Monthly Archives: June 2013

This 50 Stater’s Hawaii


Lana’i is advertised as “Hawaii’s Most Enticing Island”.  I’ve never been there but I know several people who have.  When I ask what it’s like, their eyes glaze and they tell me there’s not much to do.  That many change. Reportedly, Larry Ellison, Oracle Corporation founder, has bought 98% of it from Dole’s David Murdock.  The Huffington Post says Ellison plans to make Lana’i an “environmentally sustainable enterprise”.

Hawaii’s most Hawaiian Island is said to be Ni’ihau, which has been dedicated to preserving the traditional way of life since 1864.  Again, I, being a non-Hawaiian, have never been there since you have to be invited by a resident.  Boat tours go near but don’t land.  For $385 per person, however, you can take a Ni’ihau Helicopters ride and land on an exclusive beach.

The most visitable Hawaiian Island that best preserves the traditional way of life is Moloka’i.  For that reason and more it’s my 2nd favorite.  In my opinion, the 3 best attractions on Moloka’i are Kalaupapa National Historical Park, site of Father Damien’s colony for sufferers of Hansen’s Disease (take the mule ride down if possible), King Kamehameha V’s  Kapuaiwa Coconut Grove, and the Highway 450 drive to Cape Halawa (fish ponds, barrier reef, etc.)  You won’t want to spend much time in Kaunakakai, the island’s only town, or exploring its west coast.

O’ahu has so many worthy attractions it’s hard to pick 3.  But for me, Pearl Harbor, the Diamond Head climb, and the underrated Bishop’s Museum and the Iolani Palace in the Capitol District leave lasting memories.  In my opinion, O’ahu’s most overrated attraction is the Polynesian Culture Center, an ethnic theme park.

Hawai’i, the Big Island, beckons with Volcanos National Park where you definitely want to include the Thomas A. Jaggar Museum in your visit, Mauna Kea and its observatories, and the Waipio Valley’s unbeatable view and more.  Skip Akaka Falls, pretty but how many similar waterfalls can one hike to in a lifetime?

Maui is where we’ve spent the most island time and I’ll write about it later. For now, our 3 favorite attractions would be:  Haleakala National Park (silverswords, nenes, etc.), the ‘Iao Valley, and dining at Mama’s Fish House in Paia then watching the windsurfers at Hookipa Beach, the world’s windsurfing capital.  Most overrated attraction:  the seemingly endless road to Hana.

My favorite of the Hawaiian Islands is Kaua’i where the Kilauea Lighthouse, Waimea Canyon (take a helicopter ride to best see it and the Napali Coast), and botanical gardens all thrill.  Visit at least one garden like the National Tropical BG where Jurassic Park is certain to be mentioned.   Skip the Fern Grotto.


p.s.  When I realized I was a 50 Stater to the max, I also realized there is only one Ruth & I have been to only once–Delaware.  To fix this, we are leaving tomorrow for an East Coast trip that focuses on the First State.  As usual, I’ll post from the road.

Going to Troubled Turkey


The Cloud Garden by Tom Hart Dyke and Paul Winder tells the story of their attempt to cross The Darien Gap, that troubled area between Panama and Columbia.  Warned by their Lonely Planet guidebook not to even think about it, they went ahead anyway encouraged by a reportedly successful attempt by 2 other young men to do the same thing.  In their book, The Cloud Garden, they tell about their kidnaping by FARC guerrillas and almost 10 month in captivity.  Their lives were threatened almost every day as Dyke, an orchid lover, and Winder, lifelong map lover, were moved from one nasty place to another.

CG is a fast read full of horrific detail about Dyke and Winder’s treatment. If, for example, you don’t think you can stand to read about the ongoing worm infestations in Paul’s legs, don’t read this!   I was fascinated.  The day I finished it, I read in The New York Times about a new book by Tony Wheeler, co-founder of the Lonely Planet guidebooks, that will be published in September, 2013.  Called Tony Wheeler’s Dark Lands, this book tells about travel to troubled places.  Wheeler claims, “They’re never as evil as they’re made out to be” and tells about him and his wife’s recent trip to Pakistan where “everybody was as nice as can be.”

