Posted in Travel

How to get around in Korea

In late July and early August of this year, I had the opportunity to travel to Korea for work. This was my first international work trip since the pandemic and I was strangely uneasy about it.

To begin with, the entry requirements and steps I would have to go through just to make it to my hotel in Seoul seemed overwhelming. But of course, once I actually got through all of that (22 hours after leaving home) everything slowly fell into place and I remembered how to travel.

Korea is a beautiful country. It is absolutely spotless and I never once encountered something that was dirty or messy. Even the trash was neat. The country also seems very safe. I wandered around Seoul for hours looking like a lost tourist with my phone in my hand and not a single person looked at me twice. And of course, everyone I met on my travels was infallibly polite and considerate. All of which is pleasantly the opposite of Los Angeles.

Below I’ll describe the procedures for getting into Korea (as of August 2022), how to take the KTX train, and then how to use the City Airport Terminal at Seoul Station.

Getting into Korea

K-ETA: This is a visa waiver and I was eligible to apply. It was a pretty simple process and I did it online here. I had the results in an hour.

COVID Testing – apparently it’s no longer required to have a pre-departure and entry COVID test for Korea.

Pre-departure COVID test: In July 2022, Korea still required an entry test so I booked a PCR at CVS for 2 days before departure. Evidently, this was the wrong kind of CVS test as it didn’t have “date of result” anywhere on the results form. So, on the morning of my flight, I went to the testing center at LAX and got a rapid test. I had my results in just a few minutes (note LAX has already stopped doing COVID tests).

Arrival COVID Test: When I went in July, you also needed to book a PRC test on arrival in Korea. Luckily Incheon Airport has a COVID test center which was pretty straightforward to book. The testing there was predictably efficient.

Q-Code: We were advised to upload your pre-departure COVID test to the Q-Code website to make immigration easier (my experience: don’t use Firefox for this as the page is impossible to use with that browser!). Then when we got the results of your arrival test, you are also supposed to upload it there but it was almost impossible to work out how to do that. It seems that as of now, you are still advised to add your health information to the Q-code system before traveling to Korea.

Currency: I took $200 USD in Korean Won with me for my nearly 2-week trip. I came back with more than $100 USD. I found that credit cards are used pretty widely and there was almost nowhere where I actually needed cash except on public transport. Taxis and housekeeping didn’t seem to want tips.

Flying Korean Air

I flew to Seoul with Korean Air which was a code share with Delta. I think I probably flew on that same 747 plane 20 years ago but otherwise, the experience was very good. There was nice food, good service, and enough movies to keep me amused on the long flight.

Using KTX Train (Bullet Train)

KTX Train: At the midpoint of my trip I needed to go from Seoul to Busan, which is in the south of Korea. The KTX bullet train is by far the simplest way to go and not that costly. I booked more than a month in advance using Rail Ninja. The trains were on time, to the second. The only slightly disappointing thing was the wifi which was basically unusable.

Getting around – Taxi, bus, map app

Taxis: Taxis worked and were relatively cheap but no driver spoke English. At Incheon airport, there was a nice person directing us to taxis and telling the driver the destination. Generally being prepared with the name of your destination in Korean script will make everyone’s life a lot easier. Two-thirds of the taxis I used took a credit card, one took cash. One even preferred a credit card when I offered cash.

Public transport: I only used it in Busan, where it worked very well (and was on time to the second..) The simplest thing is to get a Tmoney card and refill it at convenience stores with cash, though I did manage to pay for a bus ticket in cash and got two handfuls of coins as change….

Navigation: Google Maps doesn’t really work in Korea – especially for walking directions. Instead, I installed the Naver Map app, and while it was a struggle to get used to, and I don’t think I used it to its full potential, I found it invaluable for getting around. Somehow I got it to display in English and it gave walking directions as well as public transport with connections and up-to-the-minute location of the bus you were waiting for. Here is a guide on Reddit.

Using City Airport Terminal at Seoul Station

While my trip started in Seoul, it ended in Haeundae, near Busan, and I had a pretty long and multi-step journey back from there via Seoul to home to LA. However thanks to the reliability of public transport it all worked like clockwork. Here was my 6-hour itinerary to get the 300+km to Incheon Airport on public transport:

