Category Archives: Restaurant Recommendations

Pilot Mountain

The first time I saw Pilot Mountain was on a road trip to Indiana.  As you zip along scenic Hwy 52 toward the VA border, Pilot Mountain suddenly leaps into view, looking like absolutely nothing else in the area!

Pilot Mountain appears out of nowhere on Hwy 52N

Pilot Mountain appears out of nowhere on Hwy 52N

We have since driven by Pilot Mountain on several trips and vowed that one day we would actually drive over there and hike around it.  We finally got around to doing that last Thanksgiving, and we had such a great time I think it will now be our annual Thanksgiving tradition (weather permitting, of course!).

Any trip to Pilot Mountain should start or end with a side trip to the charming city of Mt. Airy, which is about 20 minutes away.  We have been to Mt. Airy several times and I can’t imagine why I have no photos, but sorry, I don’t.  I recommend lunch at either Barney’s or Leon’s Burger Express.  This is not fancy food, just Southern fare served with plenty of Southern hospitality – and cheap too!  I also highly recommend popping in to Specialty Gifts.  They sell all kinds of Mayberry things, but more of interest to me is their massive selection of Department 56 pieces and Old World Christmas ornaments.

Last year we decided to skip Black Friday and take advantage of a beautiful Fall day to head out for lunch and shopping in Mt. Airy and hiking at Pilot Mtn.  We hit up Specialty Gifts to buy some new Old World Christmas ornaments for our ever-expanding collection, had a quick lunch at Leon’s and then took the 20 minute drive back to Pilot Mountain State Park which is located right on Hwy 52 (you can’t miss the signs).  The park has plenty of easy to moderate hiking trails and good restroom facilities.  We started our exploring on the Jomeokee (the Saura Indian word for “guide” or “pilot”, thus the English name for the mountain) Trail which circumnavigates the iconic quartzite “crown” atop Pilot Mountain.  I was highly annoyed with myself that I forgot to bring my camera, but I have to say, I think my iPhone 5 took some pretty decent snaps!

A view of the quartzite cap of Pilot Mtn, from the Little Pinnacle Overlook

A view of the quartzite cap of Pilot Mtn, from the Little Pinnacle Overlook

A view from the start of the Jomeokee Trail

A view from the start of the Jomeokee Trail

The entire cap is layer upon layer of quartzite.  If geology is your thing, this mountain is fascinating!

The entire cap is layer upon layer of quartzite. If geology is your thing, this mountain is fascinating!

A closeup of the quartzite layers

A closeup of the quartzite layers – it was literally like looking at a wall of time.

I spent nearly the entire time on the Jomeokee Trail looking up because (a) it always looked like a huge rock was about to fall on you and (b) there were dozens of Turkey Vultures hanging out up there just waiting for that to happen.

I spent nearly the entire time on the Jomeokee Trail looking up because (a) it always looked like a huge rock was about to fall on you and (b) there were dozens of Turkey Vultures hanging out up there just waiting for that to happen.

On the Jomeokee Trail - you can see for miles and miles practically the whole way around.

On the Jomeokee Trail – you can see for miles and miles practically the whole way around.

We then headed over to walk some of the Ledge Spring and Grindstone trails, which afforded gorgeous views south and west towards Elkin and Winston Salem.  These trails are labeled Moderate to Strenuous, but the parts we were on were fairly easy (we’re both fully mobile and “moderately fit”).  There was only one rough spot we encountered which required you to scramble up about 50 yards of tumbled rock, but other than that – pretty level and easy-peasy.

On the Ledge Spring Trail

On the Ledge Spring Trail.  We saw lots of people practicing rappelling on the rock cliffs.

The only tricky part we encountered were these rocks you had to climb up.  Really, quite doable, tho I did manage to bash my knee on the very last part at the top.

The only tricky part we encountered were these rocks you had to climb up. Really, quite doable, tho I did manage to bash my knee on the very last part at the top.

Near the top of the “rock staircase” we found an outcrop over a 100 foot cliff that afforded an amazing view of the rolling Piedmont below.  It was so peaceful and quiet up there that we spent quite a few minutes just soaking in the sun and enjoying the view.  This was also the moment when I reached into my backpack and produced a big, fat wedge of Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie (ridiculously delicious!) that I had made for Thanksgiving.  We sat on those cold rocks with tired legs and savored every last crumb!

Our picnic spot atop the cliff.  Below we could see a meandering river and picturesque homesteads.

Our picnic spot atop the cliff. Below we could see a meandering river and picturesque homesteads.

I don't know what possessed me to go stand on the edge of that cliff (probably the sugar and the Bourbon in that pie) - but I just HAD to get my picture made!

I don’t know what possessed me to go stand on the edge of that cliff (probably the sugar and the Bourbon in the pie) – but I just HAD to get my picture made!  At no point did I let go of that tree.

That day was so fun and relaxing!  I wouldn’t recommend hiking there in Summer (godawful HOT!), but late Fall was wonderful, and I imagine Spring or early Fall when the leaves are turning would be spectacular.  This is definitely our new Thanksgiving tradition!

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Kentucky Travelogue 4 – Lexington, Horses and Bourbon

We spent our time in Lexington doing two quintessential Kentucky things – visiting Thoroughbred horse farms and touring Bourbon distilleries.  I booked an afternoon horse farm tour out of Lexington, and I wanted to have lunch at a well-reviewed place in the country.  Since we really aren’t Bourbon fans (hmmm…I should say weren’t because we are now!) I chose to tour the Four Roses distillery because it geographically fit with my other plans.  After wolfing down a so-so breakfast, we took the half hour drive (again, through beautiful country on a beautiful sunny day!) out to Four Roses.

I read beforehand that Four Roses was a respected brand back in the day, but fell into disrepute when it was bought out by a large beverage conglomerate.  Kirin Brewing bought the brand a few years ago and is rebuilding Four Roses as a kind of “craft bourbon”.  The historic facility is done in an old Spanish style, which is a bit of an architectural anomaly in KY!

