Stories from the Suitcase...Aloha

Thursday, January 28, 2010

We're introducing a new idea for Fridays here at Girl With A Suitcase.  Most people have great travel stories that they'd like to share.  We want to know the good, the bad and the ugly!  Inspire other people to see different parts of the world or share what's special in your neck of the woods.

This week we have Alex sharing her Hawaiian adventure.

1. Destination?

Island of Oahu, Hawaii.

2. What time of year did you travel?

We flew from Sydney, Australia to Hawaii.  Jetstar had some great air fare specials and it was really cheap for us to fly over.

We flew to Hawaii in February.  I expected it to be balmy and tropical but it was actually a little bit chilly.  Luckily, we'd all packed a few jumpers to keep us warm.

It was quite windy on the North Shore but Honolulu was warm and we spent most of our time at the beach in Waikiki.

3.  Who did you travel with?

It was our first international family holiday, so it was the husband, myself and two kids.  I was also pregnant with baby no. 3.  Flying for 9 hours on a plane when you are pregnant is not very comfortable. Make sure you pack a pillow or cushion.
4.  How did you get around?

We arrived in Honolulu early in the morning (morning sickness is a great way to get acquainted with the local toilets!) and hired a Hummer.

This is the valley where they film Lost.

We hadn't booked any accommodation because I hate booking from brochures and discovering that you are stuck with views of brick walls or cockroaches.  Don't worry, we're not completely loopy, we had a week of time share for week 2 of our stay.  But week 1 we wanted to explore.

Waikiki is a mass of high rises.  We decided to give that a miss.

Hawaii isn't as big as I expected so we decided to drive around the island until we saw something that we liked.

That being said, we were exhausted.  So we pretty much all passed out as soon as we got in the car.

The husband drove around the island and luckily for us, we discovered the Turtle Bay Resort.

If you haven't heard of it (we hadn't it) it has an amazing golf course and they filmed Forgetting Sarah Marshall there.

Beautiful resort.  Kids loved saying Aloha to everyone, we snorkelled in the lagoon, the restaurants were fabulous and the husband played golf.

Rainbows every morning.  This was the view from our room.

5.  Food?

I have to admit I find US inspired food...disgusting.  Over processed and generally unhealthy.  We were served soft drinks as big as my son's head (medium) and hash browns are a plate of potato slop.

On the other hand we we visited the Polynesian Cultural Centre for the day and stayed for the Luau.

So for pregnant me, this was divine.  Yum.

6.  Trip Highlights?

The husband taking the kids for the day while I went shopping in Waikiki.  I have a GUESS addiction and it was bliss.  Can you tell?

Taking a submarine cruise with the kids.  I get sea sick but I survived and the kids loved the adventure.

We visited Pearl Harbour.  Once we were there, it was one of the saddest placest I have ever been.  The area is so beautiful but you can feel the spirits of all the people who died there.

Visiting the Polynesian Cultural Centre for the day was amazing.  You get to experience so many cultures in one day.  There was so much to do, in a lot of ways it was better than a theme park.  The kids LOVED it.

7.  Trip low point?

Waikiki.  I know for a lot of people it is an amazing destination.  There are boats for you to jump on, straight off the beach and lots of cocktail bars to play in (Duke's on the Beach).  For an Australian girl like me it was just too crowded and the beaches were too small.

We also didn't see any big waves.  Sunset and Waimea Bay were flat.  Pretty, but flat.

8.  What would you like others to know about your destination?

Oahu is a small island.  For a true Hawaiian experience, spend a little more and head to the North Shore. It's a good base to explore the area and the resort is beautiful.

Waikiki is great for shopping and partying.  With kids?  Not so much.

We didn't explore the other islands (pregnancy and volcano fumes don't really mix) but it's something we hope to do in the future.


