Thursday, May 29, 2014

My Beginnings as a Travel Blogger

When I was at home recently, I came across a shamrock-covered notebook and my face lit up. I knew that this was my journal from when I went to Ireland with my family in 1998, when I was 13. I've come across old journals before, notably from my second trip to NYC when I was in high school, but this journal contained details about my first adventure outside of America, to the homeland of half of my ancestors.

Unfortunately, my journal was only kept for half of the trip, but, man, there are some gems in there.
  • A written out copy of our itinerary, which I never would have remembered, complete with places we stayed (which included one spot I'm sure we chose just because the owner shared our last name)
  • Intense live-journaling of the airplane ride out there which made me laugh out loud:
    • "We got on the plane at 8:50 after going on a really scary monorail to the terminal. It only gave you 22 seconds to get all your luggage through the door! We almost didn't make it!"
    • "Katie and Mom's steward gave them pretzels. I didn't get any!"
    • "Mom gave me her pretzels, so I'm chowing down on them."
    • "Katie and I are listening to Boyzone (apparently the Backstreet Boys of Ireland). They will probably be popular in New Jersey soon."
    • "Seinfeld is on the television, so I'm going to watch it. K?"
  • A sugar packet from Aer Lingus taped into the pages...

  • A description of my dad's driving (sorry, Pops):
    • "I was really scared to be on the other side of the road, and Mom and Katie made me sit in the front. Mom kept shrieking as Dad would turn. We almost hit a lot of cars!"
  • An early pun attempt (14 years before this cheesy post):
    • "We went to Coole Park where Lady Gregory (a famous Irish poet) lived. We were looking for an 'autograph tree' which has many famous poets' autographs carved into it. We came across many that we thought were it, but it was a huge - seriously - purple tree with the widest trunk ever. That was 'Coole!'" (GROAN.)
  • Receipts from the souvenirs I bought taped to the pages, even those without the store names and just dollar amounts on them
  • A card with a description of the Clauddagh Ring story, a type of ring I still wear today (and have in both silver & gold) although my original was destroyed somehow in high school

  • A story of when we visited the valley and stone house where my great-grandfather who came over to America grew up with his parents, 11ish siblings, and many sheep. It's on the property of a farmer and still stands (though in ruins). All of us have a piece of the house, thanks to my cousin Mike and his wife Kara who visited years later. This remains to this day my favorite travel memory.
    • "We headed to Leenaun, where my great-grandfather, Philip Faherty, was born and raised. Dad was determined to find Letter Schneatell* or something else. We stopped at the church that he went to, then to a small farm. Joe O'Neill was the owner of the farm. Dad told him of the village and Joe lent us high boots. He told us the route to take, and told us it would take 20 minutes to climb up the mountain."
    • "We started off and soon came to a creek we had to cross. My boot had a crack in the toe, so my foot got pretty wet. We started up the mountain. I stayed with Dad while Mom and Katie rushed ahead. I slipped in the mud more than thrice. I was really scared, but even up just a little, the sight was remarkable! There was another mountain right next to it. I kept thinking, 'This is what I want to see when I look down from heaven.'"**
    • "It really was awesome. We kept climbing for what seemed like hours! We could see the village! Dad went right next to the village, but it was too far and dangerous for any of us. It was cool - way! One of the most beautiful things I ever saw!"
* The name of the "village" where they lived is actually "Lettershanbally", pronounced "Letter-shan-boy-yah"
** Okay, Erin.

I wish that I had kept up my Ireland journal, and really that I started this travel blog a hell LOVE a lot earlier than I did. Instead, the main website I decided to start in middle school was dedicated to 'N Sync, which turned out to not be a bad decision either.


Monday, May 26, 2014

Hawaii - Seven Foods I Ate in Heaven

On your first day in Hawaii, your tummy will probably look good in your bikini due to stepping up your gym routine right before the trip. On your last day in Hawaii, this may not be the case because you've probably been stuffing yourself silly with fish and shaved ice. Some of the best things we ate on our island adventures are below:

Big Tuna

Hands down, the best meal we had was after our Road to Hana roadtrip in Maui. Somehow, although during the first half of our trip it seemed like there were thousands of cars with us, on the way back, we were the only car on the road. We were nervous this would mean the food stalls where we aimed to eat dinner would be closed. Of course, we had also forgotten to eat lunch that day so we were extra ravenous. But we rolled up to the stalls and there were still diners eating fish and chips at a food truck called Island Chef. We were too hungry for tough decisions so we ordered fish and chips as well. The chef in the van held up a huge tuna and said, "how about *this* fish?" and I knew we had made the right choice. The fish was caught by a local boy earlier that day and was freaking amazing once fried and served with some equally amazing fries. 

