Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Home Away from Home - Kuhio Shores

Kauai has the magical ability to eliminate stress and create an automatic state of relaxation. It is a therapeutic element of traveling we have come to cherish. A huge part of that comes with feeling at home and comfortable in the place you stay. Kuhio Shores is a phenomenal condo located as ideally as they come. In particular, room 115 that was graciously shared with us by Jack and Dorinda.

Aloha from Kuhio Shores! Fresh off the plane, this was our intro to Kauai
Traveling to Hawaii from Minnesota is a long trip, with multiple flights, travel time of about 15 hours, and a time zone change of another 5 hours. By the time we rented our car and bought groceries, we were ready to rest. With check-in planned in advance, we arrived at Kuhio Shores, walked into our home for the week, and dropped our bags in awe, admiring the perfection in front of us.

Our first view of the week and most common - Straight out from our lanai
Instead of unpacking, we crashed onto our lawn chairs, relaxation overtaking us. For the next several hours, we soaked in the sun, listened to the waves crash, watched the surfers, chatted, and gazed at the sunset. It was glorious beyond description.

Our second view after arrival - Head leaned back relaxing on the patio chairs
Hours a day were spent lounging here
We knew about the ocean views, but we hadn't fully comprehended just how great this perk was. Suffering jet lag on day one, I awoke bright eyed and ready to go before looking at the clock and seeing it was only 3 am! After a few hours of dozing, I finally got up to make some coffee. On that day, we discovered the amazingness of the Kauai sunrise. From that point, we didn't wake up any later than 6 am because watching the sun come up each morning with coffee in hand (and occasionally the camera) was a highlight of the trip.

I have never been so enthralled at 6:30 am  
This picture is at the exact same time as the sunrise above, but looking to the right 
Another version of our daily sunrise
The location was ideal, and each day, we could lounge and watch the surreal sunrise and sunset and everything in between. This included frequent sea turtle sightings, friendly birds, surfers, and so much sun! In 8 days, I ended up finishing two books from the comfort of our backyard.

By the end of the trip, we were critiquing styles because we saw so many surfers!
Love the peacefulness of the man on the rocks and the sailboat as silhouettes in the sunset
A bit camera happy, we took over 800 pictures during the trip. After a closer look, about 200 of them were just sitting at Kuhio Shores. Every picture from this post is within steps of our room, and it was difficult to edit down. Even the parking lot was a jungle-like garden, with the most vast array of plants and flowers I have ever seen!

Nice colorful welcome sign
Having some fun with my new prime lens
I have a feeling the depth of color from crayola crayons came from a day spent in Kauai
Immediately to the right of the condo was Lawa'i Beach with soft sand for sitting and phenomenal snorkeling just offshore. Also next door is the Beach House Restaurant, where we ate several times and enjoyed some of the best calamari of all time.

This is where we also had a special snorkeling encounter. The Hawaiian sea turtle, or Honu, can be symbolic of good luck. Was that ever true for us during our final snorkel of the week, when we lucked into almost bumping right into a sea turtle. We spent about ten minutes alone swimming with the majestic creature, and at one point, it turned and watched us as intently as we watched it!

This was the border between our condo property and the Beach House Restaurant next door
Condo lodging in general is amazing. You can feel more in touch with the island and it is a calmer experience, adding to the relaxing nature of the island. Hawaii can be expensive, so the ability to buy some groceries and make homemade breakfast and lunch is incredible, and then dinner leftovers are easy to manage too. There is not fancy landscaping, pools, and special services, but the value of a peaceful oasis in this location is impossible to put a price tag on.

Leaving our stuff out to dry off after a swim less than 100 yards away - This bird also hung out with us all week
Additionally, our place was stocked perfectly with extras. Provided for us were beach chairs, coolers, ice, all necessary cooking equipment, DVDs and Hawaiian music, spices, and even a guide book if you need some last minute advice. It felt like home!

Loving the sunset
The only hesitation I had about booking was the lack of air conditioning, but this ended up being a blessing. Rather than even try to use it, we could just let the trade winds blow in, cooling the room to an ideal sleeping temperature. The crashing waves were hypnotic after a busy day in the sun, resulting in very restful nights.