Stories from the Suitcase...Sharnanigans

Thursday, January 21, 2010

We're introducing a new idea for Fridays here at Girl With A Suitcase.  Most people have great travel stories that they'd like to share.  We want to know the good, the bad and the ugly!  Inspire other people to see different parts of the world or share what's special in your neck of the woods.

This week we've got Sharni from Chronicles of Sharnia sharing her stories from the suitcase.

1. Destination?

Sapa, North Vietnam

2. What time of year did you travel?

We were there April / May - it was quite cold there which was refreshing after the overbearing humidity of Hanoi. The only downfall of being in beautiful Sapa in these months was that the mountains that surrounded the town were not visible a lot of the time and covered in thick mystical fog, which, in itself was a pretty magnificent sight.

3.  Who did you travel with?

My partner and (as I soon found out in Sapa) the beginnings of my son Monte (we found out we were pregnant whilst in Sapa).

4.  How did you get around?

We got to Sapa via overnight train from Hanoi - which was an experience! While there we walked - heaps of trekking, travelled by motorbike, scary bus trips around windy mountains and jeeps. Lots of up-mountain walking - great for fitness.

5.  Food?

Sapa is very touristy - we had some tasty Vietnamese cuisine but also had great pizza!
Dave had the pleasure of going on a trek with some locals, they took him to a village where he ate congealed ducks blood (masquerading as jelly) when he found out what he was eating, he was too polite to stop. I am glad I was feeling poorly that day and did not attend!

6.  Trip Highlights?

While we didn't climb Mount Fansipan - we did do a mini trek and it felt like we were on top of the world looking down on creation. Karaoke with the locals, walking around Cat Cat Village, the scenery was incredible.

7.  Trip low point?

Both Dave and I were hospitalised. Dave with food poisoning - me from pregnancy and possibly food poisoning. The hospital beds did not even have sheets. We were very vulnerable and the language barrier made this very challenging.

8.  What would you like others to know about your destination?

Sapa is a pretty town North of Vietnam about 30kms from the Chinese border. It is  worth a visit.

I was turned off by the fact that the Hill Tribes that live there are the drawcard to the town - and supposedly these guys that live in traditional ways in the mountains of Sapa are used as a selling point.

Very touristy. Beautiful scenery, a little bit magical.


Ahhhh Bliss....

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The word holiday means different things to different people.  My husband's idea of a holiday is flying for hours to an international destination, checking into an expensive hotel and sleeping for a week.

This drives me mad.

As a mother of several small children I've learnt that sleep is overrated (sleep? What is this sleep that you speak of?) and on holidays I want to DO something.

And I'm not referring to the same old tourist activities that are offered everywhere that we seem to visit.  The ones that leave your wallet empty and credit card company in business.

Let's do something interesting and CHEAP.  Something that gets you into shape (bonus after having babies), increases stamina and pushes you to new heights.

Let's go bushwalking.

Okay, okay.  I can see that you're a bit hesitant.  Bush walking (or hiking) doesn't quite have that wow factor.  You're probably thinking that all it involves is walking...through the bush.

It does.  But let's make it interesting.

If you've been following this blog, you may remember that I've been exploring the wineries and cheese makers of Tasmania.  I've decided that combining a walking trip with my gastronomic holidays is a great idea.  Best of both worlds.

Throw in stunning scenery, a great lunch and exercise to work off the camembert.  Bliss.

If you're holidaying with the kids, bush walking provides quality time without the distractions of video games and television.  It's a great opportunity to develop a real connection to the natural world and to see wild life up close.  And all that fresh air makes them really, really tired.  Double bonus.


If you're lucky enough to be able to ditch the kids for a few days, then a walking holiday gives you the opportunity to take a break from your ordinary routine and a chance to reconnect with the natural world and ourselves.  You can go totally zen.

Why have I jumped on the promote Tasmania band wagon?

I've travelled to a lot of places, in Australia and overseas.  And I've discovered that sometimes the most spectacular places are at home.

