I’ve been pestering my siblings for years that we needed to take a sibling trip together. 5 years ago we lost our Dad and together we took a trip to his hometown in the Philippines to inter his ashes alongside his parents. Solemn occasion aside, we had the best time together. Lots of joking and laughing in between the tears. Being single, living far off state with no family other than my own children sometimes I need a trip like this. Our Big Island vacation has been a year in the making. 5 siblings need as much lead time as possible to coordinate schedules.
We rented this beautiful house in Wikiloa. Pricey yes, but between 10 professional adults, totally doable. It also gave us access to the Kolea Beach Club and the Hilton amenities, which, in hindsight, I wish I would have used more.
Big Island is really interesting. If you land in Kona, it’s like an alien planet. Lava rock everywhere. However, if you drive to the Hilo side, lots of lush green. I was here once, in 1976….. I don’t recall much except seeing a volcano. This time we actually hiked the rim of Kilauea Iki, then down and across the crater and back up. There were also hikes down cliffs, through lava trails and around corners. I pretty much covered the whole island west, east and north. There were also many hilarious moments between the siblings. We are and will always be a tight knit group. Like the saying goes, “what happens in vegas will stay in Vegas,” in this case, Hawaii. Enjoy the picture show.
Plenty to do and see on Big Island. But it’s a vacation, hanging with family at the rental is good too.
It feels like it’s been so long since I’ve been anywhere! Ok, perhaps that’s not so true since I was in India in April but I was on such a travel roll that 6 months feels like a diet. I was supposed to go to Las Vegas last week to see the Rolling Stones but Mick contracted laryngitis and the Wednesday night show was cancelled. Sooooo bummed about that. Old Mick isn’t getting any younger who knows if he will be alive long enough for me to see him perform live!
Anyway, this trip to the Big Island, Hawaii is a year in the making with my all 4 siblings. I’ve been saying for a long time that we have to get together because at our age, we don’t want to find ourselves in a position of saying, “Gosh, we really should have done that.” Now, I’ve traveled with the sisters frequently but the last time all 5 of us were together was when we flew my Dad’s ashes to the Philippines to be interred with his parents. Despite the sadness of losing our Dad and having to travel for such a solemn occasion, traveling with my beloved siblings was the bomb. We laughed, we cried, and some went a bit of stir crazy. I wish I could link you to “that blog” but it was 3 months before I decided to start my little travel blog. Perhaps I’ll revisit it in a future posting.
It finally all came together, we rented a big house north of Kona, bought our tickets and packed our bags. Buckle your seat belt and put your tray table up, this plane departs on Monday.
This past weekend I met up with two of my siblings in LA to see our cousins in Simi Valley, California. Also located in Simi Valley is the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. I had never been to a Presidential Library so it was perfectly fitting to be there over the 4th of July weekend.
I had no idea how BIG it would be! It wasn’t just a library of his personal belongings and papers. It even housed a former Air Force One plane and other modes of Presidential transportation.
One does not have to be a Republican to enjoy this museum. Reagan had an interesting life before his political life. Also they host special exhibits. This visit included the Art of the Vatican including a Michelangelo.
I kind of feel like I hit upon something..perhaps I should visit a Presidential Library every 4th of July…hmmm.
Last New Years Eve when I was in Paris with my friend T, we both discussed how cool it would be to fly Emirates and that it was on our bucket lists. However, that bucket list item was far down the list because there was no immediate plans to be in that part of the world. Little did I know that 30 days later, India would be on my radar and Emirates would be our airline.
Recreational travelers, like myself, read about these award winning airlines and the luxury seating of the International and First Class service. For me, there were no frequent flyer point upgrades available, this chick was paying out of pocket for two seats so economy it would be. Business class level of service would have to remain on the bucket list and I had to be content with just checking the airline off my list.
Off we went. San Francisco to Mumbai (via Dubai) was roughly a 23 hour excursion. 16 hours alone to go over the North Pole to Dubai. This would be a record length of time for me to sit on an airplane (previous is around 13 hours). Normally the anticipation of that many hours in flight would stress me out. However both the kid and I were keyed up to get on that plane.
It turned out to be a fortunate flight as the coach section was fairly empty. We had the row of three to ourselves and all around there were complete empty rows of seats. The screens on the back of the seats were enormous! I’ve never seen anything like it. Their in-flight entertainment selection even larger and included every episode of Star Wars. I knew it would be difficult to regulate sleep with so much programming. Another plus was in-flight wi-fi for $1. That’s it, 100 cents got you into the internet for the entire flight!
