Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Interesting Wildlife Sighting in the Adirondacks

Will write more later now that we're back from our trip to the Adirondacks. And of course, it's Baxter's turn to do a news update. But I just wanted to show you what we came across right on the side of the road that goes past our property up near Lake George.

We first came across him while we were walking the dog and saw him when he was coiled up and he looked mostly black with a few goldish X's on him. But later we drove back to take another look, and he had uncoiled. And you can clearly see, on the end of his tail...a rattle. Yes, he (or is it a she?) is a timber rattlesnake.

They are supposed to be endangered. Apparently not in our neck of the woods. We read that their range extends up into the southeastern Adirondacks - which happens to be where our cabin is located. Looks as if we'll need to be a little more careful when we walk around in the woods! We had tromped all through this area a couple of months ago putting up "Posted" signs. Luckily we lived.

Monday, June 29, 2009

San Francisco Highlights: North Beach, Telegraph Hill, Tiburon

We just got back from a trip out to San Francisco, so I thought I'd share my memories of San Francisco in general as well as our most recent trip there.

My first sight of San Francisco was in 1982. I was on a trip to California with a friend of mine and the first weekend she went off to see her sister and I met my relatively new boyfriend (now my husband), in the city for a romantic rendez-vous.

Since then we've visited the city on the average of once a year ever since. How many trips does it make? I've lost count. We were there in the early 80s when the cable cars were out of commission for two years while they restored the entire line (we have pictures of the excavated streets exposing the cable system). We were also there in 1984 on the very day they put them back into service. Somehow we caught the first cable car going up Russian Hill - I think it may even have been a test run as there was no fanfare. We rode all the way to the end of the line while people along the sidewalks cheered and gave out balloons.

We've seen changes in the skyline - the addition of a new Marriott Hotel that San Franciscans hated, which now blends into the famous skyline just as the Transamerica Pyramid did after people got used to that. We remember when Union Square was mostly grass, before they built another layer of parking underneath and made the top of it mostly concrete pavers. It still has the palm trees, though.

We've seen the changes in the culture; the spread of AIDS, the gloom over the Castro District, now thankfully reviving. There is an annual AIDS walk and posters reminding people to be tested, but the atmosphere is more lighthearted than in those dark days.

We visited the Castro District once again on this trip, wandered the streets, and had lunch at Orphan Andy's before heading back. We used to go to a great little place that had brunch and lunch specialties but it has been replaced by another restaurant now so we tried Orphan Andy's and enjoyed some excellent burgers and fries.

We like getting to the Castro by taking the historic streetcars on the "F" line (pictured below) which run between Fisherman's Wharf and the Castro - you can get there on the regular MUNI system but the streetcars are more fun. Some are originally from San Francisco but a large number of them are from other cities. They're all painted in different colors representing the various cities that used to run these cars. This line of antique streetcars wasn't running when we first used to come out to the city - it is a welcome addition, another wonderful way to see San Francisco.

On each trip we always read the San Francisco Chronicle every day, and in the old days we would never miss a column by Herb Caen, San Francisco's biggest proponent. He would write gossipy articles about local celebrities (all of whom he knew personally), interspersed with nostalgic columns about bygone days, or amusing anecdotes of people and sights he'd seen in San Francisco. But under it all was his love of the city.

When he died in 1997, he had recently won the Pulitzer Prize. After his death the city named a portion of the Embarcadero after him, calling it "Herb Caen Way..." with the three dots that were his trademark way of moving from one subject to another in his columns.

We still read the Chron but it is not the same without Herb. He was the last voice that remembered an older San Francisco, the one that Sam Spade walked around in.

One of the many quotations he is known for is this one:

"One day if I do go to heaven...I'll look around and say, 'It ain't bad, but it ain't San Francisco.'"

I hope for Herb's sake that his heaven ended up being San Francisco in all her glory.

Speaking of changes, our own traditions have changed as well. In the beginning we would go eat at seafood restaurants down by Fisherman's Wharf; now we frequent small neighborhood bistros that we've found in our walks in the many neighborhoods we've explored.

We spent at least two trips attempting nearly every walk in Adah Bakalinsky's Stairway Walks in San Francisco. This book was a marvelous way to learn about the neighborhoods throughout the city and see fantastic views at the same time. A few times we didn't complete the walk, if the hill involved was just so steep as to be nearly insurmountable to our out-of-shape New Jersey legs, but we hit the key points of each one.

Some restaurants we liked have come and gone; For instance, The Petite Cafe on the corner of Green and Larkin turned into an Italian restaurant that we liked, but then changed yet again to one that still had good food but played terrible music so we abandoned it. It has morphed yet again to another Italian restaurant which is a bit on the pricey side. Maybe we'll try it again, maybe not.

North Beach and the Telegraph Hill area feel like home to us. We used to stay near Union Square because there are always good hotel bargains there; but we usually ended up in North Beach by the end of the day. So on this trip we decided to stay right in North Beach at the Washington Square Inn, where we had stayed once a number of years ago. It is a bit of a splurge for us, but we were only staying for three nights so we decided it was worth it.

This is a picture-perfect B&B style inn, which provides beautifully decorated rooms furnished in antiques, the usual amenities in the bathrooms (including hair dryers), and several have bay windows with views of Coit Tower and Sts. Peter and Paul Church. (Below is an evening view of the church taken from our room in one direction, and below that a view of Coit Tower taken just outside (the bay window to the right is our room).In the afternoons wine, cheese, crackers and homemade cookies are served in the downstairs lounge, and guests sit on the comfortable couches and enjoy their appetizers before heading out into the city for the evening.

