many ibuprofen as I could get away with and then went old school with a big glass of whiskey on the rocks until I fell asleep. The next day was back to work and negotiating with the dentist for (1) pain pills and (2) an earlier appointment. In the end I got a prescription for Amoxycillin and Percocet and a root canal on Thursday. The percocet was a nightmare (how did Rush Limbaugh go on the air hopped up on that stuff?! I couldn't walk, speak or function - hell, I passed out after throwing up!). The amoxycillin was a lifesaver - in just 4 pills the facial swelling had gone down and I felt somewhat better going into my root canal. Now, I'm just waiting for my follow up appointment so they can permanently cement this damn crown in place and then hopefully that'll be the end of my tooth nightmare of 2009.
All in all, it was an absolutely wonderful vacation and I'm so glad to have gone back to the Big Island, which I'd been iffy about previously. I laugh that we did all this outdoorsy stuff that's so out of my natural character, but there's something about being on the islands that makes me want to do stuff that I wouldn't normally do - like run away and become a dirty hippie. Okay, maybe i'm not quite there yet ...
When we went to Hawaii for our honeymoon 7+ years ago we drove from the Kohala Coast down to Waipo Valley, Waimea and then on to Hilo where we caught a helicopter over the lava. It was the first time I'd ever been in a helicopter and as such, was one of those moments that will forever stay in my mind as being one of the most exciting things I've ever done. I'm sure the fact that we were hovering over molten hot lava did nothing to diminish the thrill factor.
This time around we decided to save some cash by driving to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park which we had heard could be hot as Hades (our guide book said to bring 3 litres of water each). Instead, sometime around South Point we ran into a rain storm that pretty much settled over the area for the rest of the afternoon. At one point the fog/mist was so thick in front of us that we couldn't see more than 10 feet ahead. As we approached the park entrance we saw a giant plume of steam, signaling where the lava was entering the ocean.
We had plans to drive to the viewing area for the flowing lava, but instead instead the Crater Rim Road was mostly closed off due to noxious fumes that can kill you. Death = bad so we took it in stride and instead visited a couple of lava flows from the 1970s, the Thurston Lava Tube, and then hiked the Kilauea Iki trail which is 4 miles round trip but descends 480 feet, goes 1 mile across a lava flow from the 1950s and then goes back up 480 feet - I'll let you guess when I cried uncle.
1976 eruption along Crater Rim Road
Kileaua Iki Crater Hike
We've reached the end ... (well, the end of the crater floor ... now it's 480 feet back up)
When we finished our hike we drove into Hilo to get some grub. Based on the Lonely Planet guide, we decided to hit up Kuhio Grille (another shopping mall hole in the wall) but Google Maps/iPhone was being difficult about getting us to the exact location so we drove around in circles for awhile, eventually finding our way there for one of the best meals of the trip.
We drove the "dangerous" Saddle Road home from Hilo to Kona which was quite possibly Alan's favorite drive. You go through several different microclimates as you climb 6000 feet from sea level to the top of the island on a road that runs between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. We saw black volcanic rock, desert that would have been at home in Arizona or New Mexico, ponderosa pines from Tahoe, and green rolling hills like we've seen in pictures of Ireland. We were worried about how cold it was going to get at the top of the road but it only dropped from 91 to 62 as we made the climb and then eventual descent. Unfortunately, I didn't get any good pictures because I kept passing out from exhaustion.
After rest, relaxation and a cold shower we went into Kona for dinner & drinks at Huggos on the Rocks, the site of our last meal in Hawaii 7 years ago. The food there is crap, but the ambiance is perfect. That night we had two local Hawaiian musicians playing cover songs which sounds awful but in the right setting was the perfect end to what was a fabulous day. Or maybe that was the mai-tais ...
On our third day of vacation we started the day off a bit slower than usual - we still had breakfast (bagels, coffee & pogmoasa) on the lanai but instead of heading out immediately to go on another adventure, we hung around the condo. Alan napped while I went to the pool to read The Time Traveler's Wife (oh. my. god. sobfest). Around 11am a bunch of other people had the same idea so I made my way back to the condo so we could go get lunch and check in for our snorkel cruise at 3pm.
