Category Archives: Travel

Hawaiian Adventure!

This post could also be titled, “Kim & Robby Eat Their Way Across Oahu,” or, perhaps, “The Longest Post Ever,” ha.

About a month ago, Robby started getting a hankering for a tropical vacation. We’d been squirreling away frequent flyer and hotel points, and we had just about enough for 2 round-trip tickets to Hawaii and 4 nights in a hotel. We have a pretty busy few months coming, and the only week that seemed to work was the first week of February. We hemmed and hawed a bit, and finally on a Tuesday we pulled the trigger and booked our trip to begin just 5 days later!

Bright and early Sunday morning, we made our way to LAX and boarded our flight to Honolulu.

Honolulu, here we come!

Five and a half hours later, we touched down around lunchtime in a warm tropical paradise! Our initial plan was to head straight over to the Pearl Harbor memorial, but once we got there we discovered they were out of tickets for the day. :( This actually turned out to be a blessing, because as we were re-grouping in the Pearl Harbor parking lot, we discovered that we had left one of our bags at the rental car lot. Of course, it was the bag that held our tablet computer and all of our travel documents. D’oh!

We raced back to the rental place, and, praise the Lord, our bag was still there. We were kind of shaken up at that point, so we headed to the nearest Jamba Juice to re-plan our afternoon. We decided that we would drive over to the “windward” side of the island to see some of the lookouts and beaches.

Great views from the Likelike Highway!

Our poor little rental Corolla struggled to make it up and over the mountain, but we finally arrived at the Nu’uanu Pali Lookout. It was terrifyingly windy, but offered an amazing view of the eastern side of Oahu! And, strangely, there were about a dozen chickens running around.

Nu'uanu Pali Lookout.

Robby looking out on Oahu.

Panoramic shot from Pali Lookout.

After we’d had enough of the feeling that we were going to be blown off the mountain, we headed over to Kailua beach to revel in the warm weather and gorgeous scenery.

Kailua Beach.

We then drove back across the island to check in to our hotel, the lovely Sheraton Waikiki on Waikiki Beach.

Our hotel!

View from the 21st floor.

After depositing our bags in our room (on the 21st floor!), we set out to explore Waikiki on foot. Our first stop was dinner…at PF Chang’s (I know, I know…not very adventurous of us. But we were hungry, and Robby was interested in seeing the end of the Super Bowl!). At dinner, I had my first-ever Mai Tai.

Mai Tai!

Yum!! After we had eaten, we wandered past the expensive shops in Waikiki, then got some Kona coffee and watched the sun go down.

Waikiki sunset.

The next morning, we got up before sunrise to hike the Diamond Head trail. (Because we were only in Hawaii for 4 days, we decided to stay on LA time–2 hours ahead of Oahu. This ended up being a great decision, since we could pack more activities into our day and take advantage of early-bird food specials). Diamond Head is a volcanic crater and the home of an old army bunker/lookout station. The trail was moderately steep, and involved a couple of narrow tunnels and steep staircases. We were feeling pretty good about our progress, until a huge tour group of little old Asian ladies passed us, haha.

The view from the top of Diamond Head was incredible. So worth the early-morning effort!

View from the Diamond Head trail.

View from the top of Diamond Head!

After our hike, we rewarded ourselves with some malasadas (Portugese doughnuts, which are apparently popular in Hawaii). The malasadas were fresh from the fryer and SO GOOD!

If you're ever in Honolulu, you must visit Leonard's for malasadas!

Hot, sugary malasadas...mmmmm.

Our next stop was a lookout over Hanauma Bay, a popular snorkeling spot. We considered snorkeling, but it was kind of expensive, so we just wandered around and looked at the scenery instead.

View of Hanauma Bay.

Someday, I’d like to go back and snorkel here, though!

On the way back to Waikiki from Hanauma, we passed a Costco and decided to stop for hot dogs. We were trying to keep our food costs down, and you can’t beat $1.50 for a hot dog and soda. ;)

After lunch, we drove back to the hotel and lounged by the pool–our only lazy experience of the whole trip!–before an early dinner and an evening of watching HGTV in the hotel room.

