Seattle, Washington State, USA

Our friends met us at Vancouver Airport after the long flight from Auckland and we had time for a good catch-up lunch before our train to Seattle late afternoon.  It’s a fairly leisurely (ie slow) ride giving you more time to get lost in a book or take in the scenery along the way.  However it was fairly late when we checked into our Downtown hotel which was walking distance to everything we wanted to see.

Overlooking the Elliott Bay waterfront on Puget Sound Pike Place Market is one of the oldest continuously operated public farmers’ markets in the United States.  The market is set on several levels, each featuring a variety of unique shops such as antique dealers, comic book and collectible shops, small family-owned restaurants.  The major attractions are the fish market and the first Starbucks founded in 1971 and been in continuous operation ever since.

Seattle’s iconic observation tower, the Space Needle is 184m high and was built for the 1962 World’s Fair.  There are views of the downtown Seattle skyline, the Olympic and Cascade Mountains, Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, Elliott Bay, and various islands in Puget Sound.  However the weather was poor so we decided to forgo the elevator ride to the observation deck.

Seattle has one of the best light rail networks in the US so it was so easy to get around the city. There is also the Seattle Center Monorail which provides a fun, quick, and convenient link between downtown Seattle and Seattle Center, home to the Space NeedlePacific Science CenterMuseum of Pop CultureThe Children’s Museum, and a host of theatrical and cultural experiences.  It was a great way to navigate the city without getting wet in the rain!!

We woke to a much better day and made our way down to the ferry terminal and bought return tickets to Bainbridge Island. It’s just a short 35min trip but simply put, the ferry trip offers the absolute best view of the Seattle skyline. The mix of historic and modern architecture, not to mention the iconic Space Needle, tower over Puget Sound. Majestic Mount Rainier dominates the open sky as the ferry leaves the city.  From the Bainbridge ferry terminal it’s a short walk to the  charming city center with great restaurants, shops and cafes.   There are a great selection of short and long walks throughout the island and Geoffrey was tempted but was weary that he had the New York marathon event the following week so we just did some short nature walks through the woods and along the shoreline.

It was a shame that the weather didn’t play its part for much of this trip.  But being frequent visitors to Vancouver a Seattle side trip was a logical excursion being only.  Perhaps next time we’ll take the ferry …

If you would like more information about this destination please do not hesitate to contact me.

View of downtown Seattle from Bainbridge ferry

New Orleans, USA

We were really looking forward to this 3 day excursion but it turned out to be one of those trips where circumstances conspired against us. Geoffrey was running the Chicago Marathon and then 4 days in New York before our first visit to New Orleans and Houston before flying direct back home.  Firstly, Geoffrey strained his right calf early in the marathon and then had to endure the most painful 5 hours of my life to get to the finish line.  Then a routine bike ride in Central Park a few days later almost totally ruined the trip when I had an unfortunate fall and broke my arm.  After some deliberation we decided to carry on with the itinerary and managed reasonably well all things considered.  We all the prior distractions we had forgotten that the weather would play a big part in the activities we could do.  It was warmer and more humid than expected and the cast on my arm uncomfortable and distracting.

Our hotel was adjacent to the historic French Quarter (The Vieux Carre)  and we spent a few hours exploring this neighbourhood.  There is a huge variety of restaurants from 19th century Creole cuisine to contemporary fusion fare. Likewise there are many quirky independently owned shops from haute couture to voodoo dolls to browse through – lots of local art, jewellery, antiques, you name it!  At night the Quarter is a hive of activity with clubs, bars, restaurants and night markets.   One of our bucket list places was Cafe du Monde renowned for its creamy cafe au lait and crispy beignets covered with mountains of powdered white sugar which gets everywhere and makes eating respectably impossible.  The place is totally chaotic but this is its charm.  Buying a few orange tins of their Coffee and Chicory coffee is a must souvenir.

A must do is dinner and live music at one of the many establishments to listen and dance to live music (especially jazz).  New Orleans music is the city’s beating heart – especially true during Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest and other celebrations.

On a limited stay in New Orleans most people will spend most of their in the French Quarter.    However a bus tour (or just hop on the public streetcar) through the famous ornate home streets of the Garden District and Uptown New Orleans is a must do.  There are also the Riverboat tours along the Mississippi River and bike tours to save your legs.  A lot of the outdoor activities will be governed by the weather however.  If we had additional time we would have ventured a short way out of the city to visit one of the plantations with their beautiful mansions and grounds offering windows into a bygone past.

