Monday, December 8, 2008

And finally by sea...


On our last full day in Kauai we decided to take a 6 1/2 hour Zodiac tour of the Napali Coast to get a bit more up close and personal to the amazing rugged peaks and valleys. We toured with Capt. Andy's and for the most they were very good. The captain and crew were fun, informative and seemed to really want everyone to have a great time and see as much as possible.

We started out of Port Allen and immediately came upon a pod of Spinner Dolphins! They were so funny to watch, playing around our wake, jumping and racing each other. Then it was about a 30+ minute, somewhat wet and wild ride up to Polihale, which is the last place you can get to by vehicle. Many people camp on the beach here with these dramatic mountains just next to them. All the way up you could spot huge sea turtles bobbing around in the water!

We decided to head up to the north end of the coastline before stopping for lunch. The weather was sunny and warm which was good as the captain pointed our Zodiac directly out into the huge waves crashing on a reef. For about 20 minutes we rode HUGE waves, our small boat seemingly being tossed around but yet still somehow in control. Very fun and adrenaline inducing!

He then moved us closer in to the coast where we explored a few sea caves, pulling right into them. So amazing and beautiful!

At this point we had a bit of a problem, the Zodiac has 2 engines and one of ours died. And it really needed both to get our boat of 10 all the way back to Port Allen which is now at least 1 hour away depending on the currents, waves, etc.

After multiple tries to get it cranking we went on one engine over to Nualolo Beach, accessible only by tour operators who qualify. It was a barren beach made up of rocks and a little open picnic area where the guys served us a really good hot lunch. We snorkled before, snorkeling was ok but nothing spectacular. For lunch there was a pineapple chicken dish, great rice, fruit, salad and dessert. After lunch we went on a walking tour of the ancient Hawaiian fishing village that use to be there.

The village was really interesting. Remains of burial grounds, houses and springs. All around the valley walls you could see the scars of old waterfalls.

We even saw a monk seal lounging on the beach which is incredibly rare as they are on the endangered list. Our guide explained that they are so friendly the locals call them the dogs of the sea. They will just come right up to people and boats and unfortunately this made them easy prey for hunters.

Unfortunately during this whole time the captains were hard at work on our raft but couldn't fix it. They ended up taking a family of 6 off our raft and adding it to the now very crowded second raft, leaving just 4 of us on our handicapped vessel. We were really worried that it would take hours to get back but the captain did a great job and we were back in just under 2 hours. And we had a great time along the way still hitting some huge waves and getting tossed around as if we were riding a mechanical bull!

We were exhausted when we got back to the hotel, and salty and sweaty! A dip in the pool and a tropical cocktail were perfect. We stayed at the hotel that night and had an ok sushi dinner at a small place next door.

The last day we didn't leave until 10pm for our flight home so the Marriott was nice enough to give us keys to the Members Locker Room and we just stored our luggage and hung out at the pool all day. I was very sore from the raft expedition!

We had dinner that night at Roy's before heading to the airport and catching our red-eye home.

A fantastic trip and a great way to spend our 5th year anniversary. Kauai has definitaly become one of my favorite islands!

For the full set of our Kauai photos click here.

p.s. the photos in this segment were taken with our underwater camera which uses film and has a protective cover which gets foggy- that's why they look all dreamy and kind of old fashion. I like it!

Friday, November 21, 2008

from the air, from the land...

In an effort to experience Kauai from every possible angle- after flying overhead and driving up it's steep cliffs- we decided to hike it and paddle it! Following a tip from Fodors Message Boards we found our way to a small ancient Hawaiian village and rented a kayak. We were given some instructions on paddling up the Wailua River and hiking to our destination: Secret Falls!

We made it into the kayak without toppling ourselves and our gear in the river and headed out. After a few wrong turns we finally found the beaching ground. We then asked some people who were leaving as to where the train head started as we couldn't see anything and were pointed to an area on the opposite side of the small arm of the river we were on (big secret hu?). So we waded across and started on the trail, soon taking another wrong turn only to end up at a dead end with no falls in site (Amazing Race contenders for sure!).

Back on the trail in the correct direction we had a really nice hike. The trail was barely marked in most areas and you definitely felt as though you were in a tropical jungle with exotic flowers, vines and birds surrounding you.



Our first glimpse at the falls confirmed our thoughts that the secret was out but soon all the people left and we actually had the falls and it's pond all to ourselves to swim in- very cool.

As the next wave of people came we left and headed back to our kayak. Heading back up river we came to the landing for the Fern Grotto. A short hike in and we were rewarded with an amazing open cave filled with ferns sprouting out and cascading down. Grotto = Cave - cool!