  • 6:00 am: Get a taxi from Haeundae to Busan KTX Station. The hotel front desk ordered this for me with an app, so the driver already had my destination. The driver was most concerned that I would be on time for my train: “Time time!” he kept asking. I assured him I had plenty of time. There was no traffic of note, except perhaps at the toll to get over the bridge.
  • 6:40am for 7:00am departure: Get on KTX Train to Seoul. You are only supposed to board 15 mins early, but I got on a few minutes before others so I would be able to get a spot for my suitcase.
  • 9:41am: Arrive Seoul Station: the train was on time (of course). There was somewhat of a queue to get up the escalators. I used up some time in a lovely coffee shop with good coffee in a china mug (Beans and Berries) inside the station.
  • City Airport Terminal Seoul – this is where my best-laid plans (thanks, internet) went a bit astray. I thought everything would be much simpler than this procedure I had to follow so I was a bit tight for time. Starting at 10:30 am from the coffee shop it turns out I had exactly 20 minutes to make my train (which I did with 2 minutes to spare):
    1. Inside the KTX terminal, follow the trail marked on the floor point to City Airport Terminal.
    2. Go down many escalators until you are deep inside and it’s clear you are at the City Airport Terminal – there are a handful of check-in desks behind a barrier.
    3. Buy a train ticket for AREX at the machine: 9,800 KRW for a specific train (and specific seat) [I thought this was free – as the internet told me – so I couldn’t get to check-in until I bought a ticket. So then I had to really hope I had enough time for my planned train]
    4. Use your train ticket to get through the gate to check-in
    5. Check-in like you would at the airport – including your luggage which goes by itself to the airport
    6. Exit through the barrier then turn immediately right to the tiny Immigration room office – behind a slidey glass door
    7. Then come back out and get the elevator down to the train to the B7 level
    8. Get on the AREX train, which will be on time to the second (of course), and sit comfortably until you arrive at the airport.
  • I got on the AREX train at 10:50 am, with minutes to spare before departure, and arrived at T2 at 11:41 am. To get to security, go upstairs – there are two options for security but either side takes you to the same place.
  • The airport is vast and was quite empty (COVID I guess). There is a food court in the middle of the terminal and a few food places in either wing. The Wifi was good. A person was playing the violin on a stage by a beautiful garden.

Despite not being able to read any signs, or really having any clue what was going on, I found Korea a very simple country to navigate. I would love to come back one day!

In my next post I’ll share a few of the touristy things I got up to in Seoul and Busan on this trip.

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Posted in Travel

New England in the Fall

Back in October 2012, when we were living in Boston, my grandmother and mother came to visit and we went on a road trip up the New England coast to see the Fall colors. I’m not sure why I haven’t blogged about this trip but here is my attempt to recreate it from memory (I’ve mislaid my diary from this period too!).

Mum loved a good road trip and so it was the natural thing to do when she and Nana wanted to visit our new home in Boston.

They arrived in early October and spent a few days staying nearby in Cambridge. The fall colors were already beginning to show.

Fall – Cambridge, MA, early October 2012

Our first order of business was to check out some family history. A cousin of my grandmother is buried in Boston – their family had come here in the early 1900s and the daughter had been killed in a motorbike crash when she was in her early twenties. She is buried at Mount Hope Cemetery.

At Mount Hope Cemetery with my grandmother in October 2012
Mount Hope Cemetery

The next order of business was my first 10k running race in the US – the Tufts 10km Women’s Race! It was a great experience.

Running the Tufts 10km Women’s Race in October 2012 – that’s me in the middle in pink!

A few days later we picked up a rental car – it was a Dodge Avenger (I think) and my grandmother couldn’t really see out from the back seat – and we set off, starting by driving south to Plymouth, MA.

Plymouth is a cute harbor town where a replica of the original Mayflower, called the Mayflower II, is moored. Plymouth is the site of the colony founded in 1620 by Mayflower pilgrims.

Nana often blinked just as the photo was being taken…Mayflower II in the background.

Then we headed to the nearby Plimouth Plantation which is a living museum replicating the original Plymouth colony.

Part of Plimouth Plantation

We then drove to Orleans which is a bit further along towards Cape Cod. Doing some detective work on the photo below, it appears we had dinner at the Lobster Claw which closed in 2020 after 51 years in the business.

The Lobster Claw, Orleans, MA.

The next day we went across the cape to a beach, which could well have been Nauset Beach. It was cold but pretty and quite empty.

Nauset Beach, MA. I think.

Because going to the end of the road was the sort of thing we liked to do, we had to drive up the spit all the way up to Provincetown, MA!

Thank goodness for clues in photographs about what town you were in…

The next day we drove a few hours back north towards Concord, MA. We found ourselves struggling through the traffic on the I-95 and ended up staying in a relatively expensive hotel at a junction just south of the Cambridge Reservoir. Our other option was to drive across town back to our apartment in Cambridge but that didn’t seem sensible. The next day we went into Concord and saw The Minute Man statue.