Raw Tuna

Speaking of tuna, I'm pretty sure I got mercury poisoning while I was away because I ate tuna at least once a day. Our first taste of the Hawaiian classic dish Poke was at Happy Hour with Meg and Kevin, two of my friends from Hoboken who happened to be in Kauai on our first full day. We went to an old plantation near our hotels called Gaylord's for yummy cocktails and $5 appetizers. Poke is raw tuna and typically avocado served with chips (which was very similar to the tuna tartare I had at Ainsworth Park recently). After our first taste of Hawaii's raw tuna, we couldn't get enough. We had it in wraps and tacos at Mermaid Cafe, tuna two ways at the Beach House, and in a wrap that multiple friends told us they dream about to this day at Kilauea Fish Market. I think my favorite was that first taste of it at Gaylord's, although they were super stingy with the chips.

Shaved Ice

Shaved Ice is a sweet staple on the islands of Hawaii. It's often compared to the snowcone, but is far from it in texture. We ate shaved ice a few times on our trip, but the first was at Jo Jo's in Kauai. For some reason, the line was ridiculously long when we got in and I apologized to Katie several times for making her wait in it, but it was worth it. There were about 60 flavor options but my guidebook suggested "rainbow" for the first time. They usually put a scoop or two of macadamia nut ice cream on the bottom, but had run out so we had some vanilla ice cream on the bottom of ours. It was sweet, refreshing, and lasted the whole car ride back to the hotel and some time sitting by the pool as well. What's pictured above is a small - the large is double the size and probably would have lasted until bedtime.

All Coconut Everything

On our first morning, my pancakes were served with coconut syrup and I became obsessed. The waitress suggested I put it in my coffee as well and my life was changed. I had to ask Katie to force me to get something else for breakfast after my first three mornings because I knew I needed some variety, but then I ordered coconut pancakes still another time. But as good as the coconut pancakes and coffee were, I'd say my *favorite* coconut meal was the above shrimp at a Shrimp Station in Kauai.


Malasadas are fried dough balls from Portugal that you can find all over Hawaii. Pictured above are some we devoured at Star Noodle in Maui, after one of our only non-seafood meals of the trip. We drizzled them in chocolate, peanuts, and butterscotch and were glad we didn't have to share with more than just each other.

Banana Bread

It was recommended by a friend of mine that we stop for banana bread before making the long trek along the Road to Hana. At a surfing beach, Ho'Okipa, right before the road trip traditionally begins, I spied a bakery truck with a banana bread sign out front and got excited, thinking that this had to be *the* banana bread we *had* to buy. It was absolutely delicious and made it with us to several more beaches. But, along the way, we also saw several other options for banana bread so it's quite possible that there were even better banana breads out there.

A $24 Salad

Lahaina Grill was our biggest splurge of the trip one night in Maui. We had basically been eating at food stalls and trucks but decided to wear dresses and skip our daily Seth Rogan movie one night. I had reservations about if I'd be able to eat enough of a $50 meal to make it worth it, since we weren't able to do anything with leftovers. I went with the $24 Bufala Tomato Salad instead, mostly because buffalo mozzarella is to die for and there was truffle oil involved. The waitress said it was her "favorite salad on the, the world" so I expected a lot. And a lot I got. I certainly don't eat enough salads to have a favorite salad in the world, but this one could easily take the cake if I had one.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Day Trippin' - A Historical Hyde-Away

If you had asked me a month ago if I knew about Franklin Delano Roosevelt, I would have said "of course." Even though we never made it that far into history in elementary and middle school, I felt like I knew all about FDR's New Deal, Fireside Chats, his response to Pearl Harbor, and the adorable 'lil pup, Fala, who sits at his feet at his memorial in DC. But a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Hyde Park in Dutchess County and I learned so much more about our longest-serving president. If you are a history nerd (like I am sometimes), Hyde Park is a must-visit, and is relatively easy from NYC.

If you get on the 8:45 am train from Grand Central to Poughkeepsie, the free Roosevelt Ride shuttle will meet you at the train station two hours later. The shuttle will take you straight to Hyde Park where you can find the FDR Home, the FDR Presidential Library and Museum, FDR's retreat Top Cottage, Eleanor Roosevelt's home Val-Kill, and the Vanderbilt Mansion.

The FDR Home where Roosevelt was born, grew up, and lived as an adult was our first stop. It was interesting to learn about FDR as a child and young ornithologist. FDR's boyhood bird collection, stuffed by FDR himself, is still sitting on the shelves of the main room. One of my favorite collections of FDR's still displayed in the house is dozens of framed political cartoons. The picture below is of the bed where FDR was born in 1882. I hope someone has saved the bed I was born in at Atlantic City Medical Center to be displayed at my own historical site someday.

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum has been recently renovated and modernized. It is awesome and I wish we had had more time to spend there. When the library was first established, it was actually the first ever Presidential Library, kicking off a trend still in style today. FDR designed it himself and it first opened in 1941. Not only does the museum touch upon FDR's life and presidency, but the renovation now allows a teaching of the times, as some visitors may not be as familiar with what life was like for the typical American during the Great Depression and World War II.

