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Flying Solo

Here I am sitting at the British Airways Galleries Lounge at Heathrow Airport waiting for my flight to my next destination. This was my second time in England and for sure will not be my last. However, when I was here last year, I was with my husband and my cousin. This time, I am doing it all on my own. When I was dining at this Italian place in London, I met these two British ladies, Kim and Pippa, who were cousins. They were quite fascinated by the idea that I was traveling by myself especially after having told them an overview of my travel plans. They asked, “Why isn’t your husband with you? Did he not want to come?”
Well, the truth is, he would have if he could. I explained to them how his employer’s vacation benefits are almost non-existent. Pippa was appalled to hear that he only gets 1 week of vacation per year until his second year and then he gets two weeks. She just couldn’t fathom the idea of not having six weeks of paid holidays. Of course, I am stewing with envy. I only get three weeks a year, and that’s considered good by American standards. I already know of Europe’s generous holidays, but I took the opportunity to talk with people and see their reactions when talking about this matter. Maternity leave also came up because her job right now is to cover someone who is on maternity leave … for a whole year! You get six months paid maternity leave and another six months with half pay. HOLY CRAP! So then I realized that she is a temp and she gets six weeks of vacation! When I told her how in America, maternity leave is unpaid, she just about choked on her tiramisu.

The part about my husband’s lack of vacation hours is just half of the story. The other half really is about me. All my life, I have always known that I really want to see and experience the world. Just be out there. As a child in the Philippines, it was nothing but a dream — a very distant and hazy dream. I did not come from a privileged family. My father was a tailor who had to work day and night to support his family with five children. When I moved to the States, the door opened up, and I knew then that it was all up to me to work on making my dreams come true. So damn cheesy, but it’s the truth.

I have been married to this wonderful man for six years now and we have traveled together since. I have gone on extended weekends with friends to other parts of the States, but nothing crazy far. The idea of traveling by myself kept coming up, and every time I see my vacation hours increase, that idea kept getting louder in my head. Being married for some time, I have grown to be dependent on my husband. He takes such great care of me. But before him, I have always been an independent person. I did things my way. I went off to a university away from home the moment I could. I made things happen to get to where I am now. Having Stuart in my life, I have gotten comfortable with having someone who is always there for me. So I decided to do a solo trip. No husband to carry my stuff, or boss around to ask for directions. It’s all on me now.

Of course, he has worries about me going off to foreign countries on my own, but he also knows that I am travel savvy. I may not be the best with geographical orientation, but he is confident that I will be careful and make the best out of this experience. I just had to make some compromises on which cities I can visit. He told me to stay out of Italy because he definitely wants to go there with me. He understands that I really feel strongly about being out here doing things on my own. He is such patient man, and I am SO lucky to have this guy in my life who accepts the fact that his wife is a wondering wanderer. 🙂

Now here I am, sitting by myself at Heathrow surrounded by people from all over the world speaking in different tongues. I just had a fantastic time with my cousin and her husband in Bedford plus the couple of days in London. I even made it to Windsor Castle. At this point, I am so ready for the next part of my solo adventure. I am quite elated and even really proud of myself for making this happen. My cousin and I agree that we only live once, so here I am living it. I am living my dream of exploring and learning from other people and cultures. It has only been a few days, and I already know that I will not regret doing this. Life is too short to spend it wishing and hoping. The opportunity is here, and I am taking it.

Standing outside Buckingham Palace!

Categories: Europe, Experience, Explore, London, UK | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Livin’ La Vida Local: The Seattle Central Library

I have been thinking of ways to share my local explorations and experiences here in the beautiful state of Washington as part of this blog. I am fortunate to live in such a place blessed with natural beauty and a unique cultural vibe. It would be silly of me not to feature all the things that I love about living here, and hopefully you will be convinced to come visit! 🙂 So my first post is about the Seattle Public Library’s Central Library. This is inspired by a correspondence with the beautiful soul, Hanny @beradadisini, about books, bookshops, and libraries.

