North Carolina in the Rain and Kill Devil Hills

Yesterday turned out to be a total wash out for the most part. We awoke to steady rain and thick clouds and the forecast called for clearing in the evening hours so we didn’t have much to do. We hung around reading and I finished my book “Love the One Your With” by Emily Griffin which I enjoyed but wished for a slightly different ending. I won’t spoil the book but if you read it I wonder what you would think of how it ended. Overall, I didn’t find the book quite as gripping as Something Borrowed, her first novel which I tore through on the beaches of Aruba when it first came out. Don’t get me wrong “Love the One Your With” is good, just not a total pager turner in my opinion.

By late morning the heavy rain ended and there were only clouds and spotty drizzle here and there. We decided to take a ride down to see Kill Devil Hills. Kill Devil Hills is the Outer Banks’ oldest township, established in 1952. But the landmark that lends the town its distinctive name has been around much longer. At one time, the northern Outer Banks was characterized by a series of sand mountains over 100 feet high. These dunes stretched from sound to sea, from Corolla south to Nags Head. Kill Devil Hills was one of the larger of the dunes, and stories about how the monolith got its name are varied and colorful but the most widely accepted theory is that the name came from a brand of rum found washed ashore during the colonial period. The reason this area is considered a tourist attraction (one of very few in the area) is that Kill Devil Hills is the site of the Wright Brothers first heavier-than-air flight in 1903. About thirty years later, workers planted grass on the dune to prevent it from continually shifting, then constructed the impressive Wright Brothers Memorial which can be seen for miles. We were looking forward to seeing this site but it when we arrived in the general area it seemed like everyone else on the Outer Banks had the same idea and the line of cars was backed up for a couple of miles. This was a big turn off so we decided not to get in line. Instead we went a little further north and browsed in some of the shops along the water and then headed back up to Corolla for lunch and afternoon which was mostly spent inside due to the periodic showers.

By evening though, the clouds had parted and took the rain with them and a glorious evening sunset was upon us. After dinner we took a ride down to Duck to listen to a band play outside at Aqua S, a local restaurant/bar which was fabulous. We saw the sunset over the water and listened to good music which sipping some drinks and dancing to cover songs. It was a great evening.

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Corolla BBQ

It was a real scorcher here today, temperatures hit 100 inland and similar heat and humidity steamed up the beach. We sat by the pool for a few hours this morning but the heat of the day really got to us and by late morning Darren and I had enough. Since it was lunch time we decided to head out for some delicious North Carolina bbq. Yesterday on our adventure exploring we discovered a small little bbq ’shack’ on the grounds of the Corolla Lighthouse. This small shack which is more like a food stand serves fabulous sandwiches and plates for lunch including chicken, ribs and pulled pork – all prepared North Carolina style. We ordered two tasty sandwiches, some drinks and settled under a tree at a picnic table where we were both in heaven. We both enjoy good barbecue and the last time we were down in North Carolina for our furniture shopping expedition we had our best barbecue meal ever. We are definitely going to venture out again one day in hopes of finding another hidden barbecue gem. After our lunch we ran a few errands and then headed inside as some major thunderstorms were approaching. Fortunate for us the heaviest rains and tornadoes were more inland but it did put a damper on our plans for a walk on the beach. Oh well….there is always tomorrow.

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Another Perfect Day in the Outer Banks

Our third full day in Corolla on the outer banks has been flawless.  The weather has been spectacular and we were so lucky to escape any effects of Tropical Storm Cristibal.  The storm stayed about 100 miles south of where we are so we were very fortunate.  We have been spending the mornings relaxing and reading by the pool and the afternoons at the beach.  Life in the outer banks is very low key and extremely family friendly.  Big beautiful homes are available for rent by the week and are extremely modest in price.  This is my first visit to the outer banks and while it reminds me of Cape May or Cape Cod in the community on the beach sense, Corolla and the surrounding areas are less developed and far less commercial.  I consider the area to still be undiscovered by the masses and I think its wonderful.  There are no Starbucks, no big chains or other mass marketed stores. 

Earlier this evening Darren and I took a drive out to the lighthouse nearby to take some pictures and then ventured out to the beach for a drive.  The town allows vehicles on the beach and we headed over in hopes of catching a glimpse of the wild horses that sometimes parade up and down the beach among the fisherman and occassional surfer.  Unfortunately for us, we did not see any but we did enjoy the drive.  Darren had our friends Toyota Tacoma and put it to the test on the sand.  We were lucky not to get stuck but another driver nearby was not so fortunate.  We took some great photos of our adventure and will be loading them up later this evening after our later dinner.  Check back tomorrow and I’ll post the link. 

