Aloha Hawaii – Flying to my dream land – Big Island

I had one free day after the conference.  The problem was there were too many attractions in Hawaii!  Where should I go?  The Big Island!  Simply because the Keck Telescopes are there!

The round trip (HNL – ITO) airline ticket was ~$200 each.  Hawaiian Airlines.  We had an early flight, at 5:32 AM.  It’s a short flight – 49 min.   The returning flight was 8:59 – 9:48 PM.  From our hostel to the airport, we arranged a shuttle, which came to pick us up.  At Hilo Airport on the Big Island, we had a rental car.  Originally I booked an economy car from Advantage, for $37.  However, at the counter, the Advantage lady highly recommended us to get a SUV (after hearing us going to the Observatories).  I forgot how much I paid to upgrade the economy car to SUV.  I guess it’s a right decision.

It was an enjoyable early morning flight.  We saw beautiful sunrise:

Hawaii big island sunrise

Hawaii big island sunrise 2

After the sun was up, we were descending.

Hawaii big island sunrise 3

Hawaii big island sunrise 4

After picking up the car, we headed towards Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  Then we went to Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden.  The garden is close to the ocean.

Hawaii tropical botanical garden
Hawaii tropical botanical garden

The garden is not very big.  We followed the trail, and saw a lot of strange plants.

Aloha Hawaii – A different world – Waikiki and more

Several posts will be devoted to my Hawaii trip.  Here are some general information.

  • Time: July 2013

– I was attending a conference in Sheraton on Waikiki beach.  Why not have some fun?  I took my mom to Hawaii as well.

  • Flight: From Las Vegas to Honolulu (on Oahu island), 6 hours, time difference is 3 hours, ~$ 220 per person one-way.

– Before going to Hawaii, we stayed in Las Vegas for two nights.  Our flight to Honolulu was delayed.  At first, the plane was called back from the take-off lane to add more fuel (wasn’t it weird?).  Then, we had to wait for the storm to pass by.  The airline blamed weather for the delay, and only gave us drinks.  We were supposed to get to Honolulu by 9PM, but we ended up arriving after 1AM.  Not a good start!

  • Accommodation: Hostel International (HI) Honolulu Waikiki, $25 per person per night.

– I booked two beds in a six-bed female room.  Surprisingly, the staff there gave us an individual room!  The room has a bunk bed and a restroom.  The location of the hostel is super – just two blocks from the BEST part of Waikiki Beach.  They also have various beach stuffs – we always borrow a bodyboard.

Hawaii Waikiki Beach
Hawaii Waikiki Beach

– I hope one day we can take Fu to Waikiki.  Beach is surely the heaven for kids!

Hawaii Waikiki beach
Hawaii Waikiki beach
Hawaii Waikiki beach
Hawaii Waikiki beach
  • Places visited: Waikiki Beach, Pearl Harbor, the Island of Hawaii (Big Island)

– I am so glad that we went to the Big Island.  That’s the best part of this trip 🙂

  • Restaurant: Marukame Udon (丸亀製麺)

– We went there three times.  Every time there was a long line.  Luckily the line moves fast, as the service there is fast.  Basically you pick the type of soup (pre-made) for the udon noodle.  They have tasty tempura too!

Feel Finland – The first week in Espoo

So it’s already a week.  Although we are still getting used to the life here in Espoo, I think we always learn the most in the first week.

Espoo, with no more than 300,000 population, is the second largest city in Finland.  It is only 10 km away from Helsinki, the capital and the largest city.  Our apartment is in west Espoo.  It is furnished, which helps a lot in terms of settling down.  We are also glad that the markets are just 5 min walk.  Two markets: Alepa and K market.  They are not that big, a little smaller than Carrefour City and Simply in Grenoble, France.  However, we can get pretty much everything we expect: food and home essentials.  To get asian food and more home supplies, we will have to go to asian markets and large supermarkets.  There are two supermarkets in the shopping mall that is 1 km away.  Yes there are shopping malls here in Finland, similar to US.  The two supermarkets are K supermarket and Lidl.  Lidl is cheaper, same as in France.  We have not yet tried it – we will.  The living cost in Finland seems high.  The rent is high; food is expensive.

The bus is costly as well – 2.9 euro for a single trip! Luckily one can purchase a long term pass, i.e. ~55 euro for 30 days.  D just went to make a such bus card yesterday, and was told to wait for a week to receive the card.  I have not yet tried the public transportation here.  But I heard that the buses are quite on time, and can get you almost everywhere you want.  One of the bus stops that are close to our apartment has several bus lines.  In addition, with a baby in a pram, one can travel in public transportation for free!  We really need to get a pram then!

Espoo bus
The close-by bus stop has several lines

It is early morning now!  4 AM to be accurate.  The sky is pink ~ almost sunrise time.  Since we are getting closer to summer solstice, the day is longer and longer.  It will be like 19 hours the longest.  Have you ever seen a 11 PM sunset?  People here seem to enjoy the long daylight very much. After all, it’s much better than the long darkness, isn’t it? 🙂 Although the sun is up for long time, it’s definitely not hot here.  In fact, it’s still cool – even a bit cold.  Let’s see how hot it can be in July and August.