After this, I think our goal was just to see the coast and get a good feel for autumn in New England. We were aiming for Arcadia National Park in Maine, and then later Mum and Nana were headed to Canada. So after getting our fill of US history in Concord we headed back east and stopped at the coastal town of Rockport, MA. I guess we stayed the night but I have no record of where!

Rockport, MA

The next day we drove the nearly 200 miles to Camden, Maine. We caught the view in Camden Hills State Park then went back along the road in search of somewhere to stay. We looked in a few places but I think several were closed for the season (it was mid-October by this point) or were massively too expensive. We eventually found one place that was open and reasonable looking and got a cabin by the water. I’m pretty sure was the Drift Oceanside Inn though judging by the photos online, it’s been considerably renovated since we were there. It was very peaceful at the cabins, which was Mum’s cue to accidentally press the alarm button on the car key. With blaring horns it took us a good while to work out what we’d done and to shut it off….. hello everyone, we’re here!

I seem to remember it being pretty cold at Camden Hills State Park!
Cabin near Camden, ME
I remember it was really cold in the cabin too!

I think this was the town where we had Maine lobster for dinner in a place where the staff were quite rude, and there was a cute main street. Good Fall colors though!

Camden, ME

The next day we drove another two hours north to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. Enroute we had picked up a small pumpkin that was proudly displayed on the dashboard.

Enroute to Bar Harbor

As always, since we saw an opportunity for a view, we went to investigate. I think it was the Cadillac North Ridge Trail but we can’t have gone too far hiking as Nana wasn’t great with hills. The view was beautiful and there were cruise ships dotted among the islands.

Cadillac North Ridge

It was Saturday when we visited Arcadia National Park and so the place was totally packed. We mostly drove around admiring the leaves, and stopping occasionally to take photos. It was spectacular.

Busy in Acadia National Park

We stayed in some motor inn in Bar Harbor because that was the only place with rooms (obviously we didn’t plan ahead too much). We were woken up very early in the morning with seemingly endless people leaving and then later that morning we could see a lot thin, fit people hobbling about slowly…Mum recognized the signs immediately as she had seen it before with my Dad: they had just finished the Mount Desert Island Marathon!

The next day it was raining for the first time on the whole trip. Mum drove us to Bangor and I got the Greyhound back to Boston, while they continued north into Canada. I’m honestly not sure why I didn’t join them.

But this was another epic road trip in the book. I remain ever grateful to Mum for her adventurous spirit which gave us opportunities for trips like these.

Harvard Yard, late October 2012
Posted in Life, Los Angeles, Travel

Ten Years in the US

Time flies when you’re having fun: and somehow we have reached the milestone of 10 years in the US. We only planned to stay for about 2 years but somehow the country got its claws into us and we are now fully-fledged passport-wielding Americans. And now on our first 4th of July as citizens, here’s a summary of how we got there. The links below are to my blog posts.

The decision to take a job in the US

In February 2012, my husband got an offer to work in Boston. It wasn’t really a job we could say “no” to but we agonized about whether we wanted to leave Australia, to upend our lives and become expats (for the 2nd time for me). In the end, we had to do it. Thank goodness we were in our thirties because I’m not sure I’d have the energy now!

Gratuitous Fall image – Public Gardens, Boston

First impressions

We arrived in Boston at the end of March 2012. I felt at the time I was a pretty seasoned traveler, and I had been to the US before, but nothing prepared me for this. I was expecting streets figurately paved with gold, everything you see in the movies to be true – riches, and happy smiling people. But Boston is (or was, back then) in need of some work. Everything was run down, shabby, and falling apart. The infrastructure was third world, everyone was rude, and the weather was horrendous.

I was unemployed, lonely, we were pretty poor, and my husband was working 90-hour weeks, including weekends. So, our plan to stay 2 years, rapidly got revised down to three months.

Adventures in Boston

But then, things slowly improved. I finally got admitted to the university’s spouses club and quickly took over the communications team. We found an expat couple to make friends with and with them soon learned how to have fun in Cambridge, MA. I got more serious about running and I started to volunteer at the Museum of Science. We got used to snow and more snow.

Harvard Yard

To be honest, we didn’t do much in New England while we were there – we saved our time and pennies for trips to Australia and other places.

However, some highlights were a road trip with my mum and grandmother up to Maine, running several races (e.g. Cambridge City 5-miler, Run to Remember), going to New York City, and taking in a few sights in Boston including Fenway Park, Museum of Science (Dead Sea Scrolls, chef Ferran Adrià), and Film Night with John Williams ….. And unfortunately, we were in Boston for the marathon bombings and Hurricane Sandy. We also got our US driver’s licenses in Boston.

