Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A book recommendation for those traveling to Croatia

I rarely do this, pop in during the time we're home to publish a blog post, but felt impelled today to do just that. As I mentioned in my blog posts from Croatia, particularly Dubrovnik, last winter, I was struck by the country's friendliness and hospitality to its many visitors despite its very recent past. How did these people, so recently at war, cope and subsequently recover? For those many crew members on cruise ships that come from that area, what had their childhoods been like?  How does a society move from peace to war and back again so quickly? I was left wondering...

While I was in Hawaii, I discovered an excellent book written from a child's perspective about growing up in Croatia during the Balkans War. It has won many awards and accolades, and today only is available through (a free service featuring daily ebook deals for free or at very low cost) for just $1.99. If you happen to read this post today you might want to check into it. If you don't see this until later, but are traveling to the area this summer, you still might want to buy it or borrow it from a library. 

It's a good- no, it's better than good- thing. :-)


Friday, March 3, 2017

Hawaii photos - Part 3

Our stay in Hawaii, and our seventh season of winter travel is coming to an end. After 31 nights spent in Honolulu, I have to admit that, with the exception of our Pacific Princess cruises (especially our two Polynesian seasons), and possibly our two Transpacific cruises, this has been the best vacation experience of our lives. That doesn't mean we'll become land lubbers and forego cruising altogether; it simply means that we now know how attractive this non-cruise option is for us. We loved it here. 

Naturally, hard-to-transition me might not have thought that after the first few days of figuring out the Honolulu Bus System (we both purchased unlimited passes), shopping for exorbitantly priced groceries and then hauling them home by bus/walking. But it didn't take too many days of completely unscheduled and purely casual living for me to adjust. We came here with just one roll-aboard suitcase each and had more clothes than we needed. Dressing up meant wearing a tropical shirt with shorts in lieu of a T-shirt. It. Was. Perfect. 

Thank you  to blog readers Pam and Jill, who have both lived in Hawaii and filled me in on grocery stores and restaurants to check out. We did eat a few meals out, but not often. Really, if the restaurant didn't offer the same amazing view we had from our condo, it was hard to find the motivation to pay so much to eat there. We did have a few meals at beach front bars and cafes and very infrequently ate somewhere else just for a taste of international cuisine.  We had a fully remodeled and complete kitchen right in our condo and, after a few days, a good supply of food in the refrigerator. Most restaurants just couldn't compare. 

If you are considering doing something similar and want more specifics about where we stayed and what we did, just email me. We did splurge on our condo and ended up with two bedrooms simply because we wanted the fabulous view and (after three months sharing a cruise ship cabin) two bathrooms. We could certainly settle for less in the future, and have checked out several places for potential future stays.

In the most 'just how small is this small world?' moment we could have imagined, we had checked on the availability of this unit for next year and noticed nearly seven weeks in the middle of the winter were already rented. That evening, we were walking across a bridge over the Ala Wai Canal when someone passed us walking the other direction, then turned around and came back and stopped us. She asked us if we had just been on the Pacific Princess in Europe two months ago and, and we realized when we looked at her that she had been, too. We had all enjoyed sitting in the Casino Lounge listening to Jere Ring on the piano. We asked her where she was staying and she was in the same complex that we are in but in a smaller unit. She said that next year she was coming with her parents and husband for her early 50th birthday and her parent's 50th anniversary. She said she had rented a two bedroom, two bath condo from a rental agency that was new to her and mentioned the name. It was the company we had used. Something clicked and I asked her if she was the one who had reserved our unit for almost two months. She was. 

We not only ran into someone we had sailed with on the Pacific Princess on a Honolulu street, but discovered she had rented the condo unit we were staying in for next winter. Those are some amazing odds!

After almost four weeks of nearly perfect weather, this week offered one all day rain (creating all kinds of flooding issues on the islands and causing a blizzard warning to be issued for Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea on the Big Island) and a few showers. We can't complain though. We've had day after day after day of picture perfect, 78-80 degree sunny days. It was warm but never too hot for the long walks we took almost every day as, armed with our bus passes, we explored the island of Oahu. 

And so I'll wrap up the posts for this year with a few more photos. As for our plans next year....I can't even imagine where we'll end up. For now, we are focused on returning home for the first extended time since October 3. It's been another five-month winter away, and, though we could easily stay here for another month (internet and phone service make all the difference in the world), it will be wonderful to be home. 

March 2:  We had hoped to get in a sunset sail on the Holokai catamaran before we returned home, but the combination of our long day on the North Shore and yesterday's weather stymied us. When we checked this morning, there were no seats left for this evening's sail. In the end, it was fortuitous. Though our day was gorgeous and sunny, around 5pm we spotted the (now familiar) storm clouds building over the ocean. By 5:30pm we were experiencing torrential rain, and while I was happy that we weren't on a catamaran during it, I thought for sure our final sunset would be a fizzle. Not so!

