Category Archives: Trip Report

Brandon’s Birthday Break, 30th Bday Ed., cont’d

Brandon turned 30 and it was a thing that needed to be celebrated, celebrated with all the fun things and adventures that could possibly fit into a single week. And so I planned and obsessed and refined and expanded. The end result was an incredible week in Washington.

I previously shared the places we stayed, but that was only the beginning, the background against which all the other pieces could fall into place. And oh what pieces they were.

To begin, skydiving.  You may remember that the details of this trip were a complete surprise to Brandon, who discovered what was next as we went along. That was how we found ourselves having this conversation over a lovely breakfast on a rainy Sunday morning in Olympia:

Me: So you’re probably wondering what we are doing in Olympia.

B: Well, yeah. I can’t remember ever mentioning a desire to come to Olympia.

Me: It’s more about the proximity to what we are doing today than actually being in Olympia. You remember that time you said you wanted to go skydiving? (picture a slightly maniacal smile slowly forming on my face)

B: (worried silence)

Me: Yeah, I think it was when we were in Hawaii or something. You said you really wanted to go skydiving. So you’re going skydiving today. I have reservations for you this morning.

B: You keep saying “you’re going skydiving.” Don’t you mean “we’re going skydiving.”

Me: (worried silence)

B: I’m not going to go skydiving by myself! I only want to go if you go with me. If we die, we die together!

Me: Ummm…. I hadn’t really planned on joining you. I mean, the cost is so much more for two people.

After several minutes of somewhat tense negotiation, it was determined that if, in fact, Brandon was going skydiving today, so was I. As we discussed the impending “fun” we would be having, we halfheartedly bemoaned the weather and “worried” that perhaps the rainy day would prevent us from jumping.

As we both kept pretending that we actually really wanted to skydive, we made our way toward Skydive Kapowsin. I think we were both secretly relieved when the worsening weather meant that it was not a good day to jump out of an airplane.

Hiding our relief, we began forming a Plan B. Fortunately, it just happened to be the weekend for Bainbridge Island’s Wine on the Rock. The weekend event is a coordinated effort among the handful of wineries on the island featuring tastings and charcuterie at each stop. We bought our tickets at the first vineyard we visited, Eleven Winery.

After enjoying the wine and live music offered there, we took our souvenir wine glasses and the handy event map and began making our way down the island, stopping at several vineyards and wineries along the way.

Not only were the wine and food fantastic, we got to learn about the unique wine industry and culture of the island, which is shaped by the rainy and cool weather (read: we drank lots of white wine).

Our favorite was a perfectly tart raspberry dessert wine we purchased at Perennial Vintners. In fact, as I type this, we are planning to open it up tonight to serve along side creme brûlée (I am weirdly excited about breaking in the kitchen mini torch) to celebrate Brandon’s hard work refinishing the original hardwood floors in my house. Seems like a worthy event for the wine! We did not quite make it to all the vineyards, one of us had to drive after all, but it was the perfect way to spend our first day of vacation. And I think we both enjoyed it more than we would have enjoyed skydiving.

Good thing Sunday was such a relaxing day. Because the following day was anything but, in the best way possible. Monday was Seattle day. With our VRBO chosen partly for location, we were able to get an early start that day with a brisk walk to the ferry. We spent the day exploring Seattle by foot, as evidenced by the new record I would set for steps according to my FitBit.

We began our day in Pike Place Market, stopping by some of my favorite spots.

Which pretty much means we spent the morning eating food. Lots of food.

After thoroughly enjoying the sights, smells, sounds, and tastes of the market, we made our way toward the Pacific Science Center.

Unfortunately we did not have time to see the entire museum, but Brandon was especially interested in the special Sherlock Holmes Exhibit. The exhibit provided a history of the Sherlock Holmes series, including some of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original manuscripts. There was information on the science of crime solving during this point in history and on the fascination with crime present culturally that provided a background for the novels.

The central part of the exhibit was the opportunity to solve your own crime using the tools of the time. Although probably not targeted entirely toward adults, we both had fun following the clues and solving the mystery.

From there, we made our way to Orfeo, the meeting place for our Savor Seattle Gourmet Seattle Tour. This would be my third tour with Savor Seattle and like the previous two, it did not disappoint.

But first, we had to stop for cupcakes. We arrived just a bit early for the tour, so when we asked about somewhere nearby to grab a quick drink, our guide recommend Yellow Leaf Cupcakes. Because if you’re going to drink water, you might as well have a pancakes and bacon cupcake to go with it.

Back at Orfeo, our tour began. The focus of the Gourmet Tour is the food culture of Seattle – the focus on fresh, local, organic, seasonal, and sustainable foods. At each stop of the tour, we got to sample varying ways that Seattle restaurants live out these goals with a selection of small plates and Washington wine pairings. And it was delicious!

Wild Boar Polenta
One of the interesting things about Orfeo, in addition to the food, was the art. All of the art in the restaurant is a derivative of a single painting. For instance, in the picture below, the decor along the wall is enlarged pieces of the painting.

