Tuesday, February 19, 2019

24 Hours, Miami

Trip date: December 2018

For our 15th annual New Year's Eve trip, my friends and I were heading to Peru. The trip was happening on the heels of my 3-day over-the-top birthday celebration weekend in Seattle, which Forest had flown in for. We would be meeting Caitlin and Thibault in Lima, but seeing that there were no direct flights from Seattle, we decided to do a sleep over in Miami.

We were up super early for our direct 5 1/2 hour flight. I had used one of my companion fare tickets on Alaska Air, and had also booked us in Premium. Hello free mimosas!

The flight was actually to Ft. Lauderdale, which was just a quick 30-minute Uber away from our hotel on South Beach. The Kimpton Angler's Hotel had just been newly remodeled, was in a great location, and had a lovely rooftop pool.

As we were checking in, the girl at the front desk asked if it was my birthday, and mentioned there was something in the room. That is nice! When we entered the very cute hotel room, I found a bottle of champagne and some little petit fours and a card. I assumed by the way she had spoken, that it was from the Kimpton, turns out it was from my friend Kate in Switzerland! What a nice surprise, and thank goodness Forest knew about it and clued me in!
Both of us were a bit run down from the recent festivities, and so decided to check out two cocktail bars, grabbing some food along the way, vs. doing a big dinner. First up was Broken Shaker at Freehand Hotel. The hotel itself is very cool, it looks really old and old fashioned. The bar takes up the outside space around the pool with lots of little table and couch set ups, as well as adirondack chairs.
The entire space was really cute, the drinks were good, and it was busy even on Christmas night. I've been to Broken Shaker in Chicago and didn't love it. This one was much better!

Next we grabbed an Uber to Sweet Liberty. Unlike Broken Shaker, which when you are inside the actual bar is stand up only, this place is huge! It looks like a big old dive bar that you would go to for a game of pool and to watch the game. But the cocktail menu is more than just shots and pints.
Unfortunately the air con was cranked and I was absolutely frozen solid. We had a couple of rounds with some good bar bites and headed back to the (warm) hotel.

The next day we had planned on laying by the pool until it was time to head to the airport, but the weather had other ideas; it was cold and rainy! We had a very good breakfast at The Local House which was just off the beach, but it was too stormy to sit outside.
This time our Uber took us to Miami Airport, just 20 minutes from the beach, and after checking in we did a bit of duty free shopping before hitting the Business Class Lounge for drinks and snacks.


I'd say this lounge was above average. There was a big buffet with serve-yourself wine and liquor as well as an assortment of little sandwiches and snacks. There was a dessert and coffee buffet set up separately. And servers were always coming around to clear away dishes, which I appreciate.

And then it was time to board our flight to Lima! Disappointed not to get to take advantage of Miami's normally sunny weather, but very excited to be heading to Peru!

Miami photos here.


Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Dear Greg, Wish You Were Here, xo Hawaii

Trip date: June 2018


Originally my Big Island itinerary was to spend 2 nights at the Fairmont Orchid on the Kohala Coast, before doing a big drive south around the island to the Volcanoes National Park area. Here I planned to stay 2 nights so I could hike and explore the area, and see lava! I would drive back to the Fairmont and the Kohala Coast by heading north up the east coast and then over through Waimea, basically circling the entire island. And then the Kilauea volcano erupted just weeks before my trip. For years I had put off going to see the lava flowing! And now it was shooting out of the sky! But that also meant the park had to close and the area was dangerous.

So as I wrote here, I decided to cancel my plans and just kick it at the lovely Fairmont and the surrounding area. But I also really wanted to do a big drive in my rented convertible, so one day after my morning hike I decided to drive up to the north part of the island where some of my family once lived.

I started by driving up towards Waimea, where the hills are so lush and the sky was so blue, it was breathtaking! At Waimea, I turned north up the Kohala Mountain Road, which is the spine of the 1-million year old Kohala volcano, the oldest in the Hawaiian islands! I stopped to watch a crazy cloud formation off in the distance which was also unfortunately blocking my view of Maui. I was almost to the crest of 3550 feet.

Once I reached the peak of the volcano the road started down towards the sea and I passed one of the large cattle ranches that the island is known for. The air was heavily scented with earth, pines, rain, and of course cows. It smelled amazing!

A bit further and the weather changed dramatically! I had to pull over as I got surprised by a big rain storm. I was soaked by the time I got the convertible top up!

It lasted only minutes and soon I was driving out to Keokea Beach Park. I hadn't been sure I was heading to the beach I was looking for, but as soon as I entered I knew the place.

