Amazing Alps

When we travel, we love day tripping!!!  We have day tripped our way around the French countryside, southern and northern Italy, Scotland, England and now, the Alps!

Day tripping allows for a GLIMPSE of a place.  It is hard to “dive in” when you only have a short amount of time, but when we travel abroad especially, we want to see as much as we can, so the old American pastime is right up our alley!

This trip to Germany, Switzerland and France for our Christmas Market river cruise really lent itself well to a day trip.  While staying in Basel pre-cruise, we took a day and headed to the Alps.  We picked up our rental in Basel early morning, drove about an hour and 45 minutes to Interlaken, and decided to go a bit further, up to Grindewald (elevation 3,392 feet).  There, we parked and bought the world’s most expensive train tickets (about $200 US per person – YIKES) for a 45 minute cog train ride up, up, up to our first train station, Kleine Scheidegg (elevation 6762 feet).

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Grindelwald, Switzerland

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Grindewald from the window of the train.

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The cogs! The lifeline!

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This teepee is at the Kleine Scheidegg station. I do not know why!

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Time to change trains!  And yes, it was snowing.

Here, we checked out the place, and boarded the Jungfrau train – another cog that brought us THROUGH the mountains to the highest train station in Europe (which happened to be IN the mountain) – Junfraujoch, elevation 11,333 feet!!

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One of the small settlements on the way up to Jungfrau (young girl). Do you see the glaciers in the background? Amazing!!!

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The train station in the mountain.

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Outside the observatory. It was cold and windy!

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In the ice castle IN the mountain!!!

We explored but it was snowed in – but we wouldn’t have changed that experience for anything!  It was so cool!!!!!

After we got back down from Kleine Scheidegg, we drove to Lauterbrunnen, explored briefly at dusk, went to a pizza place (yeah, seriously) and then drove back to Basel.  This was a fabulous day trip and we took SO many gorgeous pictures.

Here are the rest of our favorites!!!!

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Looking back as we journey towards Klein Scheidegg.

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Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland. We had spent much of the day in Grindelwald and climbing Jungfrau (by cog railway), then decided to take another small mountain pass at dusk and were treated to this delight!

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This gorgeous waterfall is the first thing you see when you enter this valley. Absolutely stunning!

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If a cemetery can be pretty, this one fits the bill.

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Well, you have to have beer with pizza!

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Any European road trip must include a stop at the Autogrill. The rest stations in Germany (just like Italy) did NOT disappoint – adorable trinkets, great food options, but expensive water – you should buy it in town at the local corner store – not here – oh, and if you need to use a bathroom – bring along a Euro!

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My German isn’t that great, but the word for “exit” is kinda funny! And I feel like a 10 year old when I say it:)

Basel, Switzerland

As with many flights to Europe from the east cost of the US, ours was an overnight affair.  We departed Boston Friday evening, arrived in Munich, Germany mid morning Saturday, then flew to Basel, Switzerland – arriving early afternoon.  We flew Lufthansa as it was the best price (paid to pick our seats and for stowed luggage) and while we were a bit cramped, we had a fine flight.  Great in-flight entertainment and the service was just fine.

We arrived easily in Basel, picked up our luggage, and sought to navigate the public transportation to our hotel in the Old Town area.  This was free (it seems that all hotels in Basel offer guests a “Basel Card” that gives them free access to public transportation – buses, trams and the like) and we are pretty adventurous, so we took on the challenge.

Public transportation is big in Europe – especially the cities where parking is at a premium – it is not unlike the US, but Europeans embrace this opportunity to take the bus, ride a bike or scooter, or walk.  Finding our bus stop at the airport was easy, thanks to the clear and helpful directions from our hotel, and while we had to figure out the switching of bus lines once, it was easy and the bus literally dropped us off outside our hotel!

