Sunday, May 14, 2023

Joshua Tree 2023

We are back for our second visit to the perfect little Modernist Cabin a few miles from Joshua Tree town and backing onto Joshua Tree National park. It is a one room cabin designed by modernist architect Ron Radziner, with outdoor shower, bbq and outdoor tub on one side and outdoor living room on the other, and lovingly decorated in mid century modern style. It is absolutely the perfect place for deep relaxation surrounded by the rocks, flora and fauna of the desert. The cabin is managed by Homestead Modern which manages a wonderful portfolio of architecture gems available for vacation rental including the stunning Monument House featured in New York Style magazine

I’ve spotted countless birds including the Gamble’s Quail, hummingbirds, road runner, cactus wren, and many animals; rabbits, lizard, white tailed antelope squirrel. The bird identification app I like best is Merlin Bird ID from Cornell Lab. The absolute highlight was spotting a curious desert tortoise right by the cabin. He seemed enamoured with me as he tried to follow me a few times while I backed up avoiding cactus. 

We checked out the Noah Purifoy outdoor museum full of sculptures made out reclaimed items. It is very unique and there are so many installations. We also viewed the Transmission Sculpture By Daniel Popper, large face with four hands located at The mojave moon Airbnb and retreat. Note it is on private property, but the owners have kindly made a fenced viewing area for the public. You can only see more of the sculpture as a guest staying onsite. We checked out the Joshua Tree Farmer’s Market and Yucca Valley Sky Village Swap Meet - we didn’t buy anything but it’s always fun to check out local events. I also had a good espresso at The DEZ in Joshua Tree. We caught a glimpse of the AutoCamp - a glamping venue full of airstreams but the large fence prevented a good look.

We also love checking out the unique local architecture. We spotted the UFO type Futuro House Airbnb: “the Futuro House was first concocted by designer Matti Suuronen in 1968 as a "portable ski chalet." The home resembles a small UFO thanks to its curved design and oval windows on all sides.” We had a coffee and walk around the Joshua Tree Retreat Center to check out the buildings designed by Lloyd Wright son of Frank Lloyd Wright. “this metaphysical destination is home to the largest collection of Lloyd Wright buildings in the world. The sprawling 400-acre property was built between 1946–1957 and although the architect on record is Lloyd Wright, it is believed that his father, Frank Lloyd Wright “had a hand in the design of some of the structures.” 

We also wanted to check out the famous mirrored Invisible House but the road that takes you close is private, but I could see it glinting in the distance from the main road.  It was featured in Architectural Digest. We didn’t see it but the Kellogg Doolittle House is also in the Joshua Tree area. “The house in Joshua Tree was designed in the 1980s by organic architect Kendrick Bangs Kellogg for artist Bev Doolittle and her husband Jay” also featured in Architectural Digest.

We spent a lot of time just decompressing from the last three years. Lazy mornings on the patio while the desert is still cool, walks among the giant boulders and cactus in the evening. Travel always allows me to be more in the moment and for the first time in a long time I feel relaxed. When travel comes to an end I also find myself having increased gratitude for home as well. 

“We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again- to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.” Pico Iyer

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Palm Springs 2023

This is our fourth trip to Palm Springs, and our first trip in over 3 years. It’s a short, direct flight, relaxing vibe, lots of time outdoors, and for the first trip since the pandemic started it seemed like a good choice for an easy trip. Everyone has lost a lot in this pandemic, which still continues. Nothing feels as easy as it once did, bearing witness to the ongoing impact takes its toll while trying to navigate, live and work in this new reality. 

