Best Travel Companions!

Best Travel Companions
Best Travel Companions

Last October, I felt a sigh of relief as it seemed the world was opening back up again, and my family was ready to travel the world. Restrictions because of Covid were easing across all continents. For a family eager to get to our next vacation, this meant we could get back to aggressive trip planning. On our bucket list were the enchanted lands of Morocco, with a stopover in magical Portugal.  

We set out to book hotels, flights, and inner-city transport. By early December, not only were all the plans laid out, but passports were renewed, vaccination cards were ready, and activities were completed. Then, low and behold, a few days later, words of the “new variant” started spreading. Within days, we saw our trip fall apart before our eyes. Airlines canceled flights, worries of viral spread at our destinations became very apparent, and restrictions were compounding.

We weren’t frantically trying to recoup our losses but were left wondering where we might venture. My wife and I had taken off time from work, and this might be one of the last few vacations the family of five could do together before the schedules of college would impede our travels. 

We quickly realized a trip would have to be closer and national, as we didn’t want to risk a second round of cancellations. So Oahu, Hawaii, was our choice, previously written about in my book. The trip from California was a quick hop over the pond, and booking accommodations proved to be seamless. We had been to the islands before, so we decided this trip would be more of a getaway from our rigamarole than a power tourer’s embarkment. We were lucky enough to book not only rooms but a flight within 24 hours of departure, the closest we had ever cut it.  

Luckily we were upgraded to rather lovely accommodations at the Grand Hyatt right across Waikiki Beach. The location couldn’t have been any more perfect. After checking in, the kids needed a little time to stretch their legs and unwind but were famished. My wife and I walked the streets of Oahu and saw where the locals shopped. Although downtown Waikiki had lost its major supermarkets to the construction of high-rises, there were still local produce and mini-marts and food carts that catered to palates of wandering citizens. We ended up visiting three locations in total and lugged the groceries bags back into the room. We had a combination of loaves of bread, jams, cereals, pies, and beverages that would supplement in-room dining and snacking for our five days on the beautiful island. 

As we settled in and unpacked, a few sandwiches, pies, and punch quenched our hunger and thirst until dinner. We kept it simple night one and indulged in some poolside hors d’oeuvres while enjoying the local live music table side. The venue’s specialties included a mix of vegetable/ tofu skewers, mouthwatering hummus vegetable wraps, and cauliflower-crust wood fire pizzas. These choices, along with the house margaritas and Mai Tais for my wife and me, got us into the island feeling quickly. After our bellies were satisfied, we walked it off along the main drag to take in a bit of the nightlife and also get a good lay of the land.

Since the trip was last minute, we had made it with “no reservations.” Before we left California, we quickly packed snorkeling masks, as it is a pastime the five of us relish. We headed across the street to Waikiki beach the following day, close to the coral reef. Although the water was murky, probably because of the thousands of beachgoers who had the same idea as us, we still glimpsed several beautifully colored schools of fish floating by. Unfortunately, the waves were a little rough that day, which caused a few bumps and bruises, not to mention an iPhone mishap. No worries, though. It was nothing a few bandages and a nearby Apple (TM) store couldn’t patch up.

That evening, we indulged and found what we considered an Italian gem tucked away in the back of Oahu’s bustling central shopping complex. The restaurant was getting ready for a busy holiday week, and we were lucky enough to secure reservations last minute. Il Lupino Trattoria and Winebar got us a lovely table, and we had a terrific server.

We started with a bottle of an Italian red to wet our palates, and fresh-baked bread dipped in olive oils and vinegar. Traditional Italian choices were on the menu, and we also ate family-style. The chef prepared the eggplant parmesan in a spicy arrabbiata sauce to perfection, to not overpower but showcase the thinly sliced eggplant slices. Freshly baked spinach and mushroom pizzas with shimeji and oyster mushrooms with a touch of red peppers and artichoke complemented the wine. Crunchy arugula salad with Marcona almonds, poached pears, drizzled with lemon vinaigrette was delightful as well as refreshing. Finally, the meal was complete with a complimentary serving of the house’s carbonara pasta, fresh baked and seasoned to perfection. The dessert menu featured a fantastic assortment of treats, but alas, we were fully sated.  

Day 2 would bring yet fresh adventures for the family. We were lucky to snag the last few seats on an extreme parasailing trip on the north side of Waikiki beach. Although a little apprehensive at first, the five of us opted for the highest distance offered, over 1000 feet in the air. After the powerboat set sail, my daughter, oldest son, and wife went up on a triple chute. After starting with a brief glimpse of fear in their eyes, it was nothing but smiles as the chute ascended higher and higher. They spent a good 15 minutes up in the sky and when they came back, couldn’t stop raving about their aerial adventure. My middle son and I were finally up, and words can not describe the sense of serenity once you cleared the first several hundred feet.