Fifth Avenue entrance and facade

The unusual design of this building peaks people’s attention upon first sighting. Designed by Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus of OMA/LMN, it looks more like a modern art museum than a public library. On my way there, I happened to be walking by two couples and overheard one of the ladies talking about how she and her husband were in Seattle to catch their cruise ship to Alaska, and they chanced upon the library. The woman went about how “unusual the design is” and how it is impressive as a functioning library. I was tempted to interject, but I kept moving along. I entered via the Fifth Avenue entrance, and every time I step in there, I am reminded by how big this building is — a work of art, housing thousands of books available for the masses to borrow and read.

Upon entering the building, I find myself on Level 3 and the area that is referred to as the Living Room. Book shelves are artfully arranged with plenty of comfortable seating to settle in for minutes or hours of reading. The space is also perfect for meeting up with friends and have a cup of coffee or hot chocolate from the Chocolati coffee cart.

The book stacks in the Living Room set on a carpet of foliage

One floor up is one of my favorite parts of the library; it is the level with all the meeting rooms. Everything is red — the walls, the stairs, the doors. Red is not my favorite color, but it always makes me feel like I’m in one of the Queen of Hearts’ chambers.

En Rouge: Meeting rooms can hold 25 to 200 people.

From the hall of eternal redness, I rode the elevator up all the way to the 10th floor, where the Reading Room is located. One can read their heart’s content up there and also enjoy views of Elliot Bay. There is a lookout, which provides a great vantage point for viewing the interior of the library. Personally, looking down from way up there tests my sensitivity to heights. It gives me the heebie-jeebies.

From the Lookout: a view of the Books Spiral down to the Living Room.

Instead of taking the elevator, I took the alternative route down. No, it’s not the stairs either. I traversed through the Book Spirals, which is interestingly designed so that the nonfiction collection is arranged in a way without breaking up the Dewey Decimal system classification on different floors or sections. I find this to be a brilliant idea because it allows users to browse the entire collection without having to use the stairs or needing to venture to a different part of the building. The spiral spans up to four floors, and elevators are still accessible on each floor.

A Numbers Game: The Books Spiral is a unique design while staying true to its purpose

As I continued on my descent, I frequently took breaks in between shelves to peruse the books that happen to catch my attention, and I spent more time in areas where certain subjects and publications are stored that are  more in line with my interests. A quiet stroll among shelves of books and racks of journals and magazines can be therapeutic.

Books on Travel

Travel: A subject matter that I naturally gravitate towards.

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” ~Charles W. Eliot

I finally found my way back to the third floor and decided to peruse what they have for fiction and summer reading. I found a table full of books with a joint theme of vampires and Abraham Lincoln. Then I realized it was in honor of the recently released movie — Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. I also found the area for teenagers, where they keep an extensive manga collection.

A man perusing the fiction shelves.

I looked at my watch, and it was almost time to head out. I headed one more floor down to the Children’s Library. I love visiting this fun and playful part of the library. It brings out the child in me as I walk through shorter book shelves with cute plush animals on top of them. Honestly, I also feel a bit of jealousy with the Seattle children because of how fortunate they are to have this awesome place and all the books available for them, which is a far cry from when I was a child in the Philippines. A favorite section of mine is the world languages; it’s where you can find books of children’s stories from all over the world. I still get a kick at finding the books in Tagalog.

Ang Ibong Adarna: a classic Filipino folktale, which I read over and over as a kid.

I love books, and I love to read and even when I’m traveling, I make it a point to stop by a local bookstore or library. Whether you’re a bibliophile or an avid fan of architecture and you find yourself in Seattle, stop by our local library. It’s doesn’t cost anything to go in and they even offer free architectural tours. The lady I overheard on the street described it as unusual, and it is. But in my opinion, the oddity of its design and structure is what makes it a perfect representation of Seattle’s world class quirkiness and techie-hipster vibe.

