On Tour: Hawaii Cruise & Bay Area

If MTV’s True Life were still around, my dad would end up on there for his love of cruise ships. Boomers and cruise ships, name a more iconic duo. My dad will plan cruises in advance and sometimes I join him on cruises. Originally the plan was to go on a cruise that goes to California and Mexico, but for some reason that cruise was cancelled and so my dad went back to the drawing board and surprised us with something even better. He said hold onto your hats because we’re going to Hawaii. I couldn’t believe it, but yes, we were really going to Hawaii, and the best part is my husband, Eoin is invited too. I love travelling with Eoin and I can officially say I’ve been all over the world with him, travelling to Australia and America with him in the past, and now Hawaii. All that’s missing is a trip to Japan… one day!

Like any other millennial, I grew up watching Lilo and Stitch and since then I was fascinated with Hawaii. My grandfather’s best friend lived in Hawaii and my grandparents would go there every year and I was always so jealous. My grandpa’s best friend always asked my parents to visit him in Honolulu, but we never got around to it because it really is an overseas flight, therefore it’s expensive and a pain in the butt to travel such a long distance (especially with kids). Growing up I watched Rocket Power, which was at the time one of my favourite Nicktoons of all time. One of the main characters in the show, Tito, is from Hawaii and would always share ancient Hawaiian sayings with the kids. And of course, the famous Hawaiian sport of surfing is prominently featured in the show and I was fascinated with it – unfortunately, I cannot surf because I am uncoordinated with bad knees and ankles. But i can watch, right? While we’re still on the Nickelodeon topic, how can we forget the Hawaiian influence in the Spongebob production music? I always loved the music from that show.

Now let’s talk about Hawaii’s connections to classic rock. The first rock and roll thing you’ll associate with Hawaii is Elvis Presley’s famous Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite concert from 1973. It was the first live satellite broadcast to feature a single performer. The King also made three movies in the 60s that took place in Hawaii: Blue Hawaii, Girls! Girls! Girls!, and Paradise, Hawaiian Style. While they didn’t perform the original theme song, one of the most famous Ventures instrumentals is a version of the Hawaii Five-O theme – it peaked at #4 on the Billboard Charts in 1969. Hawaii Five-O, which originally ran from 1968-1980, was the longest-running American police drama and the last fictional American primetime show of the 60s to be cancelled, truly the end of an era. Iranian born Cyrus Faryar grew up in Hawaii and started the first beat coffeeshop in Honolulu. Larry Ramos of The New Christy Minstrels and The Association was born and raised in Hawaii, later moving to the mainland to further his music career. James Lowe of The Electric Prunes lived in Hawaii as a teenager and got into the local music there. As well, a lot of classic rock bands would take side trips to Hawaii when flying from Australia or Asia to the US. Fleetwood Mac members John McVie and Mick Fleetwood loved Hawaii so much they bought homes there. John McVie has since sold his home for $5.4 million, but Mick Fleetwood still has a home in Maui and even has a shop there called Mick’s House of Fleetwood (sadly I didn’t get a picture of it, but I saw it!) and he owns a restaurant called Fleetwood’s on Front Street in Lahaina (sadly didn’t get a picture of it, and there’s not much for vegetarians – so forget about vegan options). There are some classic rock songs that mention or reference Hawaii, which you can find in the playlist below:

Now, let’s talk about the trip itself. Lots of beautiful pictures ahead and as always, crazy stories because no family trip is normal because I’m not normal and my family aren’t normal. First, we must start in our departure point, Vancouver!

Vancouver city skyline view from the cruise ship

Vancouver

Vancouver is a city I’ve visited a long time ago and only for a brief time because like this time, we were going on a cruise out of there, but that time was to Alaska. The city has changed a lot since then and now that I’m in my late 20s and not a teenager, I have more of an appreciation of what I’m seeing on my travels, not that I didn’t appreciate it then, but I love travelling even more the older I get.

The journey to Vancouver was a very long one since it’s not just a transatlantic flight, but also transcontinental, so it was a very long day of flying. We flew on Westjet, whose hub is in Calgary, so we had to change planes. Interestingly enough, the flight wasn’t as long as I would have thought because Ireland is really far up north, and to get to Europe, flights will fly pretty far north, in this case, we flew over Greenland and Nunavut. Sadly we couldn’t see anything and we were so high up in the air that what would there be to see, clouds? As a kid, I’d never flown transatlantic or transpacific and I expected you to be able to look out the window and see the ocean, and that isn’t the reality for much of the flight because of the timing of the flights and because of the clouds. Flying over land is way cooler, in my opinion and it was especially cool.