Four Roses  - a beautiful property on the National Register of Historic Places

Four Roses – a beautiful property on the National Register of Historic Places

We had a great tour with Leila and learned a ton about bourbon distilling.  Bourbon is a type of whiskey that is made with at least 51% corn, aged a minimum of 2 years in a new, charred oak barrel, and it’s the only spirit “native” to the US.  KY became the center for Bourbon distilling because it’s a great place to grow corn, the cold winters and hot summers are perfect for aging the whiskey, and the rivers run with pure, clean, limestone-filtered water.  Bourbon is made by cooking a “mash” of corn and whatever other grains are being used (wheat, rye, malted barley), cooling it, adding yeast and letting it ferment in large vats.  Fermentation creates alcohol and carbon dioxide, and you could see the vats literally “boiling” with all the CO2 being released.  And it smelled yummy!

Four Roses makes a relatively small amount of Bourbon each year, and they are one of the few distilleries to still use wooden vats for fermenting, which adds more flavor!

Four Roses makes a relatively small amount of Bourbon each year, and they are one of the few distilleries to still use wooden vats for fermenting, which adds more flavor.

The mash is then filtered and distilled, and that distillate is then re-distilled.  Some of the fermented grain they filter off is used to flavor the next batch of mash, but most is given to farmers as pig food, which supposedly pigs love!  Don’t freak, there’s almost no alcohol in it.

where the filtered mash is distilled into "proto bourbon"

where the filtered mash is distilled into “proto bourbon”

The resulting clear alcohol is placed in new, charred oak barrels and aged at least two years – the charred barrel imparts bourbon’s characteristic caramel color and rich flavor.  The barrels age in huge, often multistory warehouses, and where a barrel is located in the warehouse affects its taste (higher up in the warehouse = hotter = ages faster and stronger; lower in the warehouse = cooler = more nuanced flavor).  Bourbon masters then taste and blend various barrels to get their signature flavor profile, which is why a bottle of Four Roses 81 or Wild Turkey 101 will taste the same year after year.  Any particularly fabulous barrels are bottled unmixed as “single barrel” Bourbons. Or a small amount of exceptional barrels may be mixed together to create what is called “small batch” Bourbon.  Single barrel and small batch Bourbons are like wine in that they will have different flavor nuances from year to year and bottle to bottle.  Since Four Roses is a small distillery, they tinker a lot with flavor using several different types of yeasts in their mashes, and I have to say I was very impressed in the tasting room.

If you go on any of these Bourbon tours on what is called the Bourbon Trail in KY, be prepared to drink a lot of Bourbon, or share your glass with a friend.  They give you VERY generous samples and expect you to finish it before they give you the next one!  Everything we sampled at Four Roses was smooth, sweet and amazingly delicious.  Who knew Bourbon could be anything but gag inducing!?

After thanking Leila for the informative, interesting tour and buying a few bottles in the gift shop, we headed off through the country to our lunch spot, Wallace Station Deli.  It was a gorgeous day so we took advantage of the large patio out back to enjoy our lunch al fresco.  This place is popular and packs out fast, so I was glad we got there by 11:30.

Wallace Station Deli - I'm pretty sure this place used to be the old country general store - it's in the middle of "nowhere"!

Wallace Station Deli – I’m pretty sure this place used to be the old country general store – it’s in the middle of “nowhere”!

We took another half hour drive to the Embassy Suites in Lexington where we were to be picked up for our afternoon horse farm tour.  I chose Thoroughbred Heritage Horse Farm Tours because they had stellar reviews on Trip Advisor, and we were not disappointed.  Our guide, Tim, is a horse trainer who “moonlights” as a tour guide, and he was funny, friendly and extremely knowledgeable.  In four short hours we learned way more than we could ever have imagined about Thoroughbred racing, breeding and training!  Tim first took us to Winstar where we met some of their prized stallions and learned about breeding.  Fun fact:  every single Thoroughbred horse is the product of a “live, natural cover” (that’s fancy speak for horse sexy times) – artificial insemination is never allowed.  These stallions are living the life!  They live in palatial stables, and every day during breeding season (Valentines Day through July 4th) they are “visited” by up to three mares a day!  I know exactly what every dude on the tour was thinking, including mine!

The stallion barn at Winstar!

The stallion barn at Winstar. Yes, this is a barn!

One of the "studs" at Winstar, KY Derby winner Super Saver.  He was very pretty!

One of the “studs” at Winstar, KY Derby winner Super Saver. He is very pretty and he knows it!

Then there's this guy - Distorted Humor.  A fair racer who has golden DNA.  He commands a stud fee of $100k a pop (pardon the pun).

Then there’s this guy – Distorted Humor. A fair racer and scruffy-looking bloke who has golden DNA. He commands a stud fee of $100k a pop (pardon the pun).

Next Tim took us to the famous racing facility Keeneland where several annual horse auctions take place and “horse movies” such as Secretariat and Seabiscuit were filmed.

Walking onto the track at Keeneland, which is not dirt, but an artificial surface with fake "dirt" made from recycled materials.

Walking onto the track at Keeneland, which is not dirt, but an artificial surface with fake “dirt” made from recycled materials.

The grandstands at Keeneland

The grandstands at Keeneland

After touring through some gorgeous countryside viewing several different farms, we made our last stop at McPeek Racing’s Magdalena Farm where we got to meet some adorable Thoroughbred foals.

KY is dotted with fabulous stone buildings and sadly disappearing old stone fences.

KY is dotted with fabulous stone buildings and sadly disappearing old stone fences.

One of the farms we rode by - these individual stallion pens are all separated by narrow, fenced off alleys so the stallions can never interact with each other and fight.

One of the farms we rode by – these individual stallion pens are all separated by narrow, fenced off alleys so the stallions can never interact with each other and fight.

at Magdalena Farms

at Magdalena Farms

another foal at Magdalena

another foal at Magdalena

We were welcome to pet the foals, which I was surprised my hubby did as he is not too keen on horses.  But those babies were irresistibly adorable!

We were welcome to pet the foals, which I was surprised my hubby did as he is not too keen on horses. But those babies were irresistibly adorable!

After our amazing horse tour we had an hour or so to kill before supper time, so we headed to the State Botanical Garden at UK in Lexington.  By now it had grown a bit hot, so we kinda booked it through there, but if you have some time to kill in Lexington and like plants, this is a great place for a walk or a picnic.

State Botanical Garden in Lexington

State Botanical Garden in Lexington

On a cooler day, the botanical gardens would have been a great place for a long stroll.  We did get lots of ideas for new plants for our yard tho!