Goodnight Kauai
Kauai, without question, is the most beautiful place we have traveled. It was also one of our most special and relaxing trips, thanks in huge part to our wonderful accommodations at Kuhio Shores.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Kauai by Land, Air, and Sea

Kauai is aptly nicknamed the Garden Isle. Flourishing with remarkable beauty, it is a postcard around every corner. The diverse elements in each part of the island sync harmoniously to produce what is ultimately the most beautiful place I have ever seen! 

Just one of the many lookouts while driving around the island
Options are abundant to view the island through your own means or with help from others. They vary in scope based on the desired level of adventure. By land, air, or sea, Kauai shows off its extraordinary looks and exposes the numerous personalities that make it a glorious visual experience.

The best example of this was Na Pali State Park, the phenomenally rugged, yet lush west side of the island. It is a fascinating terrain that is a challenge to see, daring visitors to explore. Helicopters, boats, or hikers are pretty much the only ways to view as motor vehicles are not allowed. Na Pali is best known for its magnificent coast with cliffs rising up to 4,000 ft and the striking Kalalau Valley.

Our first meeting with Na Pali was the best, while riding in an open door helicopter! Much more to come on that thrill ride, but to cruise alongside the coastal wall was awe inspiring.

Jack Harter Helicopter
The scope of the coast is hard to describe - The arch near the center of this picture apparently is large enough for a plane to fly through  
In and out of the Kalalau Valley, lucky to catch the end of a rainbow
Next, we booked a sunset boat cruise with Holo-Holo. Cruising through the Pacific on a 65 foot Catamaran, the coast erupts out of the ocean, bathed in a magical late afternoon light. The ocean out there is choppy, but the boat smoothly slices its way through the waves, making sure we didn't spill our drinks! Complete with an enthusiastic crew, open bar, heavy appetizers (pretty much dinner), and rounded off with a glass of champagne to enjoy the sunset, this is a brilliant way to see the coast.

Holo Holo Boat Cruise
Sun and ocean mist sparkle above the teal blue water
The "Cathedral" cliffs

Finally, with some driving and hiking, Na Pali offers a few views for minimal work. Twice we saw the coast with ease, once at Ke'e beach on the north shore and second by driving to the highest accessible lookout on the island.

Ke'e Beach - Na Pali looms in the background and this beach also had some of the island's best swimming and snorkeling 
Kauai has a personality that rewards patience and going with the flow. If you don't like the weather, drive somewhere else or just wait 15 minutes until the rain turns to rainbows. This drama played out as we drove to the lookout over the Kalalau Valley. Hypnotic clouds filled the air, making our views from the top unique, but not of the sweeping valley we anticipated. Well, we were glad to be aware of the island's mood swings so we could hang out and wait.

This was our view for about 30 minutes while standing in the clouds - The cool air felt wonderful
Na Pali Coast
It took the clouds less than a minute to suddenly disappear
Kalalau Valley
And they departed in fashion!
Kauai is absolutely remarkable. In the morning or evening, in rain or shine, by land, air, or sea, it is serene. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

New York City

After an inaugural sightseeing trip of NYC, we had barely scratched the surface. Ultimately, in our year and a half living out East, we visited the city 6 different times and spent two weeks worth of nights. And without question, we will return!

Staten island ferry
View of Manhattan from the Staten Island Ferry - A nice (free!) way to view the island and see the Statue of Liberty

We are generally travelers that want to absorb more of fewer things vs checking boxes, so our first experience here shows just how awe-inspiring this city can be at first glance. A solid 12 hour sight seeing day and we barely saw anything! However, we soon found that going with the flow and letting the city come to us yields an experience beyond explanation. 

Classic New York scene

Love this picture - Taxis, NYPD, food trucks, and Christmas lights!

While we often travel south and seek out sun and beaches in the winter, December in NYC justifies bundling up and dealing with the cold. All of the images and references in movies are accurate - this city decorated for Christmas is dreamlike. The city was buzzing even more than usual, to gift shopping at the thousands of stores or just viewing the never ending lights. Longer lines, reduced happy hours, and inflated hotel rates come with, but it was so worth it!

Like the city, its decorations are larger than life

We accidentally stumbled upon Rockefeller Center on the night the famous tree was first lit. There are a lot of people in the city, and I think more than half of them were crowded into a few blocks. I am calling foul that Kevin in Home Alone II was ever able to get near the tree with no one else around!

While midtown during the holidays is magical, our other favorite NYC moments have come from moving away from the hectic midtown area. No matter how big a city, how epic, how overwhelming the options are, I feel the true character comes from the neighborhoods and locals. The random, off the beaten paths that make it feel like home instead of a sprawling metropolis. The Village, Soho, Chelsea, and more, these are the areas we wandered most on return trips.