If you would like more information about this destination please do not hesitate to contact me.

Cafe Du Monde

Napa Valley Marathon, California

This was Geoffrey’s 12th marathon and his fastest so he’s over the moon!  Over to him then…

17th February came the dreaded news that the 2020 Tokyo Marathon (where I had secured a much converted entry)  was cancelled for the non-elite 38,000 runners who had all trained for months for the event scheduled for 1st March.  This was not totally unexpected (which was of little consolation)  but there was no denying the fact that months of training  may no longer be able to be put to the test.

Our kiwi contingent then scouted around frantically for an alternative event and Rebecca, found a small marathon event in Napa County – amongst California’s fine rural Wine Country.  This was perfect – Elleysen and I both love San Francisco (Napa is just 90 mins drive away) and I had always wanted to visit Napa as I had always heard how beautiful it was.  Of course, at only 2,000 runners it was a far cry from Tokyo, but smaller events have their own unique charms.  Napa is also a USATF-certified marathon course which meant it was a Boston Marathon qualifier.  So going was a no-brainer in the end

The course runs through 500 hillside vineyards following the famed Silverado Trail from Calistoga to Napa.  It’s stunning scenery and some of the wineries are magnificent.  The trail has a number of gentle hills in a relaxing rural environment – a start contrast to the big city marathons like New York or Tokyo.  But there’s no congestion and well organised so together with cool overcast conditions (6-13°C), a slight tail wind and a 75m net downhill from start to finish it was perfect for a fast time. 

I ran a PB (personal best) which was also a qualifying time for Boston next year! Although this was my 12th marathon I still learnt an awful lot about the relationship between course conditions and nutrition, race preparation and strategy.  However I won’t dwell on the event as I want to talk about the charms of Napa

After the marathon our kiwi contingent (we were the only NZers in the field!) celebrated at Ristorante Allegria, probably Napa’s top Italian restaurant.  Napa township is best described as country-casual turned cosmopolitan.  It is Napa Valley’s cultural heart with many small interesting shops, markets and of course, wine-tasting rooms!  We had originally thought of joining a wine-tasting tour up the valley but then learnt that by-laws prohibit the wineries serving food o we decided on the convenience of town.  The shopping is small and quaint but if you’re into more serious premium shopping there’s the small Napa Premium Outlet or the absolutely huge outlet at nearby Vacaville.

All in all it was a perfect trip which was pretty amazing considering the short time we had to plan.  I suspect a bit of luck played a part in the success of the trip but this is just what makes trips like this even more alluring.

If you would like more information about this destination please do not hesitate to contact me.

New PB!!

Big Island, Hawaii

It was great to finally get away from the throngs on Oahu to Hawaii Island – one of the most volcanically active places on earth.  Just a short flight from the beaches of Waikiki and you are in a different world…

We picked up the rental from Hilo Airport and made our way past the massive lava flows to the Hilton Waikoloa just 30 minutes north.  The resort is massive – there’s a tram and a canal system that runs rounds the  complex which includes a dolphin pool, a wildlife sanctuary, outdoor theatre, oceanfront pools, lagoon and beach, golf course, tennis, fitness, shopping and so on.  You could quite easily spend your entire time here but that would be a shame as the island has so much to offer.

We used the car to drive through the middle of the island to Hilo on the eastern side.  The scenery is a constant reminder of past volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.  The spectacular lower Puna eruption from Kilauea in 2018 resulted in outbreaks of lava fountains up to 300 feet high and lava flows and volcanic gas in the Leilani Estates subdivision.

There is a Tsunami Museum in Hilo to mark the 1946 and 1960 tsunamis which devastated much of the island’s east coast.  There are interesting shops and a Farmers market in Hilo as well as the nearby Akaka Falls and a number of pretty Nature Parks.

Geoffrey booked a sunset tour to the summit of Mauna Kea.  At 4,205m  he said it was bloody cold but the tour had provided gloves hats and jacket – items usually not taken on a holiday to Hawaii!  At the top are a number of astronomical research facilities and large telescope observatories which take advantage of the dark skies (void of any light pollution).  The tour also included an informative stargazing talk and viewing through a portable telescope

The next day we took a full island coach tour which took in the main attractions:-

  • Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
  • Halemau’ma Crater
  • Macadamia Nut farm
  • Kona Coffee farm
  • Punalu Black Sand Beach with the endangered Hawksbill turtles and green turtles basking in the sun on the beach
  • Akatsuka Orchid Gardens

This is a fascinating place to visit and definitely recommended especially if you want a break from the crowds in Waikiki.

