Saturday, November 26, 2011



This fall we employees of Holland America lost a fellow worker and kindred spirit, Elyce Kaplan, to that dreaded C word, cancer. Characterized by a smile for all and a zest for life, she is sorely missed. When Elyce found out I was going to Budapest and Prague, she was right there with info, tour guides to refer me to , and food tips (she turned me on to Hungarian Spicy Paprika from the market there). I shared her love of cooking, books and travel. Writing about her snowmobiling adventure, her surfing lessons, and Temecula wine tasting on Facebook were enthusiastically enjoyed. That is why I decided to put together a Celebration of Life in her memory.

Groupon posted a 3 hour jeep charter for 6 passengers on line via Sunrider Tours, http://www.sunridertours/ . Kelly, Rita, Roz, Judi, Gena and I signed up. Included was free tastings at Leoness Cellars, a guide, and the jeep. Every bargain hunting I looked for 2 for 1 coupons on line for two other wineries (easier if your tour is not on Sunday).

On Sunday October 16, Travis, our guide and co-owner of the company, met us at the Starbucks in Old Town Temecula at 3pm. Previously we all decided to bring goodies for snacking in between and we loaded them into the cooler on the back bumper of the jeep. Earlier in my phone conversation with Travis I explained to him the purpose for our trip mentioning that we planned to place a white rose (one of her favorite flowers ) in the vineyards at each winery.

One person rides shotgun, three in the middle and two out in the roofless back seat. We were going to trade off in the back seat but Roz and Rita decided they liked the wind blown look so much they weren't about to give it up. The drive to each of the wineries was very short, only about 10-15 minutes between). Each winery gave you about 5 tastings. We loved having a driver so we could imbibe and were amazed at how many wineries (36) are located there.

Leoness,(,) our first stop and Elyce and Dennis' favorite, is located on De Portola Road. Their collection of both white and red wines (including Cellar Selection Series, Vineyard Selection Series, and Signature Selection Series) offers something for everyone. Of course each winery tries to get you to join their wine club. We each had our favs mine being the 2008 Meritage and2008 Mourvedre. Most preferred the white selections.

Our second winery, Danza del Sol , is a 35 acre Estate winery on the DePortola Wine Trail, Roz enjoyed her favorite the Reserve Chardonnay while I liked the Tempranillo and Dos Blancos. During our tastings here we laid out our repast on several tables, inviting Travis to join us. I think he really enjoyed our treats of cookies, blueberry covered goat cheese, crackers, spicy yogurt dip and veggies to name a few. Travis was indispensable-keeping track of our left behind belongings, taking numerous pictures with all kinds of different cameras, and offering suggestions along the way . If he had been able to get a word in edgewise he probably would have shared more of his wealth of knowledge with us, but we had our own agenda and enjoyed each other's company outside of the work setting.

Our last stop we wouldn't recommend to others, Robert Ronzoni. It is a fairly new winery so may improve with years. As the day ended at twilight we all agreed that it was a wonderful idea. Later we shared our pictures with Dennis Kaplan who was touched by our honoring Elyce. It was a very special day ,and we felt her there with us in spirit.

As for Sunrider Tours, I highly recommend them. They have many different tours with different prices. Some are 4-5 hours long that include lunch or appetizer and cover all tastings at 4 or more wineries. Some have Barrel Production Tours, grape tastings, tasting challenges etc. Guided is a great way to go as it lets you enjoy the wine without worrying about the driving and by the by, Temecula roads are well policed. Look for online specials with groupon or other sites too. I recommend either staying for dinner at one of the many very good restaurants in town or at the wineries (check out reviews on or better yet spend the night at one of the many Temecula hotels or B&B's and enjoy your wine purchases some more. There are historical walking tours of Old Town available and a pretty good small Old Town Farmer's Market on Saturday mornings. Don't be a snob-there are some pretty good wines in Temecula (and it is closer than Paso Robles, Napa or Sonoma or Oregon). Try them-you might like them.