Empire State Building.
Looking towards Lower Manhattan from the Empire State Building.

Things we learned in Boston

Boston was a steep learning curve but we slowly began to get the hang of the US.

Food: Food in the US is terrible compared to Australia. Chicken is almost inedible and turned me vegetarian for a good while. Portions at restaurants are huge, enough for two. Everything is full of high fructose corn syrup. Wholefoods groceries were just about acceptable (but too expensive).

Tipping: Gotta tip at restaurants and a lot of other places. 20% seems to be standard though you can finesse it to 18% if you can do the math(s).

Culture: Boston is a very snooty town. If you are not one of the elite – i.e. have money – you are nobody. This was hilarious to me coming from the UK where money definitely does not buy class. However, the pointy elbows were everywhere, especially in Wholefoods.

Sport: Ah at last, a good thing about the US. We learned about NFL and baseball while in Boston. We became fans of the Patriots and the Red Socks.

“Spouses”: At Harvard, there were hundreds of spouses of international students and staff, mostly women it seemed, who had nothing much to do. In their original country, they were lawyers, doctors, and TV presenters, but in Boston they were house-partners, and full-time parents of small kids, all because of US visa rules. It was such a waste of talent, but we found things to do (e.g. English classes).

Weather: Boston has proper seasons – stinking hot summers, glorious colorful autumns, freezing snowing winters, and beautiful flowering springs. It was great, but not enough summer for me. Which leads us to…

How California snared us

The best way for employers in California to hire people is to invite them over for a trip in the winter. While Boston is up to its neck in snow, California is a balmy 70F and sunny. So, after an interview trip in November 2013 (on the way back from New Zealand) we signed on the dotted line and prepared to move to Pasadena, CA.

Pasadena City Hall

Getting a house

With the luxury of our first permanent job that paid well, we decided to buy a house. Thankfully my husband’s colleagues hooked us up with a real estate agent to the stars (because she works with a lot of astronomers) and after 60 days of living at the Residence Inn in Burbank, we moved into our new house in June 2012 (part 1, part 2). Best decision ever.

Getting jobs

After two years of being un- or under-employed in Boston and volunteering, I decided enough was enough and I was going to do nothing else in Los Angeles until I got a “real” job. After we moved into our new house, I spent the first few months fixing things around the house – such as installing a microwave and working on the garden. I applied for many jobs at Caltech, JPL, and other places in Pasadena which all came to nothing. Then come October I was totally fed up with everything so I lowered my sights and applied for a front desk coordinator job at a company I had a loose connection with from Australia.

When they didn’t get back to me I decided I was really fed up and would get a Christmas job, which is when I signed up as a Driver Helper for a few weeks. Naturally, within the first hour as a driver helper, the front desk coordinator company called back, so that within a week I had two jobs (neither of which I really wanted).

The front desk coordinator job though turned out to be my making, and within three months there I was in the role I wanted in the communications team.

Things we did in Pasadena

Now we were properly established in Pasadena, we started to see the sights of LA. With a lot of visitors from overseas and with our new work friends we visited places like the Space Shuttle, Griffith Observatory, Mt Wilson, various malls, Long Beach, Santa Monica, Downtown LA as well as further afield to Owens Valley, Palomar, San Francisco, San Diego, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Sequoia National Park, and some west coast road trips (Berkeley, Grand Canyon, Paso Robles).

We of course went to the Pasadena Rose Parade and the Rose Bowl Game (2015 and 2022).

Rose Parade 2015

Through work trips and other adventures, I think we have now been to 17 states including California, Hawaii (Maui, Oahu 2019, Oahu 2022), Arizona, Idaho (for the total solar eclipse of 2017), Virginia, Texas, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Florida, Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire, Maine, Washington, Maryland, Louisiana, plus Washington DC.

Grand Canyon 2015
Total Solar Eclipse 2017

Things we continued to learn about the US

In California, life is very different from the east coast. It’s always sunny, people are generally upbeat, and there’s an energy of creativity, striving and an understanding that limits are there to be broken.

One of the other things we have got used to over these past 10 years is the rhythm of the year. School finishes early compared to the UK, and everyone, not just kids seems to have “summer” – a time for vacation, and outdoors activities. Summer in Pasadena is hot, usually about 85F, and the season finishes with wildfires. Then as the year turns to autumn/Fall there is NFL season and Thanksgiving. Winter in Pasadena is wet and everyone hopes for the day it’s cold enough to wear their fashionable boots or jacket. Spring is glorious with flowers and flowering trees from about February to June.