If you would like more information about this destination please do not hesitate to contact me. 

Sunset from the summit of Mauna Kea

Machu Picchu, Peru

Our group ran form the tour shuttle to catch the train to Aguas Calientes, the local town serving as our base for our much anticipated visit to this world-famous the Incan citadel for the following day.  We were late departing Cusco and if we’d missed the train we didn’t really have a Plan B.  (walking the 43km Inca Trail to the ruins wasn’t an option!)

 “We’re not going to be able to see a thing!”, cried Geoffrey as we pulled into the station.  “Why did we have to come in the raining season?”   Later in the afternoon Geoffrey’s face was as dark as the weather as we sat in our hotel room. He had earlier slipped on some tiles outside a local restaurant and badly cut his left shin which required stitching.  I told him he was lucky he wouldn’t be going up on crutches…

But our luck changed – the next day was perfect.  There was enough high cloud and mist to provide the dramatic backdrop for the ruins and the mountains.  The rain stayed away and never threatened.

We left early to beat the inevitable crowds, to get the best photo opportunities and to beat the heat for later in the day.  As with the train trip the previous day, the landscape scenery during the bus ride from the town to the ruins was spectacular. 

Viewing Machu Picchu for the first time is mind-blowing.  You see all the photos beforehand, do all the reading, but it is nothing like seeing it for yourself.  After the very interesting and informative tour there was the opportunity to do some walks within the valley before lunch.  Some of us elected to hike the Sun Gate hike.  This is final part of the Inca trail and takes around 3 hours (return trip).  It’s a steady climb on a good path and requires average fitness.  Those who may have been struggling with the altitude will find it tougher.

There was a welcoming buffet lunch at the end of the hike and then the bus back to town, and then the long trip back to Cusco.

The following day it absolutely bucked down in Machu Picchu.  A couple of days later continual heavy rain caused a nearby bridge to collapse and 16 people were swept away.  

So, all in all, I’d say we were very lucky …

If you would like more information about this destination please contact me.

Machu Picchu

Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia

“But just how interesting can 11,000 sq km of flat salt possibly be?”  Geoffrey asked when going over our Peru / Bolivia itinerary.

As it turned out it was the highlight of the whole trip.  A case of “less is more” especially when you’ve come from the massive cities of Lima and La Paz and the crowds of Machu Picchu.

Salar de Uyuni, amid the Andes in southwest Bolivia, is the world’s largest salt flat.  To get from one part to another involves a lot of driving so you need to be prepared for the conditions.  It can be hot, cold, dusty, and bumpy, the reflections from the salt will blind you without sunglasses, and of course the altitude (nearly 4,000 m).  You also need to brace yourself for very long days including early starts if you want to stargaze or catch the sunrise.  So it will be hard work, you need to go with a reputable tour guide otherwise you could be in a lot of trouble very quickly in the middle of nowhere if something goes wrong…

However the rewards are massive.  There was one area where you drive through the vast desert and there are these dramatic 5,000m + volcanoes around you.  Geoffrey thought it was like travelling through the South and Red Craters of the Tongariro  Crossing x 100 fold and 3,000m higher!

There is Incahuasi Island –  a beautiful cactus-covered island – a totally bizarre sight in the middle of the flats.

The thermal activity including mudpools and geysers – another sight apparently in the middle of nowhere.

Native wildlife – flamingos around the colourful lagoons, vicunas, flamingo, vizcacha and domesticated animals such as llama and alpaca – just so much to look out for.

There are the stunning sunrise and sunsets and of course the opportunity to take some amazing perspective photo shots to show off to your friends back home.

If I had one regret – I wish I’d brushed up my photo-taking skills before I arrived.  This place is a photographer’s paradise… but the altitude can make it hard physically.

If you would like more information about this destination please contact me.