Tasmania's location in the Southern Ocean has preserved it as not only an island of rare beauty but also one of the most unspoiled places left on earth.

Much of its ancient glacial formed mountains and lakes, temperate rainforests and undeveloped coastline are protected as World Heritage Area, national parks and marine reserves.

This means the rains that fall, the rivers that tumble through its valleys and the oceans that brush its shores are still clean.

Sounds pretty good to me.  And you know I'm a sucker for mountain views.  It's that whole Sound of Music obsession I had as a child.

So I present to you Cradle Mountain in Tasmania.  It has world renowned walking tracks.  Really.  I googled it.

And guess what?

After a day in the wilderness, you've earned some special pampering don't you think?

I've found a spa that will take special care of your tootsies after a long day of trekking.

WALDHEIM ALPINE SPA - Cradle Mountain Lodge.

Doesn't this sound like heaven?

"Waldheim Alpine Spa invites you to embark on the ultimate sensory journey designed to indulge the senses.  The pampering begins with a traditional Hot Lime Foot Cleansing and Thai Foot Ritual, using warmed aroma-therapeutic oils, applied to nourish and condition the feet, followed by the decadent experience of soaking them in Elemis' award - winning Skin Nourishing Milk Bath.  Exfoliating with Exotic Lime & Ginger Salt Glow, feet are lavished with an application of warmed Frangipani Monoi Oil to seal in moisture and leave skin feeling silky soft.  With feet and mind in a blissful state, the focus shifts to the upper body with a customised back, neck and shoulder massage and is completed with an energising foot massage that will leave you floating on air as you leave the Spa."

See, a bushwalking holiday isn't as daggy as you thought, is it?


Stories from the Suitcase...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

We're introducing a new idea for Fridays here at Girl With A Suitcase.  Most people have great travel stories that they'd like to share.  We want to know the good, the bad and the ugly!  Inspire other people to see different parts of the world or share what's special in your neck of the woods.

This week Alex shares her story from the suitcase.

1.  Destination?

A few years ago we picked up some cheap 2 for 1 airfares to Japan with Jetstar.  We hadn't really planned on travelling there but the opportunity was too good.  $800 return for two people!  It was an 8 hour flight to Osaka.

We chose Osaka instead of Tokyo, just in case it was too overwhelming.

I'd studied Japanese in high school but my conversational Japanese was sketchy to say the least.  Lucky for us, all the signs in Japan are in English too.  Also, Japan is so organised and the people so polite that we had no problems finding our way around.

2.  What time of year did you travel?

We flew over in February.  It was their winter and apart from 2 days of snow, the rest were warm and sunny.

4.  Who did you travel with?

It was my husband and I and our 7 month old baby.  Crazy to take a baby on an 8 hour flight and a foreign country?  Probably, but she was great.  Japanese people fell in love with her blue eyes and blonde hair.  The school girls on the trains would squeal when they saw her.  I guess it was a novelty for them.

We took a small pram instead of a port-a-cot and she slept in that.

5.  How did you get around?

We arrived late at night and decided to take a taxi to our hotel instead of trying to navigate the trains and monorail.  Once we got our bearings, we realised Osaka is surrounded by a monorail system.  The train system criss-crosses the city.  Each day we just bought a day pass and explored the city.  The trains are busy in the morning and night but great during the day.  They even have women only carriages.

We spent a few days in Osaka then caught a train to the city of Kyoto.  We explored most of Kyoto on foot.

6.  Food?

The food in Japan is AMAZING.  I don't mean sushi.  There are small stores on every corner that sell the freshest, most delicious meals.  Ordering is easy, we just pointed to pictures of what we wanted.  We stayed away from hotel restaurants apart from at breakfast and explored the city.  Lots of yummy food washed down with cold Asahi beer.  This was my favourite meal...

Oh, in Osaka their speciality is Takoyaki...octopus balls.  Being the adventurous gal that I am, I ordered 6.  I made it through 2 before I gagged.  Oh well.