And in closing, we miss you, Elyce!!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Idyllic Idyllwild


Looking for something to do after Thanksgiving? Have I got the place for you! One of my favorite retreats, Idyllwild, is less than 3 hours away and is an artsy, funky, little mountain town . One year I wasn't in the mood to "Deck the Halls" for Christmas (let's face it multiple trips up and down the ladder to the attic and 2-3 days of work isn't a joy). Also, I wanted to de-stress and NOT COOK after ye old Thanksgiving feast. Other than passing through on my way to Palm Springs, I hadn't invested any time in this retreat in the pines (Lake Arrowhead is usually my ballywig), so I recruited a traveling pal and....... ROAD TRIP!!!

Idyllwild has lots of lodging choices ranging from camping, cabin rentals, a few motels, and some upscale Bed and Breakfasts. Finding a B&B with twin beds is like searching for a needle in a haystack, but my online search yielded The Rainbow Inn on Strawberry Creek, We were definitely NOT disappointed. Its outside welcomed us with lit Christmas trees in the front yard and the sounds of a creek nearby. The location amid the pines and within walking distance to town was perfect. We found inside to be even more delightful. Our friendly innkeepers, Lon and John, were FABULOUS. Amenities included 600 thread count sheets, wi fi Internet connectivity, cable TV, DVD players complete with an extensive library to borrow from, mini refrigerators, and more. Some rooms have fireplaces, but ours didn't. We found the Ben Franklin standing fireplace amid extensive nutcracker collection quite cozy. This top floor lounge with its adjacent veranda, was lavishly decorated for Christmas right up to the chandelier in the dining room. The comfy sofas with hand made afghans draped over them encouraged napping with Christmas music in the background softly playing and a gorgeous Christmas tree close by-AHsome! Arriving mid week between the holidays we were lucky to have the place to ourselves feeling right at home. Did I mention the OMG breakfasts??? Can't say enough about those.

Idyllwild does get snow and some very foggy roads due to its 3,000 ft elevation. Check weather conditions in winter season before you go-you might need chains.

This town is not lacking for good eats. We loved The Bread Basket for lunch, 51710 N. Circle Drive. They serve very reasonable breakfast and dinners also . We savored great homemade soup accompanied with fragrant, homemade bread one cool day. 951-659-3506. Our favorite dinner spot (as well as that of the locals) was Cafe Aroma. Proprietor Hubert Halkin, retired UCSD Math professor, serves up great food, reasonable prices, and ample portions. There is live music/poetry readings etc. most nights. Since it is so popular you might want to make a reservation especially weekends and in season.

For the outdoor enthusiast Idyllwild has 200 miles of dirt roads, 40 miles of bike paths, and hiking trails. Shopaholics rejoice-this town boasts over 12 art galleries offering everything from handmade jewelry, paintings, sculptures, photography, woodwork, and more. It's a great place to find that unique gift. If you have been in my home you might spot some souvenirs within.

Culturally, the town is famous for its thriving arts academy. August boasts a jazz festival. October offers an art walk and wine tasting, the Great Pumpkin Parade, and the Idyllwild Haunted Ghost Town. There's even an annual Home Tour and film festival.

While my purpose is to gear up and be inspired for Christmas, this town is a world away if you want just a retreat. My future plans always include going to the Art Walk/Wine Tasting or the Jazz Festival but most of the time I just want to escape crowds. Halloween, however could be my next sojourn there. Try it-you'll like Idyllwild!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