The second stop was a kitchen table at Serious Pie for some of the best pizza in Seattle

Then it was Cutter’s Crab House for crab stuffed prawns

And then La Buona Tavola, aka the truffle store, aka the most delicious place on earth

Then it was on to the Steelhead Diner for to-die-for razor clam chowder

And we still weren’t finished. Our next to last stop was Von’s Gustrobistro, famous for their collection of well over 1,000 spirits and their sourdough based breads and pasta
Here we were treated to an unbelievably delicious salmon sourdough pasta
The final stop of the walking tour was the iconic Fran’s Chocolates where we got to enjoy a variety of chocolate tastings that beautifully rounded out the tour

Following the tour, we were somehow hungry for dinner. We returned to Brandon’s favorite stop from the tour, Von’s, for more of that sourdough pasta. And more drinks. When it’s your birthday trip, you get to do what you want.

We started with sourdough bread with mozzarella
This time, we ordered the pork belly and brussel sprout pasta
The real highlight was the drinks. With fantastic ingredients and unique presentations, the drinks were hard to beat.

For further proof, here is a video, yes a video, of the coolest drink ever: video_31093318625

Our last major stop of the day was the Space Needle. Finally ready for a break from all of the eating, the Seattle icon was the perfect spot to finally put our feet up for a bit. With an unbeatable view of the city, we suddenly became the obnoxious couple kissing at a landmark. I know, I know, but there was Brandon and the romance of the city lights and the relaxed satisfaction of a day spent enjoying delicious food and drinks. I couldn’t not make out with him.

After that, we slowly made our way back to the ferry. We stopped at a bar or brewery here or there as caught our fancy. By the time we made it back to the ferry, it was late and we were exhausted. Which probably explains (some of) the following pictures.

It is hard to beat this view of Seattle at night

It was one of my favorite days ever.

Oh, and my new FitBit record

Tuesday was Brandon’s birthday. We used his birthday as an excuse to be lazy. To relax. To enjoy the hot tub to soothe our aching feet. We checked into the Inn at Pleasant Beach and simply enjoyed the beauty of the day and each other’s company. I know taking a day to relax can seem like a waste while on vacation, but I’ve learned that a day like this makes the rest of the trip so much better. We ended the day with an unparalleled birthday dinner at Manor House (more on that to come).

Wednesday was sadly our last day on Bainbridge Island.

We made the most of our last morning before heading toward Portland. While our time in Washington may have been about new experiences, we used our time in Portland to revisit some of our favorites. Dinner at Le Chon is always a highlight. And one of Brandon’s favorite spots is Ground Kontrol – arcade by day and arcade and bar by night. He usually beats me at everything. Except Tetris, I dominate at Tetris. And a late night in Portland is not quite complete without a stop by Voodoo Donut. Because it was a weeknight, there was hardly a line at all!

And then came Thursday. The last day is always the hardest, especially when the days ends with your love flying away for work. But we made the most of it. After breakfast, we spent a leisurely morning at the Japanese Gardens, lovely despite the ongoing construction.

I love this picture of Brandon

Our last stop of the day and the vacation was McMenamin’s Grand Lodge in Forest Grove. We booked massages for the afternoon at Ruby’s Spa and spent the time before and after in the warm soaking pool. It was the perfect end to a perfect week together.

But I’m not done, yet. I have more to share about food and the places you should definitely eat should you find yourself in Bainbridge or Portland. Because I have not already talked enough about food.

Brandon’s Birthday Break, 30th Birthday Edition

Sometimes I can be a teensy bit of a perfectionist. Like when I’m deciding upon the layout for my master bathroom addition (just ask Brandon) or when I am creating a menu plan for the week. But none of that compares to how obsessive I can become when planning a trip. Recently that was taken to a whole new level. I was not planning just any trip; I was planning Brandon’s 30th birthday. It had to be perfect.

Because if it were perfect he would know just how much I love him. Because I wanted him to begin the next decade of his life knowing that the best is yet to come. Because if I’m going to take an entire week off work it better be awesome.

After considering the countless options of where to go, I eventually settled upon Washington. I know, I know. It’s hardly my usual far flung destination. And it was, after all, Brandon’s 30th birthday. But this ended up being the perfect option for several reasons.

First, there were no airplanes involved. It had not been my year for airplanes. With delays and misplaced luggage and looooong days of rescheduled and redirected flights the norm over the previous months, I did not want to risk the stress of that for this particular trip. That, obviously, meant going somewhere within driving distance.

Second, Seattle is one of my absolute favorite cities and I wanted to share it with one of my absolute favorite people.

Third, Brandon loves the people in his life with a generosity and loyalty I admire daily. Choosing Washington as our destination allowed us to fit in time with friends and family, without which Brandon’s 30th birthday could not have been perfect.

So Washington it was. Specifically Bainbridge Island.

I had found the perfect location to celebrate Brandon’s new decade of life. What next? This really gets at my planning process. Typically, when determining where to go, I either jump on a good travel deal or, if I have somewhere specific in mind, I book airfare first because this is often the most expensive and/or least flexible aspect of the trip. On the one hand, wanting to go everywhere can be challenging because, well, everywhere is a big place. On the other hand, when the right opportunity comes along, it is easy to say yes. All that aside, not having to worry about airfare (thank goodness) on this particular adventure (see above), I was on to my (usual) next step – where to stay.

