Big Island Love 2012, Part II

Mamaloa Highway heading to Hilo

To read earlier parts of this adventure check out the posts: “Can I Wade in Your Waters, Kaua’i” and “Big Island Love 2012, Part I.”

The drive from Kona to Hilo/Volcano on the Big Island is a long stretch of country highway. The first leg winds through a volcanic moonscape. You’re surrounded by endless lava flows with a slice of ocean to your left. Along the Mamaloa Highway, we spotted three wild goats huddled together, posing for the sun. As you head makua, climbing the mountain slopes, the land changes on you, growing green and thick. Suddenly you find yourself in cattle country, and nothing works up an appetite more than sight-seeing ranches.

We stopped for lunch at the Hawaiian Style Cafe in Kamuela, which has blown all other mom & pop lunch plate diners out of the water. They’re special, kalua pork moco loco is enough to feed a family. It’s big flavor for big country. If you’re on the Big Island, there’s no point in visiting without stopping here. Really.

me and my aunties

Our real purpose and mission on the island of Hawai’i was to visit near and dear family. With two lovely aunts who live in and near Volcanoes National Park, and cousins who used to be Big Islanders, its really embarrassing to say we hadn’t been here before. Under the directive of our cousins, soon as we pulled into the little town of Honoka’a, we picked up a box of malasadas at Tex Drive In, who specialize in chocolate, lilikoi, strawberry, mango, and cherry filled malasadas. They are sweet doughy pillows of goodness though, again, nothing compares to Kauai’i Bakery in Lihue. Just sayin’.

We dropped down to Waipio Valley next, and when we say drop, we literally mean “drop.” The road to Waipio is steep, poorly paved, and full of twists and turns. In fact, its the U.S.’ longest, twistiest road, and you won’t, probably can’t, attempt it unless you have four wheel drive because even after you survive the wicked incline, you still have to face some monster pools of muddy water at the bottom to get to the beach. Technically, the park signs warn that visitors aren’t allowed into the valley unless they’ve been invited, but we figure with so many local family urging us to check it out, its invitation enough. The valley, like most lush, fresh-water filled hollows in Hawai’i was basically a metropolitan for the Hawaiians. There are many sacred sites to ponder and taro farms still thriving to this day. Tread this beautiful land with respect and care.

Before climbing up the volcano, we headed into Hilo to hunt for the ever elusive Tropical Dreams Ice Cream shop, which is supposed to have the best shaved ice on the island according to our trusted guide Hawai’i Big Island Revealed. We don’t go to the Hawai’i without the aid of Andrew Dougherty. Unfortunately, Hilo’s Tropical Dream had been converted into a center for Krishna devotees. Once we arrived at the address, we found a circle of dread-locked singers chanting praises to Krishna and shaking their tambourines. No frozen treats but plenty of samādhi to go around.

We stayed at Bamboo Orchid Cottages, a clean, cozy, and friendly B&B in Volcano. Our room had a little patio that overlooked the tropically wild backyard. Our hosts were friendly dog-lovers, who made a deliciously simply breakfast of fresh papaya boats filled with golden pineapple, dried coconut, and yogurt.

The Kilauea Iki Trail in Volcanoes National Park is part of the Kilauea volcano formed in 1959 (yes, the same year when Morrissey was born!). The crater’s rim, lush, filled with wild ginger and ferns, book ends this trail.  Riddled with deep cracks and fissures, the crater, like the rest of the Big Island, is a lunar landscape filled with volcanic rocks and formations. This trail ends at the Thurston Lava Tube, so you get to see the inner workings of a lava flow.

Never in my life did I ever think I’d see an active volcano, especially at night with a sky full of constellations wheeling above. Like a massive campfire, the Kilauea plume mesmerizes in the evening dark. Though the wind blows chilly, seeing this spectacular phenomenon reaches back to primordial existence.

We couldn’t have asked for better guides to the Volcano, my aunt who works at Volcano’s elementary school and her partner, a former educator and local. They met us for breakfast at the Kilauea Lodge, which serves guava and taro pancakes and some tasty eggs benedict. The Lodge also has an impressive gift shop, and the restaurant features all local artists’ work. When we were there, halfway through our breakfast, a mighty wind storm cut the power lines, which made for a real adventure.