Central Library
1000 Fourth Ave, Seattle, WA 98104
206-386-4636

Categories: 42nd State, Explore, Libraries, Seattle, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Discovering Oahu

The week that my husband and I spent in Oahu was nothing short of enjoyable. After three years from our first visit, we finally made it back to the Aloha State. My skin was thankful to feel the warmth of the sun tempered by the trade winds. Oahu is the most populated of the islands with a population of just under a million and a third of this figure can be attributed to urban Honolulu. Known as “The Gathering Place,” this island is culturally diverse and has quite a lot to offer visitors with varied interests. From foodies to nature lovers, to shopaholics, to thrill seekers, to culture vultures — Oahu has something for you.

I have already posted a dedicated entry for Oahu food experience, and now, here are the highlights of what we did and the beaches and attractions that we visited.

Walking Waikiki Beach at night + Friday night fireworks

For our first 4 nights, we stayed at one for the rental units at the Ilikai, which is located on the quieter end of Waikiki right across the Hilton Village and the Duke Kahanamoku lagoon. It is no secret that Waikiki can get way too crowded for some people to really enjoy, but at night, it becomes more tolerable. Stuart and I went for a stroll as the sun was setting and witnessed a gorgeous display of natural colors.

A stunning Waikiki sunset.

Every Friday night, right after the luau that the Hilton holds, fireworks are then launched from the lagoon for every one on the beach to enjoy. Locals and tourists gather on the beach to watch the show. It’s a great way to mingle and be out on the beach. I ended up watching the fireworks further down the beach outside the Outrigger hotel since we were about to have dinner at the Shore Bird, which by the way, is a pretty awesome place for food and cocktails. They don’t skimp on the booze! Don’t get me wrong, Waikiki Beach is beautiful and fun during the day, but I personally liked the pace at night better. A lower count of screaming children might have something to do with it too.

Visiting Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial

When we were planning for this trip, Stuart made clear that we had to go see the Arizona. It was the only required point of interest for him. It was a very moving experience, and we were so glad that made it out there. We both agreed that every American should pay a visit if they can. I am not saying that only Americans can truly appreciate the significance of this place. After all, the Pearl Harbor attack was a pivotal moment, not just in U.S. history, but also of the world. While there, we also took the opportunity to visit and explore the battleship, USS Missouri. To stand at the same spot where the document that officially ended World War II was signed was memorable.

Visiting the Arizona Memorial was a heartfelt experience.

Snorkeling Hanauma Bay

About 10 miles east of Waikiki, Hanauma Bay has become a snorkeling mecca over the years.  With breathtaking views from the lookout to the fantastic marine life, this nature preserve is one of the most popular destinations on the island. Stuart and I spent a good amount of time swimming in the bay and observing tropical fish in their habitat.

Hanauma Bay

Viewing Hanauma Bay from the lookout.

Tip: Bring food and water and a few singles. Parking is $1, and if you take the trolley up the hill, that’ll also cost you another dollar.

Sailing & Snorkeling Kaneohe Bay

Born and raised on the island of Cebu, I spent many summers with my cousins at my grandparents’ and we would take an outrigger to go fishing or go to the pasil or sandbar. I came across Captain Bob’s Picnic Sail while researching for activities, and I knew we had to give it a shot. We spent a good day aboard a catamaran and cruised Kaneohe Bay and anchored at a sandbar that stretches over 5 miles. Equipped with a grill, burgers were served for lunch … in the middle of the ocean! After the sand bar, we headed to a reef in the middle of the bay for some more snorkeling.

Barefoot 1: That’s the boat that took us around Kaneohe Bay anchored along the sandbar. Can you spot Stuart?

Lanikai Beach

On our way to the North Shore, we made a stop to enjoy one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever been to. We found street parking in front of someone’s house, crossed the street, walked between two houses, and poof! We found ourselves on a beach that I thought only existed on postcards and calendars. Crystal blue water, fine, white sand, azure skies, and two islands in the background … it is the perfect example of a tropical beach. And even better, it was significantly less crowded compared to Waikiki Beach.