The flight attendants came through with our little “in-flight” kit with eye mask.
I think we spent way too much time indulging in the delights that we missed our opportunity to score one of the empty rows for sleeping. Oh well. Thankfully Ben and I were small enough that we could still manage 2 people in a row for 3. On this flight, the entire bottom is coach seating. First and business were up the stairs far from our prying eyes.
When the meal was over and time for the lights to go down, the ceiling illuminated like a starry sky. If you looked long enough you could even see constellations! I tried to sleep as much as I could but I got caught up in at least 10 hours of Ultimate Airport – Dubai. If Dubai is in your future, it’s worth watching.
The flight from Dubai to Mumbai was uneventful. It’s only a 3 hour trips and the plane was not as fancy. Same for the return flight from Mumbai to Dubai. Being short distance i didn’t expect it to be noteworthy. If it was, I missed it because I was likely napping in preparation for our stop-over in Dubai. I wanted to rest up before the marathon runaround town began. After the tour we checked into our Dubai hotel for the night. Checking messages I received an email offering a discounted rate of $1,012.00 to upgrade our Dubai to San Francisco flight to business class. Had I been traveling alone it would have been a no brainer. However, “single-mom with kid” means cost x2 and that was a bit painful to think about. I thought about our current seats on the return flight. They were not next to each other and both were in middle seats on a full-coach flight. If there needed to be a right time to spend my hard earned dollars on a luxury like business class, this was the time to do it. YOLO. In Ben’s world his dream was coming true. No longer was he waking past a cushy business class section on his way to steerage. This time, the seat was for him….and me. I gotta say, it was darn well worth it.
The last time I few business was back in 2011 to Manila. Even then seats were more or less reclining seats. They were not the individual pods they have now. It was pretty amazing, like a mini bedroom. Just to have somewhere to elevate your feet made all the difference in the world. The screens were larger than the TV I have in my kitchen.
There was even a iPad which seemed the only purpose was to control the TV…even though the TV was touch screen and there was a small remote connected to the seat. The flight attendants came around and put cushy pads like mattresses on our seats so they would be extra comfy when we went flat and then handed us little “in-flight” toiletries by Bvlgari!
What was most shocking is in this whole back section of business class (there was another section in front of us along with First Class) had only 6 passengers! It was crazy!
For a good couple of hours we got cozy in our seats, I put on the last season of Downton Abby and just let it run as I went in and out of sleep. Later when I woke, I went to the back of the plane to find a full bar with a handful of passengers standing around and chatting with the flight-attendant bartender. Of course, minus the flight attendant, myself and one other passenger, they were all men and the conversation was crude. This is the conversation I walked into:
Big Dude: Hey we are having an argument. Should a wife make her husband happy or should a husband make his wife happy?
Me:Well effort goes both ways but let me ask you this, do you want to get laid?
Laughter and a high-five from the guy next to me. Let me just say one thing… *boom*
Turns out big dude was some famous Bollywood music producer. Another passenger told me this and was making a big deal of it. I just shrugged my shoulders and said that doesn’t mean anything to me. Around the bar and buffet were small plates of sandwiches, snacks, nuts, and pastries. I had a few bites, grabbed a handful of full-sized candy bars inside the galley and then returned to my pod. Downtown Abby was far more interesting than the vulgar boys club at the bar.
And just like that, 16 hours was over. We were home. I have to say this was the first time I was ever bummed to get off a plane. Ben was too. Flying will never be the same. I really, really wanted to take pictures of it all but I know it would have screamed “tourist.” I resisted. All I can do is tell you the story best I can.
When flying an airline where you may need to use your credit card for in-flight entertainment (or even purchasing food or duty free), carry a pre-paid debit card with you. Generally it’s safe to use your credit card but I figure if somehow my number is stolen, at least it’s on a low value pre-paid card. I usually receive an occasional card for a birthday or something at work. If there is a low balance, I carry it around for in-flight moments like this.
For currency, I discovered the exchange rate for Rupees was better at the Dubai airport than it was making the currency exchange at Bank of America at home.
In April the Ben and I adventured to India. It was quiet sudden actually. I was thinking this was our last big adventure for a while. The kid was accepted to De La Salle for high school which means travel money turns into tuition money. Small sacrifices as travel for him will always be there but educational opportunities such as this will not. (This does not mean that I won’t give up my café life…shhhh, don’t tell).
At first I thought we would visit Korea this spring but then a colleague invited me to his wedding in India. Although India was not high on my list, it certain climbed to the top when I realized I would have the opportunity to see a real Indian wedding in all its color IN India. It really was a rare opportunity so I jumped on it. It also meant that I would have the opportunity to fly Emirates. That alone will be a separate blog post. So off we went!