Our hotel was Hotel D and the location was fabulous!  I paid $149.00 per night, which for Switzerland is a deal!  Our room was small (typical for Europe) but very comfortable and quiet.  The bathroom was great as well and we were very happy.  Our hotel stay did NOT include breakfast, so we winged it each day and were very happy with that. Breakfast at Hotel D was continental style and cost 26SF (Swiss Francs) per person – um, no thanks!  Have I told you yet that Switzerland is expensive!!!

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Outside our hotel window….

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Where do you keep your liquor cold?

Our first night we roamed, explored the walk along the Rhine, got my hubby set up with LIME (the best thing EVER), scooted and walked around a small portion of the Old City and enjoyed a most fabulous al fresco dinner (Europeans eat outside all year long….with those big propane heaters and a blanket – it was awesome!).

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Warm goat cheese salad! Heaven!

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White wine, beer and pumpkin soup!

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LIMES!  You download the app, scan your ride and off you go!  We LOVE these!!!  In Switzerland it was 1 SF to unlock it then .35cents per minute.

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People….the sweets were AMAZING!

The next day, we got up and rented a car (about $100USD for the day) and drove to the Alps (about 1.45 hours away) and spent the day fulfilling a dream!!!  That post will be coming up soon – it deserves its own!

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The Rhine River at around 7:15am.  Stunning!

We wrapped up Basel with a lot more walking around, getting breakfast and lunch from one of the many local corner stores (I HIGHLY recommend this because restaurants are SUPER expensive in Switzerland) and having a picnic lunch by the river.  It was everything I wanted it to be!!!!

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Look at the detail on the soffit of this roof!! Amazing!

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Many European cities have free flowing fountains perfect for drinking! They are functional AND beautiful!

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Gorgeous post structured home.

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The “munster” in Basel.

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Another gorgeous fountain.

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(Free) public bathrooms! Gotta love the Swiss – they aren’t uptight about life!

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Look closely at the AGE of these homes.

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The detailing of this home is amazing.

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Our stash from the corner store – about 20 Swiss Francs total!

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Best bite in the city!

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Market Joy

You know, sometimes you have an opportunity to take a trip that resets your soul.  Just over Thanksgiving, I had that opportunity!

If you follow my business Facebook page, Live It Well Travel, you will have seen some of the highlights of the fabulous Christmas Market river cruise my husband and I took over Thanksgiving.  It was everything I believed it would be and more!

Let me give you and overview of our trip here and post some of my favorite pictures, then I will dive deeper into my river cruising experience, each of our destinations and then some fun facts and finds from our trip!  It promises to be a cool series to wrap up this years’ blogging adventures!

We departed the Friday before Thanksgiving and arrived in Basel, Switzerland the following day.  We got settled in our hotel, and attempted to stave off the effects of jet-lag by taking a wonderful walk around the old city of Basel.  We enjoyed a wondrous walk, an alfresco meal and a great first night’s sleep!

The next morning (Sunday) we awoke and walked to a nearby hotel where we picked up a car we had rented for the day.  We drove to the Alps and took the cog train to the highest train station in Europe!

Monday we walked around Basel some more (and Limed, too), checked out, then boarded our river cruise, the Monarch Countess.  This was our first river cruising experience and to say we loved it is an understatement!

Over the next 6 days, we visited Strasbourg, France, Frankfurt, Wertheim, Wurzburg, Bamberg and Nuremberg, Germany.  We visited Christmas Markets and wandered ancient streets.  We sipped wine on the Main River and traversed 52 locks between Basel and Nuremberg.  We met people from all over the US and made friends with so many more.  We learned some German, practiced our French and broadened our perspective.

It was splendid!  Here are few of my highlight photos!  Be on the lookout for posts to follow!

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Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland. We had spent much of the day in Grindelwald and climbing Jungfrau (by cog railway), then decided to take another small mountain pass at dusk and were treated to this delight!

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Strasbourg, France. Some of my new friends – I made a LOT of feathered friends on this trip!!!

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Our home for the week docked in Frankfurt. This is the beautiful Monarch Countess.

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Christmas Market at Frankfurt, Germany.

