Sunday, February 27, 2011

Taken for a ride in Vegas

We hate to be scammed when we travel. But we were last night.
And sometimes it happens so fast, that there isn't much you can do about it.
Or is there? 
We will see.

What's real irritating is that I had just sent an article to a friend warning about Las Vegas cab drivers that appeared in the Los Angeles Times this week.  My friend hasn't been here in years and I wanted to make sure it didn't happen to her when she comes here next month. So you can imagined how furious I was when it happened to us. . .two days after the article had appeared.

Our flight from Seattle had been delayed and had been a bit rough, so the charming English-accented taxi driver was a welcome sight. . .we told her we were going to The Jockey Club (a gem of a find, by the way) on The Strip. It is 4 miles from the airport.  So as she mumbled about heavy Saturday night traffic, mumble, sigh, mumble, sigh, she pulled onto the freeway.  Too late. . .we couldn't stop her.

The Strip when we finally reached it was normal traffic, certainly not the mess she had us picturing it was.   We'd traveled nearly 10 miles during which time she told us how bad traffic had gotten in recent years and how much she hated driving in it and had helplessly watched as the meter as it raced to $23 and then she added $1.80 for an airport fee.  The article uses the word kidnap - it is a good word.

As Joel paid the ransom and got the bags, I got the cab number and company phone number.  By now, we were very out of sorts and told the receptionist what had happened.  She shrugged, shook her head and said yes, it was too bad, "but I have heard worse."

That sent me over the top. 
I didn't even unpack bags before I had dialed the cab company (and I have no backbone, so this should tell you how furious I was).  The manager I was referred to apologized profusely and said they try not to have this happen, but they get an occasional 'rogue driver'.  Turns out I wasn't the first one to call about this. . .woman.  Yes, making me even madder was the fact that a fellow female had scammed us.  He said they would investigate my claim and took an address where he could send a refund check.

I'll let you know how it ends, but for now, our new -- and sadly, less friendly approach will be -- "We are going to the blank destination and we do not want to get there by freeway."  I encourage you to read the article - it is right on target.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Think Hawaii ~ Think Hula

Palm trees sway under a tropical blue sky along Waikiki's famed Beach Walk. And depending on the route and time of day, you may see groups of people under those palm trees gyrating madly to the beat of drums or swaying to the gentle rhythms of the ukulele's melodies.

You'll be reminded that Hawaii is the land of Hula.

Hula c lass in Kapiolani Park -Waikiki
j.smith photo, (c) 2010
I've always loved watching hula dancers and have even been tempted to take a class . . .but never having been known for moving my feet and arms/hands in synchronized movement, I've opted not to give Beach Boy the pleasure of seeing Hula Babe trying to live up to her self-christened name.

What I think is absolutely the best part of this wonderful performance art is its history. Before the 1820's when a written Hawaiian language system began, all stories, tales, and lore were passed from generation to generation orally,through mele (song), oli (chant) and hula (dance).  Children learned from elders of gods and goddesses, family wisdom and history and were introduced to worlds both real and imagined. . .all without using a 'Google search'. 

Even today listening closely to the words being sung as a hula dancer performs, you will hear stories of lost loves, places and a yearning to return to those magical spots.

One of the free Beach Walk Hula Shows Waikiki
j smith photo, (c) 2010
If you find yourself heading to Hawaii in April 24-30, 2011and don't yet have a set itinerary, head to Hilo for the Merry Monarch Festival where you can see some of the finest hula ever performed.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Hanford: Unveiling its History and Mystery

Wind-swept Hanford
J. Smith, photo (c) 2010
I grew up just a hundred miles or so up the road from the wind-swept Columbia River Plateau; home to the secretive -- and for a kid back then -- scary place called Hanford.  I knew they made something to do with bombs there, I mean the high school in Richland, the town nearest this once-hush-hush place, is known as Home of the Bombers

Hanford's impact on nuclear history is now well documented.  Today it is an enormous hazardous  nuclear waste site.  The good news is that the Department of Energy, that agency managing, the site has a number of gargantuan cleanup projects underway.  The even better news is that they've been offering FREE public tours of the place since 2004. 

Control Room - B Reactor - Hanford Tour
j. smith photo, (c) 2010
Last fall I took one of those tours and was blown away - absolutely, blown away  -- by it. We traveled from those mysterious World War II years into the future in a matter of hours.