Travel has always brought me a unique type of relaxation. Once you get to the airport or get on the road, a lot of stress is left at home, old routines are abandoned and every day has a bit of adventure. I’ve been deeply missing that over the pandemic (and I know I am privileged because so many have had terrible losses in this time). It was serendipitous that I should read this article yesterday: “A holiday is about more than just a break. It’s a chance to dip a toe into a new version of yourself. If you feel stuck, a trip can put you back in touch with your sense of adventure

So what have we been up to in Palm Springs? We are again staying at the fabulous midcentury small hotel Orbit Inn, which sits below the famous Frey House. All the rooms have their own entrance off the central pool, an easy place to relax. We have been enjoying slow mornings on the cool deck, morning trips for espresso, Palm Springs Art Museum, Architect Museum, traveling around the desert to view different DesertX art installations, the botanical gardens, watching the birds - so many hummingbirds!, checking out architecture and public sculptures, evening conversations with interesting guests, and lots of delicious vegan food and patios. 

Tomorrow we head off to a cabin in Joshua Tree for the last four nights of our stay.  Two favourite photos below, our pool at the cactus at the botanical gardens. You can see more on my Instagram and eventually my Flickr. 

Friday, May 5, 2023

Travel Hacks

Everyone has their favourite tips and tricks to make travel easier and  more enjoyable. We have many old and new tricks and since this is our first trip and flight since the pandemic started we have a few more health and safety ones. Here are some of my travel hacks!

Luggage: First off, Travel Light, We do carryon only almost always. What helps this be successful is the right bags and accessories. We both use the Patagonia “Black Hole® MLC® bag, is burly, soft-sided 45-liter suitcase with enough room for world travel and convertible backpack straps for comfy load carrying” and one personal shoulder bag. A soft sided bag allows for some stretch and being both a suitcase and back pack eliminates bulky wheels that take up space. We also each carry a reusable TSA compliant clear toiletries bag (many options on Amazon etc), for liquids, of course each item is less 100ml or less. Wear your bulkiest clothes and shoes on the flight to save some room. On longer trips we do laundry and ensure we bring clothing that mixes and matches. 

Accessories: Some accessories are trip specific but in general we always bring a small power bar (so often there are not enough outlets!), two extra long charge cords for iphones, noise cancelling headphones, empty water bottles, plane snacks, Tru Earth laundry soap strips, flat rubber sink stopper, apple air tags in case we need to check a bag or for lost/stolen luggage, headlamp (we’ve been through a few power outages; hurricane Sandy and Brisbane floods etc, and a light was essential), two folding shopping bags, a super compact packable duffle bag in case we buy stuff to bring back (if hiking we bring a packable backpack, it packs to 2/3 of the size of a coke can!). Depending where you are going, you can pick up over the counter medication/supplies you might need but it can vary; we always bring tums, Advil, bandaids, sunscreen & bug spray (if applicable), and a thermometer. 

Documents: take a photo of your passport, driver license, health insurance, etc, and save them to something cloud based such as your email and ensure a trusted person at home has a copy. 

Internet and apps: Figure out how you want to access the internet. On trips I use it a lot for google maps! For short trips I have done Rogers “roam like home” that has a daily max data charge, on others I have purchased sim cards on arrival and for this trip I am trying the new E-Sim option and have selected Airalo (apple app store). Google maps is generally great for public transportation but I also check if there is a local metro app. Google translate app is terrific for communication and can even read labels and menus and translate! HappyCow vegan travel guide app is how I find all the best vegan food around the world. I use the Libby, By Overdrive App to download free magazines and books from the Calgary Library. I love using Tripadvisor to check out things to do and then save them to a trip plan for easy reference (plus great traveller reviews). As well Atlas Obscura is fantastic for finding odd ball activities and interesting sites. And don’t forget to download the airline app as many have their entertainment system on the app, plus trip notifications and management. 

Tips for smooth security: Check in as soon as you can online (usually 24 hours in advance), load your boarding pass to your iPhone wallet app, slip on shoes, keep electronics, passport and clear liquid bag in an external pocket or in easy reach to pull out for inspection.   