There are generally two approaches to booking a place or places to stay on a trip – either it is a central part of the vacation experience and thus choosing a beautiful or unique, and often more expensive, property with amenities is a priority or it is simply a home base from which to explore, often meaning that nondescript but affordable lodgings in convenient locations become most important. In short, either the hotel matters or it does not matter. Generally, I lean somewhat toward the former approach, although spending hours of research in order to find the little known budget hotel or rental option in a great location with some character is my idea of a good time. For this particular trip, I wanted everything to be flawless and that included the places we stayed.

I knew I wanted to spend at least one night at the Inn at Pleasant Beach. In fact, this inn is overwhelmingly the reason why I settled upon Bainbridge Island rather than Seattle as our primary destination.

You may recall that I stayed there once before and absolutely fell in love. It is, hands down, one of the loveliest and most comfortable places I have ever stayed. It seemed like the ideal place to stay for Brandon’s actual birthday. But only for one night because the inn is rather expensive and I am not a “real” doctor and don’t make real doctor money! Don’t get me wrong though; staying there is worth every penny. The Inn at Pleasant Beach has everything one could want – a gorgeous location on the water, beautiful and cozy rooms with unbeatable attention to detail, and a friendly staff.

Those chairs are seriously the most comfortable ever. I’m pretty sure I spent the better part of the afternoon in that chair by that fire staring at the view.

No part of me regrets splurging on a night here. And let’s be honest, I say it was for Brandon, but really, it was for me. Although this was his favorite spot, too.

With one night of the trip taken care of, I needed to find another place to stay on Bainbridge Island for a night or two. I wanted somewhere within walking distance of the ferry (so that we could come back from Seattle without worrying too much about how many glasses of wine we enjoyed with dinner), something affordable, and, preferably, somewhere with style. Little Rabbit Studio, which can be booked through VRBO, fit the bill exactly.

An impeccably decorated studio next to the owner’s home, we both loved our stay here. Again, it was all about the details – the bottle of wine and sweet bread left for us to enjoy, the weather forecast written on the chalkboard, the umbrella to borrow, the books and pamphlets of local attractions. It was such an easy place to stay.

The details reflected how much everything else about the studio was carefully curated and on point. We loved the hot tub, the perfectly outfitted small kitchen, and the location.

A small, private courtyard with a hot tub. There was also a fire pit in front of the house.

I would stay here again in a heartbeat.

That was initially the plan – a couple of nights in Little Rabbit Studio and perhaps a couple of nights at the Inn. But of course, plans evolve. Because I love Brandon and wanted his birthday trip to reflect that love. Not at all because I am an obsessive perfectionist who sometimes gets out of control and starts making plans bigger and bigger.

I decided that I wanted to add a night in Portland so that we could eat at our favorite restaurant. Plus, Brandon gets a little stir crazy in the car and this would break up the drive from Seattle to home. In a super complicated decision-making process, I chose the subtly wine-themed Hotel Vintage because I love Kimpton Hotels and we had not stayed there before. Like I said, super complicated.

This was another absolutely perfect stay. From the gorgeous lobby bar to the slightly edgy décor to the birthday gift greeting us in the upgraded room to the complimentary wine hour, we enjoyed every minute of our stay.

The wine hour was great. And we could go upstairs to the game room where there was a pool table and shuffleboard.

Can you tell that I love the details?

And then, there was my last edition to the itinerary. After decided that Brandon really needed to go skydiving for his birthday, I booked a night at the RL Hotel Olympia. This was a night when location and a good price were my priorities, but the recently remodeled hotel was a nice bonus. Despite a late arrival, it was a nice, quick stay that put us in the perfect spot for the plans of the following day.

The lobby was very trendy with a morning coffee bar with complimentary coffee and that also served made to order drinks

I know not everyone sees hotels as a splurge-worthy aspect of a trip. And honestly, if it were between not going somewhere because I could not afford a nice hotel and going somewhere and staying somewhere less than luxurious, the latter option wins every time. Assuming it is clean and safe. Those are my minimum criteria (ask anyone who has ever stayed in a less than clean hotel with me, I don’t do well). But sometimes it is fun to live it up a little and enjoy a fancy hotel, especially to celebrate a special occasion.

With the hotel situation mostly settled, I could move on to the details – what to do and, perhaps my favorite, where to eat. More on that to come.

For those considering a similar trip, our itinerary ended up looking like this:

Day 1: Drive to Portland. Have a birthday party in Portland at Brandon’s mother’s house with friends and family who live in the area. Drive to Olympia, Washington, getting in really late and slightly irritable (just keeping it real).

Day 2: Wake up. Inform Brandon that he is going skydiving. Have Brandon insist that if he is, I am to. Feel secretly relieved when we are unable to skydive because of weather. Drive to Bainbridge Island and move on the Plan B for the day. Check into Little Rabbit Studio.

Day 3: Spend the day exploring Seattle and spend our second night at the studio.

Day 4: Happy Birthday Brandon!! Welcome to the thirties, which has, thus far, been the best decade yet of my life. I can only hope the same for him. Reluctantly check out of our rental and feel quickly consoled after checking into the lovely perfection that is Inn at Pleasant Beach. Spend the afternoon relaxing before a delicious birthday dinner.