I am very blessed to have fabulous friends. And on September 29-October 1 , my very generous friends, Fred and Kay Coon , invited me along with them to Kauai and Molokai. So I got to cross another "to do" off my bucket list-visit Molokai (because I want to do ALL 7 of the Hawaiian Islands). Because of the size of this island, this itinerary will not be as detailed as a lot of places that I have posted for you . I am doing it in a different format as well.
Let me begin by telling you a little about Molokai, home to the world's highest sea cliffs ( 3,000 feet), Hawaii's longest continuous fringing reef, one of Hawaii's largest white sand beaches, and the second highest waterfall in the state. About 8,000 people live on this island, 50% of them of Hawaiian ancestry (which is how it got its nickname "Hawaiian by Nature". It is the fifth largest island (260 sq miles, 38 miles long and 10 miles wide) sitting between Oahu and Maui. It is so geographically diverse with its dry flatlands, lush valleys, pine forests, and 88 miles of uninterrupted coastline that we were amazed. Called the birthplace of the hula, Molokai caught the public's attention when in 1866 authorities began banishing immigrant workers afflicted with Hanson's disease (leprosy) to the isolated Kalaupapa Peninsula.

There are two ways to get to this island:
1. A 25 minute flight from Honolulu (ours was a 9 passenger prop) on either Island Air ,, or Go! Mokule Airlines. Air service is also available from Maui's Kahului's Airport.
2. A daily 90 minute ferry ride from Lahaina Harbor, Maui to Kaunakakai Harbor, Moloka'i

Accommodations are sparse-5 condominium projects mostly on the west end (most near Kaunakakai) and a full service hotel (there is only 1) the Hotel Molokai on Kamiloloa Beach in Kaunakakai.
We found our condo online using (Vacation Rental by Owner) and were quite happy with both the location and amenities. We especially enjoyed the fact that it came with the use of a car. Rental cars can be found on the island at the airport, but are quite costly at $68 upward. On this island you definitely need a car. Driving on the island is very easy-no stoplights, few stop signs, minimal traffic on two major roads. All roads lead to either the airport or the town.
Our one bedroom in the Ke Nani Kai complex, had a full kitchen, private lanai, Internet access, a washer/dryer, ceiling fan, 2 tennis courts, swimming pool & spa, ping pong table, and a covered BBQ area. Being beach lovers we chose the west end because it is known for its beaches and sunsets. There was a beach within walking distance .

Personally, I think one needs at least one night, preferable two. One night should be a Friday to attend the Aloha Friday Sunset Celebration at the Hotel Moloka'i enjoying dinner at its Hula Shores Restaurant, one of two on the island. Locals go for the live music, hula dancing, torch lighting, and arts and crafts. Although we didn't go (too busy being lazy) it is mentioned in all the lists of things to do on this island. Another night is needed to make the hot bread run-yes it really is worth an extra night. Your itinerary could quite easily fill 3 days, 2 being the minimum-4 the max..

DO: Allow l day to explore the leper colony, Kalaupapa National Historic Park on the north shore. It was formed in 1864 when King Kamehameha ordered the leprosy victims to the most remote spot in the kingdom, Kalawao. In 1866 it was moved to Kalaupapa. Father Damien, a Catholic priest, who took pity on the lepers, made it his life's mission to care for the people . In 1969 the quarantine ended and the patients were allowed to return to home. Today mainly state and federal workers live here along with 17 former patients who may continue to live here until they choose otherwise. Then the use of the land will be decided by the State of Hawaii, the National Park Service, and Hawaii Homelands, a separatist group who wants Hawaii's lands returned to the people. The patients' privacy is protected as none maybe photographed and some areas are off limits on the tour.
There are 3 ways to reach the settlement.
1) By hiking down a 1,700 ft cliff bookable for a $69 permit through Molokai Mule Ride (allow about 3 hrs one way and remember you have to go back up). We met up with 2 27 year olds who couldn't move at the end of the hike down and were NOT excited with the prospect of their return the same way.
2) By riding a mule (same elevation descent with 26 switchbacks) for $180 that includes lunch and the tour.
3)By flying. One can either fly out of Molokai Airport, a 7 min flight, for $180 including lunch and tour. OR flying from the island of Oahu or Maui.