On a cooler day, the botanical gardens would have been a great place for a long stroll. We did get lots of ideas for new plants for our yard tho!

Some friends who went to UK recommended a place for dinner which must have radically changed since they last ate there.  Bourbon and Toulouse was not only the worst meal we had in KY, but I think one of the worst meals I’ve ever eaten in a restaurant, period.  The bread came pre-soaked in margarine (eww!) the etouffee looked and tasted disgusting, the chili was dessert sweet (huh?) and while the gumbo had great flavor, it was 90% gravy/10% misc stuff.  So, yeah, can’t recommend that place.

We spent one last nite at the Rose Hill Inn, and after another so-so breakfast visited one last spot before heading home.  The Wild Turkey distillery was fairly close, and I’m glad we took the time to tour the place.

Approaching the Wild Turkey distillery on the banks of the Kentucky River

Approaching the Wild Turkey distillery on the banks of the Kentucky River

Ya gotta get your picture made on the turkeys out front!

Ya gotta get your picture made on the turkeys out front!

Jonathan gave us an excellent tour, and I have to say for two places that produce the same product, the Wild Turkey and Four Roses facilities couldn’t have been more different.  First, Wild Turkey produces in one week what Four Roses produces in a year!  Second, Four Roses ages all their barrels on one level to minimize differences in the taste, barrel to barrel, while Wild Turkey racks their barrels all over the place in huge, multistory warehouses, and then does a lot of blending to standardize the taste.   The scale of the place was amazing.  Their Still Master, Jimmy Russell, is a legend in the Bourbon community, and he was actually there that day, just rocking on the front porch of the visitors’ center.  Jonathan told us Jimmy’s palate is so sensitive that he can actually tell from eating a Bourbon candy which brand and year of Bourbon was used to make it!

The huge metal vats where the mash ferments, rows and rows of them...

The huge metal vats where the mash ferments – rows and rows of them…

Their oldest warehouse - they all look the same, regardless of age, and you see them springing up out of nowhere all over KY

Their oldest warehouse – they all look the same, regardless of age, and you see them springing up out of nowhere all over KY

Inside the oldest warehouse on the property, dating to the 1800s.  Again, this place smelled amazing!

Inside the oldest warehouse on the property, dating to the 1800s. Again, this place smelled amazing!

The room where Jimmy and his son sit every day, tasting, evaluating and blending Bourbon.

The room where Jimmy and his son sit every day, tasting, evaluating and blending Bourbon.

After my experience at Four Roses, I was eager to hit the tasting room at the end of the tour.  I was surprised at how very different Wild Turkey’s Bourbons tasted from Four Roses, but then again, they use very different methods.  We didn’t like anything we tried (mega mega hoochie!) except their luscious liquor, American Honey.  Oh boy.  That is some delicious stuff.  All the most wonderful notes of Bourbon blended with citrus and honey.  Some of our fellow tour mates told us they store theirs in the freezer so it stays thick and use it on pancakes.  Um kay!  Don’t think I’m ready for boozy breakfasts…  : )  With a bottle of American Honey in hand we hit the road and bid KY adieu.  What a beautiful, beautiful state with tons of fun, interesting things to do.  Definitely worth the trip!

It was a perfect day for the drive home

It was a perfect day for the drive home

My old friend, Pilot Mtn

My old friend, Pilot Mtn

Kentucky Travelogue 2 – Central KY & Louisville

As part of our “See All 50 States Tour” we recently spent a week in Kentucky.  When we told people we were going to KY, the universal response was “why?”  I never realized KY got so little love!  Kentucky is a beautiful state with lots of interesting things to do and see.  After spending a day at Mammoth Cave, we headed off for 2 days in Louisville.  The hour-long drive was dotted with beautiful farms and homesteads.

A picturesque KY farm

A picturesque KY farm

On the way to Louisville

On the way to Louisville

I just loved the old black barns we saw all over - and this KY fan's was my favorite!  And yes, my sweet hubby turned the car around and pulled off the Hwy so I could get my snaps.  He's a keeper!

I just loved the old black barns we saw all over – and this KY fan’s was my favorite! And yes, my sweet hubby turned the car around and pulled off the Hwy so I could get my snaps. He’s a keeper!

Along the way, we stopped in to see Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace, and a few miles down the road from there his boyhood home.  Illinois might be the “Land of Lincoln”, but Honest Abe was born in KY and spent his early years here.  The Sinking Spring Farm is where Lincoln was born.  Today  you can see the Sinking Spring, a reconstructed cabin (once believed to be the cabin in which Lincoln was born, but subsequent research revealed that belief to be incorrect) a Neoclassical memorial where the cabin is housed, and a small museum that shows an informative movie about Lincoln’s early years.

Lincoln's Birthplace Memorial - the cabin is inside

Lincoln’s Birthplace Memorial – the cabin is inside

The reconstructed cabin that was once believed to be Lincoln's birthplace - the location is accurate and the cabin is a close replica.

The reconstructed cabin that was once believed to be Lincoln’s birthplace – the location is accurate and the cabin is a close replica.

The Sinking Spring - actually an underground stream that provided fresh water for the farm.

The Sinking Spring – actually an underground stream that provided fresh water for the farm.

While we were there we encountered a large group of antique car enthusiasts out on tour.  It was fun seeing these cars tooling around all over the countryside!

One of these things is not like the others - or is it!?  I think my car fits in perfectly with this antique car rally!

One of these things is not like the others – or is it!? I think my car fits in perfectly with this antique car rally!

Next we headed a few miles east to the site of Lincoln’s boyhood home.  The cabin is no longer there, but the site has been preserved just as it was.

LIncoln's Boyhood Home site

LIncoln’s Boyhood Home site

The grassy area is where the family garden was - the field behind was for crops.  The site has never been developed.

The grassy area is where the family garden was – the field behind was for crops. The site has never been developed.

The creek where our 16th President almost drowned as a small boy.  A friend saved him.

The creek where our 16th President almost drowned as a small boy. A friend saved him.

