Trip of a Lifetime: Day 13 – Harajuku/Shinjuku Wanderings

Good morning Tokyo! Today was going to be a big walking day – so much to see and so little time!

We decide to head straight for Harajuku. The transport system is a bit challenging, but once you figure out all those amounts on the train map next to each station are prices from the station you are located, you start to get the hang of it.

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The sun is shining (a lot!) and we head through the heaving Takeshita street and head downa  quieter road to get some breakfast.

Lo and behold, we come across a ramen shop!

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The place is called Jingu, and we know this place will be good when we notice that a line has started to form – luckily we are first in line!

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A preview of what is to come – yum!

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Most restaurants open at 11:30am.  The doors open and we are shown to a machine where we press the buttons for what we want, and pay straight away.  Nice and efficient!  The price for both was about £4-5 per bowl

Eagerly waiting my ramen!

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I got the Tsukumen ramen broth

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They bring you two bowls, so you can add your broth when you want.

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This was also the day I discovered green tea beer – amazingly refreshing!

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As is tradition here, you should sign the walls – they give you pens

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After a wonderful lunch (and that fabulous green tea alcoholic drink) we decide to walk towards the Meiji Jingu and walk through the crazy busy streets of Harajuku, spying geishas and harajuku girls (and boys) brushing past one another..

20170528_153742It being the weekend, everyone is out in force and the mood is happy and frenetic, as is usually the case in Tokyo!

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Candy pink suits me well!

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I also bought some coloured contact lenses, as you need a prescription to get them in England, and the quality of lenses you get here is far superior in my opinion.

We stopped into a few stores to have a look around, including a 100 Y store – I am regretful that I only had hand luggage – there is so much cool shit in there, way better than a dollar store or 99p store for sure – great place to get souvenirs for cheap.

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We passed by a combination Owl/Cat café – excellent! I was hoping to go to one or both  and here they are in one establishment.  We pay about £12 for a combination ticket, which includes entry to each café and a hot drink.

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We start with the Owl café.

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The environment is decked out like some magical woodland forest.

 

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The lighting is dim and we have to follow the way of a path that circulates around the room, taking us past different types of owls.

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This one let me pet him

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This one was intense

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It was interesting to be that close to owls

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– we were also told we could touch them but only on their back and with the back of the hand – also approach them from the back – their beaks are sharp!  I tried it with a couple but they weren’t really having it, managed to get a couple of strokes in though!

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Overall it was slightly depressing, as all the owls were chained to their branches, which were just pieces of plastic painted to look like branches.  You can tell that the staff there do care for the animals, but still, what kind of life do they have compared to being free to roam the outdoors.

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The cat café was marginally better, but you can tell that these cats are so used to having patrons try and beckon them they are wholly uninterested.

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They ran around so much it was hard to get a good shot of them.

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There was a mama cat with her kitten babies in a cage, and one of them kept getting out!

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Kittens were soooo cute!

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This is the drink you get with your entry ticket

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There was also this dog store (maybe it was a pet store?)

You can book appointments to pet a dog – all for £8! (bit steep for an hour as you have to buy drinks too)

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Information for foreigners who want to pet a puppy

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After we left not as uplifted as we thought we would be after going to the animal café

After all those busy streets, we wanted a bit of respite.

Luckily the Meiji Jingu (shrine) was close by the station.

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Located in Yoyogi Park, the Shrine has different parts, like the Inner Garden, the actual shrine and a lot of lovely walks through the shaded forest.

 

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The beginning of the park is overshadowed by a very large imposing gate.  We walked along the wide path and ended up walking right into the shrine

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The main shrine area in the Inner Garden

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They make wine here too!

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Wonder how much a glass of red from there costs?

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It’s so lovely to have green space like this in the middle of the city. From inside the park you could barely hear the traffic and city noises outside.  The Japanese are very much into nature, there is even a  term for walking through forests, called shinrin-yoku (森林浴) literally meaning “forest bathing”

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We then took a turn into the Inner Garden, where we enjoyed a walk through numerous flower gardens,

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Lovely Koi fish – there were so many!

