Travel


DSCN0683Wanting a bit of a relax after the whirlwind of the last night months, we chose a transatlantic cruise for our honeymoon on the Queen Mary 2. I’d always been curious what it would be like to cross the Atlantic by ship, but unsurprisingly several months on a small wooden ship with hard tack à la 1690 did not sound appealing. However, spending a week in an ocean liner with afternoon tea and dressing for dinner (more reminiscent of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) sounded heavenly. (Not to mention a wooden-paneled library of 8,000 books!)

Unusually, the cruise we booked had a day stopover in Le Havre for its 500th anniversary before the usual seven night crossing. It was nice to explore Le Havre but also nice to start our days at sea. While the Atlantic is cool in September, we enjoyed our enclosed balcony that enabled us to drink tea or relax outside in colder or wetter weather than was ideal for the open decks. We were surprised at the number of events listed in our daily program (evening performances and dances; lessons on flower arranging, pilates, bridge, and more; planetarium shows; pub quizzes; and interesting lectures) in addition to the gym , pools, and spa. Not to mention the delicious dining options like a regular three course supper.

It was incredible how self-sufficient this little floating city was for a week. Imagine the logistics to ensure all those food choices for around 2,000 passengers. The staff were all amazing (something like 1243 personnel on board). We learned too late that you have to book the tours of the ship on the first day to get a slot anytime during the week; we’d wanted to understand better how it all works (and how they “make” their water). It was impossible not to marvel at the incredible accuracy required when you appreciated how extremely isolated we were. I think it was the second or third day at sea that I thought about how very in the middle of nowhere we were (also about this time they announced we were 100 miles north of the site of the Titanic) and how significant that seemed.

We admit our honeymoon choice was an unusual one–underscored by the fact that while we did meet another couple our age on their honeymoon, most passengers were 30-45 years our senior. But the only time that really mattered was in getting seats for events. While our generation shows up at the earliest about five minutes before start time, we would routinely be without a seat if we came fifteen minutes before an event began.

dscn0629.jpgBut some things you didn’t need a seat for–like the sunsets. One of the best parts about heading west (besides an extra hour of sleep every night as we changed time zones) was that the front of the ship faced the sunset. We enjoyed the view once from the Commodore Club and another time from the top of the ship. So many options.

Despite all the luxury, we most appreciated Queen Mary 2 when we hit the edges of Tropical Storm Hose on our last two days. Being on an ocean liner versus a regular cruise ship makes a significant difference during storms with winds at 11 on the Beaufort scale. (I personally felt very safe with the crew and just enjoyed the extra rocking though my dancing was off at the 1920s ball.) It was wonderful to wake up on Friday morning with the Statue of Liberty outside our window and the storm behind us.

DSCN0755New York City offered the first warm, perfect weather of the trip, so we spent most of our time enjoying and exploring Central Park. I was excited to finally try out the rowboats and to catch up with a few people during our 24 hours there before we flew back to London.

 

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DSCN0564Our trip on the Queen Mary 2 made an unusual stop during its transatlantic crossing. We stopped in Le Havre, a coastal city in Normandy celebrating its 500th anniversary. Now the second largest port in France, the city was founded by King Francis I of France in 1517.

Le Havre played a unique role during the Second World War. It was a critical stronghold for the Germans and was to be defended to the last man, per Hitler’s instructions. Needless to say with heavy fortifications in the north and impenetrable  seas from the other three directions, Operation Astonia by the Allies began with heavy bombing. While the World Heritage Site’s rendition of events is more favorable than sited above, the result was the destruction of Le Havre. On July 18, 1959, the city was awarded the Legion of Honor and the War Cross for its sacrifices.

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The city was largely rebuilt by Auguste Perret‘s firm after WWII. Perret had a hand in designing the Church of St. Joseph. High above the rest of the skyline, it is easy to make out St. Joseph’s tower, shining like a beacon. Perhaps it was the gloomy day we were there, but JJ and I felt the unfinished concrete within gave a raw feeling–almost like scar tissue–that the residents of Le Havre must have felt in having to rebuild from scratch after the war. The separated tiny pieces of stained glass seemed like tiny shards of hope that did not let in much light.