20 years ago, my uncle Greg tragically passed away after suffering a heart attack while driving his motorcycle. I had come to his funeral, here at this park, where his friends and stepson had swum his ashes out to the sea on their surfboards. We had tossed leis into the water after them. It was a beautiful service and a beautiful location. I was so happy to be able to spend some time here thinking of Greg, and how much I still miss him after all these years.
After some time I left this beautiful park and drove east to the end of the road. The Pololu Lookout is a stunning vista of the sheer cliffs that face off against the pummeling north surf. You can take the trail down to the beach, I didn't, or just enjoy the views, I did.
Oh my way back out, I pulled over on the side of the road as I thought I saw a waterfall. It turned out just to be a loud and lush river, on private property, but things like this are everywhere on the islands. Always an adventure!

My uncle had lived in the sweet little town of Hawi, so I headed there for a bite. It was past lunchtime and not quite dinner so my options were limited but some folks pointed me to The Hub where I had some good bar snacks and a cold beer. This community organized non-profit supports the local community with events, classes, workshops, etc. A great find!
Hawi is a very small town, just a main drag of shops really, and I wandered around for a bit after lunch, doing some window shopping. It felt really nice to be back there.

As I am a sucker for (my own personal) unchartered territory, I decided to drive the Akoni Pule Highway home, which follows the northwest coast south to the Kohola area. This area is in the rain shadow of Kohala volcano so it is dry and arid, quite a difference from the lush area I had spend the afternoon in. It's also the road that my uncle died on.

I was bummed to not get to see the active volcano, but super happy with my day remembering my uncle and reacquainting myself with the area he lived in. It was an great day driving with the top down and taking in all the beautiful sites, even if some were bittersweet.
And I made it back to the Fairmont in time for Mai Tai Happy Hour by the pool!

All photos of The Big Island here.

Prior post from this trip:
Big Island Bliss

Monday, February 4, 2019

Big Island Bliss

Trip date: June 2018


Last June, just 26 hours after arriving home from San Francisco, I repacked for much more tropical weather and headed off for a little solo, chill trip to the Big Island of Hawaii. It had been 20 years since I had visited the island, for the funeral of one of my uncles, who passed away much too young, and I was looking forward to returning and exploring.
I was happily surprised with an upgrade to first class on Alaska Airlines, especially as it is a 6 1/2 hour flight! Alaska doesn't hand out mai tais on their Hawaiian flights anymore, but my mahi mahi on schnitzel, and the Nancy Silverton cherry gelato were unexpected and delicious!

It was about 8:30pm when I landed, I picked up my convertible rental car and drove 30-minutes north up the west coast to the Fairmont Orchid. There was barely anyone on the road at this time so it was a very quick and easy commute.

Self-parking at the resort is free and is onsite, so after figuring out how to close the roof of my car in the dark, I made my way to the hotel lobby. Originally upon checking in I was given a room in the North Tower. It seemed a bit run down and really far from the restaurants and bars so after requesting to be moved, I was given a fantastic room in the South Tower. King bed, balcony with partial ocean & pool view, and huge marble bathroom with a separate tub and shower. Hello holiday! Of course it was dark so I wouldn't get a peek of my view until the morning. For the time being I settled for a mai tai in the bar.
As someone who sleeps later than most, it's always strange for me to wake up so early when I'm in Hawaii because of the time difference. I've gotten into the habit while on vacation on the islands to use that time for a morning walk or hike. On my first morning on the Kohala Coast I did a 4-mile walk south along the seaside. It was sooooo beautiful out!
This side of the Big Island is known for the lava flows which cut large paths into the ocean. I loved the scenery as I made my way from the Fairmont's property to the Mauna Lani Resort. Just past the resort there are some very cool fishponds, which naturally catch and trap fish. They've been used since prehistoric times and are still used today. Farther along and just off the golf course there was an ancient Hawaiian dwelling from the 1600s. Quite an interesting walk!
The rest of my first day was spent by the pool. Ahhhhhh! There is a nice shopping center right near the Fairmont so I took a break from the pool and did a little grocery and booze shopping for the week. In the afternoon I was booked for a massage at the hotel's spa. By prepaying my spa appointment when I booked my room online, I got $100 credit for $75. I took advantage of prepaying restaurant visits for the same type of deal.


The massage rooms at the spa are individual outdoor huts right on a waterfall/stream. OMG! My room also had a little glass pane in the floor that allowed me to watch fish while I was laying face down. To say that the atmosphere here was amazing would be an understatement. I loved this experience so much that I booked another 3-days later!

That evening I had dinner at Brown's on the resort, an outdoor restaurant that sits right off the beach. My meal was good, and service was great, but it was very overpriced.

The next morning the hotel grounds were very busy, with lots of very fit people. Turned out that the Fairmont was hosting the Ironman qualifier. There was a lot of good people watching!