Arrival into Mumbai was in the middle of the night. I did my best to regulate our sleep on the plane but we still arrived a bit loopy and it’s all a bit blurry. I did have a bit of anxiety being a single women traveling with a child so I went the easy route and booked our stay at the JW Marriott in Juhu.
Note to anyone who visits India and has a e-visa…DON’T wait in the queue! I followed the hordes of people, waited 40 minutes in a huge line only to be directed to counter 8….where there was no line. As I said, we were pretty loopy and it was a 2:30am. We met up with our pre-arranged hotel car service by 4pm and headed to the hotel. It’s not that far from the airport however we were warned about the horrible traffic in Mumbai so I suppose our early arrival was a good thing. By 5am we made it into our room and that gave us about 4 hours to sleep before we had to get up, prep and meet our guide for our first day. Of course, I only lasted 3 hours before I could not sleep anymore.
At 11:00am we headed to the lobby and met my friend who was also in town for the wedding and waited for our guide. I utilized Tours By Locals again to find our guide. I had such luck with this service in the past that it’s fast becoming my go-to for tours. Mohammed would be our guide for the next three days. Not just for guided tours but also for being of service around town. I was uneasy being a single women with a child in such densely populated city. I didn’t want to feel always on my guard or questioning my method of transportation or what I was eating.
Day 1 tour was of Mumbai city, mostly the south end. I was so thankful to have a driver because of the crowds and the heat this is not the town I would have the patience to navigate this on my own. traffic…oye, they were not kidding. Stop and go, stop and go, stop and go. I was so afraid Ben would be carsick. Being Filipino, seeing such poverty isn’t new to me. However, at this scale was new. That was an eye opener.
Dhobi Ghat Laundry. Laundry is traditionally done by men.
Day 2 was a drive north to the Kanheri Caves. In my head I imagined that India was lush and green. India is a huge country and I suppose there are other places that are, but Mumbai seemed very dry and in some way the vegetation dry like at home in the East Bay. The caves were really interesting to me as they dated from the 1st Century BC. It’s mind boggling to stand in a place like touch the walls and think of the activity that took place, the their hands touching the same walls. You really can’t help but have one of those “What does it all mean? What is my life about?” moments. After the caves we continued with some car touring of Mumbai and a bit of shopping including finding something to wear to the wedding that weekend.
Day 3 was a rest day. Ben and I slept late, had a very slow breakfast and spent the afternoon at the beautiful pool.
Day 4 and 5 we switched to the wedding hotel. I could write pages about that experience, however weddings are really personal events. Out of respect for my friend, I don’t want to say much other than, WOW! What an honor to be invited and how welcomed we felt. I so wanted to take pictures of all the beautiful clothes worn by the guests…but again, reverence for the event only allowed me to take pictures in my mind. The food was also like nothing else and certainly not like the majority of Indian food found in the US.
Day 6 was the end of our quick trip to India. That afternoon we were back on the plane and off to Dubai, UAE where we would have a few hours to tour as it was an overnight stay before our return flight to San Francisco. It was only a 3 hour flight back to Dubai. We checked our bags through to San Francisco so all we had was our carry-on. For short stop overs no visas were needed so it was a quick and painless exit through customs. We were met by our guide and off we went in a flash to get to to the Burj Kalif for our 7pm ticket time. I pre-purchased these tickets and upgraded to the “fast track” to bypass the lines. Our time was limited and I didn’t want to spend hours in line…and there was a very long line.
Honestly, this was the one thing we wanted to do. Anything after was going to be a bonus. I was pleasantly surprised by Dubai. It really is a international cosmopolitan city. It felt a bit like Las Vegas. They even had a water show by the same guy who designed the water show at the Bellagio. We drove the rest of the evening viewing Dubai from the car. The buildings are truly amazing. I don’t know if this is true but our guide told us that the rule in Dubai is that buildings had permits for 45 years. After than they could extend the permit for 5 years if the building was in good condition. If not, down the whole thing goes. Can you imagine? There are a lot of big buildings in that city and many will hit that 45 year marker in my lifetime. It will be interesting to watch it develop an changed. At one final stop Ben and I took the opportunity to run on the beach in the dark just so we could touch the waters of the Persian Gulf. I really regret not having time to shop. However I knew that this would be a destination I would return to. My sisters really need to see it. We didn’t last much longer after that. Ben was feeling car sick, we needed to sleep and our flight the next day was at 9am.