I wrote about the Hanford Tour and my article appears in today's Seattle Times.  Click the link to read it, then make a note to yourself to try and nab a spot on one of this year's tours. You won't regret it; and I can assure you, you'lll never forget it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A 'Fill-in-the-blank-cation'


That word was the focus of on one of my favorite writing blogs this week, Macmillan Dictionary (yes, they do have a blog and I sometimes read it) and it got me thinking about travel. . .what else is new, right? Some of you are convinced that I think of nothing but travel. 

But, back to "vacation". . .have you been thinking about one of late?

If you are, or even if you aren't, consider some of the new variations to that once tried and true definition of this word meaning "freedom or a respite of time away from something."

The recession brought about the concept of the Staycation, staying at home, camping out in the back yard, saving money.
Then there was the 'skip-it-all' talk of such activities with the Naycation.
The quick getaway became a Daycation.
Hoteliers with spa features quickly captured the concept of Spacation.

The blog suggested that if you start off somewhere and change your mind midway through the trip, could it be a Straycation?
Or how about starting an adventure and quiting before it is complete? Of course, a Halfwaycation.

As I thought about the wretched weather we've had in the world the last few months we might want to add: Delay-cation for those whose flights have been cancelled.  Or for those who make a vacation out of seeking minor elective medical treatments, does it become a Medi-cation?
Is a get-away for boys a Mancation (with Womancation for the opposite sex)? Similar to Man- Caves and Woman-Caves.

Just think what Dr. Seuss could do with this. Like his Cat in the Hat, put on your vacation dreaming hat. . . what type of 'cation' would you take?  Share your ideas in the comment section below:

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The House Without a Key

Kanoe Miller performs at - House Without a Key
One of our favorite outings in Waikiki is to the House Without a Key in the ultra-posh Halekulani Hotel. We go there for a taste of yesteryear Hawaii and high-end entertainment. We sit under the courtyard's centerpiece 100+-year-old Kiawe (key-ah-vey) tree, sipping wine, while being serenaded by musicians - masters of Hawaiian songs - and watch Kanoe Miller as she tells tales through her gentle hula moves; all against a backdrop of the setting sun.

But almost as good as is the setting and show, is the history of how the place got its name. You see, this indoor-outdoor gathering place, honors the book that kicked off the Charlie Chan detective series, The House Without a Key, written in 1925 by Earl Derr Biggers. 

And, as we were told, that story goes. . .

The Halekulani, originally a private beech front residence, had accommodated guests since 1917.  And it was owned by a retired sea captain. Biggers is said to have conceived the series while staying in a nearby Halekulani cottage.  The House Without a Key has detective Charlie Chan solving the murder of a sea captain.  There's a belief that Charlie Chan was based on Chang Apana, a real detective in Honolulu in the 1920's, but there are questions as to whether Biggers knew him or only knew of him.

We've been hooked on the Charlie Chan series since 2008 when Academy Chicago Publishers brought the books back into print.  And after becoming enamoured with Charlie, I always wonder if Biggers might have been sitting under the same tree sipping a libation when he came up with the idea for my favorite fictional crime fighter.

Note: Click on the Kanoe Miller link above to see a video from YouTube of her performance.  The House Without A Key is on our Amazon carousel, found on the lower right side of the  homepage. I've also added the beach books I wrote about last week to

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Diet to Go: Tropical Feast - not Famine

Okay, the truth is, we've never lost weight on one of our extended trips. . .until now.

Our culinary journey, our 'Diet to Go' (DTG), kicked off in Kirkland's safe confines.  A quick trip here or there and not of the length that would throw a monkey-wrench into the efforts. Truthfully, our hopes for Hawaii were to not gain as much as previous years. (Four pounds each last year and --oink --about six the year before).

So the fact that I am telling you we are each down 1 - 1.5 pounds from when we arrived, is amazing.

Remember, we were following the Glycemic Load Diet (the book's on the Amazon carousel on our homepage) by Dr. Rob Thompson, who also wrote a guest post about travel and dieting for us. We've not spent time 'thinking diet' but what we've done differently is:
  • Maui potato chips gave way to Kim Chee,  home-made Korean spicy cucumber chunks that we discovered at a local farmer's market.
  • Baked potatoes of previous years were history with many green salads taking their place; locally-grown Manoa Valley lettuce melts in the mouth.
  • We've not had any crackers or corn chips or cookies.

