Easter in Vienna

Easter in Vienna is something else. Traditional Easter Markets are set up in March, where you can enjoy live music and Austrian culinary treats, such as a variety of Wurst (sausages), Käsespätzle (the German/Austrian version of macaroni and cheese, made of homemade egg noodles and emmental cheese, topped with crispy fried onions), and Marillenknödel (apricot dumplings). Artfully hand-painted Easter eggs are set up in beautiful displays for sale, among other adorable decorations. Easter, next to Christmas, has always been my favorite holiday because of its sheer cuteness — I’m a sucker for pastels, flowers, baby bunnies, chicks, and lambs. I love that Vienna carries on its market tradition through spring, providing a nice alternative to the Christmas markets that begin the holiday season in late November.

I was lucky enough to spend two Easters in Vienna in 2014 and 2015 and visited three of the five Easter markets hosted in the city.

Ostermark Schloss Schönbrunn | Schönbrunn Palace Easter Market

The Schönbrunn Palace Easter Market is arguably the most romantic Easter market because of its stunning palace backdrop. I came here with Miri and my brother, Kevin, who visited Vienna in April 2014 before the two of us took a trip to Dubrovnik, Croatia.

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Kevin and me in front of the giant Easter egg.

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Cuteness overload.


Miri and me in front of the Palace.

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Beautiful wisteria in bloom.

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Looking up at the Gloriette, which was built in 1775 was and Empress Maria Theresia’s favorite spot because of its splendid view of Vienna.

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Looking down at Vienna from the Gloriette.

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Miri, Kevin and me.

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Altwiener Ostermarkt auf der Freyung | Old Vienna Easter Market at the Freyung

The Freyung Easter Market is probably my favorite Easter market because of its astonishing tower of eggs, apparently the largest in Europe with more than 40,000 handpainted eggs, located in the heart of the 1st District. I often passed by this square on my way to work, which was about a 10-minute walk from my apartment at the time.

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For those of you who haven’t read the “About Us” section on our homepage, the nickname Käfer (German for bug) came about when Miri and I first started dating. We were at a thermal spring in Bad Krozingen, Germany when Miri teased that I kept latching onto him “wie ein Wasserkäfer” (like a waterbug). At first, I was insulted, but the name stuck and you’ll rarely hear us call each other by our first names to this day. We’re always on the lookout for our ladybug symbol 🙂

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“Easter Egg Stand at the Freyung”

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Ostermarkt am Hof | Am Hof Handicraft Market

The Am Hof Handicraft Market is just around the corner from the Freyung and hosts numerous stands which sell artisan trinkets, foods, wines, and, of course, Easter eggs.

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Miri and my father-in-law, Frank.

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No trip to Vienna is complete without a ride, or at least picture, of the Fiaker, Vienna’s iconic horse-drawn carriages.


Wandering around Café Central, the legendary literati coffeehouse where authors and intellectuals such as Arthur Schnitzler, Adolf Loos, and Peter Altenberg were regulars.

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Vienna is full of beautiful old streets like this one.

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In front of the Spanish Riding School at Michaelerplatz, where tourists go to watch the world-famous, UNESCO-protected Lippizan ballet. Lippizan horses are white stallions which are trained for years to dance in perfect harmony with the classical music that resounds within the baroque Imperial Palace during gala performances.

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Looking at the Rathaus, city hall, from within the Volksgarten.


My favorite part about this picture is the classic Viennese woman behind me. It’s like two different eras are colliding in one.


In front of the the Austrian Parliament building.

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Lastly, pictures of the beautiful pink blossoms in Stadtpark, the city park across the street from the school where I taught English.

