On a recent trip to Charleston, while walking down Meeting Street on our way back to our B&B, we passed an interesting café. It was after dark and the large front windows glowed with a view of an attractive “living room” furnished with overstuffed chairs, sofas, plenty of pillows and cats. There were a number of people enjoying beverages and petting the cats and, I admit, we had never seen anything like it before.
The café’s name is Pounce and it’s described as a pet adoption service. You purchase a ticket for either a half hour or hour stay. The admission includes a beverage (coffee, wine, beer or soft drink), pastries and sweets and “cat time” in a living room setting. It is best to call ahead as peak periods require a reservation.
We are not “pet people” but, based on reviews, this seems to be a good idea. Maybe if you visit Charleston you can have a glass of Merlot and take home a companion?
We started our November road trip in Charleston, South Carolina with a stay at the Barksdale House Inn, a beautiful bed and breakfast located on George Street in the historic district. It has been a number of years (actually a few decades) since we last visited and, while it is hard to believe that a city, which is over two and a half centuries old, can change a lot in that time, it really has.
The restaurant scene here has simply exploded. A wide range of culinary styles are offered with special emphasis on the “Low Country” recipes of the region. Seafood is featured in Southern dishes like shrimp and grits, oyster stew and she-crab soup. We stopped into Pearlz for happy hour at the bar and ended up turning it into dinner. Afterwards, walking back to the B&B, we finished the night by picking up pralines at Savannah’s Candy Kitchen of Charleston. The next day we sampled and purchased cookies from Byrd’s Famous Cookies and also stopped for lattes at a local coffee shop of which Charleston has more than a few.
There are a large number of high-end retailers that have moved onto King Street creating a unique shopping venue in the historic district. Another mecca for tourists and visiting shoppers is the city market on East Market Street. The market stretches for a number of blocks east from Meeting Street with both indoor and open-air buildings. Stalls include local food sellers, crafts, jewelry, art and a limited amount of clothing. There are also a number of stalls featuring traditional Gullah hand-woven sweet-grass baskets which are unique to the region.
The Gullah are the descendants of African slaves of various ethnic groups who live in the Low-Country regions of Georgia and South Carolina, in both the Coastal Plain and on the Sea Islands. They developed a Creole
language, the Gullah language, and a culture rich in African influences which makes them distinctive among African Americans.
Other big draws to Charleston are the Colonial and Federalist architecture and the revolutionary and civil war historic sites. Good ways to see the town are with narrated horse-drawn carriage tours operated by several different companies or walking tours which can be self-guided or with a tour company.
Barksdale House Innis a comfortable B&B in a historic house built in 1778 located in the heart of old town Charleston, SC. This Inn offers 14 rooms with private baths, complimentary breakfast, newspaper, free wireless internet access and off-street parking. We visited Charleston, South Carolina recently and really enjoyed our stay at this B&B.The rooms are beautifully decorated, the bed we had was comfortable and the shower had plenty of hot water. The staff is friendly and efficient and on weekdays they put out a really nice continental breakfast (on weekends they offer a full breakfast) and an afternoon tea each day for their guests. They also allow you to leave your car parked at the B&B until 2:00 pm on the day you check out which allows more time for shopping and sightseeing.
If you travel west on Florida State Road 24 from Gainesville to where the road ends, you find yourself in a bit of old Florida. Out in the middle of nowhere on Florida’s northwest coast is the little village of Cedar Key with its’ population of around 700.
A post office named “Cedar Key” was established here in 1845 and by 1860 Cedar Key became the western terminal for the Florida Railroad, connecting it to the east coast of Florida. The town grew as a result of the railroad but in the late nineteenth century when shipping terminals and a railroad line where built in Tampa, the town got passed by.
At the start of the twentieth century, fishing, sponging and oystering had become the major industries but, when the oyster beds played out, the town became primarily a draw for sport fishing. It probably looks much now the way it did sixty years ago but, behind the façade, there have been some changes. The town now has a thriving art community and attracts tourists to the galleries and shops and fishermen to the Gulf.