Lucky enough to get a glimpse of local life, my aunt took us to her ukelele group’s potluck hosted by a wonderful couple who share a rich history on the Hawaiian islands. The uke group, comprised of thirty players, not only made some mean BBQ, macaroni salad, coffee cake and chocolate brownies, but hearing them play was an extra special treat.

Our guides took us on the Chain of Craters drive, which follows the different lava flows of the volcano reaching all the way down to the coast, where the lava continues to gently build earth. Honestly, you could spend weeks or months exploring all the different sites, trekking the many hikes offered on this road, but some of the highlights are the Lava Tree Formations, Devil’s Throat, a spectacularly dangerous crater that is not for the foolish or weak at heart, and the Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs. The hike to this plateau that contains about 20,000 petroglyphs is scorched by the sun and chafed by the wind, but well worth the effort since you get to meander and mull over an ancient place where native Hawaiians made offerings to the legacy of their family and their homeland.

The end of the road leads to Holei Sea Arch, where the coast clashes against a wall of lava, and, if you hoof it, about 11 miles, you meet with an active flow. Despite the ocean raging just below the cliffs, it can feel like you’re walking through a furnace, a strange sensation.

Later that evening, we enjoyed the special treat of meeting with my nina, who works for the National Park, in her hometown Pahoa, which must be the sister city of Berkeley, at least in spirit, since there’s a raw earthiness to this funky place.

As expected, time flew by, and we wish we could have enjoyed more days with family in this mystical spot. Ever grateful for the chance to explore and eager to visit again, soon, big thanks Auntie L, Auntie M, and Uncle G, who served as our Virgils on this otherworldly journey. Much appreciation to our cousins T&M who shared their great knowledge of their island, and ever grateful to Vince & Vangie for their sage counsel on this trip.

Here’s our official “Next Time Wish List,” which we hope we can tackle someday soon:

  • Akaka Falls (Volcano/Hilo)
  • Hilo and Puna sights (tide pools/waterfalls/towns)
  • Blaine’s (Volcano)
  • Hilo Farmer’s Market ~ Saturdays & Wednesdays
  • Maku’u Farmer’s Market  ~  Sundays…towards Pahoa

Kona

  • Pawai Bay- snorkeling (Kona)
  • Golden Pools of Ke-awa-i

Along with cousins’ suggestions for next time. Thanks T!:

  • Flea market downtown on Wednesdays and Saturdays, lots of good snacks and a good day to visit Old Hilo Bayfront. Be sure to take a look in Dragon Mama, its a Japanese textile shop, mad handmade goods.

And once again, a big mahalo to our family for their love and guidance. We dedicate this song to you.

Aloha!

Big Island Love 2012, Part I

To read more on this adventure check out the posts: “Can I Wade in Your Waters, Kaua’i” and “Big Island Love 2012, Part II.”

While all the other islands in the chain are shrinking the Big Island, named Hawai’i but called the Big Island to avoid confusion, is growing, and evidence of its continual expansion is all around you, especially when you realize you have to drive three hours to get from one end of the island, Kona-Kailua to the other, Hilo. Both of these cities will remind you of something like San Diego or Honolulu, compared to the small towns of Kapa’a, Kaua’i or even Maui’s Lahaina. We’re talking big and built up. The locals were excited to have a Pier One Imports opening in Kona. Pier One Imports! Compared to the older islands, the baby of the archipelago is quite a shock to the senses if you’ve just spent time in slow paced Koloa or stepped out of the jungles of Hana.

We stayed at the Kamehameha Courtyard Marriott right at the corner of Kona Beach, and in the thick of downtown Kona. If you’ve ever been to Pacific Beach in San Diego or Weymouth in South England, you might find Kona-Kailua familiar. Think urban meets beach. Hordes of tourists promenading the waterfront, scads of local teens rolling by on skates or hanging out at the pier, and plenty of traffic to keep the night busy all evening long.

Upon arriving, our first order of business was to hunt down the best snorkeling spots, and Kahaluu Beach Park was the perfect introduction to the Big Island. A cozy cove with a small strip of beach but plenty of clear waters to share with the masses, the honu here are in such abundance, its really difficult to avoid tripping on them, but we made every effort not to since the sea turtles are protected. The snorkeling can get cloudy in some parts, but we were able to find some open spaces for good picture-taking. The beach is tourist friendly, complete with a food truck that rents out locker spaces, and there’s an environmental awareness advocacy group who are available for any questions about the area’s restoration. These volunteer naturalists aren’t the friendliest bunch, and they’re not shy about telling you what you should and should not do in the water to protect its natural beauty whether you ask for their guidance or not.