A quick check on Yelp! and Trip Advisor led us to a little restaurant in the nearby town of Hodgenville, Ray’s Hodgenville Grill.  They serve simple country fare, and we both got the pork chop plate.  One of my favorite souvenirs from a vacation is a recipe, and the gracious cook at Ray’s provided me with the best thing I brought home from KY – his technique for making the most ridiculously tender pork chops.  I adore pork, but never make pork chops because there’s just no way to get them tender – they are always tough and dry.  Turns out the technique for cooking moist, fork-tender pork chops is to quick fry thin loin chops that have been worked over with a special tenderizing roller that has needles all over it.  I will definitely be buying one of those gizmos!  They also served the lightest, fluffiest rolls I’ve ever eaten.  If you happen to find yourself in Hodgenville, do yourself a favor and stop in for the pork chops and a basket (or two) of rolls.

Best pork chops ever, and I'll be dreaming about those rolls too!

Best pork chops ever, and I’ll be dreaming about those rolls too!

We arrived in Louisville just in the nick of time to stop in at Muth’s Candies, a local institution that has been making dozens of kinds of candies for 4 generations.  They are most famous for their Modjeskas, a caramel covered marshmallow thing, but they make everything from bon bons to caramels to licorice to brittles.  We tried the Modjeskas, all the kinds of caramels, mints, peanut butter bon bons, and our favorite – the popcorn-peanut brittle.  Yum!  Across the street is a great antique store, Joe Ley Antiques, where we spent the rest of the afternoon rooting around inside.

Muth's Candies - a  Louisville institution and a must-stop.

Muth’s Candies – a Louisville institution and a must-stop.

Joe Ley Antiques - three stories of some really cool stuff.  A great way to spend some time shopping.

Joe Ley Antiques – three stories of some really cool stuff.

While in Louisville we stayed at the incredibly elegant Central Park B&B.  The hosts were great people to talk to – full of tips and info, and the breakfasts were multi-course, over- the-top awesome!  They also have a beautiful back yard to sit in while you enjoy your afternoon appetizers and baked goods with a glass of wine.   We enjoyed Louisville, and I would definitely stay at this place again – highly recommend it!

Central Park B&B

Central Park B&B

Our bedroom - pretty swank, no?

Our bedroom – pretty swank, no?

The Breakfast Room

The Breakfast Room

Dinner that nite was at Doc Crow’s, which was recommended to us by one of our pastors who went to school in KY.  Doc Crow’s is a fun place with a hip after-work crowd vibe and plenty of yummy options.  We enjoyed the fried green tomatoes and the mixed grill of ribs, pulled pork and brisket.  Downtown Louisville has a great food scene, and I would love to explore more of those options on a subsequent trip!

Doc Crow's - seriously yummy ribs, brisket and pulled pork!

Doc Crow’s – seriously yummy ribs, brisket and pulled pork!

Day Two

After a fabulous breakfast of baked peaches with raspberries, herbed eggs in crisp ham cups, homefries and Boudin sourdough toast, we trotted off (get it?) to the KY Derby Museum which is adjacent to Churchill Downs.  We are not “horsey” people but usually watch the race each year, so I thought this would be interesting.  I was right!   In front of the museum is an amazing statue of Barbaro which stands over his remains.  If you don’t know the story of this courageous Derby-winning Thoroughbred, check it out here.

The main entrance to Churchill Downs and the KY Derby Museum

The main entrance to Churchill Downs and the KY Derby Museum

An amazing statue - all 4 of Barbaro's feet are off the ground.

Barbaro’s amazing memorial statue.  The rail supports his weight, allowing all 4 of his feet to be off the ground, beautifully capturing a moment from his Derby win.

The museum is very well done and includes a tour of Churchill Downs where you get to spend a few minutes viewing the current Derby winner in residence, which in our case was Mine That Bird.  It was really cool to see sights around the track that I’ve seen on tv for years.

2009 Derby Winner - Mine That Bird.  He was finger painting (okay hoof painting) some pictures for a charity auction.

2009 Derby Winner – Mine That Bird. He was finger painting (okay hoof painting) some pictures for a charity auction.

The paddock where the horses are saddled

The paddock where the horses are saddled

The main grandstands at Churchill Downs

The main grandstands at Churchill Downs

The most famous finish line in horse racing

The most famous finish line in horse racing

One of the iconic twin spires

One of the iconic twin spires

Inside the museum they have displays about Thoroughbred breeding, training and racing, the history of the Derby itself and the stories of many of the winners.  A highlight is an excellent film that takes you from birth through Derby day for a Thoroughbred racer.  The movie is shown on screens all around a circular room, giving you a real feel for the action of a Thoroughbred race.  One of my fave exhibits was a room full of amazing hats that have been worn on Derby Day.

One of my favorite exhibits inside the museum - some of the amazing hats that have been worn to the Derby!

One of my favorite exhibits inside the museum – some of the amazing hats that have been worn to the Derby!

We spent about 2 hours at this museum and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Lunch was at Wagner’s Pharmacy – an ancient “dive” across the street from Churchill Downs which is popular with the horse folk who work at the track.  They serve your basic lunch counter fare, and I went with the waitress’ recommendation of the tuna melt.  Very tasty.  Breakfast is more their claim to fame, as is their well-known horse liniment.  Another quirk of this place is that the dishwasher is in the middle of the dining room.  That was a first for me!

Wagner's Pharmacy - where you can get a tasty tuna melt and some horse liniment, all in one convenient location.

Wagner’s Pharmacy – where you can get a tasty tuna melt and some horse liniment, all in one convenient location.

At Wagner's - that dude in the back is the dishwasher.  Yes, the dishwashing machine is smack in the middle of the dining room!

At Wagner’s – that dude in the back is the dishwasher. Yes, the dishwashing machine is smack in the middle of the dining room!

We rested our feet for an hour or so back at the B&B and pressed on to another Louisville institution – the Louisville Slugger factory tour and museum.  My John is big into baseball, so this was a must stop for us.

Has to be the world's biggest bat!

Has to be the world’s biggest bat!

The factory tour is up close and personal – as in I wanted some goggles to ward off the flying sawdust and lacquer fumes – but it was very interesting.  Even if you’re not into baseball, c’mon, who doesn’t love finding out how stuff is made?  They show you how bats used to be hand carved using hundreds of different templates, according to what the player wanted.  Nowadays, bats are made in mere minutes using computer-run lathes.  We were lucky enough to be there when they offered a sneak peek into the vault where all the old bat templates are stored, along with all the company’s purchase records and endorsement contracts.  Our guide was like a kid in a candy store – he was so excited to show us everything!