Infection Prevention: Let’s face it, no one wants to have a trip ruined by being sick or deal with health complications. We can’t always prevent illness and respiratory infections, such COVID-19 or even the common cold, but NPR had this January 2023 article “Coronavirus FAQ: How do I avoid catching COVID while flying in 2023?” with some tips to consider:

We’ve missed a lot of trips since the pandemic began. I don’t know what future trips will entail for COVID-19 precautions but for now I want to be more cautious and not miss out on any fun feeling sick!

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Love Letter to Bankview

In 2002 we were looking for the right house in an inner city community. We discovered our dream house, an impossibly skinny 17 foot wide architectural infill, in Bankview, Calgary, Alberta. We soon discovered that what makes Bankview great is the diversity; of people, amenities, green spaces, schools, architecture and activities. Bankview is full of wonderful neighbours and friends such as Gail Simper winner of the 2017 Community Advocate Award. You can read about more stellar residents in the Bankview Good Neighbor Awards, and nominate someone today! The history project "A Stroll Through Bankview: Some 70+ Significant Selected Sites" also offers a comprehensive look at this unique community through the years. 

The Bankview Community Association and Community Hall is a hub of activity that ties the community together. In 2018, working with the Bankview Community Association and The City of Calgary, local artist Chris Pecora made a wonderful graphic map of Bankview and all the unique amenities including community, art, parks and recreation, history and architecture. I’ll highlight some of my favourites from the map as well as other community assets. 

As they say; location, location, location! Nestled between the bordering communities of Mount Royal to the east, South Calgary/Marda Loop to the south and 17 Avenue Retail and Entertainment District to the north, Bankview is a terrific location. So many amenities are located within walking and biking distance, including easy access to the bike trails along the Elbow River and River ParkFor a gourmet market and cafe visit, Our Daily Brett, located in the same mini mall as Bankview Starbucks, and Fishman's Dry Cleaners.

Bankview is chock full of parks with the crowning jewel being the large Buckmaster Park, which is home to the Community Garden where residents can rent their own plot. Buckmaster Park boasts a view of downtown, benches, a hill for sledding, basketball court, street hockey space and many wild neighbourhood bunnies. It is also the site of many events organized by our fabulous Bankview Community Association like outdoor concerts, Halloween pumpkin lantern evening, and bonfires. The Bankview Community Association is situated in another sizeable park area, a block from Buckmaster park. This space has a soccer pitch, free tennis courts, basket ball court, event gazebo, and playground equipment. Smaller parks are sprinkled around Bankview with a variety of additional playground equipment. We even have our very own off-leash dog park

The community green spaces also house a variety of public art including the Nimmons Cairn by renowned artist Katie Ohe, Bankview Mural by Chris Pecora and Cam Hoff, a dinosaur mural on 25 Avenue SW, and a very unique VW Beatle car turned into a spider on top of Bankview Starbucks. The diverse community architecture is another bonus such as the infamous 'soccer ball' geodesic dome house built in the 1970's, the historic Nimmons House, built in 1898, or the 2019 award winning Grow Project, a multi-unit condo complete with rooftop gardens. 

A short walk to neighbouring South Calgary brings you to the cSPACE Arts Hub, in the historic King Edward building, -  a community of artists, non-profits, entrepreneurs, event space and the weekly year round Farmers & Makers Market. A block from cSPACE is the South Calgary Outdoor Pool and the Giuffre Family Library. What more could you ask for?

So what's your favourite thing about Bankview?

Friday, March 16, 2018

Vietnam & Cambodia

We started our trip to Vietnam by flying to Hanoi via Seoul, Korea. With Instagram I have gotten quite lazy at blogging as I can just quickly post a photo and story immediately, so this entry is overdue! We picked up a SIM card at the airport which made for super easy navigation and internet on the go. We stayed in a central mid-range hotel in the Old Quarter; The surrounding streets are filled with a mix of architecture, tiny roadside pop up kitchens, thousands of scooters and even more people. The traffic reminds me of schools of fish dancing in between each other. It looks like chaos but is carefully choreographed with everyone knowing how and when to move, we never saw a single accident! We did a lot of walking to the nearby lake, vegan friendly restaurants, temples and markets. A highlight was the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, which has expansive, well curated exhibits about the cultural groups that call Vietnam home, including history, art, housing, textiles and more. We also visited the Hoa Lo Prison, also called the "Hanoi Hilton" where Vietnamese colonial subject sea later America POWs were imprisoned. It is interesting to see history from the perspectives of other countries, and reminds me there are no real winners in war. Atlas Obscura has an article with many photos:

