Posts Tagged Travel

Travel – Oahu, Hawaii

Travel: Oahu, Hawaii

This was the first trip to Hawaii for me and my fellow travelers. We decided to stick to the island of Oahu as an introduction and contrary to some opinions we got, we decided to not rent a car but stay in Waikiki city center. For us, that turned out to be a great decision.  We took several tours, many of whom arranged pickup very close to our hotel and a few that involved water activities required us to take Uber.

On the very first day after we landed, we went on the longest tour that circled the entire island and stopped at key tourist places. After pickup from the hotel, we passed through the upscale neighborhood of Kahala, we stopped at scenic Hanauma Bay lookout point overlooking amazing views of the bay below. We then stopped at Makapuu lookout and Nuuanu Pali lookout. Both offered amazing views with incredible greenery all around, turquoise waters in the distance and sky high cliffs overlooking the bay. We passed through Mokoli, known among tourists as Chinaman’s hat given the iconic hat that people wear in China when working in rice paddies. Lunch time stop at small quaint town of Haleiwa on the North Shore, offered us an opportunity to eat in a small cafe, taste the local speciality of shaved ice and do some shopping for nick nacks. At the Dole plantation stop, we expected to learn something about pineapple growing etc. and were a bit disappointed as it turned out to be more of a shopping place of all things pineapple. But we took some lovely pictures there and had the best corn on the cob from a food truck parked outside. It was the same at Macadamia nut farm as it turned out to be a shopping stop but with plenty of opportunities to try different flavors of these incredible nuts as well as coffee. We ended up buying many flavors of macadamia nuts and enjoyed some more shopping as well as sweet, fresh coconut water.

On days following, we did several water activities including a glass bottomed boat tour to see marine life, although we saw black turtles and other marine life in the ocean, rather than through the glass. The highlight of the water activities was “extreme parasailing” where we got to sail in tandem about a 1000 feet above water for 7 minutes and enjoy the view before being dunked into the water and then pulled back on the boat. I totally enjoyed it until we got to the beach —- and until we went swimming in the ocean. There is nothing in the world that can compare with swimming for hours and hours in the ocean and ride the waves, back and forth. I feel like a fish and I feel I can stay forever in the ocean.

On one free day, we went to see Bishop Museum. As we entered the museum, a fashionable 85+ year old woman at the entrance told us that if anyone can take a boring subject like taxonomy and make it interesting, it’s Bishop museum and she wasn’t wrong. Taxonomy is the science of finding, organizing, and classifying all living organisms. Hawaii has incredible biodiversity and the scientists are doing a phenomenal job. And yet only 2M+ few species are so far named and cataloged (my favorite being the fascinating tardigrades). By some estimates, there are at least 10M+ species of life on earth. Bishop museum in Oahu is fabulous, with Pacific ocean’s natural history and science sections, Planetarium and gardens. We also visited ISKON temple and enjoyed its isolated, quite space and delicious wholesome vegan lunch.

We skipped luau and instead went for a Sunset dinner and cruise with a show. I have to say that vegetarian dinner was a complete and total disappointment.  It turned out to be two tasteless large pieces of tofu and three pieces of zucchini. The drink was equally boring. As a vegetarian, I love almost all vegetables except zucchini – LOL. The manager refused to exchange our drinks for something tastier. Sunset was gorgeous and show was nice and we took many pictures. At the end, the waitress put macadamia nut ice cream on our table and almost immediately she tried to take it back saying, “oh with vegetarian meals, you will get a cookie”. I immediately grabbed a couple of bowls of ice cream and said, “absolutely not. We are not only going to have this ice cream but you will also bring each one of us an extra ice cream, regardless of what the manager says”. She smiled and left the ice cream. In a few moments, she returned with extra ice cream for all of us and earned a large tip from the happy travelers.

One day we toured USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu. This is a solemn memorial marking a resting place of 1,102 of the 1,177 sailors and Marines killed on USS Arizona during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 by the Japanese navy that pulled USA into World War II. This led to devastating atomic bombing by the USA of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and ultimate Japanese surrender and end of the war, with the loss by Hitler’s army in 1945. We need memorials to not only keep alive the memories of young lives lost but also to learn from history and avoid repeating it. We saw an informative museum and a film.

We visited historic China town and enjoyed watching the murals on the walls and bought lots of tropical fruits, including papayas, mangosteens, pears, grapes, rambutan and more. We enjoyed yummy fruits daily in our hotel room, enjoyed macadamia nut gelato almost every evening and returned with beautiful memories and tons of pictures and with plans to visit other islands, next year.

