Friday Five: Honolulu Favorites

Friday Five is back! And this time, I bring you my favorite five things from my recent trip to Hawaii.

The Bernice Puahi Bishop Museum

Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii

Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii

(http://www.bishopmuseum.org/)
Hawaii’s history is vastly different than that of almost all the other states–and yet I can’t remember a single history lesson about Hawaii other than Pearl Harbor and when it became the 50th state. The Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum makes all those missed history lessons accessible in one easily digestible and beautiful museum (special thanks to Auntie Suzi for allowing me to take a million and five pictures everywhere we went!). The museum itself is spread between several buildings–one devoted to a planetarium, one to the history of Hawaii and the people indigenous to the South Pacific, one that explores Hawaii’s flora and fauna (including a creepy/cool faux volcano), and one that digs into the many immigrants who have shaped the face of Hawaii. The museum is also off the tourist track, which is a nice change of pace from the hustle and bustle of Waikiki.

 

#6 from Ono Seafood in Honolulu, Hawaii

#6 from Ono Seafood in Honolulu, Hawaii

Ono Seafood (http://www.yelp.com/biz/ono-seafood-honolulu) So, first off, this restaurant is in the bottom of an apartment building, and is the very definition of a hole in a wall eatery. I paid close attention to warnings on Yelp that said not to pass it by, but when I walked in, was overwhelmed by the prospect of made to order poke and totally embarrassed myself while ordering (a direct quote from yours truly “I just want poke.” The woman taking orders looked at me unmoved while an elderly woman preparing the poke looked at me sweetly, the way you might look at someone you thought was simple), the minor embarrassment lasted only until the first forkful of poke passed my lips. This is, without a doubt, the best poke I have ever had in my life. Protip (aside from learning to read a menu)–I arrived around 11:15 a.m. on a Saturday and by the time I left (close to noon), the line was out the door. There are a couple long picnic tables, but not enough to be shy about asking to sit next to locals or fellow tourists.

Pali Lookout

Pali Lookout

Pali Lookout (http://www.gohawaii.com/en/oahu/regions-neighborhoods/windward-oahu/nuuanu-pali-lookout/) While my Auntie Suzi patiently guided me on a tour around Oahu, she mentioned the Battle of Nu’aunu–in 1795, Kamehameha drove more than 400 warriors led by Kalanikupule off the edge of the Pali Lookout where they fell to their deaths on the valley floor 1,000 feet below. Because of the mass death, the area around the Pali Lookout is said to possess a great deal of spirit activity. And, because I’m a strange person, Auntie Suzi’s story made me want to visit. The vista is breathtaking, in part because it’s impossibly windy, but also because it combines steep, rocky outcrops you’d expect in Scotland, combined with the lush, greenery of a tropical rainforest. And in the distance, the Pacific Ocean dazzles with its various shades of blue. There are also roving bands of wild chickens.

SHAVE ICE! From Waiola Shave Ice

SHAVE ICE! From Waiola Shave Ice

Waiola Shave Ice (http://www.waiolashaveice.com/) On my first trip to Oahu, I ventured up to the North Shore to Haleiwa (which is the most magical little town on Earth, to me), and had my first authentic Hawaiian shave ice. For the unacquainted, Hawaiian shave ice is nothing like our mainland shave ice (for one, it’s not shaved). Instead of the coarse ice crystals, shave ice has an almost ice cream like consistency. And to add to the amazing texture, you can get ice cream added to the bottom of your shave ice. I didn’t know you could get shave ice anywhere outside of the North Shore, but Auntie Suzi, the sage local, took me to Waiola (not far from Ono!) and ordered me a pineapple/lilikoi concoction that I will dream about for years to come.