 

The contrast was Notre Dame Cathedral Le Havre a few blocks away. While the first church on this site was from the Middle Ages, most of the current standing version was built in 1575. Damaged during sieges by the English and then plundered during the French Revolution, it was reopened in 1801. Located near the city center, it is no surprise that the stained glass was destroyed in 1941 with destructive bombings in June and September 1944 decimating five spans of the nave. The rebuilding was complete in 1974. Compared to St. Joseph’s it was remarkably open, airy and bright. I’d never seen another high altar with only Mary as the main image.

With much of the city rebuilt in the “modern style,” it is little wonder that the celebration marking the 500th anniversary centered around modernism. The modernism is also why Le Havre is considered a World Heritage Site.

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Some people like to pack as much into a vacation as possible, and Hawai’i’s many islands each beckon. However, Joan and I decided to deeply explore a single place: Kaua’i, the Garden Island. It is the oldest of the islands and quite beautiful. We loved exploring Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. I really wanted to see the stunning view from Pu’u o Kila Lookout, but we arrived just as the clouds rolled in. Joan was so patient as I begged for just another minute, which turned into twenty; I almost made us late for the amazing lu’au at the Grand Hyatt, where we were staying. Joan learned to hula, and we enjoyed the performance of various Pacific Island dances. We did enjoy seeing Spouting Horn after going out for lunch in Poipu at the Beach House, which has a lovely view of the ocean. Then again, it is hard to get a bad view anywhere on the island; it’s so beautiful.

Because it was March, to take a boat to see the Na Pali coast, we had to leave from the west, and so we went with Liko Kaua’i Tours. On our tour we saw sea turtles mating, bottle-nose dolphins, spinner dolphins, and humpback whales. Riding along the coastline was also gorgeous if very bumpy. We later took a helicopter tour with Blue Hawaiian to see more of the island; over 70% of the island isn’t accessible by cars (and much of it is privately owned anyhow). I was a bit nervous about getting into the helicopter, but it was really incredible even when it became overcast and a little dizzly. On our last day and just before we needed to make it to the airport, we trekked the two miles to the beach and two miles back along the Na Pali coast on the Kalalau Trail. I was so glad I was wearing Tevas because they meant all the red clay mud was no big deal, AND when I was tired and hot I could just walk into the water unlike everyone who was rock hopping (not to dis rock hopping, which is great). The trail was difficult, but every turn was stunning. Despite how much we enjoyed the boat and helicopter tours, hiking was our favorite way to see the Na Pali coast.

Of course, I’d be remiss in not sharing that we also enjoyed immensely staying at the Grand Hyatt and just being lazy at the pools. If I’m honest, it was actually a challenge to leave the resort most days because it was so wonderfully relaxing, and they had incredible restaurants (and great pineapple) and views.

Food tips: We loved the spicy poke at Ishihathe Market in Waimea. Joan called it that poi (steamed taro root, which is a lavender color) does taste like wallpaper paste. Kalua pig and chicken lu’au are excellent, and so are Hawaiian sweet potatoes (purple sweet potatoes). If walu (butterfish) or opah (fish) is on the menu, order it. Lambert’s Ice Cream has a “can’t decide” option where you can put 5 scoops together, so you know what we got. Shave ice is amazing IF there is a fruit sauce, not syrup; enjoyed it at Hee Fat General Store in Kapa’a.

If you want to plan your own adventure, check out “The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook.” It was awesome.

A quick weekend up to NYC in October 2016 led to a couple good finds I wanted to share. It is amazingly convenient when your cool New Yorker friends keep moving to new neighborhoods so you can explore them. Except for a visit to Central Park and the Met Art Museum, I hadn’t previously spent much time in the “real” Upper East Side. I loved trying out Eli’s Market for brunch. I got a kick out of walking around the JKO Reservoir, which is just very beautiful. I learned first-hand that exhibits at the Guggenheim are hit or miss if like my brother and me you aren’t a modern art fan, but it’s good to try new things.