Caltech

Another aspect of US life we have really got used to is domestic airline travel, something that has to be seen to be believed. Especially the concept of bringing a giant carry-on suitcase on the flight: which sets the market for “who boards first” and thus gets a space in the overhead bin to put said luggage. Bad behavior is rife – like people putting coats and small bags overhead, taking up space, which means everyone is delayed because then the airline has to gate-check the last few bags that don’t fit into the hold. Then the deplaning debacle occurs where everyone takes a lifetime to get their bag out but everyone is so polite that you absolutely must wait for the person in front to be out before you can get into the aisle. It’s incredible to witness and happens on every single flight.

Finally, a striking thing about Los Angeles is also a vast and a quite visible gap between the haves and the have-nots. The homeless population in Los Angeles is 64,000 which is the size of a small town in England. We give to The Midnight Mission but we could do more.

Becoming Americans and the future

In late 2021/early 2022 we became American citizens. We decided we liked it enough here that we wanted the option to come back whenever we wanted – and to participate in civic life. So far we have voted in the primaries and my husband has been called for jury duty, so those boxes are getting ticked (I mean, checked).

Who knows what the future will bring but for now we are moderately content where we are, with our house, jobs, and living the good life in Los Angeles. Happy 4th!

Citizenship 2021
Posted in Travel

Splashing out in Waikiki

Honolulu near the Hilton

There’s nothing better than a well-deserved vacation. We decided to go to Honolulu as this was (a) easy to get to (b) guaranteed weather (c) has a beach.

We set our alarm for 3:45 am on the first day of vacation, having booked a 7:00 am flight from LAX. I declared us on vacation as we rolled down our street in the quiet of the morning at 4:15 am.

The flight was on time and we had window seats. When we got to the hotel, the Royal Hawaiian, at 11:00 am we were able to check-in early.

Our first job was to go and get a Mai Tai, so we headed to the Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai Bar when it opened at 11:15 am and got the A1 seat at the front by the sand. Lunch and a very strong Mai Tai later and we were very happy campers indeed. We went back to the room for a well-deserved nap.

We had 6 full days, plus arrival and departure half days, in Waikiki. Our main goals were (a) sleeping (b) getting in the water daily (c) eating and drinking, but we also made some effort to get out and see stuff. We decided to be militantly indifferent to the cost of everything, and as such, we blew through half our travel budget for the year!

My previous visit to Honolulu is documented here, including visits to Diamond Head, Pearl Harbor, a walking tour of downtown Honolulu and an Island Tour. Here’s what we got up to this time.


Things to do

Diamond Head

View from Diamond Head

Hiking Diamond Head crater is a must-do for those who are able. The views of Honolulu from the coastal side of the crater rim are spectacular. Take the bus to get there (see below) and go early – take advantage of that jetlag and be hiking by 7:00 am. The hike is moderately hard – and there are a lot of steps – but it only takes about 45 minutes to get to the top. It costs $5 for non-residents of Hawaii and you purchase a ticket from a machine near the start of the hike. There are bathrooms and a gift shop.


Bishop Museum

Ortator’s Stool from Papua New Guinea, at the Bishop Museum

If you want to learn everything you need to know about Hawaii and its history, Bishop Museum is the place to do it. Allow at least 2 hours to see everything plus another hour for a planetarium show. Tickets are $25 online + $3 for the planetarium. You can get there on the bus (but get the 2L express!).


Tour of Coastline

As mentioned in my previous blog post, an Island Tour is a great place to see the coastline. We were lucky enough to have a friend drive us to show us the sights from Waikiki to Waimanalo. We saw a number of sights including a secret lava tube; the Halona Blowhole; a whale breaching in the distance; Sandy Beach with really scary-looking waves; Makapuʻu Lookout; and the beautiful Waimanalo beach.


Turtle Snorkel

Since there is apparently no good snorkeling off Waikiki Beach, and Hanauma Bay is basically impossible to get to unless you have your own car, I booked us on the Waikiki Turtle, Snorkel and Lunch trip with Hawaii Nautical. It cost ~$300 for two. We got the bus to Kewalo Basin Harbor and then boarded the catamaran. Part of the tour was supposedly whale watching but we didn’t see any. We arrived at a place offshore called Turtle Canyon, which, amusingly enough is just about opposite the Royal Hawaiian, maybe 1/4 mile away.

Unfortunately, the water was extremely cloudy so we could only see turtles when they surfaced, and then only between about 50 other people all trying to push to the front to see them. All in all, not ideal! It’s probably better to spend the $$$ to rent a car and figure out how to get into Hanauma Bay.