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Lilly pads that went on forever!

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and went to see a 16th century Edo Period well in the ground

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So we bathed ourselves in the forest and surrounding nature, said a prayer at the shrine and after a bit of nature and people watching, felt ready and recharged to enter the fast paced world that lay outside.

And from plants to plastic, we walked until we spied the Kawaii Monster Café, a place that was on our lists of places to definitely try.

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The café is located up some escalators near the busy Shibuya crossing, and there was a few people waiting when we got up there. The entrance fee is around £5 per person and you are expected to order one drink and one food per person.

 

 

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The food here is pricey, but is to be expected for an establishment like this, you really are paying for all the pictures you get to take there.

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Crazy bathroom!  I am non showing you the toilet as I accidentally sprayed water all over the cubicle (I cleaned up after)

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Halfway through our meal all the lights went down and we were treated to a show of sorts featuring all the waiters and waitresses who are dressed very Harajuku and bring up members of the audience to dance on the crazy colourful kawaii carousel that is in the middle of the room. Cue crazy Japanese dancing!

The carousel where the dancing happened

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It was like being in Willy Wonka or something

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The cat food bowl I ordered for my “starter” was basically a big bowl of sugar

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I also tried a mad scientist drink, which entailed pouring sprinkles into a test tube, which overflows then you have to drink – again it sounded more fun than it was.

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I will say though that the food was not bad at all – considering how crazy it looked I was expecting something mediocre, but my spaghetti which look Technicolor and more out of a child’s painting than a food item, was a surprisingly good carbonara, with well cooked pasta.

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Obligatory selfies

 

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Bae thought it was like being in a surreal painting, or that “Dali on acid” designed the interior

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There are different sections you can sit in – you get cool tables if you are in a big group. like the red and blue cake booths below

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Usually because the restaurant is so busy you just get seated wherever comes up first – but you can walk around as much as you want.

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A creepy unicorn

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saying farewell to the Monster Café (for now)

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After the craziness of that café, we headed to a department store for a quieter browse.

Weird plush display for clothing line

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After some browsing around the clothes sections (boring!) We started down towards the basement – the real gem of the department store.

Every type of food you can imagine, and some you can’t imagine, is down here, all artfully and beautifully displayed, with very reasonable prices.

A Beautiful, organised chaos of smells

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The selection and quality of the prepared meals here are amazing!

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There are always quite a few lovely presentation displays, offering local specialities

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That’s a lot of sausage!

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The cake of my dreams!  They have a social KitKat counter

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The prettiest Key Lime I have ever seen!

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We got some of their fried chicken which was really good!

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Once we exited the store, we noticed a number of people dressed in white waiting.  After about 15 minutes a considerable crowd had formed, and the shrine was lifted onto many shoulders and they started marching down the street in a shuffling type dance.

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There was lots of shouty singing.  We tried to ask a few of the people what the whole thing was about but no one spoke English – and our Japanese is practically non-existent

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Another typical Tokyo street

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We noticed so many restaurants that had some mouth-watering plastic food displays.

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Tokyo’s plastic food game is strong!

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Most of these are actually made from wax (saw a docu on it)

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Even desserts!

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We walked off our food (again!) and walked around the city, stopping in a games place

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(where Bae won me a cute cat toy!

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And basically taking the long way back to our apartment – we also happened across a local beer and food truck festival so sampled some of the food there.

By the time we got back to Shin Okubo we were ready for sleep

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Tune in Tomorrow!

 

Trip of a Lifetime: Day 10 – Hike for our lives on Kauai’s North Shore

Today is the massive hike we had been preparing for the past 2 months or (by preparing, I mean a lot of internet research and a couple of long testing walks around Richmond Park). 