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An evening toast to the good life. We are standing on the Old Stone Bridge in Wurzburg, Germany, marveling at the fortification in the background and enjoying a common daily activity.

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Early morning sun on the Main River between Wurzburg and Bamberg.

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Bamberg, Germany. Photo taken of one of the seven hills that make up the city. The colors are breathtaking!

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Bamberg, Germany

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Main Christmas Market, Nuremberg, Germany.

 

Dole

One of the cool places we visited during our trip to Hawai’i was the Dole Plantation.  The grounds of this beautiful farm were luscious, well manicured and a delight to enjoy for a few hours.  There was a FABULOUS gift shop with all manner of hand-made, authentic Hawai’ian gifts as well as the “cheap” touristy baubles you may expect to find.  And of course – there was DOLE WHIP!!!!!

At the Plantation, one can get lost in the “World’s Largest Maze” – this was gorgeous – and the maze was made out of hibiscus plants!!  Also, you can tour the Dole Plantation botanical gardens (which we did not do in the interest of keeping the toddlers with us entertained) and you can also take a 22 minute train ride tour of the plantation.  Char and I did the maze (again, no toddlers – we would probably still be searching for them) and we all did the train ride!

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Such beautiful gardens….and Char and Sable make it even more beautiful!

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This maze was gorgeous!!!

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This lei gets around!!!

The beautiful red soil of inland O’ahu seems perfect for growing not only pineapples, but also sugar cane, bananas, veggies of all sorts and fruit!  In fact, I am not sure what wouldn’t grow there!!!  The train tour highlighted many of these plants and told the story of the Dole Plantation as well as the rich history of cultivation on the island.  It was fun and informative!

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This old machinery was pretty cool looking!

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Banana groves

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Check out that gorgeous soil!!!

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Sable on the train wearing her fancy Hawai’ian gear!

Something else I noticed a lot of on the island as a whole and certainly at the Dole Plantation, was the initiative to use green energy – Dole has a small solar farm on the Plantation and I would guestimate that somewhere between 20-40% of the homes on the island also use solar energy.  I mean – why wouldn’t you????  Every home in the military communities near where my sister lives have solar arrays and businesses do as well.  I haven’t had a chance to research the incentives or company practices for solar, but I love seeing communities embrace the advantages of green energy!

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Visiting the Dole Plantation was super fun day and a stop in O’ahu that I would certainly recommend for anyone!  It was easy going, informative, entertaining and worth the money for the tours we took!  I think when my family returns in 2021, we will definitely go back to the Dole Plantation!!!

 

Hanauma Bay

As I ventured around the island of O’ahu, I could easily see how import the preservation initiative is there in Hawai’i.  There is definitely a lot of development, but the afterthought of that development is on the minds of Hawai’ians and those who visit.  The conservation effort and protection of the ‘aina, or land, is viewed as a matter of Hawai’ian kuleana (responsibility and privilege) and I wanted to highlight one of the efforts I saw on this short trip.

We visited the amazing Hanauma Bay State Park.  This bay has a long, beautiful history that includes use by native fisherman to the recreation of kings.  In the mid 1900s, this location gained fame as a fabulous snorkeling area due to its unique horseshoe bay shape and volcanic rock coral beds.  This area is home to species of fish that are only found in this sweet little bay.  By the early 1990s, efforts to “save” this bay from over exposure to humans and maintain the rarity of its ecosystem spurred a conservation effort whose results are seen today.

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The snorkeling here is nothing short of amazing!  I saw more species of fish here than I have anywhere else!  And we even saw an octopus that was beyond amazing!!!!  I tried to get a video, but my phone in a water-safe bag just didn’t do the trick as well as I would have liked!!!!  Our video isn’t the best quality, but you can see the really awesome octopus we saw!  Thanks to my videographer, Char!