During our last visit in San Francisco, we finally tried Sodini's Restaurant, which we'd been walking past for the last 20+ years and somehow never got around to going into - they don't take reservations and it was always packed when we went by. But we'd wistfully look in at the candles gleaming, embedded in their wax-bedecked wine bottles, at the happy crowds enjoying what looked like very good Italian food, and say "We really have to try that one next time." Somehow we kept going back to our favorites and hadn't gotten there until our last trip. We finally went and it was great. So we went back twice this time!

Sodini's sign at night:
View of the street from the window of Sodini's (note candle in window on right side of picture). Second picture below - a view of the interior of the restaurant.Nighttime view of the block that includes Sodini's.
We had gone to Sodini's the first night in town and had a great meal of homemade pasta with pesto and grilled salmon. The second night we had reservations later on at another of our favorites, the Hyde Street Bistro, but we decided to stop in at Sodini's for a glass of wine at the bar in the late afternoon. An hour and a half later we were best friends with the bartender, Ana, and a couple of other people at the bar, including Fredo. Ana was very clear that she is a native San Franciscan whose family ties went back to the Gold Rush. Fredo, on the other hand, is officially a "local," not a "native," because he was not born in San Francisco, but moved there when he was 8 months old. He explained you have to live there 15 years to be a local. DH and I wonder, do all our trips count toward that goal?

So of course we went back to Sodini's the next night for dinner, sitting at the bar for a chat with Ana first.

This is one of the things I've always noticed about San Francisco bars - you walk in out of nowhere and by the end of the evening you've gotten into all kinds of conversations with very interesting people. We used to frequent a bar called the Overflo over on the edge of the Tenderloin when we stayed near Union Square, which despite its less upscale exterior, had the same kind of welcoming atmosphere as the bar at Sodini's. Unfortunately it has been taken over by a new owner and we haven't been back. Maybe it's still the same inside - maybe we should try it again.

I can't mention San Francisco and North Beach without talking about the Saloon. This bar has been there since 1851 and is still going strong. We make sure to be there on either a Friday or a Sunday night, when Johnny Nitro and the Doorslammers are there playing their own take on Chicago Blues, and anything else they feel like playing. There is a doorman guarding the door of the bar named Greg who has long hair and a longer beard; we've watched the beard and hair change from mostly black to mostly white over the years. (You can see a picture of him on the link to the Saloon above). There is a bartender that has been there the whole time as well, who once looked a little like Tom Petty but now has aged and gotten thinner (we suspect he may have a drug problem...). But he's always there and always serving up the drinks and rocking to the music.

Some bars have come and gone - the Lost and Found Saloon across Grant Avenue and up a bit from the Saloon has changed into an Irish Bar. But the Grant and Green Saloon on the corner of, yes, Grant and Green, is still there and also has some good bands.

No trip to North Beach would be complete without a focaccia sandwich and a cappuccino at Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store Restaurant, overlooking Washington Square Park with a view of the beautiful Sts. Peter & Paul Church on the other side. So of course we went there for lunch our very first day in town. Here's a view of the park and church.

Our other favorite coffee place is Caffe Trieste, on the corner of Grant and Vallejo. This is the original North Beach coffee house and has great espresso, cappuccino and other variations, as well as pastries and savory fare. It is family run and owned, and although there are now a number of other locations, we've only ever gone to the one and only original in North Beach. They used to have family concerts every Saturday - and we've attended several. Everyone in the family can sing and they get up and sing arias from operas or sentimental ballads. The jukebox is full of opera music as well. The concerts are less frequent now so we didn't get to see one this trip but will probably get to one next time.

We always have to go to the top of Telegraph Hill and see the views from Coit Tower. We usually also take a walk down Filbert Street (which at that point is no longer a street and has become a stairway) and admire the gardens and cottages along the stairs, which brings you down to the parklike campus of the Levi Strauss Corporation. This link takes you to a descriptive walking tour of Coit Tower and the Filbert Steps, including descriptions of the WPA murals inside Coit Tower and the history of the Filbert Steps and Grace Marchant Gardens. This time we didn't go that route and instead walked back down the hill into North Beach from the direction we came up on the #49 bus.

While we were in the city we also stopped in at the newly-restored Ferry Building, which now houses shops and restaurants full of gourmet delicacies. Here is a picture of the building from above and then another of the interior:

I could go on to talk about other neighborhoods and other places we've been in and around the city, but this was the area we concentrated on during our trip last weekend.

We also took a short trip over to the little town of Tiburon on the other side of the bay. We prefer it to Sausalito, which is much more touristy. We enjoy the ferry ride over, eat at Sam's Anchor Cafe on the wharf, wander around the town and stop in at the little wine tasting room from Windsor Vineyards, (this time I ordered 6 bottles to be sent home to New Jersey) and then head back. It's a nice afternoon excursion and there are lots of nice views to be seen to and from the city.

Pictures: Immediately below, the outdoor eating area of Sam's, followed by views in and around Tiburon.

I'll end with some other pictures we took while we were there.

View from the other side of Coit Tower:

One of the new hybrid electric MUNI buses, followed by a Smart Car we saw on the street. San Francisco, not surprisingly, is ahead of the curve in reducing fuel consumption. We saw many more regular cars and much fewer SUVs and trucks on the road out in California.Entrance to Jack Early Park, a little stairway pocket park tucked into the city. There are places like this all over San Francisco.Landscaping near Fisherman's Wharf.Transamerica Pyramid taken from Coit Tower with a zoom.Pretty ladies all in a row...
Chinese women doing Tai Chi in Washington Square Park - a morning tradition.

