Sunday, December 31, 2017

Saturday in Hilo

On Saturday we toured the Hilo Coffee Mill. It is run by three women with eight employees. They have 24 acres of coffee trees and do everything by hand. On Saturdays they sponsor a small farmer's market with produce, baked goods and a few other handmade things.

Here is Jeanette showing us one of the two roasters.

They have quite a few free-range chickens, kept primarily to eat the insects. This was a handsome rooster.

Coffee berries are red and you can see some here on the tree. They ripen at different rates, so there are green and red ones at the same time. After the tour they gave samples of various flavors and types of coffee, but since I am a tea drinker, I didn't participate.

After the tour, we went to downtown Hilo, where we met our nephew Andrew and his wife Angela at the Pesto Cafe for lunch. We hadn't seen them for four years (and longer for Dirk and Tracy) and had a great time catching up. After lunch we spent some time visiting at their lovely home on a hill above the town.

As we left, we stopped at a place called the Boiling Pots on the Wailuku River. It was a lovely series of falls, pools and rapids. Although there were signs warning of the danger of going down to the water, we saw several groups of people climbing around down below.

Not far away was the Rainbow Falls on the same river. It was stunningly beautiful.

Here are the eight of us at the Boiling Pots. What a great visit!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Birthday

The starting point of this trip to Hawaii was a celebration for Tracy's 50th birthday. And what better way to celebrate than a helicopter ride over the volcanoes. The experience was dazzling!

As we took off, the shadow of the helicopter was very clear on the ground. We saw our shadow frequently throughout the ride, as the sun was out most of the time.

Soon after leaving the airport, we flew over large macadamia farms. The fields of trees are surrounded by tall firs to break the trade winds and protect the nut trees. (We saw a similar thing in New Zealand on the kiwi farms.)

We flew down to the coast, not too far from where we had driven the day before. The blue of the water is striking against the cliffs.

Our pilot flew back and forth across the dark lava looking for a breakout. The spots change daily, even hourly, so he never knows for sure where one might be. We really lucked out, finding this small crater with three flows of lava. We could actually see it move. He circled the crater in both directions so everyone could see well.

Some distance away we could see Mauna Kea poking above the clouds. There are a number of international telescopes at the summit.

After leaving the lava fields, we flew over an area with multiple waterfalls. Beautiful!

Here is Dan, just off the helicopter. We had life vests in a small pack around our waists. Fortunately, we didn't need them!

We had a lunch reservation at the Hilo Bay Cafe, but got there quite early. Some walked around the nearby Japanese garden; I found a bench (slightly wet!) and watched the bay and the people.

The restaurant was fabulous. Here is the birthday girl enjoying her drink.

After lunch we stopped for a bit of shopping and eventually headed home. What a great day!

Friday, December 29, 2017

Volcanoes National Park

On Thursday we drove to the Volcanoes National Park and along the Chain of Craters Road. The scenery was stunning. The visitors' center was jam-packed with tourists, as was the parking lot for the lava tubes. We thought we'd do the tubes on the way back, but there were even more cars and people waiting, so we passed it up. Dan and I had gone through them on our 2008 trip here.

Unfortunately, I was not feeling well all day so I don't have many pictures. I got out of the car to see the views about half the time. By the end of the day, my medical family helped out (thanks to Tracy and Andrew) and we stopped at a pharmacy to get me some more meds. The hope is I'll feel much better very soon.

Steam rising from one of the craters

Looking into another crater

We stopped for lunch at a camping area with picnic tables (we had gotten sandwiches at a cafe on the way into the park). It was pleasant, not too hot. I was thrilled to see some nene nearby. The nene is a Hawaiian goose. It can't fly and is endangered. There were signs all along the road warning us not to run over any. This couple had a young gosling with them, a good sign.

As we came to the end of the road, we had a great view of the ocean. The sky was overcast in a way that made it impossible to see where the water ended and the sky began.

The road descended to sea level, where we were able to see several arches the water has carved into the lava cliffs.

Thursday, December 28, 2017


If you are a long-time reader of my blog, you know that I like observing trees in different settings. I enjoy the various shapes. I've already seen a lot of wonderful ones here. A few are in the town of Hilo, others at the beach or during the drive.