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Marin Headlands & the Golden Gate Bridge

It’s hard for me to describe the joy and excitement I felt when taking these pictures. Nothing makes me feel as alive as documenting a place, whether new or old, through the lens of my camera. I know photographs of the Golden Gate Bridge at twilight are nothing revolutionary–we’ve all seen shots of the bridge just like these on postcards and in books–but this doesn’t bother me. I love the challenge of trying to recreate iconic images myself. I don’t have a lot of fancy equipment or lenses, but I do have a good camera, a steady tripod, and an eye for recreating images that, at first, may seem out-of-reach for an amateur photographer. Honestly, I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to come out here considering the fact that I’m a Bay Area native and my mom lives in Mill Valley, a 15-minute drive away from this stunning view of the most recognizable bridge in the world.

Twilight has always been my favorite time of day to shoot. I love watching the light change from sunset to the small window of time when city lights begin twinkling against cerulean blue skies before the last bit of natural light is enveloped in darkness. Of course, you can take gorgeous pictures of the bridge during the day, but isn’t the shot at twilight so much more compelling? It was also hard-earned. I made poor Miri wait in the car with me for about an hour-and-a-half until I got the lighting I wanted. This wasn’t the first time I tested his patience for a photograph. When we were in Cinque Terre in July 2014, he sat in the dirt with me at the top of a hill for three hours, all without complaining, so that I could get pictures of Vernazza at twilight. God bless his easy-going soul.


We were worried before making the trip over that we might not be able to see the bridge due to Karl, San Francisco’s ubiquitous fog. We lucked out as only part of the bridge was covered, which I think made the scene even more atmospheric (and authentic). Taking a picture of the bridge on a clear day is like photographing Ireland on a sunny day. It happens but it’s not quite right.

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My ever-happy, ever-helpful photo assistant and model carrying the tripod for me 🙂 Man, I love him.

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Tourists gathering at one of several Golden Gate Bridge lookout points along the Marin Headlands drive.

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Beautiful Silver Bush Lupine growing along the side of the road just in time for the first day of spring.

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Franciscan Paintbrush in bloom.

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Karl rolling in.

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Look back at it.

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Sticky Monkeyflower. What a name.

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We stopped for dinner at Tamalpie, a pizzeria on Miller Avenue in Mill Valley that I appreciate for its name, a clever allusion to Mount Tamalpais, which towers over the small, affluent and outdoorsy community. I ditched all thoughts of “eating healthily” and we shared two mouthwatering pizzas (“I do it for the gram“). Miri chose the Railroad Grade pizza, topped with pepperoni, roasted peppers and onions, tomato and mozzarella. I opted for the Blithedale Canyon pizza, made up of an enticing combination of bacon, potato, mozzarella, fontina and pesto. Miri was really excited (I mean, just look at his face) about the fact that the crust was thin and crunchy, which is how pizza is prepared in Vienna, in contrast to the fat, doughy crusts you get when ordering pizza delivery in the U.S. from chains like Domino’s or Round Table. Anyway, I warned you that I’m not a food critic so I’m just going to end this post by saying the pizzas were reeeeal good. Hopefully, I get better at restaurant reviews the more we do this. Thanks for bearing with me and continuing to read until then 😉 Question for you: What kind of food would you like to see me attempt to review next?

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Desco Oakland

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I never really saw home until I left it. Home for me is the Bay Area. I was born in Oakland and grew up in San Leandro, a suburban city of about 90,000 people in between Oakland and Hayward on the eastern shore of the San Francisco Bay. When people ask me where I’m from, however, I tend to just say the Bay Area/East Bay because, when you’re from the Bay, you can’t really claim that only one city raised you. (Unless you’re from San Francisco. San Franciscans love to brag about being San Franciscans.) My family was always moving around. We may have lived in San Leandro, but I was practically raised in Children’s Fairyland on the shores of Lake Merritt and in Knowland Park at the Oakland Zoo. My mom dragged my brother and me to her church in downtown Berkeley on Sundays and most special occasions were celebrated in San Francisco. There’s not much to do in San Leandro, so my weekends in high school were spent roaming Shattuck and Telegraph Ave, trying on overpriced second-hand clothes in vintage boutiques, wandering around College Ave and Rockridge, spending the babysitting money I’d earned on hot chocolates and books, and dressing up and taking BART to San Francisco to stage photo shoots and take MySpace selfies, long before the word “selfie” existed. I honestly don’t know how I would have survived high school without BART.