If there's one thing other than fresh Hawaiian poke that we love to eat when we go to the islands it's mix plate. Our favorite place is Aloha Mix Plate right on the water in Lahaina, but other places will suffice. Well, usually. Checking out Yelp we decided to hit up Kona Mix Plate, which is apparently where all the locals go and if the reviews are to be believed, the best Hawaiian food you'll ever eat. I'm going to disagree wholeheartedly - I started calling it Kona Sick Plate. An hour or so after consuming tonkatsu and chicken teriyaki my GERD was acting up in full force - when I wasn't feeling like my throat and stomach were on fire, I wanted to curl up in a ball or throw up. Not feeling well paired with temps in the 90 and rising humidity made for a very uncomfortable afternoon. Lovely, no?
We decided to take it easy so we walked through a farmer's market thing and then sat on the rocks overlooking the coast while we waited to check in for our boat trip and even that was pushing the boundaries of what I was comfortable doing. Stupid food.
Prior to heading to Hawaii I read about the manta ray night snorkel/dive trips but for some reason I was terrified to do it - those suckers can be 14 feet across! Once we arrived on the island I thought about it some more and we ended up calling the company that was recommended by our guidebook. They told us they only go out if they get enough people and they'd call us back "shortly" to let us know if it was on/off. They never called one way or the other so the day before we ended up booking with Jack's Diving Locker based on an ad we saw.
We checked in at their shop in the Coconut Grove Marketplace and then made our way to the marina between Kona town and the airport. Not wanting to have my Coach glasses tossed into the ocean I picked up a cheap pair of ugly(ish) sunglasses at the deli while we waited for others to arrive. The snorkel trip we took was for both snorkelers and divers and we were the first to show up so the the snorkel "leader" got us fitted for face masks, fins and wet suits (um, no thanks) while we waited around and then we boarded the boat for our first snorkel stop of the afternoon.
Our first spot was called Casa Caves and from the boat it didn't look like much. Also, our "leader" seemed a bit put out with me because I didn't want to wear the fins (I never wear them and I probably never will) - he got a little pissy (and stupid, I think) with me about the whole thing telling me that if I wasn't going to wear them then I had to snorkel by myself near the boat. Um, yeah ... that makes a lot of sense - you think I'm somehow in danger so you leave me completely alone in the water. Real smart there buddy. Still, I was going on a 4 mile hike the next day and there was no way I was going to have chafing just to appease his temper tantrum. No one else on any of the other islands has ever taken issue with me not using the fins and I wasn't about to change the way I snorkel just so he'd STFU. Eventually Alan came over to swim with me, at which time the captain of the boat told me I didn't have to swim next to the boat. (Truthfully, I think she wasn't too thrilled with our snorkel guide, but it was nothing overt.)
After our first snorkeling stop we cruised over to Keauhou Bay in front of the Sheraton Resort to await full dark for our manta snorkel. Aside from what was one of the greatest sunsets of the trip ... what an AMAZING experience! I want to say everyone who goes to Hawaii should do it but at the same time, I don't want too many people to go all at once because when it gets crowded it's a nightmare.
We had a small group snorkeling but some of the other boats out there brought 20-30 people on these floating contraptions that basically took up too much room and were a nuisance. Also, why do you need fins if you're hooked up to a floating device - you're not swimming anywhere? Alas, these bozos all had fins on and they had no problem whatsoever with kicking me - heck, everyone in our small group - in the face. Assholes. That's one of the things I really liked about Jack's Diving Locker - it didn't seem touristy. It was a small group of people made up of divers and snorkelers alike who just want to be in awe of those crazy magnificent creatures.
We got back to the condo around 10:30 p.m. and like the previous two nights, crashed. It's all that getting up before dawn, I tell you.
Our first full day in Kona and of course I woke up before sunrise. (This is always the way my first few days of vacation and I absolutely hate it!). I turned on the coffee pot, grabbed a book and made my way out to the lanai to watch the sun rise. Little did I know that our position within the condo would have a direct view of such an event.
Soon Alan joined me on the lanai, as did what seemed like every single bird in the area.