Waikiki Beach before the crowds arrive

Waikiki Beach before the crowds arrive

Early Morning Swims When I was a kid, my mother forced me into swimming lessons. At first, I really hated them because there’s nothing so painful as being 7 and and lacking the speedy motor skills to peel away a one piece bathing suit when you need to heed nature’s call. But as I grew older, I came to understand that yes, knowing how to swim was important safety-wise, but the quiet tranquility offered when floating along in a pool or, you know, the Pacific Ocean, cannot be beat. So each morning while I was in Hawaii, I’d wake up early and head out to the beach to stake a claim on the cool sand before the crowds appeared. And as soon as the sun slipped above the highest of the Waikiki skyscrapers and began warming the waters off Waikiki Beach, I’d wade out with my GoPro and go for a swim.

Sweetness: The Royal Hawaiian Hotel

Royal Hawaiian Hotel Honolulu

The Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Honolulu, Hawaii

I am not a fancy hotel kind of girl. When searching reviews on TripAdvisor, I scan photos only to be sure there are no bed bug infestations to worry about. I look for clean, safe, relatively centrally located and calm, but luxury resorts are typically the antithesis to both my travel identity and, you know, budget. But during a rewatch of my favorite show of all time, “Mad Men,” I was inspired by Don’s season 6 opener vacation to Honolulu and decided I wanted to stay at The Royal Hawaiian. From the moment I booked my reservation I knew things were different—I received a personal mail from the concierge asking questions about my stay and received no stock answers, but actual recommendations based on my questions. I arrived late one Thursday night on the last flight from Seattle to Honolulu, and decided to take the shuttle offered through Starwood (they welcome you with a lei! Something I secretly wanted on each of my three previous trips to Hawaii but thought I was too cool for). At night, you don’t fully appreciate how much of an oasis The Royal Hawaiian is from the hustle and bustle Waikiki—it’s almost like there’s some sort of biodome fitted neatly around the property. And though I was covered in the scent of airplane and Dramamine, I felt welcomed. Not in the obsequious way that usually occurs at luxury hotels, but in a way that suggests the Ambassadors (Royal Hawaiian staff) are well trained in the art of hospitality.

Historic Wing Garden View Room at The Royal Hawaiian

Historic Wing Garden View Room at The Royal Hawaiian

I checked into my room (Garden View, Historic Wing), a large, l-shaped situation with an oversized fan spinning lazily above my bed. My windows looked out onto the lush drive and entry way to the hotel, and after a restful night’s sleep, I sat in a chair munching the Royal Hawaiian’s trademark banana bread as early morning light transformed into a brilliant day.

On my first morning, I decided to indulge in a very good

Waffles with Coconut Syrup and Whipped Cream at The Royal Hawaiian's Surf Lanai Restaurant

Waffles with Coconut Syrup and Whipped Cream at The Royal Hawaiian’s Surf Lanai Restaurant

(if, admittedly slightly overpriced) breakfast at the on property Surf Lanai restaurant. Breakfast was pricey but the view was priceless, and allowed me one of my favorite pasttimes in Hawaii—watching people take in the site of the ocean for the first time. You can almost see when vacation mode clicks on in people’s brains as they stare, unblinking into the impossibly clear and turquoise blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. Children, released for a few moments from the protective grasp of their parents’ hands and frolic in the surf while their parents’ feet sink into the soft sand. The same slow, genuine smile spreads over every face, and it is an amazing sight to behold in this time where our eyes are almost always cast down, lit by the eerie glow of an electronic device screen.

Archway at The Royal Hawaiian Hotel

Archway at The Royal Hawaiian Hotel

The six-story Moorish architecture inspired resort opened in February of 1927, and with its trademark pink façade has been dubbed “The Pink Palace of the Pacific.” And while the color pink is omnipresent (chairs, towels, umbrellas, toiletry bottles, hats, rugs, etc.), it never becomes overwhelming and is instead just a neat, vintage quirk. With the exception of the Moana Surfrider, all of the big Waikiki hotels are enormous skyscraper structures, and while The Royal Hawaiian recently opened a tower of its own, the intimacy afforded by the historic wing of the hotel is unparalleled. Almost every hallway ends in a beautiful vista of either the grounds or the ocean or the gardens, or an intoxicating blend of all three. There are also quiet seating areas tucked around most corners. One night, I sat with my notebook and a can of Hawaiian Sun and wrote for a couple hours, listening to the waves crash against the shore and the gentle murmur of the two nearby restaurants/bars. The hotel has played host to Hawaiian and Hollywood royalty, but is equally welcoming to a regular vacationer like yours truly.