As you know, Finland (and other Nordic countries) is known for design.  Design is truly everywhere in life.  Even the apartment buildings are like art.  I always like Chicago for the architectures, so I was immediately attracted by Finland.  Once I get a pram, I want to take our baby to get around the town.  The sky is so blue here; the air is fresh; plus we are so close to the ocean!  We should enjoy the daylight before it’s gone.

Espoo ocean
Ocean is less than 10 min walk from our apartment


CitizenM Hotel @ Paris CDG – I am a citizen now

When we traveled from France to Finland, we stayed at the CitizenM hotel at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport.  The review of this hotel is exceptionally good, so I was a bit curious.  Now I am convinced that this hotel totally deserves the high rating.

First of all, as a four-star hotel at the airport, its price is very modest.  When I booked through about two months in advance, it was only a little more than US $100 (with a 12% off coupon though).  Paying just 20~30 dollars more to stay right at the airport – why not?  The hotel is located next to Hilton, close to Terminal 3.  RER station is close-by.  An airport train, TGVVAL, links all the three terminals.

CitizenM Paris CDG outside
CitizenM Paris CDG outside
CitizenM Paris CDG decorations

Secondly, the hotel is very modern and high-Tech.  I found the painting on the outside wall very attractive.  The inside decoration is also stylish – every touch is full of design.  The words on the walls are interesting.  I believe that every single piece of decoration is picked/collected carefully.  People, including me, cannot help taking photos.  The checkin and checkout are done at a round table with computers.  Not sure about the checkin, but the checkout is self-service.  You just put the card key on a reader, and then check out on the computer.  It takes a few seconds.  Every room is equipped with an iPad mini, which can be used to control almost everything in the room: light, shades, TV, etc.

CitizenM Paris CDG checkin
CitizenM Paris CDG checkin

Thirdly, the staffs are nice.  Since we traveled with a baby, the staff assigned us an accessible (larger) room, and offered a baby cradle.  At the bar & restaurant, the bartender gave us a free beer 🙂 BTW, the food is good, and the price is ok – €24.  Breakfast is about €18, with good selections of high quality.

Lastly, the room is extremely clean and quiet.  The king bed and pillows are very comfortable.  Wifi is stable and fast.  Additional freebies include two bottles of water and MOVIES!  Old movies and relatively new movies.  I watched Passengers.

If I will stay at CDG again, I think I will go for CitizenM again.   I heard it’s a chain hotel as well, so I will also look for it whenever I need a hotel.

Zion National Park – Hiking Hiking Hiking

Thanks to our failure in the lottery for the Wave, we had plenty of time in Zion National Park.  Being different from other national parks in our Grand Circle trip, Zion has more plants, and seems more family friendly.  Zion is only 40 minutes away from Kanab.  Private cars are asked to park in the big parking lot close to the visitor center.  Shutter buses are running every 10-20 minutes, depending on the season and time.

Zion National Park checkerboard mesa
Zion National Park checkerboard mesa

There are numerous hiking trails in Zion.  The two most famous and difficult ones are called The Narrows and Angel’s Landing.  We did both!

The Narrows
The trail is actually a section of the Virgin river running in the canyon.  It is thus very important to check the weather and the flood potential.  There are special preparations needed to be done as well.  Keep in mind that the water may be cold!  Even in early September when the sun is out and people are wearing shorts, the water is cold.  This is because the river runs in the narrow canyon, and does not get much sunshine.  Also, prepare “special”  shoes because they will get wet for sure.  The other thing may be useful is a stick, as walking in the river is difficult – you cannot see how deep the water is or what you are going to step on.  We didn’t have sticks, so we were quite slow.

Two ways to hike The Narrows.  One can either hike top-down or bottom-up.  Top-down is an overnight hike, and requires permits. Bottom-up is easier, and requires no permits.  Therefore most people, including us, choose the bottom-up hike.  We took the shutter to Temple of Sinawava.  After hiking the 1 mile riverside trail, we reached the starting point of The Narrows.  I could see that people were excited to hike this special and unique trail!  The first step into the water was really cold.  After a while, I kinda got used to it.  Walking in the river was more difficult than I thought, but it’s a lot of fun!  My mom and I sometimes had to hold hand to stabilize each other.  We reached the starting point of Wall Street, and then decided to return.  In total, we hiked about 5 hours.

Zion National Park
Zion National Park the narrows

Angel’s landing
This is also a unique trail.  The first half of the trail is paved road.  However, the rest is rocks.  There is a thick chain along the trail, so I don’t find it very dangerous.  In fact, I liked it a lot! :). It reminded me the Yellow Mountain in China!  The trail to one of the highest peaks, Tiandu Peak, is a bit similar.  But it’s a lot more steeper on Tiandu Peak!  (I recently revisited Yellow Mountain, and I will write about it. D had already finished his blog about Yellow Mountain.)  The end of Angel’s landing is the top of the mountain.  Many people were sitting there and enjoying the view.  We didn’t stay long, because we had to drive to Bryce Canyon National Park.

Zion National Park
Zion National Park angel landing chain
Zion National Park
Zion National Park angel landing top

I am sure everybody can find some trails that they enjoy in Zion.  I just feel lucky that we could do the two most unique ones!

One more thing about Zion.  There are a lot of restaurant in Springdale.  We tried one Thai restaurant (Thai Sapa), and the food we had there were surprisingly good!