The template vault where all the old templates for hand-turned bats are stored.

The vault where all the old templates for hand-turned bats are stored.

I think the highlight for John was the batting cage where you can hit balls with game-used major leaugers’ bats.  John is a big Johnny Bench fan, so we were hoping they had his bat, but his name wasn’t on the “menu” at the batting cage.  When I mentioned it was too bad they didn’t have a Johnny Bench bat, the dude working the counter said “did someone say Johnny Bench?” as he whipped out one of his bats from a secret stash.  So, if you don’t see your fave player on the rotating menu, ask!

My man, working Johnny Bench's bat like a pro!

My man, working Johnny Bench’s bat like a pro!

Louisville was fun, but we have a date with Frankfort next!

My Top Oahu Do’s and Some Bonus Don’ts

Hawaii is a “big ticket”  or once-in-a-lifetime vacation for most people so I thought I would share a list of my top tips for having a great time on Oahu.

  • Rent a car for a day or more and get out and see the island on your own.  Oahu is very easy to get around, the speed limits are low and slow, and there is something amazing around every bend in the road.

    Gorgeous Laie Beach

    Gorgeous Laie Beach – You won’t get to secluded beaches like this on a tour

  • Eat like a local.  Don’t even think about eating at some crummy chain you have back home.  Ask any and everyone you meet where they love to eat.  The locals will steer you to the best places and as a bonus, these restaurants will likely cost a lot less than the touristy ones.  Sweet Home Waimanalo, Side Street Inn and Camaron’s Shrimp Truck were all great local faves we were clued into.  Every day I challenged myself to try something I’d never eaten before or can’t find back home.  I’ve definitely enjoyed adding some new foods to my cooking repertoire!

    Camaron's - just east of Turtle Bay on Hwy 83

    Camaron’s – just east of Turtle Bay on Hwy 83 – we would never have found this out of the way truck on our own!

  • That said, do hit a few of the touristy favorites like Leonard’s Bakery, Dukes Waikiki and the Tiki’s Grill.  These places are tourist favorites for a reason!  Sure they are crowded and a bit pricey, but heck, how often are you in Hawaii?  The malasadas at Leonard’s are a must-try, the salad bar and Mai Tai’s at Dukes are fab, and the macadamia crusted Mahi Mahi at Tiki’s Grill was one of the best fish entrees I’ve ever had in my life.

    Leonard's Bakery on Kapahulu

    Leonard’s Bakery on Kapahulu – just don’t go here as often as we did.

  • Take in the local culture – visit the Iolani Palace and the Territorial Building; check out the Bishop Museum and the Army Museum of Hawaii; go to a quality luau; stop and check out the historical markers you pass; learn a few Hawaiian words and use them; tuck a plumeria blossom in your hair and savor the sweet fragrance.  The native culture of Hawaii is rich and fascinating and it’s a beautiful addition to the melting pot of America.

    Territorial Bldg. and King Kamehameha statue

    Territorial Bldg. and King Kamehameha statue

  • Hit an ABC store (or two).  Now if, like me, you are from North Carolina you might be thinking “why do I need to hit a few liquor stores?” (in NC the state run liquor stores are called ABC stores).  There are ABC stores on practically every corner in Honolulu, and at first I thought, “man, what’s with all the booze!?”  Sure, you can get booze at the ABC store, but you can also get pretty much anything else.  It’s like a mini Hawaiian Wal-Mart.  If you need it on your trip, they sell it at the ABC store.  If you want to bring something home for someone, they sell it at the ABC store.  They’re fun, they’re kitchy.  Go!

    I wish I'd bought all 4 varieties they had - I can't find this brand online anywhere.

    You can’t go to Hawaii and come back without some fun stuff like this!

  • Spend some time strolling and shopping on the energetic Kalakaua Avenue.  Kalakaua is lined with huge, beautiful hotels and parks, all kinds of shopping from extremely high end designer shops to the kitchy International Market, and every kind of restaurant you can think of.   The vibe is decidedly upbeat and international, so dress your best and join the parade!

    Kalakaua Avenue

    Kalakaua Avenue

  • Take a sunset or moonlit stroll on Waikiki Beach.  Daytime crowds on Waikiki Beach are oppressive to say the least.  I have no idea where everyone goes after 5 pm (oh, yeah, Kalakaua Avenue), but a sunset stroll will be less crowded and beautiful and a moonlit stroll will be downright romantic!  Be sure to stop in for a Mai Tai at any number of “walk up” beachside bars.

    Sunset on Waikiki

    Sunset on Waikiki

  • Visit the North Shore to watch the surfers and hit at least two different shrimp trucks.  And don’t just go for the garlic shrimp!

    surfer at Ehukai Beach on the North Shore

    surfer at Ehukai Beach on the North Shore

  • Spend an afternoon driving the Kamehameha Hwy on the windward side and stop at every beach.  Amazingly, they all look different.  All beaches in Hawaii are public and many have simple facilities.  Be extra careful to lock your car and hide any valuables (unfortunately smash and grabs are a problem in Oahu).  If you go during the week, you will likely have a beach all to yourself.  What a lovely way to spend an afternoon – on your own private Hawaiian beach!

    Waimanalo looking north.  My man and I had it all to ourselves!

    Waimanalo looking north. My man and I had it all to ourselves!

  • Hike Diamond Head.  It’s an easy hike if you are even remotely fit.  The history of the place is interesting (both geological and military) and the views are not to be missed.  It’s $5 a carload, and get out there early before it gets crazy crowded and hot.

    Rainbow over Waikiki, seen from Diamond Head

    Rainbow over Waikiki, seen from Diamond Head

  • Visit the Arizona Memorial and spend some quality time at the museum there.  The audio tour is excellent and the displays are first-rate.  It is a moving, fascinating complex  for anyone to tour, and if you are blessed to be an American, it will make your heart swell with pride and gratitude.

    The Arizona Memorial

    The Arizona Memorial

And my number 1 tip for having a fabulous time in Oahu:

  • Put down your damn iPhone, talk to the people you are actually with and enjoy the beautiful, amazing place where you actually are.  sheesh!

    This picture was taken at Ala Moana Beach, during a beautiful sunset.  Breaks my heart...

