Not so random act of kindness


Recently while on holiday I found myself in a situation where I needed cash quickly. In a foreign land with an empty wallet and ticking clock, the situation was peaking on the stress-level Richter scale.

kindness

So who doesn’t carry cash? Well, like most people checking out of their hotel on the final day of a short overseas trip, I used the last of my local currency to pay the bill – after all, Australian stores don’t tend to accept US dollars. So with the bags packed and flights checked in online, I could just drop the bags at the airport and put my feet up while waiting for the flight to board – right?

Wrong.

The hotel had provided me with a taxi that didn’t accept credit cards and upon arrival at the airport, my driver started pointing impatiently at a large sign on the back window that indicated this in bold type.

Much as I felt like launching into a lecture about what year it was, the amazing remote payment technologies that are now available, and how this situation could have been avoided if the “cash only” sign had been pointed out to me at the beginning of the journey, it wasn’t the time or audience. It was the time to embark on a wild dash for cash.

Running off into the vast departures area of the airport and half expecting to see 4 or 5 ATMs straight up, I quickly established that there were none. In fact there wasn’t really anything. The first person I came across was a woman absentmindly dusting a “Please Queue Here” sign.

She wasn’t wearing a badge that said “Airport Information” but she would have to do.

Naturally she had no idea where there was an ATM. “What do you need money for?” she said. “A taxi? How much do you need?” This was taking too long.

“$40?” She continued on, “OK, come with me, I have it.” Not sure where this was going, I followed nonetheless. The woman wandered over to the Korean Airlines desk, reached behind for her purse, and handed me a crisp $100 bill.

$100. To a complete stranger.

“Are you sure?” I said. “You know I will give this back to you, don’t you. That’s why you’re lending it to me, because I have an honest face, and I will return your money”

“No,” she said, “I don’t know if you’ll return the money. But there you go, I will be here.” She turned and started busying herself with other matters.

It was true, she had no idea, only I knew that I would be back. So I paid off the driver, took the woman the $60 change, eventually found an ATM, and returned with the remaining $40. I rushed off to the departure lounge, made the plane, and then completed an otherwise uneventful journey.

But I did reflect on my meeting with Gloria. Was this a random act of kindness? I decided that no, I think for some people, acts of kindness are not random at all, they are lived everyday, and perhaps require very little effort or thought.

The moral of this story could easily be “Don’t step into a cab that doesn’t take credit card if you don’t have any cash”, but really, the message was that their are still plenty of good, trusting people in the world who are prepared to act.

Why Hawai’i is the new black


Desperately seeking a holiday dream

MeI love to travel and although I don’t usually go five-star, I enjoy it when I can. I love the adventure of the journey as much as the destination, and appreciate the great outdoors, arts, culture and a three foot margarita by a sparkling pool in equal measures. Impress me!

YouYou’re a glitzy, hot, palm-tree lined beach paradise, with malls filled with designer jewellers, and towering apartments and hotels as far as the eye can see. Your locals are friendly and chilled, and the fashion, food and mood swings from sheer class to dag-a-rama with a puff of the Pacific breeze. You’re a pearl earring one minute, and a shark tooth necklace the next.

Let’s hook up soon!

Waikiki from Diamond head Summit

Waikiki from Diamond head Summit

Expecting your dream to be the Gold Coast? Imagine your surprise when your plane touches down on Oahu. Strolling along the arrival gate, you hear the first strains of a gentle guitar floating on the breeze, accompanied by a barely discernible waft of Ilima flower. You’re greeted by a trio of young men in colourful shirts singing traditional island tunes, and instead of a stern looks and tough questions, customs give you a Lei and a smile.

So why is Hawaii ‘hot’ all of a sudden? The truth is, it’s always been the fun, laid back, and culturally interesting destination that travellers are discovering today, the difference is that visitors are now island-hopping in greater numbers, not content to just shop, laze by the pool or wander along Waikiki beach, which although enjoyable, houses a strip of brands and franchises offered by dozens of destinations across Australia, Asia and the Pacific. Meanwhile, the collective islands of Hawaii offer a diverse range of activities and landscapes, and are easily accessible via the local airline.

The Duke, Waikiki, Oahu

The Duke, Waikiki, Oahu

Here’s a quick run-down of the main sights and things to do on the four most visited islands.