I also love the concept of Open House New York. We only had time for one event, and I loved learning more about New York’s Town Hall and its history. I particularly loved that it was created by suffragists and helped a lot of immigrant families learn English and understand the importance of voting and democracy.

I also did love going to see Something Rotten on Broadway, in which Shakespeare is a Rockstar (literally) and a fortune teller’s insights lead to some truly amazing classic Broadway references. We enjoyed dinner beforehand at Print. We also enjoyed the very ’40s vibe  and delicious cocktails of the Rum House.

I also got to explore a little bit of the (Washington) Heights, which made the show so much better when I saw it this spring at Gala Theater in D.C., because my brother was renting an apartment up there. Every trip to the Big Apple is just a lot of fun.

Through luck, I was able to attend the Royal Awards Ceremony and Banquet at the City Hall where the Stockholm Water Prize is given back in August. I wish someone had given me some etiquette pointers in advance (when the royals are present you do not clink your glasses in toasts for example). Dr. Joan Rose gave a wonderful speech about her work on drinking water standards. As a dessert lover, my favorite moment might have been the trumpet fanfare to the troop of servers bringing in dessert with sparklers on the trays!

The Water Week as always was a whirlwind of coffees, sessions, meetings, meals, and more with an amazing community of people who work on water around the world. I fell in love with the Art Deco styled Vete Katten, cafe. (Try the Princess torta.) I had a fun final evening with friends at the Dance and Mingle, which was held with a Eurovision band. The Scandic Haymarket’s recent Art Deco makeover made it an amazing place to stay. I loved that my room overlooked the square, which held different kinds of markets every day of the week.

After a wonderful Stockholm World Water Week, we decided to relax by taking a Viking Line overnight cruise to Helsinki. I’d never been to Finland before, and it was fabulous to leave Stockholm by sailing past all the amazing small islands where people still live while commuting to the capital. It was really nice to relax on the ship, and I can easily say that the multi-course meal we had at the No Name restaurant was one of the most amazing meals I’ve ever had and it was not much more than the smorgasbord option.

Getting off the boat it was easy to see what a friend who used to live there described as “the white church and the red church.” Uspenski Cathedral is a red brick Eastern Orthodox cathedral. We arrived in the middle of a service, which meant I was taken back to my time in the Middle East with the icons, the incense, and the chanting–always inspiring. Wandering along the streets, we meandered our way to Market Square, which contains the Havis Amanda statue and where the Helsinki Cathedral dominated the view with its vantage point on the hill above. The stairs up to its white walls and green dome seemed very steep; the sanctuary was plain as one might expect of a Finnish Evangelical Lutheran church. We went down to crypt and ended up having a hearty carrot soup and bread there to support the local boys’ choir. We then continued our wander to the “Church of the Rock” with its rock interior walls and amazing acoustics. We had just sat down to admire it when we were told a baptism service was beginning and we needed to leave.

In the Helsinki Central Railway Station, I saw the fanciest Burger King I could ever expect to see in my life–beautiful wall mural. The station itself is another incredible Art Deco building. An easy walk from the train station, we enjoyed some peaceful time at Kaisaniemi Park with its lovely botanical gardens. Of course no city tour would be complete without an excellent cafe like Karl Fazer, which had incredible hot chocolate with the local candy Marianne (chocolate pepperminty goodness). Afterwards, we enjoyed a lovely stroll through Esplanade Park, which is beuatiful and led us back to the South Harbor (cute stalls and boats) on our way back to the Viking Line ship. One thing I have to share about the park is how much we loved the Talking Statues! There were several things we wanted to explore that we just didn’t have time for: Suomenlinna, UNESCO World Heritage; Seurasaari Open-Air Museum, similar to Skanson in Stockholm; and so much more.

