Sunday, May 08, 2016

Tropical Getaway

Aloha! Dan and I have returned from the Big Island of Hawaii, after our first visit six years ago. He went for a work meeting, and convinced me to take a couple days off for a long weekend. I flew in after work on Thursday. The flight was long and unpleasant, during which time I was regretting the trip. Landed after dark, then had to negotiate the car rental situation, which took far too long...then the drive....finally, I arrived at the resort where his meeting was ending. I had a mai tai before bed, and the next morning...

Morning view

Definitely a good idea! Went for a morning snorkel, saw lots of fish...and sea turtles! Then relaxed on the lounge chairs on the beach, under the umbrella for Dan since he burns easily. I went for another swim and saw a couple more turtles...or maybe the same ones...

Morning snorkel spot

We drove by the port and had lunch at Kohala Burger & Taco, fish tacos for me and an ahi burger for Dan, then shared our first shave ice of the trip with lilokoi cheesecake ice cream. We continued north and stopped at Lapakahi State Historical Park.

Lapakahi State Historical Park

After walking the trail and checking out the ruins, we continued up the coast to a viewpoint of Pololu Valley. There was a very steep trail to a black sand beach, which we did not attempt as I didn't have the proper footwear. Next time, says Dan.

Panorama Pololu Valley

We stopped at a beach park where several teams were preparing for an outrigger race to Maui! Dan chatted with them for awhile. Canoe talk. Then we sampled many flavors of macadamia nuts at Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company...including Spam and Kona coffee, but ended up buying just lightly salted nuts. We walked to the neighboring resort for dinner and saw a couple of nene, native Hawaiian geese on the golf course, and passed many fancy homes that looked empty. There was a beautiful sunset at dinner, although trees obscured the view. And then! We saw giant manta rays feeding after dark! At night the resort turns on lights over the ocean, which attracts plankton, and the manta rays come eat the plankton. They were huuuuge! It was amazing. We took the shuttle back to and enjoyed a drink by the pool. It was a great first day.

Mauna Kea sunset

On Saturday morning we went to a farmers market south of the resort, picked up some papayas, apple bananas, and dragon fruit. Then we drove to Kealakekua Bay, where we had kayaked on our last trip in search of dolphins, and did not find, much to my disappointment. This time we skipped the kayak and went swimming in the bay. The entry is a bit tricky, and we swam really, really far. We passed a couple who were floating on boogie boards (smart idea). I asked if they had seen dolphins, and they said yes and pointed farther out. So we kept swimming. Then we saw a couple kayaking who had seen dolphins earlier that morning. At this point I thought we'd never see them, AND I was getting stung by tiny jellyfish, so I was feeling somewhat dejected. But then! I saw them in the distance! I was so excited! We swam toward them, and there was a group on stand-up paddleboards. A gentleman let us hang onto his board to rest while we waited for the dolphins to approach. It was very nice of him since we had been swimming for a long time.The dolphins swam around and underneath us, it was so amazing! We even saw baby dolphins. It was incredible. After hanging out with them for awhile, we swam back to shore. Both of us were abuzz with excitement from the experience. And quite tired from swimming!

We passed Big Island Bees and stopped in to learn about their beekeeping and sample the honeys. There were some cool honeycomb sculptures in the tasting room too. And we saw a cute green gecko. I got a plumeria lei from a roadside stand by a plumeria orchard. It smelled soooo good. Then we sampled many Kona coffees at Greenwell Farms and went on their farm a tour, and it was an employee's birthday so we had cake with our coffee! I also spotted a giant hibiscus flower, in a color I had not seen before. Then it was time for lunch at the old Manago Hotel. We had eaten dinner there on our last trip. The dining room feels like it hasn't changed much in the last century, which is reassuring.