View from a beach chair at The Royal Hawaiian Hotel

View from a beach chair at The Royal Hawaiian Hotel

One of the other splurges I made on this very #treatyoself trip was renting a chair on the beach. For $40, you get two chairs (I used one) and an umbrella from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. (which is actually a really good value, I’ve seen resorts on other islands that charge twice that). Ordinarily, it takes me a good two to three days to train myself not to check mail on vacation, but a solid four hours of sitting on the beach doing nothing convinced me that, yes, unplugging was best. The people watching on Waikiki Beach is unparalleled. Though I did not take advantage of this, the Waikiki Beach Boys who staff the chair rental area will get (non alcoholic) drinks for you and help you order food.

After a day of doing nothing, I worked up quite a thirst and found my way to the Mai Tai Bar, which also boasts views of the Pacific Ocean. Hawaii is such an effortlessly beautiful place, one that begs for constant photo taking and selfies, but the longer you stay, the less likely you are to want to take pictures. On a busy Friday afternoon, I spotted not a single iPhone out (I did see a lot of GoPros, but I give those a pass). Instead, everyone was either amiably chatting to their travel companion or, if solo (like myself), trying their level best to absorb the salt, sea, sand, and sunshine by sitting perfectly still.

The Last Cocktail and Haupia Cake at The Mai Tai Bar at The Royal Hawaiian Hotel

The Last Cocktail and Haupia Cake at The Mai Tai Bar at The Royal Hawaiian Hotel

On my last night in Hawaii, totally overwhelmed at the prospect of leaving paradise behind, I sidled up to the bar for a slide of haupia (coconut) cake—pink, naturally—and a cocktail fittingly titled “The Last Cocktail.” Behind me, two musicians and a hula dancer entertained the mellow crowd, transporting everyone, even just for a few minutes, not to a simpler place, but into a state of total traniquility, right where they are.

With carefully cared for vintage architecture, furnishings, displays (old school long boards, dresses worn by Hawaiian royalty), and outstanding service, it’s easy to understand why the producers and writers of “Mad Men” chose The Pink Palace of the Pacific as the location of an episode. Everything about the hotel is transformative, and forces you to take a few minutes to relax, and enjoy your surroundings. And for me, it taught me that while my budget hotel tendencies make sense some times, it’s okay to splurge on a place as unique and spectacular as The Royal Hawaiian. I’ve been back for less than a week, and I’m already saving my pennies and thinking of when I can return.

IMG_4127

Pros

  • Location, location, location
  • Architecture
  • History
  • Service

Cons

  • $35/day resort fee includes free long distance phone calls, but do people really use their hotel room phones anymore? So it seems like a waste to say that’s a bonus since most people are not using it.
  • The food is very expensive (good, though). I would not recommend eating there every day, but a couple special occasion meals during your stay are well worth the $$$$.

The Royal Hawaiian Hotel
2259 Kalakaua Avenue
Honolulu, HI 96815
http://www.royal-hawaiian.com/

Bittersweetness: The Fear

Waaaay back in 2011, I received my master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern. The program itself was difficult and intense, and there were times when I hated it more than I’ve hated anything in my life. I’ve been a decent writer for as long as I can remember, and skated through high school and college with essays penned in the wee small hours of the morning before they were due. I can count on one hand the number of times I did not get an “A” on a paper in high school and college (because I collapsed into a puddle of tears each time).