Vegan food was easy to find using, but many regular spots we walked past did not seem to have vegan options. Our favourite was the amazing gourmet vegan meals at Uudam Chao. My only regret was not trying it the first night so we could eat there every evening. It is expensive by local standards but a bargain by Canadian pricing. Check out a few of the delights below:

Most days we also visited La Studio for a lovely coffee, dessert or the outstanding cashew cheese and carrot 'lox' bagel. We had also read about the famous cheap vegan banh mi (Vietnamese sub) shop, called Vegan Banh Mi. So we set out to find it using our GPS map. As we were getting close, a friendly lady ushered us down the alley to a small room with plastic stools and an outdoor kitchen. We enjoyed two Banh Mi subs, two appetizers and a dessert for about $3.50 Canadian. The dessert was really great. It’s not a fancy - just good street food right off the alley. Nearby, we also discovered the Marou Chocolate flag ship store which sells gourmet, expensive chocolate. (Cheap lunch and then fancy chocolate - it's all about balance!)  This chocolate comes from Vietnam and much of it is dark chocolate and therefore vegan. It is the silkiest dark chocolate I have ever had and I must admit we ate more than a few bars! You can read a great article about the company here:

From Hanoi, we flew to Da Nang and took a taxi to our hotel in the quaint city of Hoi An, known for its well preserved old town, canals and architecture. While the hotel we picked was well situated in the old town and had a decent pool, it could have been better; it really needed a refresh and some maintenance. However, it provided a good starting point for each day of exploration and some free dodgy bikes. We did manage to ride the bikes out to see the ocean, a 12 km round trip. The streets in the central old town are for pedestrians and bicycles only (well mostly, some scooters do sneak in), making for a nice place to wander. There are many art shops and the area is known for rice paper paintings and intricate paper cards with pop up designs. The streets come alive at night with markets as well. The food was good and we spent lots of time watching people go by while having coffee. One of our favourites was the veg friendly What Else Cafe and our hotel was also close to the tasty all vegan Karma Waters and vegetarian Annen.

The highlight of Hoi An was Jack's Cat Cafe, which is a small vegetarian/vegan cafe alongside a cat rescue centre. The cafe helps fund the costs of the shelter. We took a taxi there as it is a few kilometres from the centre. We couldn't find a taxi for the way back so it was a long hot walk home! But it was worth it to see so many spoiled cats lounging around in the pretty courtyard.  We enjoyed a nice lunch while watching the antics of the cats and were able to make a donation to towards their care.

From Hoi An we flew to Siem Reap, Cambodia for a few days. At the airport we were able to get a mobile SIM card for $3.00USD and an inexpensive taxi to our hotel. We stayed at Frangipani Villa Hotel, which is a good value midrange hotel. We didn't expect it, but we enjoyed Cambodia more than Vietnam. We packed in a lot of activities in our short time including Angkor Wat and Beng Mealea temples. Angkor Wat is the larger and more famous of the two temple sites. The day we visited Angkor it was over cast with rain and quite busy. We still enjoyed wandering around the site looking at the ornate carvings and building techniques. We were very fortunate to be among the first tourists to arrive at Beng Mealea on a very sunny day. The site is much smaller, and less manicured but was more fun to explore.
Spirit House at Angkor Thom

Our other big adventure was visiting Kompong Phluk Floating Village, in which houses are built on stilts over the water. We explored the village by motorboat until we reached the mouth of the lake where we transferred to small canoe for a tour of the mangroves before heading back via the river boat. Both vessels had female captains! The girl with the canoe was around 13 years old and worked hard paddling us around. To explore these three different sites we hired the nice taxi driver we met at the airport.