Immigration was very easy to get through and we didn’t really have any questions asked because the whole process is pretty much automated through kiosks that take your picture (which always looks like a mugshot for drink driving – I swear I didn’t fly this plane drunk!). Reminds me of when Shrek and Donkey arrive in Duloc and get their picture taken by that singing information booth. As well, I was happy with the public transport from the Vancouver airport to the city centre – just take the SkyTrain and you’re there. No need for a taxi. Much better than what I’m used to in Ireland – infrequent buses and long trips (I’m blaming Big Taxi and Big Automobile). Really feels like I live in the past and I’m easily impressed by actually good public transport, especially direct trains from the airport to the city centre. Here are some pictures of the city centre:

We arrived to our hotel which was walking distance from the port and the historic neighbourhood of Gastown, the first neighbourhood in what is now known as Vancouver. Don’t forget the steam clock… “I’m the last of the good old fashioned steam powered… clocks!” – had to get that reference in there. Definitely a must-see if you visit. Since we were on a low budget, we didn’t want to venture too far afield so we looked for nearby vegan restaurants and we chose a place called MeeT in Gastown – a 100% vegan chain that focuses on comfort food. It was so hard to make up our mind on what we wanted to eat, that’s how good the menu was, but we settled on splitting a stir fry bowl and of course since were in Canada, poutine. The Philly Cheesesteak poutine was our favourite! My husband is a huge fan of chips with lots of toppings so naturally he loved it.

Afterwards, we made a stop at a dispensary because one of the best things about Canada is weed is legal nationwide. The nationwide bit is key here. Because it’s federally legal, you can purchase weed with a credit or debit card. Yes, even a foreign one! Good news for fellow stoner tourists. Legalising it nationwide in one fell swoop also has its benefits, it cripples the black market. The dispensaries are very clean looking like an Apple Store with displays of edibles, pre-rolled joints, vapes, and flowers. Goes to show you that weed isn’t sketchy at all. It’s normalised, as it ought to be. Just be careful when taking edibles because they take a bit of time to kick in and you get really really high from them. One second you’re like “these edibles ain’t shit” and then you’re like “whoa look at all the colours, man!”.

Europe, and rest of the world, tick-tock! A bitch has chronic pain, crippling anxiety, and insomnia (all of which are conditions that do not qualify for medical cannabis because the government are dumdums) and that bitch is me and I don’t want to risk being deported and unable to travel because you’re still buying into reefer madness. The absurdity of making nature illegal. Imagine if they made coffee or chocolate illegal. Something to ponder when your head hits the pillow at night, as my dad would say.

Anyway, the second day we only had a little bit of time until we had to get on the cruise ship, so Eoin and I walked around the area around Canada Place and to Gastown again to take pictures during the day. The view from the cruise ship was amazing, but we did take off late, but honestly it was cool to get pictures of the sunset and the city skyline at night. Victoria is just a short distance away so no big deal.

View of Hotel Fairmont Empress in Downtown Victoria, BC Canada

Victoria

This was a city that really impressed me. I wasn’t expecting much from Victoria, but I was really glad the cruise ship stopped here. As much as I prefer to go to one place and see it in depth rather than go on a cruise, one of the benefits of cruise ships is I get to travel to places that I wouldn’t have otherwise considered visiting and I often end up pleasantly surprised.

Victoria is the capital of the province of British Columbia and the city proper has a population of over 90,000 people, but the metro area has over 300,000 people, so it’s bigger than I thought. True to its name, European settlement here began in the Victorian Era with the trading post being set up on this city on the southern tip of Vancouver. The city was named after Queen Victoria and still keeps its colonial name even over 160 years later. We always must keep in mind that Indigenous people were in all these places in the Americas, Caribbean, and Pacific Islands first. Two websites to learn about Indigenous land in the US and Canada are whose.land and native-land.ca, the latter website even has information about Indigenous tribes of the Caribbean and South American.

Everyone except my dad decided to walk around Victoria independently. My dad loves those hop on hop off buses, but the rest of us wanted to get a workout in and walk. And so we walked to the Mile 0 marker, which marks the start of the over 8,000 km long Trans-Canada Highway. The highway runs all the way east to St John’s in Newfoundland. Imagine how epic of a road trip that would be! From there, we walked to Beacon Hill Park, where there’s a Canadian flag on this really tall flagpole and the world’s tallest free-standing totem pole at 127 feet tall. From there, we walked through the park and went to this petting zoo called the Beacon Hill Children’s Farm that had all kinds of animals: budgies, chicken, alpaca, pigs, goats, and horses. Keep in mind that this attraction is only open in the spring, summer, and the beginning of autumn. It closes for the cold weather.

Next, we walked around downtown just browsing the shops, but we didn’t buy anything… except weed. Gotta have my edibles, but to comply with the law I took the edibles before getting on the cruise ship. Afterwards, we walked to Market Square and we saw a vegan restaurant called Green Cuisine. Eoin really wanted to go and I had second thoughts, but he made a good point. Let’s try some local food. Even if cruise ship food is good, certainly it’s not as good as food you get locally in port. The cafeteria-style restaurant reminded me a lot of this one vegetarian restaurant I used to go to in Dublin called Cornucopia. There’s a wide variety of food available from healthy plant based food to comfort food like pizza and ice cream, and even better everything’s vegan! This was easily one of the best meals I had during the trip, easily an A+. I got lucky and got really fresh pizza, a couple pieces of falafel with tahini, and some tofu.

This was the last time we’d see land for quite a few days because we’ve got an ocean crossing to do.

The cruise ship… or five sea days in a row!

