After our miserable experience getting to the Boston area, it was somewhat gratifying that the process of getting out of Boston and into Maine was much less taxing. After I picked up our hire car at the airport and collected J2 and our stuff at our hotel, we were on the road by 8:30, and in Ogunquit, Maine, easily one of my favourite places in the world, by 10. Our hotel room of course was not quite ready, and my sister and niece were already out and about, so we just left our things at reception and headed out to meet them.

Not surprisingly, they were wandering around Perkins Cove, one of the especially scenic and popular areas of Ogunquit, a small cove with lobster boats, a charming wooden drawbridge, and dozens of shops and restaurants that cater to the tourists who flock here during the summer. Our internal clocks were quite out of kilter, so even though it was not even 11am yet, we were starving, and it took absolutely no convincing on our part at all to persuade my sister, niece and Jimmy-in-law to have an early lunch as soon as the restaurants began to open.

We chose Oarweeds, a venerable old place overlooking the water for our meal, and chose  the only thing logical for this place at this time of day, a lobster roll. For the uninitiated, a lobster roll is a simple thing, nothing more than cold cut-up cooked lobster meat in some sort of sauce (usually either mayonnaise-based or butter-based) served in a New England-style hot dog bun (which means it kind of looks like a very thick slice of bread, cut nearly in two with a top-to-nearly-the-bottom slice) typically made with a potato-enriched dough. The bun should be buttered on the outside and griddle-toasted, so that the outside is a bit crispy but the inside remains moist.

The lobster roll at Oarweeds was a disappointment in many ways. While it had all the right elements, it was sorely lacking in volume, so that it did not offer the wow-factor you expect when you’re about to dive into this New England icon. See pictorial evidence below:

apc_0209Not only was the lobster roll a bit meh, the potato chips that accompanied it were from a large national commercial operation, not a local boutique shop, which was disappointing.

The rest of our day in Ogunquit was spent wandering the streets, which I was pleased to see had not changed much since my last visit around a decade ago. (While that was the last time we spent any time in Ogunquit, we had been here in the intervening years on a day-trip from Boston to have dinner at what was our favourite restaurant anywhere in the world, the late lamented Arrows, which was in many ways the inspiration for what we do and how we do it at the lodge). The old Harbour Candy Shop is the same as ever, and their hand-made confections are just as we remembered them, and many of the old shops are still at it, though some with a more modernised offering.

Toward evening we met up with our cousin Dave and his wife Cathy, who were visiting the US from England. Dave’s family also used to visit Ogunquit often and he continues to come over from the UK (and from his former home in Denmark) fairly regularly. We all piled in our cars after drinks at their place and headed for dinner at the Ogunquit Lobster Pound, another venerable institution that we had visited many times over the years. A lobster pound, for the uninitiated, is a quintessential New England institution, a sort of seafood shop where you can either buy your lobsters, clams and what-not raw to take home and cook, or have them cook them for you to take home and eat, or, in many places, sit down and enjoy your meal on-site. Thus, when you place an order in the restaurant for, say, steamers and lobsters, you go to the tanks and select your chosen victim(s) yourself. You can thus opt to have lobsters of any size, from small one-pounders, to more typical 1-1/2 to 2-pounders, or even gargantuan 4-pounders, and you can opt for regular lobsters or “culls”, which have lost one or both claws (this is what my family always used to order, since we preferred the tail meat to the claws; these days I have developed an appreciation for the claw).


With my sister at the Ogunquit Lobster Pound

The steamers here (again, for the uninitiated, these are soft-shelled clams that tend to like to bury themselves in the sand at the bottom of the sea, so you have to know how to clean them properly to enjoy them, lest they be full of grit) were excellent, sweet and full of clammy flavour, and the lobsters (I had a two-pounder, something I can never remember doing before) were exquisite, among the best I can remember having.

Unfortunately, it’s not quite blueberry season here yet, so it seemed pointless to have blueberry pie (the quintessential post-lobster dessert) at the Pound, so we instead headed a bit up the road to a local ice cream shop for dessert, where gigantic and excellent ice cream cones were on offer at obscenely cheap prices. It’s called Skin’s Scoop (I prefer not to know why) and it was good enough that we went back on a subsequent evening to try some more of their wide range of flavours.

On our first full day in Maine we started things off with breakfast at Congdon’s Doughnut Shop, another of the places that we used to visit whenever we were in Maine for an order of pancakes, which I seem to remember included the option (never sampled) of lobster pancakes. We had failed to consider that our visit was coinciding with Father’s Day, so there was a huge line of people waiting to get in by the time we arrived, but that would not deter us. We eventually got a table, placed our order and found out that any “father” who made himself a necktie out of duct tape was entitled to a free doughnut, and apparently dog parents count, so J2 and I quickly made ourselves a tape tie and collected our rewards. Unfortunately, the pancakes did not live up to my memory of them, and none of us managed to finish what we had ordered.


Blueberry Pancakes, Congdon’s


Fried Clams, Onion Rings and Potatoes, The Clam Shack

We then found ourselves in the town of Kennebunkport, home to the Bush family estate at Walker Point, and to the famous Clam Shack where we decided to have our lunch. The fried clams were as good as I remember, as were the fried onion rings, and J2 enjoyed his fried haddock and chips. For dinner, it was back to Perkins Cove, this time to have a lobster roll at the Lobster Shack, which was many times better than Oarweeds the previous day.


Lobster Roll, The Lobster Shack

One of the activities that people engage in in the Ogunquit area is outlet shopping, so we decided to do a bit of that ourselves the next day, taking in the shops of Kittery, one of the first towns you hit on entering Maine from New Hampshire. The shops have turned out not to be terribly appealing to us, since we found nothing that we couldn’t live without, but we did find our way to Bob’s Clam Hut for lunch, where the fried clams were far better than what we had had in Kennebunkport, albeit in somewhat less appealing ambience (located off a major highway, rather than overlooking a charming harbour).


Fried Clams, Bob’s Clam Hut

For dinner we returned to Perkins Cove to have lobster rolls at one more spot, this one with no seating at all so we sat on a bench overlooking the water, enjoying what would turn out to be the best lobster rolls of the trip. They were not only much bigger than the ones elsewhere, but they offer you the choice of mayonnaise or hot butter, as well as the chance to put hot sauce on the lobster, something I had never seen before. I had the roll with butter and the scales suddenly fell from my eyes, since I had never considered that to be an acceptable form of lobster roll. Rest assured, I will be trying this again!