After all our jam packed tours we spent the rest of the time lounging in the lovely hotel pool and checking out the city. The tuktuk taxis, which are scooters with a special trailer attached for passengers, are very affordable and plentiful. One of the days a driver just followed us from stop to stop for the day and then back for our hotel for a cost of $6.00.

We also had some of the best food of the entire trip in Cambodia and our number one favourite was Morgina bar which we visited every day it was open. The tofu nuggets and Banh Mi were out of this world! The space has a great ambiance with outdoor sheltered tables. We met a nice couple from Australia there and visited for a few hours one evening. We also shared a able another night with an American man who works remotely and rides a bike everywhere, such great stories! Another unexpected food delight was discovering a roadside treat called Kralan, which we were introduced to via our driver. It is a sweet treat of sticky rice, a few beans and coconut milk stuffed inside a bamboo stock and then cooked on an open fire, in little carts on the side of the road. You just peel the bamboo and eat, no packaging or utensils required. With happy tummies we left Cambodia to head back to Vietnam!

We started our visit to Ho Chi Minh on a sour note, falling prey to a taxi scam at the airport, in which the normal rate was inflated by 4 times. We realized the price was outlandish, but being that we didn't want to escalate the situation or have him drive off with our bags, we paid the fare after letting him know the price was not fair. Looking back, there are several preventive measures we could have taken including taking a photo of the taxi, keeping the slip of paper given to us at the taxi stand rather than handing it over to the driver as requested and insisting the taxi drop us in the designated hotel spot (he of course had an excuse about the construction preventing him from parking there). For more tips on taxi scams see;

When we confirmed with the hotel that the price was ridiculous we decided to not pursue it, as we also didn't want the driver to possibly end up facing a harsh punishment. For example; Two 18-yr-old Vietnamese sentenced in Jean Valjean-like bread theft. We were initially quite annoyed at being taken advantage of, but that negative energy is wasted, so instead we made several Kiva loan donations to low income folks in Vietnam. As the saying goes "How people act is their karma, how you react is yours." Ironically, I had been admiring the driver's Bodhisattva statue in his taxi. (In Buddhism, Bodhisattva (/ˌboʊdɪˈsʌtvə/ BOH-dih-SUT-və)[1] is the Sanskrit term for anyone who, motivated by great compassion, has generated Bodhicitta, which is a spontaneous wish and a compassionate mind to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings. source

Outside of this initial poor experience, the rest of the city visit was uneventful. We were warned about risks of theft but we didn't experience any concerns. We try to travel with out flashing expensive gadgets, keeping items close and not showing off. I can understand the temptation to steal when many are struggling with poverty and low wages. Sources vary but "According to the Japan External Trade Organization, the average monthly salary of a Vietnamese worker last year was $145 in Hanoi and $148 in Ho Chi Minh City" (source

We booked a fancier hotel in Ho Chi Minh, which was still a bargain by Canadian standards, so we'd have a reprieve from the busy streets, plus it also has a nice roof top pool. This proved to be money well spent as we spent time hanging out at the hotel than we normally due trying to get over our chest infections. Unfortunately mine started the day before we left so by this point it had been progressing for a few weeks. I finally relented and used our emergency travel antibiotics which did seem to help. The recovery was hampered by the poor air quality across Vietnam. Check out the photo below for a comparison between Hanoi and Calgary in January 2018! Unfortunately richer western nations are also responsible for this pollution through outsourcing a lot of manufacturing to save money. (See: CO2 emissions are being 'outsourced' by rich countries to rising economies).

We were fortunate to have several good options for food as well. Our favourites restaurants included: Hum a fancier placer with tranquil ambiance, Pi Vegetarian Bistro, and Vegan Kitchen.