(Cross posted it Mauigirl's Meanderings 6/28/09)

Monday, March 19, 2007

Maui, The Valley Isle

There is a saying on Maui, "Maui No Ka Oi," which means "Maui is the best." While there are proponents for each of the Hawaiian Islands, and all of the islands have their own special character, I have to admit Maui is still our favorite and the island on which we've spent the most time.

DH and I first went to Maui 25 years ago using frequent flier miles. We went to four islands, to get a taste of everything: Oahu (had to check out the Arizona Memorial), The Big Island of Hawaii (had to see a live volcano), Kauai, and Maui. We later did a day trip to Lanai, visited the Island of Molokai twice, and spent time again on Kauai. But it's Maui we've gone back to time and again, so that will be the featured island on this first posting. In fact, we've probably been there about 20 times...so far!

Maui has the perfect combination of great weather (constant temperature of around 82 degrees, trade winds that blow in the afternoon to keep you cool, lush tropical vegetation with more frequent rain on one side, dry sunny weather on the other; an enormous dormant volcano -Haleakala - and much more. There are plenty of excellent restaurants, an old whaling town (Lahaina) that now is a center of nightlife and entertainment, and plenty of green space as well.

It is a compact island so it is easy to make a day trip to anywhere on the island and get back to your hotel or condo in time for dinner. As you can see from the map, there are several major roads that circumnavigate the island. The center of the southeast portion of the island is taken up by the enormous Haleakala Crater. The western part also comprises a volcano - an older, extinct one. Haleakala is not officially extinct - it last erupted around 1790 and is thus only considered dormant in the grand scheme of things. Its lower slopes are dotted with houses and towns such as Makawao, Kula and Pukalani, which are considered part of "upcountry" - cooler at night and suitable for ranching and other activities. Upcountry also includes the Tedeschi Winery in Ulapalakua, where the Tedeschi family has been growing grapes and producing fine wines since 1974.

So much to see...but you'll need a home base to see it from while you're there.

Where should you stay?

We have stayed at fancy hotels in the past but in the more recent years we have stayed in condos. While it was great to splurge for our honeymoon (we stayed at what was then the Westin Wailea, which later became Stouffers, and is now a Renaissance hotel), we prefer to spend less on where we stay and be able to afford to go more often. Plus condos give you the opportunity to relax, have breakfast out on the balcony (called a lanai in Hawaii) and even grill fresh island fish down by the beach. This makes the trip both more affordable and more relaxing. And how can you beat sitting and watching the sun set over the ocean while the palms sway and you're enjoying the best fish you ever had?

Our condo complex of choice is Kealia Resort, the last condo along the beach in North Kihei. Kihei used to be a sleepy little town back when we first started coming to Maui, but that was long ago. Where once it didn't have a single traffic light, it now has several of them, and is lined on both sides with condominium complexes, strip malls and restaurants. There is now an upper highway that is getting built up with stores and residential areas as well, and the highways are being widened between Kihei and the Kahului area. Despite all that, the Kihei/Wailea area is still highly recommended because this part of Maui is the sunniest and driest portion of the island. You are guaranteed good weather in Kihei.

Kealia is located in the "indent" in the middle of the island, which makes it a great central location from which to tour the rest of the island.

We prefer Kealia out of all of the other condominium complexes because Kealia's location is the last condo in Kihei and well away from all the strip malls and overdevelopment in Kihei. After Kealia is nothing but beach and natural vegetation all the way to the next town of Maaleaa. This situation is bound to remain that way because the remaining beach after Kealia is part of a nature preserve that has been set aside to protect the wildlife,including endangered sea turtles that nest on the beach and have to make their way back to the ocean after laying their eggs.

Kealia is right on the beach, and provides a built-in gas grill, picnic tables and lounge chairs for the guests. It also has a nice size pool surrounded by well manicured bushes and tropical plants and flowers. (Photo courtesy of the Keala Resort website cited above).

There are condos in the building with a garden view, ocean view, or ocean front setting; there are one-bedroom, two-bedroom and studio units. Depending on what the owners have done to their condos, some are more desirable than others, but all are nicely furnished, clean, and have the amenities you would want: fully outfitted kitchens (including dishwasher and microwave), washer and dryer, TV with cable, and a lanai. Most also have a stereo, radio and/or CD player. Towels and sheets are provided.

Although the rates have gone up somewhat in recent years as the real estate boom has taken off on Maui, they are still reasonable in comparison to hotel rates, and are even lower in the low season and if you reserve a week or more. A studio apartment is only $110 a night in the off season, for instance.

There are many other condos in the same general area. If you aren't able to get into Kealia, look for any others that are in North Kihei, which would mean they are on the last strip of beach before the nature preserve, rather than Kihei or South Kihei, which would be in the middle of the commercial area. Some that we are familiar with are Nani Kai Hale (we used to stay there about 15 years ago) and Sugar Beach, both of which are on the same stretch of beach as Kealia.

Sugar Beach has a few more amenities on its grounds - there is a little convenience store that sells the basics, including the all-important sunscreen you will need while you're here. There is also a cute little restaurant/bar called Dina's SandWitch, that is handy if you want to stroll over from Kealia in the afternoon and have some lunch or a beer.

If you want to get away from it all and stay on the other side of the island, near the tropical area of Hana (more on Hana later) there is just one condominium complex there, the Hana Kai Maui Resort Condominiums. We stayed there for two nights many years ago and it was a very peaceful, pleasant location. We have driven past and seen them each time we've visited Hana. Their website shows that they are being nicely maintained and have been upgraded since our stay. There are very few choices of accommodations in or near Hana; the very exclusive Hana Hotel Maui is the one real hotel in the area.