Lobster Roll, Footbridge Lobster Shack

For our last day in Maine we finally had really beautiful weather for most of the day, so my sister and I walked around the beach and I took my camera out and shot a bunch of photos of the coastline. J2 and I had lunch at a barbecue joint that turned out to be surprisingly good, despite our distance from places associated with barbecue. In the evening we took a drive down to York to have our last dinner of the Maine portion of the trip at a place with scenery, opting for Fox’s Lobster Pound in the shadow of Nubble Light. This is a place we had never visited before, despite the many years of visiting the area, and it turned out to be a great find–the pricing was extremely reasonable, the seafood was fresh as can be, and everything tasted absolutely wonderful. The fact that we got a great show as the sun descended was just icing on the cake. For dessert we visited the nearby Dunne’s Ice Cream, where the ice creams were a tad more interesting than Skin’s, but prices were a lot higher, too (servings were also enormous).


Lobster, Fox’s Lobster Pound

I thought I was saying farewell to seafood when we left Maine for our friends’ place in Massachusetts, but I should have known better–for lunch one day we made our way to Marshfield’s Green Harbor Lobster Pound where we got to sample their lobster rolls (a close third to the Lobster Shack) after a visit to the Daniel Webster Natural Preserve to take photos of the local birdlife.


Lobster Roll, Green Harbor Lobster Pound

Our final New England seafood dinner was at our friends’ house, where they cooked up steamers and lobsters from a nearby seafood purveyor that turned out to be the best of all the places we had visited thus far, plus we got to do so accompanied by delicious French wine.

Lobster Rolls Rated:

  1. Footbridge Lobster Rolls, Perkins Cove ME
  2. Lobster Shack, Perkins Cove ME
  3. Green Harbor Lobster Pound, Marshfield MA
  4. (Distant) Oarweeds, Perkins Cover ME

Fried Clams Rated:

  1. Bob’s Clam Shack, Kittery ME
  2. The Clam Shack, Kennebunkport ME

Steamers Rated:

  1. Mullaney’s Steamers Prepared by Paul Schuburt, Cohasset MA
  2. Lobster Shack, Perkins Cove ME
  3. Ogunquit Lobster Pound, Ogunquit ME

Steamed Lobsters Rated:

  1. Mullaney’s as Prepared by Paul Schubert, Cohasset MA
  2. Ogunquit Lobster Pound, Ogunquit ME
  3. Fox’s Lobster Pound, York ME

Ice Cream Rated:

  1. Dunne’s Ice Cream, York ME
  2. Skin’s Ice Cream, Wells ME
Posted by: JLG | 19 June 2017

The Longest Day

We are forever telling people that flying between the US and NZ is not that bad, that once you’re on the plane in Los Angeles or Houston, you watch a few movies and before you know it you’ve arrived in Auckland. As much as I still believe that to be true, it is important to recall that if your end points are not Auckland on the NZ end and an Air NZ port of entry on the US side, the speed of your trip may differ considerably.

Take, for example, our experience today. With a flight to catch from Christchurch at 1pm to get to Auckland, we left Oamaru by 7:30am, so that we’d have plenty of time to get to our friends’ place where we’d leave the car, and then check in for our flight and grab something to eat at the Koru Lounge. This all went seamlessly and our flight landed in Auckland on time at 2:30pm or so, giving us plenty of time to walk to the international terminal, check in again and go to the gate to board the flight to Houston. I had hoped that my application for a status recognition upgrade to Premium Economy would have been approved, but alas the flight was pretty full and we were relegated to regular Economy seating, and we didn’t even manage to get exit-row seats!

The flight from Auckland to Houston takes close to 14 hours, and believe me, when you’re sitting in Economy class seats with virtually no leg room, you are not looking at spending the flight in blissful sleep. In fact, I do not think I got any sleep at all, but I reasoned that that would set me up to sleep well at the hotel near Logan Airport.

Arriving in Houston at 12:30pm local time (still the same day we left NZ), we were both a bit groggy, but standing in the long customs line helped to wake us up (we were forced into the long line because I had answered “yes” to the question about bringing food into the country—for future reference, bringing a few jars of honey as gifts is not worth the additional scrutiny), as did walking over to the gate area for our connecting flight to Boston. We grabbed a bite to eat (Tex-Mex, of course) and headed to the gate, where it seemed half the U.S. military was already waiting for our flight, scheduled to leave at 5:45pm. As the boarding time approached, however, I noticed that the board at the gate had a note that, due to Air Traffic Control, our flight had been delayed to 7:30pm. That time turned into a bit of a moving target, but finally they announced that ATC had released the flight, though there was now the new problem that the crew who were set to fly our plane had clocked out and needed to be refreshed with a new crew. (They never explained why that was never thought of during the many hours that we sat waiting for ATC to release the flight.) We finally boarded the flight at 9:30pm, and just as we thought things were finally looking up, and we might finally take off, the pilot announced that ATC had grounded us again due to the weather in Boston! That delayed us a further 30 minutes, so that instead of arriving at a relatively civil 10:30pm Boston time, we instead landed at 2am.

Unsurprisingly, there were very few baggage personnel at work at that hour, so the wait for our luggage was a bit on the long side, as was the wait for a taxi to get to our hotel (their free shuttle shuts down at 2am, so we had to take a cab instead). It was 4am when we finally reached our hotel, and it was here, at check-in, that I realized that the TSA had, in the course of inspecting my checked suitcase, managed somehow to jam the lock in such a way as to make it unopenable. Luckily, I was able to cut through the cable (guess it was designed more to deter thieves than completely stymie them) and get to my stuff so that I could brush my teeth, something I was desperate to do after going 36 hours without doing so, and finally get some sleep!



Posted by: JLG | 15 June 2017

And we’re off again!

After seven years in New Zealand, you’d think we’d be used to this routine of closing up shop toward June and heading off on our annual trip. (Well, nearly annual, since we skipped 2013 when we were dealing with our immigration situation, and in 2015 J2 stayed behind to work on the Annex expansion.) But this year it has really snuck up on us, not least because we managed to stay quite busy right up until the day before our departure. But tomorrow we are off on our 2017 odyssey, taking in a relatively ambitious six countries and 16 cities in 52 days.