A cruise with an ocean crossing is not for the novice cruiser. If you get seasick easily, you will be miserable on this cruise because it’s non-stop rocking for five days, and no not the good kind of rocking. Sorry, dad humour. This was my first time doing an ocean crossing and I was expecting the sea days to be nice and sunny, meaning plenty of time to veg out by the pool and to be honest, that couldn’t be further from the truth. We were lucky enough to get upgraded to a balcony because they were remodelling our original stateroom, no complaints there! But we sadly didn’t get to use it much because during the sea days the weather was pretty much the same as Ireland. Almost like I brought the Irish weather with me! The good news is there’s plenty of indoor activities on this cruise ship, the Royal Caribbean Quantum of the Seas. If you read my last travel blog post about the Eastern Mediterranean cruise, you’ll remember that the cruise ship was the Odyssey of the Seas, the younger sister ship of the Quantum – both are part of the Quantum class of cruise ships.

They had indoor pools, laser tag, bumper cars, a skydiving simulator, and sports. As well, a lot of entertainment with entertainers being brought on, including Hawaiian/Polynesian dancers – a luau of sorts! I preferred the entertainment on this ship compared to the other one because they finally had comedy! One of my favourite parts of cruise ships are the comedy shows and honestly, I laugh at everything and my sense of humour goes in all different directions. In this case, most of the passengers are anglophones with Americans and Canadians making up most of the cruisers, with some British and Australians in the mix too. Royal Caribbean really do pay attention to the demographics of the passengers and cater to them by tailoring the entertainment and activities.

One other unique thing I noticed on this cruise that I never saw on other cruises I’ve been on is educational talks. They brought in two speakers, one who talked about nuclear technology, the military, spies, the cold war, and the space race (wow that’s a lot of topics!) and another who talked all about the flora and fauna of Hawaii. I really enjoyed the talks about Hawaiian plants and animals because whenever you go to a new place, you’re always like huh I wonder what kind of birds and flowers are those.

Now for the constructive criticism about the activities and entertainment. While I enjoyed those talks, I would have liked one on the history of Hawaii, especially focusing on the indigenous people of Hawaii and the effects of colonisation. There’s a lot of controversy about travelling to Hawaii, especially in this day and age where every summer is a record breaking scorcher, the sea levels rise, and resources are getting scarce and expensive. If you’re going to travel to Hawaii (or anywhere for that matter), it’s important to respect the land and the people and have an understanding of the history and culture of the place you’re visiting. Don’t litter, take only pictures, leave only footprints (according to Hawaiian tradition, it’s considered bad luck to take any rocks – you will be cursed if you take any rocks), be sustainable with your consumption, go to local restaurants, buy from locally owned shops, respect the culture, keep your distance from the wildlife. It should be common sense, but there are so many idiot tourists.

Moving onto food, I almost found that this cruise ship was worse for labelling what’s vegan or vegetarian than the Mediterranean cruise. I’m not sure if it’s because in Europe there’s more regulations regarding that or maybe there’s more vegetarian cruisers in Europe. Fewer things were labelled as vegetarian or vegan on the buffet line, so that was always a challenge. Since I have anxiety, I always have trouble speaking up for myself and my needs. Like yes, I know that in hospitality the goal is to make guests happy, but it doesn’t make me less anxious about asking for special vegan meals. Those kitchens are busy and the last thing they need is one of the few vegans on the ship begging for a special meal. On the other hand, this ship was more accommodating for me than the last ship and on a lot of days at the buffet I got special meals, including one really good noodle dish that made the next table be like “I want that too!”. My parents learnt from the last cruise to request Indian and Filipino dishes because most of the kitchen staff are from those countries and therefore would know how to cook those dishes best. So for a lot of the dinners, we got Indian and Filipino food. I’ve always preferred Asian cuisines over Western cuisines, so I was happy with that. So if you like those cuisines, special request it!

At least with so many sea days, I got a lot of sleep and I needed that energy for the rest of the trip because it’s going to be action packed day after day in Hawaii and California.

Maui… Or Road to Hana speedrun

Because on the cruise I was early to bed and early to rise and I was lucky enough to catch the cruise ship getting closer to Maui and I got some great photos of the sunrise.

Maui sunrise

I’m not kidding about that title though. You could really spend days exploring the Road to Hana and all of Maui, but because our time here was only 2 days we had to prioritise and be efficient with our time. Since the cruise ship excursions were really expensive, my family decided to rent a car and see the island on our own. Pros? Save money and see things at our own pace. Cons? We don’t have a tour guide providing us valuable information and it’s up to us to make sure we get back to the cruise ship on time. However, my brother was very thorough with his research on travelling to Hawaii and he came across an app called Shaka Guide, which has a selection of self-guided GPS guided tours of Hawaii that work even if you don’t have signal (will be very handy on the Road to Hana, where you’re not going to get signal) that you can purchase. It’s something I’ve never heard of before or considered, mostly because I’m a cheapskate and I don’t even have a driving licence. But as soon as the guided tour started playing, I was really impressed with its professional production and the narrator’s presence, so to speak. It felt like the guy was really in the car with us. He gives really good turn by turn directions and gives a lot of great information about the island with lots of stories and historical tidbits. The other great thing about the Shaka Guide is that they do the hard work for you, finding the best places to stop. Now it’s in your hands, pick what you want to see, you really can’t go wrong with any of their suggestions.