The best snorkeling we found on the Kona side was Two Step, located just across from Pu`uhonua o Honaunau National Park. Parking can be a pain, unless you’re willing to pay the park fee and walk about five minutes. A tide pool area, there’s little to no sand to sun-bathe in but the snorkeling is extraordinary. Thirty feet deep coral jungles with cold water rising from the sea floor, swimming through here is unearthly.

For land-based activity Pu`uhonua o Honaunau National Park is a must. Here they’ve recreated some of the buildings the native Hawai’ans lived in, performed their rituals, and practiced their customs. Known as The Place of Refuge, anyone who had broken a kapu, or Hawaiian law, could find refuge only if they succeeded in reaching the area, which was difficult to access. A sacred site where chiefs were buried, elaborate fish ponds, and ki’i wood carvings make this park a national treasure full of beauty and history.

Above Kona-Kailua, on the lush slopes of the mountain is the Kona coffee belt. Here the roads wind through coffee plantations and houses that boast endless mango, papaya, and banana groves. You can see the ocean just below the hillsides, and gape at tropical fruit so bountiful, they’re often left to rot on the street. Up in the thick of jungle, we took a peek at The Painted Church erected in 1899 by Father John Veghle. Saint Benedict’s Catholic Church is filled with Father John’s original art paintings, which helped him to teach his parishioners, many of whom could not read. Most of the Kona Coffee tours are free though Kona Joe’s isn’t. We stopped at Greenwell Farms, one of the historic plantations where the first coffee trees planted are still thriving even after almost hundred years have passed since the owner started their coffee-growing business. Comparing the two places we tasted, Kona Joe’s has Greenwell beat.

On the other side of Kailua-Kona, close to the airport, is Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park. The hike through this park can be brutal on a hot summer day, but the trek is worth it to reach A’opio Beach, which has calm waters and a dreamy white sand beach that begs to be enjoyed. The beach was an ancient fishing trap, and now offers utter tranquility and refreshing waters to wade and enjoy. Best bet is to get an early start to avoid the merciless afternoon sun and bring plenty of water. Then picnic at the Kaloko Fishpond, which serves as another serene setting where the state park is slowly reconstructing an ancient and massive stone wall to recreate the impressive fish traps once used here.

Another serene setting along the Mamaloa Highway is Mauna Kea Beach in the gated, ultra ritzy Prince Resort. All of Hawai’i’s beaches are accessible by public, but can sometimes be quite a feat to reach them. Mauna Kea is no exception. They only allow a certain number of public beach-goers to enter, and we had to collect a pass at the kiosk but, once we got to the beach, we enjoyed a full afternoon of blissful fun in the sun. No snorkeling here, the white sands of this beach and the waters are what make Hawai’i an absolute paradise. There’s a picture perfect cove at the public end of the beach complete with gorgeous trees and rocks, a most romantic spot for lovers.

Some of the good eats spots we found Kona side includes:
Manago Hotel serves traditional lunch plates in a historic setting. The hotel was built in 1917 and feels like it when you step inside. The food’s greasy spoon-style, tasty side dishes of macaroni salad, corn and shoyu green beans, but the loco moco was surprisingly dry and the buttered fish bony. You definitely get a taste of Old Hawai’i when you wander through the lobby and the recreation room. Its worth a stop.

Jackie Rey’s Ohana Grill – Come for the happy hour specials but no need to stay for dessert. Their kalua egg roll is mouthwatering, and their beer selection is a perfect way to end the day.

We splurged for a one-time celebration to watch the sunset at the Four Seasons’s Pahu’ia right on the beach boardwalk. The cocktail menu was displayed on iPads, and, as impressive as the listing was, the drinks didn’t quite match up. The food, however, was every bit as divine as the setting. We shared the opah, moonfish, drenched in a orange shoyu sauce and plated on top of a edamame and mushroom salad. Exquisite dining.

Getting out of Kona was an adventure. The day before we left, we learned that the King Kamehmeha Parade was scheduled for the morning of our checkout. Sounds all fine and good until you learn that the parade passes by the main road in front of the hotel, which was to be closed from 8am-12noon. Not good if you have family you want to see on the other side of da island. We had to do some scrambling, but still had minutes enough to catch the parade set up where we watched paniolos trot by.