A highlight of Ho Chi Minh is the Museum of History where we enjoyed a great exhibit on Buddhist statues, jewelry, and cultural artifacts. It is housed in interesting building with a lotus pond in the courtyard. There are quite a few green spaces in the city where we relaxed in the cooler evenings. After Ho Chi Minh the next stop Tokyo, Japan!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Vietnam via Korea

Our trip starts with three nights in Seoul, South Korea, which is not a lot of time, but it does break up the long flights and allows us to start to explore this neat city. The city streets are very full and at night reminded us of Bladerunner. There was also a weird sound we heard from our airbnb that sounded like a whale being assaulted - we never did figure out the source. Our first day we spent wandering the streets as we usually do when in a new place. We enjoyed the Insa-Dong Art Street area, full of art and antique shops along winding alleys.

We decided we wanted to go to the DMZ - Demilitarized Zone, specifically the JSA - Joint Security Area, between South and North Korea. The JSA is the area of the DMZ where you can see both South and North Korean soldiers standing on opposite sides. As well there is a building where you can technically stand in North Korea. This takes advance booking and requires that color copies of your passport be submitted and you must attend as part of a tour. (For more information on tours see: We were set to go, but then South and North Korea booked Olympic talks for the exact same day and the JSA portion was cancelled. There had also been recent defections of North Korean soldiers and we watched a fascinating, and heart breaking news story about the efforts of the South Korean hospital, that resulted in saving the defector that was shot. You can read more about this case here;

So we couldn’t go the the JSA area but we went to another portion of the DMZ on a small tour bus. 
The guide thought J was Ryan Reynolds so that was pretty fun. Unfortunately I was sick so I had to wear a mask on the bus. It’s a common cultural phenomenon in Korea to wear a mask when sick or as prevention. At least I found a nice one in black that I can use again in case of some sort of outbreak at home. Speaking of outbreaks, I was so impressed with the comprehensive emergency supplies in the metro stations; gas masks, blankets, water, flashlights, etc, sadly in place in case of attack. But I digress... at the DMZ we went to four locations; Imjingak Park, 3rd Infiltration tunnel, the Dora Observatory and Dorasan Station. 

The first stop, Imjingak Park, does not require visitors to go through any security check points so it tends to be more accessible and popular with tourists. “Imjingak Resort, located 7 km from the Military Demarcation Line, is now at the forefront of tourism related to the Korean War. Imjingak was built in 1972 with the hope that someday unification would be possible. The three-storied Imjingak is surrounded by several monuments, Unification Park and North Korea Center.” (Source: This area had a powerful display of ribbons and messages attached to the barbed wire fence as well as the The Stone of Peace Wall sculpture. From the plaque on site; “This sculpture is made from stones collected from battlefields all over the world that have witnessed the suffering and grief of war. It is my sincere wish that the bringing together of these stones collected from 86 battlefields in 64 different countries will be a stepping stone for the reconciliation of the Korean People and mark the beginning of a century of peace and harmony for all mankind.” - Li, Chan-Yeul, Governor of Kyonggi Province (January 1, 2000). 

The 3rd Infilitration Tunnel was an attempt from North Korea to invade South Korea, although North Korea says it was for mining. At the site you descend a very steep, very long walk way under ground to get to a section of the original tunnel. I wanted to take a picture of this, as it was like the pitch of a slide, but photos are not allowed - trust me it was steep. I am not a big fan of steep hikes, being deep under ground, or small spaces, and the constant smashing of my hard hat clad head on the tunnel ceiling did not make me a bigger fan. However, it was very interesting to learn about! Once we hiked out of the depths we watched an informative documentary on the DMZ and the conflict. It was particularly interesting to learn how the wild animals thrive in this area with out human abuse and interference. 

The next stop was the Dora Observatory where you can use the binoculars to peek into North Korea. Although we were quite far we were still able to see buildings. We also went to he Dorasan train station, a station set up in hopes of future South and North reunification. It is the end station of the Gyeongui Line. The station is essentially empty except for tourists, waiting one day to be filled with North and South Koreans freely passing through.