We headed back to the river, passing gorgeous and fragrant flowers and plants. The water felt so good in the heat I could have just jumped in and swam back to the village!
After hitting a bbq place for lunch and a Mai Tai we made our way up to the north coast for some snorkeling. The views all the way up made for such a nice drive!! We arrived at Tunnels Beach late in the afternoon, the water was warm and clear and we finally saw our first turtle! Unfortunately we didn't have the underwater camera with us so you'll have to take my word for it.

We snorkeled for a while, layed on the clean sand and admired the views of Bali Hai and then made our way farther north to Ka'a Beach passing really interesting caves and cliffs covered with vines. We got to Ka'a about an hour before sunset and it was very pretty and calm- people either packing up from a day spent at the beach or arriving to take in the sunset.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Waimea Canyon




It was going to be tough to top our anniversary day! The helicopter tour was really a once in a lifetime experience. And we spent a lovely evening at the Grand Hyatt for drinks and dinner. But with only 5 days on Kauai we were determined to see and do as much as possible- and then kick by the pool on our last day :)

So we were up and in the convertible the next morning, on the road to Waimea Canyon. The views are just over the top amazing! We followed the road up and stopped at each lookout point. It was fun to watch the helicopters flying thru, looking just like tiny dots and knowing that was us the other day. As our book and others suggested we kept driving to the very very end- the Napali Lookout. Here you can see where the canyon ends at the Napali coast. The clouds build up in the valley and you have to wait it out, but when they clear...wow!

This was the only time we were rained on, it started soft and then really dumped for 5 minutes. I was driving with the top down and finally we had to stop in the middle of the road and put it up as I couldn't see for all the water in my eyes. And then it cleared up and we were on our way. The drive and the canyon were just awesome.

As we came down we stopped for lunch at the Waimea Brewing Company which had good beer and yummy Kalua pork nachos!

On our way home we stopped at the Spouting Horn and watched the hole throw ocean water high into the sky for a bit but really we were ready to be back by our pool and catch the hula show that they were doing just before sunset.

Another gorgeous day on this beautiful island.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Remember T.C.?

I always thought that Theodore "T.C." Calvin, Magnum's friend and owner of Island Hoppers helicopter tours, had a pretty good life. Sure, he didn't get to live in a 200-acre beachfront home, or drive someone else's Ferrari, but flying over the Hawaiian islands every day seemed like a decent trade-off.
I'd always hoped to be able to have that experience.

We'd realized that we weren't going to be able to get back to French Polynesia, our honeymoon location, for our 5th-year anniversary, even though that had been our original thought. The twin realities of available vacation time and available funding reared their ugly heads and dictated a vacation that was both shorter and closer to home. Fortunately, we got a great deal on accommodations and airfare and were able to schedule a 5-day stay on Kauai.

Our flight landed in Lihue after dark, so when we drove to our nearby hotel, the Kauai Marriott Resort, we really didn't get to see very much, and were somewhat skeptical that our so-called ocean-view room could actually see the ocean. We just had some sushi and late-night drinks at one of the attached restaurants that night, but looked forward to actually seeing the island the following morning.
Fortunately, the next day dawned bright and clear, and we discovered that we did actually have a view of the Pacific, albeit somewhat obstructed. We spent the morning exploring our hotel (including gigantic koi pond), pool (largest on the island, and in fact the largest in which either of us had ever been) and beach.

On the advice of several friends, we'd scheduled our helicopter tour for our first full day so that we could get a feel for the topology of the island. We walked over to the helicopter operator's office, directly across the road from our hotel, received a brief safety lecture and were bused the mile or so to the airport.

The
American Eurocopter EC130B4 "ECO-Star" in which we were flying had room for two passengers in the front seat (to the pilot's right) and four in the rear. The tours, from all oeprators, take a clockwise flight pattern around the island, so the front and right of the aircraft are the best viewing seats. Even though we'd requested those locations, weight distribution of passengers meant that we ended up with the left rear, to our initial disappointment.

Neither Wendy nor I had flown in a helicopter before. When it took off, I thought she was going to squeeze my fingers off. I personally thought the flight was extremely smooth, and with the noise-canceling headphones we were wearing, it was much less noisy than a commercial airline flight. It was a bit disconcerting to slide sideways from time to time, or to rotate in place.
Within five minutes, we were flying through a rainstorm somewhere over the south side of the island, next to a mountain range, with zero forward visibility. Very wild! That lasted a grand total of only a few minutes, and then we were in the clear and heading up over a ridge and into Waimea Canyon, which easily compares to, and exceeds, the [distant] views I've had of the Grand Canyon, or my direct experiences in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Raydah Escarpment in Saudi Arabia.