Relaxing by the hotel pool.

Tuesday morning started bright and early (7am!) at Pearl Harbor. We were lucky enough to get tickets for the first boat of the day, and spent the morning exploring the monument and a few of the many museums.

USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.

I love museums (hey, I was a history major!), but after a few hours I was feeling a bit of information overload. So, we ate a quick lunch and headed out to explore the North Shore.

After driving past the Dole pineapple fields, we ended up at Haleiwa Ali’i Beach park.

North Shore beach park.

After watching the surfers for a while, we wandered over to “Turtle Beach” and found 3 of these guys hanging out in the sunshine:

Sea turtles!!

We waded out into the water and found 2 more turtles swimming nearby. It was so neat!

Can you see the two turtle shells?

The cherry on top of our North Shore afternoon was splitting a huge shave ice at Matsumoto’s.

Shave ice, yippee!

We ran into a bit of traffic on our way back to Waikiki, but a yummy dinner at Kona Brewing Company more than made up for it. After dinner, we were so tired we fell asleep around 8pm, ha.

Wednesday was our last full day of vacation, so we decided to make the most of it by getting up early (again!) for a catamaran cruise around Waikiki Bay. The highlight of our ride was seeing a huge pod of dolphins swimming past the boat!

Double rainbow over the harbor (whooaahh!)

We're on a boat!

Right before we spotted the dolphins...we got a video of that, but no pictures. :(

We ate a quick lunch, then drove back up to the North Shore to explore the Waimea Botanical Gardens. The highlight of the gardens was a hike to Waimea Falls. The water was way too cold for me, but Robby jumped in and swam underneath the waterfall. I decided to stay on shore to take pictures. :)

Waimea Falls.

Can you see Robby under the waterfall?

After such a busy day, we were tired and hungry. We remedied the hunger at a restaurant called Cheeseburger. We had cheeseburgers, naturally, and were pleasantly surprised by the great happy hour prices–so much so that we splurged on a giant piece of mud pie!

That's not a pie, it's a mountain...

The second cheapest meal of our whole trip (after Costco hot dogs, haha).

Since it was our last night in Hawaii, we decided to jump in the hotel hot tub and then wander around a bit before going to bed early again (are you sensing a theme here? I felt like such an old lady going to bed so early every night!).

For our last morning of vacation, we treated ourselves to breakfast at a local spot called Eggs ‘n’ Things. Robby enjoyed the Portuguese sausage and eggs, while I devoured the banana pancakes topped with macadamia nuts and about half a can of whipped cream. :)

My whipped cream mountain.

After breakfast, it was time to check out of the hotel, return our rental car, and wave farewell to Hawaii from the plane. We were sad to leave our tropical paradise, but it was actually kind of nice to sit down for a few hours after 4 activity-packed days!

The cold weather and rain we’re having today in Pasadena makes me long for the warm breezes of Honolulu. We had a great vacation in Oahu and will definitely be going back someday!

Late Summer 2012 – Graduations, Birthdays, and Weddings

It’s been a busy summer, with lots to celebrate! Warning–lots of pictures below…

The fun started in late July, when I FINALLY graduated with my MBA, 5 1/2 years after I began the program. It’s such a huge relief to be done, and it even got me a promotion at work! :)

In my hard-earned cap and gown.

Proud husband.

Robby's as happy that I'm done with school as I am!

My sister Erin also got her master's degree the same day as me, and we shared a cake. :)

Best graduation present ever--pink champagne!

Next up was my cousin Jonathan’s wedding to his sweet bride, Cassie. Unfortunately, we missed most of the ceremony due to stupid SoCal traffic, but we do have one photo documenting our attendance:

Yep, that's the same dress I wore to graduation. Found it on clearance at J. Crew and I'm getting my money's worth out of it!