 

Leaving Seattle, we took the Bainbridge Ferry to reach the peninsula and made our way to Port Angeles. Located to the north of Olympic National Park, Port Angeles was our main point of departure for expl20160720_194705oring the park over the next few days. While this involved a commitment to more time in the car, it also meant not moving locations every night. We loved the Red Lion Hotel and ate daily at La Belle Creperie. No, seriously: every single day,and we still didn’t get to try all the crepes that sounded amazing. We also had a fabulous dinner at H2O Waterfront Bistro, which had incredible fish and chips that involved fried salmon & cod–amazing. I’ve added a photo of some lovely Native American canoes that were part of a summer-long youth canoeing program to combat alcohol and drug use in teens. Lots of different tribes met up as they made their way south throughout the summer–really cool.

We were floored at the diversity throughout the Olympic National Park and we only had time to explore the top half of it!  Hurricane Ridge, a mere 45 minute drive from Port Angeles felt like being transported to the Alps. Eighteen miles west of Port Angeles you can canoe or have a truly fabulous fresh fish dinner at Lake Crescent Lodge. (It looked like an incredible place to stay but they were booked: 100th National Park Anniversary plus summer.) We enjoyed the nearby trails of “Moments in Time” and “Marymere Falls.” The hot springs with their familiar sulfur smell were still a fun way to soak away the aches of hiking. Further west is the Hoh Rain Forest, a temperate rainforest where moss covers maple trees. We were running short of time because of traffic due to construction work and so only accomplished the short “Hall of Mosses” trail. Stopping in Forks for dinner, we had a nice dinner at In Place, which had a good, fresh salad. Sunset at Rialto Beach was incredibly beautiful with the small islands dotting the oceanview and the forest behind us.

On our last day in Port Angeles, we went out with the Port Angeles Whale Watch Company, which took us out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. While we could see Victoria and Vancouver in the distance, the humpback and finback whales were what really caught our eye. That day there were no orca pods, but several humpbacks swam within ten feet of our boat. It was incredible. None of the photos we took can really do justice to the experience. I now wish we’d had another week or two in the area to see the rest of the park, more fully explore Seattle and to get into Victoria and Vancouver. It was an incredible vacation!

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When wedscn0160 headed out to see friends in Seattle and Tacoma this summer, I was not prepared for the sheer beauty of the area. The Emerald City with its plethora of evergreens is nestled between Puget Sound and Lake Washington with freshwater streams cutting throughout the city, thereby creating amazing bridge views (a perk considering the traffic congestion) with the Olympic and Cascade mountains in the distance. With only a short amount of time in Seattle, we enjoyed four classics: Seattle Japanese Garden, a tour of Theo’s Chocolate, the Space Needle, and Pike Place Market.  The market had incredible bouquets that were so reasonably priced I wanted to rent an apartment to have a place to put them. The classic “fish throwing” was definitely fun, and for lunch we decided on Maximilien for its incredible views on the terrace to go with the lovely French fare. To enjoy the Space Needle, I recommend what we were not able to do: book a lunch reservation and enjoy the view as the restaurant rotates 360 degrees to avoid paying for the admission ticket to the observatory and museum. (That said, I really enjoyed the museum, very Jetsons feel.) The Japanese Garden had such an air of peace and tranquility and was miniature dscn0345perfection. While that visit meant skipping the Arboretum and GasWorks Park, which I’d been excited about, we weren’t disappointed in our choice. As a chocoholic, I can’t recommend Theo’s in the Fremont District enough with its amazing samples both on the tour and in the gift shop.

It’s said that Seattle and Tacoma, its southern neighbor, “fight” over who owns Mt. Rainier, which to be completely accurate is a several hour drive from each city. However, each city offers different and stunning views of that mountain. I was particularly taken with the beauty of Point Defiance Park in Tacoma; I wish we had planned to be there for hours instead of a quick visit at sunset. The full moon rising over Mount Rainier was breathtaking. Driving up and down the San Francisco-like streets of Tacoma (who knew it could be so hilly), we stopped and enjoyed Corina Bakery and Ice Cream Social. We had a delicious supper at the Marrow, which sadly closed a few weeks after our visit. Tacoma is not lauded like Seattle, but it would make a great day trip if you’re in the area.

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