One of the fabulous initiatives at the Hanauma Bay State Park is the request that those who enjoy the park’s gorgeous swimming area adhere to the upcoming Hawai’ian Reef Safe sunscreen law that will take effect January 1st, 2021.  Hawai’i is the first state in the US to ban the sale of sunscreens containing the coral-harming chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate.  With my own reef safe sunscreen in hand, I enjoyed the beautiful snorkeling in this gift from mother nature!!

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There are so many ways we can help maintain the glories of this earth and still enjoy them.  Using Reef Safe Sunscreen is an easy choice to make.  Also, making sure we pack out what we pack in, we didn’t feed the fish (although I wanted to) and we did not step on or remove any coral from this reef.  Here are a few more pictures from Hanauma Bay.  I look forward to returning here with the rest of my family and enjoy once again the majesty of this gorgeous place!

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A Hui Hou

If you know me, have read this blog or follow my Facebook business page, you KNOW that I am a huge Disney fan!  I won’t bore you with the particulars, but let’s just say I take every opportunity available to do anything remotely Disney related!  And when I found out I was going to be able to visit my sister in Hawai’i, I immediately found out how we could make a visit to Disney’s Aulani a reality!

For three amazing days and two fabulous nights, we felt like queens on vacation – gorgeous beaches, fabulous pools, no shortage of activities and sunsets beyond compare.  We enjoyed meeting characters, the lazy river, snorkeling and a sense of calm and rejuvenation – which by itself was miraculous while traveling with two toddlers!!!

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then I will seriously go over the recommended blog parameters.  I kept taking so many – because it is SO beautiful!!!!  I would love to share with you my favorite pictures from Aulani – descriptions in the captions.

I love how Disney gently weaves the history, culture and Hawai’ian experience throughout this incredible resort – from the shave ice stations, to Dole whip…..yes, mom – DOLE WHIP, to the exposure of Hawai’ian words and folklore into the very space surrounding guests.  As with all my experiences with Disney so far, I feel enveloped in the theme of Aulani and have to say A Hui Hou…..until we meet again!

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Koi Pond with the lobby in the background

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Main pool at Aulani

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View from the 11th floor towards the garden/pool area

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Lagoon 1 – Aulani’s beach area – Fabulous snorkeling and if you are staying at Aulani, there are free beach toys, boogie boards and beach chairs! Paddle boards and snorkel gear for rent.

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View from one of our balconies – and Char’s first shave ice! AND the 5 beautiful leis we received at check in!

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You know you’re a tourist in Hawai’i if you have leis in your fridge! They were just too beautiful not to keep!

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Enjoying the lazy river!

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Sunset from the infinity pool.

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Sunset looking over the beach

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#thisleigetsaround

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Char playing her Ukulele at sunset…so perfectly cliche!!!

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Stunning sunset off Sunset Point

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Sunset Perfection!!!

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My plate loaded up for our character breakfast.

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OK – this is stinkin’ adorable….half a banana swimming in a bucket of blueberries eating a goldfish!!!

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All us girls with Mickey – Look at the smiles…THIS is what making memories is all about!!!

 

 

 

Heaven on Horseback

Today (Monday), was a very special day for us!  Today, the “big girls” got to hang out!  Char and my sister, Becky and I, got to spend most of the day together – we did some shopping for our Aulani trip and then headed across the island to take a dip and go for a horseback ride.  It was a fabulous day!!!

We decided to stop for a swim before we took our ride and stopped at a beach at Kane’ohe Bay called Chinaman’s Hat (named for the distinctive basalt rock feature in the bay).  We took a dip, got some great photos and Char climbed some trees!

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Afterwards, we headed across the street to Kualoa Ranch for our 2 hour horseback ride.  The Kualoa Ranch is UBER famous for the beautiful setting and stunning views!  You would recognize this place as the setting for hundreds of small and big screen events – Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, Lost, Tour of Duty, 50 First Dates, Godzilla, Hawai’i 5-0….and so many more!