What we have had: 
  • a milk shake, a couple Starbucks frozen mochas dripping in chocolate and whipped cream, macaroni salad (in small portions),chocolate covered macadamia nuts every night along with quantities of wine far in excess of what we would have at home. 
  • We've also eaten lau lau, the Hawaiian pork and fish wrapped in taro leaves and steamed in tea leaves, steak, fish, and  Hawaiian 'plate lunch' (substituted green salad for the usual scoops of rice and mac salad).
  • We've eaten more than a dozen papayas and nine pineapples.

For a number of reasons, but primarily the view from our deck and the cost-savings, we've eaten every meal 'at home' since arriving at Ko Olina. We've been inspired by the discovery of a nearby farmer's market and helped by a new grocery/deli at Ko Olina.

The local fare at our nearby farmers market has been a culinary journey.  Farm fresh eggs, lettuce, fresh fish, homemade goodies have all tempted. We  sampled dark chocolate covered fresh strawberries last week at our Waianae Farmers Market and they gave me the recipe.  I think it fits in with our Diet to Go, so here it is:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Hawaiian Beach Wear

The middle-aged guy walking across the beach in colorful swim trunks and an aloha (tropical print) shirt, black dress shoes and a nice pair of black dress socks, pulled way up high on his calves made me remember the time, not so many years ago, that I brought several pairs of nylons to Hawaii. 

Now that, by far, was the stupidest thing I could have packed aside from maybe a pair of woolen gloves. Where I thought I would be wearing them, or how, with flip-flops, I don't know. I do chuckle when I read the travel journal notes from that trip that remind me: 'DON'T bring nylons again!'

But it is hard to not bring reminders of your real world and your lifestyle with you when you travel.

I've done a couple of interviews while on this trip for articles I am working on.  For each of them, I 'dressed up' - wearing my black flip-flops instead of the blue ones with palm trees.  And while I had to dig to the bottom of my purse, I finally found some lipstick - haven't seen that tube in days.

In Hawaii, clothes colors are as bright as the spirit. They don't need to coordinate either as most the time outfits are some combination of  floral and/or stripes, sometimes at the same time and worn in as sunglasses, hat, swimsuit, top, cover up, shorts, and beach towel 'wraps'.
I've come a long way since packing those nylons.  My near constant   look these days is a bright blue top which reminds me of the sea and sky, and a bright green hat the colors of palm fronds, and printed with white hibiscus blooms (hibiscus is the state flower of Hawaii). 

My wardrobe is brighter and more carefree; come to think of it, so is my outlook on life.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Seaside Serendipity

She and I first nodded and mumbled a greeting as we passed in the exercise room at Marriott's Vacation Club Ko Olina.

The next time we passed, she said, "You look so familiar. Are you from Seattle?"

I responded that she also looked familiar in that 'sort of' kind of way.  By that point, Annette and I compared notes: I live in Kirkland and she lives in Bellevue, a couple miles down the road from me. We hadn't worked together. We hadn't volunteered together. Church? No. Civic group? No.Husbands know each other? No.

A perplexing situation.  Still there was something familiar. . .
And then we figured it out.  We had met on a cruise, some four years ago, as we sailed through the Mediterranean.  We had talked often on that ship.  We had hit if off to the point that I had encouraged them to look at a house up for sale on our cul de sac.

Now we laughed about bumping into each other in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. And we said we should get together 'back home' but neither had paper or pen to exchange phone numbers at any point we talked. . .

Their stay was over yesterday. . .Beach Boy and I were at the Farmer's Market up the road when I remembered I hadn't gotten her phone number.  So we are back to the serendipity of travel. . .bringing people together in the most unexpected of places. 

Wonder when Annette and I will bump into each other again. . .and where.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Beach + A Book = Hawaiian Paradise

My new shoes are off - it's time to kick-back
j. smith photo (c) 2011
It's a kick-back Hawaiian Saturday . . .the kind where you do what you have to do early and then head to the beach with a book.

We try to read novels set in the locales we are visiting while on the road and we've been reading some great ones these last few weeks.  If you need a good beach book, try one of these:

Moloka'i by Alan Brennert (he also wrote Honolulu) who takes the reader back a century or so to experience a little known time and place, the Leper Colony on Moloka'i.  As the author's afterward indicates the research materials are vast and he's created characters based on historical accounts.  It's been a long time since a book has moved me to tears but the story he created of  Rachel Kalama was so beautifully told that I did cry at the ending.