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Gorgeous views on the way in.  There was a bit of traffic but pretty smooth sailing

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You always feel so close to the clouds in Kauai as they

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The Hike is the Hanakap’ai Hike – an 11 mile roundtrip (we weren’t doing the 22 mile camping one) to a beach and waterfalls.  We set off about 6am to get to the north side of the island as was recommended.  I thinking we were trying to be optimistic as it had rained very heavily the night before and when we got to the trailhead at Ke’e beach, our worst fears were confirmed the trail would be closed for the rest of the day. 

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Exactly what we DIDN’T want to see!

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Consoling ourselves with a selfie by Ke’e beach

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On the walk back tot he car we spied this cool looking cave

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The faceless man…

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A more normal selfie

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My brother and wife met us on the north shore a bit later and we had a quick breakfast together then Bae and I had heard about another hike nearby. Determined to do some sort of hike today so as not to feel like pussies (I had even brought a hiking pole!) we headed to this hike trailhead.

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This hike, while a lot shorter was rated 9/10 on some hiking site which is strenuous – I could definitely see that as this hike was entirely uphill- I mean we basically walked up a mountain which tested our bodies and relationship but was ultimately worth it for the view, plus there was a nice bench at the top to soak in the sun and the amazing vantage of Hanalei Bay.

Downhill was a pleasure after that 2 mile climb although face planting was a constant worry!

We decided to drive to Queens Pond, as the photos looked epic!  Sadly it was high tide, and there was no way you could swim in it without being swept away (seriously, they had a sign showing about 25 people had died there so far!)  This place is definitely worth the wait.  The parking lot is super small; about 8 spots total so there is a bit of a wait. Luckily people don’t spend the whole day here so after about 20 minutes of waiting, we got to park and head down a short (but moderately strenuous downhill) hike (flip flops no Bueno for this terrain).  The hike down, while a bit difficult, is really beautiful.  The trees were reminiscent of something from a dinosaur movie and almost all the way down; we encountered a lovely waterfall set against some dense green lush vegetation.  Then the vegetation stops and you are at the coast, replete with volcanic rocks over which to clamber, hop and jump.  We stayed out there watching the waves crash into the tidal pool and spotted dolphins and lots of giant turtles frolicking in the rocky waves.

After we had had our fill, we were in need of some nourishment.  My brother and wife had checked into the St Regis for their stay post wedding so we met them at the swanky hotel pool. The drinks they had were amazing and we scarfed down our sandwiches brought from some random café in the morning (we like to keep it classy in these establishments you know)

It was the last time we would see them for a while so we hung out by the pool and chatted about the beauty of Kauai.  My brother and I went down to the beach to have a quiet moment for our father, who had sadly passed away a couple of months before.  My brother wasn’t there when he was cremated so I brought some of dad’s ashes so we could do a little remembrance and send off.  My plan is to take his ashes with me all over the world and spread them around – just like he was a world traveller, I think and hope he would appreciate being spread around the world.

Tired and satisfied, we started our longish drive down to the South Shore. As we were driving through Kapa’a I got peckish (what’s new) and spied a couple of food trucks on the side.  We bought a couple of tacos and sat by the beech on a piece of driftwood to enjoy the Hawaiian sea one more time.  I must add that these tacos were amazeballs as well.

Tune in Tomorrow!

Trip of a Lifetime: Day 9 – The Napali Coast

Since Bae was severely afflicted by the sunburn, going on a catamaran is probably not the best idea, so he had to sit this morning out

I met up with my siblings and partners and we set off in the morning to overcast skies and relatively calm seas. 

 

Rainbow before we set off! Good luck!

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If you do one thing in Kauai, make sure you see the Napali coast.  You really feel transported to prehistoric times.

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The boat we went on had provide a continental breakfast and drinks (not alcohol) and we had a fun and very knowledgeable captain who made sure we were having fun and learning about the historic geology of Kauai.  The Jurassic park music was a nice touch.