In the eyes of teenage me, the Bay Area was just…the Bay Area. San Leandro was certainly nothing special or worth bragging about. Like so many of my peers, I didn’t yet understand the privilege of growing up in such a culturally diverse and physically beautiful area and I took it for granted because I didn’t know any better.

When I was in high school, I was desperate to leave San Leandro. I rebelled against the loud rap music that pervaded the halls of my high school and opted instead for the for the softer sounds of Belle & Sebastian, Architecture in Helsinki, Mates of State, Arcade Fire, and Camera Obscura, among many other indie bands. With the exception of one friend at school, nobody around me listened to the same kind of music I did and it made me feel unique. I was never the type that blended in with everyone else, but I also didn’t try to mark my “difference” outwardly by, say, dying my hair purple. I’m not an attention seeker,  so the ways in which I marked my individuality were more subtle.

I used to make my best friend have “dress days” with me at school. I would call her up the night before to ask her to wear a dress the next day so that I wouldn’t be the only one wearing one. I’m being completely serious. There was a time when literally NO ONE wore dresses to school. I was still young and naive enough to think that my classmates not only payed attention to what I wore but judged me for it. I actually kept track of my outfits each day of the week, God forbid I wear the same thing too soon thereafter. I eventually realized that all the time I spent worrying about what others were thinking about me was completely wasted because everyone was too busy worrying about themselves to be paying any attention to me.

When I was 17, I dreamt of moving to Boston and going to college on the East Coast. I dreamt of mature college boyfriends (LOL) who read the same books and listened to the same music as I. I ended up settling on Scripps College, one of the five Claremont Colleges east of Los Angeles, after my dad died the spring of my senior year. Moving across the country would have been too big of an upset to my already tempestuous emotional state. Going to school in Southern California was at least far away enough from home to make me feel like I was experiencing something new and it was close enough to fly or drive home for holidays. Scripps was a familiar name in my household–I received my first Scripps sweatshirt when I was 12–my mom’s partner, and now, wife went to Scripps (c/o ’66) and was an active member of the Board of Trustees and the Alumnae Association. Lori is the perfect example of a Scrippsie: strong, smart, independent, fearless, and bold. She is not someone afraid to speak her mind. I admired that. I was excited to attend a college where empowering women to be leaders is the founding mission.

The funny thing, is as soon as I got to college, my desire in “discovering” cool new indie bands reached a standstill. What had set me apart at San Leandro High made me just like everybody else at the Claremont Colleges. The majority of rich white kids that populated the consortium of five colleges were terribly pretentious when it came to music. I met people who liked the same alternative/indie music I did, but I learned pretty quickly never to reveal my favorite bands lest they begin fact-bombing or quizzing me about the history of the band or, better yet, “humbly” bragging about the times they had seen so-and-so perform live at Sasquatch, Bumbershoot AND Coachella in the same year. (Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating but I think you get my point.) I had no interest in partaking in competitive back-and-forth exchanges to validate my coolness. I know I’m cool. Whether or not you realize that is on you; I don’t seek your approval nor will I ever try to convince you to be my friend *flips hair.* Can’t I just like a song without caring about the artist’s life story?