Our next summer celebration was Robby’s birthday in late August. I made him his favorite cheesecake brownies, decorated with space toys (in honor of the MSL landing, of course!).

In memory of the late Shuttle program...

I also made the (rash?) decision to chop off my long hair. Blame it on my approaching 30th birthday, I guess!

New haircut.

A few weeks after Robby’s birthday, it was time to celebrate mine–the big 3-0! My sweet husband planned a fun weekend for the two of us (and Lucy!) at a pet-friendly hotel in Long Beach. We had a great time relaxing by the pool, taking Lucy on walks by the marina, and visiting the Aquarium of the Pacific.

Lucy loved barking at the boats from our hotel room balcony!

She also claimed the hotel room couch as her own. :)

Petting rays at the aquarium.

This is how they do surgery on otters at the aquarium. :P

Robby once lost a spelling bee by mis-spelling the word "plover," so we had to document this sign...

Penguins!

I giggled when I saw a sign that said this was a "jackass penguin." Seriously.

More pink champagne for my 30th birthday!

A week after our trip to Long Beach, we were off again–this time, to Chattanooga, TN to see Robby’s brother Tim marry his lovely wife Kim (yes, there are now two Kim Stephensons in the family!). The wedding was beautiful, and we enjoyed getting to see so many relatives.

Tim and Kim saying their vows.

The newlyweds. Welcome to the family, Kim!

Me and my handsome husband.

The growing Stephenson family.

All the young ladies on Robby's mom's side of the family (except Kim!).

Our nephew Hudson modeling the astronaut shirt that Robby and I got him.

The only bad part of the trip came in the form of a nasty spider bite on my leg. Unfortunately, the bite swelled up to the size of a softball and got infected, and I had to go on antibiotics as soon as we got back to Pasadena. Ugh.┬áStill, we had a great time in Chattanooga, and are so happy to have a new sister-in-law! Oh, and we also got a fun surprise when we landed at LAX…we saw the plane that NASA used to fly the retired Space Shuttle over LA!

NASA plane.

All in all, it’s been a busy and fun summer. I’m looking forward to fall (assuming the temperature ever drops below 90┬░ here in LA!), especially since Robby and I are tentatively planning a big bathroom remodel! :)

San Diego Getaway

It took me five and a half years from start to finish, but I’ve finally earned my MBA! To celebrate, Robby and I took off for a few days of fun in one of my favorite places, San Diego. We had a fantastic time…almost makes up for the horrible time I had in Italy, haha. The timing was extra good since my sister Anne was graduating from UCSD that weekend, so we were able to cut down our travel distance.

We started our weekend getaway on Thursday by driving to Balboa Park for some museum-hopping. We hit the Miniature Railroad Museum and the Air and Space Museum. Needless to say, Robby loved both of them! The highlight was getting a special private tour of the Air and Space Museum from a chatty docent named Verne. We learned a lesson: don’t ask the retired volunteers questions unless you have several hours to spend getting the answers! All kidding aside, the tour was very cool, as were Verne’s stories about meeting famous pilots.

Balboa Park!

Miniature Railroad Museum

Robby enjoying the Air and Space Museum

My favorite part of the Air and Space Museum--historical flight attendant uniforms, haha.

After our day at the museums, we headed out to Point Loma to check into our hotel–a funky little midcentury modern place called the Pearl. It was a fun little place, complete with boxed water, a betta fish, and a sweet pool and lounge area.

Boxed water in the hotel room

Our temporary pet fish, Presley

Hanging out poolside at the Pearl

After checking in to our hotel, we ate dinner at the restaurant downstairs. After dinner, we drove out to downtown San Diego for some nighttime sightseeing, and a trip to the most awesome restaurant ever, Extraordinary Desserts.

The dessert we chose: a caramelized chocolate lava cake!