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We stopped a few times for a dip and some sea life watching and also got to enjoy seeing a LOT of dolphins swim alongside the boat (seriously at one point there were about 8 dolphins just jumping and swimming next to the boat, – awesome!)

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Chilling on the deck!

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The captain provided a very descriptive and interesting history about the Napali coast

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Every angle you looked, the view of the coast was amazing!

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Time for a swim!  The boat provided lifejackets and snorkels – though everyone and their GoPros were out in full force!

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The cragged coastline was a beautiful sight to see!  the camera here doesn’t capture the variety of colours we saw – the result of thousands of years of erosion and sedimentary rock layering.

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A cool little coastal waterfall

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Look familiar? They filmed Jurassic Park in Kauai!

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Even when it was cloudy, the way the clouds surround and envelope the Napali cliffs were otherworldly!

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The weather started turning just as we got back!

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My sister and I enjoying the ride back!

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Tune in tomorrow!

Trip of a Lifetime: Day 7, My brother’s Wedding

My brother’s wedding day is finally here!  My sister and I are bridesmaids so we headed over to the bridal suite in the morning to have our hair and makeup done.  Cue many cute impromptu pictures, chilled champagne and a lovely spread that my sister in law’s father (who is a chef) had kindly prepared for us.

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A nice couple pic of us before the wedding.

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The ceremony began at 16:30 next to a gorgeous orchid garden in the Kiahuna Plantation and it was such a beautiful and heartfelt ceremony. 

Both parents typically cried and after the vows we got pictures done (in the blazing sun) and then headed over for a cocktail hour.  After the cocktail hour we had a lovely dinner, although typically for me, I peaked too soon having loaded up on some delicious hor d’oevres and ended up having to take my steak in a doggy bag!

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Tune in Tomorrow!

Trip of a Lifetime: Day 6 – Kauai Beachtime!

Waking up in Kauai and walking out onto our lanai to see the sea and the sun was definitely something special.  



Had some amazing banana and macadamia nut pancakes (with coconut syrup) for breakfast – I will say that the only complaint was that they were too big to take down!


My sister and I had to do the obligatory walkthrough of the ceremony and then we all went to find a nice beach to chillax on for the afternoon- good times. 


 We drove to the west side of the island and found a remote beach (we were the only ones there) where the waves were nice and mellow and the sand soft and velvety between our toes. 

our British pasty bodies need to catchup to the beautiful background!

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Taking it all in…

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LPT – even if it doesn’t seem that hot and sunny, WEAR SUNSCREEN!  We regretted this over the coming days.

After the beach we headed to Ishihara Market to have some of their famous Poke.  This is just a local supermarket, but they have a fresh fish and seafood counter at the back of the store where you can find all manner of amazing poke.  We got three different types of poke with rice and seaweed salad all for under $10!

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Also another LPT – if you have less than 20 minutes of sunlight left, don’t think you can “chase the sunset” around Kauai – the island is a lot bigger than you think! 

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20170521_192053Having read numerous reviews for the best Hawaiian tacos on the island, we found this cute hole in the wall type place with limited seating but offering sustainably sourced, organic food in Kapaa. Our fish and steak asado tacos took half an hour to prepare and about four minutes to eat – my oh my were they delicious. This place also serves vegetarian tofu tacos for those in need!

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Tune in Tomorrow!

 

Trip of a Lifetime: Day 5 – L.A to Kauai

Today….Hawaii!!  I have wanted to visit Hawaii for the longest time and have been excited about this day since I found out my brother was planning on getting married there.  He and his wife chose Kauai, one of the oldest of the Hawaiian islands, it is also the wettest and most lush of the islands due in part to its geology.

I will say that these tickets were probably the most expensive that we bought for the whole trip.  There is no getting around the fact that Hawaii is  a LONG way from the US mainland!  It is a 5.5-6 hour trip from Los Angeles.

We took an indirect flight via Honolulu because of the price and also because we only lost about 1-2 hours by doing so.  Since the flight from Oahu to Lihue is only 40 minutes, we didn’t mind the stop.

