Monday, October 12, 2009

Some summary thoughts

Well, this blog is almost done. We've been home for a couple of weeks. I've been back at work, and Todd headed back today. It was an incredible trip, and we were really fortunate to have had the opportunity to take it, to get away from work and cares of home, and spend time together is a marvelous place. For me, a big part of WHY I work is to be able to afford to spend time like this, see new things, learn about a new corner of the world. Thats also why I put so much effort into the planning...I get so much more out of the trip when I go into it with some knowledge and context. It makes everything so much more interesting.

To close this out, a few general comments about our bests and worsts. Things we liked, things we weren't as crazy about.

Favorite Island: Kauai. Somehow the north shore of Kauai was just our kind of place. It was beautiful, the beaches were great, the vibe was fun. It just felt right to us. I would go back there in a heartbeat. I hope we get the opportunity some time.

Favorite accomodation: this is a tough choice, but for all-around, I have to go with Hale Kona Kai in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island. This condo was incredibly convenient. We liked being able to walk to dinner or stores if need be, or drive a short distance to snorkeling and restaurants. The condo itself was quite small, but really very comfortable. Nice furniture, comfy bed. It was the only place we stayed where we really had room to put away all our stuff. And the view from the lanai was so cool. The view from Casa Tortuga certainly rivalled it, but this one got extra points for great sunsets and for having so many things to look at.

Things we saw from our lanai at Hale Kona Kai:
parasailers, spinner dolphins, a wide variety of seabirds, sunset cruises, cruise ship, fishermen sunsets, surf, meteors, outrigger canoes, the moon, surfers, turtles, long distance swimmers, manta rays

Best Dinner (Cost no object): La Mer, of course

Best Dinner (bang for the buck edition): ono, broiled at home with kona coffee spice rub, with lemon scallion butter, eaten while watching the sunset from our lanai in Kona
Least favorite island: Maui. Okay, I hope its not sacrilege to say that Maui didn't call to us. We are not resort people. I hated Wailea, with it's golf courses, and its well manicured resorts that block off the coastline from view by the plebs. And while the road to Hana was very pretty, it was also very crowded and a long day. The Hamakua coast on the Big Island is just as pretty and easier to drive.

Best Beach: okay, having picked on Maui....Makena Beach, in front of the Maui Prince was definitely the best beach. Hanalei Beach on Kauai was a close second

Best Snorkel spot:
we snorkelled in perhaps 8 different places. 3 of them stood out as truly special. Molokini was incredible, and such an interesting location. Tunnels beach on Kauai had the most interesting topography, and loads of colorful fish. But our favorite was the tidepools at Kapoho, the Wai'opae marine reserve on the Big Island. Such an interesting area, and so many fish. Also shallow so we got a great view of them.
Best Mai Tai: this is tough. We had excellent Mai Tai's at Jackie Reys (Kona), Cafe Pesto (Hilo) and Don's Tiki Bar (Kona). But Todd says the very best one was the first one he the Molokini Bar&Grill in the Maui Prince.

Best fish taco's: El Pelon (Brookline MA). Okay, not fair I know. But I'm not sure anybody's fish tacos were actually better than El Pelon (please, let it re-open before next Red Sox season!). In any case, Todd tried more of these than I did, and had a hard time choosing. Maui Taco's in Kihei were quite excellent, and might win bang-for-the-buck. But when pressed, he chose the walu tacos at Jackie Rey's.

Best Coffee: Maui Coffee Roasters, purchased at a coffee shop in Kahalui, but brewed by us, at home. We found a lot of good coffee beans. The Kauai Coffee estate grown peaberry, the Green Hills farm Kona peaberry, some of the other Kona varieties were all quite good. But the stuff grown on Maui is incredible. A lighter roast, more delicate flavor than the African coffees we usually buy, It was terrific.

Worst Cofee: any we didn't brew ourselves I'm talking about the coffee we were served in hotels and restaurants everywhere. It was universally AWFUL. The kept claiming to serve "Real Kona" or "100% Kona Blend" (wow, love that oxymoron!). But it was terrible. At the Maui Prince, at the Outrigger, at Seattle's Best in Waikiki, in the restaurants on the Big Island where Kona comes from, nobody seemed to know how to brew even a mediocre pot of coffee. That's just sad. Wonderful coffee everywhere, and not a drop to drink!

Best Pizza: Hawaiian Pizza at Cafe Pesto, Hilo. Probably not a fair contest, because we didn't eat pizza much. But I still need to give a shout out for REAL Hawaiian pizza, with kalua pork, tiny bits of fresh pineapple and maui onions

Best New Junk Food: Maui Onion and Garlic macademia nuts from Mauna Loa. Omigosh, these are delicious. We tried ordering them online, but they aren't as tasty and fresh as the ones we bought at the factory near Hilo.