Central Park is a calming break from the noise and concrete of the rest of Manhattan

We booked day of discount tickets to see the Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. We went to a midnight comedy show for $5 and the opening act was Wyatt Cenac, a former "Daily Show" correspondent. We randomly met and partied with a Coast Guard member on leave in the meat packing district. We took the metro to a Yankees game and on the way back, witnessed a break dancing group perform a show on the moving subway. And the list goes on and on. The highlights from our time in the city can't be found in the pages of a guidebook, which makes our memories from here so special and they come back to us in conversation almost constantly.

Wandering the High Line, an old above ground railroad track that has been converted to an amazingly walkable city park.
We saw the unbelievable Bryan Cranston in All The Way - From Malcolm in the Middle, to Breaking Bad, to playing Lyndon Johnson on Broadway, Bryan Cranston is remarkable!

We often ate food truck dinners - The smells resonating from them are phenomenal and draw you in

New York City has an overwhelming amount of places to eat, some cheap, some not so much, some so far out of range it is embarrassing to read the menu. Regardless, you can't walk more than a few blocks without a plethora of choices. In order to get some insider knowledge on some of the history of food in NYC, we booked two sensational tours, one focused on the various ethnic groups that have immigrated to the city, the other on the famous pastime of pizza!

Tenements, Tales, and Tastes is a walking food and history tour focused on the immigrant heritage of the Lower East Side, Chinatown, and Little Italy. This took us to local restaurants we never would have tried ourselves and later motivated us to check out the uniquely engaging Tenement Museum.

Slice of Brooklyn tour took us out of Manhattan to explore the fascinating borough of Brooklyn. We tasted pies from two legendary locations (Spumoni Gardens is glorious!) and learned about the history of pizza and the area. An added bonus was seeing locations from well known movies scenes.

The scene in Goodfellas where Joe Pesci gets shot in the garage - this is the garage! 

View from Brooklyn - We look happy because we just ate at the famous Grimaldi's Pizzeria 

Coney Island Boardwalk

If you plan nothing and let the city come to you, the experiences will be extraordinary, and each hour will uncover something new. We have found ourselves in Central Park in the morning, the Bronx by midday, and then Greenwich Village late night into early morning! It is exhausting talking about, but somehow the energy of the city is magnetic and we keep going. I could probably create lengthy blog posts for each day we spent here. Condensing NYC into this post has been the toughest editing yet since starting this blog.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Life in the North Loop

The first month back in Minnesota has flown by, getting settled in our new place and trying to make plans to see family and friends. I don't know how it happens, but it seems like we black out how much work moving is. There was so much stuff to unpack and setup. Particularly moving into a modern, warehouse style loft, it was hard to figure out where things would fit!

120 boxes - Thankful for the paper so everything came intact, but so much to unpack and get rid of!
Pretty sure we have spent multiple hours on our new patio everyday
Before moving, we were adamant to treat Minneapolis like a new city and we have put our exploration mindsets in full gear as we get acquainted. Our new home and neighborhood are phenomenal!

The city has welcomed us back with absolutely beautiful weather for exploring
Within a half mile of our condo, there is a who's who of top restaurants in Minneapolis. Every place has a massive patio, and the weather has been ideal for lounging outside. A common scenario is a mostly empty interior with waits or standing room only on the patio. I forgot how much Minnesotans fully savor the limited warm weather each year! A few of my favorites so far have been Freehouse Brewery (in our backyard), Smack Shack, Black Sheep pizza, and Dangerous Man Brewing Co. MUCH more to come on the food and beer scene in Minneapolis.

Patio View!
Being away from home for the last year and a half on the East Coast, we could pretty much pack up and travel somewhere new every weekend. Our calendar was our own and so many amazing destinations were only a few hours away. Moving back to MN, we are challenging ourselves to keep up the adventurous mindset and ensure we keep trying new things, even in a state we have both lived most of our lives. So we have been researching travel lists of things to do in Minneapolis and one of the highlights so far was the Magical History Tour, on segways! They are a bit awkward to drive at first but really fun to coast around once you get comfortable. We did not know most of the history shared, and the guides were fun and informative.