A spot of sunlight on the water gave me hope...

...and we not only had a beautiful sunset, we saw the brightest, longest lasting green flash we've ever seen
as the last of the sun sank into the water. A green flash on the last night of our seventh winter at sea!
 We'll miss tomorrow night's fireworks but an experience like that more than makes up for it!

March 1:  The only fully horrid weather day of our stay here. 


February 28:  It was a largely overcast but still dry day, and we decided to explore the entire eastern and northern shores of Oahu by public bus. It was my first time seeing some of these areas, though G remembers doing PT on Sunset Beach when he was stationed here in the Army. We were gone all day; though Oahu isn't a very large island, traveling along the coastal roads takes a fair amount of time. 

Watching surfers at Sunset Beach



The North Shore is home to the Banzai Pipeline and is a surfing Mecca. It's very laid back and hippie-ish,
but every ramshackle house on the beach is worth millions, and the nice ones are five times that much. These are rich hippies. ;-)

Juice is sold beach-side out of vans...

...and the area is known for its garlic shrimp trucks. 

Informal dining surrounded by the requisite chickens

Sooooo good!

February 27:  
Dinner in the condo with a sunset view


February 26: We watched sunset and enjoyed our third Mongolian BBQ dinner in a row on the beach at the Hale Koa. We also enjoyed our third fireworks show in three days at the Hilton Hawaiian Village as a special group had sponsored them. However, these weren't shown until 8:30pm and we watched them from our condo. 



February 27:  Mongolian BBQ again (so easy and casual and delicious!) and one of the prettiest sunsets we saw all month. Also, some unexpected fireworks that we watched from our condo. 


The Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon where the fireworks were set off Saturday and Sunday nights




February 26:  If it's Friday, it must be Mongolian BBQ on the beach at the Hale Koa, followed by sunset, mai tais and fireworks!

The beach on Friday nights is packed in anticipation of the Friday Night Fireworks at the 
Hilton Hawaiian Village. Note the outrigger canoe on the water. 

There were also lots of sailboats on the water for a good view of the sunset and the fireworks



The Rainbow Tower at the Hilton Hawaiian Village is so pretty after dark.
We stayed here in 2002 after B2B cruises through the Panama Canal and around the Hawaiian islands. 

My tripod-less photography skills improved a smidge over the course of a month!

I don't recall exactly which day this was, so I'll drop it in here.
 I showed G the weather at home...

...and in Honolulu. 
And we laughed and laughed (more mai tais anyone?). 

But no matter where we are, life is good. :-) Thanks for following along during our adventure in paradise!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Hawaii photos - Part 2

February 23:  I've received a few emails from people wondering if I survived the Great Aloha Run. 8.15 mostly flat miles at sea level?  Of course!  Naturally, things have been a little lot achy this week (my piriformus muscles and IT bands were screaming until today) but it hasn't slowed us down a bit. And G finished in about the middle of the pack (all that early morning off-the-ship jogging really paid off). I was so proud of him!. We still managed to walk another 5 miles or so around Waikiki later that day so, in the end it was a 26000 step day. Go us!

We have been having the most incredible time here. We've talked about having an extended stay in Hawaii for years and didn't know how it would compare to cruising for us. Well, it's been wonderful. And now we know. ;-) 

I have decided to break my Hawaii photos into two separate blog posts. The WiFi in our condo does not have the lightning fast speed we enjoy at home (but compared to a ship, it's heaven) and that first photo post was getting slow to download. If you're tired of sunsets, look away now. I've taken hundreds of photos and still get excited by them. Our sunsets, whether viewed from a rooftop restaurant or beach bar or right from the dining table in our condo, have been spectacular. 

We started the evening today with drinks on the beach, decided that the sunset was going to be a bust, and walked back to our condo. We were oh so wrong; when we got there, this is what we saw. It reminded me a great deal of the sunset we viewed from the Intercontinental Tahiti over two years just kept getting better and better for about 30 minutes. 




February 22:  We spent the afternoon walking along Waikiki and the adjacent beaches, checking out some properties for future stays. 

A more recent sculpture addition 

Happy hour at Tiki's Bar and Gril atop the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel
(this is our favorite happy hour- $5 mai tais!)

These sunset photos were taken with my iPhone instead of my Nikon Coolpix camera. 
We hadn't planned on being gone all afternoon and being away from home at sunset. 



February 21:  

February 20:  Taken from the Hale Koa. As soon as the sunset, we raced back to our condo and were asleep in minutes, having gotten up at 4:45am for the Great Aloha Race and walking over 13 miles that day. 