We made our first ever visit to Cedar Key in July of this year and, while the town has its’ appeal, summer is not the time to go as a good deal of the town is actually closed. When we went looking for a cup of coffee in the morning we simply could not find anything open. The town has a few coffee shops and a donut shop and they were all closed for vacation when we were there. There are only a few hotel/motels in town and none of them received much in the way of inviting reviews. The one we chose, The Beach Front Motel, was basic and nowhere near a swimming beach.
You arrive in the town as Florida 27 turns into D Street. It crosses 2nd Street which is the main thoroughfare and offers a number of nice shops. If you turn left on 2nd Street and in a block make a right on C Street you will find yourself heading toward the Gulf and Dock Street.
Back in town at the corner of D and 2nd is Tony’s Seafood Restaurant which is famous for award winning clam chowder. That was where we went for our first meal and we were not disappointed as the chowder was remarkable. You can also take some cans home with you or mail order later. If you are looking for white tablecloths and atmosphere in Cedar Key you’re probably going to be disappointed.
Along the waterfront on Dock Street there are a number of gift shops and five or six restaurants worth considering. We tried Steamers Clam Bar and Grill which offered a fairly extensive menu including lots of fresh seafood in both small plates and entrees. They also featured a nice selection of local craft beers and a full bar.
Cedar Key is not the sort of town you just discover since it is so far off the beaten track. There is very little in the way of a beach to draw people and nothing like a resort area vibe. Unless you are into fishing, it’s hard to think of a reason why you would spend more than a day here. There is one recommendation we would make, however. If you are spending time in north central Florida say near Gainesville, Cedar Key is an excellent choice for a day trip. It is less than an hour and a half drive. It has a character that reminded us of the Florida Keys thirty years ago – a laid back place with good seafood, fishing and salt air. The town has a vibrant art colony and the galleries and craft/gift shops are worth perusing. Also, in winter when more things are open, we were assured that we would find more to make a trip off the beaten path worth the time.
Hawaii is a destination on many bucket lists and if it’s not on yours you should add it. There are eight major islands in the Hawaiian archipelago so it is important to decide how to handle a visit. Our first choice is cruising as you are able to see several of the islands in one trip. Alternatively, you can select an island to visit and just stay, with Oahu being our first choice. There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches so be sure to do research before making your decision.
If you go with a cruise, only one company at present does weekly sailings around Hawaii and that is Norwegian. They offer 7 night trips in and out of Oahu with stops usually on three other islands. Alternatively, if you have around 14 nights available, you
can sail round trip from several different California ports or one way from Vancouver Canada or even consider an Australia – Hawaii cruise. The advantage to the one way sailing is that allows you to spend extra days on the island where the cruise begins or terminates and only pay for a one way plane ticket. With any of these options, you are likely to visit four or five different ports giving you the ability to do some exploring on your own or taking a ship’s tour to see the island.
The advantage to cruising is that you know many of the costs upfront and you know you will have good meals and a comfortable bed every night. You get sea days to relax and port days to see as little or as much as you want. You also have the option to try food and drinks ashore and see highlights in each port (like volcanoes), and shop at local stores and galleries. Some ships also bring on board Hawaiian performers and craft instructors to teach you things like making leis. Our last cruise had a naturalist on board giving lectures on whales and other things you MAY see. The disadvantage to cruising Hawaii is that your time in port is limited so you may not get to all the highlights on a particular island.
If you decide to fly, you need to select which island you want to visit. Roundtrip air can be pretty expensive and, if you want to visit more then one island, you will need additional inter island flights, also not cheap. Flying is the main transportation between islands as there is only one ferry service and it only connects Lahaina (Maui) and Lanai. Hotels are also fairly expensive as many of the hotels are beach resorts. Food is more costly then what you find on the mainland, especially in restaurants. If you don’t mind fast food, there are lots of options available to help keep costs down and Hawaii has some unique offerings that we hadn’t seen before. Because of the Asian influence you will see lots of sushi and noodle places and don’t pass up the food trucks.
Once you get over how expensive Hawaii can be, having several days to explore a particular island is a plus. You can walk, ride public transportation or hail a taxi but if you want to do a lot of exploring, renting a car is the way to go. If you book in advance, rental cars are not expensive but you will need GPS either in the vehicle or on your phone (our Verizon iPhones worked great for navigation). The islands are easily drivable but the long and unusual road names make navigation a bit of a challenge.