Lanikai Beach: my happy place.

Turtle Bay Resort

The only major hotel in the North Shore, the Turtle Bay was our base of operations for exploring the north end of the island. I did consider renting another condo unit somewhere in Haleiwa, but I found a great rate for the resort. We didn’t have cooking facilities in our hotel room, but we didn’t really feel the need for them either. We did, however, had access to all the resort amenities like a nice pool, the restaurants, spa, golf course, and beach right outside the hotel. We watched beautiful sunsets right on our lanai facing the ocean. I loved waking up in the morning and hear the rolling waves.

the hotel at Turtle Bay as seen from the beach.

Waimea Bay and the North Shore

About an hour’s drive from the hustle and bustle of Honolulu, Oahu’s fabled North Shore offers more of the laid back island vibe that most people expect of Hawaii. Known for the epic waves during the winter months, the North Shore is synonymous for world-class surfing. By the time of our visit, there were no giant waves, but they were still the right intensity for a good ride on the board. I’m not a surfer, but we saw plenty of them especially in the morning and late afternoon. We spent a showery afternoon at Waimea Bay Beach Park swimming, lounging on the beach, and watching people jump off the rocks and into the water. We erred on the side of caution especially after seeing the sign that said, “No Jumping.”

Here’s a group of people taking turns jumping off the rock at Waimea Bay Beach Park while some are content beach bumming like us.

Stuart’s grandma tipped us about Turtle Beach. We basically just parked our car on the side of the road and walk down the beach where turtles love to hang out. We saw at least five of them swimming around. It’s not a clearly marked beach or park, but it’s right before you get to Haleiwa (coming from Turtle Bay). A number of cars parked by the roadside for seemingly no good reason is your tip-off.

Saying hello to the honu!

We often hear from people who have been to most or all of the major Hawaiian islands how Oahu is not their favorite because it’s too busy and and not as relaxing as the other islands. Then I would learn that they spent most –if not all — of their time in Waikiki, which I think should not be the basis of people’s general assessment of Oahu. There is so much more to Oahu than Waikiki Beach and Honolulu’s urban sprawl. Spend time in Kailua. Explore the windward side and marvel at the Ko’olau mountain range. Take in the slower pace of Haleiwa. Oahu is the heart of Hawaii, and I can see why this island holds a special place in our Grandma Kim’s heart. There is so much to learn about this place, and I left even more fascinated by it. No promises as to when I’ll come back, but I know that I will be back.

A hui hou, Oahu!

Categories: Beach Vacation, Explore, Hawaii, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Hawaii: The Big Island

My husband, Stuart and I went to Hawaii last month for a week, which was our second time visiting the Rainbow State. However, before I can write about this most recent trip, I would like to recap the experiences we had during our first visit back in 2009 to the island of Hawaii, AKA the Big Island. We took a direct flight from Seattle to Kona and spent 6 nights there. Stuart had been to the Big Island before when he was about 6 years old, so he didn’t remember much of it. I recall being super excited to experience a tropical island other than the one I had called home for 15 years. I was looking forward to great weather, spending time on the beach, swimming in the ocean, and eating fresh fruits that only grow in the tropics. Well, those were all accomplished plus a whole lot more.

We stayed at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel in the Kohala Coast. It’s set right on a stretch of a beautiful golden sand beach. After years of living in the rainy Pacific Northwest, this area was nothing short of paradise to me.

Hapuna Prince Hotel

The Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel and the beautiful beach just steps from our room.

We rented snorkel gear for the whole time we were on the island, so we were able to take advantage of the great snorkeling spots. We saw a group of Hawaiian green sea turtles, locally known as honu, frolicking around the reefs near our hotel. Timed around Stuart’s birthday, his parents sent us on a snorkeling tour aboard the Fair Wind II, a well-equipped catamaran for a fun day out at sea. We sailed to the Kealakekua Bay Marine Preserve, which is also the site of the Captain Cook Monument. We had an incredible time observing the diverse marine life and making use of the boat’s 15-foot water slide and high dive jump.