My go-to information source about personal travel to troubled places is TRAVEL.STATE.GOV where, among other warnings, I read and copied this about Pakistan:  “The presence of several foreign and indigenous terrorist groups poses a potential danger to U.S. citizens throughout Pakistan.  Across the country, terrorist attacks frequently occur against civilian, government, and foreign targets.”

Then I cruised the www and found which on November 26, 2012, published an article called, TOP TEN MOST DANGEROUS TRAVEL DESTINATIONS.  Targeting countries dominated by Islamic Law, Examiner referred to a recently published article in Travel & Leisure in which T&L ranked Pakistan #1 among the most dangerous places to go.  Examiner advises, “If you are intent upon traveling here, you might consider purchasing a bulletproof vest and some additional life insurance with a very reputable carrier.”

Although we have never been seriously impacted by social unrest while traveling, Ruth & I have been in some trouble spots during turmoil–Portugal, Argentina, Hungary, etc.–where we witnessed demonstrations and/or heard scary comments.  I’d like to go to some countries that come with serious warnings or have recently had trouble–Belarus, Turkey, Cyprus, etc.–but fret about safety.  A few years ago we were getting ready to travel around Central America with a good friend who had moved to Belize.  He was murdered there as we were in late-stage planning.

Who does one believe?   I’d like to be like Tony Wheeler, but then I read negative comments about a potential destination or pick up a book like The Cloud Garden.


Amerete Viterbo


viterbo2Viterbo is a Lazio city of about 60,000 roughly halfway between Rome, 60 miles south, and Tuscany’s Siena. Viterbo is so near the Tuscan border that the area is also called Tuscia, leading to confusion.  Getting to Viterbo is a very pleasant, stress-free two-hour train ride from Rome through rolling green hills dotted with olive trees, vineyards, and an occasional Roman aqueduct.  It makes an excellent day-trip where you get off at the second of two terminals, walk down a modern, broad, tree-lined avenue, and pass through medieval walls into an enchanting place.

A town has been on this site since Etruscans ruled.  In the thirteenth century this already old population center became a papal residence.  The Palazzo dei Papi, in fact, remains Viterbo’s main tourist draw. A favored pope getaway or hideout when there were difficulties in Rome, Viterbo was the actual papal seat for 24 years.

What makes Viterbo an enchanting destination today is its ongoing medievalness.  Despite damage in World War II, enough of its pre-Renaissance streets are authentic to make it possible to imagine yourself an 11th century citizen living in one of Europe’s most important cities as you wander through.  A medieval mindset is interrupted only by an occasional motorbike or locals wearing black leather jackets climbing into or out of Porsches.

We find the center of activity within Viterbo’s ancient walls to be the small Piazza delle Erbe, where a central fountain with lions is surrounded by yellow, gold, and flesh-colored Gothic buildings.  Where Dante once sat contemplating The Divine Comedy, we eat gelato.

The town invites casual wandering.  The hillside San Pellegrino quarter, which is our favorite, has the well-deserved reputation of containing the finest and best preserved medieval buildings in Italy.   Renaissance palaces surround the Piazza del Plebiscito, and the twelfth century Romanesque San Lorenzo Cathedral dominates a lovely piazza.  Its approach is a narrow street over a medieval bridge from which strollers see terraced gardens.  There seems no end to twisting streets that end at Gothic fountains, ancient chiesas with empty cloisters, or imposing city gates.  The well-preserved medieval buildings have irregular front stoops bestride cobblestone steps, inviting interiors, and balconies strung with wash.

Investment here would be especially attractive to three groups:  investment-minded Italy lovers looking for an alternative to Tuscany, those seeking a very private second residence away from the frenzy that is Rome, or anyone wanting to dwell in a truly historically significant neighborhood.  If you have time for more than a day-trip, agriturismo would be a pleasant way to explore Viterbo.

As is typical in Italy, Viterbo’s 11th century walls keep out a surrounding, bustling modern city offering all amenities.

Hank (photo above from

Two More Capitals, Dover and Trenton


Should they be called Capitolists?   The media are reporting today on Nita & Marcine Webb.  This Texas couple brought closure to a lifelong dream last week when they went to Augusta, Maine, and visited the State Capitol.  I don’t know how long they’ve been at this, but Marcine is 86 and Nita is 81, and they have now experienced all 50 U.S. Capitols.