Attending Scripps College was the first time in my life I was at a school where not only white people but RICH white people were the overwhelming majority of the student body. It was weird for me. I felt for the few minority students, including my two roommates from India and Japan, even if, at first glance, many of these WOC put me in the same box as these rich white girls from privileged white suburbs. I might be white, but San Leandro is definitely NOT a rich white suburb and I was never given entry to these cool white girl cliques. First of all, I wasn’t skinny or pretty enough to fit in, which is pretty much the first requirement of being a cool white girl. Some friend groups looked so similar I swear watching them was like seeing slightly different versions of the same person going about. It makes me think of Taylor Swift and her #SquadGoals. On social media, these cool girls constantly praised each other’s beauty with comments like, “You are a radiant sunshine goddess;” “PERFECT HUMAN BEING;” “omg i love uuu;” or, my favorite, “OBSESSED.” I guess I shouldn’t be so critical of women attempting to build each other up with bouts of external praise and validation, but weren’t we supposed to be learning at a women’s college that true validation can only be sought within? Why wasn’t anyone teaching us that our physical appearance and even intelligence are absolutely insignificant in comparison to how kind we are? I guess I was most annoyed by the fact that the only physical appearance being actively “built up” was that the cool white girls. It might not have bothered me so much if this kind of praise was being showered equally on us big girls and WOC at Scripps, who not only didn’t fit the “skinny white girl” mold, but didn’t want to. I digress…

In this new and unfamiliar environment, I returned to rap and hip hop because it was comforting. It was home. I didn’t realize how much I loved rap until I was surrounded by people who openly despised it for being demeaning to women. I won’t deny the objectification and misogyny that is pretty rampant in the genre, but to generalize an entire body of music is just ignorant.

I remember being called “hood” by friends I’d made at Scripps and my study abroad programs, all of whom were wowed by my effortless ability to memorize rap verses. I would just laugh and think to myself “DO YOU SEE ME IN THIS SUNDRESS?” I thought of how my high school classmates would roar in laughter if they heard someone calling me “hood” because at home you couldn’t get much whiter than me. I see now that there are people so cut off from contact with POC that a white person like me seems ethnic in comparison. This scares me.

You might be reading this and wondering what the hell any of this has to do with the above pictures. You’re not wrong for wondering. Bear with me, I’m getting there. I guess what my exceedingly long tangent is trying to get at is that, for me, the best part about having left home for 6 years–during which I spent three years in Southern California and three in Europe–was that I returned home in July 2015 with new eyes and a new appreciation of where I’m from. This transformation mostly occurred when I was living abroad, but it started in college, when I realized, like Dorothy, that I wasn’t in my urban version of Kansas anymore.

I don’t think it’s possible for people to truly “see” their culture until they immerse themselves in a foreign one. If you’re American, you don’t even necessarily have to leave the United States to do this. Immersion for me begins with learning a new language. Having a Mexican friend isn’t enough to claim you’re “immersed” in Mexican-American culture, but learning to speak Spanish and actually talking to Mexican-Americans in their native language brings you one step closer. I don’t speak Spanish (yet), but I did learn to speak fluent German.

My German professor in college told us that when you learn a new language, it’s like a person hands you a key to a door you were never able to open before. He was completely right. It’s exhilarating. Once you get over the initial shyness and embarrassment of making mistakes when speaking a foreign language, you discover the gratifying joy of speaking to people you couldn’t communicate with before.

In October, I was riding home from work on BART when two German girls sat in front of me. This wasn’t the first time I had heard German since returning home from Austria, but this time I decided I’d actually strike up a conversation with them. I didn’t have anything to lose. It turned out one of the girls was married to an American and lived in San Leandro. I couldn’t believe it. MY San Leandro??? This coincidence was too big to ignore and I gave her my number even though I knew this whole interaction would raise a thousand warning flags if one were to do the same thing in Germany. I’m happy I did–that German girl and her husband are now good friends of ours–the kind of friends where you feel like you’ve known them for much longer than you actually have.

The best way I’ve found of coping with living in my hometown again–an obvious downgrade from Vienna–has been by exploring it and the greater Bay Area as if I were an outsider. A lot has changed in the Bay Area in the last six years, thanks (and no thanks) to the tech boom, but don’t get me started on that. This blog is my motivation to get out of the house and never stop exploring. Playing “local tourist” is almost as much fun as being an actual tourist.