Day 5: Drive back to Portland, where we stayed at Hotel Vintage. Have a fun evening in Portland that included dinner at our favorite spot.

Day 6: More Portland fun before I had to drive home and Brandon had to fly out for work.

Day 7: Enter into post-vacation blues.

 

Aloha Maui: It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye

There’s nothing like spending a day at home feeling terribly sick (thanks for that, time changes and lack of sleep and airplanes) to make you reminisce about feeling definitely not sick and being in Hawaii. As all good things must, our trip to Maui inevitably came to an end. Four days was not nearly long enough, but perhaps no amount of time would be. We made the most of our final day, enjoying the beach, snorkeling, and making sure we fit in some last minute sightseeing. Our flight was not until 8 pm, so we had almost an entire day before flying home to our real lives that unfortunately do not typically involve relaxing by the ocean, fresh seafood lunches, and getting to spend days at a time together.

Brandon wanted to fit in some more snorkeling, so we did a bit of research and learned that Honolua Bay is one of the best spots on the island. We managed to find the somewhat obscure parking lot by the few cars that were gathered there and made the short, pleasant hike to the rocky beach.

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I found a shady spot to read (I did not want to be gross and salty for the plane ride home) while Brandon snorkeled in the calm waters.

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We also wanted to visit the iconic Iao Needle before leaving the island. Between Honolua Bay and Iao Valley State Park, we stopped for lunch at Fresh Off the Boat. This small restaurant is essentially a food cart created out of a boat that is permanently parked and ready to serve freshly caught Hawaiian seafood.

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The chalk menu highlighted the day’s available options. I enjoyed a trio of fish and Brandon tried the shrimp and teriyaki beef combination. It was all delicious.

After lunch, we spent a rainy hour exploring Iao Valley, determined to make the most of the day despite the wet conditions.

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The park was lush and lovely, perfect for a romantic ramble and kissing in the rain.

To dry out a bit, we decided we had to find one of Maui’s best spot for malasadas, Simply Sweets. The unassuming store front in Wailuku is the home of sweet deliciousness. Although options like Da Bomb – a malasada that is filled with haupia cream and served with Chantilly cream, chocolate, nuts, and coconut on top – were certainly tempting, I kept it simple with a chocolate filled “Maui-sada.”

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We spent the remainder of the afternoon chasing the sun, eventually finding a sunny spot on a beach that we had all to ourselves. If we had to end what had been a perfect few days in paradise, I can think of no better way to do it.

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And I certainly cannot think of anyone else with whom I would rather spend those perfect days in paradise.

And with that, I am finally finished sharing about my birthday trip to Hawaii. Now that summer is officially over and cool air and rain are starting to sneak into the forecast, I will get around to actually sharing about the best summer ever – a quintessential Oregon summer that passed all too quickly.

Aloha Maui: The Feast at Lele

First, let’s state the obvious: luaus in Hawaii are expensive. However, Brandon and I knew that this was one area where we wanted to “splurge” during my birthday trip to Maui. Because we knew that this would be one of the major expenses of the trip, I wanted to make sure to find the absolutely best luau experience. In researching the options, The Old Lahaina Luau was one that was consistently mentioned as the best, most authentic luau on Maui. However, I also learned that the same company who produces Old Lahaina also produces a more upscale luau, The Feast at Lele. At $125 per person, The Feast was a bit more expensive than Old Lahaina, but after comparing the two, we decided that The Feast was perfect for us. It was worth every penny!

First, the location. Located in Lahaina, it was within walking distance of our hotel. Which meant a lovely pre-dinner walk through town and not having to worry about finding a taxi after the luau. Given how easy it is to lose count of the mai tais and lava flows, being able to easily walk back to the hotel was perfect.

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Second, the vibe. From the moment we arrived and were greeted with leis and mai tais, we relaxed and enjoyed every minute. Located on the beach, the sunset provided the perfect backdrop for the early part of the evening. Plus, rather than the typical buffet and group tables at luaus, we had a private table where we were served dinner.

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IMG_0639 Third, the service. Incredibly attentive, we felt pampered from the moment we sat down. From ensuring timely delivery of the (many) food courses to making sure our drinks never ran out, the wait staff was fantastic and friendly.

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Fourth, the performance. One thing I especially loved about this particular luau was the approach they took to the dances. Each course was accompanied by a dance corresponding with that particular place of Polynesian heritage. So not only did we get to see traditional Hawaiian dances, we also saw dances from Samoa, Tahiti, and Aotearoa (New Zealand). The closing act was Samoan fire dancing. It was absolutely wonderful and perfectly executed.

Hawaii:

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New Zealand:

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Tahiti:

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Samoa:

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And last, but not least, the food. This is probably what ultimately swayed the decision to attend The Feast at Lele over another luau. The dinner consisted of 4 courses plus dessert, each inspired by the traditional foods of the various Pacific islands. For instance, we enjoyed Hawaiian pork while watching Hawaiian hula dancing. I will say, this is not the ideal place for a picky eater. Personally, we thought the food was delicious and I loved getting to try all kinds of new foods. However, it could get a bit adventurous at times. Oh, and drinks were unlimited. In addition to the typical tropical drinks one would expect, there was a suggested wine or beer pairing for each course.