There are many resorts on the western side of the island, past Lahaina. Ka'anapali is one of the major resort areas, followed by several other newer resort complexes, ending with Kapalua. Many people stay in this area every year and love it. However, we have not stayed there so have no recommendations for you here. One thing to keep in mind if you do decide to stay in this area is that it will rain more frequently than in the Wailea or Kihei areas on the sunny southern shore.

The Wailea/Makena section of Maui, even farther to the south of Kihei, is where we first stayed when we started coming to Maui. It consists of a development of major hotels and high-end condominium complexes, all surrounded by beautiful tropical vegetation that is kept beautiful and tropical by daily watering. It has a romantic and sheltered feel to it and is a great place for honeymooners. The beaches are beautiful and the weather is lovely. It does tend to be a little hotter here as the trade winds don't blow as much in this corner of the island as they do at Kealia.

There are many more hotels there now than when we first stayed there, and the prices have skyrocketed. However, nothing stops you from going to the hotels for dinner and enjoying the ambience. During the day if you want to check out what it would be like to stay at the previously mentioned Renaissance Hotel in Wailea, you can always take a drive to have a snack at their outdoor restaurant, the Maui Onion, which is poolside, surrounded by attractive landscaping, on the beach. Its name references the sweet Maui onions that are grown on the island and also the excellent onion rings they serve there. The Maui Onion also serves full lunches with dishes such as pesto fish and other delicacies.

Many of the restaurants on Maui, including some of the hotel restaurants in Wailea, take the Entertainment Card. It is worth buying the Hawaii version of the Entertainment book before coming to Maui as it can help you save money when you go out to splurge on dinner.

Speaking of dinner...

Where should you eat?

There are a myriad of excellent restaurants on Maui. You can read reviews and other sources to find all the really well-known ones. We tend to concentrate on places that offer a good value or something unique that other places do not have.

We like going upcountry to the town of Makawao for some of our dinners as we have several favorites there. There is a cute little Mexican place called Polli's, decorated cheerfully with all the usual accoutrements and offering good Mexican food and libations for a reasonable price. It's on Makawao Avenue at the intersection of Baldwin Avenue.

Another casual place to dine is the Stop Watch Sportsbar and Grill, also on Makawao Avenue not far down the road from Polli's. It's a great place to stop in for a beer or two and watch the baseball playoffs or the World Series (if you're there during the Fall Classic) or other sports at other times of the year. The bar is a light and airy place with an outdoor dining area where you can enjoy local fish, burgers, stir-fries, steaks, or sandwiches at reasonable prices. They often offer locally-brewed beer so it is definitely worth a stop.

For more upscale and trendy dining, there is Casanova's, on Makawao Avenue on the other side of the street from the Stop Watch. Called "Casanova's Italian Restaurant & Deli," this restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Dinner is excellent Italian food, expertly prepared, including pastas, wood-fired pizzas, and dishes featuring lamb, veal, beef and local fish. And, Casanova's is one of the restaurants included in the Entertainment Book, so you can get a discount!

After the dinner hour, on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights: Casanova's becomes "the" local place for entertainment and dancing - bands of various types, including contemporary Hawaiian bands and reggae groups perform here.

In nearby Kula, the Kula Lodge serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and provides spectacular views looking out over Maui from its spot on the side of Haleakala. They also have lodgings here if you are interested in staying in the Upcountry instead of on the beach.

For another fine dining experience, check out the Hali'imaile General Store, located in Hali'imaile, on the way from Kihei to Upcountry. Bev Gannon creates marvelous dishes using fresh local ingredients. The restaurant serves both lunch and dinner, and is housed in - you guessed it - an old building that used to be a general store. It retains its historic character and is a charming setting for your meal. The menu offers specialties such as Bev's Famous Crab Pizza (a great appetizer), Blackened Ahi (tuna), rack of lamb, macadamia crusted fish (whatever is the fresh catch of the day), duck, seafood curry and more.

If you're on Maui for your honeymoon, your anniversary, your birthday, or any other occasion you may want to celebrate, and you love French food, the place to go is Chez Paul. Chez Paul serves fine French food in a white-tablecloth, elegant but cozy atmosphere. It's in an unprepossessing little building along the road on the way to Lahaina, and it would be easy to miss if you aren't looking for it. The menu includes French-accented dishes of various types of fresh fish, as well as marvelous renditions of French classics such as coq au vin, canard au cassis, filet mignon au poivre, and more. This is a splurge, but one that is worth it.

There is plenty of good dining to be had in Kihei itself at reasonable prices. One place we've particularly enjoyed is Aroma D'Italia, located in the Kihei Town Center mall along South Kihei Road. Originally this restaurant, which serves hearty homemade Italian specialties, was located in a small storefront farther down the road toward Wailea, but moved a few years ago to this larger location. Although losing a little of the intimate atmosphere from the previous location, the food is as good as ever and it is still a warm and friendly place. For more information, see the link to the Best of Maui Guide.

Nearby Ma'alaea Harbor has a number of restaurants worth visiting. Buzz's Wharf was one of the first, but there are now a number of others to choose from.

For a great Thai meal in old Wailuku town (the Maui County Seat), visit Saeng's Thai Cuisine at 2119 Vineyard Street. Surrounded by a garden and a waterfall, the dining area is lovely, the servers are friendly and the Thai food is excellent. There is a lot to choose from, the prices are reasonable, and you can get your dishes at whatever degree of "heat" you desire. This restaurant is frequented by locals, always a good sign. We went back several times after discovering Saeng's because we liked it so much.

Another place in Wailuku is Cafe' Marc Aurel Bistro, which serves great espresso drinks, herbal teas, and gourmet meals (both lunch and dinner). After 4 p.m. they are also a wine bar, serving a variety of wines. They offer wine tastings, and there is entertainment almost every night, ranging from open mic nights to local musicians playing in a variety of different musical styles.