Oahu

The first port of call for most visitors, and also the most populous island, boasting busy Honolulu and nearby Waikiki Beach. Highlights include the steep steps leading up the Diamond Head summit trail, Pearl Harbour Memorial, the fabulous beaches of the North Shore, or if you’d prefer to tread the same sand as Elvis and hand-feed tropical fish while strumming a ukulele, head to Hanuama Bay. If you need more than resorts, pools and beaches, there are solutions at both ends of the spectrum; shopping malls and outlet centres at one end, and hikes to waterfalls, tropical forests and the Dole Pineapple Plantation at the other. You’ll never picture pineapples hanging from a tree again.

Snack time at Haleiwa Bowls, North Shore, Oahu

Snack time at Haleiwa Bowls, North Shore, Oahu

Maui

Famous for its surf, Maui is perhaps the next best known island. Don’t think it’s all about thongs and straw hats though, this small island is both exclusive and expensive. In the words of George Clooney in the movie The Descendants; “In Hawaii, some of the most powerful people look like bums and stuntmen”, and this island personifies that vibe. If you can drag yourself away from the pool or beach, the dormant volcano of Haleakala is popular at sunrise, you can fossick around the historic town of Lahaina, or take in the ‘Road to Hana’ – one of the most scenic drives in the world. Iao Needle – a lush green shard-like mountain on the island’s west – is also picturesque and popular.

Akaka Falls, The Big Island

Akaka Falls, The Big Island

Kaua’i

“The Garden Island” is exactly that, a place rich in flora, canyons and valleys. Hike the spectacular Nā Pali Coast trail, peek over the edge of the majestic Waimea Canyon, or if you’re game, take one of the cliff trails to the crashing water and cool swimming holes of Waipoo Falls. If you’re feeling less adventurous, visit a coffee plantation, wander the beach at Hanalei Bay, or drink and mingle with the friendly locals at the famous Tahiti Nui bar. Kaua’i is the tropical island dreams are made of – and films! Yes, this is the location of Jurassic Park, and with that in mind as you drive one of the coastal routes alongside jutting hills, you might half expect to see a flock of pterodactyls overhead at any moment.

View from the Na Pali coast trail, Kaua'i

View from the Na Pali coast trail, Kaua’i

The Big Island (Hawai’i)

A wonderfully diverse island where the terrain ranges from surprisingly semi-arid desert in the south, to the lush tropics in the north – with plenty of plains of ‘frozen’ lava rock flowing in between! Throw in the twin peaks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa at over 13,000 feet each, and you have yet another island paradise with plenty to see and do. The Big Island, as it’s known, is just that, and although it might still look like a speck on the map, its area is greater than Oahu, Kaua’i, Maui and all the other islands combined. This presents the visitor with a challenge that is best met by… hiring a Jeep! Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park is a rare opportunity to see a live volcano. You may not see flowing lava, but it’s still a moving experience as you take in the scene of sulphur dioxide gas rising above the crater, knowing that such an immense amount of power and energy is so close. The east coast of the island boasts some of the archipelago’s best beaches, and the north boasts the beautiful Kohalo and Hamakua coast drives – be sure to take the dip down to Laupahoehoe Point if you’re able.

Sunset over Hapuna Beach, The Big Island

Sunset over Hapuna Beach, The Big Island

The verdict… is it love at first sight?

So the news is, there’s more to Hawai’i than Waikiki, and with the help of cheaper airfares, Australians are intrigued and now exploring. The old travel advice of “pack… then take half as much luggage and twice as much money” holds true here as much as anywhere in the world – the US dollar is pretty much one-for-one on price-tag, and even value on most purchases, but the lower exchange rate hits home on the big ticket items – hotels with an ocean view, car hire, and restaurants, so take this into account.

Go, enjoy, and Mahalo for reading.

A hawaiian monk seal rests on Poipu beach, Kaua'i

A hawaiian monk seal rests on Poipu beach, Kaua’i

Eat, Stay, Love – Savannah

This blog is part of my ongoing Eat, Stay, Love series.

Savannah. Sultry, sweaty, yet appealing in a moody kind of way. And that’s just the people! So after a stroll along the cobblestones of Riverstreet and through shady squares, you’ll be ready to cool off in this impossibly hot town. Here’s some ideas.

ESL-sav1Methodist founder, John Wesley, in Reynolds Square.

Marshall House

Step back in time in this wonderful hotel in the heart of Savannah. Whether cooling off under the fans in the bar or swapping ghost stories on the balcony above, this place just breathes history, elegance and charm.

123 E Broughton St


Rocks on the River (Bohemian Hotel)

I needed a cool drink on a 40 degree day during the recent heatwave and slipped into the bar with my family.