The views were spectacular, but more so, the calm of the surrounding water and the gentle breezes that took us higher and higher brought us close to mother nature. The rest of the family convinced the boat operator to give us a few dunks in the oceans before reeling us in, which were welcomed, to cool us down. Although we have engaged in adventure and touring before, this was the first time the five of us took part in this type of activity together, and we all felt a great sense of accomplishment.

After getting back to the hotel and freshening up, we worked up some incredible appetites but forgot to make dinner reservations again. So we took our chances and ventured out to see what the world would put on our plates. Unfortunately, many venues hit their maximum capacity and could not fit us in. We finally stumbled upon Roy’s of Oahu. We had recognized the name as a franchise popular in southern California but noticed the menu was quite different. The Roys in Hawaii is still under its founder’s original ownership, and the menu is still handpicked. And again, did we get lucky?  Not only did the staff appoint us a beautiful table in the back, but sat us within 15 minutes of checking in. The proprietor Roy Yamaguchi, initially from Tokyo, is revered for his culinary skills and is known as the innovator of Hawaiian-inspired cuisine, an eclectic blend of California-French-Japanese cooking created with fresh island ingredients.

We started with the artistically created spinach and mushroom ravioli made with eggplant bolognese and doused in pesto shimeji paired with a few cuts of vegetable and cucumber rolls. Then, a fiery tobanyake mushroom and tofu sizzler was brought to the table to scarf down. The menu also included okinawan sweet potato bisque, crispy zucchini, butter leaf greens, and vegan blueberry cheesecake, not to mention an assortment of sundries for our dining pleasure. It was a fantastic meal and a restaurant we would seek again.  

Day 3 gave us a chance to work off a few of those accumulating calories from the past 2 days. We headed out to hike to the top of the Diamond Head. The trail was easy to moderate, with a 760-foot summit and only 1.5 miles round-trip. But you can still work up a sweat as you ascend the narrow 74 steps and are rewarded with a 360-degree view of the beautiful island. The only thing is the calories come right back at the end of the trail as there are a variety of stands featuring fresh pineapple smoothies, coconut concoctions, and other treats. One can not resist the snacks as they are beautifully decorated and amazingly delicious. 

We wandered off to the outdoor Hawaiian Village, and the modern flared Fresco restaurant. Here we kept it lighter as we were still digesting the sweet treats from earlier, but the food was tasty. My wife and I enjoyed a few crafted salads and roasted appetizers while the kiddos had a second round of various pasta dishes.   

Our last days would focus on soaking up the sun and getting in a few waves. We planted ourselves on Waikiki beach for most of the day. Swimming out as far as the surf could take us and all the while getting in a bit more snorkeling was what we needed to round off this island getaway. We got in to nibble at a few beachside venues throughout the day but needed to end off the trip with one last culinary revel. 

As the holiday weekend was quickly approaching, we found it more challenging to secure dinner reservations last minute. Our beautiful accommodations were equipped with a full kitchen and a large dining table with a spectacular 180-degree view of Waikiki Beach, so we decided to enjoy the last evening with takeout and in-room dining. We were craving a more ethnic cuisine with a bit of spice. Low and behold, we decided to preorder dinner from a venue called Spice Up for traditional Indian flare. As one knows, having an app like Uber Eats (TM) or Door Dash (TM) makes ordering all too easy and, many times, a little out of control.

But it was our last evening, so why not splurge? We picked several curry dishes such as the Chana Masala, mixed vegetable Korma. Also, we ordered the Raajma and Aloo Saag. The complements included samosas, lemon fried rice, onion salads, and mixed pickles. And the breads were a mix of roti and garlic naan. We needed a few Gulab Jamuns to sweeten our palates as well. Some rose and scotch perfectly complemented the meal for adults only. The sounds of the nearby crashing waves and the rich cuisine proved to be the perfect way to end this beautiful getaway.  

Oahu has changed so much over the years, and with its growth, many mom and pop eateries have popped up and various fine dining venues. We were so happy to discover that our sense of adventure was fulfilled with the island’s plethora of activities and satiated our desire for exotic food tastes with all the unique options at our disposal. 

See more book reviews like The Long Slide, and Artwork at the Players

Hawaiian Music Hula: Nāpua “Lawakua”

Best Travel Companions!


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