While having our breakfast and coffee, we decided which beaches we wanted to visit that day for some sun, swimming and snorkeling. I knew we wanted to go to Hapuna Beach because I have friends who rave about it; I also found a beach listed in our 7+ year old guidebook that requires a 4x4 to get to and is one of the most lovely, secluded beaches you can find.
Before heading to the beach we drove into Kona so that Alan could buy some new flip flops. I found a couple of pairs that I liked but having two pair of very comfy Reefs with me I decided I didn't need another pair. Little did I know that somewhere en route to the condo I managed to lose my favorite of the two (boo, hiss!).
I posted this picture on Facebook, jokingly referring to Alan's fashionista ways when it comes to choosing flip flops. My friends had a field day with that one, commenting on his willingness to combine plaids with florals - clearly he's ahead of the fashion curve. :-) Actually, these shirts from REI are amazing - they somehow (magic) protect against harmful UV rays and they dry extremely fast when wet.
By the way, he ended up with a brown pair of Sanuks and a black pair made in Oahu's Pearl City area since the 1940s or so. Oh, and while we were there the saleswoman told us that our "secluded beach" now had a paved road, was extremely popular and included a restroom and shower facility. So much for undiscovered gems ... still, we decided to go. If it was one of the most lovely beaches ever less than 10 years ago I doubted that improvements could render its beauty moot.
From the sandal shop we drove through lava fields to Hapuna Beach State Park which is one of the top ranked beaches in the island (and I'm pretty sure the country). The first thing we saw - and heard - was a whole lot of construction going on which I was afraid would ruin the experience, but by the time we got our shave ice and made our way down the hillside to the beach the noise was quickly forgotten. The sand was white and powder fine and the water was a waveless turquoise blue.
Directly in front of where we laid down our towels was a big black rock formation in the water that was teeming with fish. Thankfully we brought our snorkel gear.
After about two hours I was starving so we drove into Waikoloa Village where we got lunch at a brand new grocery store (sorry, can't remember the name) in the Queen's shopping center that had some of the most gorgeous looking steaks ever. They also carried amazing fresh fruit and my favorite Hawaii lunch treat, fresh poke - in this case ahi and marlin.
From lunch we went to our secluded beach, Kua Bay. Driving back toward Kona, you'd never know it was here if you didn't know to turn off the road near these mountain formations just above Hualalei. But sure enough, you turn and then drive for a couple of miles until you reach the end of the road and there it is - a gem of a beach area.
After playing in the water for another hour or two we made our way back to the condo to rest up for our dinner reservation at Alan Wong's Hualalai Grille at the Four Seasons.
I wrote a review for TripAdvisor.com about our experience with this restaurant - I would have loved to copy/paste here but apparently it takes several days for reviews to be posted while they sit in "pending" purgatory. I'll have to give you the short version instead:
We arrived and were seated next to ill-behaved kids who were encouraged by their parents. We were not pleased by this arrangement and one of the waiters noticed this so he offered to move us to another section overlooking the other side of the resort. The table we ended up with was very private and I think had a better view. So, good marks for attentive service, although I would think with many open tables they'd be adept enough at not sitting a couple who is obviously on a romantic dinner next to a bunch of rich brats and their bad parents. So I'm kind of torn on whether this was good service or rectified service.
Prior to leaving for the island we checked out the website and knew that we wanted to do one of their tasting menus, we just didn't know which one. In the end, we employed a "go big or go home" strategy and went with the 10 course menu - big mistake. By course #6 Alan was complaining about how full he was and what a nightmare it was going to be to make it to the final one. Of the 10 small dishes, my absolute favorite was the butter poached lobster over summer pea puree; Alan's favorite dish was a mediterranean lamb over a parnsip puree (we realized about midway through the chef LOVES his purees). All in all, our strategy left us going home big and way too full for our own good. If anyone reading this blog somehow has their heart set on the tasting menu there, I strongly recommend you go for the 6 course instead. Trust me.
Full and exhausted, we made our way back to Keauhou Bay where we promptly crashed.