We chose the air service from Molokai in a 4 seater Cessna piloted by Dale of Iolani Air and were glad that we did. We experienced an added bonus on the return when our pilot flew over the extinct volcano that formed the peninsula and flew around the incredibly imposing sea cliffs, reminiscent of the Napali Coast in Kauai. Molokai Outdoors,, arranged our tour. They also arrange island tours, the Halawa Valley Waterfall hike, kayaking, snorkeling, fishing, whale watching etc. is another site for booking.
When you arrive at the colony, you will be met by a representative of Damien Tours, our guide was Norman, and driven around in a school bus to see the historic sites that include two historic churches and Father's Damien's grave. The town has one of everything-store,gas station, bar, hospital, post office, BUT no phones, cell phones, TV, or internet. The tour lasts about 4 hours which includes a scenic stop for a picnic lunch.

DO: Make a run for the famous and addicting Molokai bread. At 8:30 clients gather to the back of Kanemitsu Bakery, run by the same family for nine decades, via a walk down a dark alley. A loaf of hot bread right out of the oven is split open and spread with your choice of housemade strawberry jelly, cream cheese, butter, cinnamon sugar, or combinations thereof guaranteed to melt in your mouth. Location: 79 Ala Malama St, Kaunakaki, 808-553-5855. We read the reviews on Yelp and enjoyed one writer when he wrote:
"You park your car in front of an old, run-down building and approach the back doors. A look around assures you that no one is watching you do what you about to do , and you knock on the doors"(we found it to be open already. We also found it to be lit up partially with Christmas lights after turning off of the alley. A little 12 year old took our order, came back with "the glorious goods." in plastic bags, and took our money. "As you stand and fidget, questioning if you should have even come in the first place, you order. If there's no one around you at this point you're wondering if there'll be any witnesses to what's going down. We lost all our willpower and gave in to the temptation. We took it out of the plastic package...licking lips in anticipation for just the smallest taste. You close your eyes, bask in the sweet aroma and inhale... the most amazing sweet bread you've ever tasted in your life." He was soooooo right. It was awesome. Even Fred whom we had to convince to take that long drive in pitch blackness agreed and wanted to come again. The bread has a nickname "butt bread" courtesy of the natives because of its shape-two loaves attached in the center with a crack. Now THAT was a memory!

DO: Take time to enjoy the stars. The first night when the lights went out in our condo it was