Going for a stroll along one of the many river walkways
While the city is new in the modern context of U.S history, it could once be described as the Wild West, far from initial big cities and located ideally on the Mississippi River. Minneapolis not long ago was actually two cities, Minneapolis on one side of the river and St. Anthony on the other. Like any property near water, its location was critical for industry and transportation that allowed it to flourish. One of its nicknames is the Mill City, a tribute to the leading flour mill industry that catapulted the city into prominence. The city's milling history is evident in ruins along the riverfront, including the well known Mill City Museum (plug for some General Mills history!).

Mill City Museum
The Guthrie Theater lookout on the left - Love the dichotomy of the modern building next to the ruins of a flour mill
Conflict over industry and land arose and those looking for an economic advantage angled for authority. It is said that a reason why the Twin Cities may not have suffered as much in early economic downturns was the mob presence in much of the early business. I think a Gangster tour is up next!

View while stopped on Boom Island - More of a peninsula actually but island sounds way cooler

Stone Arch Bridge
Christmas card material here! The famous Stone Arch Bridge in the background

Monday, September 1, 2014

Maui - Natural Paradise

Been feeling a heavy dose of nostalgia lately with the move, so we dealt with it the best way we know - by locking up the rest of our vacation days with a return trip to one of our all time favorites, Hawaii! This time, the destination is Kauai, but it forced me to go back in time to the blog vault and recap the best of Maui's natural paradise. So excited to return!

When in Maui, we stayed at the most incredible condo, the Aston Mahana, and partook in a series of island adventures. However, the heart of Maui is the absolute beauty of the outdoors. The island is constantly showing off its exquisite beaches, mountains, waterfalls, sunsets, sunrises, rainbows, and more. Hawaii is still the only place I have visited where I came back and immediately began investigating real estate options! Well, not the only but likely the most seriously.

Our morning view from the front door

The road to Hana was unlike any drive I have experienced - Slow, windy, with almost too much jaw dropping scenery. We stopped at numerous waterfalls, but mainly just tried to leisurely enjoy the drive. Some locals wanted to go much faster, but there were numerous places to turn off and let them pass. Also, the one way bridges were easy to navigate as most drivers were just appreciating the surroundings and in no rush.

One of the many waterfalls tucked away just off the main road
The road to Hana carving along the edge of the Island
Three Bears
Three Bears Waterfalls
For those planning to drive the Road to Hana, my advice would be start really early in the morning or stay a night in Hana to avoid rushing past the magical scenery. Would not recommend Lahaina area and back in one day. Though possible, it is not nearly enough time to soak in the island drive. It also allows time to drive beyond Hana and see the wondrous seven sacred pools. Another benefit of our overnight - we shared coffee the next morning with some wonderful locals, learning more about Hawaiian culture in one hour than the rest of the trip combined. They literally had a sign on their mailbox promoting coffee and we sat with them in their front yard, it was so cool!

Road to Hana
The reward for driving past Hana - Pools of ‘Ohe’o (aka Seven Sacred Pools)

Drive carefully - Bad tourist drivers and impatient locals aren't the only thing that you need to watch out for!

While we stopped maybe four or five times on the drive, once in Hana, the real treat is the black and red sand beaches.
A bit of a tricky beach to find, but the contrast of red sand against clear blue water is astounding
Yes, those are fashionable water shoes, but this black sand was super soft and comfortable

Another must do experience (and early on in the trip before the jet lag goes away) is the drive to the top of Haleakala for an awe inspiring sunrise. It requires a very early morning alarm (I think ours was 3 am), and a dark, windy drive while being fueled by too much caffeine. But what you witness is surreal. Pack warm clothes if this is in the plans. The numerous people wrapped up in hotel towels over their beach gear did not seem to enjoy the wait as much.

Sunrise above the clouds
Yes - it really can be cold and windy in Hawaii. Take the guide book advice and pack an outfit for this!

I can't go any further without paying homage to what most want to see and spend their time on in Hawaii, the beaches. While my posts about Maui make it seem like we ran around as crazed tourists the whole time, we are experts when it comes to relaxing on vacation. I finished three books in a week and a half while sitting on the pristine beaches and soaking up the never ending perfect weather. The laid back atmosphere of the Island is addicting and it is impossible to not slow down and revel in the natural paradise. 

A 5 minute walk from our place - We snorkeled here most mornings
Always nice to take a break for a quick swim

Until next time!

Pictures don't come close - But the nightly sunset was an event of its own