The first day, we drove around the west side of the island, passing by resorts, and seeing some blowholes, beaches, and cliffs. Eoin and I had lunch at a vegan restaurant called A’a Roots, which calls itself the only 100% vegan health cafe in Maui. One thing to expect in Hawaii is everything’s pricey because it’s an island. Now being on an island is not new to me since I live on one, but Ireland isn’t anywhere close to remote as Hawaii. For a few moments on the cruise I thought about Castaway and funny enough that movie was on the TV. Not the best choice lol, reminds me of when I was on the cruise to Alaska and they played, I kid you not, The Titanic. Anyway, that was one thing that reminded me a lot of Australia, high prices for everything. I kept being reminded of Australia because of how far away it is from home, the wildlife and plants being so unique, the landscapes having a lot of similarities, and it seems like everything’s trying to kill you. Make sure not to get too close to the edges of the cliffs and those blowholes! And be careful at the beach because those waves can pull you right in.

Driving in Maui is also not for the anxious or novice driver as I’ll discuss in the next paragraph all about the Road to Hana.

I love a good road trip and America has the best road trips in my humble opinion and one of the nicest drives in the country is the Road to Hana, a must if you’re going to Maui. However, this is a challenge when you’re going to Hawaii on a cruise ship, simply because you have a limited amount of time and if you miss your cruise ship, you’re screwed and have to pay out the nose for a flight or try to see if you can get on a ferry. Not good. And this is why a lot of people will just opt for an excursion through the cruise ship. You’re guaranteed to make it back onto the ship, even if the tour is late. So to get the maximum amount of time on the Road to Hana, we had to get up bright and early and get the first tender to port to pick up the car. Unfortunately, tenders do not run overnight, so keep that in mind if you choose to go on this cruise with this itinerary.

Thanks to Shaka Guide, highlights on the Road to Hana were pointed out and there were a lot to choose from, but to be honest if you’re doing the Road to Hana speedrun like us, you can’t see everything. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t see everything. Just like when people visit the USA thinking they can see the whole country in a month, it’s not a realistic expectation. Think about what you want to see and pick the highlights, on the bright side, if you’re coming back, you have things to see next time. Only locals get to see everything, if that, to keep it in perspective. Enjoy the banana bread, coconut treats, rainbow eucalyptus trees, waterfalls, cliffs, caves, black sand beaches, mountains, and nature. Since the Road to Hana has few towns, that means there won’t be a lot of places to eat, so make sure to have a packed lunch and snacks in your car. In our case, we didn’t have lunch because we wanted to maximise our time on the Road to Hana and meals can be quite time consuming so my fuel was bananas and these delicious gluten free vegan coconut cookies by Emmy’s Organics. I also had a vegan coconut ice cream from Coconut Glen’s. Now because the Road to Hana is so remote, that means if you’re driving at night (be careful! it’s not well lit!), you can see so many stars. Hawaii is famous for stargazing and astronomers love it there!

One important thing to know is while you can see a lot of things without a reservation, you will need to book your visit to Wai’ānapanapa State Park in advance. It is not possible to make a same day reservation to visit the black sand beach there. It’s absolutely beautiful and you need to check out the cave, beach, and if you’re lucky, you might see a monk seal. We did and apparently that’s a sign of good luck. Remember to keep your distance from the seals, since they are a protected species in Hawaii and you can get in big trouble or even put yourself and the seal in harm’s way if you get too close.

After our visit to Wai’ānapanapa State Park, we made our way to a waterfall where you were allowed to go swimming. One of the most stunning sights was lying on my back floating and seeing the waterfall from that angle, wish I had a GoPro, but it’s an image I’ll never forget! I felt so serene. Keep in mind that swimming under a waterfall is dangerous, so keep an eye on your surroundings when you go swimming and only swim if you feel confident in your abilities. Make sure there are other people around because there are no lifeguards. When travelling, safety always comes first.

The reason my brother and I decided to jump in the water is because our next stop was the highlight of the Road to Hana, Haleakalā National Park, which you honestly could spend days visiting. We all wanted to go to the summit area of Haleakalā, but we didn’t have enough time. There’s so much to see in Maui and you’d really need a week to appreciate it. Still, we loved what we saw at Haleakalā and we hiked for a couple hours there. There’s a beautiful waterfall. My knees were hurting after walking all of it, but the sights made it worth it.

We decided to make one last stop at Waioka Pond (Venus Pool) since my hair was already wet from swimming under a waterfall. It took a bit of walking through a field and climbing down some rocks, but it was worth it, even for a 15 minute swim. The place was stunning too! But all things must come to an end because we have a cruise ship to catch. Now there’s the rub… Crazy story ahead!