That’s the Kona adventure. Up next is Hilo, a completely different and unexpected side of Hawai’i. Stay tuned.

Can I Wade in Your Waters, Kaua’i?

To read later parts of this adventure check out the posts: “Big Island Love 2012, Part I” and “Big Island Love, Part II.”

This summer was blessed with a trip to Hawai’i, and the first stop landed us on the Garden Isle of Kaua’i, where we stayed at the Outrigger Kiahuna Plantation in Koloa, perfectly situated and impressively equipped with a full kitchen, a peaceful lanai where we could listen to geckos chirp in the night, and a spacious living room and dining room where we watched the start of Euro 2012.

Kauai island is the oldest in the chain of paradise, which makes for a mostly gentle and lush landscape, where its difficult not to relax and enjoy a sweeter and slower pace of life:

To Do & See

Mahaulepu Heritage Trail a shoreline trail to Mahaulepu Beach, 4 miles in and out, which starts at Shipwreck’s Beach in Keonaloa Bay and tramples along rugged coastal cliffs, where the Pacific lashes against the Paa sand dunes. Here we passed sandstone-limestone rainwater formations known as Pinnacles, paid homage at the sacred heiau Hoouluia, trekked through a golf course to end up at 10,000 year old sinkhole, where scientists are researching native Hawaiian flora and fauna before human settlement.

Outfitters Kaua’i offers the irresistible adventure Paddle and Jungle Hike on the Wailua River. Paddlers kayak upstream to hike through jungle and swim and lunch at a beautiful waterfall. The guides are wonderfully knowledgeable about native lore and botany, and the lunches are pretty damn tasty, compared to competitors. Our guide, Mitch, gave us the inside scoop on where to pick up the best local lumpia. He wasn’t joking. See below for good eats.

Family and friends have raved about the Na Pali Coast, and its hard to imagine what they’re talking about until you actually experience this jagged face of earth, where we found religion during our first-hand experience.  Na Pali Catamaran, located in the heart of Hanalei Bay, got us fitted for our day trip, and watching the sunrise while pushing out from Hanalei Bay inspired new faith. That’s just the beginning of an all day adventure!

Makau known in South Pacific at Hanalei Bay

The name of the company is a bit misleading since the vessel we took wasn’t a real catamaran but, because of this, the boat was small enough to experience some real treats. Our guides took us to three sea caves, one with a waterfall cascading through it, (waterfalls are known as wai le le, or dancing water), another with an open roof where a wedding was once performed, and the first cave, where we met a local uncle who speeds around in his RIB, shouting loud enough to hear his hoots bounce off the cave walls. Our guides told us this kinky-haired, native Hawaiian saves the lives of those who dare to swim or kayak along the sheer cliffs of Na Pali.

On the waters, we followed the hiking trail Kalaulau which is 11 miles in and out to Kalaulau Beach, a remote part of the world that requires some strenuous means of access. Lucky for us, all we had to do was board the boat, slip on our flippers and snorkel gear and hop into the water, which was colder than expected.

Allerton Gardens is a perfect way to slow down and catch one’s breath, which is just what we did, taking the short tour through the botanical wonders of The National Tropical Botanical Garden’s fourth garden on the Hawaiian islands; their fifth is in Florida.

To plug into the local scene, we sauntered through the Hanapepe Art Walk hosted in the small town of Hanapepe, taking place every Friday evening. Best shopping for genuine local gifts and souvenirs.

Hanapepe Aloha Theater

Must Eatz

Kapa’a is the largest town on the island but still has a local feel to it, and their farmer’s market is pretty impressive. Not picking up one or two pineapples here is pretty much a crime, and, once you bite into one of these juicy beauties, you’ll be spoiled for Hawai’i’s golden fruit.

It’d be hard to find shaved ice and ice cream better than Koloa Mill Ice Cream & Coffee, and if you don’t believe me try their combo of shaved ice flavors coconut and passion fruit with mud pie ice cream on the bottom. ONO! Their haupia ice cream will have your taste buds dancing.

Along the same storefront as the Koloa Mill is Sueoka’s, a grocery store, and just to the left of them is their snack shop, a kitchen tucked away, completely inconspicuous, with a simple window for ordering. Their loco moco, fried chicken, and macaroni salad is almost as good as the Big Island’s Hawaiian Style Cafe (more on that latah)—and that’s pretty damn good. Can’t wait to go back.