I set out, past all the bicyclists, for a 3-mile hike to the Petroglyph park. There are lava stone carvings as soon as you enter the area, laid out to be viewed, but if you follow the trail, deep into the mesquite forest, you can try to spot them on your own.
After a while I reached a clearing where flimsy fencing protects large rock tiles of carvings. Wow! These carvings of people and animals date from 1200 AD! I made my way back along the rocky shoreline and treated myself to a pineapple mimosa and pineapple fritters for breakfast!
Originally my Big Island vacation plan was to check out of the hotel on this day and head to Volcano National Park to spend a few days hiking around Kīlauea Volcano. Unfortunately for me and the residents of this area, the volcano had erupted and was still very active. With the park being closed and a lot of seismic-activity happening, I decided to cancel my plans and extended my stay at the Fairmont. The hotel was great and kept me in the same room.


Morning #3, I drove 30 mins south from the resort to do a 3-mile hike at Kiholo Bay. The thing I always forget about driving on the islands, is that the highways can be busy, and turnouts for beaches and trails can be hard to spot. You really need to pay attention to the mile markers and be prepared to turn off onto a dirt path quickly.

I loved this hike! Most of it was on this black sand beach which was stunning. I started at the far south end, and climbed up the lava for a view and also to peek into a few caves.

As I made my way north, the beach changed from all black, to black and white. There were huge flats of lava, worn smooth by the surf, hiding tide pools and even petroglyphs. There was no one on the beach when I was there. Normally it's known to have lots of turtles, but I didn't see any that morning.

I finally came upon a very large yellow house, with the proprietor enjoying coffee on his patio. It was Earl Bakken, the inventor of the pacemaker! My trip was in June and Mr. Bakken passed away in October. He had given me a very friendly wave and smile. RIP.

Not to much farther I came upon Bali House, built by the co-founder of Paul Mitchell hair products. Story goes that he had it built in Bali, then deconstructed, moved here, and rebuilt. It's pretty unique looking!

From here I followed a trail away from the beach, I was trying to find the Queen's Bath, a fresh water pool in an old lava tube, but for the life of me I couldn't find it. I did find part of the tube and caves further inland. As well as some friendly feral goats!

Back at the resort I spent the entire day by the pool. It was heaven! Because of the active volcano the area had a big of VOG making for a hazy but pretty sunset.
Morning #4, I headed back to the Shore Trail again, but did a shorter 2 1/2 mile round trip. After breakfast (with a breakfast pina colada!) I headed to the Fairmont's beach for some snorkeling. The Big Island doesn't have the same number of sandy beaches that Maui has, but the Orchid is known for their nice beach and protected bay. The snorkeling was fine, typical pretty tropical fish, but I found that I wasn't super comfortable snorkeling on my own so I was only out for about 30 minutes.

The afternoon pool routine was improved by the Ironman contestants finishing their trials and relaxing with well earned beers, excited to talk about their races. After another full, sun-soaked day, I checked into the spa for another blissful massage in a hut on the waterfall.
Afterwards, I took the hotel shuttle to the neighboring Mauna Lani resort and had a cocktail in the bar. It seemed like the hotel was practically empty and when I spoke to the bartender he explained that it was getting ready to close, a new owner had purchased it and was going to start remodeling. They also had had a lot of cancellations because of the volcano erupting on the other side of the island. Late 2019 is the expected reopening.
Dinner was outside at the Canoe House restaurant and was lovely. I had passed it multiple times during my walk on the Shore trail, it sits just a stone's throw from the beach, and the sounds of the waves was wonderful. My food was great as well, but that's a moot point with it being gone.

On my last full day of vacation I skipped my walk, slept in, and woke up to a message from Alaska Air that I had been upgraded to First Class for my flight home! Fantastic!

I arranged with the hotel to borrow a picnic basket filled with ice, picked it up and went to Foodland in the nearby shopping center for, from what people told me was, some of the best poke on the island. They weren't wrong!
There were soooo many choices, and by the time I finished with their free tastes I was almost full! I  bought a couple, along with some edamame and Hawaiian mac salad. I added these to my cooler of ice, water, and rosé and off I went. Destination Hapuna Beach.
It was a gorgeous day to spend at the beach with my picnic, the water was so calm and warm! This beach is really large too, so it doesn't feel crowded with room for everyone.

I was back at the Fairmont in time for a last Happy Hour Mai Tai and a dip in the pool.
The VOG on this night was worse than before, it didn't affect my breathing or eyes, but it sure looked eerie as the sun started to set!

That night I took the shuttle again, this time to the restaurant Napua, technically on the Mauna Lani property but not part of the hotel. They gave me a fantastic table, looking right out onto the bay. And the service was exceptional, with owner Brandon coming to sit and chat with me, and my server bringing me a gratis dish and pouring extra wine.
And the food was delicious! Actually the best I had on the island, outside of my beach poke. I'd highly recommend as they are mainly using ingredients within 50 miles of the location. They are also open for lunch, which I have on my list for next time!