The cancellation of the JSA portion left us with a free afternoon which we used to explore the excellent modern art museum; Arario Museum. In our short trip we found great vegan food using our favorite travel app Happy Cow Veg Directory. To our delight there was an all vegan bakery The Bread Blue with terrific panne au chocolate! Our favorite dining spot was a wee cafe, DalYang - Sweet Kitten, a bit out of the way but accessible by metro, and has amazing burgers. The sweet staff person was concerned for our us finding food for the flight the next morning so she insisted we take two free muffins. A nice way to end a visit! 

You can see photos of the trip and food at

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Aloha Hawaii

As a friend of ours was getting married on the Big Island of Hawaii, we decided that was a great reason to take a trip. We spent two weeks in Hawaii, mostly on the Big Island with the last few days in Honolulu. We flew into Honolulu for one night and then flew to Kona. As we were arriving late in Honolulu, I smartly packed some vegan pizza pockets for dinner! After arriving in Kona, we picked up our reserved car at the airport via National (great service - highly recommend). We were lucky to get a free upgrade to a fun new, 4WD, jeep! Our first stop was for lunch at Kaya's Store, which has great coffee and vegan pastries. 

We stayed in Waikoloa Village at the Fairmont Orchid (specifically because they offered vegan options at their restaurants). We enjoyed meals at the beach front Hale Kai restaurant, and a nice fancy dinner at Browns' Beach House, which has a separate vegan menuWe also picked up great snacks, deli items, and breakfast pastries from the Kona Island Natural Market and deli. We enjoyed a healthy meal and large fruit plate at the nearby vegetarian restaurant, Under the Bodhi TreeThe hotel was terrific with a big pool, terrific beach access, and several green sea turtles hanging around. Our friend's wedding was just down the road at the Lava Lava Beach club. It was a beautiful ocean side ceremony with a great dinner on the beach. By surprise, our neighbours and friends, also happened to be on the Big Island so we had a visit with them at the Hilton hotel.

We went on a nice (hot) 8km hike (where we stumbled upon more green sea turtles and Keanalele waterhole), checked out the nearby petroglyphs, relaxed by the pool and went up Maunakea, a dormant volcano! J really wanted to go to the top to see the Mauna Kea Observatories; a height of 14,000 feet! This posed a bit of an issue as we did not bring any warm jackets to save space. We are totally committed to carry-on only whenever possible with our awesome Patagonia MCL carry-on convertible backpacks; which even fit our snorkelling masks, shorty fins and all our other needed items. We solved the problem by picking up some jackets at the Kona Salvation Army, which proved to be wise as the temperature dropped significantly, and the top of Maunakea was snow covered. Once you get the to the Maunakea visitors centre, 9200 feet, you require 4WD to go up the remaining winding, super steep road. Our jeep actually stalled at the very top due to the reduced oxygen levels, and I certainly felt winded and light headed. Once at the top we took photos of the gigantic telescopes and enjoyed the view. It was very eery to be above the clouds looking down. Everyone has to depart by 7pm to not interfere with the astronomy work, due to vehicle lights and dust. We travelled back down to the visitors centre and spent a few chilly hours taking star photos and listening to the staff discuss the constellations. We were rewarded with a super clear night and I am anxiously awaiting J's  photos to be posted to flickr

Next we drove to Hilo area and stayed in an airbnb cabin right on the beach, outside of the town of Pahoa. This location was terrific to watch the waves crash on the rocky beach, take a short walk to the nearby Kapoho Tidal Pools, access to Hilo and other attractions, plus cabin had a well equipped kitchen, so we were able to cook many meals with vegan supplies from the Islands Natural Market and Deli in Pahoa and Hilo. Pahoa is a sweet little town, with a hippy beach vibe (apparently there are nearby clothing optional, beach drumming circles), and we enjoyed delicious vegan pizza from Strato's. We were also able to donate the jackets we picked up from the Kona Salvation Army (for the Maunakea excursion), to a Pahoa charity. The clothing donation is located right at the dump, which was also outfitted with great recycling bins, ensuring as much as possible is diverted from land fill. (As our airbnb was more remote it did not have garbage pick up so we had to drop our garbage off on our last day in the area.)