Hanalima Bakery was suggested to us for malasadas (they have musubi, loco moco, breakfast and lunch along with their enticing baked goods) but Kauai Bakery and Cinnamon, in the Lihue mall, so far, has most Hawaiian bakeries beat. Best malasadas eva–we’re still on the lookout for competition across the islands.

For some homestyle Filipino food, try Mama Lucy’s lumpia, next to Hanalima’s, which will satisfy any homesick hankering for pancit and rice.

As usual, we didn’t have hours and days enough to do everything on our wishlist, so, for next time:

  • Hanalei Beach
  • Makua Beach
  • Ke’e Beach
  • Kekaha (bread pudding?)
  • Waimea Canyon
  • Koke’e lookouts
Heading toward to Kawailoa Bay on Mahaulepu Trail
Shipwreck’s Beach

Big Island love is next, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, here’s a dedication just for Kaua’i:

Summertime Rolling: Bay Area & Central Coast Beaches

A friend and new California transplant asked about beaches in the Bay Area. Though the coastline doesn’t compare to the sunny, warm, and fog-free paradise of Southern Cali, here in the northerly reaches of the golden state,  sun-worshipping on the coast is hard to come by but the views are gob-smacking gorgeous. From Morro Bay all the way up to the national border, the land literally falls off steep jagged cliffs. Cypress pines or towering redwoods cling to the last bit of earth before the Pacific comes roaring in with constant crashes and booms. Though the sea-scape is breath-taking, there’s only a certain window of time, where an admirer can gape at the horizon before the wind kicks up and chases you away.

Be warned, because of the cold clime, rough rip currents, a shelf that drops away suddenly, and the threat of great whites, make swimming a dare devil act. With that said, here’s a list of rough and ragged corners of heaven on earth:

San Francisco (these beaches are likely to be foggy and cold year round save for autumn)

  • Ocean Beach
  • Crissy Field


Marin

2-3 hour drive south (the further south the better swimming)

4-5 hour drive south

And no trip along the California coastline would be complete with a jiving soundtrack:

http://www.kcrw.com/music/programs/bh/branches/embed-audio

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Traipsing through the south of England, July 15, 2011

Finally picking up the thread from 2011’s literary pilgrimage to England, Wales, and Ireland, on July 15, we had paid homage to Thomas Hardy in Dorset County, (south England) and trekked through the Isle of Purbeck from the parish of Worth Matravers to St. Aldhelm’s Head and back again. The hike along the Jurassic Coast was a dream come true since I’d imagined these places when I first read Tess of D’Ubervilles and Return of the Native back in Mr. Thurston’s Honors English class at Monte Vista High.

We stayed at the following bed & breakfast that earned strong reviews for their tasty full English breakfasts, and the meals stood up to critiques.

Ashmira Guest House
3 Westerhall Road
Weymouth, Dorset DT4 7SZ
United Kingdom
Phone: 44 (1305) 786584

Our itinerary included the following and was crafted with the assistance of PDFs from the Lonely Planet’s chapter on Dorset and Project Mapping.

Below is an epistles sent to family and friends tracking our journey:

15 July 2011

We’ve left Lymington behind and pushed on southwest to Weymouth. Lymington was a sleepy little coastal town, famous for its yacht regattas. Phil and I walked around town yesterday, met Heather’s colleagues at her two jobs on the main street. I took a very peaceful nap in the graveyard, and then we met with Andrew and Heather after their work shifts ended and sloshed a few drinks.

We took the train to Weymouth and, soon as we arrive, were greeted by the

characteristic cry of the gulls, just like in the TV and films. It is the quintessential British seaside town. We’re now settled at what’s been a highly rated bed and breakfast in Weymouth. We went immediately to the Dorset County Museum, so I could pay homage to Thomas Hardy. They had quite an impressive room of curios and memorabilia, even part of his original writing study set up in the museum. I cried as I read a poem he penned in his own handwriting dedicated to Keats.

The weather was too gorgeous yesterday, unbelievably sunny and warm, and we soaked it up with a seven hour hike through Thomas Hardy country. We were right in the thick of farmland and everywhere we trekked, sheep were bleating, cows mooing, chickens clucking, birds chirping, and horses trotting. We lost our way as we tried to get to Corfe Castle and got trapped in a jungle of brambles along a muddy creek, so by the time we got to the castle ruins, the park was closed. We’re going to make our way back to the castle by bus today instead of hiking and try to take it easy since yesterday wiped me out, and we need to recharge for Mt. Snowdon.