    This picture of my boo was taken at Ala Moana Beach, during a beautiful sunset. Breaks my heart…

Okay, here are a few bonus “don’ts” to help make the most of your time on Oahu:

  • Don’t spend all your time on Waikiki or even in Honolulu.  Oahu is so much more than a tourist mecca.
  • Don’t use one of those group airport shuttles.  You save only a few dollars with them, and you lose several hours of precious vacation time.  Because those shuttles pick up a large group of people from all over Waikiki you end up spending a ton of time on the bus, not to mention the fact they will get you to the airport several hours sooner than you need to be there.  You are probably spending thousands to visit Hawaii.  Spend $5 more and get your own cab or use the excellent A8 service I mentioned in my Hawaii Travelogue 1 post.
  • If you spend some time in Waikiki, don’t stay at one of the sprawling mega-resorts (such as the Hilton Hawaiian Village) – stay at one of the smaller properties.  At the huge resorts you waste so much time just going to and from your room, and don’t get me started about getting to your car.  Your stress level and probably your bill will be lower at a smaller property.

Hawaii Travelogue 11 – Aloha Oe

Somewhere around day 10 of a trip my will to vacation deserts me, and I just want to be home, sleeping in my own bed and cooking my own food!  John and I were both ready to come home, but we thoroughly enjoyed our last half day in Oahu. Bob and Kim had not yet hiked Diamond Head, so we went out there with them early in the morning after yet another stop at Leonard’s Bakery.  Sweet Baby Jesus, I don’t need to eat another malasada ever again, but this is what happens when you travel with hummingbirds – they gotta have their sugar! The weather was much nicer than when John and I hiked Diamond Head at the beginning of our trip, and it was amazing how far out you could see.

Short-range view from Diamond Head - you can see an observation bunker on the crater rim, the Shell Amphitheater, Waikiki, downtown Honolulu, and all the way out to Pearl Harbor.

Long range view from Diamond Head – you can see an observation bunker on the crater rim, the Shell Amphitheater, Waikiki, downtown Honolulu, and all the way out to Pearl Harbor.

Zoom-in on Waikiki

Zoom-in on Waikiki

The folks at the Hilton Hawaiian Village were kind enough to give us a 1 pm check out, so we had plenty of time to do some last minute shopping and get everything miraculously shoved back in our bags.  The Honolulu Cookie Company has a store at the Hilton, and we daily availed ourselves of the free samples.  Oh man, those are some seriously divine cookies, esp. the chocolate-dipped ones.  Naturally we brought quite a few home with us! We said goodbye to Bob and Kim and headed over to Dukes Waikiki for a late lunch.  Lunch is definitely a great time to try Dukes.  The menu is slightly pared down, but so are the crowds – we got a great table overlooking the beach.

There is something so wonderful about relaxing over good food and enjoying a beautiful view with someone you love to be with!

There is something so wonderful about relaxing over good food and enjoying a beautiful view with someone you love to be with!

On our way back to the hotel to catch our airport shuttle, we spent an hour or so at the excellent little US Army Museum of Hawaii in Fort Derussy on Waikiki.  The museum offers very interesting displays on the military history of Hawaii, US Army action in the Pacific, and a special section honoring Kauai native General Eric Shinseki, the first Japanese-American to become the Army’s Chief of Staff.

After one last stroll on the Waikiki Beach and one last cat nap by the pool, we caught our shuttle to the airport and endured the 9.5 hour overnite flight home, with the special added bonus of a 5 hour delay in Washington DC.  ugh.

Hawaii was not on my Bucket List (it was John’s idea to go) but I truly loved Oahu, and Hawaii has definitely left its fingerprints on my soul.  I will never forget the smell of plumeria on the tradewinds, the beauty of vivid rainbows that you can see end to end (they’re not kidding about that Rainbow State thing!), the striking juxtaposition of dark, jagged volcanic mountains and the vibrant cobalt blue of the South Pacific, and all the flora and fauna unique to this little paradise.  I will forever love potato salad with macaroni in it, coconut syrup on my pancakes, haupia, drinking out of tiki mugs and glasses, buttery, garlicky shrimp and pineapple juice in my iced tea.  America is blessed to have this star on our flag!  I’m already looking forward to a return visit to Oahu, with a definite side trip to see the volcanoes on the big island.

Aloah oe, and mahalo for coming along on this journey!

Hawaii Travelogue 5 – Northern Kauai

We headed out on Hwy 50 to 56N to explore the eastern and northern sides of Kauai.  Miss Becky was leading the way with her magical book of all things Kauai.  Our first stop was at Opaekaa Falls in the Nonou Forest.  You view the falls from an overlook on Hwy 560 (Kuamoo Rd).  As you can see from the picture, the weather still wasn’t the greatest.

Opeakaa Falls

Opaekaa Falls

As it turned out, our little stop here set the tone for the entire day.  We crossed the street to look down on the Kamokiia Hawaiian Village on the Wailua River.  Off in the distance I saw what looked like a wall of rain approaching.  I pointed to it and asked, “is that rain?”, to which my brother-in-law Tom replied, “no, that’s just mist”.  Boom.  About 30 seconds later we were running for the car in a soaking downpour.  From thence on, soaking rain was referred to as “mist”.  Completely soaked we piled in the car and headed to our next stop, the Kilauea Lighthouse.  A little bit wiser, we kept our umbrellas with us as we did get a bit of rain here too.

Kilauea Point Lighthouse

Kilauea Point Lighthouse

Kilauea Lighthouse

Kilauea Point Lighthouse

Our next stop was for a little refreshment at a combination roadside produce stand/smoothie shack.  I highly recommend the smoothies at Banana Joes!

Banana Joes - def try the smootihes!

Banana Joes – def try the smootihes!

Properly refreshed we pressed on through some beautiful countryside on our way to the end of the road at  Haena State Park.  Kauai roads are twisty and narrow, and you must frequently stop to wait your turn at the many one lane bridges over Kauai’s numerous rivers and streams.  It takes a looooong time to get anywhere on Kauai.

One of many one-lane bridges on Kauai.

One of many one-lane bridges on Kauai.