We fly from Christchurch through Auckland to Houston, and after a quick connection we have a United Airlines flight to Boston (which I anticipate with a modicum of dread, owing to all the publicity United has been receiving lately for all the wrong reasons). We’ll stay overnight at a hotel at Logan Airport on Friday night before collecting a rental car and driving to Ogunquit, Maine, a particular favourite haunt of mine and a place that we have not visited properly in quite some time. Even better than going to this place so dear to my heart is that my sister will be meeting us there, and as if that wasn’t enough to make this a very special visit, my niece will join us and so will my London-based cousin, whom we don’t get to see very often at all (even though we stayed at his when we visited the UK last year).

After a few days in Maine, we’ll head to Boston for a few meetings and a reunion with dear friends from my grad school days, and then it’s off to Connecticut where I’ll see my mom and her new digs. Then J2 will head to DC while I spend a few days in NYC, and we’ll reunite in the capital and see more dear friends, including a long-planned but never-consummated grad school reunion at our friends’ place in West Virginia. After spending July 4 in DC we catch a flight to Munich, where things become even more peripatetic, with stops in that city, Berlin, Stockholm, Helsinki, Copenhagen and Frankfurt, along with a visit with guests from this past season who have invited us to their winery in the Nahe region of Germany for a few nights.

Our last stop will be in Vietnam, a new country for me, where we’ll visit Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hue, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City (has anyone ever noticed how many Vietnamese places start with “H”??) over the course of two weeks, and then it’s back home in early August.

Stay tuned here for my reportage of this trip, and of course photos!

Posted by: JLG | 25 March 2017

How Could I Forget the Biggest News??

I cannot believe I forgot the biggest news of all in my last post, so, rather than make both my loyal readers wait another eight months for me to write about it, let’s get to it now.

You may remember (if I wrote about it before) that we ordered a FlowHive when I first saw an Indiegogo campaign for it around two years ago. This is a high-tech beehive that purported to allow even a tyro to have bees at home without having to deal with those old-fashioned frames that required you to figure out how to separate the honey from the comb. This hive has a specially designed frame that, in normal use, provides the bees with a normal-looking cell to deposit their honey in, but when you want to collect the honey you insert a special “key”, turn it in a slot at the top of the frame, and those cells convert into a sort of channel that allows the honey to flow down and out of the hive through a little spout. Easy! Our hive arrived last year, but we could not let bees in until the spring, so in September a local apiarist took our hive away so that he could introduce a queen that he had bred into it, together with a small number (5000 or so) attendant bees. He brought them back a few weeks later, and ever since they have been going about their business, collecting nectar and turning into honey.

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Inspecting brood box frame

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Inspecting FlowHive honeycomb frame


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Me in my bee suit


A few weeks ago, our apiarist friend came by to help us collect the honey, but we ran into a few snags. First, the key was REALLY hard to turn in the frame, and since we were not sure how forcefully we could turn it before we’d break the thing, we ended up not getting anywhere. So I did a bit of reading and learned that the bee’s was and “bee glue” can make turning the key difficult, so they advise that you start gradually and go at it a bit firmly. I tried it again, and found that I was able to turn the key successfully, and sure enough,the honey started to flow into the container I had put underneath the spout! I figured I’d let it go for a bit undisturbed, and went to do something else for a little while. When I returned about ten minutes later, however, I realised I had not considered the fact that the bees would not be too happy about their hard-earned honey flowing out of the hive and into some stranger’s bucket, so they started flying into the bucket to try to retrieve it. What they did not think about, however, was that the honey is quite sticky and they ended up getting stuck in it, and the bucket was full of dead and dying bees. I quickly closed the hive back up and waited for my apiarist to return, which he did the other day.

Nelson, as the apiarist is called, had come up with a clever approach to getting the honey out of the hive without running the risk of the bees getting stuck in the honey again. What we did was to separate the honey box from the rest of the hive, allowing us to smoke the bees out of the honey box and then, once it was free of bees, take it into the garage where we could let the honey flow freely. Again, it was a bit of a challenge to turn the key, but once we did the honey flowed beautifully, and before we knew it we had filled the bucket that I had set up for our harvest. Luckily I had a second container handy and before long, that was filled, too!

All in all, we collected from three of the six frames in the hive, and collected a whopping 8.6kg (18lb)! The honey is delicious–a bit spicy to start, and with a long finish. It will take the place of the honey we have been using on the breakfast table, and should last me till next year, when we’re told we can expect a bigger harvest!

Posted by: JLG | 25 March 2017

2017 Update

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0609.JPGFor around a year I have been envious of a friend of ours, a professional photographer who came down to Oamaru to visit his in-laws, and who brought his DJI drone to shoot some images of the lodge for us. I thought this was an amazing thing, something that I would have loved to have for myself, but they were way too bulky and seemed kind of hard to fly. Fast-forward a few months to a guest who came to stay at the lodge and who told me about his new drone, also by DJI, but this one was foldable, dead-easy to fly, and yet still took incredible images. Better still, it was relatively inexpensive (relatively being the operative word). I thought I would possibly look into acquiring one of these devices on our next US trip, but right around Christmas the company had a promotion in their Australia store, making the price out of there competitive with the US price, so I bit the bullet and ordered one.

The Mavic Pro, as it’s called, is indeed much smaller than that drone my friend has. It has an absolutely ingenious design and works really well. You fly the thing with a controller that you connect to your iPhone or Android device, and the drone records images or videos on a tiny memory card on-board. After a few tentative first flights while I got used to the thing, I eventually got over my fear of crashing it into a tree or landing it into a body of water, and started to take images of the house from way up in the air. I even got bold enough to take it off-site to Moeraki to get a new perspective on the famous boulders. See for yourself above and below.

The images I’ve got of the house are pretty good, too, though they have made it abundantly clear that it’s time to get the roof replaced, a project that commences in a few weeks:



The photo above also shows the change to the roof of the annex (bottom of the image) which is now much larger than it used to be. You can also see me in the picture above–that’s me to the right of the house, just above the little square pond!

In other developments, Ashley, my sous chef of the past three years, has accepted a full-time job as the executive chef at another restaurant in town, and will be leaving us at the end of the season. We have started recruiting a possible replacement, and have interviewed a few people already, though none has quite ticked all the boxes. The search continues.