Hawaii:

We were greeted with "Hawaiian starches" and a mango, seaweed salsa
We were greeted with “Hawaiian starches” and a mango, seaweed salsa

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Kalua Puaa – pork roasted in the ground
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Lomi lomi salmon
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Bamboo pineapple rice

New Zealand:

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Fern Salad
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Braised short ribs in a kiwi au jus
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Stewed mushrooms and purple sweet potato

Tahiti:

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Poisson Cru (similar to ceviche, but made with coconut milk)
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Baked scallop
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Mango ginger chicken

Samoa:

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Seared fish
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Coconut cream corned beef (intriguingly delicious)
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Rolls in coconut milk

And because there had obviously not been enough food, dessert:

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Pineapple upside down cake

We loved The Feast at Lele. We still talk about it as one of the favorite things we did while in Hawaii and something we would certainly splurge on again. The entire evening was lovely, delicious, and oh-so-fun. If you are looking for a unique luau that is a more sophisticated and gourmet experience than others you might find, I cannot recommend The Feast at Lele enough!

Aloha Maui: Sometimes Travel Hurts

What could be more relaxing than a day at the beach? Toes in the sand, the warmth of the sun, the gentle sound of the ocean waves. Sounds like paradise. Of course, the postcards with a beautiful shot of the beach (see the picture above as an example) do not exactly show that “paradise” also means gritty sand in your swimsuit, usually a sunburn, and lest you forget, potentially painful encounters with sea life.

Of course, when Brandon and I decided to spend a day relaxing at the beach, we fully expected the paradise version. One of the benefits of our lovely bed and breakfast in Lahaina was the ability to access many of the guest benefits at their sister property, The Kaanapali Beach Hotel. This hotel, located in the resort area along the gorgeous Kaanapali Beach, has fantastic amenities and for us it was the perfect compromise – we got to stay at a quiet and beautiful B & B in Lahaina and still enjoy the benefits offered by a larger resort. Although we had to pay for parking in the hotel garage, the garage provided convenient access to the beach and we could use the parking receipt to get complimentary drinks at the pool bar for 2 hours after we initially entered the garage.

But rather than take time to stop for drinks, we headed straight for the beach.

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We settled into a shady spot and began our day of vacation bliss.

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Perfection!

Then we decided that simply relaxing on the beach was for losers. Brandon went snorkeling and we took a dip in the ocean.

And then my arm started to hurt.

A red welt developed and there were (increasingly insistent) shooting pains up my arm and into my shoulder.

Apparently I had been stung by a jellyfish.

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Small but surprisingly painful

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So we went in search of solutions. Various suggestions for managing a jellyfish sting that we encountered along the way included “pee on it,” “take Benadryl,” and “get really drunk.” We mulled the options over lunch and lava flows at Leilani’s on the Beach.

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Although the coconut shrimp and fish tacos were delicious and temporarily distracting, I became increasingly paranoid. The pain was legit, y’all. Typically not one to overreact to health concerns (seriously, I will probably die because I dismiss a heart attack as a panic attack, NBD) I was suddenly a hypochondriac convinced I was going to have permanent nerve damage and/or die.

In an attempt to both humor me and assuage my fears, Brandon forced me to speak to someone at the resort. I was overwhelmed by the response. They were immediately responsive and got me into contact with the on site doctor. He reassured me that I would not, in fact, die. He also shared with me the actual treatment for a jellyfish sting: run it under water that is as hot as you can stand for 5-10 minutes. It disperses the venom thereby reducing the pain. He also provided me with a topical pain reliever if I needed it. They even called The Plantation Inn, where one of the staff members checked on me later just to make sure I was okay. Really impressive service.

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Trusting the expert, I spent several minutes in a hotel bathroom running my arm under hot water. I only got a few weird looks. But let me tell you, it worked! Without any additional pain relief, the pain was significantly reduced and the swelling slowly diminished.

The moral of the story? The beach is more than just beautiful and if you happen to get stung by a jellyfish, hot water is the solution. Although you should probably drink a lava flow just to be safe.

Aloha Maui: Lahaina

After two nights in Kahului, we spent the last two nights of our Maui vacation in the charming, although sometimes crowded, town of Lahaina.

Things I love:

Cute small town – Check

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There is a banyan tree covering an entire block in downtown Lahaina.

A great happy hour – Check

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Captain Jack’s
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Crab cakes
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Mai tais and lava flows

Ocean views – Check

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A lovely hotel with impeccable service – Check

The Plantation Inn was perfect! A small bed and breakfast in an ideal location, from the moment we checked in, the entire experience was fantastic.
The Plantation Inn was perfection! A small bed and breakfast in an ideal location, from the moment we checked in, the entire experience was fantastic.

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My room was gorgeous!
My room was gorgeous!
And there was a balcony
And there was a balcony
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Because a gorgeous room with a stained glass window, a balcony, a pool, and personable service (seriously – upon checkin, the front desk clerk gave us an individualized tour of the property ensuring we had everything we needed to be comfortable) were not enough, there was even a delicious poolside breakfast each morning. The menu was small, but I’m not going to complain about homemade granola, POG juice, and fresh pineapple.