So, studying something I felt skilled at in one of the best schools in America seemed like it would be a natural fit. Except no one tells you how daunting it can be to go from being the best writer in your class to a room full of people who were all the best writers in their respective classes. It’s humbling, in a good way. I got the famous Medill “F” on my very first day at Medill, and immediately after, made a tearful call to my mom, announcing I’d be home in a couple weeks because obviously I was going to flunk out. I didn’t. But I didn’t do much better. Most of my classmates readily accepted the challenge of becoming better writers and cub journalists, but I was paralyzed by fear of failure, or a fear that I wasn’t actually as good as I thought I was. No English teacher in my life had ever challenged me to become a better writer, and when faced with the chance to become better at it, I took any critique as a sign that I wasn’t any good at all. There were glimmers of hope, and occasionally, I would turn out articles that even surprised me for how good they were. But time and again, my instructors would take me aside and say the only thing keeping me back from not just being a good writer but a great writer was my self-confidence. Which, in and of itself, is something that doesn’t necessarily make you feel better and increase your confidence. For someone paralyzed by fear of failure, it only serves to highlight another something you’re failing at. But it’s something that has stayed with me.

When I set up this blog, I was filled with courage. Almost certainly it was liquid courage, but I felt like this was my chance to take up something that I loved to do and that made me extremely happy, even if I couldn’t make a living off of it. At points, I set up editorial calendars and came up with regular cadences for updates. I set up a Facebook page, I changed the name of my Twitter account, and one of my Medill classmates even approached me about writing posts on The Huffington Post’s blog. I recapped The Bachelor/Bachelorette. Occasionally, my work schedule or family commitments would get in the way, but the huge chunks of time between posts very often have little to do with my schedule, and everything to do with me being terrified. What should this blog be about? What’s my voice? What’s my brand? Is anyone reading? I came up with a million excuses for why I couldn’t do it, why it was pointless, and why I should abandon the blog entirely, or just pretend it didn’t exist. I don’t travel enough to make this a travel blog, and my life of 9-5 is nowhere near glamorous enough to warrant a lifestyle blog (Sample post: Secrets to my skin? Genetics). I read lots of blogs and feel twinges of jealousy—it’s not that I don’t have the skill to write, it’s that I haven’t decided that it’s something I need to do and committed myself to the hard work that needs to be done to become a better writer. None of the questions that have hobbled me and served as excuses for not writing actually matter—no one is going to read my blog if I haven’t written anything, and there’s no voice to worry about if there are no posts to read.

Time and white wine have made me understand that my relationship to writing is a metaphor for many facets of my life. Scared of not doing well makes me do nothing at all. One of my biggest regrets in life so far is that I didn’t take full advantage of my time at Medill because I was scared that I wouldn’t be great. I remember all the classes, the pro-tips from instructors, and the hours I spent in class studying the art of storytelling, and I’m hopeful that this blog will give me the opportunity to finally apply those lessons.

Long story short—I need to write and mom, please feel free to harass me if I haven’t written recently.

The Bachelor: “It’s Just So Much Smaller Than I Thought It Would Be”

IMG_3005I have to admit that I got super excited when I found out there would be three hours of Chris, the Hamster King of Iowa on Sunday night. After yet another Valentine’s Day alone, I was ready to revel in the glory of a troupe of women competing with each other for the attention of a man whose only real accomplishment seems to be falling asleep with his eyes open. But then I remembered that it was DOWNTON AND GRANTCHESTER NIGHT and I chose to give in to my inner Anglophile, and watched PBS instead. So, today’s post is a Bachelor omnibus. A hideous compilation of two nights of content, reduced to bullet form and pithy remarks. It is long. Really long.

Let’s dig in!

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The Bachelor: 50 Shades of Hay

IMG_2880We’re a little less than two weeks away from the world premiere of everyone’s favorite Twilight fan fic turned best-selling novel turned Valentine’s Day movie, 50 Shades of Grey, and the world has gone mad. While The Bachelor frequently traffics in the absurd—for example, the Bachelorette season when they did a tie-in for the movie “Brave” and had the men dress in kilts and engage in caber tossing…wait, actually, I really enjoyed that. But the show isn’t known for subtlety or shying away from a good double entendre, terrible sexual pun, or long, lingering shots of “swimming in the ocean.” Yet, in spite of all that, as I watched comma eyebrows straddle Chris’ lap, I could feel myself blushing. This came on at 8:19 in the evening! On ABC! In primetime! E.L. James, what have you done to us?