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Travel: Charleston, SC

Charleston, hotbed of confederacy, first state to seek secession from the Union, is home to sweet and sour, yet rich history and well preserved architecture. Charleston was a major slave trading port and it is believed that of the estimated 400,000 captive Africans brought into North America, nearly 40% arrived at Sullivan’s Island of Charleston. Additionally, between 1680 and 1720, about 40,000 native men, women and children were sold through the port, often to West Indies and other Southern colonies. The planters felt that the Indian slaves were more likely to escape or revolt so they preferred to sell them and use the proceeds to purchase black slaves. Such is the sad history of slavery.  In 2018, the city formally apologized for its role in the American Slave trade after CNN noted that slavery “riddles the history” of Charleston”. Slaves were sold at the arriving ships or at ad hoc gatherings. As per our city tour guide, one of the parking lots we passed by was a prior slave trading post. 

Boone Hall Plantation 

Our visit to Boone Plantation, one of the oldest plantations still in operation, was illuminating. Like a great deal of architecture around Charleston, Boone Plantation is also a historic site. The most informative were the brick slave cabins located along Slave Street which date between 1790 and 1810. Each cabin displayed video presentations along with other artifacts that told the story of former inhabitants’ lives. There was also a colonial style dwelling of former slave owners.Most fascinating was a Gulaghichi presentation. Most slaves brought here were desendents of West African tribes, near Angola region. They developed their own language and customs that was referred to as Gullah culture. Islanders of Georgia were referred to as Gheechee and together they are referred to as GullahGeechee. A presentation on GullahGeechee culture with songs and drums was a highlight of this tour, where for the first time I learned where Kumbaya came from and what it meant.

Charleston Architecture

The high cost of 19th century slaves and their high rate of return resulted in concentration of wealth where about a hundred interrelated families controlled half of the wealth and the lower half of the population had no wealth at all. That means there were amazing private gardens and almost no public parks. On our city tour, we visited some gorgeous Charleston homes that would evoke for many nostalgia for the antebellum South, for Southern charm and Southern hospitality. The tours focused on gorgeous architecture and fine furniture but always, always, at the back of my mind was the reality of life of enslaved labor that made such high living possible for a few privileged people.

Ghost tours and stories

Charleston and Savannah’s ghost tours and stories combine both history and ghoulish lore. Often narrated with dramatic flair and humor, under these ghost stories lie tragedies of human beings who inhabited the region, destruction during many wars fought here, ghoulish practices of enslavement, duels and other traumas .


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Trip to Kyoto – Kinkaku-Ji Gold Temple, Shogun’s Castle, Kiyomizu-dera, Byodoin Temple, Fushimi Inari Shrine and trip to Kobe: Japan Travel

The best part of my trip to Japan was that we enjoyed different sites with so many of our Japanese hosts.  Each one of them was wonderful, infinitely kind and gracious and truly made our trip memorable.  We saw a lot of temples and shrines in Kyoto.  Kyoto is called a city of ten thousand shrines and has the most gorgeous shrines and temples.

wpid-20140825_130519-1.jpgOn first day in Kyoto, Piper and I met Hanada San and Nakagome San.  These two ladies are 83 and 81 years old and have been best friends for over four decades.  They are highly educated.  Hanada San studied languages and Nakagome San has PhD in Chemistry.  They use technology, accessed emails on their cell phones, and walked at such a fast pace and climbed stairs with such gusto that it would put young people to shame.

I found that in place of typical Japanese softness and roundabout way of saying things, older Japanese women are very direct.  They sit up so straight and exude such dignity as if every wrinkle is telling a tale of hardships overcome and character built.  These two gorgeous women were completely straight forward and totally direct.  Right away they made it abundantly clear that they were going to pay for everything, including meals, entrance fees, and various cab rides.


They took us to Kinkaku-Ji gold temple.  This is a zen temple whose top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf.  There is another similarly named Silver temple, Ginkakuji that we did not see.  Kinkakuji is absolutely gorgeous temple, overlooking a large pond.  We could not go inside.  But we walked around outside and took pictures.wpid-20140825_124624.jpg

We went to a lovely restaurant with delicious vegetarian food for lunch.  Then we took a taxi and went to see beautiful rock garden and lotus garden.  Again the views were absolutely astounding and every place gave an idea of how seriously Japanese people take elements of beauty.  Hanada San and Nakagome San were lovely company.  Hanada San told me that she was just like my mother and I began calling her Mama San.