Most Dramatic view: lava entry at Kalapana. Wow. Wish I had pictures to do it justice

Best Rainbow:
definitely this one, over Hanalei Pier

One last dinner...Boulevard

Our last night of the trip, we had to have one more special dinner. I chose Boulevard, which was recommended by several friends, and was just a couple of blocks from our hotel. This definitely rates as one of the best meals of our trip. didn't have the view of some of the other restaurants, but the food was outstanding.

Todd started by ordering the abalone appetizer, never having tried that before. I tasted it too. We both thought it was good, but are surprised by the amount of enthusiasm it generates. Its not a delicacy I'd go out of my way to try again. My crab salad with green gazpacho and marconi almonds was truly outstanding however.

This is the abalone

and here is the crab:

For main courses, we both chose meat, having had plenty of fish in Hawaii. I had the lamb t-bone, with spinach and pine nuts, and rosemary and red wine jus. It was so good:

Todd had the filet mignon. Particularly tasty were the roasted potatoes with morbier cheese. We'll try that at home:

And dessert was a concoction of peaches, ice cream, caramel, shortbread, pastry, peach sorbet and all sorts of yummy things:

It was an excellent meal, and a restaurant I would definitely recommend to anyone visiting San Francisco!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Saturday in San Francisco

Of course, I was jet lagged, so got up early enough to see sunrise over the bridge. However, not so awake that I took pictures of it!

When we finally dragged ourselves out, we walked across the Embarcadero to the Ferry Building where the Saturday farmers market was in full swing. We had breakfast at the Market Cafe, where I had smoked salmon on sourdough toast with goat cheese. Yum! And fresh berries. (Why do they have no berries in Hawaii? Is it too wet/dry for strawberries, I wonder? We never had any)

We spent an hour or so after breakfast just walking the length of the market, poking around in the stores, sampling the various things that were out for sampling...all kinds of gourmet foods, oils, chocolate, and such. Our favorite store was the mushroom store...wish we had one of those around here. Fresh porcinis, even fresh truffles. We pondered the idea of buying a truffle to bring home, but it needed to be refrigerated, so we couldn't do it.

The produce stands out side are fun, they are so colorful:

One of the things I love about San Francisco, I think it has the best skyline in the world. Every where you look, the skyline is interesting. This is just a view from down by the ferry building

By early afternoon, we were done here. We decided to get a cab to go to the De Young Museum in Golden Gate park. Its actually pretty far, the cab cost about $20. There's probably a cheaper mass transit way to do it, but it seemed like it would take a couple of buses, and 45 minutes, so we didn't want to bothers.

We actually went to the DeYoung to see their permanent collection. We did NOT go see King Tut. I think the ticket sellers and volunteers were kind of stunned by this. They kept trying to sell us Tut tickets and Tut programs. No...I've seen this was better back in 1977, when Steve Martin was in his prime....

Anyways, we really enjoyed the American collection which was what we came for. Although I'm a bit disappointed...the description of the exhibit mentions Winslow Homer, who is one of my favorite artists. Well, they have ONE Homer, and it's about 4 inches by 6 inches. I missed it the first time through. I hate that.

After we looked at some art, we rode the elevator up the observation tower. This is a very nice view of the city:

You can even see the Golden Gate, at least part of it:

One more picture, Todd took this one. It's not from our room, but from the window in the hallway on the 12th floor of the Hyatt. This is the Ferry building of course.

From Honolulu to San Francisco

Friday dawned, sunny and gorgeous again. We had to pack up and get ready to leave finally. We had enough time to get a few last minute goodies to take home, take a few more shots of the beach. But then it was time to pack up and go to the airport.

We hate red-eye flights, so we didn't plan to go all the way back to Boston. It's basically impossible to do that from Hawaii in one day without either an overnight layover, or a red-eye flight. So we had decided to just fly as far as San Francisco, and spend a couple nights there. Give us a chance to start getting the jet lag over, and its always fun to spend a day in San Francisco, there's always something to do.

Our flight left Honolulu around noontime. It's a 5 hour flight, with a 3 hour time change, so we get into SFO sometime around 8-8:30PM. No rental car this time, we head out to the taxi stand to get a ride into the city. The first couple of taxis in the line are all regular sedans. Now we have a LOT of luggage, and there's no way it will all fit in a regular sedan trunk. So after waiting a minute, a van pulls up and the driver waves us up. He can fit all our bags, no problem. He then proceeded to try and set a new land speed record, getting us to our hotel. I believe we broke the sound barrier when we passed by Candlestick Park (or whatever the 49ers stadium is called these days). It got even more exciting once we were in traffic, and he's threading the needle between parked cars, and moving cars whose drivers are talking on cell phones.