Whichever way you decide to visit Hawaii, plan your trip in advance so that you can get the most out of it. There is so much to see and do, it will be difficult deciding on priorities.
To get you started here are a few ideas:
Visit the volcanoes on the Big Island and Maui
Take a walk on Waikiki Beach
Learn to surf and/or paddle board
Have a Dole Whip at the Dole Plantation on Maui
Go snorkeling among the 250 marine species that call the area home
Sample coffee on Kona*
Have a Hawaiian shave ice
Visit Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial on Oahu
Hike or bike one of the many lush nature trails
Spend time on a beautiful beach
Bring home Macadamias* or coffee
* Oahu now has a new coffee grower and café located in the neighborhood of the Dole Plantation
**Hint: When you go shopping for Macadamia nuts visit the grocery and drug stores and save over the tourist stores. We visited the Mona Loa factory on The Big Island and their prices weren’t any better. Long Drug is the big Hawaiian drug chain and their prices are usually the best we’ve seen. They have also recently been acquired by CVS so if you have a CVS loyalty card be sure and use it and take your coupons and bucks with you.
When you visit Hawaii it doesn’t take very long to realize you have come to a place like no other on earth. Isolated from continental land by at least 2,400 miles of ocean. It is blessed with year round average temperatures in the eighties and abundant rainfall. Its history is both ancient as well as recent. First populated by the Polynesians over fifteen-hundred years ago it was not discovered by the European explorers until January, 1778, when the English explorer Captain Cook set foot ashore. The native Hawaiians speak a language unique to them and proof of this is everywhere from highway signs to greetings from the locals. Because of Hawaii’s isolation the flora and fauna are a blend of unique as well as introduced species from all around the world. Modern Hawaii has also the most ethnically diverse population found anywhere with seven races each representing over five percent of the population. This includes the Polynesians, Asians with Japanese being the largest segment, whites, Filipino, Blacks, Hispanics with twenty-one percent of the population being of mixed race decent. Even the geology and origins of this island chain are unique. Welcome to paradise…
Hawaii – a Geological Wonderland
Most of the earth’s islands are found at tectonic plate boundaries either from spreading centers (like Iceland) or from what are called subduction zones where one tectonic plate slides under another (like the Aleutian Islands). Hawaii is geologically unique because it is caused by a ‘hot spot.’
There are a few ‘hot spots’ on earth and the one under Hawaii is right in the middle of the Pacific Plate, one of the earth’s largest crustal plates. A geologic ‘hot spot’ is an area under a crustal plate where volcanism occurs. It is easy to geologically explain volcanism at plate spreading centers and subduction zones but not as easy to explain a ‘hot spot’ where molten magma breaks through the crustal plate. (Some theories describe this as a particularly hot part of the molten magma).
Another hot spot under the American plate is Yellowstone National Park with its geysers and other thermal features. The Hawaii hot spot is under the seafloor producing undersea volcanoes. Some of these volcanoes build up to the surface of the ocean and become islands. Over millions of years the plate moves across the ‘hot spot’ and the original volcanoes become extinct and new volcanoes begin to form in the area of the ‘hot spot.’
Understanding all of this explains why in the Hawaiian islands, the more southeast you go, the more active the volcanoes are. This shows that the plate is moving northwestThe island farthest south is the big island of Hawaii with no fewer than five volcanoes with some active most of the time. The farther north you go, the islands are older and the more time erosion has washed away the land. Niʻihau is the largest and last lightly inhabited island before the ten islands and atolls in the uninhabited Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
He iconic profile of Diamond Head east of Waikīkī Beach on the island of Oahu is the crater of a long extinct volcano.
Hawaii – The Big Island
The three largest volcanoes on the big island are Kilauea, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. Volcano National Park encompasses Kilauea with a number of different volcanic features.
Picture caption: Halema’uma’u, a pit crater, inside Kilauea Caldera started erupting in 2008 creating an almost constant plume of steam and volcanic gases (sulphur dioxide).
On a recent visit to the big island we went up to Kīlauea. The caldera was shrouded in rain and fog so we didn’t have an opportunity to see much but we did get to Halema’uma’u. We spent time at the USGS museum and also hiked thru the Thurston Lava Tube.