We took a taxi and went to see a Shogun’s castle, called Nijo Castle.  The castle castle has two concentric rings of fortifications, the Ninomaru Palace, the ruins of Honmaru Palace and various support buildings and several gardens.  In 1601, the founder of Tokugawa Shogunate, ordered all the feudal lords in Western Japan to contribute to the construction of the Nijo castle.  In 1867, the palace was the stage for the declaration of support to the emperor by Tokugawa Yoshinobu and the palace was returned to the Imperial Court.   wpid-20140825_145029.jpgwpid-20140825_162610.jpg

We were the last people to enter.  As we walked past an area, the caretakers closed the doors behind us.  We were the only people and so we clearly heard that as we walked by the wooden floors squeaked, but not in an annoying way.  The floors squeaked like the sound of the bird and they called it the nightingale squeak.  The squeak was designed to alert the shogun when someone was walking and so that no one would sneak up on anyone in the castle and yet it was designed to be gentle on the ears.  It was a gorgeous castle with lovely views outside.

We then went to Takashimaya, a huge shopping center and after some window shopping, went for dinner.  I wanted to climb up the seven floors, while everyone else took an elevator.  The floors however, did not go straight up but veered sideways on each floor and finally when I landed on the 7th floor, I emerged in the warehouse of a huge grocery store. I made my way out of the grocery store but could not locate them.  In English combined with sign language, I explained to the concierge to make an announcement for Piper, and they did.  I got found, and we had a hearty laugh during the lovely dinner!!  Hanada San and Nakagome San insisted on coming with us to the train station to buy tickets and stood waving goodbye at us for as long as they could see us.  Awww I was soooo touched!! What a memorable day!

wpid-20140828_172857.jpgWe enjoyed Kyoto again with Kozue and her daughters Hikari and Yuki and visited the Kiyomizu-dera shrine.  Kyomizu-dera temple was founded in 780 on the site of Otowa Waterfall, and is added to UNESCO world heritage sites.  The main temple juts out with a big wooden stage, 13 meters above the hillside below, offering gorgeous views of cherry and maple trees, along with the views of the city of Kyoto, in the distance. The main hall, along with the stage, was built without the use of nails.

Behind Kiyomizudera’s main hall is the Jishu Shrine, dedicated to the deity of love and matchmaking.  In front of the shirne are two stones, placed 18 meters apart.  If you can successfully walk from one to the other, with the eyes closed then it is said to bring luck, in finding love.  If someone guides you and you reach the other stone then it means that an intermediary may be needed, in finding love.  At the shrine, there are many other little puzzles and special prayer places to help in finding love.  The Otowa Waterfall is located at the base of Kiyomizudera’s main hall. The waters come out in three separate streams and visitors use cups attached to long poles to drink from them. Each stream’s water is said to have a different benefit, namely to cause longevity, success at school, and a fortunate love life. However, drinking from all three streams is considered greedy, so you must choose, where to drink from.  Important lesson in prioritizing!wpid-20140828_184239.jpg

We walked up and down the souvenir street and then went to eat at hot pot restaurant for Okinawa cuisine.  Kozue was immensely sweet and discussed menu for me at great length to make sure that I got completely vegetarian food.  Later we walked around and enjoyed the Kyoto skyline at night and saw the reflection of the Kyoto tower on the glass building, opposite the tower and enjoyed the water fountain with music.

wpid-20140824_112118.jpgLater I enjoyed the visit with Lisa to the beautiful Byodoin Temple and garden.  While walking back from the temple, we stopped at a tea shop and then walked to the station.  But Lisa forgot her water bottle at the tea shop.  So we parted company, as she went back to retrieve the bottle and I went alone to Fushimi Inari Shrine.

wpid-20140829_135443-1.jpgFushimi Inari Shrine is at a base of Inari mountain (Inari mens God of rice) and has trails that go up the mountain to many smaller shrines, across 4 kilometers.  The distinctive feature of this shrine is that entire walkways up are lined with literally thousands of vermilion or orange tori gates.  This is not only one of the most popular shrines among tourists visiting Japan but during Japanese New Year, it also draws several million Japanese worshipers.  It was great fun walking up the trail.



wpid-20140829_150635-1.jpgWith Donna to Kobe

The highlight of my trip to Kobe was that quite unexpectedly, we ran into a Jain temple, even as I was explaining to Donna that during the religious days of Paryushan, I generally go at least one day to the temple and this may be the only year, when I would not be going, since I was in Japan.  As we accidently came upon a Jain temple, Donna insisted that it was not a coincidence and these events happen in our lives, when we have powerful intentions and that it is a part of the divine plan.  We walked in Kobe a lot.  Also went to the harbor, which was beautiful.  I love Manju, little Japanese dessert and ate a lot of that.wpid-20140827_141647.jpgwpid-20140827_130457.jpgwpid-20140827_094858.jpg


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