Fortunately we got to the hotel in one piece.

I had decided for this trip I wanted to stay in the Embarcadero. It would be a change from the usual Union Square location. And since we'd be there on a Saturday, we'd be able to visit the ferry market in the morning. So I chose the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero. When I was planning, I was thrilled to get a good price on an "Embarcadero Suite". Well, I was even more thrilled when we got to the room. We were up on the 12th floor, at the end of the hotel closest to the bay. The room is quite large, with a king size bed, dresser, and bedside tables on one side of the entrance hall, and a sitting area with 2 loveseats, a large coffee table, a desk and a large flatscreen tv on the other side. And stretched across the full length of the room are sliders. There's no balcony, but the doors do open, and there is a concrete railing to keep one from falling out. And outside the windows is a glorious view of the Ferry building, the city, and the Bay Bridge all lit up.

I know its crazy to be in San Francisco and NOT go out for a fabulous meal. But we were beat, it was late, And the room was really cool, with the view and all, so we just ordered up room service. And the Hyatt does a decent job with food, it was really quite tasty.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A little tour of Oahu

Well, I'm getting towards the end of this now...we're on the last full day in Hawaii. There were so many things to do and see in Oahu, and I haven't even scratched the surface. If (when?) we come back to Hawaii someday, I will have to come back to Oahu to see more of the historic and cultural sites that aren't going to fit on this trip.

So for our last day, we decide on a driving tour of the southeast corner of the island. I've heard the scenery around here is really beautiful. So we set out from Waikiki, headed towards Diamond Head. There's some really nice residential neighborhoods, with gorgeous multi-million dollar houses. When we drive on the road below Diamond head, we can look up and see the overlook. (We did not chose to climb up to Diamond head ourselves. Its been incredibly hot and humid, and I'm just not up to the climb in this weather)

After passing Diamond Head, the coast gets even more beautiful. We stop a few times at overlooks and admire the scenery. Mostly we are just enjoying the sun, the convertible and driving around

I believe thisis Makapu'u Beach

This is near the fisherman's shrine, and I think hidden in this cove is the "From Here to Eternity" beach, where the famous love scene was filmed

We stopped for lunch in the town of Kailua. I really wanted to go to Boots'n'Kimo's, which is a well known local diner type place, but there was a crowd of people standing around on the sidewalk waiting to get in. So we stopped at wine bar called Fromaggio Grill. The food here was quite good, they had salads, sandwiches and pizzas.

After Kailua, we took a drive further north to get to the Valley of the Temples, where we stopped to see the Buddhist temple called Kyodo-In, which was modelled after a 950 year old temple in Japan. It's very beautiful, and would be serene if not for all the tourists who feel the need to ring the welcoming bell over, and over, and over again. Of course, we rang the bell too (and I have pictures of Todd doing it, but in the low light, I didn't get any very good shots :()

In anycase, here is the temple:

And this is the view from the Valley of the Temples (which has a number of churches and burial grounds) looking out towards the mountains

We take the H3 back to Honolulu because this is a marvelous highway that cuts through the mountains, using tunnels, and roads up high on trestles. Its gorgeous (but there are no stops along the way, so no pictures). And we get back to Waikiki much faster than the drive out. We have time for a swim before dinner, and then we head to Roy's for our last dinner in Hawaii.

Pearl Harbor

A lot of people go to Pearl Harbor just for the Arizona Memorial, and are done with it. But Todd is really interested in military history, and World War II in particular. So we went to Pearl Harbor for ALL of it, and spent most of the day there. There is a lot to see if you want to take the time.

First, a summary just to cover the practicalities of it. We drove, leaving Waikiki around 8:30-8:45. We got to Pearl shortly after 9AM, and parked near the Bowfin park. There is very little parking near the entrance to the Arizona memorial, and you have to buy tickets at the Bowfin area. We were pleased to find the ticket lines were quite short, we only spent maybe 10 minutes getting our tickets. We had the 10AM tour of the Arizona Memorial, and paid tickets for everything else, including wristbands for the guided tour of the Missouri. We saw a bit of the Arizona visitors center, then spent about an hour doing the Arizona memorial. From there, we walked back to the Bowfin area to get the shuttle bus which takes you across to Ford Island to see the USS Missouri. We were there for quite a while, it was probably 1:30 by the time we finished and got back on the shuttle bus for the short ride to the Pacific Aviation musuem. Lunch at the musuem, walk through, then shuttle back to the Bowfin, which we actually toured at this point. We were amongst the last of the day to see the Bowfin, finishing after they closed it, around 4:45. So its a pretty good day if you want to see everything there is to see.