The box lunch was nice though…as was the walk back from the harbor to Waikiki.

Snorkeling sail

Swim at Waikiki Beach

Waikiki Beach from the water

It’s basically a requirement to go to Waikiki Beach when in Waikiki. We went in the water every day even though it was pretty cold in March. It’s shallow for quite a long way out and underfoot it’s mostly sand but there were a few rocks to stub your toe on. The waves weren’t too big but big enough to try to body surf.


Places to eat and drink

Mai Tai Bar

The Mai Tai Bar at The Royal Hawaiian Hotel became a favorite spot of ours. It’s an outdoor bar on Waikiki beach where you can get extremely strong Mai Tais, other cocktails and great food. It opens at 11:15 am and on least two days we were there before noon, nabbing the best spot right at the front by the beach and quaffing Mai Tais. In the evening there is a line but we only waited ~15 minutes for an open table. This is a must-do!

Azure

Azure is the main evening restaurant at The Royal Hawaiian. It’s a fixed-priced 4-course menu with the option for matching wines. We had an early reservation and were seated in the best spot right by the sand. The food was exceptional and the wine pairings were great. It was a great night, just as long as we didn’t look too closely at the bill.

Orchid

Orchid is within the Halekulani hotel and it was a challenge to actually find it from the street. We chose this restaurant to try because they had a tasting menu, though annoyingly without matching wine suggestions. The service was haphazard (but friendly) but the food was excellent… possibly better than Azure. Another great night (and another hit to the bank balance).

Maui Brewing Co

Maui Brewing Co is on the main street of Waikiki and offers casual dining and free-form seating. There is shaded and non-shaded seating with a bit of a view over the street. The Mai Tais here were interesting – they were topped with pineapple cream and the food was fine.

Barefoot Beach Cafe

We went to the Barefoot Beach Cafe for dinner on the first night. It’s located in Kapiʻolani Regional Park, south of town. It’s very casual and the food was ok but the main highlight was the pineapple smoothie, served in a pineapple!

Gilligan’s Beach Shack

By the Hilton Hawaiian, Gilligan’s Beach Shack food truck is a must-do for Waikiki. It’s only open for lunch and the garlic shrimp are the best. Sit by the Hilton lagoon to eat but watch out for the persistent birds!

Liliha Bakery

The Liliha Bakery is on the top floor of the International Mall. It appeared to have seating at the back but we just went to the bakery part at the entrance. Even though it seemed chaotic inside they have a ticket system, so just take a ticket and wait your turn. We got cream puffs and coco puffs on the recommendation of our friend. They were amazing.

Leonard’s Bakery

Leonard’s Bakery is another must-do thing in Honolulu. The bakery is located in a low-rent high street on a corner with about 5 parking spaces. We decided to go on the Friday of our vacation, which was a public holiday in Hawaii. We walked there from Waikiki to take advantage of some of the sights and it took about 40 minutes. It was kind of rainy and when we got there the line was down the street and cars were double parked everywhere.

We learned later this was apparently a quiet day! So we duly stood in line, which to be fair, moved quite quickly. Little did we know that someone ahead of us had ordered about 20 boxes of 12 donuts, and this was the main cause of the delay.

While waiting in line a local cop showed up with sent everyone scrambling to their illegally parked cars. The cop was nice and didn’t seem to book anyone though.

We eventually got our masaladas (freshly cooked) and some coffee but by now it was pouring with rain so we found some shelter by the nearby Safeway and ordered a Lyft home. We had our coffee and one donut in the rain. It was good! We got two original (plain sugar), two with custard and two with dobash (chocolate). The originals were the best!

Acai bowls

Acai bowl from the Hilton

Of course in Hawaii you need to get yourself an Acai bowl for breakfast. The two places we went were Acai Bowls and Tea in the Hilton Hawaiian Resort and Café Glacé on Lewers Street. Both delicious.


Accommodation

Because we planned this as a “Big” vacation we opted to stay at The Royal Hawaiian hotel.

After doing extensive research and walking up and down the main street, we concluded that there is no point in staying in a hotel across the road from the beach. Plus the main good beaches are the one by the Hilton Hawaiian Village and the one by the Royal Hawaiian. Further up the main street towards the park, the beach isn’t very nice and neither is the atmosphere.

So, book the Hilton if you don’t want to spend $$$$, otherwise the only other options are the Royal Hawaiian and Moana Surfrider.

The Royal Hawaiian

At the Royal Hawaiian we got a king bedroom with a garden view. Aside from being so much more affordable, the garden view room is very quiet. The disadvantage is you can’t sit in your room and look at the beach.