DO: Drive around the island exploring one end of the road to the other. Kaunakakai, the heart of Molokai, is the main town about 3 blocks long. It's a short distance from the airport on Hwy 450. The main street, Ala Malama, looks like an old John Wayne movie. This is the place to stock up on food at either the Friendly Market or Misaki's Groceries. Most of the shops and eateries(and I use the term loosely). They include Molokai Pizza (which has great burgers and is super clean). Here is also the home of the Moloka'i Visitors Association,, two gas stations, a pharmacy, Molokai Wines &Spirits, Molokai Gifts & Things, a health food store etc.. Most fishing and kayaking adventures begin near here at the Kaunakakai Wharf.
Continuing east on 450 you will pass St. Joseph's Church, about 11 miles , another built by Father Damien in the late 1800's. This road takes you all the way down to Halawa Valley where the road ends. On your way you will pass several well preserved Hawaiian fishponds built 7-800 years ago for the purpose of raising fish. On your right will One Alii' Beach Park, Kakahai's County Beach Park and National Wildlife Refuge. Mile Marker 20 is the main beach on the east end and actually is 20 miles long. As you proceed past Pukoo go slowly noticing that the scenery is changing from dry to lush as the road elevates from waves splashing on the road to hairpin turns as you climb along the cliff face. Thanks for driving, Fred! The amazing views will make you want to stop and take a picture.
During this climb, about halfway there, you will see an island (really a rock) called Mokuhooniki, that was used for a bombing target during WW II. Good luck meeting a car on this twisty narrow road. All of a sudden this magnificent valley, Halawa Valley, comes into view with its famous waterfalls sparkling against the green jungly walls. it is believed that ancient Polynesians settled here as early as 650 A.D. There are many hidden places of worship here called heiaus. While only half a mile wide and 3-4 miles deep it is one of the islands most historic places. Two miles up the trail is the double tiered 250 ft Moaula Falls, but you are NOT allowed to hike there without a guide and a permit. This trail passes through private property and previous visitors have abused the privilege resulting in a fee of $80. The drive is about 1 1/2 hours from the airport.
Our Lady of Sorrows Church, almost at the end of the road built by Father Damien in 1874 was worth a stop BUT beware of the wild horse! Another memorable moment happened here. It goes down like this:
Kay and Fred went into the church whereas I decided to take a Kodak moment outside. Out of nowhere saunters a horse. I am somewhat intuitive and possibly reminded of a photographer friend's experience with a horse chasing her into her truck, I was leery of its approach. I decided to enter the church out of the horse's way. It paused in its travels outside the door and seemed to be waiting for us to come out. Advising Kay and Fred of this latest development we decided to stay inside a bit longer. After the horse passed we ventured out only to find that it was standing in the road blocking it, again waiting for us? We headed for the car telling ourselves that the horse was just on its way to the stream flowing into the ocean to get a drink. As the road ended we spied the horse sure enough getting a drink, whew! Across the small bay was a tent with no one around and a car with towels hanging out the window. We exited the car to head for the beach and now here comes the horse heading for Kay who was bringing up the rear. She made a beeline for the nearby scraggly trees and I made a beeline toward Fred and the beach. Still no real worries at this point thinking we could just shoo the horse home and he would go. However, the horse zeroed in on Fred and I hightailed it for the same tree where Kay was. We looked for a branch to shoo the horse away with. After playing ring around the rosy with Fred showing no interest in leaving him alone, it now starts grabbing Fred's t shirt with its teeth and biting him... Now here comes Fred toward us in the trees with horse in pursuit! We are now getting a little panicked to be sure when out of nowhere come two natives brandishing baseball size clubs the chase the horse away. You know me-I speak up..." long were you over there watching and laughing at us before you decided to come to our rescue?" Turns out the horse used to belong to a woman and now no one claims him nor can get rid of it. It had a name and a history of not liking men. We would up giving one of them, Tony Naki, a ride to the fish pond, not really trusting this stranger but he gave us his club to use on him in case. He had been free diving 40 feet for lobsters for his mom's birthday party the next day. We politely declined the invitation. After stopping for a bite at Mana's Goods and Grinds for great salads and sandwiches on our way back we learned that everyone on the island knew about this horse and knew Tony.
This cool, freshwater stream at the end of the road flows into Halawa Bay. It is a beach park with a restroom and picnic tables. Retrace your drive back past Kaunakakai to Hwy 460 for the remainder of your drive to Hoolehuu, Kualapuu, and the Kalaupapa Lookout. In Hoolehua you can try to visit Purdy's Natural Macadamia Nut Farm, a 50 tree orchard planted in 1920. Admission is free with educational tours offered. We struck out as we found it closed during normal operating hours.
The drive on Hwy 470 passes Coffees of Hawaii, a 500 acre coffee farm. Tours were supposedly offered there also but we found them cancelled or not offered any longer depending on whom you spoke to. This lax way of operating seems to be typical of this island. Also on this road was our favorite eating place, the Kualapu'u Cookhouse (more on that later). Proceeding on we drove to the Palaa'u State Park, 233 acres overlooking the Makanalua Peninsula. The Moloka'i Mule Barn, departure point for the mule tours is located here as is the trail down. We walked to the Kalaupapa Lookout where we were rewarded with a breathtaking view of the leper colony below, made more familiar to us from our visit previously. Interpretive signs told of its history. A short hike from here though a unique pine forest led to Phallic Rock, a sacred 6 ft rock looking like... you be the judge... it is thought to be inhabited by Nanahoa, the god of fertility., Barren women come here to pray for children or sit in the pool below hoping to absorb the power of the rock.
From Palaau drive back to Hwy 460 and turn right to see the western end of the island. The west end is dormer ranch land, very dry inhabited by wandering wild turkeys and peacocks (we watched them under our balcony). At the fork, bear right on Kaluakoa Road, where you will see two magnificent beaches, 3 mile long Papohaku Beach, the longest stretch of white sand in the entire Hawaiian Islands chain, and Kapukaheu Beach. Return to Hwy 460 and visit Maunaloa, the largest settlement on the western end. It was the company town for the Dole Pineapple plantation until 1975 when the operation shut down. There is a small market here and I mean small, the Big Wind Kite Factory and one or two other stores.
South side attractions include the Kapuaiway Coconut Grove, a grove of hundreds of palms on 11 acres planted by King Kamehameha V (there were thousands). Just west of the wharf is the Malama Cultural Park where King Kamehameha V had his summer home. Across the street is Church Row where a group of churches stand side by side.