Beautiful Kealakekua Bay and the Captain Cook Monument

Since it was our first trip to Hawaii together, we felt that we had to experience a luau, and so we did. Everyone told us that these luaus are pretty much tourist traps, so we were sufficiently warned. Our research pointed us to attend the luau at the Marriott Waikoloa, and we were glad we did; they put up a pretty good show, had an open bar serving stiff cocktails, and the food was great. It was where I first tried poi, haupia, and kailua pig. Best of all, this was where I discovered the awesome-ness that is the Hawaiian guava cake. OMG.

A luau is not complete without the thrilling fire dancer.

The youngest of the Hawaiian islands, it’s called the Big Island because it is the largest one of them and still growing! As my birthday present to Stuart, I took him on a helicopter tour allowing us to witness the creation of new land as we flew over the Waikupanaha ocean entry. This refers to the area where lava enters the ocean straight out of the vents. Before getting to this point we hovered over the Puʻu ʻŌʻō vent, which has been active for as long as I have been alive. My fear of heights is no secret, and flying over an active volcano in a helicopter was terrifying. I only held on to my sanity because I found that looking through my camera lens tricks my mind blocking thoughts of impending doom. Oh, the things you do for your loved ones :)!

The Puʻu ʻŌʻō vent reminded me of Mordor from Lord of the Rings

Lava hitting the ocean creating new land

While on the Hilo side of the island, we stopped by to check out Rainbow Falls, but we didn’t see any rainbows because we got there in the afternoon, and apparently, rainbows are more likely to form in the morning. It was still pretty scenic, and it felt like an oasis in the relatively bustling city of Hilo.

Cave beneath Rainbow Falls

We then took the infamous Saddle Road that cuts across the island back to Kohala. This road was used for transporting supplies across the island, and there were definitely rough parts and we only hoped that our rented Jeep Wrangler would not lose any of its parts. There are no rest stops, so if you really have to relieve yourself, you’ll have to do it out there in the wild, so you might as well take it as an opportunity to commune with nature. Driving down Saddle Road offers great views of the gigantic volcanoes: Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.

Somewhere along Saddle Road, where portions of it don’t have any cell service.

In all of the exploring that we did around the island, I would have to say that Waipio Valley is the most scenic. The view from the lookout is breathtaking. It was like looking at a painting. I was in such awe staring at the majestic green cliffs rising above the ocean, and it was impossible not to feel small and insignificant.

Stuart taking a photo from the lookout

Referred to as the Valley of the Kings, we explored the mystical Waipio Valley floor on horseback passing by taro fields and crossing streams. We did this excursion with our friends at Na’alapa Stables. The guides were fun, and took great care of us who had never ridden on horses for a significant length of time. Stuart is not a fan of horses, but I made him do it anyway especially after I went on that helicopter ride with him. 🙂 After all, marriage is supposed to be about compromising, right? Fortunately for him, Sally — his horse —  did not run wild and throw him off, and he enjoyed our little trek.

One of the shallower stream crossings that we did.

On our last full day, we drove out to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where we learned more about the volcanic activities that created the island and continues to add more to its area. We stood by the gaping Kilauea caldera imagining how it was filled with hot lava not too long ago. It was a sight to behold. The terrain around the caldera was wild, and we almost forgot that we were in Hawaii because of the volcanic rocks around us and the permeating smell of sulfur coming from the steam vents.

The Kilauea caldera at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

My first Hawaiian experience was memorable. There were certainly other attractions that we missed and activities that we could have done, but that just means we have things to look forward to the next time we find ourselves there. While lazily lounging at Hapuna Beach watching stunning sunsets was something we got used to easily, we knew that our next Hawaiian vacation would be on one of the other islands.

Mahalo Hawaii!

Categories: Attractions, Beach Vacation, Explore, Hawaii | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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