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And most of all this guy – Check

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How could I not love a place with so many lovely things?

Aloha Maui: Come Sail Away

I could imagine it: a morning spent relaxing on a sailboat as it gently moved through the waves resulting in perfectly windblown hair; being surrounded by colorful and bounteous fish while snorkeling in the cool and salty water made perfect by the sun shining down and warming my back; sitting next to Brandon while sipping mai tais and resting my head on his shoulder as we watched the waves. It sounded perfect. Usually when I travel, I like to enjoy a splurge or two. For my birthday trip to Maui, we decided that one of those splurges would be a sailing and snorkeling trip. After extensively researching the options, because that’s what I do for fun, we decided that Trilogy was the way to go. After another stop at Maui Coffee Roasters before leaving Kahului, we made our way south to Ma’alaea Harbor.

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Things to Know: 

  • You will not wear shoes (they get dropped off at the dock at check-in) and you will wear sunscreen. Lots and lots of sunscreen. But not the spray kind because that makes the deck slippery. And you should definitely reapply. Did I mention that you should reapply sunscreen? Because you will get sunburned.

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  • The company provides all of the necessary snorkel gear. I was especially excited to learn that they even have prescription masks available. Because otherwise I totally couldn’t see, which is kind of the point of snorkeling. They also have wetsuit tops available to help with the whole sunburn thing. The pain is real, y’all.

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  • The Trilogy tour to Molokini Crater is $129 per adult. The tour involves two stops for snorkeling. One at Molokini and then a second stop in a spot where sea turtles are often spotted. Of course all of this is dependent on the weather and can vary slightly .

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This is Molokini Crater. Because of the whole snorkeling and being in the water thing, I didn't exactly take pictures. Brandon did get some cool footage with the GoPro, which I may feature on the blog if it ever gets edited!
This is Molokini Crater. Because of the whole snorkeling and being in the water thing, I didn’t exactly take pictures. Brandon did get some cool footage with the GoPro, which I may feature on the blog if it ever gets edited!
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Our second stop was off the coast near Makena Beach and Wailea.
I got to see a turtle. I swam next to it for a bit (but no touching, it is like a $10,000 fine) and took this picture after getting back on the boat.
I got to see a turtle! I swam next to it for a bit (but no touching, it is like a $10,000 fine) and took this picture after getting back on the boat. You can kind of see the turtle.

 

Things I Liked (aka why I chose this company):

  • The crew and the opportunity to actually sail. The crew was enthusiastic and went out of their way to make the day fun. And this trip is not just about the snorkeling. One of the unique things about Trilogy is that they use true sailboats. Although the tour motors to the snorkeling sights, the day ends with the opportunity to sail. The crew even lets you help out if you want.

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Sailing in the rain. Before it got sunny again. Then windy. And then rainy again. Still fun!
Sailing in the rain. Before it got sunny again. Then windy. And then rainy again. Still fun!
  • The smaller size of the tour. We might have been running a bit late thanks to the coffee stop, so I rushed ahead to check-in while Brandon found a place to park and paid (Side note: there were spots muuuuuch closer and far less muddy than the one we ended up in. If you’re leaving from the far pier, keep driving around – there should be plenty of spots on the pier). On his trek he noticed another boat, from a company which shall remain unnamed. At first, he was horrified to think that said boat was ours – overloaded with tourists with inadequate space for everyone, it did not look like a good time. Thankfully, he was much happier when he finally arrived at the Trilogy boat. There was enough space for everyone to have a place to sit and there were trampolines at the front you could hang out on. The crew to passenger ratio was great.

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  • The food.  If you have read my blog, like, once, you know that food is high on the list of my priorities. So there is at least a chance that, despite what I said above, I chose this particular trip based primarily upon the reviews mentioning the delicious food. Maybe.
There were homemade cinnamon rolls
There were homemade cinnamon rolls
And mai tais
And mai tais
And a surprisingly delicious teriyaki chicken lunch
And a surprisingly delicious teriyaki chicken lunch
And more mai tais
And more mai tais

It was a really fun day that was worth every penny. The sailing was fun, the food was yummy, and the snorkeling was great. You know you’ve had a good day when at the end of the day your hair looks like this:

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The day was almost as perfect as I had imagined.

Aloha Maui: The Road to Hana

First, let me state the obvious. I am sooooo behind on this little blog of mine. I one hundred percent, absolutely, and completely blame the Oregon summer. I have been spending most of my spare time outdoors in the sun and usually on the water. I can’t wait to share more about how I’ve been having all kinds of fun camping, hiking, and relaxing this summer, but for now, let’s return to Hawaii. Because Hawaii.

For any first time (and possibly anytime) visitor to Maui, driving the road to Hana is a must.

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This curvy, quite popular drive with waterfalls around (almost!) every curve in the road is famous for a reason. I know there are approximately a million articles out in the world about where to stop and what to do (we relied heavily on the Maui Revealed guidebook). This will not be that post. For one, it was rainy, so as much as we absolutely enjoyed the day, there were times when we simply did not want to get out of the car and thus probably missed some of the “must see” sights. But I will share some of the pointers I found helpful.