The hotel is really beautiful with pink decor throughout. On the ground level, it’s pretty much open to the elements which means you feel the hotel is bigger than it really is. There are plenty of seats around to hang out on the ground floor. There is a “bather’s elevator” which you can use to get to the tiny pool or the beach in short order.

There is a little bakery which is very nice but it only has coffee out of a machine. The Mai Tai Bar and Azure are very good as described above (we didn’t try the Surf Lanai).

You couldn’t be closer to the beach if you tried. The wifi is strong and available throughout the hotel. They have an actual tea kettle in the room and a mini-fridge, and tons of channels on the TV (we watched so many movies).

We will definitely be staying there again.

One of the open-air corridors at the Royal Hawaiian

Tips for Honolulu

Transportation

We used Lyft and The Bus for our transport needs. It was very easy to get a Lyft to and from the airport (except because we hadn’t used the app for two years we had to put in our new credit card!).

To use the Honolulu bus, which actually goes all over the island, you get a HOLO Card for $2 from the ABC shop, top it up with $5.50 (also at the shop or online) for an all-day ticket (or $2.25 for one ride), then tap on when you get on the bus and away you go. To find out what bus to take, don’t try to use their poor website, just use Google Maps. We used the bus for Diamond Head, the Bishop Museum, the Ala Moana Mall, and the harbor where we joined the Turtle Tour.

ABC Store

ABC Stores are prevalent in tourist areas of Hawaii and have everything the tourist needs – from t-shirts to gifts, from sandwiches to beer, from snorkel gear to towels. The best bit about the ABC stores is that if you spend $100 and keep the receipts you can claim a gift – we snagged our second ABC Stores Hawaii mug on this trip!

Plan Ahead

I’m not sure if it’s the effects of the pandemic, but everything seems to be booked out early. If you want to go to Duke’s restaurant, book a table on the same day you book your flight. If you want to get the best Island Tour or Whale Watch tour, don’t wait until the week before your vacation to book it. The Iolani Palace is closed on Sunday and Monday so book that ahead too. Book other restaurants as soon as you know you want to go. Otherwise expect a line and a wait of 45 minutes.

Have fun!

View towards Diamond Head from the Hilton
Posted in Los Angeles

2022 Pasadena Triathlon Race Recap

At home after the race

On 12 March I took part in the 2022 Pasadena Triathlon – a reverse sprint triathlon that takes place at the Rose Bowl every year. The race comprises a 3-mile run once around the Rose Bowl loop, followed by three laps (9 miles) on the bike around the same loop ending with a 150-meter swim at the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center.

I did this race for the first time in 2018 in a time of 1:20:30 and in 2019 I did the slightly longer Legends Triathlon at Bonelli Park in 1:16:39 (race recap!). So my A goal was to beat Bonelli, and my B goal was to beat my 2018 Pasadena time.

Why triathlon? Because of the plantar fasciitis I developed while training for a marathon back in 2013, I learned about cross-training and in time became interested in triathlon. I joined the Pasadena Triathlon Club in 2018 and rode with them until Covid arrived. I’m still very much a newbie as I’m not that great on the bike or in the water!

Race Preparation

One of my few talents is my ability to be organized and so I find preparing all the kit needed for the three legs of a triathlon an enjoyable challenge. USA Triathlon has a great guide for beginners along with a handy kit list. Pasadena Triathlon Club also offers free information sessions and transition practice for those interested in learning more – no need to be a member to join in these sessions.

I picked up my race numbers the night before but this isn’t essential if you plan to arrive early for the race.

Race Morning

I got up at 5:00 am (thanks to the cat), had a cup of tea and some oatmeal and got in the car at about 6:15 am. Luckily the Rose Bowl is only a 10-minute drive away so I was there in plenty of time. At about 6:30 am the parking lot was about half full.

I decanted the car and got my race numbers sorted (should’ve done it the night before). I thought I was being really clever bringing extra double-sided tape and scissors for the bike number — I folded the bike number over the crossbar as instructed, but then taped it to the crossbar instead of leaving it loose. I thought this would stop it from flapping about during the race, but sadly it did not!

Don’t tape your bike number down too hard!

I took everything over to transition and found a spot, remembering to count the rows so I could find the bike later, then got body marked.

My setup in Transition

Then I had a quick wander about to check everything like the entrances and exits to transition were as I remembered, then headed back to the car to kill some time. At about 7:15 am I got out of the car and went for a walk, before using the bathroom and heading into transition for a drink and to triple check everything. Transition closed at 7:45 am.