February 19:
Taken from our condo before an early bedtime

NCL's Pride of America sailed just after sunset
January 18:  Taken from the Hale Koa just before Friday night fireworks at the Hilton Hawaiian Village next door

We went early for Mongolian BBQ for dinner 

The sky was so golden just before sunset





February 17:  Dinner at Sarento's atop the 36-story Ilikai


Sunday, February 19, 2017

Hawaii photos - Part 1

February 19:  The alarm is set for 4:45am tomorrow...
From the Aloha Tower to the Aloha (Pro Bowl) Stadium 
8.15 miles - 23000 participants
Pray for us! ;-)

February 15:  Today was a blissfully lazier day. It rained a bit early this morning and for the first time the air felt muggy until mid-afternoon or so. We took advantage of the less than perfect weather to shop for groceries and rest. 


We loved the reflection of the sky after sunset on the water of the marina across the street

February 14:  We'd already walked along the beach from the west end of Waikiki to the east end and Kapiolani Park, so we took a bus to that point and then walked along Diamond Head Rd. along the coast from one end to the other. Our goal was to find the Diamond Head lighthouse that we had seen from our sunset sail around Diamond Head last year while we were on the Pacific Princess. We did find it, and Diamond Head Beach with its kite surfers and longboard surfers. 


Two of the several beach parks along the way

It wouldn't be a Pacific island without roosters and hens!

The Diamond Head lighthouse (1917) with its original lens

We took a path down to the beach at the base of the lighthouse for a different view. 

In case you hadn't noticed, the sunsets have been spectacular, and we chose a condo with a view
just for the purpose of seeing them even when we're not on the beach. 

February 13:  We set out in an Ewa (pronounced eva with a short 'e'), or westerly direction from our condo to walk along the beaches that lie west of Waikiki. There are some beautiful beach parks all along Ala Moana Boulevard that are actually much nicer than Waikiki. 

We have a condo on a high floor in one of those high-rises. 

Ala Moana Beach Park

Every night we hear this folkloric show taking place next door at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. 

The lights come on at sunset along Ala Moana Boulevard.  

February 12:  We were up early to watch the arrival of the Star Princess from our condo. 


One of the prettiest sunsets we've seen


I wanted to take a photo of the Star Princess sailaway, but though it was scheduled to leave at 11pm, it didn't. I finally gave up around 11:30pm. 

February 11:  We awoke to a heavy rain, which thankfully stopped by mid afternoon. We (and every other tourist on the island) decided to spend the morning at the Ala Moana Mall, forgetting that it is the largest open air mall in the country.

 The first level was fine but the upper two levels required some careful navigating. 

Still, the weather that cleared by 2pm and  allowed us to have another beautiful sunset. 

February 10:  We had dinner overlooking the beach at the Hale Koa (Mongolian BBQ) and stayed for sunset and the Friday night fireworks show at the Hilton Hawaiian Village next door. 


As far as fireworks photos go, these are pretty horrendous (no tripod), but I found them appealing in a 
jelly fish-electric current-microscope slide sort of way. 




February 9: The Grand Princess was in Honolulu today and we went down to the Aloha Tower to see it. We thought we might see a crew member or officer we knew. We didn't; however, we did see Billie and her husband Martin with whom we've done several Pacific Princess cruises, including the transatlantic last December. And a blog reader recognized me, which was a total surprise. It was fun!


The TV series Hawaii Five-0 has been filming all around us for the past three days (they're working on Season 7, episode 20). Three days ago they were filming from the roof of the Ilikai Marina just across the street. Yesterday two helicopters hovered overhead for several hours filming. And today the marina area was closed to through traffic because they were filming. There's always something happening around here!


Production trailers

Tonight we walked just a couple of minutes to the area behind the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor to watch sunset. It was beautiful, and we could also enjoy the surfers and outrigger canoeists taking advantage of the last few minutes of daylight. These pics are for those digging out from the snow that's hit New England. I hope they warm you up a little!






February 7:  I know I said I wouldn't be blogging while in Hawaii but I will post (very) occasional photos just to send you some tropical cheer. We are having the best time and love not having any schedule at all (and eating our meals in swimwear or shorts and Ts). 

Last night's sunset. We can see it from our condo too, but decided to
take another walk along the beach after dinner to watch it from there and
listen to the live island music along the way. 



February 5:
This morning's beach walk. Life is good. :-)

January 31:  We've arrived in Honolulu!
Life is good!  :-)

Sidebar...look where the Pacific Princess is right now!  Weep!! It's the first port stop for the ship since it left Los Angeles 8 days ago. It's also the first time the Pacific Princess has been in Bora Bora since we were on the ship in December 2015. It is there; we are not. There's something very wrong about that!