A good selection of local beers on tap and friendly service kept us in there all afternoon.

We then adjourned to the restaurant and found a varied menu including local specialties like Fried Green Tomatoes and Shrimp on Grits, all of which were much better than they sounded. I always eat and drink local specialties when travelling so that was a relief.

Overall recommend the location, service and quality.

102 W. Bay St


Leopold’s Ice Cream

Savannah is a hot place so Leopold’s Ice Cream seems to be busy all the time.

The queue went out the front door, and as American’s are impatient queuers, getting to the front was a bit of an experience on its own.

The service is a bit vague and the tables take a while to be cleaned and cleared, but lets face it, Leopold’s is all about the ice cream, which was very good and makes it worth a visit.

212 E Broughton St


Red Gate Campground and RV Resort

We arrived in 40 degree heat and found no staff to greet, explain the facilities etc, and a campground which somehow didn’t really match the lovely shots on the website, so we just assumed we were in the wrong place and drove off.

Returning later when we realised that we must have been in the right place after all, we just picked a spot and set up the rig as we had paid online anyway. Still no staff member, so we ended up catching another family – luckily quite helpful – and getting the low down on everything such as wi-fi passwords, club house code, location of toilets, showers, pool (under construction) laundry etc.

As stated by previous reviewers, in Savannah’s sometimes oppressive heat a tree-less open field type of arrangement doesn’t really appeal, no pool to cool off, though the Club house was a good space, good A/C and with the biggest TV I’ve ever seen, a bit of a life saver through a sudden violent storm that shook RVs and brought down trees.

An easy $20 cab ride into historic Savannah, but in all I think we’ll find somewhere else next time through here.

And never did sight the manager!

136 Red Gate Farms Trail

ESL-sav2City Hall, Savannah GA.

Eat, Stay, Love – New York

This blog is part of my ongoing Eat, Stay, Love series.

I could sermonise the virtues of New York for a month. Much has changed since my first, let’s face it, scary visit back in 1987. The city has been transformed into a mostly clean and welcoming metropolis, overflowing with great food options for each of the day’s four meals (yes morning tea is a meal, in fact it’s quite possibly the most important meal).

ESL-nyc1Cop lunch on the Upper West Side

Dovetail

Sometimes not that much needs to be said about a place.

I’m hard to impress but I was impressed by Dovetail. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it was amazing, but certainly in terms of quality of food an service is was exceptional.

103 W 77th St


Telepan

Whenever in New York we plan a special night out at a highly rated local restaurant and Telepan didn’t disappoint.

The menu was well thought out and smartly presented, the wine list still contained some gems in the $80-100 range, and the service was professional in that fun way the top restaurants seems to be able to pull off – knowledgeable, subtly humorous – all whilst maintaining a slightly stuffy fascade.

If I had to offer up improvement opportunities, it would be 1) too many staff which meant they tended to hover a bit. I am a traditionalist who likes his breathing space, and prefer the meal to be allowed to run its course, and all the clearing away done at the end, and 2) The prime rib was presented to the participants before being whisked away for slicing, however in the ensuing 10 – 12 minutes rested a little long and was returned closer to medium-well than medium-rare and 3) Probably related to number 1) above, the hostess/Maitre D’ had a scowl on her face all night which was a shame, she was not in a happy place.

At $100 per head + alcohol for 3 courses, I can comfortably say it was a good choice and a great night.

72 W 69th St, Frnt 2


Bello Giardino

Charming Italian restaurant with a neighbourhood feel on 71st and Columbus, in the heart of everybodies favourite “side” – the upper west.

The service was efficient and friendly, and the food, whilst not fine-dining, was all well thought out and authentic, with enough touches of quality to make it a pleasing experience.

On a warm night, breathe in the atmosphere of the lovely hanging gardens at rear, while sipping a glass of red and enjoying the murals of the old country.

Bello!

71 W 71st St, Frnt 1

ESL-nyc2Bello Giardino rear dining

EJs Luncheonette

A must for visitors to New York. Come to think of it, if I lived in New York I’d eat here every Saturday!

Great pancakes, eggs, milkshakes and crunchy French Toast. Service is good enough if you don’t need to be worshipped, just have your coffee topped up once in a while.

A word to anyone other than those with the heartiest of appetites – order to share, or you’ll send a great deal of waste back to the kitchen!

1271 Third Ave. at 73rd St.


Good enough to Eat

There’s only one thing better than a hearty American breakfast of coffee, pancakes, maple syrup, blue berries and bacon, and that is a hearty American breakfast done really well.