The tidal pools were great for snorkelling as they offered a sheltered area way from the crashing waves. We saw many tropical fish and coral. The entry is a bit tricky as you climb over sharp lava rock; having the shorty snorkelling fins proved helpful for entry. We also spent some time in Hilo and checked out the nearby Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens - I've never seen so many orchids! The gardens also end at the beach with stunning views of cliffs.

The highlight of the trip was seeing red hot, flowing lava at Kalapana Lava Viewing Area. We read up on it on tripadvisor, a great site to get up to date travel information from fellow travellers, which helped us decide what to do and how to get there. Once you arrive at the parking area you must travel by foot or bike the rest of the way, which is 14kms round trip, plus the distance spent exploring. We opted to rent bikes on site, to more easily reach lava viewing area. The bikes were $20 USD each with a lock, headlamp and a bottle of water. Headlamps and lots of water is a must! We travelled by bike on the gravel emergency access road, which had a few gentle hills. At the end we locked up our bikes and had the option of going towards the sea viewing area or inland to the rocky lava field. Taking advice from tripadvisor, we opted for inland and we were not disappointed! We spent hours until dusk exploring the field and getting within a few feet of red hot, flowing lava. It was a truly amazing experience worth the trek, heat and fumes. It is against Hawaiian culture to poke the lava with sticks etc, and while tempting, we respected this rule, enjoying just watching the lava suddenly appear in different spots as we walked around. 

We spent another day exploring Volcano National Park, where we checked out the Jaggar Museum and viewed the Halema‘uma‘u Crater, spurting lava, from the observation deck. We also checked out the steam vents, which are just like they sound - cracks in the earth with steam flowing out, and the Nahuku - Thurston Lava Tube, which is like a long cave left behind by flowing lava, surrounded by lush forest. On our last day on the Big Island we dropped our car at the Hilo airport and headed to Honolulu; the inter island flights are super easy and quick. As Honolulu is a large city with good public transportation we opted to not get a rental car.

When J was little, he and his family, went to Waikiki and stayed in a condo a few blocks from the beach. On this trip, he spotted the Royal Hawaiian, a bright pink, vintage, ocean side hotel, and vowed one day to stay there. I was easily convinced as it reminded me of the Grand Budapest Hotel, a favourite movie. The original portion of the Royal Hawaiian was built in 1927 and offers old world charm and luxury. We were given a free upgrade to a junior suite, which had an extra sitting room! I adore this hotel with its quaint pool (plus free access to the pool at the adjacent Sheraton), ocean front location, and lovely vintage decor. We spent time bobbing in the waves and relaxing by the pool. As luck would have it a dear friend, who now lives in Australia was also in town for a conference, so we enjoyed an evening visiting at the beachside restaurant. 

Honolulu is a very different experience than the slow moving towns on the Big Island and offers a lot of urban activities. We travelled around by city bus and walking. We were delighted with the terrific art at HOMA - Hawaii Museum of Art, which had diverse exhibits including contemporary Hawaii design, historical and multicultural artifacts. The building itself is beautiful and has lovely inner courtyards with plants and ponds. Our favourite place to eat was Downbeat Diner, which has a vegan option for every item on the menu. It is a funky, rockabilly diner, located downtown, but the bus stop is right at the door! While downtown we checked out the older buildings and vintage shops. We checked out Whole Foods Market for snacks but ended up preferring the Down to Earth all vegetarian market. Down to Earth had a terrific deli, hot buffet, and great snacks. I also loaded up the remaining room in my wee carry-on with a few vegan items not easily found at home.

Hawaii was a terrific, relaxing trip. We had way more adventure and fun than we anticipated and spent time with great friends! To check out my photos head over to Flickr or instagram.