Speaking of the kitchen, we have begun a bit of renovation work in the kitchen, replacing all the lighting with LEDs, replacing the rather awful fluorescents that had been there, and which I always dreaded having to replace. The new lights offer several advantages over the old ones–they’re flush with the ceiling, so they won’t collect grease and give flies a perch to land on; they are supposed to last 10 years, so I should not have to replace bulbs as often as we did before; and they are a lot brighter than the old lamps. See for yourself:

The lamps went up just yesterday, and today J2 was already up painting the ceiling white (it had been a sort of orangey-yellow, similar to the walls, which he will also be repainting prior to our next project).

The next project is to replace the cabinets on the west wall of the kitchen, along with those in the pantry, and to install cabinets and storage in the room we call the Emporium. This should help us to organise things a bit better than has been the case up to now, especially in the Emporium, where the dishes we serve dinner on are stacked somewhat haphazardly all over the place. The Emporium will also have a nice granite countertop and a little desk area so that guests who wish to use a computer can do so in a more suitable environment than has been the case up to now. Here’s what the kitchen looks like at the moment (in a photo that my mom took in 2010; we no longer have the toaster, the blender, the music player, or the dishes that you can see in the photo), I’ll share ‘after’ photos when the project is done:

slg-20110106-0297.jpgWe have booked our trip for 2017–in fact, we booked it earlier this year than in any year so far, since our cashflow allowed us to make the airline ticket purchase much sooner than normal. We’ll be flying out on June 16, a bit later than usual, but timed to allow us to welcome some guests who have booked out the lodge for two nights on the 13th and 14th of June to attend the Lions rugby match in Dunedin. We’ll be flying from NZ straight to Boston, where we’ll spend the night at the airport before collecting a rental car and driving to Ogunquit to see my sister and cousin for a few days. We’ll then make our way to Cohasset to see our friends Cindy and Paul, and then work our way through Connecticut to NYC, and then finally to DC where we’ll spend July 4th, and then fly to Munich on the 5th. From there we start a few weeks of meetings in Germany, Sweden, Finland and Denmark before flying from Frankfurt to Ho Chi Minh City for our first visit to Vietnam! I’m very excited finally to get to this, my 101st country (if you accept the countries as defined by the Travelers’ Century Club, and why wouldn’t you?). We’ll be visiting Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hue, Hoi An and Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City for a total of two weeks, including a food/market tour in Hoi An and a street food tour in Saigon. I cannot wait!

Lastly, we are working on a new book that we hope to have printed in time for our northern trip. This book is intended both as a marketing tool to get more travel agents to recognise Oamaru as a destination worthy of a multiple-night stay (it’s not for nothing that the town is the fastest-growing international destination on the South Island, and also the #4 place in NZ that foreigners want to buy property in), and also as a memento for our guests, who will be welcome to purchase a copy. If you’d like to be one of our pre-printing reviewers, let me know and I’ll link you to a PDF of the current version, but you better be quick, since we need to go to press in early April.

Apologies for the long gap between posts–I’ll surely be posting more often during our trip, and will update you on the progress of our couple of projects.

Posted by: JLG | 27 October 2016

Omarama Outing

As part of my responsibilities as a board  member on our local tourism authority, I occasionally have to travel to some of the district’s far-flung spots for our monthly meetings. Up until now I have always made that a day-trip, since after all, nowhere in the Waitaki District is more than a 90-minute or so drive from Oamaru. But for this month’s meeting, in the country town of Omarama in the shadow of the Southern Alps, I decided I’d take the opportunity to have a night away and try to get some photos of the amazing night sky up there.

I left Oamaru shortly after our guests of the previous night checked out of the lodge, at around 10:30am. The weather was pretty poor here in Oamaru–cloudy, grey and threatening rain–but I had great hopes that it would improve as I moved inland. I often take the back roads to get to the Elephant Rocks, and almost always get lost when doing so, but this time, with the Elephant Rocks not part of my plan I of course got to them easily. I decided that I would stop in Duntroon, however, and see if I could visit the newly restored Nichol’s Blacksmith Shop, a heritage forge that friends of ours recently fixed up into a new tourist attraction. Unfortunately, it was not open when I got there, and there was literally not a single thing open nearby where I might ask if anyone was around who might be able to open it up. This is one of the frustrations I find with the Waitaki Valley–there are plenty of things worth seeing and doing, but finding them open is always a challenge.


Moa at Nichol’s Blacksmith

I had better luck as I approached the next town along the road, Kurow. Kurow is home to the Waitaki Valley’s wineries, and the biggest of them, Pasquale Viticultura, is almost always open, so I stopped in for a visit with their manager, Renzo. I even walked out with some wine, a case of their Stella Nera sparkling wine to use as a welcome quaff for our guests as they arrive, that was offered to me at a very good price.


Wine selection at Pasquale Viticultura

In the town of Kurow itself I stopped at the Vintner’s Drop, the tasting room of our favourite New Zealand wine maker, Ostler, where I tasted their newest varietal, a lovely Gewürtztraminer that could be a good pairing for our Asian menus. Across the street from them I popped in to the Game Keeper, where a former All Black now makes European-style charcuterie using local pork and lamb. His culatello and speck were both excellent, so I got a bit to take home and use at the lodge (would have been great if I could have had a sandwich with it, but there is no good baker in Kurow).


Vintner’s Drop, Kurow


The Game Keeper, Kurow

I got to Omarama early enough and in pleasant enough weather that I decided to venture a bit further and visit the town of Twizel for the first time since 2010. Twizel was established in the 1960s when they built some of the dams along the Waitaki River, and people liked it enough that many of the workers stayed when the projects were finished. The town has boomed lately as more and more people built holiday homes here to avoid the crowds in Wanaka. Sure enough, there are a lot more restaurants, cafés and shops than there were six years ago, and the town is also home to the head office of the Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail, so I stopped in to say  hi. The manager, another American guy, was pleased to have a bit of a distraction so he took me on a drive to visit a new luxury B&B that has opened nearby on the banks of the Pukaki River. Their place is really lovely, and the view from their sitting room (and the guest rooms) is right up the lake toward Mt Cook (though the mountain was obscured by cloud). They’ve only been open for six months but they report that they’ve been really busy and are already taking days off to have a bit of a break. I could not imagine being in that position ourselves six years ago!