On display are letters from the American public to FDR, his Ford Phaeton that he used to ride around Hyde Park (specially modified with hand-controls), and his desk with all of his knickknacks set up just how he had used it in the day (below). Interactive exhibits give you the details behind tough decisions that FDR had to make and ask what you might have done with the given information. You can even sit in a model of a kitchen from the 1940s and listen to clips from FDR's Fireside Chats. There is also a special exhibit area dedicated to Eleanor Roosevelt who was one hell LOVE a lady (see her pistol license below).

If you've seen "Hyde Park on Hudson," you're probably familiar with FDR's retreat, Top Cottage. It is where FDR hosted the King and Queen of England in the movie (and in real life). We stood on the porch and heard stories of the visit, which was not only when discussions about the creation of the Atomic Bomb were held, but also when FDR served hot dogs to the royal couple. The Queen politely declined. The porch reminded me of the porch at my grandmother's house, which has also been the site of important conversations, although perhaps none as important (or controversial) as ending a war with an Atomic Bomb. We also visited Eleanor Roosevelt's retreat of Val-Kill, which felt very warm and cozy.

The new Roosevelt Farm Lane Tram Tour will begin in June and take visitors around Roosevelt's tree plantations. I thought it was adorable when I learned that FDR listed his profession as "Tree Farmer" instead of "President." The Roosevelt Farm sold Christmas trees and often sent them to other political figures of the time.

This trip is definitely doable as a day trip, but the train ride *is* quite long. If you have a full weekend, I'd encourage you to stay and enjoy the farms, wineries, golf courses, galleries and more in the area. Dutchess County is the perfect place to Hyde away from the city for a few days.

Many thanks to Dutchess County Tourism for hosting me on this trip. Opinions are always my own.


Monday, May 19, 2014

Hawaii - Up, Up, and Away

If you're a regular reader of this site, you may be familiar with my love/hate relationship with heights. Of course I appreciate the views that come with being high up in the air (like of Florence, New York City, or Bruges), but I also have some concerns when I think I could fall and hurt myself (like off of elephants, boats, or trapeze platforms).

I wasn't sure what exactly to expect when Katie and I signed up for a helicopter ride around the island of Kauai, Hawaii. I wondered if it would be rough, if it would feel like a roller coaster ride, if we'd be struggling against the wind, or if I'd be decapitated from the helicopter's propellers. What I did expect was an amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience.

{via KRF}

For an experience like this, we wanted only the best. Everything we read said that Blue Hawaiian Helicopters was the way to go. Not only have they been in business for 28 years, but they also offer a unique experience in an American Eurocopter Eco-Star. The Eco-Star offers a quieter ride, more viewing windows, fuel-efficiency, and individual bucket seats.

After being weighed, we sat through our safety demonstration, were assigned seats, and given belted life jackets. I was seat 1 in our helicopter and Katie was seat 2. This meant we were in first class, up front with the pilot. There were four other New Jersey natives who would be sitting behind us in raised "theater-style" seating. For some reason, knowing they were also from New Jersey made me feel a little better, but I was semi-panicking until the second I sat down in the helicopter. It felt right and I decided to forget about the fear and enjoy the experience.

And enjoy the experience I did. The ride was incredibly smooth, I wasn't unreasonably scared of dropping at all, and I only remembered we were even in a helicopter once, when we started to dive to get closer to a crater. Barrett, our pilot, was an amazing tour guide and made the ride even more fun with his cheesy jokes which I appreciated. His first joke was when he asked if anyone was scared and when no one responded, said that *he* was.

The island of Kauai is also known as "The Garden Isle" and it's easy to see why. It is the most undeveloped of the four major Hawaiian islands. One of the most famous features of Kauai is the Na Pali Coast, a 15-mile stretch of cliffs, most higher than the Empire State Building. The day before our helicopter ride, we had taken a boat tour along the coast. From the ocean, we had seen helicopters, zooming in and out of the landscape like tiny wasps. On the day of our helicopter tour, our insignificance against the cliffs was not lost on us. In addition to the Na Pali Coast, we also got views of beautiful beaches, waterfalls, Waimea Canyon ("The Grand Canyon of the Pacific"), and Mt. Waiale'ale, a crater which is designated as the wettest spot on Earth.

Pictures were slightly difficult because of the glare (that's why they tell you to wear dark colors), but some of my favorite views from our flight:

I'm so thankful that we made the decision to see Hawaii from the air. This helicopter ride was a unique travel experience for me and a must-do if you find yourself in the Aloha State. Go ahead. Get Kauai'ed away.

Mahalo to Blue Hawaiian Helicopters for the special rate. Flights are available on Kauai, Maui, Oahu, and the Big Island. A 55-minute flight on Kauai typically costs $240/person or $211/person if booked online 5 days in advance. A video of your flight is available for an additional $25. Opinions are always my own.

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