Thurston Lava Tube is part of a trail in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Visitors enter through a ‘skylight’ (collapsed roof of a lava tube), walk a ways through the tube and exit via another ‘skylight.
Lava tubes develop as the lava flows and hardens on the outside. The inside continues to flow and may drain out of the ‘lava tube’ entirely. Some of these lava tubes are small but some are very large (as much as 20 feet in diameter). Many of the lava tubes have a flat bottom as the lava hardens when it slows down and look like subway tunnels. When the top of a lava tube breaks through it is called a ‘skylight.’
Due east of Kilauea, lava from Pu’u O’o volcano travels downhill for miles in lava tubes to reach the ocean where it spills out along the shoreline creating large clouds of steam and volcanic gas. Our cruise ship crossed around the southern coast at night and around midnight moved to within one mile of the lava flows as they poured into the ocean. Viewing the display at night from the sea is an awesome event. There are also trails that allow hikers to get down near the area where the lava spills into the sea but we’ve been told that the hike down and back can take most of the day.
In addition to the volcanoes on the island of Hawaii there is a new eruption just south of the island called Loihi. This volcano has been erupting from the sea floor and currently its peak is at a depth of 3,000 feet. At its present rate of growth it will probably break the surface of the Pacific after another 10,000 years.
Haleakala is home to the highest peak on Maui, at 10,023 feet. It also holds the world record for climbing to the highest elevation in the shortest distance- a mere 38 miles from sea level to the top! Because Maui is north of Hawaii the volcanic activity is dying down. It is believed that the last major eruption was in the seventeenth century with only a few smaller events in the twentieth century. The USGS lists the eruption risk now as normal. A Normal status is used to designate typical volcanic activity in a non-eruptive phase.
We visited the top of Haleakalā a couple of years ago and it is almost like traveling to another planet: bare peaks and slopes covered in a spectrum of colored rock, dirt and sand. Clouds hung near the slopes with vistas across the crater* that stretch on forever and views back across the island are breathtaking. The drive to the top of the volcano is an adventure in itself as the road snakes back and forth up the slope with temperatures dropping as you ascend and winds blowing as you reach the summit.
The profile of Diamond Head on O‘ahu is the western rim of an extinct volcano and is perhaps one of the most recognized volcanic mountains on earth. In addition to Diamond Head there are a few additional extinct vulcanoes on the island including Hanauma Bay, Koko Head, Punchbowl Crater, Mount Tantalus and Aliapa’ak.
Throughout the Hawaiian islands the high and jagged peaks catch the tropical trade-winds causing huge amounts of rainfall. This micro-climate results in a lush landscape crossed with rushing streams and dotted with beautiful waterfalls. The islands are noted for their vertical cliffs, isolated valleys, incredible beaches and acres of farm land. This tropical climate and rich soil yields plentiful cash crops that include pineapples, macadamia nuts, coffee and cacao nibs used for making chocolate. Welcome to paradise…
On a recent trip to Australia we spent a day at Bondi Beach outside of Sydney. It turns out that besides being a nearby beach resort and a great surfing venue, Bondi is famous for the largest free sculpture exhibitions in the world. A sculpture event known as Sculptures By The Sea is featured each year in October-November.
Bondi Beach, in addition to surfing, is famous for the Bondi to Bronte Coastal Walk. The walk is an iconic 3-km. paved trail along the coast between two well-known Sydney beaches. The walk offers sweeping ocean vistas of the coastline and sea from a paved trail beautifully fit into the cliffs between the two beaches. From mid October into early November the walk becomes an outdoor sculpture exhibit featuring works of art from all over Australia and beyond.
Anyone visiting Sydney, especially during this time should really try to fit in a visit to Bondi Beach. The town is easy to reach via a Sydney T4 train from central station to Bondi Junction where you switch to a Beach bus. We would recommend getting an Opal card to make the best use of the area transportation (See our post on the Opal Card).
The beach itself is a sweeping two kilometers of crescent sand and the bars and eating venues along the beach street have a resort boardwalk vibe. The real draw though is the surf and in the world of surfers the waves at Bondi are legendary. Even without the art it is one of Sydney’s “must see” destinations and don’t forget to pick up a “Surf Bondi” Tee shirt before you leave.