After a quick stop at Burger King, we checked into the Millennium Plaza Hotel. It’s a typical international business hotel. Rooms were extra large but in-room amenities were typical. We wouldn’t have time to do anymore than sleep there.
While checking my email before bed, Emirates sent me an online deal to upgrade my seats to San Francisco to business class at an heavily discounted rate. Although the coach seats were quite nice, we were hella tired and were unfortunately NOT sitting next to each other on the return flight AND both of us in middle seats. It was a YOLO moment. 16 hours on a plane, likely our last adventure together for a while, we were going home in style.
It was so amazing that we were actually bummed out when the flight was over.
Also, if you have not installed Whatsapp on your smart phone, I highly recommend it. In my experience, most people who are in the tourist trade (guides, Airbnb hosts, drivers) use the app and you can start communications even before your trip.
Hotel observations. The JW Marriott is a pretty nice hotel…not perfect, but all things considered (such as I’m in India) it was ok. I was disappointed, even after confirming my reservation a head of time, that they only gave us a room with a king bed. I tried to ask for another room, but was quickly told they were sold out. Jeez, Marriott…I’m paying for a Club Lounge room and I told you a month earlier that I had a teen-age boy with me, you couldn’t hold one? I’m sure Ben didn’t want to share a bed with his mom but at least it’s large enough that we can sleep German style (where separate blankets are on each side of the bed). I was annoyed that we had a street view room (again, club lounge not cheap) but figured it at least made good people watching. The breakfasts in the Lotus Café were really nice. So expansive and western style food along with traditional Indian. Big hit for a kid who only wants pancakes and French toast. I tried the Indian style breakfasts and found them very yummy. I can eat donuts at home. We could take a similar breakfast in the club lounge but preferred the open café. I regret that we didn’t try dinner in the Lotus Cafe.
I took evenings in the club lounge so I could enjoy complimentary hors-d’oeuvre and beer At times it was crowded and noisy with men who gathered to watch cricket match. However, it had a great view of the grounds and nightly sunset on the Arabian sea. Plenty to drink but the snacks were marginal I was really surprised by that.
It’s not the hotels fault but there is no plus for a beach location other than the sunset. You can’t swim in the beaches here. Too dirty. Ben and I tried to go for a walk but encounter some very uncomfortable attention by men. Mind you, I was covered from the neck to my ankles. Still, sometimes you felt trapped in the hotel
The hotel staff were very kind. In particular the staff in the Lotus café.
(ps. I’m soooo behind on posting. I’ll get back to check for typos later)
Last week was the sad passing of Alan Rickman. I’ve loved him since he whispered the iconic lines about India in the film adaptation of Jane Austen’s (who I love even more) Sense and Sensibility.
On that note, last Friday a conversation between an Indian coworker of mine went something like this:
Me: Hey I heard you are getting married! Congratulations!
Him: Thanks! You should come to the wedding in Bombay in April?
Me: Seriously?? I suppose I could…Ben has spring break and we were planning on going to Korea but we could go the other direction?
Him: Yes, totally.
Him: Yes, I’m totally serious.
Me: Ok, why not?
So six days later, Emirates tickets purchased (because that airlines is on the bucket list) for a fast 1 week in and out of Mumbai with an extended lay over in Dubai so Ben can to to the top of the Burj Khalifa.
I never did get back to my blog during this adventure. Hours were occupied with strolling, talking, and conversation in cozy warm pubs. By the time we made it back to our apartment, sleep came fast. I’ll have to summarize the best I can.
I only had that one last day in Dusseldorf as the next day we were headed to Paris. When we finally made it out of the house it was to go for a long walk along the Rhine. It was interesting and not quite what I had imagined. It was December and the sky was grey. It’s my understanding that this part of Germany is always like this in the winter. I was already amazed how dark it still was at 8am add in the cold grey and I can see how it can get a bit depressing. We attempted to find coffee along the way but it seems on this end of Germany the holiday season, post-Christmas, is taken very seriously and everything was closed. We ended up at a local grocery and contented ourselves to making dinner on our own that night and picking up some Glühwein and Champagne to take to our friends in Paris.
The next day before catching our 6:30pm train to Paris, we made a detour to Köln to see the Kölner Dom. Yet another fascinating grand Cathedral….and of course, we had to walk to the top.
The rest of the afternoon we strolled about, ate Thai food (ah, some things never change…) and eventually headed for our train. I do love European rails. It’s so easy to get places. How I wish, wish and wish again we could figure out a way to create these rail systems in the US. During the ride through France it was dark so there was nothing to see. I slept a bit but for the most part I just sat there quietly, eyes closed, and in my head feeling the intensity of every second of knowing I was somewhere so different from home.