In the little town of Paia, on the Hana Highway en route to both the Upcountry and Hana, are a number of restaurants worth stopping for.

Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, Charley P. Woofer Restaurant and Saloon has been an institution in Paia for 37 years. The restaurant is a family-friendly restaurant serving reasonably-priced entrees and pizza. It's a good place to stop for breakfast on the road to Hana. It is also a favorite hangout of singer Willie Nelson, who plays here each year for a small crowd.

If you've been shopping or walking the beach and need a bit of respite, or you want a picnic lunch to take with you, Anthony's Coffee Company on the Hana Highway in the center of Paia is the place to stop. They offer a full espresso bar, ice cream, breakfast, lunch and pastries. Be sure to try the Roselani's ice cream, made on Maui. I love the mango flavor (also available in stores).

For a more elegant dining experience, drive past Paia to the well-known Mama's Fish House, located on the beach along the Hana Highway. Serving fresh island fish in a variety of innovative ways since 1973, Mama's continues to be a favorite destination for fine dining in a tropical atmosphere. Reservations are necessary so be sure to call ahead. You can also stay at Mama's - see their website for information about their luxury cottages.

If you're driving around in the Upcountry area around Kula, or you are on your way home from Haleakala Crater or Tedeschi Winery, you may want to stop at Grandma's Coffee House for a snack and some great espresso drinks. Grandma's sells their own coffee beans roasted on Maui; you can even buy them over the internet from their website. They also have light lunches and pastries. There is an unbeatable view from their deck, where you can sit and gaze out at the landscape as you enjoy your cappuccino. This is a view of Grandma's with me out front!

Where to stock up on groceries and other necessities

Part of the fun of staying in a condo is pretending you live on Maui while you're there. So as soon as you arrive and unpack you'll want to go shopping for groceries and stock up your kitchen. In Kihei there are three main grocery stores - Star Market, Safeway and Foodland, all located along South Kihei Road.

Star Market is an upscale grocery store in the heart of Kihei on South Kihei Road, which has excellent fish and produce, and they have a great selection overall. But it is not cheap.

Foodland, in the Kihei Town Center strip mall, is open 24 hours a day and is less expensive than Star Market. Safeway, also open day and night, is located off South Kihei Road on Piikea Avenue. It has a great selection and is our favorite overall. Sign up for a frequent shopper card while you're on the island to receive discounts when you shop in either Foodland or Safeway.

If you'll be stocking up on beer and wine as well, the grocery stores sell it. Long's Drugs, across the street from the Azeka Shopping Center on South Kihei Road, has excellent prices on wine (we've found Tedeschi champagne here for much less than it sells for at the winery) . Long's is also the place to go for your suntan lotion, your flip-flops, your macadamia nuts, and various other sundries. See the Maui Guide for more information about the "downtown Kihei" area.

If you like organic food and want to buy fresh produce grown on Maui, the place to go is Mana Foods in Paia. Just off the Hana Highway on Baldwin Avenue, the store has a wide variety of organic and natural foods, including grass-fed Hawaiian beef. It's an interesting store just to go in and browse, as they have a very eclectic selection of groceries, bulk foods and other interesting items. They also now offer pizza and hot foods to go, as they have recently expanded.

If you need to buy stamps and mail all your postcards home telling everyone you're having a great time, there is a post office in Kihei right in the Azeka Shopping Center; however, we prefer to go to the post office at Hansen and Helm Streets in Puunene. Puunene is a town that is not much more than a dot on the map on the way to Paia, so the post office is in a convenient location, and you won't have to battle the traffic in the center of town.

Here's a tip: When you're ready to head home, consider mailing home either your souvenirs or your summer clothes (especially if you came to Maui when it is winter at home). This way you won't be overloaded with luggage on your way back. We've done it almost every time, and usually the box arrives home within less than a week.

OK, you've found your condo, bought your necessities, had your first dinner, and gone to bed with the sound of the waves lulling you to sleep. You awake at around 4 a.m. because of the time difference and eventually give up on sleep and get up to enjoy your first full day in Maui. So...

What should you see while you're here?

No trip to Maui would be complete without a visit to the "House of the Sun," which is what Haleakala means in Hawaiian. The crater is enormous, big enough to fit the entire island of Manhattan within its borders. Even the drive to the crater is an experience in itself - the shortest distance from sea level to 10,000 feet anywhere in the world. Some people come here to just gaze at the crater in awe; others come to hike or camp in the crater.

There are guided horseback excursions into the crater; we went on one of these when we were on Maui for our honeymoon. Pony Express is the original horseback ride on Maui, founded in 1982. They offer horseback rides into the crater and elsewhere on its slopes.

There are also a number of outfits that offer bike trips down the road from the top of the crater. This site has a good overview of the bike tours available. We have never actually tried one of these trips (we are not that adventurous) but we see them riding down the volcano every time we're there, and the participants seem to be having a good time.

Since you're awake so early the first day or so of your trip, this might be the time to go to the top of the Haleakala volcano and see the sun rise over the crater, which is a traditional thing to do. It tends to be crowded at the top of the observatory at dawn because it is such a popular excursion for tourists. Be sure to bring a jacket and wear long pants, as it can be quite cold up at the crater, especially before the sun is up.

If you're not an early-morning kind of person, you can take a more leisurely trip to the crater, stopping for breakfast at the Kula Lodge on the way. As long as you get up to the top by about 11 a.m. you should be able to get a clear view of the crater before the clouds start creeping in.

On the way up to the crater, you should stop off at the visitors' center. Haleakala is a national park, and the visitors' center has a lot of interesting information about the volcano.