Pics from the Thomas Hardy hike:

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For more photos, check out the Facebook album.

We didn’t have time for the below suggested walks, which means that we’ll be back in Thomas Hardy country someday soon.

From The Guardian’s Favourite British Walks 

South Hams coast, Devon

  • Distance 13 miles
  • Time 6 hours
  • Type Coastal
  • Where Linear walk along the South Hams coast from Torcross to East Portlemouth
  • Start/End East Portlemouth (SX744387)
  • The finest coastline of south Devon is to be found in the South Hams, which extends southwards from Dartmoor, stretching from the Tamar in the west to the Dart in the east. There are five estuaries that have to be crossed if you’re walking the South West Coast Path, but not all are served by ferries throughout the year. Fortunately, on one of the very best day’s walks along this coast – from Torcross to East Portlemouth – there’s a year-round ferry across the Salcombe estuary. The walk takes in the headlands of Start and Prawle Points and boasts superb scenery all the way.
  • • Download a detailed route card at the Walk Magazine website: walkmag.co.uk

Abbotsbury, Dorset

  • Distance 7½ miles
  • Time 4 hours
  • Type Downland and coast
  • Where Circular walk from Abbotsbury via Abbotsbury Castle, West Bexington and Chesil beach
  • Start/End Car park in Abbotsbury, next to church (SY578853)
  • Situated amidst gently rolling downland behind the great Chesil beach, Abbotsbury is one of the most picturesque and historically interesting villages in Dorset. Its 970-year-old Swannery is the only place in the world where you are able to walk through the heart of a colony of nesting mute swans. This route should be within the capabilities of most, except the very young, with shorter options available. The outward leg leads along a ridge-top path to the north-west of the village via Abbotsbury Castle, an Iron-Age hill fort, with excellent views all the way. It then heads down to the coast and returns alongside Chesil beach. A short detour at the end to climb Chapel Hill to St Catherine’s chapel affords one of the loveliest viewpoints around.
  • • Route card: walkmag.co.uk

Alfriston, East Sussex, Countryside around Alfriston

  • Distance 8 miles
  • Time 4 hours
  • Type Downland and valley
  • Where Circular walk from Alfriston via South Downs Way, High and Over, and Cuckmere Valley
  • Start/End Main car park, North Street, Alfriston (TQ523034)
  • Situated in the Cuckmere valley at the eastern end of the South Downs is the picturesque old village of Alfriston. Despite its popularity, the village has lost none of its charm, and remains thankfully unspoilt. Alfriston makes an excellent base for exploring the delightful Sussex countryside, with a variety of fine walks to be enjoyed. This route combines downland and valley walking, with some lovely views along the way.
  • • Route card:walkmag.co.uk

Literary Pilgrimage 2011: Londonium, 5-12 July

July 2011 hails as a month to remember with the trip of a lifetime, a literary pilgrimage honoring favorite writers from England, Wales, and Ireland.

London served as the first leg, where we pilgrims discovered that parachute pants have made a fashion comeback and the streets of the English capital are laced with joggers who prefer to sprint with small backpacks hitched to them. What was that about? A friend from Southampton explained that many Londoners jog to work. Could this be the reason?

Nestled between the Lords Cricket Ground, the Central London Mosque, and the London Zoo, in St. John’s Wood, we lodged at the Danubius Hotel Regents Park ( 18 Lodge Road, NW8 7JT, 020 7722 7722 Subway: Edgware Road), which was seated right next to a shisha bar, known in the States as a hookah lounge. Every time we neared, the lane was filled with the scent of cherry tobacco.

Leaving most of our time to whimsy, we sketched a rough itinerary using some of the following online sources as guides:

Soon as we arrived, we dropped off our bags, and, without even taking time for a quick shower after flying in from California, we dashed over to the British Library (open: Tues-Sat 9.30am-5pm, closed Sun). I broke into tears gaping over Charlotte Bronte’s handwritten manuscript of Jane Eyre, listened to an original recording of Yeats’ “Wild Swans at Coole” and bowed down before original manuscripts by Woolf, Beethoven, Conrad, Wilde, and so many more greats. Too bad no pics are allowed in the archives.

After wiping the tears, we stumbled onto an overwhelming collection of sci-fi from its European incarnation at the gob-smacking exhibit “Out of This World: Science Fiction But Not as You Know It” Talk about over-stimulation.