The valleys are filled with beautiful tarro farms

The valleys are filled with beautiful tarro farms

We tried to stop for some beach time at Hanalei Bay, but rain quickly chased us away.  I wasn’t too bummed about that, because I’m not much for hanging at a beach full of people.

Hanalei Bay

Hanalei Bay

We got back on the road and stopped at another beach which was perfectly deserted.  We didn’t even get to put our toesies in the water before the fiercest rain of the day hit.  It really was astonishing how it could go from warm and sunny to gale-force winds and pelting rain in the blink of an eye.

Here comes a wall of weather

Here comes a wall of weather – this was as close as we got to the water here!

We finally ended up at Haena Beach Park.  There were plenty of people here too, but a short walk up the beach and over some rocks got us a lovely stretch of beach all to ourselves.  Across the street from the beach was the totally cool Maniniholo Dry Cave.

Haena Beach

Haena Beach

The Dry Cave

The Maniniholo Dry Cave – of course it was raining by now, so I did not venture into the cave.

After some good beach time, we were ready for chow.  And here is where Yelp and TripAdvisor failed us.  Both sites were chock-a-block with glowing reviews for a place called Ono Burger.  Supposedly the best burgers on the island.  Wow.  So not ono (Hawaiian for “delicious”).   And the chickens!  I forgot to mention the chickens.  I told you they were set loose on the islands during a 1992 hurricane.  On Kauai, they are rampant.  Every single morning, at 5:00 am sharp, we were awakened by a troop of crowing roosters.  Those jerks woke all the other loud-mouthed birds up, and then there was no hope of sleep.  Every.  Single.  Morning.  This night-owl was not loving it.  Anyway, at Ono (Oh NO!) Burger we had to eat with a whole flock of roosters, hens and chicks swarming around our feet.  I was waiting for them to realize they outnumbered us 5 to 1 and attack.

Okay, after that awful meal our next stop was a welcome treat.  Our first and best shave ice of the trip was had at a great little spot in Hanalei – Wishing Well Shave Ice.  It took me forever to order because there were just so many, many options.  We all got something different and they were all soft, fluffy and delicious!  I never tried a shave ice/ice cream combo, but my other brother-in-law, Bob, swears that is the way to go.

Tom and Becky about to get their shave ice on at Rainbow Shave Ice

Tom and Becky about to get their shave ice on at Wishing Well

We got back to our resort in time for a gorgeous sunset…

Sunset at Poipu Beach

Sunset at Poipu Beach

Sunset at Poipu Beach

Sunset at Poipu Beach

…and then headed off to Keoki’s Paradise for our first Mai Tais of the trip.  Yes, we had Mai Tais and h’ors d’oeuvres for dinner.  I definitely recommend their hummus trio, but you can skip the sketchy calamari strips.  Nast!  Their Mai Tai’s were delicious, but I was particularly smitten by the tiki glasses in which they were served.  I think every bar in Kauai and Oahu uses these tiki glasses, and I just had to have a set.  The ones used in the bars are plastic, but the ones I found at Awesome Drinks.com are glass.  They finally arrived today, and I can’t wait to put them to use!

My fabulous new tiki glasses

My fabulous new tiki glasses – what wouldn’t taste better in these?

Tomorrow the weather screws us out of our flightseeing tour, but we all make a fun stop at a coffee plantation, and then it’s luau time.  Aloha!

Hawaii Travelogue 4 – off to Kauai

I now have a new least-favorite airline:  Go! Airlines, or as I think of them, No Go Airlines.   We chose a flight to Kauai on Go! to arrive at the same time as Tom and Becky got in from CA.  A week or so before our trip, Go! changed the time of our flight to Kauai by 2 hours, which meant that instead of a nice leisurely breakfast enjoying the sunrise in Oahu, we would instead be twiddling our thumbs for 2 hours in the Lihue Airport in Kauai.  Lame.  Their planes have virtually no space in the overhead bins and they don’t gate check stuff – you are forced to pay for all your bags.  Again, lame.  And our return flight to Oahu was so delayed (zero explanation given) that we missed our prepaid shuttle to the Hilton Hawaiian Village.  Totally lame.  So, a negative experience all around, and I have to think there are much better options for inter island travel.  Like a dugout canoe or a makeshift raft.

Anyway, after meeting an adorable toddler at the airport Starbucks (he came over to me with outstretched arms – I thought he wanted to make friends, but it turns out he just wanted a bite of my scone!  He was hilarious.  His parents were mortified) we met up with Tom and Becky and checked into the lovely Outrigger Kiahuna Plantation in Poipu Beach, where T & B honeymooned 24 (?) years ago!  The property is all condos, mostly individually owned, and thus all a little different.  Ours (#82 in Bldg 15) was very nice.

The view from our room at the Kiahuna Plantation

The view from our room at the Outrigger Kiahuna Plantation

After unpacking we headed back into Koloa for a quick lunch and a run to the supermarket.  Koloa is the site of the first sugar mill in Hawaii, and our lunch spot, the delightful Kauai Food Truck, was on the ruins of the old sugar mill.  While we were happily chatting and waiting for our lunch, we had our first taste of Kauai’s special brand of rain.  It was sunny and breezy, and then wham, out of nowhere – a soaking, horizontal rain that lasted for all of 5 minutes.  Yikes!

The Kauai Food Truck - try the fish tacos and the Brudda Burger

The creatively named Kauai Food Truck at the ruins of the Koloa Sugar Mill – try the fish tacos and the ample Brudda Burger

Old Koloa Town - the old sugar town is now home to lots of cute shops and restaurants.

Old Koloa Town – the old sugar town is now home to lots of cute shops and restaurants.

the Old Koloa Church.  I just loved the old-style missionary churches that we saw all over Oahu and Kauai.

the Old Koloa Church. I just loved the old-style missionary churches that we saw all over Oahu and Kauai.

We spent the rest of the day on the lovely beach at our resort, catching up and planning our days on Kauai.

Poipu Beach

Poipu Beach

In the evening we went shopping in Old Koloa Town and enjoyed a fairly decent pizza at Pizzetta.  Unlike Oahu, food options aren’t plentiful in Kauai, and Trip Advisor and Yelp weren’t as much help as they usually are for us.  You need to remember that when reviews say “best whatever in town” it may be because it is the ONLY whatever in a 20 minute radius.