We arrived into Paris late and jumped directly into the metro to the 7th arrondissement. You have to love the Paris subway. It goes every where and really quite easy to navigate. Mind you, the stairs with luggage isn’t fun (I have no idea how the disabled manage to get around) but if you are in good health, you can do Paris without a car. Anyway, my very good friend and Capetown travel buddy took an apartment on the Avenue de la Bourdonnais. From the station it was an easy 10 minute walk. In the dark, as we got closer to our address, our luggage bumping along the side walk, we saw it…the Eiffel Tower. It really was breathtaking. Again, I didn’t take a picture. I’m trying to savor moments in my memory these days and not always walk with my phone in front of my face.
It was pretty amazing. This was the sunrise view in the morning from our balcony. I know, right?
For the next three days the German and I did touristy things. I was fascinated by everything underground, the the Sewer Museum and how genius the Parisians set it up to keep their city streets stink free (take note SF). It was no joke, it was a fully functioning sewer. It smelled bad and you could see stuff float by. It really made me think about the total population of Paris and all the toilets flushing every second or sink being turned on. That’s a lot of water to pump through a city and dispose of! I can only imagine 300 year ago when these sewer passage ways were filled with vagrants and all other types of mysterious people. I could not help but hum songs from Les Miserables as I went along. To my surprise, they actually had a tribute to Victor Hugo and his novel down inside the Sewer Museum.
This was interesting to think about. It showed illustrations of early Paris with no sewers (can you imagine the street muck!), to early sewers to modern day. The engineering is amazing if you think about it.
During our time in Paris we also did the tour of the catacombs which took us for many blocks under the streets of Paris. Before it opened we strolled through a large cemetery. I was perplexed that in a city like Paris, these graves didn’t seem very old. Barely at the end of the 19th century and some within the past 10 years.
Then we went into the catacombs and I understood. Because land for burial was scarce, grave were dug up and the bones were stacked up in the Catacombs. Once the grave plots were empty, they were available for new burials. The marker (below) was the location of the church these bones came from and the year they were laid to rest below the streets. The front appeared organized in a decorative way. However….
If you get a peak behind the wall of leg bones and skulls, the remaining tens of thousands of bones were tossed in one big disorganized pile. Some areas it went back a few yards. Things like this really make me think. Each bone represents a person that once walked these streets. Man, woman, child, wealthy, poor, maid, scholar or merchant….it doesn’t matter. Underneath our clothes and our skin color we are just the same.
Enough of the deep thoughts. Moving on….I’ve been to Paris before so I didn’t feel the need to do museums again during this trip. I’m sure I’ll do it the next time I’m here with my sisters. Instead there was a lot of walking of the various neighborhoods and seeing interesting things along the way.
Always at the end of the day being greeting by this view.
We even took a moment to stop at the Bataclan theater and pause a moment at the memorial across the street. I don’t have the word to describe that experience.
New Years Eve found several of my friends, that were in Paris, and I toasting in the new year under the sparkly lights of the Eiffel Tower with a handful of other tourists and locals hanging out across the street from our building.
January 2nd it was another train trip as we exited Paris. This time we were headed north to Amsterdam as this would be our departure point back to the US. I made arrangements for the apartment as I wanted the experience of a very narrow Amsterdam house. This is what we got. 4 stories of Dutch awesome narrowness. (you can see it inside and/or rent it here Angels Canal House)
It was quite a hoot. The “stairs” were more like ladders and I decided to remain on the first floor so I didn’t have to haul my luggage 4 flights up. Instead, I could get ready for the day on the lower lever and meet my friends on the 3 floor for coffee. Even T decided to leave her luggage on the first floor and only haul up what she needed.
This was my 3rd visit to Amsterdam. I was pleasantly surprised to find the weather just as mild as Dusseldorf and Paris. A bit wet but 40 degrees by day. Not that much colder than San Francisco in the winter. That meant the canals were not frozen and there was no snow, just rain. Along with Rome, Amsterdam remains in my top 2 favorite places in the world. I could come back here again and again. (If I could only figure out a way to live here!)
While visiting the last few days we did a few tourist sites like the Modern Art museum and another canal tour. I finally got around to doing a bit of shopping too.
However, by far my most favorite part of the day was finding a small pub in the evening to enjoy a beer, conversation with my friends and the last of the holiday lights in the window.
And seriously, what’s better than a bar with cats?