Now, the pictures. Miri and I decided to start off the first of our restaurant series with Desco, an Italian restaurant on 9th Street in Downtown Oakland. Miri and I couldn’t believe it when we came across this restaurant–“Desco” is my mother-in-law’s nickname, which Miri and his twin deemed her when they were children. Little did any of us know, the word translates to “dinner table” in Latin, which makes perfect sense for a restaurant (and, actually, for Desco the person, seeing as she’s an excellent cook). The building dates back to 1876 and part of the original tile flooring still remains. The restaurant’s ambience is warm and almost European. We made our reservation online and were seated in the back corner of the restaurant, tucked away from the wind on this rainy Thursday in March.

Miri and I both ordered the Tagliata NY Steak–his prepared rare and mine prepared medium–served with baby potatoes, rucola salad, and volcanic salt. I’m not much of a food critic, but I thought it was delicious. For dessert, we ordered the panna cotta and warm chocolate cake with coffee sauce.

We are eager to come here again with Miri’s parents when they visit in September. Maybe sharing the same name as the restaurant is worthy of a free dessert 😉

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Day 2: Exploring the Hamakua Coast

As I look through the photographs of our second day in Hawaii, I am reminded, again, of the incredible ecological variation and diversity of one of the most remote archipelagos on Earth. The Big Island alone boasts 8 of the world’s 13 climate zones. It’s hard to believe you can go from visiting waterfalls in lush, tropical jungles, to sandy beaches and shallow, sand-bottomed ocean pools, to the summit of a volcano 14,000 feet above sea level all in the same day. Of all the places I’ve ever been, Hawaii is by far the most exhilarating.

We started our first full day off on the earlier side — for once a positive benefit of jet lag with Hawaii being three hours behind California. We awakened to the sounds of birds singing various cheerful songs and watched the sunrise lay a warm blanket of golden light over the luxuriant jungle greens surrounding the Hamakua House, our accommodation in Pepeekeo, a small town north of Hilo.

The day’s adventure started as soon as we left the house–in order to get to and from the Hamakua House, you have to drive down a rocky, dirt road and then through a jungle before reaching the nearest town of Honomu. We stopped for breakfast each morning at Mr. Ed’s Bakery in this small, wild-west-feeling town, which was included with our booking. This drive was actually one of the highlights of the stay for Miri and me. We couldn’t help but feel like we were on the Jungle Cruise or the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland when driving down the jungle road, often stopping the car to look up at the vines hanging down from the trees, turning off the radio to tune in to the wonderfully harmonious symphony of the jungle.

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After eating breakfast, we made the 10-minute drive from Honomu to Akaka Falls State Park, where a short, paved trail loop leads you through a beautiful rainforest rich with wild orchids, bamboo groves, ferns, and other exotic plants. On the path, you pass by 100-foot Kahuna Falls before reaching Akaka Falls, the most visited waterfall on the Big Island where you can watch 442-feet of stunningly beautiful water cascade down into a moss-covered gorge.

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Our next stop was the Four Mile Scenic Drive, also known as the Old Mamalahoa Highway, just off of Highway 19 in Pepeekeo. Much like the road leading to our accommodation, this beautiful drive takes you through the jungle and then along the coast, where you can stop to take pictures of the postcard-like view over Onomea Bay. The drive passes by the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden in Papaikou, a nonprofit nature sanctuary which is home to more than 2,000 species of plants, including countless, colorful genera of orchids, palm trees, and more. This “museum of living plants” is a must-see for photographers and nature lovers.

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Do you spot anything unusual on this leaf? 🙂

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Miri becoming “one” with nature.

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Before grabbing a Hawaiian fast food lunch at Liko Lehua Cafe in Hilo, we visited Rainbow (Waiānuenue) Falls, tallying our third waterfall of the day. Unfortunately, we arrived too late in the day to capture the rainbow that can be seen in the mist thrown up by the waterfall on sunny mornings. Hina, an ancient Hawaiian goddess, is said to live in the lava cave behind the waterfall.