First Hawaii Day

Tuesday evening we settled into our rental home for the week. It is a beautiful house in a residential area south of Hilo. The lots are very large; we can barely see the house next door, where the owners live. We have three bedrooms and a large living area/kitchen. There is also a nice big lanai with plenty of seating space and awnings for shade. We went into town for dinner at a Thai restaurant and headed to bed quite early, as everyone was somewhat jet-lagged. 

For breakfast on Wednesday we had bagels that Anjali had gotten. And fruit! Fresh fruit from the trees on the property -- papaya, oranges, bananas. Later in the day one of the owners brought me some pomelos (similar to grapefruit). I spent nearly a half hour peeling and removing the membranes, but it was worth it. (We like having them in Thailand, where we buy them already peeled and sectioned.)

In the morning we drove to a nearby state park, Lava Tree Park. It had a circular path so we could see the incredible vegetation and stumps of lava trees -- lava shapes that took over the trees when it flowed. One area was fenced off because of a deep rift (below).

Here is Dirk in front of some of the lava trees.

From the park, we drove to two beaches. The lava beaches are amazing but treacherous. As we approached, I got this great shot of Anjali taking a picture with Dirk taking one nearer to the beach.

Here's one of the beaches. The second one had a pool fed by hot springs with a small opening to the ocean. It looked like a great places for families. Maybe we'll get back and I can swim there.

In the afternoon, the other four left for a hike into the lava fields. Dan and I didn't go, so we had a nice quiet afternoon and evening loafing around the house.

I must have one shot of the ubiquitous gecko.

Leaving Winter Behind

It took more than 24 hours, but we did manage to leave winter behind for a while. On Sunday morning the 24th we left home to drive to Michigan City, where we leave our car and catch a bus to O'Hare. The weather report said snow would be starting about the time we were planning to get on the bus, and indeed it was snowing by the time we got there and parked. The 8:20 bus was cancelled; there were several others waiting and a load of people were brought from South Bend. We did catch the 9:20 bus and the driver was excellent. It snowed all the way to the airport. Our flight was delayed, but not by much. When we got to Seattle it was nearly 6:00 PM, dark and snowy. They don't get much snow in Seattle, but they did have a white Christmas this year. We had planned to spend the evening visiting with a friend, but after talking with her we realized none of us were going to out on the slippery roads. The restaurant attached to our hotel was closed, so we tromped through the snow (in our sandals!) to the next hotel on the street and had a nice dinner.

In the morning the hotel shuttle took us to the airport. Our flight was delayed (no surprise). It took a good hour to deice the wings, which were covered with about an inch of snow. We flew to Maui and had about 20 minutes to transfer to our plane to Hilo. We were really glad that our luggage made the transfer, too!

We took a taxi to our hotel, the Wild Ginger Inn and Hostel. It was a bit funky, but served well. There were no restaurants or groceries open (after all, it was Christmas afternoon). The very kind woman at the front desk offered us a plate of leftovers from the Christmas lunch they had served. She showed up at our room with two enormous plates of ham, beef stew, and a Filipino noodle dish.

Tuesday morning we had a nice continental breakfast then waited around until Anjali and Domingos arrived. They had spent two nights on the Kailua-Kona side of the island, then came to Hilo and picked up our rental minivan. We went to lunch at a good fish and chips place, then went to the Pacific Tsunami Museum. We learned a lot about tsunamis, and why Hilo is particularly vulnerable to them.

Quilt on the museum wall

After a stop at a coffee shop, we went to the airport to pick up Dirk and Tracy. Our rental house is in the countryside near Pahoa, about 45 minutes south of Hilo. It is beautiful, three bedrooms and a lovely large lanai. Below is the sunrise this morning, taken from our bedroom.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Final Thoughts on Our Tour

Some of my random thoughts after traveling around Great Britain:

Weather:  we were prepared for and expected very cool weather and lots of rain. In the end it was rarely too cold. I did wear my jacket over my sweater fairly often, usually when we were in a windy area. We had a fair bit of rain off and on, but it was always light and spotty. The worst day for rain was in Calais, but even that wasn’t unbearable. (And ducking into a cafe for more tea was often welcome.)