I know I'm extremely late in getting this trip report posted but we returned late on Monday and had to jump back into the frenzy that is work immediately the next morning. A week before leaving my team won a new piece of business which is completely wonderful, but it's always hard to leave and come back when there's so much work to be done. Not to mention the fact that the day before leaving my boss and I flew down to LA to pitch another new piece of business (we won!), returning to SFO sometime around 9pm.
I got home from the airport completely exhausted, overwhelmed and just generally drained. The idea of packing was laughable, which became quite obvious once we'd arrived in Kona since we forgot so many things.
On the day of our departure we left the house sometime around 6:15 a.m. so we'd have plenty of time to drive (back) to SFO, leave the car at park & fly and then get to our gate with enough time to eat some breakfast (American does not serve you food on the flight to Oahu; in fact, they didn't even offer peanuts ... soda was still free).
We boarded the plane only to find ourselves seated behind a 1 year old who was a real wild card. One minute she was fine, the next she was a wiggle worm capable of shrieks only dogs should be able to hear. The flight wasn't full so the stewardess let us switch to the other side of the plane and move a few rows up. These seats ended up being fantastic because there were only two seats in front of us and we had plenty of leg room. On the flight I read a book and watched the first half of Twilight (god I love my iPhone!). Before I knew it it was time to touch down in Honolulu - this is saying a lot because even the shortest flights that I'm on do not go quickly. I am terrified of flying and every time I get on the plane I'm convinced my trip will be the one you'll hear about on the evening news.
Once in Oahu we had to find our way to the Go! Airlines terminal. Truthfully, I'd never even heard of this airline but when we went to cash in our points for a flight, this combination was the free one so who was I to complain? At first I thought it was a joke, but no ... you have to walk through a tarped walkway to a deserted section of the airport that is built of cinder blocks with no a/c and then you have to wait for an attendent to walk you outside and down the tarmac (?) to what I can only describe as an ancient outpost of the original airport before you can check in.
The first plane I saw made me want to walk right out of the airport and find a hotel on Oahu - it was a twin prop propeller plane and there was no way in hell I was getting on it. Thankfully, our plane was an actual jet, albeit a small jet (only 14 rows). The flight from Oahu to Kona was about 27 minutes once we took off, so it wasn't bad at all. The plane, unfortunately, has minimal overhead room so we had to have our carry-on luggage at our feet.
After landing we went to Alamo to pick up our Jeep and then drove to the condo we rented through our timeshare. Last time we were on Kona - 7+ years ago for our honeymoon - we stayed at the Fairmont Orchid (or the Orchid at Mauna Lani as it's also referred to) up on the Kohala Coast of the island. This is where all the beautiful huge resorts are located. This time, however, we were staying south of the airport in Keauhou Bay in a 1 bedroom condo we used our timeshare to get. It's definitely a different experience, but with the exception of our maintenance fee, it was free.
This was the third time we'd rented a condo in the islands through our timeshare - the first was in Oahu with my sister and her husband and while the unit was nice enough (although not for 4 people) the location was kind of crap and the building was old and dated; the second was last year in Kauai and it was gorgeous with a great location. This year fell somewhere in the middle - the location was kind of out of the way, the unit's decor wasn't really to my liking, but the grounds were gorgeous and made for a very pleasant stay. Unfortunately, when we first checked in our room stunk to high heaven like the fish dish the people who had last stayed there cooked shortly before departure. I wish the cleaning crew would have made note of this particular stench so that it didn't get rented, but I wasn't in the mood to haggle over a new location when this one was quite nice.
Normally I plan the heck out of a vacation - we know what we're doing at nearly every moment and if plans fall through, I have back up activities lined up ready to go. This vacation I had absolutely nothing planned so we spent the first hour or so just relaxing and trying to figure out what we were going to do on the trip. We made our way to the rather sad grocery store up the street where we bought provisions for morning breakfast - bagels, cream cheese, coffee, sugar, milk and pog.
For dinner that night we hit up Kona Brewing Company which I am sad to say that despite Yelp reviews to the contrary, has some pretty shitty food. The beer, however, is the reason to go to this island brew pub, particularly the Coconut Porter and the Wailua Wheat (which has lillikoi - or passion fruit - in it).
When we got back to the condo, having experienced a rather long day already we went for a quick swim and then crashed around 10pm.