Hibiscus at Greenwell Farms

After lunch we headed back north, and drove on a super bumpy, curvy, partially paved road through lava fields to Kekaha Kai State Park. Finally we reached the end, an oasis of palm trees and sandy beach after all that lava rock. We found an entry point to get in the water and saw a couple sea turtles sunning on the rocks. There was one in the water too, who swam by Dan. We continued swimming along the rocks, looking at the schools of fish, until I saw a sleeping shark! We watched it for awhile, and then Dan said we should probably not continue in that direction. So we got out and checked out the tide pools in the rocks. And then! Dan saw a fish stuck in a little tide pool. He was able to remove the rock it was wedged under, and threw the fish back in the ocean. It was the Hawaii state fish! The humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa! Such excitement.

On the way back to the resort we stopped for hot malasadas by the roadside. I had mine with lilokoi jam. Yum. Back at the resort, we relaxed by the pool, enjoying a piña colada with the sunset and  Hawaiian music. It was very pleasant. Such a wonderful day!

Hapuna Beach sunset

Sunday morning was super windy! We walked to the other resort to see if the protected cove there was calmer. The beach is lovely, but it was just as windy. No stand-up paddle boarding for me. We went for a swim and saw lots of fish, but no sea turtles. Then relaxed in the shade (Dan's idea of sunbathing), drank the fancy water, and checked out the resort macaws.

Mauna Kea Beach

Hawaii 2016
Mauna Kea Beach 

Resort macaws

Then it was time for lunch! We shared a giant poke plate from Da Poke Shack, then went on the brewery tour at Kona Brewing Company. I saw another beautiful hibiscus at the pub, and we learned all their bottled beer is brewed on the mainland, in partnership with Widmer Brothers and Redhook. We sampled four tasty beers that are only available on the island at the end of the tour. Then walked across the street for shave ice at One Aloha Shave Ice. Yum!

Kona Brewing Company


Lilikoi, guava & mango shave ice

The Original Kona Mudslide

Then it was time for another swim, this time at Waikoloa, where we saw some fish but the visibility was not great. Relaxed on the beach for bit, then Dan spotted a fish jumping in the lagoon, so we walked around it, then along the coast, on a trail of lava and coral. Saw lots of fancy houses and enjoyed the sunset. Last dinner on the beach at Lava Lava Beach Club.
Hawaii 2016

Monday morning we went for one last snorkel, and bid goodbye to the sea turtles, and saw a pufferfish too! Packed up, and it was time to go! Airport tip: There's a case of Tropical Dreams ice creams at the news stand! I had mango and chocolate coconut macadamia nut while waiting in line to board the plane. Hope we return again someday soon...

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Iberian Adventures: Lisbon

Monday, July 6
We arrived in Lisbon before sunset, and found our Airbnb in the Graça neighborhood, but there were no parking spots. The apartment greeter had us wait while she looked for a spot, and I became cranky that she did not let us in the apartment to wait. Finally, the parking was sorted and she showed us the place. It had a great view of what looked like the Golden Gate Bridge. Apparently it is called the Ponte 25 de Abril. [Tip: Do not bring a car to Lisbon]

View from the balcony

Then the greeter explained sights in Lisbon on a blurry map. She meant well, but we were very tired and hungry, and finally asked her to stop. She seemed disappointed. We had dinner at O Pitéu, which was hopping with people. More roast meat and fish. And potato chips. Then it was bedtime!

Tuesday, July 7
My lovely brother picked up coffee and pastries for breakfast, while I admired the view from the balcony. We tried another pastel de nata, better than in Porto. 

Golden Gate Bridge!

Castelo de São Jorge

Then we set off to explore. We checked out the wares at the Feira da Ladra (flea market), peeked in a couple of churches, watched a ceramics artist at work, and admired the views of Lisbon.

Feira da Ladra

Ceramic shop


Then it was time for lunch! My lovely brother treated us to an epic pre-birthday lunch at Belcanto. Amazing. I don't even remember how many courses we ate (a lot). One of the highlights was a golden egg. And of course dessert and petit fours.