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Greetings from the Outer Banks of North Carolina

Last night, Darren, his parents and I flew down to Newport News, Virginia to kick off the start of our vacation.  We flew into Newport News to cut down on what would be a 10 hour drive to the outer banks from New York.  After a quick 50 minute flight on Air Tran we picked up our rental car, grabbed a light dinner and hit the road for the 2 hour drive to our destination.  Darren was busy playing with his blackberry as Mom and I sat in the back chatting and napping.  Little did we know, a wrong turn was made and we awoke to find out we were headed deep into Virginia rather than driving down the coast and into North Carolina.  Instead of playing with his blackberry, we would have been better off if Darren was using his iPhone to guide us but we relied on the sketchy directions from Hertz.  We also neglected to bring the navigation system or print out directions so we were pretty much in the dark as to where we went wrong.  We stopped at a gas station and the attendants in the convenience store were baffled by how far off course we were but managed to put us back on the right track.  By 1am we pulled into the driveway of our friends house where we are staying for the week and were greeted by laughter considering this wasn’t the Hermans first visit.  Oh well…lesson learned.  A great week lies ahead….let’s just hope our trip home is less adventurous. 

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Airlines To Begin Offering In-Flight Wi-Fi

This morning while reading the Wall Street Journal I came across an article in the Personal Journal section announcing wireless internet access while in-flight on several cross country American Airline routes starting this summer.  Lap-top carrying passengers will now be able to access the internet, read and send email and even instant message friends/colleagues while soaring 30,000 feet in the air.  This is a great advantage for the business traveler who doesn’t want to miss a thing while in transit to that all important business meeting or conference or to someone traveling with children who are antsy on long flights.  The cost is affordable – $12.95 for long routes and $9.95 for shorter ones.  Gogo is the company offering this service and those that have tested out connectivity have found it to be very good.  I have a feeling many more people are going to start carrying their laptop with them.  Of course down the road, I’m sure the airlines will sneak in some hidden ‘latop’ carrying fee, it would be consistent with all the other fees that are being added but that’s just my thought. 

Reflecting upon this article, while I think this is a great service to offer it made me ponder, are we just too connected sometimes?  Is this another contributing factor that makes it harder for career folks to achieve ‘work-life’ balance?  There was a time when a vacation was just that – a vacation, disconnecting from your daily routine for several days to several weeks with no contact from the office.  Not so long ago, we were able to get on a plane and fly away for a few days leaving our normal routine, work headaches and business priorities behind while we focused on relaxing, having some downtime and spending quality time with our families.  Then came the cellphone and we became  reachable any time and any place , then people started traveling with their laptops so they could ‘check-in’ while out of the office, then blackberrys hit the market and we were checking email everywhere we had service.  The only time we had to truly disconnect was when on an airplane.  We could read, relax, take a snooze or just stare out the window.  Now with wi-fi available, those few short hours we could disconnect and not be ‘in touch’ will be gone.  While we can choose not to purchase the service, will that be acceptable or will employers expect us to be online and working while in mid-air?  Makes you think and certainly adds another challenge to achieving ‘work-life’ balance. 

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Aruba Radisson

Home sweet home.  Darren and I arrived back in New York last night after six glorious days in Aruba.  The weather was picture perfect – blue skies everyday with a few passing clouds that made the heat bearable.  We stayed at the Aruba Radisson upon the recommendation of Aunt Judy & Uncle Bob.  I visited the island in 2003 and again in 2005 but both times I stayed at the Marriott Stellaris Hotel & Casino which is still undergoing renovations.  This was Darren’s first trip to the island so after some research and the recommendations we received, the Radisson was definitely our choice.  We stayed on the Plaza Club floor thanks again to Judy & Bob who spoke to the manager they know there and we were upgraded from our original booking.  By staying on a Plaza Club floor we were entitled to a free continental breakfast, afternoon tea and cookies as well as a cocktail hour which had a fully stocked bar and an array of appetizers that varied each evening.  Special concierge service is also available and they were wonderful.  The staff really took care of us even before we arrived by booking all of our dinner reservations.  They also helped us make any last minute changes we wanted to our reservations once we arrived and were very helpful with recommendations for our island exploration trip.