20170520_064746Time to fly to paradise!

After a long flight to Honolulu we had a 3 hour layover before we were taken to Kauai.  It was my first time in Honolulu airport and I had read not so good reviews about things to do or eat at the airport.  However, upon arrival we managed to find a lovely set of gardens in the airport.

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Though the weather didn’t offer too much respite, we got a preview of the beautiful foliage that would be awaiting us in Kauai at the Hawaiian garden, then sat and contemplated life (and for me, questioning how people can live in this heat – not the first time I would do that this holiday) We board a MUCH smaller plane to head on the 35 minute flight to Kauai and I must say that it was one of the more scenic landings we have seen the entire trip

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We are excited! (and a bit crazy!)

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Did I mention super silly?

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We jumped in a cab (you cannot get Uber from the airport, although you can use it on the island) and it cost about $40 going from Lihue to Poipu on the South shore. Our driver was a lovely guy who shared several things of interest specific to this island– that the centre of the island is one of the top three wettest places on planet Earth; that there is literally no crime there; there are thousands of chickens running around the island as they have no natural predators, ever since some escaped a farm in the 70’s.

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It’s pronounced Li Hoo EE (with Hawaiian words, pronouncing every vowel separately is a good start)

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We arrived at our apartment and met my sister and her husband. Took about an hour to get settled into our VRBO rental (hotels are more expensive per night, esp. if you are staying with 4 people or more.  One thing I like about Hawaii is that everywhere has a lanai (balcony/patio/outdoor space) and nearly every vista here is breath taking.

The gorgeous view from our vacation rental – only $1600 for the week! (3 bed, 3 bath)

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We were in Kauai for my brother’s wedding and tonight we had a casual meet and greet where we got to get to know the rest of the wedding party.

The dinner was held at Keoki’s Paradise, a semi casual restaurant in Poipu that makes amazing drinks – I had a minty flavoured pineapple colada served in a pineapple – what a nice way to start our Hawaii time!

Bae is trying to have some of my amazing drink here, hence the look!

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The wedding party getting to know eachother

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Sisters together again! Ready for our brother’s wedding in a couple of days!

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Tune in tomorrow!

Trip of Lifetime: Day 4 – Relax and Beach

My brother and future wife leave very early in the morning to catch their flight to Hawaii. A bit later in the day, my sister and her husband arrive at my brother’s house.

We drove around Sunset Boulevard (which is not what I expected!  Very bohemian, not glamorous at all but an interesting walk down the boulevard) and headed back to Santa Monica beach (again!) for some people watching and a couple hours later ended the day with rooftop drinks overlooking the pier watching the sunset – Lovely!

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Nice quiet parking lot about 500m from the pier (north) with lovely sands

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Gorgeous Sand and surf! – I recommend walking a bit down from the pier to get a quieter spot (there is a paved road to walk to the pier or car park)

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Chillaxing

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Some fresh fruit with a drizzle of lime juice and a sprinkling of cayenne – make sure the pepper is evenly distributed!

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Barbie’s house! (Or the owner of Mattel)

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There is a theme park on the pier but was quite expensive and we weren’t very interested.

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The food court is next to the theme park and offers lots of seating to chill and people watch

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Just had to go another round with these delicious corn dogs!

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The centre of a delicious bite

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The garlic butter parmesan fries are especially good!

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View from the end of the Pier (about 15 mins from the beginning if you don’t stop)

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Lot of people catching fish themselves too

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I was surprised at the (low) quality of street vendors and entertainers for the Pier,  most are typical touristy things like below but a lot of them you’d think there was no quality control – there was literally a drunk guy with his boombox doing a weird uncle at the wedding dance – and people were giving him money!

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Sunset on the beach

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We found a cool little spot at the beginning of the pier where we enjoyed some sunset cocktails20170519_183102

Tune in tomorrow!