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August 28, 2004
Day 1, Saturday

       We were up early for our trip to the airport. United wouldn't give us seats in advance, yet told me the flight was oversold. When we arrived, the airport ticketing area was a zoo at 6:30 AM. Part of the problem is the "E ticket" check in which is supposed to be faster, but does not seem so. There were very few seats from which to choose and we wound up near the rear of the full plane.
    Once on board, it was "cattle class" all the way with barely room to cross one's legs, and forget about reaching your carry-on under the seat. Food was breakfast and a choice of "Hot Pocket or Fruit". Ick. Neither one was good.
    Coming in for a landing in Kona, the area looks so desolate and arid. Not green and tropical like one would expect of Hawaii. Airport built on top of old lava flow and the runway is surrounded by lava fields. The terminals are all outdoor pavilions and you exit plane down steps onto tarmac.  The airport is charming, with a tropical feel. I wonder where people go when it rains.

    Thrifty car rental is outside of the airport in a trailer. We had to take a shuttle to get there (just like all other rental car companies). I went in, and was offered an upgrade for $10 a day to larger sized car, or to a convertible, because I am a Thrifty "Blue Chip" member (something I just signed up for when I made reservation). The guy in front of me was not offered a convertible. I decided to take the convertible and when presented with the invoice, it was much higher than expected. I pointed out my confirmation letter from Thrifty.com which states, $31 per day for 2 days, 3 days at $0 to the woman behind the counter. She went outside to show her supervisor who was incredulous that I would think we'd get any car for $65 for 5 days. I said I thought it might be a special offer. Alicia, the assistant, called the corporate number and had to explain the problem to them three times, fax my letter, and wait on hold for over 1/2 an hour. Finally, they decided to honor the reservation and for $139 we got a  convertible for 5 days. This was obviously a glitch by Thrifty.com, but they did the right thing, and I commend Alicia for her tenacity.

From there, we drove into town and picked up keys to our condo at the Kona Reef. We were in the "A" building, oceanfront. As David said, "You could spit in the ocean from our lanai". The photos above are of the incredible view, taken from the lanai. The condo is nice but really could use some maintenance and fixture upgrades. It has newer carpet and furnishings but there are a couple of cabinets in the kitchen and bathroom that smell musty. The lanai (balcony) is very private with walls on both sides so you cannot see onto anyone else's balcony. We were able to watch the boogie boarders doing their thing at high tide, see outrigger canoes rowing by, and even people para sailing.

    Starving, at 2 PM went into town for lunch, walked around a bit, and settled on the Kona Inn. It's a nice setting, in an outdoor dining room with old fashioned pulley ceiling fans. There is a nice grassy area right in front of the patio with the water on the other side. Hot, we ordered icy blended drinks, which were quite stiff, but not really worth the steep price. I had a turkey sandwich which was pretty good, and came with thick slices of freshly roasted turkey, soft bread, and yummy Maui chips. David had an Ahi Tuna Caesar he said was "so-so". The service was good, but I think $45 (incl. tax and tip) was too much for lunch, but you're paying for location.
    After lunch we drove to Safeway to stock up on
breakfast and lunch items. This might be the only Safeway in the country on top of a hill overlooking the ocean. It seems like everything else, even groceries are 20-30% higher here than on the mainland. If you have a Safeway/Von's card, it will save you quite a bit of money. They even have an ok selection of wines. We bought Lion brand 100% Kona coffee, a bottle of wine, and the food and managed to spend about $90.
    From the store it was back to the condo for a rest and a chance to enjoy sunset.

    After sunset we went out to the car to go into town for dinner. As soon as we put the top down and we were besieged by mosquitos. We made a quick trip back into the condo for repellent and then back to the car.
    It turned out to be a mistake to drive into town.  It's so close there's really no need to drive and parking was a hassle. Finally, we parked and walked around looking for internet cafe and place to eat. We found internet access behind a shave ice parlor right near the sea wall; $2.25 for 15 minutes. The shave ice place runs the 4 computers though a window in the back. The counter girl complimented my new,
brown, off the shoulder, top.
    We walked around a bit checking out menus for some place to it. It was so hot and humid out, sushi sounded perfect for dinner. Anything cold would have been great, but little did we know we'd stumbled on a fantastic place. It's called Izakaya KAI, and it's located down a little street off Ali'i drive, right behind Pancho and Lefty's. They have a nice little patio, with orange cat named Walter who seems to work for his food. I always love places with cats, so I took it as a good sign. If you don't want to share your meal with Walter, eat inside. Unfortunately, there was no room with Walter on the patio so they invited us inside to sit at the sushi bar.
    I've worked with seafood my whole restaurant career, yet sushi is something which I have limited experience eating. David has always said we should go out for sushi and we just never have. Well, this is now my new favorite dining experience! We sat on the side of the sushi bar, right next to the kitchen door. This is the perfect vantage point to be able to watch the sushi chefs work. These guys have magic hands and work in fast, practiced way that is almost ballet with the hands. If you sit in front of the counter, you can see all the fish they are using in the case, but their hands will be blocked from your line of sight. The hostess and the servers were all so nice and sweet and kept checked on us to make sure we were happy. Our waitress complimented my top, which made that twice in 10 minutes (I guess it's a keeper). I got the feeling this was more of a local's restaurant even though it was right in the middle of tourist central. Probably most of the people out on the patio were tourists, but inside it was families and couples, most of whom were clearly regulars. The two Japanese women sitting next to us at the sushi bar were obviously hotel workers just off work in matching hawaiian print shirts and it appeared the staff knew many of the guests by name.
    Although the restaurant serves more than sushi (they have a menu of cooked appetizers and entrees), we stuck to the  sushi and handrolls.
We started with Tako sushi (octopus) because this is one of the items I know I do like. The octopus was perfectly cooked, not rubbery, just tender.
Next time I will order it as "sashimi", still cooked, but with no rice. We ordered spicy tuna rolls which were soooo tasty. Next came the "Rock and Roll" which is cooked and marinated eel, rolled with rice and avocado, and smoked salmon on top. Yummy! Overwhelmed by choice and ordering inexperience, we selected the "regular sushi plate". This came with 8 pieces of nigiri sushi (assorted raw fish slices over rice) and 6 pcs of Tekka roll (tuna wrapped with rice and seaweed. All of it was wonderful. The restaurant was hot inside because the A/C was not working, but we solved that with a couple of big, ice cold, Asahi beers. It was so much fun. This is the way I love to eat, lots of choices, little bites, different tastes of things. We will do this again. Dinner came to $54 with tax and tip. Great value.
Izakaya KAI, Japanese Restaurant and Sake Club, 75-5719 Ali'i Dive, Kailua-Kona, 808-329-2002.
    Back to condo and off to bed early thanks to the Asahi and time difference.
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Hawaii Day 2....


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