On this itinerary we docked overnight in both Lahaina and Honolulu, but in Lahaina since the port isn’t suited to big cruise ships like the Quantum of the Seas, we had to take tender boats, like we did in Santorini. And with tenders, it’s even more crucial to be on time because the last cruise ship-bound tender leaves port at a certain time before the ship leaves port and if you don’t make that tender, you miss the ship. Much easier when the ship is docked and you can walk on and off and not have to depend on transportation. When you’re having fun, time flies and you lose track of time and as Eoin and I were taking photos, my brother was shouting at us, “We gotta go! We’re going to miss the ship!” I have had anxiety for ¾ of my life and I was freaking out. Here I am stuck in the Venus Pool and I have to climb up these rocks (my poor knees!), run through a field (I was wearing my sports corset so you can imagine that increased the difficulty), and hop the fence in order to get to the car and then my dad has to hightail it back to Lahaina so he can clean and return the rental car and make it back to the cruise ship. Had we left any later, we would almost certainly missed the ship. Keep in mind, here we are in rural Hawaii, no motorway, it’s poorly lit and dangerous to drive at night. Something could have gone even worse for us. We were lucky to make the ship, let alone make it back alive. The Road to Hana has over 600 curves and a lot of the driving is along a cliff and there are limited barriers so a car accident can be deadly. Talk about Dead Man’s Curve! If you are not a confident driver, just get a guided tour. It’ll be much easier and less stressful for you.

While driving back, my dad’s eyes were laser focused on the road and the rest of us were laser focused on the ETA. Luckily the ETA showed we would make it just in time for one of the last tenders, but there was not much wiggle room in cases of traffic, or heavens forbid an emergency. At first things seemed to be going well and then suddenly, we ran into a bit of a traffic jam caused by a driver who was driving way too slowly and therefore slowing down everyone behind them. Oh great, we’re going to miss the cruise ship because of the idiot in the Chrysler 300 who won’t pull over and let the cars behind them pass. Granted, there are limited places to pull over, but they missed opportunities to do so. I can’t tell if they were an inconsiderate jerk or an anxious driver. A couple times there, my mum and my brother opened the window and shouted at the driver. At some point, they turned or let people pass, can’t remember, and we were back on track to just about make it back on the ship. And once we were back on the motorway we all breathed a sigh of relief and it was smooth sailing from there.

There was no time to stop anywhere except the petrol station in Lahaina to fuel up and clean the car. When you’re travelling on the Road to Hana, your car is likely to get some dirt on it and because this is a rental car from Turo, the owner expected it to be sparkling clean. Since we were in a hurry, we all popped out of the car and worked away like a NASCAR pit crew. My dad and my brother dropped me, my mum, and Eoin off at the port where you get the tender so they could drop off the car. We made it on the second to last tender. The owner of the car was an absolute gem and dropped my dad and my brother off where the tender departs so they don’t have to run like track stars to have a chance of making it. My dad and my brother made it on the very last tender boat, the last two passengers to get back on the ship. What a crazy story!

Since the buffet and main dining room were closed, we just got pizza at the 24 hour pizza restaurant on board the ship. Luckily the sauce and dough are vegan and they can make a vegan pizza on request, so I wasn’t completely stuck. I would say the pizza is mid-tier as far as quality. I wish they had vegan cheese substitutes available since there are so many out there now, but I’m guessing there aren’t enough vegan cruisers. If you’re a vegan cruiser, say hello in the comments section below so I don’t feel alone! 🙂

Anyway, time to say goodbye to Maui and hello to the next island, Oahu!

Oahu: Not just Honolulu!

A lot of people make the mistake of calling the entire island Honolulu. Wrong! The island is called Oahu and is also known as The Gathering Place. One thing I noticed very quickly as I looked out the window is that Honolulu is a whole different world from Maui. It’s a whole city with lots of tall buildings. The city itself reminded me a bit of Miami or Tel Aviv, but with mountains in the background. Another thing I noticed is that the demographics are quite different. On Maui, it’s a bit more mixed – no majority ethnicity, almost a pretty even split population of Asians, whites, and mixed people with Native Hawaiians making up around 10% of the population. Maui county, which includes the islands of Maui, Lanai, and (most of) Molokai, is one of the most diverse counties in all of America. While in Oahu, an island with a million people, Asians make up the largest percentage of the population (almost 44%), mixed people made up about 22% of the population, whites at about 20%, and almost 10% being Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. If we’re talking about the city of Honolulu, it’s majority Asian. Overall, Hawaii is the most diverse state in America. And with it being a diverse state that means you’re gonna find really good food and vibrant culture. Another thing you’ll notice a lot in Oahu is a lot of signs for tourists are in Japanese, with some signs being translated to Chinese and Korean too with increasing numbers of tourists coming from China and Korea.

One mistake people might make when going to Hawaii is only sticking around Honolulu and that’s really only a limited side of Hawaii and won’t show the full range of things the state has to offer. Since we had two days there, we decided to spend one day exploring the island and the other day exploring Honolulu. We left in the morning the day after so we didn’t have extra time like my parents and my brother had, since they were catching a red eye flight.

The first day, we did the Shaka Guide North Shore tour. We visited Green World Coffee and the Dole Plantation before driving to various beaches to take pictures. Once again, my husband got some banana bread (if you’re going on a cruise, food may be taken away from you so share or ration out your banana bread or else you’ll have to wolf it down before security). The banana bread stand, Makua Banana Bread Co, had a Hippie Bus next to it and if you take a picture with it and tag them on social media, they’ll give you 10% off your order. Also make sure to check out all the street art!