Hotels:  Every hotel supplied a kettle and makings for tea in the room. I am a frequent tea drinker, so I especially liked this. I usually made a cup in the afternoon when we returned from our outings, and made it before breakfast for both of us much of the time. (Since Dan makes the chai when we are home, it is only fair that I do it with the tea bags 😉)  Our showers ranged from so tiny that you could barely get inside to large bathtubs (infrequent). We had an en suite bathroom in every place, one of my criteria in booking. I used for a number of places and for others. The Pen Y Gwryd hotel only makes bookings by phone so I called them over Skype. It was easy to make changes on the fly, which we did a couple of times. Several hotels were a bit run-down, but at the prices we paid, they were fine. (Most were under $100 per night.) Our last place in Southampton was found through Air BnB. We wanted to be close to the port, and it definitely was.

Driving:  Dan is experienced and comfortable driving on the left. He did a great job, from one-lane country roads to the big motorways. Our longest driving day was 5 hours, which I believe we did twice. This island is not that huge — we are used to driving up to 10 hours a day in the US. We enjoyed seeing so much gorgeous countryside. We took our Garmin along with a UK chip. It was helpful but not perfect — it got us to the towns, but usually couldn’t find a specific address. I used Google Maps on my phone to narrow down our destination. I also purchased a large atlas online before we left that was extremely useful. In fact, we almost couldn’t have done without it. I was able to follow along and see where we were going next.

Views:  this is a beautiful country, especially the hilly areas (they say mountains, but really they are hills…). Fluffy sheep on the hillsides added to the viewing pleasure. We avoided most cities, preferring the smaller towns and rural areas. We’ve been to London before, so didn’t go there at all except on arrival. I loved the surprises — seeing Stonehenge from the highway on the first day, spotting Arundel Castle on the last day. (The map was helpful in determining what we were seeing; the Garmin wouldn’t have told us much.)

Food:  we have eaten very well. Most places included breakfast, which varied from continental to full English. For the few hotels that didn’t include breakfast we were able to find nearby restaurants that served us well. We enjoyed the availability of porridge in Scotland; it didn’t appear on the menus further south. We had Indian food three or four times, Turkish once, fish and chips several times, meat pies a couple of times, and enjoyed it all! We almost never had more for lunch than a shared scone and tea, or a couple of times soup. A big breakfast and an early dinner sufficed.

Packing:  we packed two large suitcases. One had packing cubes with the clothing we wore along the way. The second held things that we will want more on the cruise portion of the trip, including a few dressier clothes, extra yarn for my knitting projects, swimming suits, etc. We never took the second one out of the car, although a few times I got into it for something. We also each have a backpack with our computer things and other necessaries. When we only had one night in a place, we were able to just take in our backpacks and not deal with the suitcase at all. It worked really well, although I am a bit tired of the five shirts I have worn!

Planning:  I spent a lot of time over an entire year planning this trip. There was much more I would have liked to have seen and done — we missed Shakespeare’s Stratford, the Cotswolds, Skye, the Isle of Wight, and much more. But I think we did a pretty good job of covering the highlights. We made some changes along the way due to weather and unforeseen circumstances. But it all worked out! It was terrific to meet up with several friends along the way — we greatly appreciated the overnights they offered us. Thanks to Pete & Dot, Mike & Betty & Catherine, and Thea. And to Mark & Dorothy, whom we missed due to a death in the family. We are taking a cruise ship to Miami, a so-called repositioning cruise (ship moving from summer in the Baltic to winter in the Caribbean). We’ll be on board for two weeks with stops in Boston, NYC, Bermuda and the Bahamas.

I hope to see you back here at the end of December when we head back to Thailand via Hawaii.

Dover to Portsmouth

We left Dover Wednesday morning and headed west along the coast. Our first stop was the small town of Battle, on the site of the Battle of Hastings in 1066. It was interesting to learn more about the history that we were supposedly taught. I knew enough to remember the year and that the Normans defeated the Anglo-Saxons, but not much more. Look it up on Wikipedia if you are interested in more details!

An abbey was built at the battle site to commemorate the victory and the picture below shows the gatehouse from inside the grounds. There is an active school in one of the main buildings, and that area was off-limits to visitors. The visitors' centre had very good displays and a film. Much of the display was oriented to kids, and there were plenty of them around (half-term holidays). We seem to have met up with lots of school holidays -- two weeks off in Scotland, most of the time we were there.