Lake Pukaki

By the time I returned to Omarama to check into my B&B for the night, the skies had turned very dark grey and torrential rain was falling. The place was clean enough, but there were quite a few things not quite right in the room. When I signed their guest book I noticed that some of our recent guests also stayed here a few days ago, and I can only imagine what they thought of the place (they were very nice, but their standards were very high; my hostess let me know that she was not too fond of them, though I got on with them very well). I had dinner at the local pub–the place most highly recommended by my hostess–and it was pretty poor, though at least it was pretty cheap, too. I should probably have driven back to Twizel.


Looking toward Mt Cook

It was really good to get out of Oamaru for a night and experience some of the rest of our area as a visitor might; next time I’d like to stay at the B&B I visited and see if I might have better luck with the weather–I am determined to get some night sky photos up here one day!!

Posted by: JLG | 14 September 2016

Update–Now you can see our TV clip overseas!

Thanks to the husband of the booker who arranged for us to be on last night’s episode of Kiwi Living, readers of this blog residing outside of New Zealand can now download and view our moment of fame. The link is here, so just click on it and you should be directed to a site where you can download the show. Enjoy!

Posted by: JLG | 13 September 2016

Our Moment of Celebrity

Several weeks ago we were visited by a crew from TVNZ Channel One for them to film a segment to appear on a popular program here called Kiwi Living. The hour-long show (which we had never seen) features a number of segments each week, showcasing different aspects of life here in New Zealand. The host, Miriama Kamo, is well known in NZ, and it was she who came to Oamaru to do the segment in person.

As luck would have it, the day they had scheduled to come here turned out to be the one miserable, cold, rainy day we had had in a while (and, naturally, the weather returned to sunny, warm, and lovely the very next day), so they had to skip the plan to use a drone to shoot some of the exteriors of the lodge, but luckily they were able to get footage that a friend shot here some time ago who just happens to have worked with some of the members of the crew on another show (so NZ’s two degrees of separation rule comes in handy again!).

The crew shot here from 9am until just about 6pm on the day, with only a 45-minute lunch break part-way through. Yet, despite spending so much time here, the segment itself lasts a grand total of seven minutes, which we’re told is quite a lot actually.

The show aired today and, against our better judgement, we decided to watch it. You know how horrible it is to hear your voice played back to you on a tape recorder? Well, watching yourself on TV is many times worse! But, since none of you reading this is me, you probably won’t have quite as strong a reaction to watching this as I did, so go ahead and click if you’d like to see it (you may have to set up a free TVNZ account to watch it): Kiwi Living, 2016 Season, Episode 18


Posted by: JLG | 28 August 2016


The last port of call on our two-month worldwide odyssey was the Hawaiian Isles. I had only been to Honolulu once before, for business, and only for a few days, so this was going to by my first “real” visit to the state, and J2 had never been at all, so this promised to be a welcome treat after a rather gruelling period of travelling.

Flying out of LAX we had our first encounter with the delays that we had heard were going to be plaguing US airports this summer, facing a very long security line as we arrived at the United Airlines terminal. Fortunately, someone at TSA decided to grab a bunch of us at the end of the queue and bring us to the premier security check-in, which sped up our inspection enormously. Also, having taken advantage of the curbside bag check, we avoided the queue inside the terminal (though we were caught a bit off guard when the redcap made a blatant demand for a tip, which I had completely forgotten would be a thing here; with only $5 in my wallet, and checking in three relatively heavy bags, I was virtually certain we would not see them in Honolulu, but that fear was unrealised). This was also the only flight of the 17 that I would be flying on this trip that would charge me for checking a bag; United Airlines only allows us each one checked bag, so the third had to be paid for, at what I thought to be a rather unreasonable rate of $150. For future reference, Southwest allows two checked bags per passenger, at no additional charge. Go Southwest, young man!

Anyway, when we got to Hawaii we were met at the airport by our good friends Naomi and Mike, who always make any visit with them a special treat, whether it’s at their place (I’ve visited them in Beijing, Shanghai and DC before their move back to their base in Honolulu) or at our place in New Zealand. They bestowed leis on us as they greeted us, and took us to their car for the drive back to their house on the southwest side of O’ahu. Since United didn’t feed us during the six-hour flight (that departed at dinnertime…) we made a stop en route at a supermarket to pick up something for dinner, and found that the only thing that looked appealing was a vac-packed thing of cheeses and salami. Welcome to Polynesia! (In hindsight, we should have bought a can of Spam and a loaf of white bread…)


View from Diamond Head

Naomi and Mike had a busy schedule lined up for us during our stay. With a relatively short visit (just three days on O’ahu and three on Maui), and wanting to minimise the impact of traffic on our visit, we made as much use of our mornings as possible, and aimed to return to Kapolei (as their part of O’ahu is called) before evening rush hour began. So on our first day we kicked things off with an early ascent of Diamond Head Crater. Parking at a lot of Honolulu’s attractions seems to be quite limited, and getting places early became a theme of some of our visits. We ended up not able to park at the closest lot to the start of the hike here, but lucked into a spot not too far away. The hike is very easy, though it was rather hot, especially for two Kiwis like us, and with J2 still suffering from the virus that he caught in Virginia, he struggled a bit to make it to the top (though not as badly as a tourist we encountered who was suffering from electrolyte loss and whom we helped out by finding someone to give her some Gatorade–my good deed for the trip!). The view from the top was beautiful–we were very lucky with the weather–and it was very good to get a bit of exercise, especially given what was to follow.



Poke Selection

Naomi and Mike both have a taste for the finer things in life (which explains why they befriended us, I suspect) and they know that we appreciate sampling local foods, so for our first proper meal on the islands (I’m not counting the impressive breakfasts that Mike prepared for us, including an outstanding Hawaiian fried rice our first morning, and kalua pig quesadillas on the second) we went to a restaurant called Town in Kaimuki for an early lunch. The food here was beautiful, and my order of octopus with a sort of poi relative called pai’i’a was especially delicious, I thought. (While I’m on the subject, I’ll mention that J2’s dietary issues–an aversion to fish and fresh fruit–made some of our dining choices a bit challenging here; fortunately for me he is always very happy to make do with whatever he can when I indulge in my fish or fruit-eating adventures, though I think Naomi and Mike were a bit concerned that he was being left out. Don’t fret about it, guys!)