The next morning I only had time for a quick cup of coffee while taking in one last view from my lanai before packing the convertible for one last drive to the Kona Airport.

There was no traffic on the way, but the lines at the airport to check in and drop bags were really really long. I only had time for a quick pineapple mimosa before boarding. Good thing I was in First Class!

I'm hoping that the lava flows again at Volcanoes National Park, but that the mountain itself stays quiet. I'd still like to get back and hike that area. But I'd also go back to the Fairmont Orchid any day! I absolutely loved the property and the service. Mahalo!

All Big Island photos here.

Other post from this trip:
Dear Greg, Wish You Were Here, xo Hawaii

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

48 Hours Napa

Trip date: Nov 2017

It was snowing in Seattle, so Gail and I were doubly happy to be heading to the Napa Valley to meet up with our friend Rachel who was visiting from Australia.

The only problem was that the snow delayed our Alaska Air flight and we had dinner reservations to make! Ultimately our flight was cancelled, but we were quick and booked the last two seats on a flight to Sacramento. We reserved a rental car and as soon as we landed, hit the road for the 2-hour drive to Calistoga. We'd done this drive before!

We were suppose to get in at 6pm, but we finally rolled up at 11:30pm. Rachel had been waiting in the bar as they told her they'd stay open as long as there were people there. Trooper as she had flown in from Sydney earlier! We were staying at the very lovely Solage Resort and retired to our cute bungalow after a couple of drinks.

The next morning the three of us set out on the small roads behind the Silverado Trail for a gorgeous walk! The vineyards were just starting to turn color, and the clouds were slowly lifting out of the valley. So pretty!!!
We headed back to the resort for a very good breakfast in the restaurant before heading out for the day. Since Rachel had a rental car already, we quickly dropped ours at the office in St. Helena, and headed to our first wine tasting of the day at Paradigm.
The last time I had been to this winery was in 2005, on my first trip to Napa for Rachel's wedding! So fun to be back, this time with her, and shopping for some bottles for her husband. Also the day could not have been more beautiful as we sat outside and tasted rosé, Cab Franc, and Cabs.

Next was Turnbull which had been recommended to us. The setting and the gardens were gorgeous and we had a great time here. I don't think any of us bought any wine however. And there were a lot of people!
We had spa appointments back at the resort so we just tasted at those two. In our bungalow we popped some champagne, donned our fluffy robes, and headed to the women's only clothing optional outdoor jacuzzi.
I had a fantastic massage, and then a nice hot soak in the pool. All of the spaces at the resort are really well kept. I loved staying here!

We called an Uber and headed to The Charter Oak for dinner that night. The space is typical for the area I think, very large and open, lots of faux-country antiques done in a hip style. I thought the food was very good but the girls were put off by our service which was a bit snooty.

The next morning was another gorgeous fall day! We headed out for a morning walk, no clouds at all this time, just beautiful blue skies!

We had another great breakfast in the dining room before packing and checking out. It was at this point we found that we had left the lights on the rental car. The day before! oops! We couldn't even get the trunk or the door to open!

The staff was super helpful, looking at YouTube to figure out where the manual key entry was and then jump starting us. When we stopped at Brian Arden for a tasting we had to leave the car running in the parking lot so it would fully charge!!!


This was another lovely spot, with stunning views and adirondack chairs set up on the lawn. The wine was good, especially the whites, but not a must-taste IMHO.

Our final tasting was by far my favorite. Friends had recommended Failla, which is by-appointment only, and in an adorable old house up in the hills. 
We tasted through the Chardonnays and the Pinot Noirs and I was so impressed! There was another man who was tasting with us and as he and I started discussing our cellars (wine geeks) the woman helping us brought us an extra taste from their library collection. Great service and exceptional wines, I left with a few! Highly recommend Failla!

It was time for lunch and we were all excited for Gott's in St. Helena, such a great tradition while in the area. We had a little BYOB with our lunch, not encouraged by Gott's!

California had been riddled with forest fires just weeks before we arrived, and my friends who own Lawer Estates vineyards, orchards, and vacation rentals in Calistoga had been affected as the Tubb's fire consumed most of their properties.

On the way to the airport we drove the Franz Valley School Road, where I had stayed with my wine group in January the year before. The log cabin we had all been cozy in was now reduced to nothing but ashes. It was an incredibly sad sight. The entire drive from the valley, over the hill, and into Santa Rosa, past so much destruction, the land just char, the air still smelling like fire, was surreal.

It definitely made me thankful for the time I have been lucky enough to spend with friends in this area, including the two girls I was wrapping up the trip with.
We had an easy flight back to Seattle, with our complimentary cases of checked wine (thanks Alaska Air!), and returned to snow!

All Napa photos here.

24 Hours, Miami

Trip date: December 2018 For our 15th annual New Year's Eve trip, my friends and I were heading to Peru. The trip was happening on the...

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