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I can’t even tell you how many pictures I took!  And with geography like this, you can’t go wrong!  I will share my favorites with you – but if you ever come to O’ahu, check out the Kualoa Ranch – they not only have horseback riding, zip lines, ATV tours, Jurassic tours on a cool bus and so much more, BUT this is a working cattle and horse ranch that has been in the same family for 8 generations.  They are eco-friendly and on the National Register of Historic Places.  A definite MUST SEE!!!  When we come back here in 2021 we will absolutely come back to Kualoa Ranch!  Oh, and if you’re curious – my horse’s name is Reckless (said to be named after a general and not his demeanor), Becky rode Hollywood and Char’s horse is named Mercury.

PS – the lighting in some of these photos is just stunning!  All mother nature and camera phone – you can’t fake beauty like this!

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First Rays of Sun

This morning (Sunday), Charlotte and I took advantage of the fact that our bodies are still on East Coast time and decided to watch the sunrise somewhere cool!  I did some digging and found that the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail has some rave reviews, not only for the hike, but also for the views.

We got up at 4:15am Honolulu time and headed out shortly afterwards.  We set our GPS (because I am really lost around here still) and off we went with flashlights, water and snacks.  Along the way, we stopped at a “scenic area” and caught a gorgeous glimpse of the moon getting ready to set.  It was so bright – no filters – just bright moon light!

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We arrived at the trail head entrance but the gate was still locked, so we, along with tons of other people venturing out to see the sunrise, headed around the gate on foot and began our trek.  It was about 5:30am and it was still very dark – but we kept our flashlights off most of the way to enjoy the feel of the place.

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About halfway, we started to see the first rays of sun.  It was a great trail, traveled so much that it was paved some time ago to make the trek more accessible, but still, we were huffing and puffing our way up the hill and enjoyed the occasional stop to take a picture (catch our breath).

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We made it to the top (we were the first ones there) around 6:10am, did a video and waited until sunrise – 6:26am.  The sky lighting gradually was really pretty and peaceful and it was sweet to share this with Charlotte.

We watched not only the sunrise, but also waves of rain move across the ocean towards the land.  The showers missed us but on the other side of the point, we were treated to not only stunning vistas, but also the tail end of a rainbow.  How pretty!!!

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Our journey back down was like a gift – our way up was mostly dark and we really could only see the area immediately surrounding the path, but the journey down revealed all that we had missed.  It was rather poetic – when our mind is focused on a singular task, we are often blinded to what is around us.  Sometimes it is only after the goal is accomplished do we take the time to look around and marvel at what we missed!

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This was a great way to spend an early morning and I encourage everyone who visits to do this in some way – either take the hike or find an easterly facing beach and catch the first rays of sun.  Every day is a new opportunity to be a better version of you; to love people more; to cherish others more; to look for the beauty you passed by while focused on your goal.  Don’t miss out!

Hawaiian Air

Back in April of this year, Hawaiian Air launched nonstop flights between Honolulu and Boston, which it says is “the longest regularly scheduled route in US history”.