When we finished our lunch we headed to the day’s next stop, the North Shore of O’ahu for the requisite visit to Matsumoto’s for an order of shave ice. This is the place to come for shave ice, a concoction made of rather simple ingredients–shaved ice (shaved on a special machine, no less) doused in fruit syrups of your choosing, with the option of having an order of vanilla ice cream and/or sweet red beans hidden under the ice. When I was in Hawaii in 2006 I drove all the way up here just to try the stuff (and also to have some garlic shrimp at one of the nearby food trucks, something we skipped this time around) and found that the North Shore was still fairly unspoiled, with a very rustic feel to the place. A lot has changed in the intervening decade–not only has there been a bit of a building boom in the area, but Matsumoto’s has expanded, and their main competitor seems to be out of business. And even though Matsumoto’s is probably on every visitor’s checklist, the line moves very fast, and the quality is undiminished. I opted for the “tropical” combo (ice with passionfruit, guava and pineapple syrup) with both ice cream and beans, and found it to be delicious, and far less fluorescent than the rainbow combo of more pedestrian flavours.

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Matsumoto Shave Ice

We wandered around the shops of the North Shore a bit, and then made our way back home, stopping along the way at the Poke Stop to pick up our provisions for dinner. When I came to Hawaii in 2006 I was completely besotted with poke, and then with our move to China I promptly forgot all about it until just recently, when I started to make it for guests. I predict that poke will soon take over the Mainland, since it is an endlessly variable concoction made of the freshest-possible fish (not always raw, but often so) and a wide range of flavourings. When confronted with the choices at the Poke Stop, which looks like a completely unassuming low-end stripmall shop at first glance, but which offers a creative and high-quality assortment of poke choices, I felt like the proverbial kid in a candy store, unable to process all the choices I had to make. Somehow we managed to limit ourselves to three types–a spicy salmon, a tuna with limu (a Hawaiian seaweed) and octopus–along with “sides” of taegu (Korean-style dried cod shreds in a sweet-spicy sauce) and seaweed salad. And since the Poke Stop is also famous for their eggplant fries, which have to be eaten fresh from the fryer, we also had an order of these to eat on the spot with some local beers. The fries were extraordinary, crispy, well spiced, and the kind of thing that you cannot stop eating after just one, but they were nothing compared with the pokes, which we enjoyed with some wine back at the house. Served on a bed of hot rice, poke is a light and probably not unhealthy meal, which is one of the reasons why I think it will soon become the next big thing, especially since it is much easier to make at home, assuming you can get really fresh fish.














On Thursday we had a somewhat more leisurely start to the day, since our first outing was to visit the Doris Duke estate “Shangri La”. I confess that I knew nothing about Doris Duke before Naomi told us she wanted to take us here, other than that she was once called the “richest girl in the world” when she inherited a huge estate from her tobacco baron father at the age of 12. In her 20s, in the 1930s, she became enamoured with Hawaii and bought a parcel of land on the O’ahu coast on the ‘other’ side of Diamond Head where she designed a house to showcase her collection of Islamic art, which she discovered during her months-long honeymoon in 1935. The house is a true treasure trove, filled with antiques from all over the Middle East and commanding impressive views over the coast. You can only visit as part of a tour, and our guide was excellent, providing a wealth of information about both the house and the life of its reclusive owner, who died childless in the 1990s and left the house to the city.

jg-20160728-DSC-RX100M3-01345Since we had found an amazing parking spot in town (that was under cover and free of charge, no less) we opted to walk from the Honolulu Museum of Art (which is the base for the visit to Shangri La) to our lunch spot for the day. Naomi had been wanting to eat at The Pig and the Lady in Chinatown for some time, ever since it opened, but had not been able to get in for dinner. Our visit gave her an opportunity to try it for lunch, and after our visit I can see why it is hard to get in. The chef-owner is from Vietnam, and his menu is a very interesting amalgam of Vietnamese, Laotian and American dishes that are both creative and delicious. We started with their Laotian fried chicken to share, which was like a Southeast Asian version of Korean fried chicken with an extremely crunchy coating and a sweet-sour-spicy sauce, and then we each had a different main dish. Mine was a “Pho French Dip” sandwich, which I suppose you could describe as a banh mi version of pho, morphed into a French dip. The filling was a slow-braised beef brisket combined with traditional pho add-ons (onions, cilantro, bean sprouts) and alongside was a bowl of pho broth to dip it into. What a creative concoction, and one I’d happily order again and again. J2 had the “Lucky Mi” sandwich, which is a more traditional type of banh mi, but the fillings were prosciutto, avocado, Calabrian chillies, and kale.

After this incredible lunch we visited a Japanese-Hawaiian warehouse store so I could pick up some supplies to take home. It was basically an Asian-inflected Costco, and if I lived here, I would probably do most of my shopping here (and at Costco, too, which has a really interesting product mix), and I found some interesting flavours of furikake to take home.

We decided to have a lightish dinner, after the rich lunch earlier in the day, so we stopped at a grocery store to pick up some poke to have at the house. If I lived in a place where even the grocery stores (a Safeway, no less) had such a great–and inexpensive–treat to take home for dinner, I imagine I would spend a lot less time cooking. They always let you taste before you select what you want, and the clerk here made sure I sampled the spicy salmon since she had just finished making it (and she did so “with love”, she told me). I probably would not have opted for the salmon had it not been for that sample, but it was really delicious so it was one of the three we chose for dinner (J2 had some of the leftover kalua pig with rice for his dinner).

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Flying over Diamond Head

Naomi had suggested that we visit another of Hawaii’s eight major islands (two of which are not visitable) during this trip, so she arranged for a Maui outing through Costco that had us depart Honolulu on Friday morning for the 40-minute flight to Kahului. I’m really glad we got to see Maui, since it is quite different from O’ahu–much slower-paced, more rural, and I’d even say a bit more beautiful. We picked up our car and drove over to our hotel on the west side of the hotel near Lahaina, and grabbed lunch at the Maui Brewing Company (good food, and really nice beers).


