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10/22/2014 Now with pictures

Here's more travelogue!

October 6 (Monday): Iolani Palace
As the only palace in the US, Iolani Palace is a monument to an interesting part of history when the state of Hawaii was a sovereign kingdom, rather than part of the United States. Aside from a good history lesson, it's also a pretty cool building, so I decided to take Connie there for a look. As a note, I wrote about Iolani Palace back when I first visited it (see the entry for Wednesday, December 21), so you can see that entry if you want to read a bit more about the history of the place. The reason I'm writing about it again now is that, since I last visited, they decided to allow photographs inside.
Now you probably wouldn't think a Hawaiian palace would be all that fancy but the royal family drew quite a lot of inspiration from Europe, creating a palace that, while a little on the small side, it's just as grand and opulent as the title implies. There's a throne room (complete with crowns and scepters), sitting rooms, bedrooms so fancy you'd wonder how people lived in them, and even a music room (complete with elephant tusks, for some reason). While it's fun to look around (and the palace has a good audio tour), I have a hard time imagining living in a place like that. Even if I somehow became rich enough to do so, I really doubt I'd want to...
Anyway, Connie and I spent a fun and interesting couple of hours there between the audio tour of the main palace area and the historical displays in the basement. If you like history and/or fancy old buildings, Iolani Palace is worth a visit.


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10/20/2014 Luau

It's a bit late, but it's finally time to do some travelogue posts about the past two weeks.

October 1st - 14th: Connie's Visit
If you read my China Travelogue from this past summer, you may remember that I visited a couple of friends while I was there. One of them was Connie and she recently came to visit me here in Hawaii for a couple of weeks, becoming my first house guest (both at my new house and ever). So, while I naturally kept up with my teaching work, I took a break from my various side projects for a couple of weeks to hang out and play tour guide. It was a lot of fun and we did all sorts of different things here on the island. Most of the places we went and things we did are ones I've covered before, and not too long ago at that, such as Diamond Head and the Polynesian Cultural Center, so I'm not going to write about them again. But there were a few things that were either new to me, or have changed a bit since last time, so I'll be doing write-ups for them.

October 2nd (Thursday): Hilton Starlight Luau
A luau is one of those quintessential Hawaiian tourist experiences but, despite that, I've never been to one before. But I've been wanting to check one out, and Connie's visit made for a good opportunity. There are a number of luaus on Oahu, but choosing which one to attend wasn't easy. I found some reviews online (mostly on Yelp and Tripadvisor) but for all of the luaus, the reviews seemed pretty evenly divided between people who totally loved them, and people who utterly hated them. But, in the end, I settled on the Hilton Starlight Luau.
The Starlight Luau is at the Hilton Hawaiian Village on Waikiki. That makes for a really convenient location, though a hotel rooftop (even at a really nice hotel) is a bit lacking in ambiance compared to some of the other luaus I read about, which are in more natural settings. After arriving at the luau and checking in (you need to make reservations in advance), Connie and I were given shell leis (necklaces) and shown to our seats (as a note, you can pay more to get flower leis and better seats, though all the seats are pretty good). There was a band paying Hawaiian music and a bit of other early entertainment to start things off (including a little hula lesson for the audience and a conch shell blowing contest).
After that, it was time for the meal. One of the reasons I chose the Hilton's luau is because it was supposed to have some of the best food and it didn't disappoint. They had large buffet covered with a diverse mix of Hawaiian and Asian foods, from meats, to seafood, to salads, and everything I tried was excellent. They called people up by tables the first time around, but after that we were free to return for more. As a note, they also had a full bar and admission came with two drink tickets each, good for any cocktail or an alcohol free tropical punch.
As the sun sank below the horizon and the meal wound down, the main show began. It was made up of a series of traditional dances from Hawaii and other Polynesian islands, with appropriate musical accompaniment. The dancers were very skilled and there was a good mix of different styles. The most impressive was the finale, featuring four fire dancers.
All in all, it was an enjoyable night. A little touristy maybe, but Connie and I had a lot of fun, and both the food and show were excellent. At this point, I can't say how the Hilton Starlight Luau compares to the other major luaus on the island, but if you're looking for one in Waikiki, I'd certainly recommend it.


10/17/2014 Good food

Ok, time to get to work on those travelogue entries again. I've got a couple of restaurant reviews for today and a few things from Connie's visit coming up next week.

Restaurant Review: Cafe Maharani
Type: Indian
Location: Honolulu, King St.
The selection of Indian restaurants in Honolulu doesn't really compare to that of Japanese or Chinese. Fortunately, there's still some great places around and Cafe Maharani is one of them.
First, a bit of advice. Being on King, there isn't a lot of parking so, if you're in the area, you may just want to walk. Also, Maharani is very popular but not especially large. So, unless you get there right around opening time, expect a long wait.
Although small, the place is nicely decorated (if a bit old) and the food is top notch. There's a wide selection of dishes, especially chicken and lamb. The majority are standard Indian fare, but they have some more unusual curries as well. Both are delicious and the portions are huge. Though, as with so many places around here, rice isn't included. The naan (a vital part of any Indian meal) is just as good as the curries and there's a pretty large variety to choose from. I'd also recommend the lassis. They're a little on the mild side and have some little chunks of ice inside (something I don't usually see), but still a great addition if you want a cold drink.
It's too bad Maharani doesn't do the usual Indian restaurant thing and have a lunch buffet (or even a lunch) but, if you can get there early enough to avoid the lines, or just have some time to kill, it's certainly one of the best Indian places around.

Restaurant Review: Royal Thai Garden
Type: Thai
Location: Ewa Beach
While Honolulu has a ton of good Thai places, the selection in the Ewa and Kapolei area is much more limited. But it is one of my favorite cuisines so I was pleased to spot Royal Thai Garden not far from where I live. It's nothing fancy and the place is a bit old (apparently they took over for another Thai restaurant that used to be there), but it works. No complaints about the service either, the waitress has always been prompt and friendly.
All your standard Thai curries, soups, noodles are on the menu. You won't see any particularly unique items, but they do a very good job with what they have. I've tried several of their curries and they've been great. Not the best I've ever had, but good enough to keep me coming back regularly. They've got great (and reasonable priced) Thai tea too. Just don't forget to order some rice to go with your meal since it's not included.
I could go into more detail about the food but if you know Thai restaurants you know what to expect. You won't find any surprises at Royal Thai Garden but if you're on this side of the island and want some good Thai food without having to drive to Honolulu, it's worth a visit.


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