Apr 27

Getting ready for Hawaii

With Hawaii less then 3 weeks away I thought it was time to start checking on some things.

I went to book the final excursion Tara and I are going to take while in Hawaii, the Helicopter tour of Kauai. I was debating between a 9:30 am and a 10:30 am flight, and decided to go with the 10:30 flight. It will be one of our only “late” mornings of the trip. When I went into the booking system it showed that Tara and I were scheduled for the Wailua River and Fern Grotto on Thursday, I was sure I booked that for Friday. I scrambled through my papers and found that I did book it for Friday. A bit nervous I called Norwegian to check on this, apparently there was a problem with the website and I was booked on that excursion on Friday. The girl then booked Tara and I on the Heli tour and emailed me a confirmation of everything.

I also called Continental to find out if it would be an issue for Tara and I to arrive at the airport at different times. While speaking to the woman from Continental I realized that we would actually be checking in online from home. We just have to make sure that we each end up with the correct boarding passes so we can get through security and check our bags.

Apr 17

Hawaii by cruise

My trip to Hawaii is barely a month away so I thought I would give an update on my plans there. Tara and I will be sailing with NCL America on the Pride of America on May 16.

We’re flying out on May 15 to Honolulu and will be spending the night on Waikiki Beach. The following day we will try to spend a little time at Waikiki and then head back over to Honolulu to drop our luggage off at the ship and take a little time to explore downtown Honolulu. If we can we would both like to do a tour of the only palace on US Soil, Iolanai Palace. Then we’ll go back and board the ship, hopefully our luggage will have made it to our room by then.

May 17th and May 18th we’ll be in Maui where we’ll be doing excursions for the Road to Hana and to Haleakala Crater for sunrise. If we’re still awake after that then we’ll probably go to a beach for a while, or maybe some shopping. You can sleep when you get home, right?

May 19th we’ll be in Hilo and are renting a convertible to go see Volcano’s National Park.

May 20th is Kona where we plan on taking a glass bottom boat and hitting the beach.

May 21st and 22nd we’ll be in Kauai. Here we’ll do an excursion to Wailua River and Fern Grotto and also a helicopter tour of the island – Tara refers to that as the day she is going to die. She’s very excited she just has trouble expressing herself.

May 23rd they kick us off the ship. Since our flight isn’t until 8pm we will go see Pearl Harbor on this day.

Apr 15

Pearl Harbor

I was recently watching a documentary about the Pearl Harbor attack, it was called Tora Tora Tora, not to be confused with the movie of the same name. It was really good, it went over the history of the relationship between the United States and Japan prior to Pearl Harbor and why the Japanese attacked. It closed with a segment about the 50th Anniversary. They had a memorial event there and Japanese veterans were invited to the event. It was interesting to hear the American survivors of the attack speak about meeting the Japanese. The Japanese who were interviewed were ones who had actively participated in the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Many of the American veterans seem to have forgiven them, I was a little surprised. There were also some veterans who have not been able to forgive these Japanese veterans. As a nation we have moved past the events, as we should, though as individuals we all deal with these things differently. I started to think about Pearl Harbor and the memorial that I am going to see in a few weeks a little differently.

I’ve been to many similar types of places in the world – Gettysburg, Dachau Concentration Camp, WWI Trenches, Khatyn Village and the the World Trade Center site. These are great places that help you remember those have fallen before us, but I think sometimes we forget about those who live on with the scars of those events, that was one of the things I got out of this documentary. These are the people who live with the violence of the event, remember their friends who did not survive, and ultimately must find peace with the event and maybe or maybe not find forgiveness for those who perpetrated those acts. The survivors are the ones who keep the history alive for the rest of us, so we can can remember those who were lost, but we can’t forget to remember those who have survived. That’s something I’ll remember when I’m in Pearl Harbor.

Mar 23

Tenement Museum, NYC

This past weekend I went to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, I had heard good things about this museum and I agree – it’s a very good museum. It’s located at 97 Orchard Street and the museum store is across the street at 108 Orchard Street, this is where you can arrange for a tour. The museums mission: promote tolerance and historical perspective and help preserve our immigrant heritage.

97 Orchard Street was a tenement house from the 1860’s until 1935 when it was deemed uninhabitable. In 1935 they sealed off the apartments and rented only the 4 store fronts. In 1997 the owner sold the building to the Tenement Museum people (Ruth Abram), the building is now a National Historical Site. Access to the museum is only available by one of the 4 tours offered inside the museum, there is also a lower east side walking tour available seasonally. The tours inside the museum are approximately 1 hour, the walking tour is 90 minutes.