The hotel is all open air except for the rooms and the main restaurant, Sunset Grille.  From the moment you arrive, you feel you are in the Caribbean.  The check-in and concierge area are part of an open air lobby overlooking the gardens.  Our room was in the main building, known as the Aruba Tower but there are two other buildings as well.  We were on the seventh floor so we had a breathtaking view of the ocean and the pool area.  Our room had many luxuries including a flat screen tv, dvd player, iHome clock radio and twice daily maid service.  The Radisson rooms also feature special comfort beds with adjustable firmness of the mattress.  It took us a while to figure this out but once we did we were both super comfortable.  We laughed so much trying to get the mushy side to firm up but we figured it out in a few minutes so don’t despair if you sit on the bed and sink a bit….it’s all fixable with a click of a button.

The pool area is phenomenal – two free form pools with many lounge chairs and umbrellas for shade.  There are also a few cabanas and chairs that you can put directly in the water to keep cool. The beach area known as Palm Beach was beautiful.  The hotel has tons of little huts (known as palappas) that you can reserve on a daily basis so you have some shade on the beach.  This is a wonderful feature and we made sure we had one every day we were at the beach.  It’s an absolute must as you need to get out of the hot sun some times.  There were also rafts available for rent and we took advantage of that one day.  For $5 a day you can have a flat raft or for $10, a chair raft – both which are fabulous ways of floating on the ocean and keeping cool.

Everyday for lunch we ate at Gilligan’s – the hotel beach bar/restaurant.  They serve a variety of salads, pizzas, sandwiches, quesadillas, and fajitas.  It was the perfect place to break from the sun.  One word of caution though, if you sit on the perimeter expect a few local lizards and iguanas to be playing nearby.  Some people love them, others don’t.

By the time Tuesday afternoon rolled around we were sad to leave.  We really had a great time and would definitely come back.  We both thought this would be a good island to bring the baby to as well as it seemed very family friendly and there were lots of little one’s around.  We are thinking same time next year…..only plus one :)

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L.G. Smith’s Steak & Chop House Aruba

For our last evening in Aruba, Darren and I decided to head downtown to Oranjestad and despite our earlier purchases have yet another look at all the jewelry and watch stores.  We both love jewelry and watches so it was inevitable we would end up purchasing something.  After numerous visits to many stores (I think we actually went into just about every store), Darren found a watch that he absolutely loved.  A unique brand that we didn’t find in most locations, he managed to strike a good deal.  All the dealers offer discounts and some are more negotiable than others but if you are in the market for some jewelry or a new watch, have a look around, you won’t be able to resist what you see.

After shopping, we decided on a spur of the moment dinner at L.G. Smith’s Steak & Chop House in the Renaissance Mall.  We were in the mood for steak and since we were downtown we decided to give this restaurant a try.  The decor is very modern with sleek tables, chairs and booths decorated in neutrals and white, very trendy.  It reminded us of a modern steak house back home in New York or in Las Vegas.  We were seated by the window so we could look out at the boats on the water which was very pretty as the sun was starting to go down.  The menu had all the traditional items you would expect: shrimp cocktail, seafood chowder, caesar salad, filet mignon, porterhouse, t-bone steaks and a variety of fish as well.  The prices were quite moderate, especially for a steak house.  Appetizers ranged from $7-14 and entrees were $24-$36 and came with two sides each.  I started with the tomato cream soup which was thick and flavorful topped with fried drizzled onions.  Darren had the shrimp cocktail, four jumbo shrimps accompanied by a small set of greens.  For our entree I had the petite filet mignon which was tender and juicy.  Darren had the porterhouse and ate just about all of it.  He thought it was excellent.  We were too full for dessert but they had an array of cakes, ice cream and pie along with their signature marscapone dessert.  We thoroughly enjoyed our meal but definitely felt like were home rather than in Aruba so if you are on the island for awhile and want a break from the local cuisine and want to feel a bit like you are back home, try L.G. Smith’s.  You won’t be disappointed.   The service was spectacular so you will be well taken care of.