Kauai is known as the Garden Island and here are a few pix of some of the lovely flowers we saw on our visit.

African Tulip Tree - the most beautiful tree on the island

African Tulip Tree – the most beautiful tree on the island

A Bird of Paradise, right outside our condo door

A Bird of Paradise, right outside our condo door

Plumeria were everywhere.  I resisted the urge to pick them off the trees, but fortunately the wind knocked plenty of them down for me to put in my hair.  What a heavenly fragrance!

Plumeria were everywhere. I resisted the urge to pick them off the trees, but fortunately the wind knocked plenty of them down for me to put in my hair. What a heavenly fragrance!

Next we’re off to explore the eastern and northern sides of Kauai.  Aloha!

Hawaii Travelogue 3 – North Shore Oahu

Still thankfully on Eastern Time, we woke up bright (still dark, actually) and early and headed off for our adventure on the other side of Oahu.  Our first stop was at Leonard’s Bakery on Kapahulu Ave in Honolulu.  This place is an institution for a reason.

Leonard's Bakery on Kapahulu

Leonard’s Bakery on Kapahulu.  I am obviously not the only tourist here…

They make all kinds of fabulous looking cakes, breads and pastries, but they are most beloved for their Malasadas, a Portuguese, hole-less donut.  Your Malasadas are delivered to you light, fluffy and burn-your-mouth hot in adorable pink boxes.  They are open all day and there is always a line.  We hit this place 4 times (yes 4, and I don’t really even like donuts!) while on Oahu, and I sampled 5 of the 6 Malasadas offered:  plain sugar (nice), cinnamon sugar (my fave), Li Hing sugar (a salty, sour sugar that everyone but me loved), chocolate cream filled (too much!) and haupia filled (a Hawaiian coconut pudding made with coconut milk that YES! is my new fave thing).

Sufficiently stuffed and sticky, we hopped on the H1 to the H2 and headed north.   We passed through beautiful pineapple fields and made a quickie stop at the Dole Pineapple Plantation.  You can take a tour there, which we did not do, but we did enjoy their pineapple display garden.  It demonstrates the various stages in the life-cycle of a pineapple as well as showcasing a diverse array of pineapple varieties (altho they only grow one kind commercially in HI).  We learned that to propagate a pineapple you lop off the leafy top of the fruit, plant it and wait 2o months.  2o months!  The plant will give one more fruit in another 14-16 months, and then you rip it up.  And those prickly suckers are harvested by hand!  I’m never going to complain about the price of pineapple again.

A pineapple field in the early stages of growth

A pineapple field in the early stages of growth.  Yes, I know it’s blurry – I was whizzing down the highway.

Pineapple garden at the Dole Plantation

Pineapple garden at the Dole Plantation

Baby Pineapples - those are not friendly looking plants.

Baby Pineapples – those are not friendly looking plants.

Fortunately we left just as busloads of tourists arrived (another advantage to getting an early start!) and headed off for some beach time on the North Shore.  The North Shore is known for its spectacular wave action, especially in winter, so it is a popular area for surfers.   We stopped at Ehukai Beach to watch the surfers and work up an appetite for some shrimp truck shrimp.

Ehukai Beach (aka the Banzai Pipeline)

Ehukai Beach (aka the Banzai Pipeline)

surfer at Ehukai Beach

surfer at Ehukai Beach

Wind-blasted and hungry, we headed back to Haleiwa to sample the offerings at Macky’s Sweet Shrimp Truck.  I know that Giovanni’s is the most famous truck up there, but I read a ton of great reviews of Macky’s, so I wanted to give it a try.  The day before we met a nice local couple at Sweet Home Waimanalo who highly recommended Camaron’s near Turtle Bay, so we planned on stopping there too.  At Macky’s we split an order of garlic shrimp and it was worth the drive and the wait.  Piping hot, perfectly cooked jumbo shrimp, dripping with garlicy, salty butter, perched on two scoops of rice and accompanied by a small salad and a wedge of pineapple.  Amazing, and yes, I’m going to figure out how to make them!

Macky's in Haleiwa.  Dining at a North Shore shrimp truck is a must-do on Oahu!

Macky’s in Haleiwa. Dining at a North Shore shrimp truck is a must-do on Oahu!  As you can clearly see, eating at a shrimp truck is an eleganza experience.

We suffered through some serious President’s Day traffic (there is but one two lane road that arcs around the north side of Oahu) to continue our little adventure.  The next stop was a quick photo op at yet another Charlie’s Angels/Five-O filming site at the Turtle Bay Resort.  One cool thing about Hawaii is that there are no private beaches.  Even at this nice resort there is free day parking and beach access.

Turtle Bay Resort

Turtle Bay Resort

After exploring some tidepools at Turtle Bay (no easy feat in flip flops, thank you very much!) we worked up enough of an appetite for Shrimp Truck Round 2 at Camarons.  We tried the spicy shrimp, which were served in a creamy, spicy, tomato-y sauce, accompanied by the ubiquitous two scoops of rice, salad and pineapple wedge.  Very rich and very delicious.  We did pass Giovannis which was a madhouse, teeming with busloads of tourists.  I’m sure it’s great, but that is not my scene!  Macky’s and Camaron’s had excellent offerings and I would highly recommend them.

Camaron's - just east of Turtle Bay on Hwy 83

Camaron’s – just east of Turtle Bay on Hwy 83

We continued on Hwy 83 (Kamehameha Hwy) around to the Windward side of Oahu and enjoyed stopping at several of the beaches on the way.

Gorgeous Laie Beach

Gorgeous Laie Beach

Kahana Bay

Kahana Bay

Chinaman's Hat Island (Mokoli'i) seen from Kualoa

Chinaman’s Hat Island (Mokoli’i) seen from Kualoa

By the time we got back to Honolulu we were pretty wiped so John hit the hay early.  I curled up in the courtyard of the Ilikai and amused myself by flicking thru the Five-O episodes I put on my iPad to see how much the places I’d visited in the last 2 days had changed in 40 years.  A sweet older lady who lives at the Ilikai (not a bad retirement!) came up and introduced herself to me and apologized profusely for the weird weather.  She said she’s been in Hawaii 30 years and never seen that much wind.  Hmmmm.  Glad I packed so many sweaters and fleecies…

Early tomorrow we head for Kauai.  Aloha!

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