Day 2 in Londonium took us north on a Thames River Cruise to Kew Garden (earliest departure from Westminster:10.30, last boat from Kew: 16.00) accompanied by the Miss Marple crew. Apparently, our interests coincide with silver Centrum-aged travelers.

George Eliot lived in one of the pastel buildings
Cruising up Thames River

Sodden with rain, Day 3 was a perfect chance to soak up the sites at Highgate Cemetery (open 10 am weekdays, 11am weekends closes 5pm, last admission 4.30pm, $L3 )where I found myself empty-handed for any offerings to leave at George Eliot’s gravestone. We also chanced upon a headstone that had been blackened with tar. I’d love to know the story behind that defacement. Winding our way through the tombstones and markers, at every turn, I felt like I saw dark presences lingering in the corner of my eye.

The best scotch egg, and the only scotch egg I’ve tasted yet, was enjoyed at the swank pub The Bull and Last tucked on Highgate Road in the posh neighborhood of Hampstead Heath, Keats’ old haunt. Wonder if he’s ever had a scotch egg, which is a soft-boiled egg wrapped in sausage which is then breaded. Its the Brits hand-held version of moco loco, and this one was perfection rolled into a beautiful oval. The sauteed greens were incredible as well. London knows how to treat their vegetables now. No longer boiled and tasteless, they give just enough heat to let produce stand on its own naked savoriness.

Before meeting up with our traveling companions, K&C on Day 4, we strolled through Portobello Market (Sat ONLY 5:30a-5p, shops open M-Sa. Tube: Ladbroke Grove or Notting Hill Gate, Pembridge Rd), which we missed on our first trip to London. After divulging in some retail therapy, we connected with K&C at Leighton’s House in Holland Park (10-5.30 closed Tu, $L5, 12 Holland Park Road, W14 8LZ, Tube High Street Kensington) , which preserves the breathtaking abode of Victorian artist Lord Frederic Leighton. Highly decadent and sumptuous in its design and decor, the architect George Atchinson makes use of all the four life-giving elements. A Byzantine pool of water greets visitors in the foyer, decked with mosaic tiles collected from Leighton’s travels to the East. His library/study, paneled with wood, elicits contemplation, and his dining room is feted in fiery rich reds and a plush wallpaper made of fabric. Light floods the stairwell that boasts paintings from artists who gifted Leighton with their own work. The second floor opens to a carved out Turkish bed that overlooks the water fountain foyer. To the right of the bed is his studio, which includes a special door wide and long enough to move huge canvas paintings in and out of the room. Leighton had two studios, including a winter studio, overlooking a lush green landscape. The winter studio avoids the obscurity of fog and smog which hindered the seasonal skies.

After Leighton’s house, we found ourselves in London’s Chinatown, which is a small section of neighborhood that doesn’t quite meet the boisterousness of San Francisco’s Chinatown or the serene history of Vancouver’s.

Day 4 started with all 841 steps up to the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral (doors open for sightseeing 8:30, 11:30 last entry. Cafe 9-5, Afternoon Tea 2:30-4pm M-Sa; Cafe 10-4 S, Evensong daily 5pm). The fourth largest church in the world turned out to be one giant tomb for Britain’s military personnel, where the Suffragettes planted a bomb in 1913. The views from the top rival the London Eye.

During our stay, we also stopped at the Emirates Stadium for a peek of the Gunner’s home. Our traveling companions, K&C stayed at the The Rookery (Peter’s Lane, Cowcross Street, EC1M 6DS – Tel +44(0)20 7336 0931, Tube: Farringdon), and they visited the following sites:

All told, we sipped and dined in at least 21 pubs throughout the three weeks traveling, which included some of these London spots, but not all: The Harp, Covent Garden, The Seven Stars, The Old Cheshire, The Jerusalem Tavern, and The Bull and Last.  Our pub research came from the following sources, The Guardian’s Ten of the Best Pubs in London and View London’s Pub & Bars

We hoped to make the following but there’s only so much time in the day, so these little hot spots may just have to wait for the next trip:

  • Brick Lane – Sunday market til 2. Tube Shoreditch or Aldgate
  • Chelsea & Nottinghill Shopping
  • Camden
  • Grovsner Square
  • The Guardian’s List of “Top 10 London Outdoor Activities”
  • Tate Britain, Millbank, Westminster, London SW1P with the show, Romantics Dates: 9th August 2010 to 31st July 2011, including paintings by Henry Fuseli, JMW Turner, John Constable, Samuel Palmer and William Blake, exploring the origins, influence    and legacies of Romantic art in Britain
  • Much Ado About Nothing  (16th May 2011 to 3rd September 2011) at Wyndhams Theatre with David Tennant and Catherine Tate.