I checked the archives and realized that I haven’t written about State Capitols as travel destinations since 2011.  They are worthy stops, especially if you’re traveling with children who need a break and some painless history lessons.  On 5/14/11 I wrote about a Salt Lake City to Tahoe trip Ruth & I took with Australians John and Trish during which the 4 of us discovered capitol fun in Utah and Nevada.  At the time I had no idea that Aussies had an interest in U.S. Capitols.  Perhaps it’s because there are only 6 states Down Under.

When Nevada was a 3-year-old territory, The Battle Born State had only 10,000 residents.  Abraham Lincoln saw its gold and silver as possibly needed to win The Civil War and asked Nevadans to quickly write a constitution.  In 1864 they sent it to Washington via the longest telegram in history.  It took two days to transmit.  We learned this in Carson City.  If you like Capita(o)l Trivia like this, there are lots of  websites with mind-expanding games where I just learned that there’s only U.S. capital city without a McDonalds–Montpelier, Vermont.

There’s one Capitol that Ruth has been to but I haven’t–Alaska.  Since 5/14/11 Ruth and I have visited a few State capitols–Idaho, Kentucky, Washington.   In 2 weeks we’ll add Dover, Delaware, and, perhaps, Trenton, New Jersey, to our “been there, done that” list that currently contains 49 State Capitals but only 20 State Capitols.  After this trip, the only  U.S. Capital City we won’t have been in will be Lansing, Michigan.

Ruth left California’s Capitol with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Christmas treat (details in “The Governor’s Holiday Train” blog).  Sacramento was California’s 4th capital location.  The one before it was Benicia.  Never a territory like most other states, California’s gold wealth and mid-19th-century population explosion propelled it rapidly to statehood.  It was admitted as the 31st in 1850.

If you didn’t know that Sacramento was California’s Capital with an impressive capitol (see above), perhaps it’s time for you to become a Capitolist.


Alabama Blowout


Often when we arrive at a destination late in the day, we learn that car rental choices are reduced.  This happened to Ruth and me on Saturday, April 27, 2013, when we arrived in Nashville after 9 pm.  We settled for an upgrade, a gray Chevy Malibu with only 4,000 miles on the odometer.

Three days later we were on Highway 78 just west of Carbon Hill, Alabama, when the rear passenger-side tire literally exploded.  Ruth was driving. Luckily, we were almost at the end of an overpass and Ruth, expert driver, was able to control the car and safely pull off the road.

Also luckily, we had a cell phone and service.  I called AAA, told them what had happened, and the agent said she’d make arrangements and call back. When she did, she informed me that, because we were in such a remote area, we’d have to be towed.  She explained that the first 3 miles would be free but then we’d have to pay $10 per miles after that.  She estimated that the nearest service was about 40 miles away.  When I expressed shock at the price, she tried to sell me an upgraded membership.

I called Avis, told them what happened, and they told me to cancel the AAA tow and wait for instructions.  At some point I learned that there was no spare in the trunk, a fact that seemed to surprise Avis too.  Avis, we were assured, would figure something out.

Two hours later Matt from Carbon Hill’s Nu Tires showed up with a used tire.  After paying him $75 cash, we were finally on our way.  We had stood by the Malibu for 3 hours watching trucks whiz by.  A couple of Samaritans, but no police, stopped to ask if we needed help.

Two days later we were back in Nashville at the airport Avis with the exploding tire in the rental’s wheel well.  Operations Manager Brian Alley could not have been more sympathetic or helpful.   He arranged for another vehicle, gave us $75 cash, and apologized for the inconvenience.  Throughout this ordeal, Avis was A+.

I’m telling you about this for 3 reasons.  Be aware that in the future when you rent a fairly new vehicle there might not be a spare in the trunk. Always check before leaving the rental agency. If there isn’t one, ask why.  If you are a member of AAA, don’t assume that it’ll automatically show up no matter where you are to fix your problem.  I had plenty of time to think while waiting for help and estimated that it would have cost us $700 out-of-pocket had we relied on AAA instead of Avis.   If something similar happens to you, call the rental agency immediately.  Never travel without a cell phone.