GETE was a local eatery for our stay and places like this just make you want to stay longer – or stay forever!

It has a laid back atmosphere and neighbourhood feel, love it.

483 Amsterdam Ave, Frnt A

ESL-nyc3Bikes patiently await their owners outside EJ’s

Pasha

Chanced upon this little basement place when other places nearby were a little too “beer and pizza” for our liking and was pleasantly surprised.

Turkish food to me has often been over cooked (charred), oily or salty, but not at Pasha. The menu is traditional yet interesting, and everything that hit the table was quality.

Combine with the charming interior, atmospheric outdoor settings and attentive service, and you’ve got a restaurant I’d return to – and did!

70 West 71st Street


Blue Note (Sunday Brunch)

Brunch would surely be a different experience to a night-time event, although I suppose a few things about the club (e.g. sticky carpets and average toilets) would be the same.

Overall the food at our table was pretty good – eggs, pancakes etc, I think the success of the brunch experience probably comes down to the act in most cases, and of the 2 acts we saw on our visit, we all thought the first – a lady singing cabaret standards – belonged on a cruise ship for the elderly and the second – a young pianist and cellist playing modern jazz – were pretty good and on the way up.

I’d probably return and do it again, maybe go for a night show next time and cross my fingers that Dave Brubeck is still kicking and in town.

131 West 3rd St

ESL-nyc4Village cafe style

La Boite en Bois

This little basement eatery looks and feels like a ship’s galley. Dim passes for “atmosphere” and opp-shop decor passes for “retro”. But its busy all the time (including a nice Sunday brunch) so you would need to make a reservation.

The service is as attentive and friendly as I’d expect from a Frenchman in New York (not especially) but it is efficient.

The food was good without being great, but nothing in North America has that freshness about it that you experience in places like Australia where the trip from garden to plate is so much shorter.

Overall a bit of fun and nice excuse for a glass of champagne on a Sunday morning if you go for the brunch

75 W. 68th St


Megu

OK first I should preface this by mentioning that I am from foodie-heaven Melbourne, and travelling just reminds me how superbly fresh, well prepared and intelligent food is in my town. This makes it hard to detach when rating “top” restaurants in places like New York, London, Paris etc. Nothing like a soggy lettuce leaf to get you off on the wrong foot.

Anyway Megu, for all it’s reputation and top shelf price, I found unexceptional in terms of food, noisy and poorly set out in terms of atmosphere, and downright crummy in terms of service.

If you are wanting good Japanese food, there are plenty of better (cheaper) options in Manhattan. If you are wanting to impress, then Megu just may not get it done for you, unless you opt for the Dom.

It fell short of my expectations in every department.

62 Thomas St

ESL-nyc5Tom’s restaurant, made famous by Seinfeld

Ciao

This place is prominently positioned on the corner of Bleeker and MacDougal in Greenwich Village and a table outside was a good spot to take in the sights and sounds of a busy NY neighbourhood.

The food was “OK”, but the service was vague and slow – no excuse during a pretty quiet lunch – and its one of those places that automatically adds 20% tip to the bill, which apart from being completely unwarranted considering the lack of attention we received, was totally out of line for a table of 4.

I’m not the kind of guy that stands for that, so I made them remove it from the bill and added what I thought was an appropriate tip based on the service – and only left that amount because I felt obliged, not because it was deserved.

Needless to say I wasn’t popular after that, but to be honest I wouldn’t return anyway so, like, whatever.

185 Bleecker Street, Greenwich Village


Shake Shack, Upper West Side

Shake Shack has positioned itself as one of those New York City institutions – like Rays or Gray’s Papaya – that you, like, “gotta go there man”. Well maybe, but only if you’ve never really been to a “buzz” place like this, where the queue goes out the door, its noisy, you can’t get a table and you’re surrounded by tourists with a checklist.

But…. if you have been around the block a few times, then I doubt Shake Shack will hold much interest unless you have kids.

Menu-wise its burgers, dogs and fries (surprise!) and unless you want a big ‘ol watery mushroom burger, there’s nothing for vegetarians. The famous concrete (frozen custard) seems like a good idea for the first couple of tugs but will ultimately go in the trash unfinished.

There’s 4 or 5 of these around New York, but this one feels out of place, nestled among brownstones, cool bars and restaurants, and in the shadow of the Natural History Museum on the Upper West Side.

Overall, if you’re in the Upper West Side already, why not go somewhere a bit classier and more iconic in it’s own, legitimate way?