The next day (Friday), we woke up late and then headed down to the Cabrillo National Monument. We spent some time wandering through the tidepools and the museum, and then looking out over the harbor. After we visited the lighthouse, Robby noticed that one of the aircraft carriers was pulling out to sea. We looked up the ship’s number, and learned that it was the USS Nimitz headed out to Hawaii. We had a great view, and Robby declared it the highlight of the whole trip! :)

Tidepools at Cabrillo Monument

Robby giddily watching the Nimitz leave port

We had a great view of the carrier!

After seeing the Nimitz off, we headed up to Ocean Beach to visit another amazing place: Lighthouse Ice Cream, home of the waffle ice cream sandwich. (Are you sensing a theme here? I’m kind of a dessert-aholic!) They take two hot, freshly-made waffles and spread ice cream in the middle. Sooooo good!

Enjoying my waffle ice cream sandwich

We had lunch after our dessert, at a pizza place in Ocean Beach. After that, we drove back to the harbor area to people-watch and enjoy the lovely afternoon. After getting our fill of the fresh air and sunshine, we drove up to La Jolla to check in to our second hotel. We drove out to UCSD to scope out the parking situation for Anne’s graduation the next morning, and then had dinner at the Rock Bottom Brewery. By that point, we were pretty tired so we headed back to the hotel for an early bedtime–especially because we had to get up at 5AM the next day for the graduation, yuck.

Saturday morning started way too early as we headed out to the graduation. It was a long day, but worth it to see my little sister get her college degree! After the ceremony, my family had lunch at Miguel’s, and then Robby and I settled in for our 3.5-hour drive home. The drive was way too long, but we were happy to get home to our sweet dog. And she was happy to see us!

European Adventure, Part 3: London

On Thursday, we hit the Rome train station bright and early. Our plan was to head back to Florence to meet Ashley, and then the three of us would take a train to Pisa, fly into Gatwick, and take the Tube into London.

Checking out of our hotel in Rome. The elevator barely fit us and our luggage!

High speed train!

Unfortunately, our plans changed a bit when the train from Rome got delayed and we missed our connection in Florence. That left us scrambling for another route to Pisa, and we weren’t sure where Ashley was since our phones didn’t work overseas. :( Robby figured out that we could get to Pisa in time for our flight if we took two different trains, so that’s what we did.

We made it to the Pisa airport, checked in for our flight, and then wandered around, looking for Ashley. We eventually bumped into her, and discovered that we had been on the same Florence-to-Pisa train! When she saw that our train from Rome was delayed, she decided not to get on the original train, and ended up taking the same detour we did. Eventually, we all got on the flight and made it to London uneventfully.

London was cold and drizzly as we made our way to Victoria station on the train. We didn’t want to walk to our hotel in the rain, so we hailed a classic British taxi!

Taxi!

We were pleasantly surprised to find that our hotel was new, gorgeous, and super modern. Our room had a full kitchen, free gourmet snacks and drinks, and even a washer-dryer! Best of all, Robby found a deal online, so we paid less than half of the standard (super high) room rate. :)

Our awesome hotel room.

After checking in and resting for a bit, we decided to venture out for dinner and some sightseeing. We found a great little pub and loaded up on burgers, bangers & mash, and beer.

The pub!

Then we made a big walking loop around the West End, from Big Ben and Parliament to Buckingham Palace. We ended up near the London Eye, and on impulse we decided to take a ride. It was scary, but the views were amazing!

Big Ben and Parliament at night.

Boarding the London Eye.

View from the Eye.

View of London from the top of the Eye.

After our late-night “flight” on the London Eye, we headed back to our hotel for some much-needed sleep.

Friday morning, we woke up early, hunted down some coffee and pastries for breakfast, and took the Tube to the Tower of London. We spent several hours exploring the Tower, from the Crown Jewels to the Armory. Robby was especially enthralled!

Robby outside the Tower.

Robby, looking kingly. :)

View of the Tower Bridge from the walls of the Tower of London.

Robby wearing a replica of a medieval soldier's helmet.

Irish Guardsman outside the Crown Jewels.

My own personal guardsman. :)

We found a fairly swanky restaurant for lunch, and built up our strength for a trip to Westminster Abbey. We spent some time looking at all the monuments and tombs, then took the Tube up to King’s Cross Station to hunt down platform 9 3/4. :)

Take me to Hogwarts!