Lunch on the Salar de Uyuni

Brooklyn, New York

This was our 5th visit to the Big Apple.  We have good friends there and like to catch up with them at every opportunity or excuse.  And who wouldn’t!  New York is so enthralling – you will never ever run out of new places to see, places to eat, things to do, shows to see etc.  I’ve never even been to the big museums there because you need to spend at least a full day at each one to give them minimal justice.   Also, it’s a great excuse to go back to NY again!

“But why do we always stay in Manhatten?” asked Geoffrey.  – and always Midtown around Times Square? Geoffrey was disappointed when he first saw Times Square on the first visit.  This iconic landmark was smaller than expected, congested with traffic, tourists and peddlers.  A classic case of a big let-down from built-up expectations. [Hint: For your first visit to New York, see Times Square at night]

Brooklyn was its own independent city until 1898 and until relatively recently has been transformed from a poor, crime-ridden area to now being desirable, with increasingly expensive housing and very cool and hip.

We finally decided to stay Downtown Brooklyn as a base to savour the local attractions.  First impressions – it is so different from Midtown Manhattan.  Far, far less touristy and congested with far less chance of buying a horrible coffee.

Dumbo is a neighbourhood along the shoreline between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridge.  It’s trendy, with a well-manicured park and a great view of the Manhattan skyline.  The old warehouse buildings have been converted to independent boutiques, high-end restaurants and trendy cafes.  You can also get a great more elevated view of Manhattan from Brooklyn Heights and the Brooklyn Promenade.  Our NY friends said that the houses behind the prominade are not openly marketed as they are so sought after and rarely come up for sale.

We also did a Williamsburg Street Art Tour.  This was a free walking tour where you pay a gratuity at the end depending on the value you personally received.  Geoffrey and I know nothing about Street Art culture and this was an education for both of us.  The guide was a street artist with an obvious passion for the whole street art scene.  It just gives you an additional tiny insight into this vast, fascinating and diverse city.

These Free Tours by Foot are excellent value.  We did another one in Harlem a couple of days later.  You are likely to have a guide who is informal, interesting and passionate.  You are more likely to actually listen and learn something new compared to putting on a head-set.

Unfortunately we ran out of time to visit Prospect Park.  Prospect Park was designed by the same guy that designed Central Park.  Supposedly therefore he corrected all the mistakes he made in the design of Central Park.  Our friends said you will notice obvious similarities in the features of both parks.

We will save this for our next visit.

If you would like more information about this destination please contact me.

Brooklyn Street Art


40th Chicago Marathon

This blog is penned by Geoffrey.  It’s for the runners who will understand it.  We love Chicago – this was our 3rd visit in 4 years.  Of course if you are interested in visiting Al Capone city, the end of Route 66, Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower), cruise Lake Michigan, shop and eat the Magnificent Mile, visit the wonderful Art Institute or crazy enough to run the marathon than contact me and I’ll be happy to assist.

Over to Geoffrey …

Running marathons overseas has become fashionable in recent years.  Chicago is one of the 6 World Marathon Majors – the others being Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin and New York

They are glamourous and BIG, – the 40th Chicago event was 43,000 BIG.  However many runners will attest to the additional challenges of running far-away marathons.  Time-zone changes, jetlag, picking up bugs on the long-haul flight, an unfamiliar hotel bed, noisy and/or faulty air-conditioning, unfamiliar food, different climate etc. can all conspire against you on race day.  You are at risk of standing at the start line a mentally and physically tired, sniffing and coughing wreck. Once the adrenalin wears off at the half-way point things can go downhill very quickly. Good planning is the key to reduce these risks.  I managed to get good quality sleeps in the nights before departure; – take Blis Travel Guard  (probiotic lozenges) to reduce the risk of catching something in-flight; stay at accommodation close to the start line and with a kitchen where I can prepare my own meals.  The night before, I mix a few drops of elemental magnesium with water (which helps muscle relaxation) and take 2 Estrella PM sleep tablets (supports staying sleep).

The Estralla PM tablets were actually samples in the Expo participant bag (but I had used them before and knew that they worked for me).  Like the rest of the event the Expo is well organised – easy to get to by free shuttle buses (departing from various points from the city) and well setup with short queues for pack and T-shirt collection.   It is dominated by Nike gear however (being a major sponsor). 

Despite the tragic events in Las Vegas the previous week there was no noticeable additional security from the previous year.  There were reports however that there were an extra 1,000 undercover police alone for this year’s event.  The general organisation of the event is excellent.  Access to the start line is efficient and exiting after you finish is very good as well. 