I took an 11:45 tour called Piecing it Together, this tour concentrated on the growth of the garment industry on the lower east side. My tour guide, who was excellent (J.R. McCarthy), spoke a little bit about the museum from outside and then took us inside. Walking into the museum is like walking back in time, it’s lack of preservation is well preserved. The formerly redish wallpaper is now soot covered and gray/black. The metal covered ceiling is peeling, dark and dirty. I think the conditions in here struck me more then they did when I walked inside the Great Pyramid in Egypt. The museum also only offers limited lighting, similar to what you would have found back when the gas lighting was added.

We were first taken to one of the tenements that had not been fixed up since it was opened. The layers of linoleum floor were peeling, the layers of wallpaper were peeling, the wallpaper on the ceiling was peeling, pieces of the walls were missing, where the wood floor was still exposed it was heavily warn. Next we went to see 2 tenements – one housed a couple there 5 children and also served as a garment factory, this was a one bedroom. The second was the home of a garment worker. My tour guide described life in a tenement and the life of a new immigrant – no matter where they were from they were all living in the same circumstances. We also learned about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and the growth of the garment industry in New York City.

I thought this was a great museum, and absolutely worth a stop for anyone visiting NYC. The building allows a genuine visualization of tenement life at the turn of the century and my guide bridged the gap of understanding the lives of the people who lived in these tenements. My guide also talked about immigration and touched on the different groups who lived in these lower east side tenements.

If you’re interested in visiting the museum I would recommend booking a tour on-line or in person prior to your visit to the museum. I visited in March and several of the tours were already fully booked 2 days prior. My NYC guide book (Foders New York City 2009) recommends this museum for children. However, I’m not sure my 10 year old nephew would have the attention span for this, nor do I think he would appreciate the power of it. If you are interested in taking a child here the Confino Family Tour is recommended for children 5 and up or I would suggest looking into the childrens programs that are offered.

Mar 15

American Museum of Natural History

This weekend I went to the American Museum of Natural History in NYC with my sister, brother-in-law and 3 year old nephew. My nephew was really excited to see the dinosaurs, which he knows more about then I do. Natural history isn’t totally my thing, but lately I’ve thought I need to get out and visit these museums in NYC and I got invited here so I gave it a shot. There were some good things, and some not so good things.

Our first stop was the dinosaur rooms, which were really nice, even for a novice like me. Of note is that the T-Rex is mostly made of real T-Rex bones and was recently repositioned to represent what the newer research indicates was a more likely position for the T-Rex. We also went to see Dinosaurs Alive at the IMAX, which was really interesting, and showed how dedicated the museum is to dinosaur research (they dropped a lot of names of people who were working for the museum and are doing the filed research.) If you’re interested in dinosaurs this place is definitely worth visiting. The IMAX wasn’t quiet as good as some others I have seen, but the others I have seen were based on real video (one of the coral reefs and one from space) but this one was a mixture of things – video and computer technology, it ended up not being as dynamic as I’ve come to expect from IMAX movies.

The Milstein Hall of Ocean Life and the African Mammal Hall. I’m covering these together because my thoughts on them are pretty much the same. These halls are not a reason to visit this museum. They’re like the poor man’s Zoo and Aquarium. It’s not that the exhibits are cheap, but its dead stuffed animals with little bits of information about them. Unless the animal is extinct find a Zoo or Aquarium to see it in, it will be a much better experience. My 3 year old nephew did love these two rooms though, so maybe kids will like it.

We did make quick stops in a couple other rooms, but didn’t spend much time in them:
Northwest Coast Indians – this room seemed to have a bit of promise, though I suspect that the amount of stuff on exhibit might not make it to the top of the list of places to visit for someone really interested in this. But then again I don’t know too much about this topic so I could be wrong.
Human Origins – This was actually a pretty interesting exhibit and a place I wouldn’t have minded spending a little more time in. Though I suspect that someone who believes in creation wouldn’t want to bother stopping here.
Hall of Planet Earth – Another exhibit that showed some promise, but my nephew wanted to go home and play with his new dinosaurs so we didn’t spend much time in here.

Some other notes about the museum: I found the ticket line to be long at 1:00 on a Saturday and poor signage to explain different ticketing options. It was my first time there and found it confusing. You need to pay for admission and then for the IMAX and for any current/temporary exhibits. If we had realized this we probably would have gotten tickets for the climate change exhibit, but by the time we realized it, it was too late. The cafeteria is pretty nice, though it was so crowded and there were so many choices that it was a little overwhelming. There were the usual grilled options, a nice looking salad bar, sandwiches, pizza as well as some entrees and desserts. I wouldn’t shy away from eating here, though it’s not the cheapest option.