Lunch at Belcanto

After lunch we wandered around and did some shopping. I had a list of Lisbon's 10 most beautiful shops, and we visited A Vida Portuguesa, Tous, and Luvaria Ulisses. Then it was time for gelato.
Doors in Lisbon


Checking out the glove shop


Gelato at Santini

I wanted to reach a skybridge that we could see from the street, which led us to the line for the Santa Just elevator. We saw several plazas from the viewpint, so we explored those after descending, and saw a cool Art Deco building.

Elevator in Lisbon



Wavy tiles

Art deco

We walked through a busy restaurant area that was very unappealing. Then we took a cab up the hill to the apartment, which was next to a popular viewpoint (hence the lack of parking the previous day). Lots of people were there to see the sunset. Dan picked up some groceries and made us salads for dinner. It had been another busy day!



Wednesday, July 8
I wanted to visit Sintra and Cascais (hence the rental car), but we got a late start to the day. Dan made scrambled eggs with jamon iberico for breakfast, yum! We decided to go to Belém, and Dan drove along the crazy winding narrow hilly streets of Lisbon. [I do not recommend it.] Our first stop was Pastéis de Belém, where we stood in line for pastel de nata. Definitely the best so far...warm from the oven, flaky crust, soft custard...mmm. Then I went next door to Starbucks for coffee. My iced drink had coffee jellies in it. Delicious. They should put coffee jellies on the menu in the US.

Pastéis de Belém

Coffee jelly at Starbucks

Then we walked to Jerónimos Monastery. The interior of the church was impressive, and I enjoyed the cloisters.

Jerónimos Monastery

Jerónimos Monastery

Jerónimos Monastery

Dan checking out the confession doors



We walked toward the water to the Monument to the Discoveries, where I saw a very cute green frozen yogurt vendor. I was quite taken with it and took many photos, then ordered a frozen yogurt. It was okay. We also saw a large group of school children, or maybe summer camp, with their adult wranglers.

Monument to the Discoveries


We walked along the water to the Torre de Belém. The school children were also going in that direction. There were fisherman along the way, and the Ponte 25 de Abril was still a surreal sight, since it looks so much like the Golden Gate Bridge.

Torre de Belém

View of the Golden Gate Bridge

There was a business enterprise at the park that seemed to involve renting out picnic blankets with a view of the Torre. We did not inquire about rates or if food was included. But Tina and I did get orange juice from an orange-shaped vendor. And Johnny and I hugged an ice cream cone.

Rent a picnic spot with a view!


Ice cream

We had a late lunch at Pão Pão Queijo Queijo, which I enjoyed very much. Shawerma baguette for Dan and roasted eggplant for me, all made to order. Yum. My brother tried the falafel, which was different from home, and also tasty. Next stop: National Coach Museum, but it was in the midst of moving into a new building, so there were just a few coaches in the old building. Also we arrived shortly before closing time, so the gentleman didn't charge the full price. Dan and I admired the painted ceilings. I wonder what will happen to the building after all the coaches are moved? I think it used to be a riding school, if I remember correctly. But maybe not.
National Coach Museum

Dan checking out the ceiling

We decided to take the ferry to Porto Brandão, which was a very quiet town. I enjoyed the ferry ride. While we were waiting for the ferry back to Belém, I peeked into one of the warehouses along the dock, and saw a gentleman working on a wooden surfboard. He explained that they were in the style of ancient Hawaiian surfboards, and also showed us wooden handplanes used for bodysurfing. Very cool to see hand craftsmanship in action. The ferry back was filled with young people who had spent the day at the beach. [I guess we should have gotten off at the next stop.]

View from the ferry

Porto Brandão

Dan and I got another pastel de nata before we drove back to the apartment. I enjoyed sunset on the balcony, and we went out for one last seafood dinner. Then it was time to pack. The next morning we dropped off the rental car and flew to Newark, where I saw a beagle at baggage claim! We took a long cab ride to my brother's apartment, and I ate my way through New York before returning home. Vacation always ends too soon!

Sunset on the balcony

Lisbon Sunset