One of the beaches I took pictures at was Waimea Bay, immortalised in The Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ USA”. Sadly, the conditions at the time I was visiting weren’t good for surfing, but the beach still looked nice. On the north short of Oahu there is supposed to be better conditions for surfing, but the reality is that you’re relying on nature and it’s hit or miss. My husband had a coworker who has surfed since the age of 3 and he says that it’s a very opportunistic sport, you gotta keep your eyes on the forecast and the ocean. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, but that’s life. Can’t always get what you want.

After Waimea Bay, we considered going to this botanic garden, but the prices were a bit steep for non-residents. Makes me think of Joni Mitchell’s line from “Big Yellow Taxi” – “They took all the trees, and put ’em in a tree museum and charged the people a dollar and a half just to see ’em”, although those lyrics were referring to the Foster Botanical Garden in Honolulu, admission now is $5 for adults, not the worst ever, but Joni Mitchell makes a good point about the absurdity of charging people to see nature. I was getting hungry so we decided to get lunch at this place where there were a lot of food trucks, something you’ll see a lot of in Hawaii. There happened to be a locally owned plastic free vegan food truck called Raised by the Waves and I finally found my vegan poké – surprisingly hard to find. Even though I’m not the biggest fan of beets, I still liked it, especially the dressing that came with it. My husband ordered the spicy nachos and he really liked them. As for drinks, I had a mocha latte – might as well have some great coffee in Hawaii and vegan mocha lattes aren’t easy to find where I am. Overall, I give this place an A-.

We kept driving and saw lots of landscapes that reminded me of the movie Moana, lush green mountains with a lot of mist. Sort of reminds me of home, but make it tropical. Goes to show you that people and the world aren’t all that different after all.

The next day, my brother had a bunch of hikes planned and I was just not in the mood to do a lot of hiking because I was exhausted. We did see a lot in Hawaii, just like we saw a lot in the Mediterranean, but it was in such a fast pace that it tired me out. I agreed to do the Diamond Head hike in the morning, go to the Byodo-In Temple – a replica of the original in Uji, Japan and built in the 60s to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first Japanese people to move to Hawaii, and then spend the rest of the day in Honolulu. It’s not the hardest hike I’ve done this trip, but it’s a lot of walking and the way up isn’t paved, therefore it’s not even ground, and there are a bunch of stairs to climb up to the viewing platform. It’s a bit of a walk but totally worth it for the beautiful views. Sometime during the hike up or down, can’t remember, my ankle twisted, but I didn’t fall, it was like I glitched and just kept walking. I didn’t realise that I injured my ankle for hours, but once I was walking around the city and especially on Waikiki Beach, my ankle was in a good bit of pain. My period cramps are so bad that I didn’t even notice a mild sprain. Thankfully in a couple weeks I’ll be getting my long-awaited hysterectomy and cramps will soon be a thing of the past.

Even if I was up for more hiking, my parents and my brother were lucky enough to have an extra day in Honolulu, while we were leaving early the next day only to arrive in California late at night, don’t we love time zones, we wanted to see the city even if it is touristy. And wouldn’t it be cool to see the sunset at Waikiki Beach? So we asked my parents to drop us off at a vegan Vietnamese restaurant and we could make our way to Waikiki either by beach or by foot. So let’s first talk about one of my favourite things ever… food!

Thuong An Lac is the only 100% vegan Vietnamese restaurant in Honolulu and it’s relatively new, only opening up last year. It’s a small, humble looking restaurant located right next to an Asian supermarket. Not the easiest place to find, but you’re in for a great meal, an absolute gem of a restaurant. Of course, since both Eoin and I love some pho, we ordered the vegan pho. We also ordered some summer rolls since that’s another favourite dish of ours. What you’ll notice on the menu is that there’s a lot of dishes with various meats mentioned in the name, fear not, they’re all vegan substitutes and they’re good. The pho itself has a nice mix of different meat substitutes which I really liked. And for those who really like their veggies like I do, don’t worry, you’ll find plenty of fresh veggies in the food. Don’t just take my word for how great the food is, read this review from Honolulu Magazine. I give this place an A+.

From there, we walked all the way from Chinatown to Waikiki. I wanted to walk instead of take the bus because I find when you take the bus you miss out on a lot of sightseeing and this is our only day in the city so I might as well see as much as I can. Nothing like a bit of adventurising while on holiday. Also I love how the buses have a 1970s colour scheme on their livery: yellow, orange, and brown – the colours of the 70s. From there, we walked to Iolani Palace and saw the midcentury looking State Capitol building, and a bunch of other historic buildings. One thing I love so much about the architecture in Honolulu is how much midcentury modern 1950s/1960s era looking stuff. In Europe there is none of that. I just love that retrofuturist, almost space age look of that era. You’ll see some of that style of architecture when you get closer to Waikiki. Also the famous Leonard’s Bakery has a very 1950s space age looking sign.

My husband and I are bubble tea addicts and we always love to look for bubble tea wherever we go. Sure, we have the tapioca pearls at home, but it’s a pain to clean up. My husband googled bubble tea and he found a bubble tea place on the way to Waikiki called Mr Tea Cafe. I ordered a matcha bubble tea and he ordered a chai bubble tea and wow the bubble tea is some of the best I’ve had. Can they open up a location near where we live? I’d spend way too much money there lol. Sometime around when I had the bubble tea, I noticed that I sprained my ankle and I’m starting to feel the pain. Still I insisted we keep going and I make it to Waikiki Beach before sunset so I can watch the sunset there. Yes, I’m crazy, but I’m also determined.