Best South Sea Stories, edited by two University of Hawaii professors, was calling out from a shelf at Border's in downtown Waikiki.  The collection of short stories put together by  A. Grove Day and Carl Stroven are whisking me to South Sea islands aboard sailing vessels of all shapes and sizes in tales written by the likes of James A. Michener, W. Somerset Maugham, Herman Melville and Jack London, just to name a few.

And of course, a trip to Hawaii isn't complete without reading of the adventures of the rotund Chinese police detective, Charlie Chan.  This trip we've followed his work on a case in the last book of the series written by Earl Derr Biggers' Keeper of the Keys.

We found Love Finds You in Lahaina, Hawaii at our nearby Costco.  The title would have normally turned me off, had it not been written by Bodie Thoene of the husband and wife writing, research team Bodie and Brock Thoene (pronounced Tay-nee), I am eager to start it before we leave.  The duo introduced me to Prague and Vienna in another series of historical novels they wrote.  They have spent each spring for most of their adult lives writing and teaching in Hawaii.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hula Babe, Beach Boy and Honu

We'd been hoping this year to see Honu, as we've named the sea turtle who we watched swimming in a nearby lagoon last year. Honu is the Hawaiian word for turtle, by the way, not just some clever name we gave the big guy.  And our recent stormy weather has kept the wave action so high that we'd about given up on seeing our old friend.

Wednesday morning we had a calm - before the storm - in a manner of speaking and we set off to explore a new-to-us lagoon a bit further down the road.  Our new discovery was reached by a sandy beach access path between the private Campbell Estate and Paradise Cove luau headquarters at Ko Olina, on O'ahu's west coast.

The lagoon is one of three natural lagoons on the property - we'd just never gotten to it on earlier visits.The crescent sand beach was nearly empty - only two other couples and a family of four - all of whom were busy watching Honu! 

Honu came up to meet Beach Boy
j.smith photo, (c) 2010
It may have been our same Honu or a distant cousin - whatever the case he was a 3-legged honu, unlike the turtle we watched last year. I am happy to report that all we tourists obeyed the rules posted on beach to stay back and not bother the turtles. 

Honu hadn't read the signs:  he swam right up to us . . .sending children screaming from the water and keeping the rest of us entertained by his curiosity.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Sea Foam Saturday

Okay, so I admit it, we haven't yet toured Pearl Harbor and I haven't been to the Polynesian Cultural Center since 1979 when my girlfriend and I rode TheBus around the island and made a stop there.

With the laid-back pace and so many things calling out to do, it just seems we can't get it all fit into the schedule while on O'ahu. 

Sometimes hours can slip away during what started as a quick stop at the beach. Like Saturday. We stopped to admire the waves breaking against the shore on Yokohama Beach.  It has been somewhat stormy in this part of the world so the waves were spectacular.

The next thing we knew, we were barefoot and walking the beach letting sea foam bathe both our feet and our souls.

Ever spent time like that?  It is amazing.

Sea foam at Yokohama Beach Park - O'ahu
j. smith photo (c) 2011

Friday, February 4, 2011

Songs of Sunrise and Sunset

We have a symphony playing each day precisely at 6:30 a.m. and again at 6:30 p.m.  It heralds in the pink sky of morning and the blaze of the sun as it sets out over the Pacific.

Ko Olina sunset
J. Smith photo (c) 2011
 It is the symphony of Mina birds who flock by the dozens to two 'garbage trees' (named so by the groundskeepers because of the leaves that perpetually fall from them) in the gardens outside our Marriott Vacation Club at Ko Olina.

While on a horticultural tour we learned that Marriott had once tried devices in the trees to discourage the birds from singing their songs, so they wouldn't disturb the guests. . .the tour participants were aghast. 

Can you imagine being in the tropics and not hearing the songs of the birds?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Going 'Glamping' - Hawaiian style

J.Smith photo, (c) 2011
You know 'glamping' - it's the new buzz for glamorous camping.  Pampered tent camping or slightly 'roughing it' (in the loosest sense of the word) in other types of digs.

Hula Babe and Beach Boy have been 'glamping' since our arrival in Hawaii. . .not the rugged sleep on the beach in a tent stuff or tree house in the mountains, but still 'glamping' - taking ourselves out of the well-stocked routine of home and put into situations that call for a bit of resourcefulness. 