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Sunset Grill in Aruba

Last night Darren and I dined at Sunset Grill at our hotel. I have eaten at this restaurant twice before on previous trips to the island and it never disappoints. Yesterday was no exception. We arrived just after sunset and had a beautiful outdoor table overlooking the waterfalls and gardens surrounding the pool area. The air cooled off so it was pleasant dining outside

We started off with drinks (well, nothing overly exciting for me) while we looked over the menu. There were so many amazing choices….a huge array of salads and fresh seafood appetizers to a wide variety of steaks, chops and fish for the main course. It was hard to decide what to eat but finally we narrowed it down. Darren started with Sunset Grill salad, a mix of greens, tomatoes, feta cheese and candied walnuts in a balsamic vinagrette dressing which he said was delicious. For our entrees, Darren had the pan seared sesame crusted tuna which was fresh and flavorful and a very generous size portion. I had the cold water rock lobster tails that were absolutely amazing – juicy, flavorful and tender. We both thought they were outstanding even with the hefty price tag. For dessert, Darren ordered chocolate ice cream which came in a large martini glass with strawberries, chocolate sauce and a cookie. The presentation was beautiful. Overall, this was a fabulous dinner although a little bit more expensive than the previous nights. We would definitely come back again on a future visit.

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Aruba: Island Exploration

Yesterday Darren and I rented a Jeep Wrangler so we could explore the island.  We were really excited to leave the Palm Beach area and see the rest of the island, certain we would find phenomenal photo opportunities so Darren could enjoy his passion for photography.  We weren’t disappointed in the slightest.  We started out with a great ride up to the California Lighthouse where we walked around and took many pictures of the lighthouse, the cactus and the rock formations around the area.  We then headed over to the shallow waters nearby for some more beautiful shots of nature.  Then we drove down the coast a bit stopping at a remote beach for some great shots and a delicious dip in the warm tranquil blue water.  At that point we decided to head to the farther end of the island, passing through the capital of the island Oranjestad on our way to Baby Beach about a 30 minute drive.  We traveled winding roads along the coast enjoying the view and seeing where the locals live.  Arriving at Baby Beach, a popular snorkeling destination around lunch time, we found a great little spot on the beach, Coco Bar & Grill where we had lunch and took a break from the sun.  We explored the area afterwards watching waves crash into the rock formations and Darren took several amazing shots as well.  By then we spent five hours in the hot sun and both of us were sizzling so we headed back to town and did a little shopping in Oranjestad where Darren treated me to something special.  It was late afternoon at that point so we returned the car and Darren headed to the pool to cool off and I retreated to the room.  By then I was completely wiped out from the day.

Overall, we had an amazing adventure and I would definitely recommend exploring the island a bit especially if you are the type that gets stir crazy sitting on a lounge chair all day.  Due to being pregnant, we weren’t able to take advantage of the rough off roads to the Natural Pools and Bridge area but they are definite visits from what we here if you can handle the bumpy ride.   It was a fun day and we were both glad we did it.

For pictures of our exploration, click here.

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Chez Matilde in Aruba

After a day at the beach soaking in the warm sun and a little shopping in downtown Oranjestad, Darren and I headed to Chez Matlide for dinner. Chez Matilde is a five star award winning restaurant and we couldn’t agree more. From the moment we arrived we were greeted with first class service from the friendly staff. The entree area is adorned with digital pictures on the wall that change periodically. The restaurant was not very busy so we were seated immediately. Our table was in the middle of the second dining room, which is very contemporary in style. The lightly painted walls are accented with bright and colorful art that really catches your eye. Each piece of work is tastefully displayed around the dining room and they add just the perfect amount of color. The wait staff was unbelievably attentive and knowledgeable about the menu and answered all our questions.

From the moment we sat down, fresh bread and butter arrived along with ice cold water. We placed our order and were served a complimentary appetizer – a house special pate over a few greens. I was unable to eat it due to the ‘no pate’ rule for pregnant women but Darren sampled it and said it was good. We each started with soup. I had the roasted tomato red bell pepper soup which was extremely flavorful. The aroma of the soup seeped from the bowl the moment it arrived and the smell was just amazing. The taste was even better! Darren had the hot and sour soup which he enjoyed albeit a little too much cilantro. We were then served a berry sorbet intermezzo to cleanse our palette before our entrees arrived. Darren had the Moroccan lamb with indian flavored cous cous and roasted zucchini. I had the chicken breast over fettucini with wild mushrooms and asparagus in a tarragon sauce. We both thoroughly enjoyed our meal but were way too full for dessert. We did however peek a the menu and there were lots of wonderful choices.

Overall, we both give Chez Matilde a 10 for the beautiful atmosphere and service and a 9 for the food. This is by far one of the best restaurants in Aruba and we highly recommend making reservations for dinner if you are coming to the island. You won’t be disappointed.

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