366 Columbus Avenue

ESL-nyc6Enjoying outdoor dining on the Upper West Side

A case of mistaken celebrity, Malibu, California, 2009

 

With the exception of a Kardashians family reunion, the City of Angels is arguably more densely populated with celebrities than any other place on earth. Derek Green is on a mission.

I’ve often wondered why L.A. is such a coveted destination for so many Americans. Not that they just want to visit mind you, nearly every American I’ve met either wants to move here, live here or die here, preferably in that order.

IMG_1731

I enjoy talking to the locals, and have been known to deftly insert this mini-phenomenon into conversation. Where I can get a word in that is. Not that Americans are rude, not at all, they’re generally warm, friendly people who like to chew the fat, make sure you’re up to speed on events in their personal lives, and tell you how much they loved that movie ‘Crocodile Dundee’. And in the case of service people, remind you that they do, in fact, accept tips. Aussies have a reputation as poor tippers.

I’ve concluded that for the visitor, like deep fried pork burritos, eye stinging smog and rampant egomania, L.A. is an acquired taste, and for many Americans, once the dream of becoming a superstar has faded, they will happily settle for spotting stars, mingling with them and (occasionally) stalking them.

Of course, there’s also the weather. When you consider LA’s Pacific influenced temperatures; warm, rather than hot in summer, and mild throughout winter, LA has year-round appeal to the rest of America who are either frying or freezing. Conversely, a popular joke about Melbourne’s famously fickle climate is “If you don’t like the weather, just wait 5 minutes”. The same could be said for the game of ‘celebrity spotting’ in LA. If you’re too young to appreciate the stars of Melrose Place then the stars of Vampire Diaries are bound to stroll past soon enough.

Take one of my favourite celebrity spotting sites, Malibu. My party and I arrive at the famous Malibu Pier (23000 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu, CA) for an early lunch, and somehow drive straight into the only available parking space. We are quickly seated at the newly established ‘local and organic’ Malibu Farm Cafe, and while waiting for a plate of fried calamari to be brought to us by a waiter straight off the set of The OC, our celebrity radars are in the full upright position and humming.

“Hey that could be Heather Locklear!”

“Nah too leathery”

“What about that guy – Owen Wilson?”

“Nope, nose is too straight!”

And then it happens; I make a visual, and I’m struck dumb for as long as it takes my target and his group of friends and hangers-on to walk past and be given a table in the precise location I have been told was unavailable ten minutes earlier.

“Hey, check it out! Its, um, oh gosh what’s his name? Pamela Anderson, Heavy Metal, oh yeah, it’s Tommy Lee Jones!”

I could tell you what beer I drank that afternoon (Anchor Steam ale) but I’m terrible at remembering names and faces at the moment when it’s actually useful.

IMG_1730

Meanwhile, all at our table are scouring the restaurant for everyone’s favourite no-nonsense, tough but fair, heavily pock-marked action man with the Southern Fried accent, but he’s nowhere to be seen, mainly because our view is blocked by Tommy Lee, the skinny-arsed, tattooed ex-Motley Crue drummer and his entourage.

Opportunities like this don’t tend to present themselves often, and I silently scowl at my wife, who years earlier discarded my last links with the rock world; an immobilising leather jacket and manky old Skid Row t-shirt. As a result I have zero remaining rock credibility. I’m not quite Clark Griswold, but I’m hardly Jon Bon Jovi.

Just as I summon the courage to go over and ask for a photo, our calamari arrives and I’m distracted by our waiter who reminds us that yes, he does in fact, accept tips.

The moment passes and I console myself with another Anchor Steam ale, and find comfort in the thought that, like the weather in LA, approaching celebrities who are just trying to spend a quiet moment with their friends and family is never ‘cool’.

The writer travelled independently, and paid his own way.

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GETTING THERE

Taxi from LAX approx. 45 mins, $50

STAYING THERE

Affordable

Malibu Motel – 22541 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA 90265

Go like a celebrity

Malibu Beach Inn – 22878 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu, CA 90265

EATING

Affordable

The Malibu Farm Pier Café, serves ‘Fresh, Organic and Local’ for  lunch and dinner – 23000 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu
Dukes – 21150 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu, CA 90265-5219 (great views!)

Go like a celebrity

Nobu – 22706 Pacific Coast Highway, Ste 18, Malibu, CA 90262

SHOPPING

Malibu Country Mart – 3835 Cross Creek Rd Malibu, CA 90263