But before we dig in too deep with the “intimacy session,” let’s begin with Comma Eyebrows Cruise Ship Singer. I can’t stop looking at her eyebrows. They are horrific. While I admire her commitment to plucking, and the fact that she has eschewed false eyelashes in favor of approximately 6,000 coats of mascara, she does herself no favors. However, she’s incredibly excited to get her first one on one with Chris. We are treated to several shots of Chris, trying his level best to look pensive as he gazes off into the middle distance. More often than not, he looks mildly constipated and/or confused. I feel for the guy, because he has no business on this show. Despite all of my hamster brain comments, I do believe he might be a good guy, and every time they set up incredibly staged shots for him, he looks painfully out of place. So it’s genuinely refreshing to see him light up when he catches a glimpse of Comma Eyebrows Cruise Ship Singer decked out in a sweater plucked from one of Urban Outfitters’ more culturally sensitive Navajo-inspired collections.

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The Bachelor: Hello, Sister Wives

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Jimmy Kimmel gets some one on one time with The Bachelor.

Right before I sat down to write this post, I decided to take my dog for his pre-bedtime walk. I put on a coat I borrowed from Hagrid over my TV watching outfit (people who know me will assume I am perfectly put together always. This is not true.) of a WWE t-shirt and paisley pajama bottoms, paired with UGGs. It is a charming ensemble, meant only to be worn in the dark of night and seen by my color blind dog. My brain, fogged over with Prosecco and visions of Kmart Kardashian’s thick, false eyelashes peeling away from her eyelids, didn’t think to pick up my keys and I locked myself out of my building. So, I stood outside in a horrible outfit, repeatedly dialing my landlord, who put me in touch with the building manager WHO DID NOT ANSWER. I stared down at my dog, considered whether or not being small gave him feline reflexes and maybe he could scale the wall and…no. No. Too many bubbles floating into my mind grapes. All sorts of terrible eventualities popped into my head and I was mere seconds from ugly crying, when an elderly Russian woman carrying a snifter of Brandy shuffled towards the door. I shouted “I AM LOCKED OUT, WILL YOU LET ME IN?” at her.  She looked me up and down, and said “I save you” and then smiled and let me in.

As I walked up the steps to the 2nd floor and bathed in the warmth of my apartment that is almost never really that warm, I thought “you know what? The women who didn’t get roses tonight? They were saved, too.” From a life of being with someone so incredibly boring that he makes Jimmy Kimmel bearable.

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The Bachelor: “I was like, ‘this thing is really slow'”

IMG_2435A couple months ago, I went to an incredibly depressing Petco. It was in an otherwise bustling strip mall, but the Petco itself was empty. A grooming salon without dogs looks like a sex dungeon, and the straps swayed slightly in the air conditioned breeze. A handful of stray cats from a local rescue wandered an enclosure out front, pawing at a moth eaten fabric mouse. Behind a display of Princess Leia Slave dog costumes was an end cap of hamsters. There was one hamster in an exercise wheel, moving incredibly slowly. I watched it for a while, probably longer than I should have, when a Petco employee came over and asked if I wanted to see the hamster. I said “No, he just looks so sad.”

“No, he’s just always like that,” replied the teenaged boy matter of factly. “Just moves slowly.”

As I watch this season of The Bachelor, I am reminded of that hamster. I looked at Chris’ eyes as he contemplates which Palisades/Betty Ford Clinic escapee to keep around for another week, and I can almost see the tiny hamsters slowly walking on the exercise wheel that fires off synapses in his brain.

This week’s thoughts:

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