Hawaii, O’ahu- March 2020

Yes, yes, I know, it’s been quite while since I’ve posted… again. Unfortunately I’ve only had one trip to speak of and with the COVID pandemic, I’ve rather had my hands full delaying me writing this given a lack of time, energy, and motivation. Fortunately I was able to get this trip in right before all hell broke loose with COVID and not be detained returning to the mainland. On the down side, I’m writing this from home when I was supposed to be in Krakow seeing System Of A Down, Zakopane, and hiking the Tatra Mountains, but I digress. There were multiple reasons for this trip. It was the first real trip since my 2019 brain surgery, it was a chance to meet up with a friend from work, and finally it was purely to escape, recharge, and go off the beaten path. However my overall plan, which seemed to be a great idea, turned into a comedy of errors making for a very interesting trip to say the least.

The great idea in question was to save some money and instead of renting a car and hotel, I happened upon a company that rents conversion vans that are used for both transportation and a place to sleep, ideally by the beach. Everything that I could research showed this to be financially savvy and allow me to stay off the beaten path. But as they say, the best laid plans of mice and men, yadda, yadda, yadda. The comedy of errors started even before I left. Two days before my plane took off I get a call from the van company sayin the van I reserved was damaged, in the shop, and not available. I was told I they would not have a van for me until 2 days after I arrived. What’s more is that they had no back up plan. When I asked what I’m supposed to do for those 2 day, they said I had to figure it out. To which I said, no they had to get me accommodations and car to use for the first 2 days. This was not promising.

The day of my flight also had its own issues. My originally flight was canceled due to weather in my layover city. I had to book a new route which delayed my arrival by 2 hours. Fortunately, that went very smoothly. American Airlines sent me an email advising me of my options and I rebooked everything quite quickly. On arrival in Honolulu I was met by a driver for the Van Company who picked me up at the airport. I was advised I would be using his car for the 2 days (which was very nice of him but felt bad his company put him out like that) and they had an Air B&B room set up for me at the North Shore town of Haleiwa. Well, ostensibly they arranged a room. I was told to text the owner of the house when I was 10 minutes out, which I did. However I got no response from the owner. When I arrived at the house, I was not really prepared for what was to come. I walked into a rather disheveled house, to my right was high looking teenage surfer dude cooking instant Ramen noodles, to my left another dude sitting at a table, and at my feet numerous cats running in and out of the house. I don’t know if these  are house cats or feral cats (something I know was an issue in Maui when I was there prior). In talking to surfer dude, I can tell my arrival is not expected in the least and he is unsure where I would be sleeping as the rooms are all taken. Just as he says that, a door in the back opens and a short older man reminiscent of Danny DeVito in Its Always Sunny In Philadelphia comes out holding what is tantamount to cheese cloth yelling, “YOU CALL THIS A BLANKET!!!”. I’m half thinking I’m getting punked. That the owner is going to emerge suddenly saying, “Ahhhh, we’re just fucking with ya!”. Honestly, I didn’t give it a chance. I said I’m going to my car to get my bags and I never return. I hopped on my iPhone and got a room at the Kapolei Hampton Inn for two nights.

In hindsight, that was the best move I could have made. I was jet lagged from work and the flight, I was in great need of a shower and a clean bed. I also needed a day to just chill and take it easy. So for the next day and half, I just chilled. There is not much around Kapolei anyway. I hit the pool and drank at the bar that first day. The next morning I did drive to see Pearl Harbor. Word of advice, while tickets to see the USS Arizona are free, you need to get there very early to get them. They go quick. I was there at 10AM and next available tickets were for 2:30PM which was too late for me as I had to pickup the van. I instead opted for the aviation museum. As I have always had a thing for fighter jets, this was right in my wheelhouse and very enjoyable.

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I actually picked up the van and dropped off the car on the BYU campus located on the NE section of the island. Now that I think about it, it seems kind of shady. The van was what I expected. It was a mid to late 90’s conversion van. Nothing special. Bed in the back, cooler, beach chairs, etc provided, AC, halfway decent radio I could charge my phone with, and not much else. On the down side, it was a rough ride, the breaks were quite mushy, the passenger side view mirror would not stay in place, the windshield wipers made the view worse when it rained, and it was kind of beat up on the outside. On the plus side, I think all of those things helped me fit in a great deal more. If you haven’t been to Hawaii, there is a sub-population of homeless people, some live out of their vehicles (another thing I experienced in Maui) and some live out of tents. So when I spent my first day at Waimānalo Beach Park and happened upon a man shooting up in the public bath house, I wound up having a nice conversation with the guy instead of a scary moment.

My initial plan was to just drive place to place on the island, eat at roadside food stands, and park on the beach at night to sleep. I wasn’t quite able to do the latter for a couple of reasons. First, the next beach I found was Kailua Beach. It was absolutely pristine and gorgeous. Grass and trees grew in the dunes providing plenty of shady areas if one wanted to get out of the sun. The restroom / bath houses were very clean and well maintained. The water and views picturesque. I was so taken by the beach that I wound up spending most of my time around there. The second reason is a bit more entertaining. Despite my research, I quickly realized every beach on the island had signs stating it was illegal to park and/or sleep on the beach. Yeah. I guess I need to do better research next time. And they mean it. The first night I parked in just the parking lot of Kailua Beach and at about 12:30am had a friendly knock on the van by the local PD telling me I had to move along. I imagine that helped me fit in even more. Not too worry, I was able to find a good spot along a park near the beach to park and sleep each night. Not quite on the beach but close enough to still hear the wave.