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Not knowing where to go next, we consulted our Lonely Planet book and decided to check out Onekahakaha Beach Park just south of downtown Hilo. This beach park, in particular, is popular among families because the sand-bottomed cove is protected from ocean swells by a large boulder break. Watching powerful waves crash into the rocks while swimming in still, shallow waters was riveting. I felt like I was finally realizing my childhood dream of becoming a mermaid. However, the best part about this beach park was that we got to swim alongside sea turtles!!! I could hardly contain my excitement when I noticed these beautiful sea creatures peacefully grazing the ocean floor, coming up to the surface every so often for air. There is something so majestic about the honu, one of the few species on earth that has been swimming in the ocean alongside DINOSAURS for 150 million years. According to ancient Hawaiian legend, the green sea turtles were the first to guide the Polynesians to the Hawaiian islands, earning the respected status and symbol of the navigator that is always able to find its way home. In real life, honu swim hundreds of miles to lay their eggs on the very beach where they were born. I can hardly find my way home using GPS.

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After drying off, we agreed a mini road trip was in order and set off for Maunakea, a dormant volcano almost 14,000 feet above sea level, to watch the sunset. In true ignorant-tourist fashion, we were completely oblivious of how high up the summit is and realized upon reaching the Maunakea Visitor Information Station that our 2WD rental car hadn’t the slightest chance at making it to the top without risking serious damage to the car. After driving all the way here to see the sunset, we were determined to find a way up. We came across a friendly-looking couple and asked if we could pay them to take us to the top. They agreed without hesitation or wariness at giving two complete strangers a lift in the backseat of their rental Jeep. It’s moments like this that I think “God Bless, Americans” for being so dang nice. I can’t imagine mustering up the courage in Austria to ask the same thing in German. It ended up being more fun tagging along with Sharon and Todd than if we had gone alone. They were visiting from Portland and were staying on the Big Island for the same 9 days we were to celebrate Todd’s birthday, just as Miri and I came here to celebrate his (well, that and our second honeymoon). My only regret is that I forgot to take their picture!


“If no can…no can.” My new favorite catchphrase.


Driving on Saddle Road, en route to Maunakea.

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Looking down on the Maunakea Vistitor Information Station from a hill across the way.

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Before Sharon and Todd kindly gave us a ride, Miri and I went on a short hike directly across from the visitor center, fortuitously allowing our bodies to adjust to the altitude. At the visitor center, you’re already 9,200 ft above sea level. But, as I mentioned earlier, we didn’t actually realize how high up we were until later, so I just attributed my wheezing and panting to being terribly out of shape. We were the only ones out here and I wanted to sit and meditate for a few minutes to take it all in. I can’t describe the incredible, elevating peace I felt here. In those minutes of silence, I felt I understood why this land is sacred to Hawaiians. I could’ve sat there all day, listening to nothing but the sound of the wind blowing by. It’s in these places of silence and solitude, away from the busyness of life, that I feel I can best tune into the presence of God or a Higher Power: “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10); “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.” (David; Psalm 23:1-3).

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Making our way up above the clouds to the top of the summit.

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One thing I forgot to mention — it was FREEZING (30°F) up here! By the time I finished taking pictures of the sunset over the fake cloud horizon, my hands, feet, and legs were completely numb. When there’s snow, people actually come up here to snowboard. Can you think of anyplace else in the world where you can go from surfing to snowboarding in less than 2 hours? Amazing.

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Practically starving by the time we made the trip down the summit and back to civilization, we stopped for dinner at Pineapples, a charming open air restaurant with live music in downtown Hilo, before calling it a night. Miri and I both ordered the Teriyaki Flank Steak, a mouth-watering marinated steak served with grilled pineapple, vegetable stir-fry, a choice of Jasmine rice or garlic potato mash, drizzled with Teriyaki beurre blanc (don’t ask me what that is), and, finally, topped with crispy fried onions and pineapple salsa. It was, for me, one of the more memorable meals of the trip.

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