Eventually we headed to the northwest corner of Kauai and began flying along the incomparable Napali Coast. Our pilot was great, and when he took us into individual canyons he was careful about rotating in both directions so that Wendy a
nd I were able to get clear views of all the cliff walls and waterfalls. In particular, the 3000-foot cliffs and falls of the crater in Mt. Waialeale were unforgettable -- we hovered about halfway up the cliff, rotating in place, and it seemed like we were in some prehistoric Land of the Lost.

The tours unfortunately only last about an hour, so all too soon we had to head back to the airport. But it was a fantastic way to start the trip; T.C would be proud!



Monday, September 22, 2008

A Day in the Neighborhood

Saturday we attended the Fall Fisherman's Festival at Fisherman's Terminal near Ballard. It was dark, wet and stormy- just like the weather those tough guys put up with.

Our friend Brooke was swimming in the Survival Suit Race for her company Clipper Seafoods. Teams had to quickly put on the survival suits, jump in the water and swim across an area of water where they hauled themselves up into an inflatable life raft. There were rescue divers in the water on hand if anyone needed help.



After watching how hard this all is I'm amazed that anyone actually survives in an emergency! Scary! They didn't win but they did good and looked good doing it!!



There were tons of things for kids to do, lots of arts and crafts. I loved that after building these wooden boats they could just drag them on the rain covered asphalt.

Additionally there were salmon fillet contests, no hands oyster slurping contests, a BBQ, children's trout fishing pond, beer garden, band and a "meet creepy fish of the sea" display.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

That Whooshing Sound

It seems that everyone else in the blogosphere has already published their recap of Tales of the Cocktail 2008 in New Orleans -- back in July. Not us! No, we choose to do things in our own sweet time, or as I like to say, we lead from behind.

Wendy made me promise to write up our last trip before we went on a new one. I didn't actually manage to do that, but mostly because I kind of feel the same way about deadlines as did the late, incomparable Douglas Adams: "I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."

Now that the LHC has come online and the planet has failed to get swallowed by a man-made black hole, I guess I should quit procrastinating and write a bit about our trip.

Wendy wasn't able to join me the first night, so I was forced [forced I say!] to go out with Keith and "Old Two-Livers" Rocky. After hitting an opening reception for Tales, we went to Cochon for dinner. Two-Livers apparently has a couple of stomachs too, but Keith and I tried gamely to keep up. We finished the night at LaFitte's Old Absinthe House, which is amazingly inconsistent in quality of drink (and bartender) but which was doing a bang-up job that evening.

Although I went to a decent Tales seminar the next day ("Artisan Spirits"), I was really mostly looking forward to Wendy's arrival. She showed up in plenty of time to join me at the slightly-dizzying Carousel Bar for part of a muffuletta that I'd brought back from an enjoyable lunch at Napoleon House with Rocky, Keith, Anita, Cameron, and a few others. Then it was off to Cocktail Hour and, more importantly, the Spirited Dinner at Restaurant August, where Charlotte Voisey was the "bar chef" for the evening. Although August is a great place -- Wendy and I had eaten there the year before -- and Charlotte tends to make tasty drinks, I have to say that this year things didn't really gel right. I know it's hard for the mixologists to pair against food they haven't tasted, so I won't be too judgemental, but there were really only one or two pairings that worked well, and several of the cocktails were not to the taste of some of the admittedly non-cocktailian members of our table. One thing that utterly failed was the tomato tart for dessert. Ugghh.

On Friday I had made the mistake of scheduling two whiskey seminars: "Whiskies You've Never Tasted" and "Rye Nation". While both were good, my palate was utterly destroyed by the end; I could not force down another drop of brown and was in serious need of citrus. I think Wendy did much better scheduling "Rum, Ron, Rhum" for herself! We headed out to the Swizzle Stick Bar, where Michael took great care of us as always, and then went to Emeril's for dinner; I actually enjoyed it much more than I expected (no Bam! though).

The highlights of Saturday were a brunch at Brennan's that ballooned from 2 to something like 15 people, an afternoon walking cocktail history tour of the French Quarter (where Wendy and I somehow managed to get separated from a group of 20+ people on foot, but still beat them to the last stop), and a meal at Herbsaint. Finished the evening with another stop at the Swizzle Stick Bar.

...and on Sunday it was time to go home!

Our pictures of Tales and New Orleans this year can be found here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Old New York?