Our time in the tropics began in a two room suite with kitchenette at the Courtyard by Marriott in Waikiki (formerly the Wyland Hotel).  The place was incredibly spacious with a deck large enough to host 12, a living room, bedroom, bath, and kitchenette.  I called the week prior to our arrival just to make sure the kitchenette was stocked with plates, flatware and such. . .it was good that I had called, it seemed. 

"You have a microwave, refrigerator and coffee pot and cups. . .and nothing else" began the pleasant front desk clerk, who concluded the conversation with, "bring paper plates."

I followed her advice to a point - we brought plastic, cups, bowls, plates and flatware (I always carry a paring knife in my checked baggage as well as a bottle opener - those two will get us through in a pinch). After settling in, we saw a note in the kitchenette to call housekeeping for any kitchen items we might need - but since we'd hauled the stuff along, we used our own and 'glamped' in room for daily breakfasts and lunches. (Great on the pocketbook and in keeping the Diet to Go on track).

Now we are in the small side of our timeshare at Ko Olina; commonly called the 'lock-off' as it is an over sized luxurious bedroom suite with kitchenette, wet bar type sink, microwave and tiny refrigerator, table service and flatware for two. Here we have a toaster and just yesterday housekeeping delivered a salad bowl within minutes of my request (it is glamping after all).

Banks of communal barbecues stand under a bank of palm trees near the pool, and gathering at them to cook gives the feel of being around a campfire somewhere - but here the propane is lit, the tools are provided and you simply bring your food, BBQ it, and visit with fellow vacationers. We had a salad from the deli down the street as we don't have the dishware or storage space to make our own, but served it in that nice salad bowl from housekeeping.

This form of glamping is just a matter of breaking routine and making do with less, an exercise we've come to enjoy.

It is still a juggling act to cook and often we are reminded of our cooking in Pacific Northwest campsites.  While not always convenient, it requires creativity. . .which turns out to be surprising fun.  As I gaze out over the tops of palm trees and watch the waves break against the shore, I am certain that this form of 'glamping' can't be beat!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Pro Bowl: Big Bucks and Barricades

Sidewalk barricade at the Ihilani
J.Smith photo (c) 2011
The barricades were down on Monday.
That's the good news out at Ko Olina, the sprawling resort on Hawaii's western shore where we have settled in for a spell.

Those barricades and security checkpoints go up prior to Pro Bowl as the players, their families and friends begin arriving at the J.W. Marriott Ihilani, that shares a portion of the Ko Olina landscape.  The NFL - according to the local paper - takes over the entire hotel out here. A practice field is set up next door to it (you can see a goal post from the roadway). The game was played Sunday for those of you who missed it.

The barricades, I guess, are to keep players from being pestered by fans.  I'm one of the first to admit I wouldn't know a player without helmet and pads if I were to walk into him - they look pretty normal out of uniform.

Anyway, the barricades came down so we 'other' guests are now allowed access along the entire beachwalk and into the Ihilani ;you aren't allowed in the secure area without a reservation for a restaurant or spa treatment while they are there.

Barricades are just one impact of the game.  Since we are here, I thought I'd tell you a bit more about its impact -- this information comes from a week's worth of reports in the local paper The Star Advertiser

Pro Bowl is big bucks over here. Hawaii pays the NFL $4 million to come to Honolulu for the game and its related hoopla.
  • In 2009 - the last time it was played here - it brought 18,000 visitors who pumped more than $30 million into the economy and tax coffers; so maybe $4 million was a small price to pay.
  • The week prior to ProBowl is chockablock full of autograph signings, appearances by players, parades, block parties, charity visits -- and this year ticket giveaways.
  • The players and their families and friends rent high end accommodations while here, so last year's absence was a costly one according to news reports.  The NFL reportedly takes over the entire Ihilani (one article reported that Michael Vick was in the Penthouse).
  • Several high end beach home rental companies say the increased rentals are up this year. High end resorts in downtown Honolulu reported boosts as well.
So back to the barricades.  The general manager at the Ihilani was quoted in Sunday's paper as saying that the NFL is a great customer and uses all areas of the resort as well as the timeshare neighbor Marriott Vacation Villas, (that would be where we are) so I wonder if they are using all areas of Ko Olina including areas outside security, are those barricades more pomp than circumstance? Go figure. Go team.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...