So we keep walking and walking and we finally make it to the beach. There, you’ll find the famous statue of Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, the man who popularised surfing all over the world. Of course with it being one of the most famous beaches in the world, it’s crowded but we managed to get some great pictures and even though my ankle was hurting, I didn’t care, I just kept trucking. Once we got our nice sunset pictures, we walked a couple blocks back to the hotel and I rested my ankle, put a lot of ice on it, and had to put a brace on it, which I wore the rest of the trip. My dad called the airline to request special assistance, can’t take chances and I wanted to be well enough to walk around San Francisco. I wanted to go out and get food somewhere for dinner, but I really needed to rest my ankle so my husband bought me some empanadas from a food truck just outside the hotel.

San Francisco (sadly no I did not wear flowers in my hair)

I was a bit annoyed that my flight was from Honolulu to Maui and then Maui to San Francisco and I didn’t get to spend any time in Hawaii that day. I prefer direct flights whenever possible, but there was a bright side, I got a window seat on both flights and I got some great video and pictures from the air. As Clark Griswold said in Vacation, getting there’s half the fun. My husband is watching the anime One Piece right now and he sums it up this way, the show is about the journey and the friends you’ve made along the way, not the destination. Just check out some of these photos I took in the air. Also I love the Halloween and bisexual lighting on the plane.

One thing I really appreciate about San Francisco is the public transport is good, especially compared to pretty much everywhere in America. There’s a direct link from the airport to the city and suburbs via BART and the BART runs late enough at night, well at least by my standards. It’s a long ride to where we’re going since we’re staying near family, but we made it! And now time for an infrastructure/cars rant.

When I googled the hotel and the BART station, distance wise, you could theoretically walk it and we could have if this were Europe, but America is so car-centric even in “progressive” California. Big ass motorways run through towns and you can’t walk from one side to another and that’s what we experienced so we had no choice but to get a taxi, especially since we arrived at 1 AM and we needed to get to the hotel ASAP to get a bit of rest before a fun day sightseeing in San Francisco. Also I wanted to take a shower because my hair was as greasy as David Gilmour’s at Live in Pompeii, sorry for the mental image.

The next day, we took the BART to Embarcadero, the first stop once you cross from Oakland to San Francisco. There, you’ll see the waterfront and all the piers. From there, we walked past Pier 39 to see whatever we could see of the Golden Gate Bridge. That’s right, the whole city was foggy as always, looking like a Kate Bush music video. Makes me wonder if she wrote “Running Up That Hill” about San Francisco. All that walking made us tired and we wanted to get some food and what better food to get in San Francisco than Chinese food? In my opinion, Chinese food is so much better in the US than in Ireland, and way easier to find good vegetarian stuff in the US. A quick google search and we found a completely vegetarian Chinese restaurant called Enjoy Vegetarian. They have two locations in the city, one near Chinatown on Kearny Street and the other on Kirkham Street near Golden Gate Park. Eoin ordered the chow mein and I ordered vegan kung pao chicken. Both dishes were amazing! I definitely give this place an A+.

After that, we walked around Chinatown and took pictures of some street art, but since we wanted to see as much as we could in a day, we wanted to go see the Full House houses and walk from there to Haight-Ashbury. Sadly, I didn’t make it to the Mrs Doubtfire house. Now Haight-Ashbury is not anything like it was in the 60s, much like Carnaby Street and Kings Road. San Francisco has experienced a lot of out of control gentrification over the years and at this point I don’t know how anyone can afford to live there. You will find some vintage shops with a lot of 90s and 2000s clothes (I refuse to call the 2000s vintage because I remember it) and a bunch of unique, quirky boutiques. Some are hippie in theme, but most aren’t, but they’re in some way alternative, or at least an affluent person’s idea of what alternative is. I did manage to find some real 60s and 70s clothes at a vintage shop called Decades of Fashion, but everything was too expensive. I even saw some skirts that had the waist small enough for me, but I didn’t see anything I loved and what’s the point if I won’t be able to tightlace for months after my surgery?

True to the 1960s, the whole neighbourhood smells like pot. All of it expensive! There was some colourful art and I went to some Grateful Dead themed art exhibit and to a shop called Love On Haight with a lot of tie dye. From there, we walked to Amoeba Music and I browsed for a bit until I got a text from my cousin that she’s meeting us in San Francisco and we’re going to have dinner somewhere. We walk to Golden Gate Park and from there, my cousin’s family, Eoin, and I went to Dumpling Kitchen. My cousin’s daughter said be prepared to have your mind blown by the tea. The kids were all excited to go to Dumpling Kitchen and said it was one of their favourite restaurants. We get there and there’s a bit of a wait and it’s hard to find parking, not surprising because it’s in a residential area and the restaurant is really good. Since my cousin’s family are not vegetarians, they ordered their own thing and Eoin and I ordered our own thing, each of us ordering family style. We ordered some bao and dumplings and they were amazing, especially with the mix of chilli oil and vinegar as my cousin’s partner suggested.