Mar 09

You Americans have no culture!

I was told this recently by a drunk Asian girl who had just been arrested. I suggested that our culture is to get drunk, do something stupid and get arrested. I don’t think she got the joke. But it’s not the first time I’ve heard this, but I’m not buying it. I think if you travel within western countries I think you’ll find that cultural differences are much more subtle. Come to the US from Egypt and things might seem a little different. But either way there is culture her in the US, but it’s made up of bits and pieces of other cultures and then it evolves over time. I’m going to talk a bit about New York culture in this post and then another day talk about culture in America more generally.

If you come to New York and all you see is the Empire State Building, Times Square and a couple museums you wont find too much culture. The first thing to realize is that New York City is filled with immigrants and decedents of immigrants. We have all the typical things you’ll find in other big cities like China Town or Little Italy, but head out to Brighten Beach and you’ll find Russian Jews, there are a lot of communities like that. Just a 100 or so years ago the lower east side as filled with tenements, which were filled with poor immigrants from all over the world (what Country might depend on the year). Today you’ll still find remnants of the Jews that lived there, only you’ll find that their Synagogues are emptier. You’ll also find quite a few new bars and clubs in the area. It’s a place that Jacob Riis described in How the Other Half Lives and today see this area “gentrified,” it’s a testament to the perseverance of American’s to improve their lot in life. The American dream is to give your children more then you had, and it’s a driving force in the way people live their lives.

There is a hustle and bustle to NYC that you wont find in a lot of other cities, people live and work here every day. People are very task oriented. At 8am at 34th Street and 7th Avenue people are figuring out how to get across the street the fastest without getting run over. We cross the street when there is a break in the traffic, we don’t wait for the little walking man – who has time for that? But at the same time if you were to stop a NYer and ask for help, they would probably help you. Our Police play a role too. You wont find as many con-games or expert pick pockets as you do in other large cites, we have it here, but it’s actively pursued by the Police which isn’t always the case in other places. The Police attempt to run everything extremely orderly, sometimes to the hindrance of the people who are trying to enjoy the event. But have you ever heard of people getting trampled at New Years Eve in Times Square? There is a certain orderly chaos to this sometimes rough city, but often you’ll find that their is a softer side to it too. We’ll help, you just have to know how to ask.

Feb 05

Youtube is your friend…

Once deciding to take the cruise on the Pride of America it was time to start thinking about what to do on the cruise. I printed out a copy of all 8,000 excursions they offer and my brain almost exploded. I read some of it, but it just wouldn’t stick so I bought a guide book – Hawaii By Cruise Ship. The book is pretty good for someone taking a cruise. It gives an overview of cruising, the options in Hawaii and general info on Hawaii. It also breaks down the islands and the things to do on each. But the book only spent a little time on places to eat and hotels, which is fine for my purposes.

But after getting a feel for each island I was still left wondering, which island should we take a Heli Tour on? The first island I read about was Kauai and the Heli tour there sounded amazing. But, wouldn’t a helicopter be a great way to see an active volcano? Isn’t that what all the cool people do? I did some more research online and it sounded like Kauai was the place to do it, but I still wasn’t sure. I decided to try Youtube.com. Someone must have a video on their heli tours – and yes, they do. The ones from Kauai were amazing – Waimea Canyon and the Na Pali coast are GORGEOUS! The ones of the Kilauea on the Big Island just were not all that exciting. A little red lava oozing out just did not look like what I pictured all the cool people doing. So, with a hesitant Tara in tow I will be doing the Heli tour over Kauai.

Feb 04

How about Hawaii???

A couple months ago I got an email from my dear friend Tara. She is finishing her Masters Degree in May and wanted to know where I was taking her. It didn’t take much thought, I knew she wanted to go to Ireland and Hawaii. Since I know Hawaii is her first choice I decided Hawaii it is. Beside, with the exchange rate for the USD, Ireland would be expensive and Hawaii is, well Hawaii. Need I say more?

After giving it some thought, particularly about the fact that I don’t know much about Hawaii, I thought… What about a cruise. I ran it by Tara, and she said it was ok, and whatever I say (she says that a lot.) I combed the options and decided that NCL’s Pride of America sounded fantastic. 2 days on each island so we would get to see all the islands. We start and end in Honolulu, then have 2 days in Maui, 1 day at each port on the Big Island – Hilo and Kona, and a day and a half on Kauai. We’ll also be sailing by the Na Pali Coast of Kauai and have an evening sail by the erupting Volcano on the Big Island.

How on earth will we ever decide what excrusions to do???