  • Get an early start. We left our Kahului hotel before 8 am to beat the rush. We intentionally chose a morning when we were staying in Kahului to take our drive. We stayed at the convenient Courtyard Maui Kahului Airport our first two nights. It was incredibly wonderful to not have to drive far after a long day of flying and an 8 pm arrival on Sunday. And it made an early morning start that much easier the following day.
  • Bring supplies, a.k.a snacks and coffee. There are plenty of fruit stands along the way, but if you’re in need of coffee before you can be functional (not that I know anyone who could be described that way…), then Maui Coffee Roasters is worth a stop. Coffee = happiness = I become tolerable to be around. Also in the supplies category is gas. Start with a full tank.IMG_0558
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Whole wheat bagel with guava butter
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Now I’m ready to have a good day
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Love him. Especially because he did not hold anything I said before coffee against me.
  • Don’t let a rainy day keep you from having a good time. If you keep driving long enough, you might even find the sun!

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  • Find a decent guide and stop where you want to. There are even audio guides available that you can play while you drive. In a single day, there is no way to see every scenic or interesting spot. Spend a little time doing some research and prioritize what you want to see. But also, allow yourself the chance to stop if you find something intriguing. For instance, I knew I wanted to see the black sand beach, but the choice to stop for coconuts was completely impulsive. In other words, plan, but don’t plan too much.

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  • Do not rush. Listen, this road is curvy. And trafficy. And scenicy. That is a combination that equals slooooow. Do not feel pressure to drive fast, but if you are holding up traffic, be courteous, pull over, and let the cars behind you pass. There will also be many one-lane bridges. Take your time and enjoy the journey. Honestly, with an early start and not feeling pressure to go at a certain pace, we did not find the traffic troublesome.
  • At least consider driving all the way around. Most people will turn around in Hana, or just past it, and then drive back the way they came. This is largely due to the belief that the road after Hana becomes more rugged and dangerous to drive. It was no more curvy, in fact, often less so, than the road to Hana. Although the road was narrow, brief moments of bravery and a willingness to honk around blind corners were all that was needed. Even the gravel portions of the road were in good condition. Speaking from personal experience, if you have ever driven on a non-paved road in Oregon, you will be fine. We both loved getting to see another side of the island that was a marked departure from the lush scenery of the first part of the day. And there was much less traffic. And much more sunshine. I would say give it a go if you feel comfortable with even the smallest amount of risk taking.

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Using these tips, we had a lovely day viewing waterfalls

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swimming in the rain

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taking in the views while eating mangos and wearing flowers found along the way

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hiking Pipiwai Trail

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and checking out the remarkable O’heo Gulch, even if it was closed to swimming that day.

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We chased the sun and made some random stops along the way.

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We found a delicious spot for a Thai food lunch in Hana

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and stopped for fresh coconuts when we “needed” an afternoon snack.

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Most of all, we repeatedly stated how lucky we were to spend a day together in such an incredible place. And really, I think regardless of where you stop and what you do, that is what the road to Hana is all about.

Aloha Maui: Happy Birthday!

Let’s get real for a sec. Sometimes birthdays can bring about some rather mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’s your birthday and you get to celebrate and eat cupcakes. On the other hand, well, it’s your birthday and you have acknowledge that you are a year older. Even if you’re turning 29. Again. I’m working on embracing getting older, appreciating that being in my thirties means no longer spending my days toiling away in the basement of my grad school years, that every year I learn a little more, and that I am increasingly comfortable in my own skin. But when all of that mature, responsible train of thought does not quite ease the distress of being another year older, might I suggest Hawaii?

Although perhaps spending your actual birthday traveling is not the most fun way to spend the day, I celebrated the small things along the way.

There was Dutch Bros. coffee
There was Dutch Bros. coffee
And breakfast burritos
And breakfast burritos
And a practically empty airplane
And a practically empty airplane
And a sunset over the ocean
A sunset over the ocean
Let's not forget the mai tais
Let’s not forget the mai tais
And really good sushi. At a sport's bar. Because that is pretty much the only thing open on Maui on a Sunday night
And really good sushi. At a sport’s bar. Because that is pretty much the only thing open on Maui on a Sunday night. But the sushi was delicious.
And most of all, there was this guy. Who, as mushy as this sounds, makes me feel special every day. And who doesn't hesitate to say yes when I suggest celebrating my birthday with a trip to Hawaii.
And most of all, there was this guy. Who, as mushy as this sounds, makes me feel special even when it’s not my birthday. And who doesn’t hesitate to say yes when I suggest celebrating my birthday with a trip to Hawaii.

Whether you are turning 32 or 92, your life is a gift. Your unique, crazy, hard, beautiful, sad, joyful, wonderful life is your chance to become and do and live. That, my friends, is worth celebrating. Hopefully in Hawaii.

A Wintery Week in Iceland: The Northern Lights

So after all of the posts and pictures of my fabulous trip to Iceland, the ultimate question remains: Did I see the Northern Lights? That is, after all, why I decided to brave the Icelandic winter and travel there in February.

And the answer is…

…weeeell, sort of.

Anti-climactic, I know.