We rounded off our day with a dizzying trip to Topshop (a UK clothing store similar to H&M) before heading back to the hotel to rest a bit before dinner. Our plan was to walk toward the Millennium Bridge and St. Paul’s cathedral and find some dinner along the way, but we were soon stopped by a downpour. We took shelter in a pub, which had unfortunately stopped serving real food for the evening. Thus, we ended up having potato chips for dinner before staggering back to our hotel and falling into bed. Sort of a weird way to end our time in London, but the day overall was pretty great–I just wish we had had more time!

Sadly, Robby and I had a pretty early flight back to LA on Saturday morning, so we had to wake up early, pack up our stuff, say our goodbyes to Ashley, and catch the train to Heathrow. Thankfully, our flight back to LA was uneventful (though sooooo long!), and we made it home around 4pm on Saturday (LA time). Lucy was super excited to see us, and we were happy to be home!

Overall, our trip ended well even though it got off to a bad start. I’m still sad that food poisoning prevented me from really experiencing the sights (and food!) of Italy, but I loved, loved, loved seeing London with Robby and Ashley. For me, the highlights of the trip were:

  • Our 3 amazing hotel rooms. Robby planned our travel, and he did an awesome job with the accommodations!
  • Shopping at the Prada store and getting an amazing wallet. I felt a bit like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. :P
  • Seeing historic sites in Rome.
  • My one and only cup of gelato–stracciatella and coffee flavors!
  • Getting to ride the high-speed train in Italy.
  • Exploring London by night.
  • Yummy pub food.
  • Seeing the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey.
  • Riding the Tube.

There were a few things I wish had gone differently (sickness, obviously, as well as cold, rainy weather and lots of time spent travelling to and from different places), but I guess that means Robby and I will have to go back sometime and see more of Italy and London. I’m definitely ok with that! :)

European Adventure, Part 2: Rome

Our high-speed train pulled into Rome late Tuesday afternoon, and we struggled to haul our luggage through the narrow, bumpy streets to our hotel. When we arrived, our room unfortunately reeked of cigarette smoke. Robby asked politely if there was another room we could stay in, and the hotel staff stunned us by moving us to the penthouse suite, which came complete with its own private rooftop terrace! Holy cow, the room was awesome (although the mattress was super hard!). :)

Nice hotel room!

Our sweet rooftop terrace! Unfortunately, rainy weather prevented us from really using it.

After checking out our room (I may have done some excited squealing!), we ventured out to take in the ruins of ancient Rome at sunset and have some pizza. Unfortunately, I think I tried to do too much that day, and had a bit of a meltdown/relapse after dinner. :(

I had mostly recovered by Wednesday morning, so we started our day with an ambitious walk toward the Vatican. Along the way, we saw the Trevi fountain and the Pantheon:

Robby near the Trevi fountain.

Bad self-portrait by the fountain. I loved all the mythical details!

Pantheon! Crazy that this 2,000 year old building sits right in the middle of a modern city.

Inside of the Pantheon.

Tiny car! This one's for my dad. :)

When we arrived at St. Peter’s, we were surprised to find that there was a huge event going on, with tens of thousands of people gathered on the plaza.

St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City.

The massive crowds prevented us from seeing the Sistine Chapel (boo!), and it had started to rain, so we ducked into a nice little osteria for some pasta (sadly, it was the only pasta I had our entire time in Italy!). Because of the rain, we headed back to our hotel. We had planned to see the Colosseum that afternoon, but I was so wiped out by everything that I ended up sleeping the rest of the day and into the evening. I wasn’t about to leave Italy without having some gelato, though, so I begged Robby to find some for me, and that’s what I had for dinner. :)

The next morning (Thursday), we woke up early, ate a bunch of pastries at the hotel’s breakfast bar (yay!), and headed off to the train station to move on to the third and final leg of our European adventure–London!