Saturday, September 11, 2010

The closest you can get to Paradise

One of my first bucket list projects several years ago was to buy a place in Hawai’i. Actually, at that time, it wasn’t even a bucket list yet, it was part of my New Years resolutions. Every year sometime around the first of January I would sit down and look back at the year, think about the things I did and didn’t do, compare it with the things I had told myself the year before I should achieve and set my new goals for the year. So although not a real bucket list, the intentions were kind of the same. And one year a condo on Hawaii was 1 of my goals.

This one all started with my first vacation to Hawaii in September 1998, 2 years after I moved to California. I had not been to Hawai’i, but friends were talking about going and so I decided I might as well. My expectations were low; Hawaii to me sounded as a clichĂ©. I had only heard of Honolulu and thought it would be a commercialized destination, like Benidorm and other tourist traps, but a couple of days of sun and beach were just what I needed. I am ashamed to admit to my ignorance and never really having made an effort to read about Hawaii. And what happened on that first trip: I fell in love with Hawaii, the people, the food, the smell, the flowers, the language and the lifestyle. My first trip was to Maui. I finally settled on Kauai’i.

It took me 2 years between deciding that I wanted to buy a place in Kaua’i and before finally buying my condo in Kahalani. I had been looking mainly at Poipu and Princeville, but on one of my trips cruising the island with the real estate guy, he said he wanted to show me 1 other resort. We were on our way back from Princeville and he pulled into a road just outside Kapa’a and there, nestled in between Lydgate state park and the Wailua golf course right on a white sandy beach, was Kahalani.

At that time nothing was for sale but 4 or 5 months later he called me to let me know that 1 unit was going to be up for sale and if I was interested I had to decide quickly. I had already lost 1 opportunity in Poipu a year before. By the time I had made my reservations to go over to check it out, it was sold. I asked him to send me the details and pictures. After receiving them, I slept on it for 1 more night and the next day I called him back and told him to send me the paperwork so I could sign it. I remember I was nervous as hell. I bought a place that I had not even seen.

But I have never regretted it. After more then 5 years of returning to Kahalani as often as I can (not as often as I want to), this is still as close to paradise as I can imagine it can get and I feel fortunate that I have this place to come back to.. So what do I do while on Kaua’i…..not much but that is a lot. I just read this book, “A Month of Sundays” by Ira and Barbara Spector and in their foreword they talk about the difference between how Americans vacation versus the French. Americans try to do and see as much as possible in as little possible time, while the French try to do as little as possible in the longest amount of time possible….different mind set. They call it farniente, which translates literally to “doing nothing”. That’s what I do on Kaua’i, farniente. I don’t plan much, I don’t book anything, I go with the flow. Some trips I will not make it any further then the beach in front of Kahalani, the pool and my lanai, some trips I will do a little more, but not much, never much.

Like this last trip. I arrived on Thursday evening. My friend Sue, who got to the island a couple of days earlier, had already emailed me that they would have dinner ready so I didn’t have to worry about groceries and food. I landed in Lihue at 4.30, picked up my car at Hertz and drove the 10 minutes to Kahalani. I dropped my bags, put some stuff I brought with me in the fridge, put on my flip flops and walked over to my friends place. I gave Sue, her husband Dave and his brother Fred a hug, accepted a glass of wine and I settled into island rhythm. After a wonderful dinner, they told me they had booked a t-time for the next morning so if I wanted to, I could play but I didn’t have to if I didn’t feel like it. Farniente had started. After dinner over which we caught up on the last 6 months, I said goodnight and went back to my own place, where I sat down on the lanai, reading my book while enjoying the warm air and scents of the island.

The next morning we played a relaxing round of golf at our local Wailua course next door. On the second hole I looked over the golf course to the white beach and the blue ocean and took a deep breath thinking how happy I was to be back.

After golf I spent a leisurely afternoon reading by the pool. After that I drove to Safeway as I was in the mood for fresh Ahi Poki, one of my Hawaiian favorites and had dinner out on the lanai, relaxing and enjoying the view and sounds of the ocean with a glass of wine. I had not hiked the Kalalau trail on the northshore for years and when I mentioned it yesterday we decided if the weather was good we would do the hike on Saturday. I woke up around 6.30 when the sun was just getting up over the Pacific and at 7.45 (15 minutes behind schedule, but who cares) we were on our way to Hanalei. The plan was to hike to Hanakapeau beach, also referred to as dead beach as so many people have died due to strong currents and waves.

From there we would hike on to what Fred refers to as Space Rock, another 1.8 miles further along the coast. It’s one of my favorite hikes, with spectacular views of the Napali coast, where so many famous movies were filmed, to name a few: Indiana Jones – Raiders of the lost ark, Six days, seven nights, Jurassic park.

I stopped several times to take pictures and we reached the beach about 1 ½ hour after we started.
When we got to the beginning of the second part of the trail from the beach onwards, we noticed to our disappointment that it was closed. We debated for about 3 minutes before sneaking past the fence. Rules are meant to be broken, we were meant to go up to Space Rock today to have our P&J sandwiches for lunch.

So after another 45 minutes we were sitting on a rock below Space Rock looking down on the Pacific Ocean and the Napali coast. In the far distance we could see Ke’e beach at the end of the road from Hanalei.

We made it back out without being shot or arrested and after a refreshing swim at Ke’e beach, we had a late lunch at the Hanalei Gourmet. If you ever go there, order the Gorgonzola and mushroom burger and add avocado, it is so good. Back home I had a long relaxing bath and spent the rest of the night on my lanai, writing and reading.