DON'T: Arrive here on Sunday-market availability for food is very limited.

DON'T: Plan to spend all day every day at the beautiful beaches. The trades blow picking up after noon so unless you like a tan accompanied by stinging blowing sand plan accordingly.We had planned our departing flight at 6:30 pm allowing for a day spent at the beach but after checking out at noon and lunch we sat at the airport for hours. We also got chased out of one beautiful bay which was fine one day but ruined by the smell of a dead mongoose the next.

DON'T: Expect Molokai to be a culinary experience. The food on this island is mostly local. We found the spots we tried to be excellent though.
Our fav was the Kualapu'u Cookhouse,, , Breakfast and lunch M-Sat and dinner Tues-Sat, Sun 9-2. The quantity was plentiful enough for us to make lunch and dinner out of the house made teriyaki beef and chicken that is accompanied by rice or fries, and macaroni salad for $8.95. The owner is from Napa, CA (and doesn't miss CA at all) and the day cook a graduate of the Culinary Institute in Colombia, CA. We went back one evening for their bbq baby back ribs in housemade guava sauce $22.95 and the Thursday night prime rib $22.95. Eating outside on picnic tables we were favored with local entertainment. Though difficult to keep a straight face with an elderly soloist warbling without teeth and a unique bass player on washtub/string/broomhandle, when the kitchen chef came out to strum he sounded like Oz himself! Another Molokai memorable moment... we felt like locals.

DON'T: Expect to save money by cooking at your condo here. We inteded to do just that, but after a day grocery shopping ($9 for a gallon of milk, $7 for a box of cereal, and Kirkland chicken from Costco marked up from $9.99 at home to $18) we decided it was less expensive to eat out. Our intentions were to bring food with us from Kauai (Costco) , but between weighing the carry on, the luggage and us personally the prop planes were not conducive for this. The next to the last day we discovered the 120 acre Kumu Farms near the airport with its great produce-organically grown and super sweet Sunrise papaya, herbs, veggies, etc.

DON'T: Expect things to run on time or even be available. Purdy's Mac Farm and Coffees of Hawaii for example closed. Island Gourmet Salt promised that we could see how the salt was made that is sold in all the stores on all the islands, but the producer was "indisposed" and we could only look at the salt tables on our own to see the crystals.

If you are looking for life in the slow lane, wanting to experience what Hawaii was like 60-70 years ago, and are seeking knowledge about Hawaiian history and culture, then this is the place for you. It's uncrowded, quiet, rural, and nearly unspoiled. There are no movie theaters, no chain restaurants, no retail stores, no cruise ships stopping by, and no high rises all because the residents don't want it. So go for Kalapapa, which may not be available for touring in the future , go if you are like me and want to see ALL of the islands of Hawaii, or go if you want a vacation from your vacation. Think of Moloka'i as a village, a neighborhood, a family rather than a tourist destination. Moloka'i, the friendly island is waiting for you. Mahalo, Fred and Kay!