For more writerly musings on this trip, check out the post “Writer as Traveler” at the salon and for more pics of the places above click on the following:

British Library

Thames River Cruise

Kew Garden

Summertime Rolling with Central and Nor Cal Camping

My aunt asked for camping suggestions between Los Angeles and San Francisco, preferably along the coast, and, for now, California is under no short supply of beautiful spots to pitch a tent however at least seventy state parks are currently under threat of being shuttered permanently.

Though summer may not feel as fierce and fiery as we’d wish, there’s no time like the present to soak up all the golden state has to offer. Below is a list of the parks that I’ve been hankering to visit or enjoyed the pleasure of their beauty during past jaunts.

Central Coast

Big Basin, Santa Cruz, everyone says this is the place to go, but we’ve yet to visit.

Henry Cowell, Santa Cruz, we stayed here two years ago. Very nice facility with trails right next to the campsites

Half Moon Bay State Beach

Henry Coe State Park– haven’t camped here but have hiked. Huge park, great trails, a relative short drive off the 5, near Gilroy. I’d love to go back and trek the wilderness here.

San Simeon State Park

Morro State Park

Morro Strand State Beach– we stayed here ages ago. It’s right on the beach. Beautiful area.

Lake Nacimiento


Big Sur

Pfieffer State Park– on the eastern side of the highway, so all beach access requires a car, huge park that runs alongside a creek. Great facility. We stayed here three years ago and are going back this September.

Riverside Campground- We stayed here last year, park runs along the Big Sur river and they provide tubes if you want to go tubing down the river. No trails from the park, so you have to drive, and the site is right off the highway, so you can hear cars drive by, but the traffic stops by 10pm.

Limekiln and Kirk Creek– right on the headlands next to the Pacific, these sites are at the very southern foot of Big Sur. We went hiking on some of the trails last year, its relatively flat but absolutely gorgeous views of the ocean.

Bay Area

Samuel P. Taylor, Central Marin- inland park in the middle of redwoods with a creek throughout.

**Some of these parks may be closing by this fall. Check the California State Park Foundation for a complete list of closures and consider taking some action to keep our gems open to the public.

For kicks, take a virtual tour of our favorite haunt, our home away from home, Big Sur:

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Ali’i Lavender Farm in Kula, July 9, 2010

Part of the locavore movement, Ali’i Lavender Farm is the newest kid on the block joining the Tedeschi Winery and The Surfing Goat Farm. On our last day on Maui we ate our way across the island. First munching down malasadas in Makawao, gobbling goat cheese at Surfing Goat and licking our lips with everything lavender at Ali’i Farm in Kula.

Kihue, Kula, & Makawao, July 2010

We’re wrapping up our trip to Maui with a bang, including a day-trip to the south side of the island, a birthday feast at Koiso, Maui’s hole-in-the-wall for top-notch sushi, and then photos from our last day in paradise at the Surfing Goat Farm in Kula and, a Maui must, guava malasadas at Komoda Bakery in Makawao’s cowboy country. Come see and taste!

Ka’anapali & Luau at Black Rock, July 2010

Immersed in the silky, clear blue waters of Ka’anapali, we trailed a sea turtle  to Black Rock and swam with the fishes along the coral reefs. This beach is popular for many reasons made apparent in the below images. While we splashed around a fellow Ka’anapali admirer shouted to the world soon as he jumped into the waves, “Yeah, Hawaii!!! This water feels so good!” We couldn’t agree more.

As we snorkeled without snorkels we spotted: needlefish, bluespine unicorn fish, yellowstripe goalfish, eyestripe surgeon, and rainbow runner, but the best sighting of the day, by far, was Phil Sanders taking center stage, hula dancing at the Black Rock Luau, a vision not to be missed. Take a peek for yourself!

Who doesn't love hula?


The last of the Hawaii photos will be coming soon, featuring a trip to Kihue, a tour of Ali’i Lavendar Farm and Surfing Goat Farm, and a final stop at a sacred burial ground near Wailuka.