I took this flight on Friday from Boston to Honolulu and from gate to gate, the trip was about 11.5 hours.  Honolulu to Boston is about 10 hours – thank you jet stream!
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This flight takes place on an Airbus330, which is a plane that has eight seats across – 2 – 4 – 2, in the main cabin.  As much as I would have LOVED the full reclining seats of first class, a $3000+ plane ticket just wasn’t in the budget!
So, I like to fly and I have flown budget airlines and big carriers; huge double deckers and twin engine turbo props; 20 minute puddle jumpers and up until now, my longest single flight was 6 hours – I am not picky – I really just want a safe, non-smelly plane.  Of course I did my research and found this plane and airline to be just what I expected – efficient, well appointed (lots of in-flight entertainment on seat-back TVs – no internet – which was tough to swallow with such a long flight – but I kept busy), kind and courteous attendants and a delightful journey!  Oh and not smelly!!!  The plane actually smelled like hibiscus – it might have been my imagination but it smelled like Disney’s Polynesian Resort to me!
My daughter and I were positioned in row 30, seats A and B – this is the row directly in front of the mid-plane bathrooms, and while some might not like this because of congestion with people waiting for the bathroom, we actually LOVED it – it was roomy, the seats DID recline and we didn’t have anyone behind us!  I would sit there again in a heartbeat!
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We were served two complimentary in-flight meals – meals with a distinctly Hawaiian flare – a noodle dish with a guava centered cookie for the first meal and an amazing goat cheese and seasoned roasted pepper panini sandwich for the second meal.  Complimentary snacks included a delicious pineapple oat breakfast bar cookie, chocolate covered macadamia nuts and an assortment of crackers or trail mix type options.  Beverages came around twice with meals and every hour, an attendant came around to refill everyone’s water cup to maintain hydration – super important for any flight – especially such a long one!  Other snacks were available at an additional cost – we got some Hawai’ian popcorn –
I have to admit this was probably one of the best flights I have every taken – the thought of spending so long in one single seat (with stand up breaks) was daunting, but when you look at the price tag (I got my ticket, round trip, nonstop for just under $700) and the other options of stops in LA, for example, for MORE MONEY – (WHAT????  Who would choose that?) you can’t go wrong!
My family of 4 has plans to visit again in June of 2021 – after my son graduates, to see my sister and her family.  We will hopefully stay at Disney’s Aulani for a few nights and we have planned a cruise on Norwegian’s Pride of America (with group space held if anyone wants to join in!!) to see the glory of the Hawaiian Islands.  We will definitively be taking advantage of Hawaiian Air’s nonstop Boston to Honolulu flight!!!

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

If you are not one of those people who purchase Christmas presents all year long, October is the month you start to think about what you are getting those you care about for Christmas.

A few years ago, in about October, I started re-thinking my approach to gift giving.  I was thinking back to gifts I had been given as a child – either for Christmas or for my birthday.  I knew I got gifts – I saw pictures of me at Christmastime or my birthday opening presents, but my own personal memories of what I got during those special times is faded.

I DO remember ONE singular gift I received as a child – I remember waking up on the morning of my 10th birthday to find staring at me an adorable Cabbage Patch Kid.  Her name was Diana Mindy and I was SO excited to get her!!!!  But she is the only gift I can actually ever pinpoint.  Isn’t that strange?  What do you remember getting as a child?  I remember gifts I DID NOT get as a child – I wanted an Easy Bake Oven and a Lightbright but never got those.

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This is Diana Mindy – still looking good after all these years!

 

Do you know what I have specific and a multitude of memories of?  Things I DID with my family – learning to ski with my dad; going camping; going on road trips with my mom; going to Disney with my mom; going to Aruba with my mom as a senior in high school.  I could tell you a handful of details about each and every one of those experiences, and THAT is what changed my mindset about gift giving.

Experiences change our brain.  Encountering NEW situations and taking on new adventures rewires us, renews us, re-entwines us with our loved ones.  It reconnects us to ourselves, to each other and to this life.  What better gift is there?

The giving of experiences doesn’t have to be a big trip somewhere…although it could be!  Last year we gave our children a short trip to Quebec (we live within driving distance and went between Christmas and New Years last year), a concert experience, season’s passes to a local water park, a  2-week high adventure Boy Scout summer camp for my son and my daughter and I took a super cheap flight to Paris in January and spent 4 nights in an AirBnB and explored the city.  It was the BEST Christmas we have had in a long time!!!  We still talk about every single one of those adventures and will continue to do so.

Life is short.  Take the trip.  See the concert.  Go to the show.  Get the pass.  Bypass the mountain of gifts that get forgotten by January 15th and give the gift that keeps on giving…memories to last a lifetime!  Don’t miss out!

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I didn’t know she stuck her tongue out until I looked at the pictures that night!!! Notre Dame in the background.

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Lined up for the toboggan ride! Quebec City, Quebec.

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My daughter and her BFF meeting their favorite musician, Jon Foreman from Switchfoot – he signed my daughter’s Ukulele!

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Fabulous concerts at Soul Fest 2019!