General view of Transition before it got busy

Then I did a considerable warm-up (20 minutes) to pass the time before heading to the start at about 7:55 am.

Run

The race kicked off at 8:00 am with the Angel City athletes, followed a few minutes later by the 5k-only runners, followed by the sub-one-hour triathletes. I went in the next wave – the 1:00 – 1:15 wave – which left at about 8:06 am.

There seemed to be far fewer runners than the last time I did this race and I was able to run without having to dodge anyone. I allowed myself to be drawn along by the faster runners and consequently set a very quick pace for me (about 9:20/mile).

About 18 minutes after my wave started, the first bike came past on the inside track. I didn’t see the first woman rider until 26 minutes had passed.

With very tired legs I got to Transition, remembering to press the button on my watch (see below). It more or less went straight to my spot but there were a few people milling about looking lost.

I put on my helmet and gloves, grabbed an energy chew and some water then got my bike and walked it to the mounting point just outside transition.

Run Time: 30:47 (pace 9:20/mile)

Transition Time: 1:23

Ride

Then I was away on the bike: three laps of the Rose Bowl loop for about 9 miles total. It was a good change for my legs to be riding, and it was nice to be sitting down! As with the run, the first half of the loop is uphill, and the second half is downhill.

The merge from transition into the loop is a bit hairy but it was managed well by the volunteers. The main danger came from fat lycra men who insisted on overtaking with barely any room to spare at 30 miles an hour. One dickhead overtook me on the inside like that. In other places, packs of about ten men went past at speed. Unfortunately, on during the second lap, this led to a crash right in front of me as someone on the back of one of these packs touched wheels with someone ahead of him who was weaving about. From what I heard behind me it also caused a secondary crash. On the following lap, I saw an ordinary woman with a mountain bike being attended to by medical staff. Morons who behave like that ruin it for everyone. This is one of the only problems with this course – that super fast pros are mixed in with people on shopping bikes and kids going at 5 miles an hour.

Anyway, the other issue I had was that because of the way I’d cleverly taped my number to my bike it was flapping like crazy and razoring against the inside of my leg. Note to self: don’t do this again!

I made it into transition without any further incident and ran with my bike to my spot, getting a brief reminder of how hard it is to run off the bike. I dumped my helmet, gloves, and number belt, grabbed my swimming cap and goggles, and attempted to run the 1,000 yards to the pool. Some of this run is segregated from spectators but much of it isn’t. It’s rather an obstacle course to get there including having to run along the side of a grassy 45-degree slope just as you arrive at the pool. Definitely keep your shoes on for this part.

Ride time: 38:05 (14.7 mph)

Transition time: 3:19

Swim

At the pool entrance, I dumped my shoes (yay quick release laces) with everyone else’s and walked onto the pool deck trying to get my hat and goggles on while being sprayed in the face with water in the rinsing off area.

Thankfully the pool wasn’t a total melee like last time, and I got in the water and started swimming breaststroke. I’m not a great swimmer and I knew this was going to be the simplest way to get me through the three 100 meter laps. For some reason, my goggles kept filling up with water, which didn’t help matters!

At the end of the last lap, I staggered up the ramp out of the pool to finish. My final time was 1:18:47 which got me 12th place out of 36 in my age group and PR for this course.

Swim time: 5:16 (3:13/100m)

Total time: 1:18:47

Race medal

Kit

Here’s some of the kit I felt was extra useful for triathlon:

Essential kit: Tri suit, triathlon watch, quick release laces, number belt.

Tri suit: I have a Roka Women’s Gen II Elite Aero Short Sleeve Tri Suit. It was expensive but totally worth it for races. It’s really comfortable to run, ride and swim in!

Quick-release laces: I recently got some Brooks shoes (because Hoka was sold out). The laces are too short and I had to tie them in triple knots to stop them from coming undone during runs. So instead I spent some birthday money on these laces. They really do the trick.

Number belt: Last time I did the triathlon I had none of the above items so I was swimming in a t-shirt with my number pinned to it… not good for aerodynamics. So I invested in a Nathan number belt which was another good use of some birthday money.

Watch: I recently got a Coros Pace 2 watch. I wanted a watch that had an open water swimming option, and a Triathlon option, along with all the other usual functions – and importantly didn’t cost $500. Coros Pace 2 was just what I needed. I used the Triathlon function in this race and it worked 100% perfectly.

Coros Pace 2 – sample of the data it gave me in the app after the Pasadena Triathlon.

Summary

The Pasadena Triathlon is great for beginners. It’s an easy race to get some practice, iron out the bugs with your kit, and get a feel for Transition.

Now the only question is, what’s the next race?