Sunday was a day of true farniente. After an easy 3.5 mile run I spent a couple of hours at the beach finishing one book before retiring to the pool for the rest of the afternoon starting another one. God created Sunday to rest and so I did.

Monday was another stressful day: golf again in the morning and to my chagrin I played bad just stressing about having to leave that night to go back to work the next day. After golf I walked to Lydgate park, just down the road from Kahalani for a swim in the tide pool. Beautiful clear water, the waves kept out by rocks, plenty of fish, perfect for swimming;

another hour by the pool and then it was time to pack and change. We had decided to have drinks and dinner at the Barefoot bar in the Marriott at Kalapaki Beach. This is one of my favorite places on the island to have a drink and watch the sunset while the surfers try to catch the final waves for the day in Nawiliwili Bay. I will not leave Kaua’i without coming here. My favorites are the crab and macadamia nut wontons, the ahi sashimi and the fish tacos.

Kaua’i weather forecast

Sitting on my lanai on Friday night, a friend sent me a txt asking me if I was partying it up in Hawaii and my answer was “sort of……..I am sitting on my lanai with a glass of wine, watching the flames of the torches around the pool and listening to the sound of the waves rolling in from the ocean, that’s my idea of a party” and I was thinking “Life doesn’t get much better then this….”

Friday, September 3, 2010

Rome and an Italian Wedding

When my dad died unexpected 4 years ago I realized that I had spent too much time working too hard, missing out on the more important things in life. I had missed too many important occasions: time with family, friend’s weddings, birthdays and baby showers; all because I was working and couldn’t miss a meeting or I was on one of my many business trips. Shortly after his death I changed jobs and promised myself to have a better work life balance. So over the past 3 years I slowly started to make changes to my life: making an effort to spend more time with the people I care for and on things that matter in life.

And so when my friend Andrea told me last year to mark my calendar for August 27, 2010 for her wedding in Spoleto, Umbria, I didn’t have to think twice. I would be there. Earlier this year I started planning my trip to Italy. I had never been to Rome. I took Latin in high school and had always been fascinated by the stories of the old Roman Empire. Also as a recovering catholic, I felt I had to see the Vatican at least once in my life. So I decided that after the wedding I would stay in Rome for a couple days. Another thing I would be able to check of my bucket list.

I arrived in Spoleto on Wednesday before the wedding. We stayed in Hotel Clitunno in the old town and from the first evening I fell in love with the beautiful little town.

Still relatively unspoiled, it feels like time has been standing still here and life is still slower and less complicated. Shops still close for siesta in the afternoon; instead of our efficient supermarkets you still find people buy their groceries at the local butcher, cheese shop and bakery. It was August so holiday season but most people, except for the Irish crowd that had descended on the town for the wedding, were Italian. The day before the wedding I enjoyed walking around the town, sitting down at one of the squares for a cappuccino or a slushy and watching the people in town, the way they were living every day life in a little town in Italy.

I walked over the famous old bridge, the Ponto della Torre.

It was the perfect wedding. And it was not just a wedding, it was a three day celebration. It started with the family dinner the night before in a beautiful setting outside with wonderful food. The official ceremony was in the Duomo del Pietro in Assisi.

We didn’t have time to look around the town of Assisi, and I will have to go back some day as from what I have seen it is a beautiful old town. And thanks to Unesco it will be kept like this as it is a world heritage site.

The reception and dinner was in an old mill a couple of miles outside Spoleto. They always say it’s all about location, and for this occasion, the location couldn’t have been more idyllic.

Anti pasti and Prosecco in the front of the mill, were followed by a dinner in the back of the mill to the sounds of the river, calmly floating on both sides of the garden and the light of tens of paper lanterns hanging from the trees.

After dinner we danced till late in the warm Italian night first to music played by the Italian band and later to the playlist from Tony’s ipod. The celebration ended with a 3 hour lunch on Saturday, the after day the wedding, after which I went back to the hotel and lazed away the rest of the afternoon outside in the hotel courtyard, not being able to eat another thing.

Hotel Clitunno is a gem of a hotel. While offering all the comfort of a modern hotel (including air conditioning) they have managed to keep its traditional Italian atmosphere with beautiful furniture and decorations. The outside sitting area they have created offers a nice place to waste away a warm afternoon with a book or have a night cap (or two) before going to bed.

Next was Roma. You can find my detailed Rome explorations at

After walking Rome for 3 days, I realized that my Rome is not the famous attractions like the Trevi Fountain or the Spanish Steps. Of course when in Rome, you have to see them, but my Rome is the tucked away piazza’s you find by surprise when turning a corner, the narrow cobblestone streets, sipping a cappuccino outside in a local cafĂ© on a little street corner, watching the people go by.

Strolling around a local market on Tuesday on another nameless piazza or simply sitting on a bench in the Gardens of Villa Borghese with the sun on my face, letting the world go by for an hour or so; eating a straciatella gelato from a corner store, drinking a glass of Pinot Grigio in the afternoon at Sloppy Sam's on the Piazza Campo Dei Fiore;

having dinner outside at 9.30 at night at Piazza Farnese with only Italians surrounding us; Prosciutto with buffalo mozzarella, home made gnocchi with walnuts and gorgonzola. For 3 days I was drinking in Roma. I smiled at the people, loved the looks while walking the streets and the "ciao bella”. Rome is alive, Rome is warm.

Italy and Roma: I will be back, you can count on that.

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