The crater is home to many species that exist nowhere else, including the Silversword plant. This picture shows one that is not in bloom. When they do bloom, it is not until they reach full maturity in 15-20 years after sprouting, and they only bloom once in their lifetime.

When you get to the summit you'll find there are two locations: the lower visitors' center and then the actual summit itself. Visit both, as the views from each are different. The amazing thing is how bleak the landscape is, almost like the surface of the moon. The summit is well above the timber line and very little other vegetation will grow at this altitude. Keep an eye out for the rare species that live here, such as the elusive Nene, a type of wild goose, the Hawaii State Bird.

Another must-do drive is the Road to Hana. Hana is known as "heavenly Hana" because of its tropical lushness. Many very wealthy people own property in Hana and enjoy its seclusion. It takes about three hours to drive from Paia on to Hana, on a winding, twisty road that wends its way through tropical vegetation with views of the ocean.

Paia is worth a visit before you continue onward - or save it for another day to really explore the area. There are a number of shops in Paia that are worth browsing in, including the Maui Crafts Guild, on the Hana Highway as you come into town. This store, which has been in Paia for 25 years, features artwork, crafts, jewelry, ceramics and sculpture by local artists and is definitely worth a stop.

Continuing down the road a bit, you'll come upon Hookipa Beach Park, renowned for its surfing and windsurfing. You'll want to stop and look at the surfers as they ride the waves into the shore here.

Continuing on the road to Hana, be sure to stop off at the Keanae Peninsula. It is a picturesque little village on the ocean where waves crash on the black volcanic rocks.

It is after the turnoff to Keanae that the road to Hana starts to get more winding and the vegetation more lush. This road was once a one-lane road that was barely paved, and was quite a challenge to navigate. It spawned a whole industry in T-shirts proclaiming "I survived the Road to Hana." Nowadays, although you can still buy the T-shirts, the road is quite navigable and unless you meet up with a tour bus coming in the opposite direction, you will likely have very little problem maneuvering. There are still one-lane bridges, but you have plenty of time to pull over as you will be able to see if anyone is coming.

Driving to Hana is more about the journey than the destination. The town of Hana itself is a simple place with a black sand beach, a general store (the well-known Hasegawa General Store), and some small restaurants, as well as the previously-mentioned Hotel Hana Maui. If you are staying in the area, you will be able to take the time to explore the local attractions more thoroughly, enjoy meals at the hotel or at less expensive local spots, and take advantage of the activities that are available here, such as horseback riding, hiking, and more. It is a lovely area and definitely worth staying for a couple of nights, as we once did at the Hana Kai Maui Resort.

But if you are only on a day trip, the destination you really want is several miles past Hana, at the Seven Sacred Pools (Ohe'o Gulch). This is a series of waterfalls that is a sight not to be missed. Although there is no evidence that these waterfalls were sacred to the early Hawaiians, the Hotel Hana named them that back in 1947 to attract tourists, and the name has stuck ever since.

At this point you have to make a decision. Either you travel back the way you came, on the winding road through the tropical scenery, or you can do something more adventurous: Continue on the road all the way around the other side of the volcano. If it is springtime and there has been a lot of rain, this may not be advisable, as the road can be washed out in places where there are fords that go over the road. If you are driving a Jeep or similar vehicle, there should be no problem. Technically you are not allowed to bring rental cars around the back of Haleakala but if you choose a fine day and there are no washouts, you will not run into any problems. Most of the road is paved now and it is not as rugged as it once was. It is worth the effort to make this trip.

As you leave Ohe'o Gulch and drive along, you can take a detour at milepost 41 and visit the church (Palapala Ho'omau Church) and cemetery where aviator Charles Lindbergh is buried. It is a peaceful spot right on the ocean. The turnoff is not marked so keep an eye out for the milepost sign and take the road leading down to the left.

As you continue onward, you'll see the rain forest give way to a less tropical environment, as you round the bend and reach the sunny southern side of the volcano. From far above, you'll see cinder cones from old eruptions poking up out of the glittering water. Eventually you will come to the Kaupo Store, which is a general store offering everything from food to clothing, and is worth stopping at for a break.

As you continue along, you'll see the remnants of the last eruption that took place on Haleakala around 1792. The dark streak of the lava flow meanders down the side of the volcano and into the Makena area, just beyond the last hotels in the Wailea/Makena resort area. (You can also take a drive to this lava flow by driving through Wailea and Makena and past picturesque La Perouse Bay.)

This website gives a great overview of all the things to see and do on the road to Hana and around the other side.

Eventually you'll come to Ulapalakua, where you can stop at Tedeschi Winery. As mentioned previously, Tedeschi was founded in 1974 and has been making excellent local wines ever since. They started with their famous Maui Blanc pineapple wine, and then branched out into champagne. Maui Brut-Blanc de Noirs champagne was one of their first and was served at President Reagan's inauguration. Next came their Nouveau and their Blush wines. In the 1990's they released Ulapalakua Red and Plantation Red. Stopping at the winery is relaxing and enjoyable.

Visit the tasting room and try the wines, check out the wine paraphernalia, the T-shirts, and some gourmet delicacies in the shop, and browse in the little museum that tells the history of the Ulapalakua Ranch and the property now belonging to Tedeschi. The ranch is still in operation and there is horseback riding in this area as well.

By now the afternoon will be waning and you'll want to continue onward and get back to your condo in Kihei before dinnertime.

For another great drive with amazing scenery, there is the lesser-known drive around the Napili Coast, on the West coast of Maui over to Wailuku. To get to this "road less traveled," you leave the condo and drive toward Lahaina - and just keep going. You will pass Lahaina, Kaanapali and Kapalua and then soon after the road will get narrower and the hotels and resorts will disappear and you'll be on a narrow winding road with spectacular views of the ocean and the cliffs.