During my overnight flight from Seattle to Reykjavik, during which I got a grand total of an hour of sleep, I spent some of my moments of wakefulness resting my head against the side of the airplane, looking out of my window into the inky black sky. Sometime around 2 am, I saw the faintest, most whispy of Northern Lights from the plane. They were faint enough that my eyes could not consistently capture their presence. And, although I was able to get a couple of pictures, even then the lights were ephemeral and transient, difficult to photograph. But see them I did, in the quiet moments of the early morning, in a plane full of sleeping people. For a few moments, I felt like they were all my own, the magical Northern Lights putting on a show just for me as I raced across a silent and dark planet.

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And that was it. The rest of the week, as each night approached, the clouds gathered, obscuring any opportunity to see the lights. Each day was tinged with a hint of disappointment as each night I lost another opportunity to see the lights. In that disappointment, I was reminded that travel is not always predictable and that there are certainly no guarantees. In fact, there are almost always things that go wrong, disappointments, and hard days. But that is also the beauty of it. Travel makes you choose: choose to see the beauty in the less-than-beautiful places, choose to enjoy the amazing parts of a day rather than dwelling on the things that do not happen (I’m talking about you, Northern Lights), choose joy in what you do rather than regret in what you do not. Travel, like life, is about the choices you make, especially when things get hard.

I say that to make the point that, despite not seeing the lights, I had a fantastic time. Of course, as I pondered this on the plane ride back, little did I know that my sense of peace in the face of challenges would be put to the test.

This has nothing to do with the Northern Lights, but it makes an amusing end to my stories of Iceland. Once back in Seattle, I had a 6 hour layover before my last flight home to Medford, where my boyfriend planned to pick me up at midnight. After burning time, it was finally 10 pm, time to board my plane and the announcement is made: my flight has been cancelled. Mind you, by this point I had been awake for over 24 hours, spent the day in two different countries, flown across several time zones, and eaten airport food for what seemed like days. I was not in an ideal emotional state. Apparently no flights were landing in or taking off from Medford.

As I waited in the line to rebook my flight while alternately calling my boyfriend and the airline, I felt like the best I could do was try to have a conversation without crying. This was complicated by the fact that I could not reach the person who was supposed to be picking me up from the airport. Despite my somewhat frantic calls and texts, my boyfriend, who, at that particular moment, I had to remind myself is actually a person whom I love, was apparently sleeping and unable to have a conversation about what I should do. You know, since he was the one picking me up from the airport and all. When I got to the ticket counter, I learned I had been rebooked on a flight. Tomorrow at 5 pm, almost 24 hours later. To put this in context, I could rent a car and drive home in about 6 hours. Option 1: Cancel my flight, rent a car and drive home (technically option 1 was the aforementioned flight, but as I said, not actually an option). Option 2: Catch a flight to Portland leaving in approximately 20 minutes (which my bag that I had checked on the way back due to liquid souvenirs a.k.a alcohol would not make), sleep in the airport (yuck!), then catch an early morning flight to Medford (which I later learned was also cancelled – I would’ve been stuck in Portland). Option 3: Catch a flight to Eugene in about an hour. Now Eugene is obviously not where I planned to be. Or where my boyfriend was planning to pick me up. But it is closer to home (honestly slightly closer than Medford) than either Seattle or Portland. So in my jet-lagged, exhausted, unable-to-talk-to-anyone-about-this-decision state, I chose option 3. Not necessarily the most logical choice, but the one that in the shortest amount of time got me the closest to home. I left a final voicemail detailing when and where I would be landing, confident that by the time I landed he would have some suggestion about how to get me home from Eugene.

The following text conversation occurred upon my landing:

Me: I’m here. In Eugene. Not sure what I’m going to do – I’ve thought about just taking a taxi to a nearby hotel, getting some sleep, and figuring out in the morning.

Boyfriend: Liar

Me: What??? (As I took deep, calming breaths to calm the quickly rising rage I was suddenly experiencing)

Boyfriend: You can’t trick a trickster.

Me: (emotional silence)

HE THOUGHT I WAS JOKING.

By some stretch of the imagination, he thought I was playing an elaborate prank on him, preying upon how much he had missed me the previous week.

I quickly disabused him of this notion with a mildly hysterical phone call, during which I outlined that I was, in fact, actually walking across the tarmac of the EUGENE AIRPORT while he was waiting for me at the (strangely silent, he realized) Medford Airport. Which was approximately 3 hours away. Did I mention it was midnight and that I had been awake for a really long time?

I just wanted to get home. So I decided to take a taxi. I had thought (hoped?) that my missed airport shuttle fiasco in Minnesota would be my most expensive taxi ride ever. I was wrong. At $250, this now became my most expensive taxi ride ever. Not really a record I want to break. But, I finally made it home around 2:30 in the morning with all of my belongings and my physical and emotional health generally intact. Plus, Brandon made up for the, um, misunderstanding, by picking up my dog so I could sleep in the next morning.

Perhaps my trip did not end in the best or most fun way. Travel is not always easy and certainly does not always go as planned. And yet, I love it. Less than a week after getting back, I was already planning my next trip (to Hawaii, for my birthday!!). Even when it is hard and exhausting and comically terrible, travel is worth it.