7.  Trip highlight?

There were so many, it's hard to choose!  I had fun playing with the technical toilets, the food, the service.  On the third day I was looking out the window and noticed that there was fluff falling out of the sky.  It was snowing!  We're from Australia so we rarely get the opportunity to see snow.

That was the day we also went to see a car show next to our hotel (think Fast and The Furious crossed with Pimp My Ride).

And later in the day caught the train to the city of Kyoto.  We stayed at the Westin Miyako.  Kyoto reminded me of an Alpine city but with all the historical shrines and temples that you expect to see.  The Imperial Palace is in Kyoto too.

There was a chapel near our hotel room and I had the opportunity to spy on a few weddings.

8.  Trip low point?

There really wasn't one.  Apart from putting my back out because we pushed our double beds together and I slept in the crack!  It was easy, stress free and lots of fun!

9.  What would you like others to know about your destination?

Japan is AMAZING!  I loved it.  It was so clean, organised and fun!  So much attention is put into small details.  My husband bought a piece of cake in a pattiserie and they spent 5 minutes beautifully packaging it.  He took it outside, ripped it open and devoured it on the street.  Men.

The shopping is out of this world.  There are malls everywhere, even underground.  Sizes are a little on the small side, but the quality is great.  And Japan isn't expensive.

The people are very polite and friendly.  If we were ever lost or couldn't figure something out, people were more than helpful.

I enjoyed Osaka but I fell in love with Kyoto.  It's smaller and you have the opportunity to explore the historical aspects of Japan.

I'd totally recommend that you visit if you get the opportunity.


Bed and Breakfasts.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

If you're anything like me, you may have a teeny weeny obsession with reality TV.  I'm not referring to Big Brother or The Real Life.

I mean quality TV shows like The Real Housewives of Atlanta.

And my current favourite, Tori and Dean Inn Love.

If you haven't had the chance to see it, Ms Tori Spelling and her new husband opened a B & B 'Chateaux La Rue' (after her pug) when gazillionaire daddy Aaron Spelling forgot to leave her more than 100 grand in his will.  Oh, life's tough for some.

Anyway, I love this show.  I love how they interact with each other and their guests.  They've had all sorts.  Romantic couple, partying grannies and NUDISTS.

Which brings me to my question.  Why choose a Bed & Breakfast for your weekend away?  And how do you know your host will be more like this

than this?

Here are some tips for choosing a quality B & B.

The internet has made it possible for anyone to google a destination and fall in love with the pictures on a web page.  Then you arrive and find out you're staying with someone that reminds you of Norman Bates in Psycho.  Yikes!

Your best bet is to go by recommendation or get someone reputable to organise it for you.

First and foremost understand that most bed and breakfasts are owner operated.  Most of the things in the home are usually antiques, fine linens and bedding.  This is what makes the experience unique and special.

You always receive much more personal attention at a B & B than you would in a hotel or motel.  If you're shy then I wouldn't recommend them!  Your inn keeper will be happy to give you a history of their home and the area, the best places to go, the places to eat and the places to avoid.  They make sure you get the most out of the time you have away (which is what we do here at Luxury Oz Stays too).

Breakfast is always special too.  That is kind of the whole point of a Bed and Breakfast.  Duh.

Not only will you enjoy the culinery talents of your host, but you'll get to meet the other guests too.


Most bed and breakfasts don't accept young children.  Usually the cut off is 7 +.  Most people go to bed and breakfasts for peace and quiet.  They're perfect for a romantic get away, a unique weekend for friends or for someone who wants some quiet time alone.

If you see a B & B you like, book early.  Remember B & Bs only have a few rooms and it doesn't take long to fill them.  Get an expert to do it for you.

Unfortunately, Tori and Dean have moved on from running Chateaux La Rue.  Darn it.  I'm sure Donna Tori and I would have gotten along like a house on fire.

Have you ever tried a B & B?  Did you love it?


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