There are a number of stopping places where you can take pictures, so be sure to bring your camera. The road is not for the faint of heart, as it narrows down to one lane for quite a stretch, during which time it wends its way around some cliffs, which can prove a bit daunting for less experienced drivers.

The road passes through some tiny villages with a few farms, a church, maybe a flower or fruit stand. But basically this road is not very inhabited, and that is part of the charm.

Eventually it will widen back out to a normal width and run down into Wailuku. While it is not as long a ride as the drive to Hana, it will still take you several hours from the time you leave the condo to when you return, so be sure to allow a whole afternoon for this drive.

The town of Lahaina is well worth visiting several times. It was originally an old whaling town, and ships came all the way from New Bedford, Massachusetts, to follow the whales. The Lahaina Heritage Museum in the old courthouse depicts the history of the town. The Pioneer Inn is a landmark in Lahaina. Built in 1901, it is now a Best Western Hotel but retains its charm. There is a huge banyan tree nearby, which is another important landmark in Lahaina.

Photo courtesy of: http://psych.fullerton.edu/navarick/Banyan.jpg

Lahaina has a house museum, the Baldwin Home, which is interesting to explore. The house was occupied by Dr. Baldwin and his family in the mid 1800's and served as a mission and doctor's office.

Front Street, which stretches along the beach, is lined with old buildings with a western look to them. They now house a vast collection of shops and art galleries. You can easily spend a whole afternoon just browsing the shops and looking at artwork.

Lahaina also has many excellent restaurants, both reasonable and expensive. Some of them are in the Entertainment Book, so be sure to check your book before deciding where to eat in Lahaina.

The town of Wailuku has its attractions as well. The Bailey House Museum, run by the local historical society, has exhibits of paintings by Edward Bailey, Hawaiian artifacts and memorabilia, and old photographs. Once a Female Seminary until 1847, it was later occupied by Edward Bailey and his family.

Another local attraction is the Iao Theatre, a historic old theater that has been renovated and is being used by a local theater group. If you're on Maui when there is a show on, be sure to get tickets.

Wailuku has its share of antique stores and little shops that are fun to just browse through on a languid afternoon, as well as the previously mentioned Saeng restaurant and a number of other eating establishments. See the web link for other local entertainment and nearby sites, such as the Iao Valley.

Kahalui is a big sprawling town next to Wailuku. The airport is here, and a lot of shopping malls, including a Wal*Mart. The one place we always go to in Kahului is a thrift shop called Savers. Located at 380 Dairy Road, this large store has a wealth of secondhand clothing and other items. I have bought three cocktail dresses there that fit perfectly and looked great, and averaged about $15 apiece. There are, of course, many pairs of shorts, jeans, and other casual attire as well.

Not far from Kahului is the Sugar Museum. This little museum, right near the still-functioning sugar factory in Puunene, depicts the history of the sugar industry on Maui and has a lot of artifacts and pictures from the earlier era. The sugar cane is still grown in the central part of Maui and it is processed in the plant in Puunene. The "raw sugar" you find in brown packets in many restaurants comes directly from this plant.

If you are on Maui in October, be sure to go to the County Fair. Although it is similar to county fairs on the Mainland, it has a real Hawaiian touch to it. The food places serve an eclectic mix of Asian, Hawaiian and American foods, there is a Spam Recipe Contest along with the 4-H exhibits, and tropical flower exhibits along with local art, photography and sewing. There are plenty of animals, from cattle to bunnies, and of course, lots of fun rides and games of chance. It's definitely worth going to, and you will see very few tourists there.

Makawao is worth visiting during the day as well as for an evening meal. There are many little shops there, including Maui-made crafts and jewelry, clothing and more.

This is only a sampling of all there is to visit on Maui. Be sure to check the links for more information.

What should you do?

First of all, relax. Don't feel you have to rush out every day and do something adventurous - unless that's the only way you enjoy yourself. Staying in a condo lets you really appreciate the tropical surroundings and forget about your busy life back on the Mainland.

Start your day with breakfast on your lanai, overlooking your view of the garden or the beach. Then put on your bathing suit and wander down to the pool. You can leave your towel and flip flops here and take a walk on the beach. One day you can walk toward Ma'alaea Harbor, another day you can wander past the condos in the other direction. Then head back to Kealia and relax some more, either on the beach or by the pool.

You may want to have lunch at the condo, either by the beach or upstairs, and then go out for a ride; or you can meander over to the Sand Witch at Sugar Beach and have a lunch there. Or of course you can head out and have lunch elsewhere or skip it altogether.

You can only relax so long, so you will also want to know what other diversions Maui offers - and they are numerous. If you are lucky enough to be on Maui during the winter season (roughly November - March) you will be able to see the Humpback Whales that winter here. Not only will you see them frolicking in the water from your lanai, but you can also take whale watching tours out to see them more closely. The Pacific Whale Foundation offers some great eco-friendly cruises hosted by marine naturalists. They leave from both nearby Ma'alaea Harbor and from Lahaina, and are well worth the trip.

Other enjoyable cruises include snorkeling to Molokini, a half-submerged volcano that teems with tropical fish and other underwater life.

Ma'alaea Harbor is the most convenient location for leaving on any of the cruises that are offered. Pacific Whale Foundation offers a number of cruises that leave from here besides the whale watch, including a sunset dinner cruise; another is the Lani Kai Hawaii Activities, which offer a variety of types of cruises leaving from this location.