Up in the tower of the gatehouse building there were more displays. I liked this carved-out seat at the window; there were a number of these.

A narrow circular staircase took us to the top of the tower. (I was grateful that there were two, one going up and the other down; two-way traffic would have been impossible.) This view is looking toward the school on the left and the battlefield area beyond.

Looking the other direction toward the countryside.

We drove on, heading to Portsmouth. We passed the Arundel Castle, which looks magnificent, but didn't stop. I just snapped this from the car.

Our hotel, the Queens Hotel, was right on the seaport in Portsmouth. I had heard of this hotel before and wanted to stay there. It did not disappoint. This was the view through our slightly misty window. There was a huge park or esplanade along the shore. 

We walked a short way and found a wonderful Turkish restaurant. We shared a plate of maze, hummus and yogurt concoctions served with warm pita bread.

I had a nice red lentil soup, which suited me. Dan tried a dish in the menu area "Yogurtlu" called Iskender Lamb. It was tender pieces of lamb layered on bread with sauce and topped with fresh yogurt. It was absolutely delicious (I had to try it).

Thursday morning we headed to Southampton, where we dropped our rental car at the airport. We took a train into the central city and taxi to our Air BnB. Our taxi driver was a friendly Sikh with family roots in Lahore. Our Air BnB is in a penthouse in a converted warehouse right near the docks. We can see the cruise ship ports from our window. We walked downtown for lunch. This picture shows part of the old city walls right next to a super-modern enormous shopping mall.

We might be able to walk to the ship on Saturday morning, although a taxi will probably be a better idea. For the next two weeks we will have limited internet connectivity. I have one more blog post to publish. Thanks for reading along!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A Day in Calais

On Tuesday morning we walked to the ferry terminal, only about 5 minutes from our hotel. We were told to be there an hour early to check in and we soon found out why. Once the foot passengers (not many more than a dozen) were checked in, we were taken by bus across the terminal to our ferry. We were impressed by the various lanes of moving cars and trucks, a complicated dance of unloading and loading. We went through immigration control and security on the UK side. The crossing itself was good, the sea wasn't especially rough. It took about an hour and a half.

When we arrived in Calais, we repeated the process, taking a bus to the terminal and then walking into town. It was about 3/4 mile and the same dozen or so people were walking it. When we finally got into the town, the first thing we saw was this 13th century watchtower, the Tour du Guet. It is on a large open plaza in the middle of the town with shops and restaurants on all four sides. We were disappointed to see that many businesses were closed. Calais did not seem like a very prosperous town at this point.

There was a light misting rain, although it wasn't too cold (about 60° F). We stopped at a brasserie and had tea (me) and wine (Dan) and enjoyed sitting there for a while. But eventually we got up and continued walking. We came to the Parc Richelieu, which was very nice. It included this 2017 statue installation of Churchill and DeGaulle celebrating the French-British collaboration during WW II.

Near the park was the Musee de Beaux Arts and we stopped in. I saw a brochure for a WW II museum and got directions to find it a few blocks away. On the walk over there we got a good view of the town hall.

Unfortunately, when we got to the WW II museum, we found out it is closed on Tuesdays. We sat in the park outside it for a bit and watched this group of African boys getting set up with a game of football (soccer).

We headed back toward the center of town, stopping at a boulangerie/patisserie to try some French pastries. They were indeed good, but the pictures weren't! When we got back to the plaza and up close to the Tour du Guet, we saw that there is another statue of DeGaulle, this time with his wife, who was from Calais. The statue commemorates their wedding, which took place in the town hall.

As the weather continued to be very damp, we stopped again at a brasserie for tea and wine and this time a cheese plate, which was served beautifully.

By this time we were quite tired and not enjoying the weather, so we headed back to the ferry terminal. We were able to get on an earlier ferry than we had planned without any problem. Two family groups that were on our first crossing were also returning early. All in all, we are glad we went and we enjoyed the day in spite of the weather. I was pretty tired after walking more than 7 miles according to my iPhone! Tomorrow we leave Dover and head to Portsmouth.