Race-day was unseasonably warm and we started off at around 14 degrees C.  4 hours later the temperature was 24 degrees.  The aid stations are fantastic.  There are 20 in total  (so on average every 2kms); on both sides of the road, and they each stretch 2 city blocks in length.  That’s 6,000 volunteers handing out cups of Gatorade for the most part with water at the end.  I was easily able to take and consume 3 cups (2 Gatorade and 1 water) without stopping at each station. That’s 60 cups in total (although on average the cup was only half full).  I was disciplined with this as I knew it was going to get warmer as the race progressed and because I perspire a lot anyway.  The later aid stations have gels, chews and bite-sized banana segments.  I felt my first leg cramps at around 32kms and I really do think this additional sustenance help managed the cramping.

You can also take advantage of the shade cast by the city high risers on long stretches of the route early on and the smart runners did this.  However the close proximity of the high rise buildings and a number of underpasses created an issue with my Garmin FR235.  Data accuracy fell off at certain parts of the course which rendered some of the data unreliable so I also used the Garmin’s heart rate function some of the time to monitor pace.  I used a chest strap as I find this is more accurate than the wrist monitor in the watch (especially during running). 

The crowd support in Chicago is incredible – an estimated 1.7m people around the course.  Can’t really describe this – you really need to be there to experience this yourself.  It’s also a very flat course (only a 39m elevation gain) and a good one to go for a fast time.

Highly recommended.

If you would like more information about this destination please contact me.

Philadelphia, USA

Have you ever been to Philadelphia?, our New York friend asked.  I have some business there to attend to tomorrow and I could drop you off at the Historical Area and you can look around for the day.  I can then pick you up at around 5pm.

We’ve been to the Big Apple many times, but rather surprisingly, never really thought about visiting the birthplace of America.  It’s an easy 2 hour drive and a logical day tour from New York to visit the very walkable historic area of the city.  If you are short on time you can easily join a walking tour where the guide will provide a very educational and fun experience.  The tours are only a few hours and will cover the National Constitution Centre, Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell Center, Betsy Ross House and Declaration House.  Geoffrey has always had a personal interest in the life of Benjamin Franklin so was able to visit the nearby Benjamin Franklin Museum and cemetery.

A couple of blocks away is the famous historic Reading Terminal Food Market – an amazing array of fantastic food offerings that you could possibly imagine.  A perfect place to look around and to have lunch.

If you visit America often, Philadelphia really is a must-see place to visit to fully appreciate the origins of this huge and diverse nation.

If you would like more information about this destination please contact me.

Independence Hall


The Directors travelled to Cuba in June 2017 on a 7-day private tour.  Absolutely one of the coolest destinations you can visit at the moment.

The great thing about private tours is that you have flexibility with places you want to see and with any special activities you may particularly want to do.   Private tours, in the main are totally customizable and you can afford to be that little more adventurous in your planning.  The tour guide will then do their best to work around you to suit budget and interests and of course at the same time offering you their personal expertise.

The tour company we used was a small company who specialise only with Cuban Tours of small groups.  They operate both group tours and private independent tours.  They operate both with western and Cuban staff living full time in the country.  We were impressed with their extensive experience and knowledge of Cuba and we can honestly say that there wasn’t a single question that they were unable to answer about this fascinating destination.

It’s hard to describe what Cuba is like until you go there yourself.  It is many things – but if you have any sort of interest in Cuba then it’s absolutely a must-see-soon destination.

With extremely limited access to email and the internet it’s amazing to see how every day technology (which we all now take for granted) has quickly widened further the gap between Cuba and the rest of the modern world.

Our private tour group itinerary included Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Santa Clara Vanales and of course Havana.  Some of us have in-depth interests in the Revolution and missile crisis and the on-going effect (to this day) on the day to day lives of the people – the old and young, the rich and poor, the urban and rural.  But of course there is just so much more than Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and Bay of Pigs.  Think of Ernest Hemingway, cigars and mojitos,  classic American cars, Spanish colonisation and Wars of Independence,  American influence and the Mafia, sugar and slavery, Barack Obama and Donald Trump.  Cuba is just pure fascination.

Definitely one of the coolest trips we’ve experienced – and that’s in 30 degrees plus heat!!

If you would like more information about this destination please contact me.

Salvador Gonzalez Escalona