What passes for a sunset on Maui

Lahaina was the original capital of the united Hawaiian islands under King Kamehameha the Great, so it has a good deal of history to explore. We started by heading into Old Town Lahaina and visited the Baldwin Home Museum, which was a good introduction to the history of Maui and Hawaii, since the docent provided a thorough history of the missionaries’ role in 19th century Hawaii, including how the Baldwin whose house this was helped to shield Maui and Moloka’i from the smallpox epidemic that ravaged the other islands, and how they helped to bring literacy to the population (Hawaii was the most literate country in the world, thanks to Kamehameha mandating learning to read as part of his effort to consolidate his control of the islands–it’s easier to control the various islands by sending them a written message instead of having to visit them himself all the time). Lahaina is also home to the oldest lighthouse in the Pacific (though it’s not very photogenic) and to a very interesting little museum that we wandered at length. In the evening we stopped at a grocery store and bought provisions to make into dinner to have back at the hotel while watching the sunset.


Haleakala Crater

On Saturday morning we got an early start (again…) and drove into the “upcountry” part of Maui to visit the Upcountry Farmers’ Market, where a friend of ours from Beijing has a stand. She has relocated to Maui and now makes fruit pastilles and fruit pastes that she sells at tourist shops and to restaurants, and we thought it would be nice to say hi. The market is full of beautiful produce, all grown locally, of course, but when it came to finding something for breakfast it was a bit thin on the ground, especially since we didn’t really want tempeh with organic kale or spirulina juice. There was one vendor that seemed to be selling the sort of food we wanted, but the French toast that J2 ordered turned out to be made with gluten-free bread (why….???) so it went largely uneaten, though my free-range eggs with sweet potato hash was pretty darned good.



The main objective of our visit to upcountry Maui though was to ascend to the summit of Haleakala, the highest point in Maui. The drive is long and slow, and it got colder and colder as we ascended, so much that by the time we reached the 10,000-foot summit it was actually rather chilly up there (and of course we were dressed more for sea-level weather, in shorts and t-shirts). The views were beautiful from up there, though, especially with the clouds below us, though moving around was a bit tiring with the thin air. An added bonus for us was that the Haleakala Silversword was blooming, a very curious plant that exists only here, and that blooms only once in its very long life (as long as 50 years) before dying. Another added bonus–we arrived on the Haleakala National Park’s 100th birthday, so entrance fees were waived!













On the way back down we stopped at the village of Makawao, where we found a nice lunch at a small bistro in the centre. We also visited the Surfing Goat dairy, which we expected to have a tasting or something but which turned out to be rather disappointing (and the cheeses weren’t all that good, to boot), but the neighbouring Ocean Vodka and Rum distillery was far more interesting. Not only did they offer a very good tour, but the tour ended with tastings of their products, which were actually pretty darned good. The vodka bottle would also have made a great candidate for making prisoner pears back home, but getting it home would have been a challenge so we left empty-handed.

For dinner we tried to get into Star Noodle, but reservations were impossible and the wait for a walk-in table would have been two hours. So instead we bought a take-out order that we supplemented with some wine from the next-door liquor shop and found a place along the coast to eat while watching another sunset. It was only once we found a spot that we realised we had no plates and that the restaurant only gave us three pairs of chopsticks, but we improvised and had a great meal in a beautiful setting.


Ho hum

We were flying back to Honolulu on Sunday so we spent the first part of the day meandering around some small villages looking for interesting things to do. We started with the Iao Valley park, where we were given free entry by the parking lot guard when he learned that Naomi and Mike live in Hawaii but appeared not to be the kind of “kama’aina” who tend to despoil the place. The park is noted for its needle-shaped spire in the rainforest, and the walk through the park was beautiful despite passing rain showers. We in fact got back to the car just as the rain started to get heavy, so we took that as a cue to find a place for brunch, settling on a surprisingly good Korean spot in a shopping mall nearby. We also visited Paia, another cute little village with a plethora of shops, and Spreckelsville to see the Maui Sugar Museum, which provides a fascinating glimpse into the history of the industry that made Maui a magnet for Europeans and Asians in the 19th century. (This, the last remaining sugar mill on Maui is scheduled to close at the end of the year, and all the sugar cane fields that supply it are to be converted to diversified agriculture, rather a loss to future visitors, I think.)

We got back to Honolulu in the early evening and headed straight to dinner at the Side Street Inn, another storied restaurant that Naomi wanted us to experience. This place is a bastion of home-style Hawaiian cooking, serving family-style portions (read: enormous plates meant to be shared) of such treats as kimchi fried rice, spicy fried chicken and spare ribs, all of which was delicious.

One more day remained for us in Hawaii, and in order to make sure we made the most of it we started off by leaving the house at 5am (!!) for Hanauma Bay. Parking here is extremely limited, so we needed to arrive close to its opening time of 6am or risk not getting in. We arrived very shortly after the gates did and got a parking space easily, and then we learned that the entry fee is waived if you arrive before 7am (what’s this, the fourth time we escaped having to pay an entry fee??). The reason for being here is that this is the place to come to go snorkelling. The snorkel gear rental depot only opens at 7am, so we spent an hour just enjoying the view, and then when we got our gear we got into the water. You don’t have to go far at all to see the fish, which are numerous, beautiful, and not afraid of people (in fact, they come up to you if you stay still enough). In no time at all I saw my favourite tropical fish, the wonderfully named humuhumunukunukuapua’a (also known less wonderfully as triggerfish), along with wrasses, tangs, parrotfish and who knows what else. (J2 saw even more, since he ventured further out with Mike leading the way; I preferred to stay closer to shore.)












We stayed at the bay for several hours, until shortly before the promised rain storm was due to arrive, and before it started we visited the Halona Blowhole nearby and some other coastal scenic points before moving on toward lunch at yet another poke place, and a little treat of mochi ice cream at a place owned by a high school classmate of Naomi who has also relocated to Hawaii. We made a few shopping stops in the afternoon before returning to the house to sort out our luggage, making sure that we could pack everything into our bags, including several pieces of antique glass that Naomi and Mike were giving to us as part of their household downsizing (thanks again!!).

jg-20160801-ILCE-7M2-06152For our final dinner of the trip, Naomi had chosen a place on the west coast of O’ahu called the Monkeypod Kitchen. Since the restaurant had no view of the coast, we went for a drink at the Four Seasons where we sipped our cocktails as the sun dipped below the horizon, giving me a chance to get some nice photos. Dinner was excellent, though J2, Mike and Naomi went all boring on me and each ordered the same dish (gnocchi with Italian sausage–how much less Hawaiian can you get??) so it was up to me to get something evocative of the islands, a pan-seared onaga fillet with garlic shrimp and sweet potato purée, which was excellent, and a fitting coda to this amazing trip’s generally excellent food.