The sunset dinner cruises are a great way to relax and enjoy drinks and dinner with a view of the sunset and the shoreline. These cruises take place in the calm waters not far from shore so seasickness should not be a problem for most! For the more adventurous cruises, some Dramamine (TM) or similar medication may be needed for those who are very motion sensitive.

For the more adventurous, there are numerous helicopter tours of the island, focusing on various locations. Blue Hawaii is one company that offers these tours; there are many others. We have not personally been on one of these excursions but friends have and they showed us the video of their trip, which looked fantastic.

And, for the athletic (not us!), there are windsurfing lessons and many other activities to participate in. Just be sure to grab the tourist booklets that are available in most supermarkets and other locations, which are full of coupons and other advertisements for the many activities that are available on Maui.

What should you cook if you eat at "home"?

Fresh fish. No doubt about it. You'll never find fresher fish than here on Maui. Whether you buy it at Mana Foods or Star Market, get something native like Ono (meaning "delicious") or Ahi (tuna), or Opakapaka (snapper). Don't bother with something like salmon and be careful about mahi-mahi, which is not always native. You can prepare it by slathering a light coating of teriyaki sauce on the outside (especially good on tuna) or with some oil and lemon and spices such as dill, and just grill it lightly on each side until it's done but not dried out.

If you have had enough fish and want to go for some shrimp for a change, here is DH's recipe for barbecued shrimp:


1 lb. fresh or frozen uncooked shrimp

For the Marinade:
1/4 cup cilantro flavored olive oil (plain will do)
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro coarsely chopped
1/2 small bottle of chopped garlic in oil or equivalent fresh garlic
3/4 cup white wine
A few drops of hot chili oil
Fresh ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt (sea salt if available)

For after cooking shrimp:
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Fresh ground pepper to taste
1/2 bunch coarsely chopped cilantro
Juice of 3 limes

You can either peel the shrimp ahead of time or leave them in the shell, depending on how much trouble you want to go to afterward.

Mix the marinade ingredients. Put shrimp in a gallon size plastic Ziploc (TM) (or similar) bag and cover with marinade. Mix up thoroughly. Squeeze out the air so the shrimp are completely covered with marinade. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours, kneading the bag a few times to mix it up.

Pre-heat grill, place shrimp on the grill. Turn each shrimp after a few minutes when starting to turn pink. When pink all around and just beginning to lightly brown, remove from the grill and place in a large bowl. Add remaining chopped cilantro, sea salt, ground pepper, lime juice, and toss. Serve while hot, with lime wedges on the side.

Nice side dishes are cous-cous and salad.

The last time we were on Maui, on the last night we were there, we had this meal sitting at the picnic table by the beach watching the sun set over the West Maui mountains with the palm trees silhouetted against the red sky. It was a great way to remember our last night there.

This is the first real post on this site and may be edited as we find new places to go on Maui. If you have any suggestions for places we should check out, or want to tell us about something you recommend, please comment. We'd like this to be an interactive site. We are always looking for new recommendations to try and places to explore.

All pictures on the site were taken by DH or myself, except for those noted, and the map at the top of the post.

Mahalo (thank you) and Aloha!

Friday, March 16, 2007

What kind of traveler are you?

I love to travel. But I also love having a home base, which for me is Essex County, New Jersey. I have a balance between living in a certain place for about 90% of my life, but also venturing out into the world, seeing how other people live, pretending for a few days or weeks that I live there too - and then returning to home base where my friends and family await.

My husband (fondly known as DH, for Dear Husband, not Designated Hitter as he likes to say) and I think alike when it comes to travel. We both like the same kinds of places (not the most expensive but we're not talking youth hostels here either).

We like authentic restaurants where the locals eat, not the fancy places that are tourist destinations.

We like to plan our own trips, and we like to go back more than once to really get the flavor of a place. You don't really understand a people or a culture by visiting museums and running from "must see" locale to "must see" locale. What we like is to go back to a place we've been to at least twice before, and feel as if we don't "have" to go anywhere in particular. It doesn't mean we won't seek out some lesser known museum or sight that we haven't seen before, but we feel we have the leisure to really enjoy the place. One of our favorite things to do in Paris is just sit at an outdoor cafe with a glass of wine or a cup of espresso and watch the crowds go by.

We like cities, or at least towns. Although we have done our share of driving on deserted roads through beautiful countryside, and we like that, we like having a destination at the end of the day that has good food and a good pub to relax in.

We don't do camping or major hiking. We are middle-aged Baby Boomers who are not in particularly good shape but can walk for a few miles on flat surfaces as needed. We don't bungee jump and we don't ski. If you are like us and just enjoy seeing great scenery, learning about the history and culture of other places, enjoy eating great food and frequenting cozy pubs, then this blog is for you.

If you are looking for information on how to climb Mt. Everest (I've never understood why anyone would want to) or hiking into the Grand Canyon, please, go somewhere else. If you are looking for a recommendation for a nice, safe, pre-booked tour with all meals included, this is not for you either.

We are the original Frommer travelers. We tend to like what the Frommer guides like, little gems of restaurants, eclectic places to stay, cozy, small scale things. We love discovering really great places that are a good value. Anyone can find a great place to stay that is a big splurge. We like finding unique, wonderful places that are still reasonably priced.

We haven't been everywhere. But any place I write about here will be somewhere we have actually visited so you'll know I'm not just making things up.

We've always wanted to start a travel newsletter and now that the Age of the Blog has arrived, this seems like a good opportunity. I have two other blogs, a personal blog and a blog about medical subjects. If you're interested in either, I've provided the links in my link list (Mauigirl's Meanderings and Medicana).

My first post will be about Maui, Hawaii, since we have been there many times and it seemed like the right place to start.