The next day, we stayed in the suburbs and spent time with my cousin’s family and later had dinner with my aunt and uncle at an Italian restaurant in Danville. Not far from there, is the restaurant from Mrs Doubtfire, Bridges! I did take a picture there.

Before going to Berkeley my cousin and her partner took me and Eoin to a Korean restaurant called Mixed Grain in Walnut Creek, another favourite of theirs. I had the vegan japchae. I love a good spicy noodle dish. I’ve never had japchae before, but my husband makes a similar dish with a spicy gochujang based sauce which we just call fire noodles – I watch a lot of videos of people eating fire noodles and I wanted a healthy alternative. Another day in Walnut Creek we had lunch at Veggie Grill, which is a fast casual vegan restaurant with lots of great food – I had some mac and cheese and a kimchi beef bowl. My cousin let me try some of the cauliflower wings with the buffalo sauce and they were really good.

Berkeley

My cousin said there’s so much more to the Bay Area than San Francisco and was surprised that I’d never been to Berkeley before, so she said we’re spending the next two days in Berkeley. Berkeley is a lot closer to where we were staying than San Francisco and it has an association with hippies and the 60s so why not go? Fun fact about my family: my great grandmother from Venezuela lived in Berkeley in 1968, working as a nanny for a wealthy, educated family. The best part about Berkeley is its a bit cheaper than San Francisco, but it’s still kinda pricey. Still, I found a couple bargains while shopping, which I’ll talk about later. Keep in mind a lot of things in Berkeley are only open on the weekends, so if you’re going during the week, not everything will be open, especially on Mondays.

What’s really cool about Berkeley is one of the city’s logos has the Led Zeppelin font. No I’m not kidding, look it up. So what was Berkeley’s significance in the 60s? Well, it’s a college town and what did college students do a lot in the 60s? Protest against the war and get into the counterculture. The Free Speech Movement also started in Berkeley in the 1964-1965 school year. They worked together with anti-war and civil rights activists and students participated in mass acts of civil disobedience. In the Telegraph neighbourhood, you’ll find murals and posters commemorating this and you’ll find lots of vintage shops, book shops, and record shops. I checked off one thing from my bucket list, going vintage shopping while stoned. Vintage shopping is fun while sober, but being stoned adds a bit of fun to vintage shopping. The colours pop out more and you have fewer inhibitions and you’re like why not try this on in the fitting room? We went to a vintage shop called Mars Mercantile. The prices are really reasonable, considering it’s California. The best thing about it is all the clothing is sorted by decade so it’s easy to find what you want. It’s aesthetically pleasing because each section is arranged by colour. Personally, I prefer when things are sorted by size because I am a small person and I don’t like to waste time flipping through things that will look like I’m playing dress up with mum’s clothes or they’ll look like a potato sack on me. I settled on two blue 60s dresses because I love the 60s and cool colours look best on me. One dress didn’t look as good as I thought, but the other looked great and so I bought it. Guess the price! Just $10!

Next, we went to a bookstore called Moe’s, which is kinda like a mini version of The Strand in New York City, still one of the best bookstores I’ve ever been to. Moe’s has books about a wide variety of topics, both new and used. There’s even an antiquarian books section of the store. There are books for all ages from children’s books to academic books. No matter what you like to read, you can find something you’ll like here. The prices were reasonable and I bought a book about 60s fashion. I was considering getting a book about 20th century fashion, but limited space in suitcase.

After that, we were hungry and went to this banh mi restaurant which was in all honesty, mid. Nothing special, but at least it wasn’t expensive. We walked around the UC Berkeley campus before going home. Unfortunately I didn’t get to check out any record stores there because they were all closed when we went. So make sure you check the hours and make sure everything is open. However, we did have some amazing bubble tea, both days we were in Berkeley. We went to Taiwan Professional Tea. It was so good we returned the next day. And best part, lots of vegan options! Bubble tea shops in Ireland need to take notes – vegans and the lactose intolerant don’t just want fruit teas, we want milk teas too and there are plenty of non-dairy milks to choose from. We really are spoilt now. My personal favourite is oat milk, and even people who consume dairy love oat milk.

The next day, my cousin said let’s go to Berkeley again and go to the Rose Garden and then to one of her favourite restaurants, Angeline’s. There’s only one vegan thing on the menu, which is their wild mushroom jambalaya and at first I wasn’t sure – I have sensitivities to mushrooms and sometimes I can get a bit sick, but lately I’ve been doing better. Still, I know I can trust my cousin’s recommendations and her partner said that even they like the vegan jambalaya better than the one with meat. I tried it and I loved it! Moral of the story: keep an open mind. Other dishes like the mac and cheese and the beignets, which are a type of doughnut, looked amazing, but unfortunately no vegan option for those. After dinner we walked by People’s Park and we talked to a shaman who talked about how the trees were all connected and all about the protests, something like that. A true Berkeley experience! What a way to end the trip.

I was sad to be leaving California, but I have many things to look forward to. My hysterectomy in November. Moving to England next year. And I know who is always happy to see me when I get home… Bowie! Everyone loves cat pictures so here’s your reward for making it this far.

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