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As stated before, I was also on O’ahu to see my friend Kelly. Kelly and I worked together in the ER for several years before she moved to Hawaii. She is one cool cat, a great nurse, and we got along great at work. That said, I had a black cloud over me at the start of this trip so the comedy of errors did not take a hiatus the night we hung out. There were many places she wanted to show me. The first was a particular restaurant near her. Unfortunately it was a first come first serve restaurent and when we arrived there was a 2.5 hour wait for a table. After some debating, we decided to bag the restaurant idea and head to a jazz club in Honolulu. Mind you, if you think finding parking in NYC or other mainland city is an issue, Honolulu appears to be it’s own beast when it comes to parking. After finally finding a spot, we had a bit of walk ahead of us. It should come as no surprise to know that when we arrived at the jazz club, it was closed. Mind you, their website showed they were open and had a list of bands playing that night. Fret not, Kelly had the situation well in control and had plan C already in the works. While not a jazz club, we wound up at another bar and experienced possibly the most bizarre dance party I have ever witnessed. On one side was an older white crown dressed in clothes too tight and too young for them. While I can’t be 100% sure, the other side seemed to be ex-Yakuza. Regardless, everyone met in the middle and fun was had by all. I’m not usually a dancer but if they are going to play Groove Is In The Heart, I’m going to get my groove on. Though the night did not go nearly as planned, I would not change a thing. It was so great to see my friend. Miss you Kelly.

The remainder of the week was spent meandering around the island to various locations. I hit the West Shore, the light house trail at Makapu’u, Mokoli’i island on the East Shore, and Honolulu again on my very last night. I still found myself going back to Kailua. I just adored the beach there. There is still so much more to see that I did not get a chance to. The island is indeed gorgeous, especially the east side of the  mountains. As much as I enjoyed it there, if I was forced to choose between O’ahu and Maui, I would go with the latter. Unfortunately there were many places on O’ahu that remind me of the mainland US, especially Honolulu and Kapolei. While every beach seemed to have it’s own restrooms and bath houses no matter how small, there was a great variety in how clean and well maintained they were kept. I felt Maui was much more relaxing, had more unique beaches, and no areas that were built up like the mainland US. Granted, I was there in 2007 so things could have changed a great deal since. As for the van life, I probably would not do that again. Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time doing it. I just wish the island was better set up for it. There are no places that cater to vans similar to RV sites we have on the mainland. Combined with it being against the law to park overnight on the beach or on beach park property, it makes it very difficult. In talking to the company, they said most people just stick to the North Shore. I guess the rules are a bit more relaxed there. However, as a means to see the whole island, it just doesn’t seem to work well.

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I wish I could tell you when and where my next destination will be but for obvious COVID reasons, all my travel is on the back burner. Take care and stay safe all.

Niagara Falls & Buffalo September 2019

I’m likely to make a lot of Canadian enemies with this post but here it goes… If you ever plan on visiting Niagara Falls, here is what you do. You find a place to park that does not cost money (if possible), you get out of the car, you look at the falls, take a couple of pictures, you collect your stuff, you get back in the car, and you go far, far away because that place is easily one of the top 5 tourist traps in the world. Am I exaggerating, possibly a tiny bit but I don’t thinks so. I’ve been to many other places that don’t even remotely compare. I’ve been to many other places in Canada including Vancouver, Banff, Toronto, and Montreal and again it’s no comparison. Those places were amazing, well worth every penny, but were anything but tourist traps. And to be fair, even though I did not stay on the US side, I have no doubt it is every bit as equal a trap.

Don’t get me wrong the falls themselves are a beautiful site. They are awesome in their appearance and sheer power. I just take umbrage with a place that looks to squeeze every bit on money out of a person and actively block opportunities to get a free glimpse at such at natural wonder. After I checked into my hotel, I wondered down with the intent to walk to the falls. I never suspected there would be no directed route to walk to them even though my hotel was right there. Instead there was a pay to ride elevator/escalator type are that gets you down to the falls. So I went to find a way to walk down. As I walked I passed multiple terrace areas that one would think would have a view of the falls from up high. No dice. Every time I walked to one of them, trees blocked the view. I have nothing against trees at all. It just seemed odd every one of these areas had the view blocked. I had to walk about a 1/2 mile or so before I could start walking down to the falls. The walk was fine. I can’t say it was scenic as the area is dotted with casinos, stores, souvenir shops, etc, and nothing that really celebrated the falls themselves. Once there it seemed that all the areas to park were pay lots and I did not see any place were one could park for free. While the falls themselves are impressive, I just find it shameful all the ways they try to make every bit of money from a piece of nature that should at least have some free ways to view it if not be totally free to view.