We had to leave bright and early for the airport on Tuesday, since traffic is pretty terrible in Honolulu in the morning, but we got there in plenty of time, making short work of checking in and getting through security. The only fly in the ointment was that we managed to leave our coats behind at the house, so after toting them around half the world for more than a month for no good reason, we managed to leave them behind just as we were about to need them, what with a winter storm bearing down on New Zealand as we arrived. Oh, well, it will give us a reason to return to Hawaii!!

Posted by: JLG | 29 July 2016

Los Angeles

It’s no secret that Los Angeles has never been one of my favourite cities. Perhaps this stems from my being a true-blue New Yorker, with distaste for Los Angeles bred into me from an early age, or perhaps it’s just that it’s really difficult to like a city that is impossible to walk in, where there is no discernible center, and where the main contribution to the improvement of mankind’s lot was the invention of right-turns on red. No matter the cause of my condition, arriving at LAX is sure to cement in anyone’s mind a deep hatred for this city. Say what you will about JFK or LGA, neither of which wins any awards for efficiency or ease of use, LAX is an absolute cesspool, and on arrival from Houston it even smelled like one–I was sure that something had died in the terminal, the stench was so bad–and I could not wait to get out of there. (It turned out that not long before our landing Terminal Two had been evacuated as a result of a bomb threat, so that may have added to the chaos, though it doesn’t really explain why Terminal One, where we were, was in such a state…)

I had a little treat in store for J2 when we arrived in LA. Since his birthday was the day before we arrived, and we don’t buy each other birthday gifts any longer, I decided he might enjoy it if we had a car to drive while in SoCal that he’s been admiring for a couple of years. So, making use of an AirBNB-type service for rental cars called Turo, I hired us a Tesla for us to use in LA. Collecting the car was a bit confusing–Turo’s information as it was sent to me was far outdated so all the contact numbers I had been given were no longer working–but we eventually got to the hotel where the car was parked. I had J2 wait by the front door while I sorted out the car, and when I drove up in a shiny Tesla he was very surprised and not a little bit excited to be able to play with this beautiful car for a few days.


Us and our Tesla

As always when in LA, we stayed with my old college friend Kristin, who was also hosting another friend and his partner while their new place in LA is getting ready for them, so it was a bit of a reunion for me. Kristin also has a new dog, Wyatt, a tiny eight-pound mixed-breed that she rescued and who is very, very cute, and quite a change from the massive pit bull that she used to have (and that had to be rehomed after an incident in the area). Wyatt is very cute and, even though I’m not normally too fond of little dogs, his personality more than makes up for his puniness and we enjoyed having a little dog time after a bit of a gap.


Wyatt with a bone

We had nothing much to do in LA for most of our time in the area, so we spent the weekend pretty lazily. Kristin did have me prepare dinner on Saturday though, so we went out to Koreatown to collect some supplies and put together a delicious Korean bbq for Kristin, her other houseguests and some friends who came by. On Sunday we visited the Mar Vista farmers’ market and then headed downtown to visit Smorgasburg LA, a collection of food trucks modelled on the original Smorgasburg in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The weather was extremely hot–and a nearby wildfire had added to the heat and dryness, along with adding some eerie colour to the skies and especially the sunsets–so after we did the rounds of the trucks to see what was on offer we made our choices and decamped to a covered area to enjoy our lunches. The item I chose was the unquestioned champion of the day; it was a “Goa Taco”, consisting of a freshly cooked Indian paratha (flakey flat bread) filled with succulent grilled pork belly, pickled red cabbage, and chipotle mayonnaise along with some cilantro sprigs (anathema to Kristin and her mom, who ordered the same thing only without the cilantro). It was all kinds of delicious, with the warm, flaky bread contrasting with the tender and flavourful meat, crunchy and sour cabbage and the creamy sauce. Definitely something I’ll try to recreate at the lodge!


Smoky Sunset in LA

On Monday J2 and I drove out to Riverside, a community way inland where a friend of his from dental school lives. With the Tesla, which of course doesn’t use gasoline but instead runs on electricity, having a range of 230 miles, we had to recharge the battery before setting off, a process that was a bit more complicated than we had expected. The first place I tried was the EV charging station at a Whole Foods Market near Kristin’s house, but the plug there seemed to be incompatible with the Tesla (what I didn’t know was that an adaptor was sitting in the car’s trunk just for this sort of situation). Then the closest Tesla-branded supercharging station turned out to be inaccessible due to construction, so we had to go to a third place where we were finally able to charge up, which took close to an hour. The drive was pretty good, and putting the car through its paces on the highway was great fun for me. Maybe one day we’ll have one of these of our own to play with…


Korean Barbecue


Pork Belly for Goa Taco


Goa Taco

Our only meeting of the LA portion of our trip was on Tuesday, at the offices of Tourism New Zealand. They recently got a new person to head up their premium sector, so we wanted to be sure to meet him. The previous holder of the position was not someone that I had a particularly good relationship with. While we were civil and even friendly with one another, I did not trust him one bit, since we had known each other in his previous job, with a big inbound travel agency, where I found him to be very biased towards the superlodges and not to give lodges like ours much consideration. The new guy turned out to be a vast improvement, much more open-minded and an actual New Zealander who is familiar with Oamaru and knows what a great place it is from personal experience. I’m very hopeful that his time at TNZ will be very good for us, and that he will last a long time there (the fact that his wife is an American–from South Dakota, no less–may mean that he’ll stay in the job longer than earlier occupants did).


With that meeting over our time in LA ended and we headed to the airport after grabbing lunch for our flight to Honolulu. Knowing what a nightmare LAX is, we gave ourselves plenty of extra time to get through check-in and security, and were thus surprised when we sailed through both (though we were caught a bit by surprise when the curb-side luggage check people expected a tip for their service, something our time in NZ has made us unfamiliar with, and the only reason why security went so quickly was that we were among a small group at the end of the seemingly endless queue waiting for security in the main terminal area who were brought up to the premium area where there was no wait at all). The flight was with United–the only time on this trip that we’re flying with a mainstream American airline–and was a good reminder of why we try to avoid mainstream American airlines. Not only was no meal provided on the six-hour long flight, but there was no entertainment either, unless you knew to download an app for your personal device that would connect with the wireless system on board. But it was over soon enough and we arrived in warm Honolulu ready to start the holiday portion of our trip at last.

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