If New York is the New Amsterdam then isn't Amsterdam the old New York? oh well, anyway after leaving Provence via Lyon and Paris we flew to Amsterdam where strangely neither Dayne or I had been before. On the flight over we were told (warned) by fellow passengers that the big match between Amsterdam and Spain was that evening so be aware if heading to the bars, and wear orange if you have it!

As soon as we stepped out of the airport we could see orange everywhere- flowers, posters, outfits. The cab drivers were all lined up and watching the pre game on a huge teletron outside the main airport driveway. One luckily offered to take us to our hotel as he said it was 45 minutes to game time and he would head home after. The ride into town was FAST and SCARY as this guy was serious about not missing a second of the game! I honestly think that if we didn't have money when he dropped us off he would have just shrugged and sped off to his tv.

We had picked a great hotel, it was small with just 8 rooms- all were quite large and off the main tourist area on a small canal called Liligracht. t'Hotel included breakfast and these super steep stairs to help you burn off the calories!

We had such a great time in the city, it is soooo beautiful! We did most of the typical things0 took a canal cruise to get a feel for the layout, went to the gorgeous Van Gogh museum, ate lots of Gouda, cruised through the red light district both day and night and visited the Rijksmueum, toured the Anne Frank House and ate amazing Indonesian food.







A couple things we did were maybe not as normal. For one we visited the Bols Museum a cocktail museum. It was really fun and at the end of it you go to a computer and pick out a cocktail, print out the recipe and take it to the bar. In the bar there is a "flair" booth where you can try your hand at flair bartending (think Tom Cruise in Cocktail). We learned that the Dutch really like flair!


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The other was spending some time with our friend Klary who lives in Amsterdam. Klary does market tours for visitors and took us to one of her favorites after meeting up for coffee. The market was huge! You could literally buy anything you wanted for your house, your cooking or your wardrobe. Of course we had to try the frites, this particular stand was selling Mad American Sauce which was like McD's secret sauce.


We also tried raw herring which was really good! Dayne and I had ours just cut up with raw onions and dill pickles that were strangely sweet. Klary had hers on a bun similar to a hotdog bun.

And on our last evening we had a wonderful dinner with Klary and her husband and another couple at a Moroccan restaurant. It was a great time, lots of laughing and story telling! We both decided we really loved the city and could absolutely see ourselves getting a couple of bikes, a little canal boat and an old canal house and living there!


The rest of the shots from Amsterdam can be seen here

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Eating in Provence

Would you believe me if I told you we didn't go out for dinner even once for the whole week in Provence? It is true. And strangely it was very nice! I think we all just loved watching the view each evening from our porch.....

A few nights, after Dayne's delicious martinis, we just continued snacking on French cheeses, charcuterie and funny snack chips like roast chicken crisps and bacon cheese puffs. One night we went down to the only restaurant in town and ordered the only thing they make- pizza- and brought it back up to the house. It was soooo good with interesting toppings and the best salumi and olives of course.

A couple of times we shopped at the local town markets, there is an evening one in the town of Valleron that we thought was quite good. This was mainly locals, and most not speaking much English which made it really fun. A few stands had these strawberries that you could smell almost from the parking lot!


Have you ever seen such gorgeous squash blossoms?

We had chicken for dinner on that night...

One of the nicest days of dining happened when we went to visit our friends Abra & Shel in Uzes. First we took a walk and shopped at the market (in these posts the term market refers a local farmers market vs a grocery store) for our evening cook together dinner, coming up with the dishes as we saw ingrediants. The market was small, in the center of town, and very cute with venders selling everything from seafood to olives and perfumes. There was a basket of kittens and even a snail farmer.















It took us a while to make it back home. There was bread to buy, pastries to pick out for dessert (and a brief lesson in how to inquire about nuts and/or peanuts as an ingrediant) and of course wine to choose. Once we returned Abra set the table with an amazing lunch she had put together. It was so nice to sit on the beautiful patio and catch up with our friends and hear more about the area.

After some pool time, nap time and a stroll through town we all started working on an amazing dinner. Dayne, Paul and Forest made up some cocktails using a cherry liquor Abra had made. We noshed on tomato slices, dressed with fresh garlic and squash blossoms stuffed and baked. Then the appetizer of duck breast baked in a salt crust and served with a meurette sauce studded with foie gras. Main course of melons du veau and sauteed baby zucchini. Lots of wine. Amazing cheese and then a chocolate torte. It was quite a feast!

There was one other big dinner event, at our very own chateau where all 26 guest teamed up to make a big dinner on the last night that we were all together.


There was an amuse of cold soup with chicken, salad chevre chaud, incredible deboned and stuffed chicken, ratatouille, tarts and lots of wine. Lots.