Now the specifics and the pictures...

For the Arizona, first they let you into an auditorium where they show a short film about the attack on Pearl Harbor. After that, you get on a small shuttle boat, which takes you and about 40 people across the harbor to see the Arizona Memorial. Here's what the memorial looks like when you approach:

You spend just a short time, maybe 10 minutes, actually inside the memorial having a look around. It's a little bit of an odd experience. Its moving, in a way, and I do tink about the soldiers who died and are still entombed in the waters below. But somehow the dozens of people wandering around taking photos and chatting, make it feel less somber than it should. Of course, I was one of those folks taking pictures too. I feel a little conflicted about it though... I'm not sure its respectful.

You can see the wreckage of the battleship beneath the water:

After spending a bit of time on the memorial, we are shuttled back on our boat, to the visitors center. There's time to visit the gift shop, or look at the exhibits and then head to see the Missouri.

We got a good look at Mighty Mo from the boat:

We had signed up for the guided tour of the USS Missouri. We thought it would be interesting to hear the stories from a person, rather than just walking around. Plus you can only go into the modern command center with a guide. Our guide was a retired sailor name Bob. He served on an aircraft carrier during the Korean war, I believe. Here he is telling us a bit about the armaments used by the ship. These are shells for the big guns:

You know...THESE guns:

This ship wasn't in Pearl Harbor when it was attacked, it was just being built at that time. It was launched in January of 1944, and was on board the MIghty Mo where the Japanese signed the instrument of surrender in September of 1945. It was decommissioned after the Korean war, when battleships were not much in use. It was recommissioned by Ronald Reagan as a show of force in the Cold War, and was used in the gulf war. When it was modernized in the mid 80s, they put new weapons on it, such as this tomahawk missile:

The room that had once been the admiral's quarters in 1945, became the modern command center, complete with a chair:

And computer controls for the modern weapon systems:

It still has a teak deck though:

And there is a medallion embedded in the floor, where the documents ending the war in the Pacific were signed:

After finishing up on the Missouri, we took the shuttle to the Pacific aviation museum. They have a very good cafe there, set up to look like a 1940's era bar. We get a couple of very good sandwiches, and have lunch while watching "Tora, Tora, Tora", which is showing on a nearby TV. Look at what is hanging on the wall, and no I don't mean Sweet Leila. See, Red Sox nation is everywhere...

The aviation museum is not large (especially not by comparison with the one in Tucson which is humongous). It takes us less than an hour to walk through the whole thing. They do offer docent guided tours, but we decided to skip that, since we felt a little short of time. Here's a Japanese Zero

When we finish at the museum, it's back to the Bowfin to tour the submarine. The audio tour is included in the ticket price.

Unfortunately the tight spaces and my claustrophobia keep me from going the length of the submarine inside. I checked out both ends, but I couldn't walk through. Todd did, and he said it was interesting.

I did get a good look at the torpedo tubes which are in both ends. These are the aft torpedoes

Of course, it's close to 5 when we are all done, so we head back to Waikiki in rush hour traffic. But its really not bad, it still only takes maybe 20-30 minutes to get back to the hotel. It's been a very interesting day, and I have a renewed interest in World War II history, after looking at all of this. Which, of course, is the point...that we should not forget.

Friday, October 2, 2009


Dinner on Tuesday night was at Roy's, the Waikiki branch is near the Halekulani, I think its actually in the Embassy Suites, on Lewers St. It's a chain, but local to Hawaii. I was surprised by how good it was. We had such an excellent meal, we would go back on our last night in Hawaii, on Thursday. When we came back a second time, the bartender and waiter both recognized us, the manager came over and said hello, and they gave us free appetizers. I think maybe we look like food critics sometimes. With me taking pictures of our food, and coming more than once, they seemed to want to impress us. They kind of overdid it the second time. I mean, this time the service really did get a bit too much...if one more person asked me if everything was okay I thought I might scream. Not that anyone would have noticed...the restaurant is really loud.

But the fish is absolutely first rate. The first time, Todd had the sampler with 3 different kinds of fish: butterfish, ahi and salmon:

The butterfish was so delicious, I ordered it the second time.
The first time, I had the shrimp with curry coconut broth, and cilantro mint pesto served over sweet pea risotto. This was also incredible

I definitely recommend Roy's, and I understand the other branches on the other islands are equally good.