I spent my two nights at the Embassy Suites on the Ontario side and I have to say I was not that impressed. The rooms themselves were very clean, the staff courteous, and my room had a very nice few of the falls. I can’t say much more than that unfortunately. First and foremost, they need to do something about their elevator situation. They had five elevators that went to all of the 40 plus floors and since there is such a large volume of guests, waiting for an elevator is almost an exercise in futility. Not only did it take a long time for elevators to get to your floor, invariably they were packed to the brim further increasing your wait time. As I had gotten in late that evening I decided to eat in their high end steak place, The Keg, which boasted views of the falls. While it was a little after 9:00PM I was still realistic and did not expect a table with a great view. That said, I was still not prepared for my seating arrangement. As a side note, it is not unusual for me to travel alone. I actually quite enjoy it. I like the solitude and not having to worry about a group’s itinerary. Likewise I have no issue dining alone but it seems for this restaurant, the lone diner becomes somewhat of an afterthought. Again the staff was nice and I was seated in a decent amount of time… to a high top table right next to the kitchen door… that kept bumping my table every time the door opened… right in view of four other empty tables. I was a bit astonished. I felt like I was in a bad sit-com or being punked. I would completely understand being seated by the kitchen if the place was packed and no empty tables were in sight. I would have no problem with that arrangement. To have my table in place constantly hit by the kitchen door while multiple empty tables were in my view was disappointing to say the least. The meal itself was just OK. Not horrible, not great, very middle of the road. It did take a long time for my server to follow up after I was done eating so I could get my check. Again, had it been busy, I would have understood. The overall experience left one feeling like an afterthought if I may repeat myself. At the very least the bed was very comfortable and I slept well. In the end, I would not recommend this hotel.

Now I can’t say the whole trip was a bust. There were two very good parts that made me glad I took this journey. First was the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory. I was told of this place many years ago and finally made time to see it in person. The conservatory itself is set on the grounds of a botanical garden and houses numerous species of butterflies. The interior is a small man made and maintained tropical environment. When one walks in, you are immediately surrounded by numerous butterflies of various colors flying all around you as well as periodically landing on you. It is somewhat otherworldly, almost Harry Potter-ish. Some species are indeed more photogenic than others with a couple of the more colorful ones opting to continually fly rather than land for a photo op. I actually enjoyed the conservatory more than the falls themselves.

The second fun part of the trip was meeting up with a past friend. On my second day I traveled back across the bridge to Buffalo to meet up with a friend and her family to watch the Bills take down the NY Giants. Many of them are fellow South Jersey residents and Eagle fans such as myself. It was a great afternoon of great food, laughs, and it was like being back in Jersey watching Sunday football. It’s always special when someone you know and haven’t seen in a long time welcomes you into their home. I so enjoyed their hospitality and it was one of the things that made the weekend great.

On the return trip I decided to take the long way home. I guess I should first mention my experience at the border coming back. I gather it’s both the job and training of a border patrol agent to be suspicious of everyone. Still, I was rather perplexed when he asked me in a very suspicious tone, “You drove all the way from Jersey to see the falls?”. I’m really not sure what he was getting at? Don’t people from all over drive to see the falls? Was I supposed to fly or take the train? Has the guy never heard of road trip? Maybe like the restaurant staff, he finds traveling alone an odd thing to do. So I then headed southward to Pennsylvania Route 6 and drove that east then winding my way to Route 15. Both of those roads are quite the scenic drive. If you ever have the opportunity, check them out.

Where to next? I’m thinking some place warm and tropical to visit another past friend. We’ll see…

Finger Lakes, NY, Sept 2019

Though I planned on taking time off months in advance, I did not decide on my final travel plans until the very last minute. For the first part of my trip I wound up in the Finger Lakes region of New York between Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake. The area is very laid back and relaxing and the weather for September is just sublime with the temperatures in the the 60s to 70s. I chose to stay at the Inn At Gothic Eves and it is bar none the best bed and breakfast I have ever stayed in. It manages to mix traditional and modern decor which makes it feel very warm and inviting without feeling dated. The breakfasts are creative and out of this world good. There is a small but quaint downtown area of Trumansburg with a few places to eat and drink. In particular Atlas Bowl has a small but very tasty menu and excellent cocktails. I had three of their Autumn Old Fashions and I would have had 5 more if there wasn’t a chance of me getting in trouble from being too drunk. I know, I’m getting old.

I spend most of my day hiking with a little bit of fishing at Robert H. Treman State Park taking in some fantastic waterfalls and working on my shutter speed photography skills. I’ll let you in on a little secret, those skills still need a lot of work. I have to say, the park and trails and superbly well maintained. If one finds themselves here and wanting to do the trails my one recommendation would be to the Rim Trail first and get all the major, repetitive up and down elevation changes out of the way first and then return on the Gorge Trail. The down side is the waterfalls are kind of at your back on the return trip but it’s easier on the legs. I can’t say I caught anything fishing but that’s the beauty of it, you don’t have to catch anything to enjoy it. It became a nice relaxing time after the hike to kick back, nap, and enjoy the sounds of the creek. Next stop, Niagara Falls. A place I have not been to since the late 1970’s when I was a wee lad.